So, your name's Chihiro? What a pretty name. And belongs to me now.
- —Yubaba, after having Chihiro sign her contract.
Yubaba (湯婆婆, Yubaba) (Granny by Chihiro at the climax of the film) is the proprietor of the Bathhouse and the main antagonist of the Japanese animated film Spirited Away. She is the identical younger twin sister of Zeniba and the mother of Boh. She has a bird servant affectionately referred to by fans as Yu-Bird, an apprentice by the name of Haku, and is the employer of maybe hundreds of other bathhouse workers.
Yubaba is Zeniba's younger twin sister and, as such, is almost completely identical to her. She has an inhumanly-large figure and a large mound of gray hair combed into a bun-like style. Her age is never stated, but Yubaba is very wrinkly, most likely ancient. She has dark brown eyes accentuated with lavender eye shadow as well as a prominent crooked nose drawing attention to a bindi-like mole between her eyebrows. She also wears golden earrings identical to those of her twin sister's. Unlike her sister, Yubaba is not shown with glasses in the film.
As the main antagonist of the film, Yubaba has an extremely overbearing and intimidating personality. Like many other workers of her infamous bathhouse, Yubaba obsesses greedily over gold and is shown to be willing to view gold as a priority over her own family (especially Zeniba, whom she expresses hatred for). However, she has, in some instances, shown a great amount of motherly care for her son, Boh, and is seen completely devastated when the latter states that he "won't like [her] anymore" if she continues to treat Chihiro Ogino unfairly towards the end of the film.
She is quite selfish and frugal (when it comes to her workers), having given herself an opulent office with immeasurable amounts of unoccupied space and her many workers a single, cramped room as living space. From the other side, however, she also readily takes both disgusting and dangerous tasks herself (like meeting the Stink Spirit or attempting to shield her workers from the rampaging No-Face). She appears highly professional in these tasks.
Her magical capabilities have allowed her to "steal" the names of her workers, binding them in a contract to her bathhouse forever unless they manage to miraculously recall their full names (the only two people seen doing so are Haku and Chihiro, both of which relied on each other to remember). She is also seen to be able to spit fire when angered to a certain extent (seen when Haku mentions that her precious son, Boh, has been "taken" from her). When she goes out to fly, she wraps herself in a cloak and makes herself look like a large bird.
While her attributes are seen as incredibly antagonistic, Yubaba has (on occasion) shown several redeeming qualities, such as her willingness to praise Chihiro after her excellent work with helping the Unnamed River Spirit and motherly softness for her son, Boh. In the end, she simply places gold over most things, causing others to disagree with her due to their varying mindsets.
Not introduced until after being mentioned by both Haku and Kamajii, Yubaba quickly establishes herself as a very terrifying authoritarian figure to Chihiro during their first face-to-face meeting (Yubaba is first heard in this scene talking through the gargoyle knocker on the door to her office). During her interview with Chihiro, she uses various methods to intimidate Chihiro into speaking about those who have helped her, and is quite annoyed that the latter repeatedly asks for a job, forcing Yubaba to make good on an oath to give anyone a job who asks for one. Calling Chihiro stupid, useless and spoiled, Yubaba's tirade ends abruptly with one of Boh's tantrums, during which she reluctantly gives a contract to Chihiro. Remarking on how beautiful (and long) Chihiro's name is, Yubaba quickly removes several characters from the signature, renaming Chihiro "Sen". She is then seen ordering a very stoic and distant Haku to take Chihiro to the lower floors.
Yubaba is next seen in the movie as a bird. By wrapping herself up in a cloak, she transforms her body into one similar to a bird's and flies off into the distance, allowing Haku to visit Chihiro without interference.
She returns to realize that a "Stink Spirit" is trying to walk into the bathhouse during the rain and orders her workers to chase the spirit away. Realizing later that the guest is in fact not a Stink Spirit, she orders Chihiro to serve him. After Chihiro successfully removed large amounts of junk and debris from the spirit, Yubaba hugged her in happiness, revealing that the dirty spirit was actually a River Spirit, and a very wealthy and powerful figure in the Spirit Realm. Some time later, she orders Haku to steal a golden seal from Zeniba.
