Miyazaki Hayao’s movie Spirited Away follows a young girl, Chihiro, and her adventures through a foreign and mystical world. When Chihiro and her family become lost, they stumble upon a seemingly empty town. When Chihiro’s father discovers a stand with heaping plates of food, the parents immediately dig in. Because of this, they are cursed and turned into pigs. The world that the family has wandered into is actually the dwelling place of spirits and deities. Chihiro finds a job at the world’s bath house and must learn to survive in this new realm in order to save her parents and bring them all back to the human world. The viewers follow Chihiro as she evolves from an insecure girl to a brave and mature young woman. Throughout the film, Miyazaki uses food as a way of commenting on the greed of modern society and the harms of consumerism.
One of the most obvious scenes where Miyazaki uses food to portray the decay of values in the modern world is at the start of the movie. Chihiro’s parents, overcome with greed at the sight of such luxurious food, immediately start to gorge on the delicacies. As a result, they are both turned into pigs, punished for eating the food. This scene shows a literal representation of humans taking from nature. Chihiro’s parents are the epitome of modern consumerists, believing that with a “credit card and cash,” nothing can go wrong, and that they as the consumers have a right to all products.
The food, the movie later reveals, was laid out for the gods and deities that patronize the bath house. These spirits are a physical manifestation of nature, and range from giant animals to river gods. By having the parents eat what belongs to the spirits, Miyazaki is making a commentary on how humans take away from nature because they feel like the earth is rightfully theirs. By playing on the stereotypes of a pig, the director emphasizes the greed exemplified by the parents and the rest of the human race. Just like many in the modern world, the parents feel like they can conquer nature. When the family first becomes lost, the father does not hesitate to rampage the car through the forest, calmly remarking: “We’re fine. We’ve got four-wheel drive.” Miyazaki enforces this destruction of nature even further by drawing attention to multiple destroyed shrines along the side of the road. These shrines are the home of spirits, and by showing them carelessly tossed and abandoned, Miyazaki portrays how easily humans cast aside the spiritual believes and values of old.
In Spirited Away, Miyazaki makes commentary about the growing detachment between human society and nature. Through the use of food, Chihiro’s parents are shown as the representatives of modern human consumerists, taking at will from nature. Their greed is then more literally portrayed when they are turned into pigs. With this scene, integrated with the scene of driving through the forest, Miyazaki sends the message that as people regard nature less and less, the more selfish and “pig-like” the human race will become.