Spirited Away, a 2001 animated film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is a fantasy adventure in which a young girl, Chihiro, is trapped in a spirit world and must survive the spirit’s rules and free her parents. Miyazaki utilizes the movie as a platform to demonstrate to children the power food has over our lives, whether it be negative or positive.
In the very first chapter of the film, Chihiro and her parents are lost in a new town, and stumble onto an abandoned amusement park. Upon finding a barbecue stand with freshly cooked meats despite the rest of the park being abandoned, her parents begin devouring the meat. As they continue their pig-like ravaging of the barbecue, they shortly eat so much that they change into pigs themselves.
In this scene, with the help of the eerie setting, Chihiro’s obvious fright and uncertainty, and the dramatic change her father undergoes, Miyazaki is clearly trying to demonstrate in a manner most effective to young children that one should never gorge themselves on such large amounts of straight meat, much like an1800s child’s cautionary tale might.
Since Chihiro is just a young naïve girl, the transition to the spirit world and her subsequent adventure is difficult for her. However, two powerful beings, Haku and a river spirit, do their best to help her out of her dilemma. Among the other methods they use to help her with, they both give her some form of food. As soon as she is trapped in the spirit world, Chihiro is frightened begins to lose her human body and fade away, however Haku appears just in time to give her food from the human world so that she is able to sustain her human form, giving her more courage. The next day, after Chihiro spends the night frantically attempting to get a job in the spirit world so she will not be turned into an animal as well, Chihiro is exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. When she is at her lowest, Haku gives her some onigiri to help her get her strength back. She cries as she eats it and large, swollen tears fall to the ground, and she regains her strength.
Most children can connect with this scene, and through it, Miyazaki attempts to teach children that healthy food is a good way to get over sadness and weakness and become a stronger person due to it.
Miyazaki attempts to further demonstrate food’s restorative powers, specifically when Haku is dying and Chihiro heals him by feeding him part of the dumpling and when No-face goes mad eating everyone, Chihiro forces him to regurgitate everyone using that same dumpling, returning him to his calm, kind form.
Through these almost traumatic scenes with blood and action, Miyazaki utilizes common fears for children to deeply ingrain that food can heal someone or make them a better person.
By connecting with children by utilizing their basic emotions, Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away teaches children that food can be restorative for both mind and body and that over eating unhealthy food can have the reverse effect.