This is my favorite Miyazaki film! I make no claim to the characters or the original work. This is just my take on what happens afterwards.
After all, Haku did say that they were going to meet again.…
Chapter 1: Forgetfulness of Memory
She finished sketching the little white flower on her drawing paper and stuffed the pocket notebook into her bag. This flower was called "dragon's breath" by the locals and both its name and delicate snowflake qualities had caught her attention. Overhead, the midday sun was beginning to change it's setting from "toast" to "bake."
The hike around the countryside just outside of the town where they were staying was going longer than expected, but she didn't really mind. The outdoors and the exercise appealed to her, and this summer school trip for extra credit was turning out to be real fun; much better than being inside a classroom. There were daily hikes, lunchtime visits to shrines and temples, and afternoon lectures on Japanese history and culture, all of which appealed to her. As their homeroom teacher Mr. Takada continued his lecture to her class as the students gathered around an enormous cherry tree, she was sure that he didn't notice her brief absence.
"Chihiro! There you are! Mr. Takada will be angry if he notices you keep skipping out!" whispered her friend, Sachiko.
"I've been away from the group at least five times today and I don't think he's noticed even once," said Chihiro quietly.
"Honestly, Chihiro, I expect a little more responsibility from you. After all, we're juniors now!" said Sachiko.
"Sachi, we've only just reached the eleventh grade. The school year hasn't even started yet…"
The two friends went to finish the end of the line as their classmates were leaving the glen.
"I hope we're staying at another great inn tonight. You know last night's dinner was so yummy. There were so many fish to choose from!"
"You must be the only Japanese person who's never had fish before," remarked Chihiro sarcastically. "Besides, I think that was because we were in a big city last night. Nagoya's huge. But now we're in the outskirts of Mitake. The selection probably won't be as nice here," smiled Chihiro. Her friend then looked at her thoughtfully.
"Awww…" grumbled Sachiko. "You're probably right."
"It's not that far but it does seem a ways from home, doesn't it?" asked Chihiro, looking at the grassy landscape. "It's so beautiful. There's something calmly beautiful about it."
"This? This is just grass and weeds, Chihiro," mused her friend. "But it does feel like we're a long way from Ueno."
"Girls? Girls! Please, this way! Keep up!" The voice came from Ms. Matsui, the teacher's assistant, who was waving them to quickly come in her direction. The girls followed the rest of the group to the town's Shinto temple.
When they reached the temple, an old building filled with smells of incense to varying degrees pungency, Sachiko swat away the smoky smells coming towards her. The thick smell of smoke permeated the air from the inner sanctum. Chihiro watched a Shinto priest eye them almost scornfully, and then continued to sweep the stone steps to the front door. Chihiro lingered outside as she noticed particular stone carvings that were somehow familiar to her. She grazed her fingers gently over the white stone carving of a dragon. What struck her as odd was the color of its scales. The scales were opalescent and flat, smooth to the touch and they seemed somehow glued on rather than carved out of stone. Looking closer at the effigy, she noticed its eyes were set in green, pieced from some jadeite. She snuck out her digital camera phone to take a few close up pictures for her class report. Chihiro looked over to where the Shinto priest was. He was still sweeping the floor, looking down at his work. When no one was looking, she took a nail file from her pocket and chipped off a small piece of dragon scale.
"What are you doing?" whispered Sachiko in a fearful voice, glancing around them to see if anyone saw her friend defacing public property.
"Just a sample," smiled Chihiro, putting the scale and the file back in her pocket with a smooth flick of her wrist.
"Has anyone ever told you that you make a good thief?" asked her friend.
"So do you steal things for fun?" joked Sachiko.
"Sometimes," smiled Chihiro.
"EEEHH?" exclaimed Sachiko, forgetting that they were inside a temple. The students and tour guide and teachers were all looking at her, questioningly.
"Ah, sorry!" exclaimed Chihiro. "I thought I saw a big centipede." The others grunted and mumbled but then continued to listen to the tour guide give his lecture.
"This temple," said the pock-marked face of the guide, "was once known to worship several prominent gods in the area. There was a sacred purifying spirit, who even today is said to live in the water well. Those who drink from the well will achieve health and long life. And there was also a spirit who lived in our giant banyan tree," said the guide, pointing outside towards the temple gardens. "But perhaps the oldest spirit was a river god, from the river that flows right past the north of Mitake. Some say that this god often took the form of a great and beautiful dragon, with pearly blue scales and gold horns. He had many offspring which flowed from him as well, but many of these smaller rivers were dammed up and filled in to provide for urban and housing development. His most famous son, Kohaku, or Nihiyagami Kohaku Nushi, was the one who appeased his angry father when humans harvested the sea without permission and destroyed his rivers by building damns. A period of flooding bombarded this area during the early Heian Period. But Kohaku was born kind, and appeased his father by creating a rainbow for his father's crown in exchange for his father's mercy towards humans. Then, with his anger set aside the river god quieted and the flood waters receded. Kohaku was then sent all over Japan to see to the seasonal rains, ever careful not to flood the people. Sometimes, his father still gets angry. But when we see the rainbow over the river, Kohaku has once again appeased his father on our behalf." Several of the older patrons nodded and sent out satisfied murmurs in the crowd.
Chihiro went outside to yawn and stretch. She didn't remember ever being here, but her mother did once tell her that the family had come to Gifu Prefecture for a summer holiday. That's when she had almost drowned in a river. Though she was now seventeen and could not remember that fated day, she had never really got a good explanation from her mom as to how she was ever rescued. It was too long ago for her to remember, but out of whimsical fancy she wondered if her luck had anything to do with the guardian spirit of the temple.
