Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, although being a cartoon animation, acts as an allegory to the Japanese bubble economy while also depicting the vices of consumerism and extravagance through food. The consumption of food, more specifically between high class, exotic food and simple, “traditional” food, plays an integral role in providing the message behind Spirited Away. The use of food further emphasizes the underlying distinction that with such high class comes an obnoxiousness and audacity that is not found within the simplicity of what can be deemed as “traditional” living. Thus Spirited Away is able to send the message that there is more to life than just a focus monetary amenities, but also on maintaining the image of one’s self.
One of the initial scenes found in Spirited Away shows Chihiro and her family leaving what could be seen as modern “society” as they get closer to a forest. Here Chihiro points out some abandoned shrines showing how society has essentially given up its “traditional” aspect. The scene where her father states that having four-wheel drive assures the family that they’ll be fine likewise shows the movement toward commercialism. This culminates into the scene where Chihiro’s parents start to feast. Uncaringly, both her parents begin to binge on the various foods there consisting of what seems to be high-class meats and exotic food under the assumption that the owner would be okay with their service and that the food could automatically be paid with a credit card. Chihiro feels a natural reluctance, of which saves her from turning into a pig like her parents who then become a symbol of gluttony and commercialism, of which shows that like pigs her parents have lost their identities, becoming uncleanly animals with the mentality of only consuming.
The contrasts to this are the simple meals eaten by Chihiro and Haku. Towards the beginning Haku feeds Chihiro some berries, a simple fruit that is able to not only quench one’s hunger but assures Chihiro that she will not fade from the world, acting in essence as one of the bare necessities of life without being extravagant. Likewise the emetic dumpling that Chihiro uses to cure both Haku and No-Face is simple in design and use. Both examples are used at the most basic levels yet are the most helpful to Chihiro. The extravagant food used, such as that to feed No-Face, is used just as a symbol of wealth and aesthetics. It corrupts the consumer as seen by Chihiro’s parents turning into pigs and as No-Face turns into a true monster.
Food is used as one of the main focal points to paint the image that consumerism and the resulting extravagance is corrupting on so many levels. Such extravagance is unneeded as seen by the simple almost traditional foods consumed by Chihiro that sustain her through the movie. Food helps bring the movie full-circle as the audience makes the connection that simplicity at times can be more fulfilling.