Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away describes how a girl Chihiro, who is unintentionally dragged into this magic world full of ghosts and spirits, finds her true self throughout a treacherous and love-seeking adventure in order to save her parents. The food, specifically the River God’s berry, in Spirited Away plays an important role of profoundly affecting the characters. Though seemingly distasteful and ugly in comparison to other food that are presented in the anime, the River God’s berry that is given to Chihiro by the River God as a reward has many miraculous functions. It acts as a character-changing catalyst and symbolizes strength, vitality, and cure to all the poisons and evilness.
The smaller version of River God’s berry seems to have made its appearance even before the River God gives it to Chihiro in the bath house. When Chihiro is crying at a corner due to the overwhelming strangeness around her, Haku, himself being also a river spirit, feeds her a berry-like food that has the same shape as the one River God gives Chihiro later on in the story. After eating the berry, Chihiro transforms from a transparent state to her normal, opaque body. Before eating the berry, Chihiro has lost her hope of saving her parents and returning back to her original world. The beginning of her turning transparent and “see-through” symbolizes the gradual loss of her hopes and strength in Chihiro. On the other hand, the berry given by Haku seems to have the power of revitalizing and strengthening Chihiro not only physically but also mentally by giving her hopes and positive thinking in this magical world. It can be interpreted that Miyazaki has decided that the berry should act as a benign and powerful food which differs from the food eaten by Chihiro’s parents.
The River God’s berry has again proven its functions of revitalizing and healing people. Additionaly, it has the power to eject the evilness. After Haku returns wounded from Zeniba’s place, Chihiro gives him a part of the River God’s berry in order to soothe his pain. Haku coughs out the evil little creature that is leeching his energy after eating the berry. This is a critical turning point of the story as after eating the berry, Haku is free of Yubaba’s restraint. It is miraculous how Haku, being unable to move an inch and choking with blood, is completely healed after eating the River God’s berry. As opposed to the way food is eaten by Chihiro’s parents and the spirits, Chihiro gives Haku the berry in little bits. This difference seems to indicate that food in general should not be gulped like how the spirits and would have a positive effect if eaten slowly in little bits. Evidently, it has the ability to heal the wounds and dispel any evilness. In my opinion, the River God’s berry, accompanies with love, is a really influential medicine.
Moreover, when No-Face becomes angry at the fact that Chihiro does not accept his gold, he starts to eat a lot of food and change his personality. After Chihiro gives her the last bit of the River God’s berry, No-Face pukes out all the junk food and people he eats while being hot-tempered. The berry has a huge impact on No-Face since he is no longer aggressive after eating it. From this scene, it can be interpreted that the River God’s berry acts as a character-changing catalyst which also further emphasizes its importance in the anime. In my opinion, Miyazaki also wants to create a balance in the food as the benign berry counteracts the junk foods in the movie. The berry’s capability of repelling the evilness and changing the attributes of a character is clearly portrayed in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
Hayao Miyazaki’s anime, Spirited Away, includes various food related ideas. Most of the foods that are portrayed in the anime are meats and junk foods which have negative effects on people as shown in the scene when Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs. However, there is one kind of food that has played an important and beneficial role in this movie- River God’s berry. From the aforementioned sequences it is vividly depicted that the River God’s berry not only gives strength, vitality, and cure to the evilness to the characters, it also changes them throughout the movie. Through Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, the River God’s berry has proven its importance most definitely.