The director of Spirited Away, Miyazaki Hayao, integrates food heavily into the movie and gives it a somewhat important role. Food takes on a very important role in Spirited Away. Most of the movie takes place in a world not known to us, yet one that makes us feel all nostalgic. Food, while this part of the movie may not make us feel nostalgic, is both unknown and somewhat familiar to the viewer.
Food comes in a variety of forms and holds a variety of uses in the movie. It both shows the similarities between some people and serves to differentiate others. Food not only shows the differences between people but also ages and the human and spirit “cultures” found in the movie.
The first food scene that I’m going to talk about is one of the first scenes, and could arguably be, along with other things, what spurs the entire movie on. When Chihiro’s father gets lost and they walk through the building into a field, there is still the opportunity for them to turn back. However, the father is lured further in by the smell of food. They are led by the noses to huge stacks of somewhat unidentifiable meat (or other things) and proceed to feast upon these large plates of food. The parents offer Chihiro some food, but she refuses to take any. This marks a primary development in the movie: differentiating Chihiro from most other characters in the movie, especially adults.
In Spirited Away, much like Miyazaki’s other movies, children are show to be more innocent than their older human counterparts. The adult’s grotesque consumption of food gives them a greedy and selfish appearance. They are more in tune with their negative human characteristics than Chihiro, a child who has yet to be fully corrupted by age, like so many other characters in his movies. When Chihiro returns to her parents she finds that they have literally turned into pigs. Somewhat befitting considering that they were stuffing themselves like pigs before.
While food also serves to show the differences in characters, it also serves to ally people. The first instance of this is when Haku gives Chihiro a berry so that she won’t disappear from the spirit world. Another takes place when Rin (or Lin) comes to feed the little soot ball things. They eat little brightly colored stars, which they take, hold up, and run around with victoriously. This makes everyone watching giddy with the cuteness of these little creatures. Both of these actions serve to immediately mark these characters (or creatures) as “good”.
It is interesting to see that those characters which are not on Chihiro’s side, whether against her or just not actively with her are seen gorging on food. For example, her parents, along with most of the patrons and no face can be seen consuming large quantities of food. Chihiro and her “allies” eat very little or do it “cutely”. The soot balls eat stars, Lin and her eat just one meat bun apiece (and bite by bite not the whole thing at once), and the baby turned mouse takes a piece of cake (I think) and runs off the table with it. All those that Chihiro is not allied with, if they eat at all, are shown gorging on food or with large portions of it.
When I watched Spirited Away before, I never saw how much of a role food plays in the movie. But it was an eye opener to see how food helps define the relationships between people in the movie.