With No-Face causing an uproar in the bathhouse, Yubaba angrily blames Chihiro on the phone for letting No-Face in, and promptly tells her subordinates to dispose of Haku, who was gravely injured after being cursed by Zeniba and of no use to her anymore. She is then seen coming out of a rampaging No-Face's guest room and quickly dismisses her (then transformed) son, Boh, for being a "dirty mouse" and pushes Chihiro in the room to face No-Face alone.
As No-Face regurgitates all the food and other matter he has eaten whilst chasing Chihiro, Yubaba remarks that what No-Face has done is unforgivable and tosses a fireball at him only to be puked on by the monstrous spirit.
She is next seen in her office having washed herself. Realizing that "Boh" was really just the Three Heads and that the "gold" she received from No-Face was merely mud, she storms into Boh's room looking for her son and asks Haku, with blazing anger, where her son is. When told he was at Zeniba's place, Yubaba immediately extinguishes the flames in her mouth and seats herself in a chair, striking a deal with Haku to have him return Boh in exchange for Chihiro's freedom.
She is then seen pacing on the bridge entrance to The Bathhouse with a contract in her hand, waiting for Chihiro and Haku's return with her son. Having completed her deal with Haku and with the contract destroyed, Yubaba spitefully tells Chihiro to leave. Unlike her workers and son, Yubaba does not bid a friendly farewell to Chihiro, but nonetheless remains to see her off.
Yubaba is an extremely powerful witch whose magic could only be matched by that of her older twin sister, Zeniba.
Yubaba is formidably skilled in manipulating supernatural energy that enabled her to alter the fabric of reality and defy the laws of nature. In fact, it would seem that she was notorious in the spirit world for her magical aptitude, for Haku (a powerful spirit in his own right) willingly entered her service to learn magic, and even after he was freed from her control, he was still unable to break her magical hold over Chihiro and her parents. Examples of abilities Yubaba derived from her magic are:
- Transformation: Yubaba had the ability to manipulate reality to transform any object or being into something else - when Chihiro's parents greedily ate the food meant for the spirits, Yubaba punished them by transforming them into pigs, and it was shown that only she was able to undo the transformations. Haku also confirmed that she was notorious for transforming non-spirit beings who crossed her path into animals.
- Sensing: Yubaba had the ability to determine the location and status of other beings by concentrating on them - she was shown to be able to sense Chihiro at a proximity. She was also the first to instinctively sense that there was more to the "stink spirit" than met the eye, and finally managed to identify it as a river spirit.
- Telekinesis: Yubaba had the ability to move objects as well as individuals with her mind, which she channeled through her hands - with a mere hand gesture, she had Chihiro dragged into her office without physically touching her, and even had the doors that Chihiro passed through shut and locked. She also levitated a paper contract with a pen to Chihiro so she could sign her name. Later on, she used this ability to lift a chair off the ground so she could sit on it.
- Pyrokinesis: Yubaba had the ability to create and manipulate fire at will, which she channeled through her fingers and mouth - she lit a cigarette with a tiny flame conjured at her fingertip, and breathed tremendous streams of fire through her nostrils upon realising that her son was missing.
- Flight: Yubaba had the ability to defy gravity and propel herself through the air at tremendous speeds and heights.
- Contract Bestowal: Yubaba's most significant power in the film was the ability to give a person a certain status (usually as one of her bathhouse's employees) or change an event (such as reversing a transformation) through an agreement. This was shown to be one of the most dangerous abilities she possessed, for it was her primary means of controlling her employees, rendering them unable to defy or rebel against her. Examples of other abilities she derived from this province are:
- Infestation: Yubaba had the ability to infest any being with a Black Worm - after Haku entered her service as both her apprentice and employee, she placed such a slug within him so she could control him, and he was either ignorant of, or unable to, or unwilling to remove the slug, which bound him to do her every bidding.
