Food for the Souls

In Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away a young girl named Chihiro winds up in a fantastical land of spirits and souls. She finds work at a bathhouse for spirits and encounters many gluttonous and disgusting spirits there wishing to be cleansed. This film is heavily focused on identity and how it is defined. Miyazaki argues that what we consume defines who we are, both physically and emotionally, and that the wealth of temptations and distractions in our current society is poisoning us.

The first god Chihiro is charged with washing is the river god. As he approaches the bathhouse he is so covered in filth that the inhabitants mistake him for a stink god. The god is seen as a mute gray color that melts away into the ground. Contrasted against the hot pink light coming from the houses of healthy spirits, he looks sickly and cold. While Chihiro is washing him she finds a thorn in his side and yanks it out. With it comes a room full of trash: old bikes, fishing line, boots, furniture, etc. The river god clearly consumed all this on his journeys outside the bathhouse. The things he ate were so grotesque and filthy that no one recognized him. He greedily ate seemingly everything in his path and it altered his identity. Just as humans are drawn to pollute their bodies with sticky candy and greasy fries, the allure of these poisonous items were too much for the river god. Only once he had purged himself of these objects could he resume his true form. Once he had purged his body he turned from a slimy buldge into a gleaming white snake: free to laugh and fly once again. The contrast between the glum god full of trash and the energetic god emphasizes the idea that only if you take care of your body can you be happy. Harboring dark thoughts and fatty foods will drag you down, literally and psychologically.

Chihiro’s second experience is with the monster NoFace. Outside the bathhouse he is seen as a slim unassuming figure. Standing amongst the flowers and trees his body melds with the background such that only his face is accentuated. His expression is lonely, so Chihiro lets him into the bathhouse. Once inside NoFace is faced with temptations at every turn. He has infinite gold and so the workers swarm around him, offering him plate upon plate of fatty food. Even that does not satisfy his hunger though, and he begins to eat the workers. Greed has consumed him and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. It seems the bathhouse represents society: full of illusions of happiness and distractions. What NoFace wants is to help Chihiro, but the glistening platters keep his attention. Only once Chihiro has fed him the food of the river god does NoFace begin to purge himself of all he has consumed and chase Chihiro back outside. Through NoFace’s adventure within the bathhouse Miyazaki comments on the current chaotic society we live in and how it is not healthy. We would be much healthier if we ate food from the river god, green and from natural elements. We would be healthier as a society if we forgave the notion of shiny illusions and returned to a more natural way of life.

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