Spirited Away tells a fantastical story about a girl’s journey into a “spirit world,” where transparent beings dwell and indulge their lustful nature. This 2001 film by Hayao Miyazaki engulfs you into a story of a girl who triumphs over love and evil witches, but what drives this movie is also what fuels its characters: food! Miyazaki places the variety of food in Spirited Away on a pedestal. The spirited world which Chihiro finds herself is a carnival built solely with restaurants and food stands (save the Bath House where food is also abundant). The lavish meals that are speckled throughout the movie create conflict, define setting, and even physically solidify Chihiro within this world.
It is not long after the opening credits where the movie presents its first scene with food. Chihrio and her two parents stumble into a seemingly deserted amusement park. Smelling delectable scents from far away, the parents lead Chihiro to a food stand that is empty except for the enormous feast that has been laid out on the counter as if freshly made. These first few scenes work well to capture the audience into the true feel of movie.
Of the few defining points of the setting, the aspect of food is mainly focused on with the elaborate feast at the food stall along with the fact that every shop into town is a restaurant. As the parents start eating the food, Chihiro notices them quickly turning into swine which symbolizes their pig-like nature for food. As night falls, their lust for this food traps them into the spirit world since they are physically unable to leave as dark beings capture them. As Chihiro runs away from the horrid scene it becomes clear that the stories conflict will be a direct result of her captured parents and even further the meal they ate. Later in the movie, she meets a witch who comments on how her parents greedily stole the food that was not theirs. This highlights the conflict again if that meal had not enticed her parents, she would not be stuck in this world without them.
Food does more than just feed the spirits and dwellers of this world; it has some magical quality to it as well. This carnival run by food collects visitors from a night train that are just floating masks until they enter the food court where they take physical form.
The reverse happens to Chihiro. As she runs from the town as it comes alive with spirits (just after she ran from her parents), she starts to disappear. A boy she met named Haku tells her the only way to fix this is to eat something from his world. This means that the physical forms of the spirit world are defined by food itself; without it they would fade away completely.
Food carries very powerful effects in Spirited Away. It works to lure victims into the traps of the spirit world while simultaneously fueling its reality. Miyazaki does an amazing job of tying food into this epic plot in a way that makes it absent from the foreground of the story while still playing an integral role in it.