- True Name Manipulation: Yubaba had the ability to manipulate the true names of others, which enabled her to control any sentient being by modifying or changing its identity through manipulating its name - as explained by Haku, if Chihiro failed to recall and secretly retain her true name, she would be doomed to be under Yubaba's control forever, as she would never be able to return home without her true name.
- Memory Manipulation: Yubaba had the ability to control the memories of others, enabling her to erase entire memories, and heal memories that had been altered or deleted - after transforming Chihiro's parents into pigs, she also erased their human memories. Later on, she restored their human memories along with reversing their animal transformations, but also completely erased their memories of their encounter in the spirit world. This was shown to be also one of the most dangerous powers Yubaba possessed, given that she was even able to make those who entered into contract with her forget their true names, and actually believe that the new names she gave them were their true ones. Haku, for instance, was unable to recall his true name after becoming her apprentice, and only managed to do so with Chihiro's help. Chihiro herself forgot her true name after only a night spent in Yubaba's service, and was only able to recall and secretly retain it through Haku's timely assistance.
- Cleanliness Inducement: Yubaba had the ability to induce cleanliness upon anything or anyone, which she channeled through her hands - after calming down Boh's tantrum, she fixed her messed up hair and her ruined office by gesturing at them, causing them to automatically clean themselves up.
- Conjuration: Yubaba had the ability to materialise imaginary objects at will - she conjured ropes for Chihiro and Lin.
- Power Negation: Yubaba had the ability to cancel out the magical powers and spells of other beings, which she channeled through her hands - with a hand gesture, she undid the transformation spell that Zenbia placed on Kashira.
Yubaba mean Elderly woman (baba) of the hot water (yu). She is called Baba by her son Boh. The first syllables of Zeniba and Yubaba form the Japanese word sento for bathhouse.
Yubaba is strict to her employees like the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. When Yubaba ordered the slaughter of Chihiro's parents, this action resembled the Queen of Heart's infamous line 'Off with their heads!' Chihiro's parent was allured by the smell of Food Stalls to transform them into pig afterward like the witch in Hansel and Gretel did. Her name Yubaba sounds like Baba Yaga, a witch from a Russian fairy tale. She has also many similarities to the mountain witch Yamauba.
The Mountain Witch Yamauba
After No-Face' rampage, Yubaba orders to slaughter Chihiro's parents shocking her employees. This resembles Yamauba's cannibalism. Yamauba spoils her son Kintarō like Yubaba did with Boh. Yamauba is portrayed as an elderly woman that can be found in Itsukushima Shrine. The painting was created by Rosetsu Nagasawa (1754 - 1799). In the narrative Yamauba's husband is never mentioned just like Yubaba's husband is never mentioned in the film, too.
Yamauba gives birth to a child every month. But her most beloved child is Kintarou, who wears a red Harakake. On the clothing the short name Kin is printed. The relationship between them is described in Yamauba-buyou.
- Yubaba is one of two witches seen in the film.
- Unlike her sister, Yubaba doesn't appear to require glasses or may be using magic in place of corrective lenses.
- Chihiro calls her "Granny" twice at the end in the English version.
- "I can't believe I took that oath."
- "Give a job to anyone who asks."
- "My baby!"
- "Sweetie! Sweetie pie!"
- "Where is he?!"
- "What did you do with my baby?!"
- "Very clever, Haku."
- "Very clever, indeed."
- "I see, you'll get my baby back for me, but at a price."
- "Well, I see you failed to bring my baby back."
- "My baby!"
- "Are you traumatized?"
- "You're standing up all by yourself."
- "All right, you win. Get out of my sight."
- "When did that happen?"
- "It’s a Stink Spirit!"
- The Art of Spirited Away, page 104
- Noriko T. Reider, Spirited Away: Film oft he Fantastic and Evolving Japanese Folk Symbols, Film Criticism 29, volume 3, 2005, page 13
- Ichiro Hori, Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968, page 167