"Come now, let's go this way. Don't forget to stop by the temple gift shop on your way out!" shouted the tour guide. Sachiko slipped her arm around Chihiro's.
"Come on, let's go see the trinkets! I hope they sell love charms here. I've been hoping that Mamoru would look at me even once, but it still hasn't happened. I'm gonna turn my luck around, maybe if I pray to these gods?" Though she protested, Chihiro was dragged out to the gift shop beyond the garden.
"The spirits aren't going to help you with trifles like that. You need to look to more practical means for getting what you want," smirked Chihiro.
"That's odd coming from you, oh wise one who has yet to find a boyfriend herself," laughed Sachi.
"Those things aren't really important to me," said Chihiro, sticking out her tongue.
"Ogino, Nishida!" called out Ms. Matsui.
"Present!" said Sachiko and Chihiro simultaneously.
"You two are in room 386. Here is one key for each of you, and morning wake up call is 7 a.m., don't forget, girls."
"Yes ma'am," said Sachiko. The two carried their duffels up the stairs to the right.
"It's indecent that this place doesn't have bell hops or elevators."
"Sachi, it's only three stories high. Besides, you ate so much during the day, I'd think you'd be glad to walk it off now," smiled Chihiro. Sachiko grumbled at her friend. They reached the top floor and found their room.
"Great, right next to the vending machines!" smiled Sachiko.
"You're a bottomless pit, you know that?" smirked Chihiro.
The room was small, but comfortable looking. There was no TV but there was a clock radio, a small table with two chairs and two small beds. Sachiko chose the bed closest to the door, and plopped down her bags.
"I'm gonna shower, ok?"
"Sure," answered Chihiro. She waited until Sachiko went into the bathroom and shut the door before she opened the sliding glass door to the little balcony and looked outside into the night sky, speckled with stars. Below, she saw that the sloping landscape covered in small buildings and houses. It curved, twisted and rolled like it had been carved out by water, except there was no longer a river here.
"What a beautiful place." Chihiro pulled out her sketchbook from her bag and started sketching a complex, twisted shape. Her fingers were guiding her pencil effortlessly and soon there was a marvelous picture of a dragon. It had shimmering scales like a fish and a long mane and its body twisted and rolled like the landscape before her. Pulling out some colored pencils from her bag, she colored the dragon light pearly blue, and it had a long mane of blue-green hair. There was something familiar about this dragon. But, of course she was sure that she had never met a dragon before. She pulled out the piece of "dragon scale" she had pilfered from the temple.
Chihiro compared the color of her drawing with the color of the scale. Had she been here before? Perhaps her parents had taken her to this very temple? She sighed and stuffed the scale back in her pocket, and her pencils back into her satchel. Chihiro thought back to an earlier time in her life, when her family had just decided to start afresh because of her father's job and moved to Ueno. The move was basically uneventful and she was fast to make new friends like Sachi. There was this one place near her house where many stone shrines were placed alongside an old, unused road. People noted that it had been there for as long as any of the houses, perhaps even longer. Down that long narrow path was supposedly a gateway to some abandoned amusement park. Her parents said that they must have torn the rest of it down when the economy went belly up, but they left the gate there.
For whatever reason, though they had lived there some four years, Chihiro never ventured too far along the path, let alone enter through the worn-looking gateway rumored to have strange noises coming from the other side. There was something unsettling about that space. The neighbors said that it was the primary reason why the predecessors of Chihiro's house had moved. Too many strange whispers at night could be heard, causing a neighborhood rumor that it was the spirits coming out to play. Chihiro never heard any such things, nor did her parents.
"River god," she sighed. "I bet the seasonal rain storm job gets tiresome." She drummed her fingers lightly against the metal railing of the balcony. "What would I do in the off seasons if I were a river god?"
"I guess I'd go to a hot spring or a bath house like this one," said Sachi from behind. Chihiro turned to see her friend, drying her hair with a towel.
"Was I talking aloud?"
"Yep. As usual, you weird girl. But I'd love to go check out the hot springs here. They said it's good for your skin."
"Gods don't need to go to hot springs. I mean, do they even get dirty?" pondered Chihiro. She of course had never met one, so she really didn't have proof. "Besides, Sachi you just took a shower. Why would you want to go to a hot spring now? You'll get all pruny."
"Nah, come on, let's just go see." Chihiro and Sachi made their way down past the front desk and into a side door leading to the springs. They passed several of their friends who had already visited the area.
"We have ramen, in case you want any, Chihiro!" called out Mamoru.
"Thanks, I'll make a note of it in case I have a craving for MSG," smiled Chihiro.
"Why does he pay attention to you and not me?" sulked her friend as they walked out.
"Maybe it's because you never say anything to him? You should speak up, Sachi. He'll never notice you like this."
Sachi continued muttering to herself until they reached the women's bath. It was empty. Sachi slipped out of her shoes and ran up to touch the water and test it with her toe.
"It's perfect Chihiro! Let's have a soak, shall we?" Sachi started to undress and take one of the guest towels from the shelf.
"You're hopeless. Don't blame me if you get too pruny beyond recognition and Mamoru is completely scared away," laughed Chihiro. She looked around for another pair of slippers, but Sachi had taken the last ones. She didn't want to dirty the floor with her walking shoes and went to the other side of the bamboo fence in search of extras. She nearly collided into a young man whom she did not hear approaching the entrance to the towel area.
"Oh, excuse me!" said Chihiro, rather startled. She looked up at a pair of large, almond shaped eyes that were deeper than any shade of green she had ever seen.