The movie begins by introducing Chihiro, a whiny, pessimistic child, who is annoyed about having to move to a new town. While driving to their new house, Chihiro’s father attempts a shortcut; they subsequently lose their way and come across a mysterious tunnel which leads to what appears to be an abandoned theme park, lined with fully-stocked restaurants. Both parents impulsively eat the food they find there, and as a result transform into pigs.
Chihiro’s distress at losing her parents is compounded by the discoveries that the world around her has changed and that her body seems to be dissolving. A mysterious boy named Haku appears, comforts Chihiro, and gives her something to eat, which makes her solid again.
He smuggles her into a large bathhouse owned and operated by the tyrannical witch Yubaba, where thousands of spirits come to refresh themselves. Haku tells Chihiro that the only way she can remain in the spirit-world long enough to rescue her parents is by gaining employment in Yubaba’s bathhouse. When Chihiro asks Haku how he seems to know her so well, Haku replies that he has known Chihiro since she was small.