Food and its consumption, as seen in Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 film Spirited Away, holds the power to physically manifest personalities and feelings.
An incredibly memorable character in the film, referred to as “No-Face,” helps our protagonist Chihiro/ Sen along her transitional period into the spirit world. During the initial stretch of the film, No Face’s ghost-like form and inability to speak are slightly disturbing. The character’s reasons for helping the newly acquainted Sen were unclear, therefore eerie and suspicious.
The audience only gets a sense of No-Face’s intentions after the act of consumption. No-Face first eats by luring in a greedy bathhouse worker with gold. This action enables No-Face to speak; the first instance when No-Face gains a physical manifestation through eating. The character’s intrinsic ability to produce gold buys him lots and lots of food, which he scarfs down quickly. The rich bathhouse food allows No-Face to grow arms, legs, and a huge body. From his gluttony comes the physical change from ghost-like to hulking and massive. He even becomes sticky and slimy, leaving residue and tracks wherever he goes.
When Sen is forced to meet No-Face after his “take over” of the bathhouse, we get a clearer picture of the reasons behind No-Face’s actions. What No-Face really wanted to was to be friends with Sen. He ate all sorts of rich foods, and even bathhouse workers, just to feel less lonely. With his intentions finally out in the open, No-Face seems much less sinister. Still, his destructive eating has caused him to transform into a gigantic monster. Sen gives him a piece of the small food ball the River God gave her. This simple, blessed food, given to No-Face out of kindness, purges him of the food eaten out of gluttony.
No-Face follows Sen as she continues her journey to save Haku. When they arrive at Zeniba’s house in the country, No-Face reaches the final leg of his personal journey. Zeniba is exactly the opposite of her twin sister Yubaba. She takes the adventurers in and provides them with the necessary tools to save Haku. More importantly, she treats them to a modest meal. The characters, the music, even the film’s pace, seemed to take a breather and look fondly on their meal. The food gives Sen and her friends the nourishment to continue their hard journey, but has a seemingly life-changing effect on No-Face. While everyone washes up from dinner his connection to Zeniba’s home grows. No-Face decides to stay and help Zeniba, finally giving him a purpose and the companionship he was looking for. Zeniba’s loving meal changed No-Face profoundly, allowing him to find his place in the world.
The way the characters eat food, even their basic intentions surrounding food, are brought to life in the spirit world of the story. The character of No-Face serves as an interesting juxtaposition to Sen’s. He starts as an outsider, just like Sen, but, after becoming a dominant monster, finds his place in the spirit world. Sen dominates her situation with a pure heart, but leaves the spirit world behind to save her family. The character arc of No-Face is perfectly shadowed in the food he consumes, and how he consumes it. Food’s profound effect on character is exactly why it is so important to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.