Studio Ghibli fans worldwide have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece, and Academy Award-winning feature, Spirited Away. For most North American fans, Spirited Away was the movie that introduced them to the world of Ghibli because Walt Disney Pictures released it on home video in 2003. Then-Pixar head John Lasseter, a huge fan and friend of Miyazaki for years, persuaded Disney to pick up the North American distribution rights.
Lasseter also helped with the film's English dub and made some changes to the North American release. Most of them were minor, such as the addition of background chatter. However, the biggest change Disney made to its version happens at the very end of the film, one that even some longtime fans may not be aware of it.
As Chihiro exits the spirit world and reunites with her parents at the end of the American edition of Spirited Away, her father Axio tells her, "A new school and a new home, it is a bit scary . . ." She replies with "I think I can handle it." with some confidence in her tone. This brings the movie full circle as it began with her being upset that her family was moving and will be attending a new school where she has to make new friends. But after going through the emotional and physical rollercoaster that was the events of the film, she comes out stronger and better prepared for what lies ahead in the real world.
This last line nicely wraps up Chihiro's epic adventure, in which she overcame plenty of obstacles to make reunite with her parents. However, it was actually added into the English dubbed version rather than being carried over from Miyazaki's original version. Miyazaki himself confirmed that as she returns to her parents' car, Chihiro doesn't recall the events that occurred in the spirit world.
He also confirmed that the movie wasn't like The Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy's adventure turned out to be a dream the entire time. In Spirited Away, a few hints were drawn into the scene indicating that time had passed, such as more grass growing at the tunnel entrance, dust and leaves on the car, and Chihiro's headband given to her by the witch spirit Zeniba noticeably glittering.
Miyazaki also pointed out that while Chihiro may not remember what happened right away, those memories could come back to her in the future. When watching either the American or Japanese version of the film, Chihiro not remembering her history with spirits is established around the climax. When being taken back to the bathhouse by Haku Chihiro (with the nickname of Sen) she realizes that Haku was the spirit of the Kohaku river and that he rescued her when she fell into it as a child. Discovering this also freed Haku from Zeniba's witch twin Yubaba's spell. If this memory of being washed safely ashore by Haku can come back to her, then her experiences at the bathhouse surely could eventually.
While some Miyazaki purists may not like that Disney added that last line for the English dub, it at least provides the film closure for American audiences. If they are given the impression that Chihiro didn't recall what just happened then the ending, arguably, may have not been received as well as it was with Japanese audiences.
Although Miyazaki has come out of retirement (again) to work on another feature film, a sequel to Spirited Away has not been announced and is unlikely, meaning that Chihiro's future life after her time in the spirit world will remain officially unknown. Regardless, it seems she either recalled her odyssey immediately or has to wait to remember; likely, the wisdom of her experience will come back to her when it's needed.