In Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, a brave little girl named Chihiro finds herself lost within a magical world abundant with different species of gods and spirits. After her parents are turned into pigs due to a greedy intake of unclaimed food, Chihiro is determined to do whatever it takes to overcome this bizarre world of Gods. With a little help from Haku, Chihiro looks to ultimately save her parents by changing them back to their human form. Miyazaki strategically uses food throughout the movie in order to further express his idea of the role food has in our modern society.
As Chihiro and her parents dive into the world of the Gods, her parents’ uncontrollable greed takes over as the aroma of cooked food is cast in the air. Miyazaki purposely characterizes her parents as gluttonous in order to emphasize his view of how society handles food. In the beginning of the film, Chihiro’s mother and father immediately start to scoff down a large potion of the food in a way that is almost revolting. The film displays the food as greasy, sloppy, and unhealthy as her parents continue to consume large amounts of the sitting goods. Chihiro, I believe, serves as Miyazaki’s view on how the world should behave as she denies the unclaimed food. As a result of their uncontrollable self-indulgence Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs- an animal that is clearly symbolic to sloppiness and greed. Miyazaki portrays her parents in this way to show how modern society has a selfish relation towards food, expecting it to fulfill short-term desires and personal needs.
As Chihiro first begins her journey in this magical world, she starts to literally disappear. Haku then insists that she should eat food that is grown naturally from his world. At first rejecting the food, Haku insists that she eats it to prevent her from vanishing into the spirit world. The healthy, organic food in the film serves as Chihiro’s aid to survival. Now, it is expected that Chihiro react in the way that she does, initially rejecting the food. This parallels the role that healthy, organic food (vegetables for example) has in our world today. As healthy foods might not seem as tempting as unhealthy foods made simply for taste, they serve as a critical nutritional requirement for life. A greasy hamburger from In-n-Out might seem more desirable than a stick of celery from time to time, but why? Our desires for taste and satisfaction have taken over and the simple lifestyle of eating for health and nutrition is rarely acted upon.
The food from the spirit world continues to carry a positive role in the film when Haku feeds the rice cake to Chihiro as she is feeling down. After she eats the food, reality hits her hard and her eyes are opened. She now feels the stress and realistic struggle she has gone through and breaks down. This reality check helps keep a clear head, helping her focus on saving her parents. The natural foods from Haku’s world are continually used as an aid to health, where as the unhealthy, stolen food in the beginning of the film played an evil role by transforming Chihiro’s parents into pigs.
Miyazaki seems to promote a more personal relationship with food, having it serve as a nutritional necessity for survival and not just a short-term satisfactory sensual experience on the tongue. Miyazaki sees that the world has gone down the wrong path in this strict satisfactory relationship with food and promotes a different, organic lifestyle in his film Spirited Away.