I didn’t notice this when I first watched Spirited Away, but apparently the architecture of the film was inspired by structures on display at the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (Edo-Tokyo Tatemono-en) 江戸東京たてもの園 (map). And the shopping street in the film’s town was inspired by the billboard architecture at the museum.
Here’s a still from the film, from Looks Like! Here’s the Real Setting for Spirited Away!, a post that compares several structures from the film with buildings from the museum.
The book, Japanese Visual Culture, by Mark W. MacWilliams, also mentions that apparent inspiration provided by the architecture museum:
And The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki, by Dani Cavallaro, mentions signboard architecture as one of several design elements that mark Spirited Away as distinctively Japanese.
Meanwhile, one essay, A nightmare of capitalist Japan: Spirited Away, argues that the film’s architecture is meant to immerse viewers in the harsh capitalistic ethos of the Meii era:
“This mystical town resembles Meiji Japan in terms of architecture, during which time the style was a mix of Western and Japanese. By the witch’s curse, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs, and Chihiro must serve as a laborer at the Yuya in order to rescue them…By having Chihiro live in the era of a modernizing Japan, Miyazaki invites the audience to experience what we really were losing as a nation and personally during that period.”
A view of the museum:
- 15 Fascinating Facts About ‘Spirited Away’ (Mental Floss)
- Spirited Away – Shops Background
- Tokyo Museum Map 東京美術館マップ