Throughout the film Spirited Away, the creator, Hayao Miyazaki, reinforces the idea that coming of age is not only the loss of idleness that so characterizes childhood, but also beginning to care for oneself and eventually caring for others as well. Miyazaki uses food to mark Chihiro’s growth throughout the movie as she struggles with adjusting to the working world in order to find an escape.
Haku persuades Chihiro to eat a berry in order to stay present in the spirit world
When children first go off into the real world and become to mature into adults, they have trouble remembering to take care of their own health. In Chihiro’s case, she was thrust into this situation so instead of even considering her health, she focuses on trying return to where she came from; a place where her parents were responsible and took care of her, away from this alien world and its foreign elements did not exist. However, Haku comes to the rescue and persuades Chihiro to eat a berry prompting her to take care of her well-being as well as getting her to focus on the predicament at hand. Food gives her strength to exist as well as realize that wishing will not transport her back to her previous world. Instead, she must find a logical solution to her predicament.
Haku again offers Chihiro food after her long and difficult day in the spirit world
After a long day of close calls and tense moments, Chihiro is assigned to Lin as an assistant and she begins to understand the reality of her situation. When Haku calls her out and offers her rice cakes in the early morning, Chihiro begins to cry because she can do nothing but look forward even though she wants to go back. In offering Chihiro rice cakes, Haku mimics the way Chihiro’s parents cared for her because they provided her with food and shelter. Chihiro struggles internally because she is nostalgic about her past and wants nothing more than to go back, however, because of the responsibilities that have been placed on her shoulders due to her new job, she must live in the present focus on the task at hand. She sobs as she wolfs down the rice cakes because she realizes that she has to grow up and work hard in order to return to her world with her parents as humans.
Chihiro grasps a dumpling and the magic cake with a new energy
When she receives the magic cake from the River god, Chihiro realizes that she finally has a way to lift the curse on her parents and return to her world! Lin offers her a dumpling as a celebratory reward for Chihiro’s hard work; however, it is more than just a reward to Chihiro. It signifies her maturation because it is the product of her own hands. She realizes that because of her hard work, she can provide for herself and now has the ability to take care of her parents as well. As she holds the previous magic cake in one hand, she eats her dumpling happily and converses with Lin about leaving the Bath house one day, knowing that it is nearer than she had previously thought.
Chihiro forces some of the magic cake into Haku’s mouth to save her dying savior
When Chihiro feeds Haku some of the magic cake that was meant for her parents, Miyazaki illustrates a changed Chihiro who is now caring for her friends the way he first cared for her when she was “dying.” As she matured through the movie, she realized that Haku had cared for her and that saving his life was merely returning the favor. However, it does not symbolize that she has chosen him over her parents. She was able to give the magic cake to Haku without so much a second thought because she now knows that she can work hard and will continue to work hard to find a different way to save her parents.
At first, when Chihiro is caught between her old world and the new spirit world, she is so blinded by her predicament that it is Haku’s generosity and acts of kindness that keep her alive. In the end, she realizes that she has the ability to be a hard worker and take care of herself. As a mature character her responsibilities are no longer merely the regulations of her job but also responsibilities to her loved ones. Chihiro, who began as an idle child who complained about everything, became hard worker who not only cared for herself but also saved Haku and her parents. Chihiro leaves the spirit world a changed character and though it is debatable whether or not she remembers her experience there, the experiences shaped her into a new person.