Food plays an interesting role in Miyazaki Hayao’s animated film, Spirited Away. The film follows a human girl, Chihiro, as she ventures through a land operated by spirits in hopes of saving her parents who have been turned into pigs. Spirited Away shows how multifaceted food can be. In this movie it is controlling, as it encourage greed and manipulates people, or it can be healing as it creates comfort or physical healing.
Food and greed are connected in two scenes of Spirited Away and Hayao uses both examples to show the negative effect greed has. The first example is Chihiro’s parents gluttonous display of eating at the amusement park. Despite being a young girl, Chihiro realizes what her parents are doing is wrong because they are stealing the unattended food. As a result of their greed and gluttony, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs by Yubaba. The immediate punishment of these characters shows greediness will be punished. The second example of food causing greed is the exploitation of No Face. No Face is a rich, gold generating spirit who enters the bathhouse as a client. When other residents of the bathhouse realize how much No Face is willing to pay for food, they quickly exploit this. They line up by the hundreds offering the monster food. He responds by giving them gold, but eventually he ends up eating two nearby offerers. By giving into their greed, the people offering food make themselves vulnerable to danger.
Food is the ultimate commodity in Spirited Away and because of its value it can be controlling. It is used as a form of currency and distraction. When Chihiro is looking for work and Kamajii has no availabilities for her he asks Lin to help Chihiro. Lin does not want to help her because it is risky to be associated with a human. Kamajii simply offers her a roasted newt and Lin promptly agrees. This shows food’s ability to alter decision making. She later uses the power of food to distract another spirit when he catches the scent of a human. She waves the newt in front of his face the way a hypnotist waves a clock in front of a patient. He gets distracted and attempts to snatch the newt from her while Chihiro sneaks away.
Healing powers are also given to several foods in this film. During Haku’s initial meeting with Chihiro, he instructs her to eat fruit. Chihiro is beginning to disappear, but after eating the fruit she regains her solid form. Chihiro returns the favor to Haku towards the end of the film when he is dying. She sacrifices a magical dumpling to heal Haku. A more realistic example of food’s healing ability is seen after Chihiro first agrees to work at the bathhouse. She is having a difficult time dealing with the adjustment. Haku takes her to see her parents in their pig form and then offers her a rice ball to help her regain her strength. Although the rice ball has a spell on it, the comfort of eating a rice ball makes Chihiro emotional and helps reenergize her. The comfort that can be found in food makes Chihiro want to be strong so she can help her parents.