Hayao Miyazaki’s work Spirited Away tells the story of a young girl and her family, who on their way to their new home stumble on an abandoned village that, at night, turns to a village with a bathhouse for Gods. Throughout the plot, the young girl, named Chihiro, becomes friends with many of the Gods, and even ends up working for the owner of the bathhouse, a witch named Yubaba, while trying to find a way to go back to her parents and out of the magical village.
Throughout the plot of the movie, there are many instances where food shows up, such as when a new God is being served food, or when Chihiro is given food to eat. In many instances, the presence of food is there to comfort the person that the food is being served to, and to provide strength to them. This comfort is linked to the idea of creating a hospitable environment for the guests in order for them to feel welcome. In many instances with Chihiro, this hospitable feeling is what makes her bonds with friends stronger and what makes her able to cope.
The first instance where we can see food creating a hospitable environment and giving comfort is with Chihiro and the boy named Haku, where Chihiro is slowly turning into a ghost. In order for Chihiro to reverse this, Haku tells her she must eat what appears to be a red bean, at which point Chihiro complies. This scene can be seen as hospitable because it introduces one of the first friends that Chihiro makes in the other world, which helps “welcome” her. It also helps Chihiro slightly cope with her circumstances as she is introduced to a world that doesn’t follow the same rules as the regular world. This coping is shown by her building trust in what Haku tells her to do.
Another part where Chihiro is given food to comfort her is after she finds her parents have turned into pigs. In this scene, Haku gives her onigiri for her to eat while she begins to cry over how hopeless she feels. The onigiri that Chihiro eats in this scene is supposed to hold a spell put on by Haku that gives her the strength to keep going. This strength is what helps her go through the rest of the day, even after she saw her parents as pigs.
Finally, whenever a new God came in to the bathhouse, we find that the servants always had to feed them some sort of food. This is especially so when No-Face was being fed by the workers while he was giving out gold to them. The aim of the food in this part was to please the customer in order for him to pay more. This aim was part of a bigger aim to make the visitor feel good in the bathhouse, and to please him.
Throughout the movie, we find other instances where food makes the person that receives it feel better. These instances are congruent in that food’s main goal was to help the person feel hospitable, even when the circumstance seemed overwhelming, like in the case of Chihiro. In many cases, this hospitable aim was what made the person feel better, not the food itself. The food becomes an extension for this role.