“A Journey with Food” by Cindy Kaneko

            Spirited Away, a film directed in 2001 by Hayao Miyazaki, tells of one girl’s journey through a strange new world.  As Chihiro and her parents make their way through a new neighborhood, they drive on an offbeat path that takes them to a strange shrine like place.  Curious, her parents wander around and encounter a delicious smell.  As her parents walk around the desolate shops trying to discover where the delectable scent of food is coming from, Chihiro meets the only other person in the village.  He tells her to run to the edge of the river and as she does Chihiro blurs past ghosts and strange creatures and she terrifyingly discerns that her parents have turned into voracious, portly pigs.

In order to turn her parents back into the humans they once were, Chihiro must work for the powerful Yubaba at the bathhouse designed for the gods. Yubaba takes away everything and every recollection that has to do with the real world and the only thing Chihiro is able to hold onto is her name.  We watch as Chihiro accomplishes tasks at the hectic bathhouse to free her parents, encountering many challenges.  Miyazaki integrates the fantasy and real world in Spirited Away to take the viewers on an amazing quest through the use of food to show different transitions, emotions, and generations.

Miyazaki uses food throughout the film to mark different transitions into the human world and that of the gods.  When the parents smell the food wafting in the air, they are so tantalized by the smell that they try to investigate further to where that delicious scent is coming from.  This marks the transition into the new world that Chihiro and other humans have not known even existed.  With the smell of the food comes the curiosity and excitement into the unknown universe; the enticing aroma is the beginning of a new quest.  As well, when Chihiro begins to disappear because she is not accustomed to the strange land, she eats a small red ball that Haku hands her in order for her not to vanish.  As soon as she swallows it, she can touch Haku once more.  This food is strange and unique, paralleling this new world that Chihiro is now a part of.  The food that she swallows marks her existence in the fantasy world, completing the transition into the new land.  Miyazaki uses food as a means of shift from Chihiro’s world to Haku’s.  It also shows how perhaps Chihiro was disappearing in her world and how she is struggling to be a part of the physical world.  The way in which Miyazaki incorporates food in the film is fascinating, making the watchers feel as if they are on this quest with Chihiro.

Miyazaki portrays different personalities and emotions in the characters also through food.  He depicted the humans in a greedy light in the beginning of the movie with Chihiro’s parents.  Her parents are seen as gluttonous, eating the various meats like animals even though they never paid for it.  This shows how compared to the gods, the humans are vulture like, eating whatever is in front of them without a care.  The parents arrogantly sat down and began eating, thinking that they will pay once service comes to them.  Yet if they eat like pigs, Miyazaki shows that they are on the same level as pigs.  As well, when Haku hands Chihiro the onigiris (rice balls) after Chihiro forgets her own name and realizes the graveness of her situation, she eats the onigiris extremely fast and cries while munching on them rapidly.  Not just the food, but also the way she eats makes watchers feel her pain and watchers are able grieve with her.  Chihiro uses the food as a sort of comfort and longing for the past once more.  Miyazaki meticulously inserts different foods in the film to intensify the character’s feelings.

Spirited Away is a timeless Japanese film that blends together the past life of Japan to that of the present.  Miyazaki uses food to make the shift from the real world into fantasy world, using the aroma of the food at the beginning.  He also heightens the emotions of the characters by utilizing foods throughout the film by highlighting their reactions.  By using food is Miyazaki able to increase the audience’s pleasure in watching the film.

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