Off, Off, and Away With the Spirits: Foods’ Importance in Life

The Japanese masterpiece, Spirited Away is about a girl, Chihiro and her adventure in a mysterious spiritual world.  In the movie, Chihiro is on a quest to free her parents from Yubaba’s control and possession.  However, while on this mission, Chihiro faces many obstacles, most of which were resolved and addressed with food. Thus, proving that food is not only a necessity in life, but it is the root of the character’s existence.

The story begins with Chihiro and her parents exploring the new realm beyond the mysterious tunnel.  Chihiro’s father smells something aromatic and pursues the delicious food, while his wife and daughter follow.  They eventually come across massive piles food, enough to easily feed 30 people.  Chihiro’s parents eat everything and consequently become pigs while Chihiro finds herself trapped in the mystical world.  Then enters Haku, who tries to help Chihiro survive and save her parents.

Haku tells Chihiro that she must eat in order to exist in the mystical world.

While trying to save her parents, Chihiro encounters situations that suggest that her very existence and identity in the spiritual world is completely dependent on food.  When Haku first meets Chihiro, he urges her to leave and escape.  The second time he sees her, Chihiro is disappearing, becoming more and more translucent.   He makes her eat telling her that if she does not, she will disappear and cease to exist.  The people of the bath house are also identified by what they eat, ergo proving that “you are what you eat”.   In a scene, the nonhuman workers of the bath house complain about Chihiro’s stench, disapproving of her existence in their world.  Haku quickly responds to the critism by telling them that she would smell like them after three days of eating their food.  As soon as she ate their food and smelled like them, she no longer received any criticism about being human.  Essentially, they have accepted her as one of them.

Chihiro feeds the wounded and sick Haku some of her herbal ball, inadvertently freeing him from Yubaba.

Chihiro also learns that food is liberating in almost all aspects of life.  After visiting her porcine parents, Chihiro feels as hopeless as ever, but tries to hold everything in.  She runs away from the pig pen, realizing that her parents no longer have any recollection of their human existence, and sits in the corner of a shrub. Haku then gives her food, and as she eats the rice cakes, Chihiro breaks down and expresses her true feelings.  Haku used food to help liberate Chihiro, but she returns the favor.  When Haku was sick and hurt, Chihiro fed Haku some of her magical herbal ball, unknowingly freeing him from Yubaba’s control.  Afterwards, he is able to remember his name, disobey, and do what he truly believes in.

Food plays a huge part in Spirited Away.  Food represents power.  In the movie, those who eat the most proved they are the most economically powerful.  A roasted newt is also able to be used as a power tool for bribery.  Food is not only representative of power, but it also symbolizes liberation, existence, and identity.  Food plays an integral role in life.


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