Ten-year old Chihiro and her parents are moving when her father takes a wrong turn. Her father thinks they've found an abandoned amusement park and insists on exploring. Chihiro, scared to be alone, accompanies her parents. They cross a dry riverbed. Chihiro's parents gorge themselves at an unattended restaurant stall while Chihiro wanders off. She finds an exquisite bathhouse. Suddenly a boy orders her to cross the river before dark. Spirits begin haunting the park, and when Chihiro returns to her parents, they have become pigs.
Chihiro runs to the river, but it has flooded and is impossible to cross. The boy, whose name is Haku, finds her and says he has known her since she was little. He tells her to ask for a job from the bathhouse's boiler-man, Kamaji who is a spider youkai who comands the susuwatari. Kamaji and the worker Lin send Chihiro to the witch Yubaba, who runs the bathhouse. Yubaba gives Chihiro a job but steals her name. She is renamed Sen (千?), the first character of her name.
Haku shows Sen her parents' pigpen. Among her belongings, she finds a goodbye card addressed to Chihiro. Sen realizes that she has already forgotten her name. Haku warns her that Yubaba controls people by taking their names. If she forgets hers like he has forgotten his, then she cannot leave the spirit world. At work, Sen invites a silent masked creature inside. A stink spirit arrives and is Sen's first customer. She discovers he is the spirit of a polluted river. In gratitude for cleaning him, he gives Sen a magic emetic dumpling. Secretly, the masked creature tempts a worker with gold, then swallows him. Publicly, the creature demands food and begins tipping extravagantly.
The next morning, Sen sees paper shikigami attacking a dragon. She recognizes the dragon as Haku transformed. When Haku crashes into Yubaba's penthouse, she runs upstairs. As she passes the masked creature, he offers her a heap of gold, but she refuses it.
When Sen reaches Haku, a shikigami that stowed away on her back transforms into Zeniba, Yubaba's identical twin sister. Zeniba turns Yubaba's baby son Boh into a mouse and creates a decoy baby. Haku has stolen a magic gold seal from her, and she warns that it carries a deadly curse. Haku dives to the boiler room with Sen and Boh on his back. As they fall, Sen has a memory of being underwater. She feeds Haku part of the dumpling, and he vomits up the seal and a black slug that Sen crushes. She resolves to return the seal and apologize for Haku.
Before she leaves, she confronts the masked creature, who is a monster named No-Face. No-Face has become disgustingly obese, so Sen feeds him the rest of the dumpling. He begins vomiting and angrily chases Sen out of the bathhouse. As he vomits, he returns to a normal size and a gentle demeanor.
While Sen, No-Face, and Boh travel to Zeniba, Yubaba is furious at the damage caused by No-Face. She blames Sen for inviting him in and orders that her parents be slaughtered. Haku prods her into realizing that her baby is missing. He proposes to return Boh in exchange for Yubaba freeing Sen and her parents.
Sen, No-Face, and Boh arrive at Zeniba's house. Zeniba reveals that Sen's love for Haku broke her curse. The black slug was how Yubaba controlled him. Haku arrives. As he flies her and Boh back to the bathhouse, Sen has another memory of being underwater: When she was little, she fell in the Kohaku River but was washed safely ashore. She realizes that Haku is the spirit of the Kohaku River and tells him his name.
To break the curse on her parents, Sen must recognize them from among a group of pigs. She correctly discerns that her parents are not there. Haku takes her to the riverbed, which is dry once more. He says that he can't come with her, and she must not look back, but they will surely meet again.
Chihiro's parents are waiting for her on the other side. They do not remember anything and scold her for wandering off. They walk back to their car, which is filled with dust.
- Rumi Hiiragi as Chihiro Ogino (荻野 千尋), a sullen girl, but later courageous and quick-witted. In the English version, Chihiro is voiced by Daveigh Chase.
- Mari Natsuki as Yubaba (湯婆婆 Yubaaba, lit. "bathhouse witch"), an elderly witch with an inhumanly large head and nose, who supervises the bathhouse. Yubaba has an over-bearing and authoritarian personality, but dotes on her son Boh. Natsuki also voices Zeniba (銭婆 Zeniiba?), Yubaba's twin sister. In the English version, Zeniba and Yubaba are voiced by Suzanne Pleshette.
- Miyu Irino as Haku/Spirit of the Kohaku River (ハク／饒速水琥珀主（ニギハヤミコハクヌシ） Haku/Nigihayami Kohakunushi?, lit. "god of the swift amber river"): A young boy who befriends Chihiro Ogino, and can assume two forms: a human and a white dragon. In the English version, Haku is voiced by Jason Marsden.
- Yumi Tamai as Lin (リン Rin?): A worker at the bathhouse who becomes Chihiro's caretaker, identified as the transformed spirit of a Sable (weasel). In the English version, Lin is voiced by Susan Egan.
- Bunta Sugawara as Kamajii (釜爺?, lit. "boiler geezer"), a cantankerous, six-armed engineer who operates the boiler room of the bathhouse; capable of extending his arms indefinitely, and therefore shown walking upon them. A number of Susuwatari (ススワタリ?, lit. "travelling soot", soot sprites) carry coal to his furnace. In the English version, Kamajii is voiced by David Ogden Stiers.
- Yasuko Sawaguchi as Yuko Ogino (荻野 悠子 Ogino Yūko), Chihiro's mother. In the English version, Yuko is voiced by Lauren Holly.
- Takashi Naito as Akio Ogino (荻野 明夫 Ogino Akio), Chihiro's father. In the English version, Akio is voiced by Michael Chiklis.
- Takehiko Ono as Aniyaku (兄役?), the assistant manager of the bathhouse. In the English version, Aniyaku is voiced by John Ratzenberger.
- Ryunosuke Kamiki as Boh (坊 Bō): Yubaba's son and Zeniba's nephew. Although he has the appearance of a young baby, he is twice Yubaba's size and shows immense strength. Later Chihiro's ally in her arguments with Yubaba. In the English version, Boh is voiced by Tara Strong.
- Akio Nakamura as No-Face (カオナシ Kaonashi?, lit. "faceless"), a spirit attaching himself to Chihiro. At first, he appears a demure, cloaked, masked wraith, apparently mute. Seen as polite, calm, and quiet at first, No-Face seems to sustain himself on the emotions of those he encounters, particularly their emotional reception to his gifts. In the English version, No-Face is voiced by Bob Bergen.
Miyazaki wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on his friend's ten-year-old daughter, who came to visit his house each summer. At the time, Miyazaki was developing two personal projects, but they were rejected. Production of Spirited Away began in 2000. During production, Miyazaki based the film's settings at a museum in Koganei, Tokyo. However, Miyazaki realized the film would be over three hours and decided to cut out several parts of the story for its July 27, 2001 release. Pixar director John Lasseter, a fan of Miyazaki, was approached by Walt Disney Pictures to supervise an English-language translation for the film's North American release. Lasseter hired Kirk Wise as director and Donald W. Ernst as producer of the adaptation. When released, Spirited Away became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing over $274 million worldwide. The film overtook Titanic (at the time the top grossing film worldwide) in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday) and is among the top ten in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.