Spirited Away: Food As a Lens to the Spirit Within and Critique on Modernity

Japan 70, Natalie Jongjaroenlarp

Chihiro’s father sloppily digging into some food he found at the amusement park.

No-Face gives Chihiro bath tokens and watches her reaction to his gift.

In Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Chihiro and her family undertake an unexpected journey when they stop at a run-down, former amusement park. Chihiro’s parents turn into pigs as they eat the food in front of them at one of the stalls in the food market at the amusement park. Once this happens, Chihiro is forced to live in the spirit world and work until she can find a way to save her parents and get back to the human world.

Food relates to the spirit of each human being in Spirited Away. Magic berries that Haku, apprentice to the authority in charge of the bath house, gives Chihiro literally stops her from vanishing in the spirit world. She must eat something in order to survive and not disappear into thin air. Also, No-Face, a spirit who befriends Chihiro, goes crazy within the bath house and eats people and food as a result of his loneliness and sorrow. The spirit lives to observe others’ emotions to the gifts given to them.

Food also acts as a critique on modernity in this film. Chihiro’s parents represent typical modern parents. In this story, they are depicted as people who do not enjoy the authenticity of the food itself or even appreciate the taste of it. Once they see food, they inhale and dig in. They do not care to stop and savor the flavor or texture, as shown in the screen shot above. In addition, it emphasizes the modern notion that a culture can either be bought or sold. For instance, the parents eat the food in front of them, not knowing where it came from or who it belongs to. They assume that the person or people will be fine with them eating it as long as they have money to compensate for it. Another modern notion that is carried forward in this film is the idea that people’s will can overcome anything, including nature. For example, in the beginning, when Chihiro’s flowers die, her mother tells her that they will be fine once they put water on them when they get to the new house that they are moving to. This is before they find themselves at the ancient amusement park. Also, when Chihiro’s father decides to go on a whim after the family is lost, he accelerates the car a little too quickly. When his wife gets worried, he brushes off her careful words by stating that they will be fine because they have four-wheel drive.

Chihiro must learn to grow up quite a bit in the short amount of time she has. She takes a leadership role when she decides to stand up for her beliefs and not explore the old amusement park with her parents. Although, because she is still a child and in need of security and love, she winds up taking a journey she did not bargain for with her parents. A similar situation occurs when she leaves her family to eat when they are scarfing food. Her parents encourage her to eat the food sitting out with them. She refuses. This act of defiance and choice to stand by her opinions allows her to learn about the world in which spirits and humans coexist and the traditions of the past and innovations of the present collide. She learns through observation and is very mature for her age as a result. It’s easy to forget she is only ten years old when it seems like her parents need to take a lesson from her on the importance of safety and security.

Haku feeds Chihiro magic berries to help her survive in the spirit world and stop her from disappearing.


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