Directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 2001, Spirited Away is an animated film chronicling the adventure of Chihiro as she embarks upon the spirit world to save her parents. The film opens with Chihiro and her family stumbling upon an abandoned theme park. As they sit for lunch, Chihiro refuses to join and wanders away as her parents wolf down the “free” food. Upon reuniting, Chihiro discovers that her parents have transformed into pigs, and her world has shifted and become the Spirit World where humans are not welcome. During her time in the Spirit World, many bonds have been formed and manipulated through the sharing and distribution of food.
The distribution of food throughout the film plays a crucial role in how relationships are formed and maintained in the film. As the film opens, Chihiro’s parents are shown succumbing to gluttony as they stuff their faces with food meant for the spirits. Contrary to her pleas, Chihiro’s parents are transformed into gluttonous pigs that no longer cherish the food and only eat because the food is in front of them. Chihiro is forced to leave them in search of an escape and a cure. The relationship between Chihiro and her parents is seen as mildly disintegrating as her existence is subtly overlooked by her parents. They ignore her requests and partake in whatever they see fit. The introduction of the food enhances this effect on their relationship. Because of her parent’s nonstop eating, their relationship becomes undermined to the point that she prioritizes others before them later on in the film.
As Chihiro embarks in the Spirit World, she stumbles upon Haku, who feeds her a berry to sustain her body. The sharing of this seemingly miniscule berry begins a relationship in which he becomes her savior from the shadows. This duality is also represented in the use of the food which served to either help or hurt relationships. In the case between Haku and Chihiro, food was used to augment their relationship in which he would provide something for her to eat which in turn were used as an enhancement for her body. In one specific scene, Haku notices that Chihiro’s body is feeling worn and she is not feeling well. As a remedy, he gives her magically charged onigiri which enriches her body and makes her feel better. Although he cares for her in secrecy, Haku assumes a duality to cover up their relationship. In public he forces Chihiro to assume the position of peasant while he is the master. On the contrary, when they are in private and Haku gives her food, the two share a humble relationship that only builds later in the film.
Later in the film, Chihiro receives a medicine from the river spirit which she must use to save her parents. As seen earlier in the film, her relationship with her parents has been weakened, and she prioritizes her newfound relationships over the one she shares with her parents. In one scene where she is shown caring for Haku as a dragon, Chihiro states that the medicine was meant for her parents, but they can wait and caring for him is a priority, so she feeds Haku the medicine to change him back into a human and purge the affliction within his body. In another scene, Chihiro is shown using the same medicine to save No Face, who has become a monster set on destroying the bathhouse. After feeding No Face the medicine, his body is purged of the evils contaminating it, and he reverts back to his primal state. Food has played a large impact on these relationships, and Chihiro uses it to save the people she loves.