Miyazaki Hayao illustrates a modern rendition of a Japanese folklore “kamikakushi” in his film Spirited Away (2001). In the film, Chihiro—a young 10 year old girl—and her family take an unexpected detour to their new house. The detour takes them to an “abandoned theme park” where they explore. As the parents are eagerly exploring the area, Chihiro is hesitant and repeatedly begs her parents to turn back. The parents’ stubbornness leads them to the food vendor section of the “abandoned theme park.” They begin eating the food without permission as Chihiro irritatingly watches them. While her parents consume the forbidden food, Chihiro runs into a worker at the spirit bath house owned by a lady named Yubaba. The spirit world quickly transitions to night and the film begins to follow Chihiro’s quest to find work and save her parents from the spirit world. Throughout her quest, Chihiro encounters many different conflicts and in turn becomes a more mature character in the end. Food plays a major role in the conflicts and in Chihiro’s journey overall. The film uses food as a way to comment on Consumerism and reveals the destruction associated with overindulgence.
The first scene that illustrates consumerism through the relationship between characters and food is the scene where Chihiro’s parents eat food from the spirit world. This scene is a direct way of commenting on consumerism. Miyazaki sheds light on the negative aspect of consumerism and the overindulgent consumption of goods by modern day people. The parents see the food and feel as though they are entitled enough to eat it. Even though Chihiro is hesitant, the dad justifies eating the food by saying that he has cash and credit cards enough to cover the cost of the food. His character basically believes that just because he has money, it automatically gives him the freedom to consume whatever he desires. As a result of their superiority and gluttonous nature, the parents turn into pigs. In general, pigs are seen as a symbol of greed and gluttony. Through this transformation, Miyazaki makes a direct metaphor comparing the parent’s actions to that of a pig.
A second scene that showcases excessive consumption of food is the scene in which No-Face enters the bath house and bribes the workers with gold to serve him food. In this case, money also gave the character a sense of power in the situation. His power is signified by the “camera angle;” there is a low angle shot to emphasize how high of a position he is compared to the bath house workers. Through this scene, Miyazaki illustrates the destructiveness that can accompany consumerism. Although No-Face brings substantial revenue, he also brings disorder and destruction to the bath house. He causes the workers to waste food and water to serve him, and forces them to work during an obscure hour. Even though No-Face is the character shown consuming, the workers are also subject to greed—they are blinded by their desire for money. Once Chihiro/Sen (her name in the bath house) tries to fix the problem, No-Face damages the bath house and initially eats some of the workers. No-Face represents the “monster” that can arise from an excessive focus on consuming and greed.
To create balance in a culture that prioritizes indulgence and pleasure, the character Haku represents an alternative to this overconsumption. When his character is in a scene with food, he usually is shown not consuming the same as other characters. For example, in screenshot 3, Haku is shown giving Chihiro food from the spirit world to prevent her from disappearing. He gives her the necessary amount that she needs to survive. This contrasts with the scene of No-Face being offered significantly more than he needs. Through Haku’s lack of greed he is presented in a self-less manner—unlike the other characters who do over-consume and are presented in a selfish, greedy manner. Commentary on consumerism is found in the contrast showcased by Haku and No-Face because of the “good” vs. “evil” displayed in their behavior. The audience gets the impression that the overindulgent behavior of No-Face is “bad,” while Haku is seen as a “good” character.
Miyazaki Hayao revived the anime genre through his feature-length animes such as Spirited Away. Like many of his films, Spirited Away sheds light on the influence of humans on environments and the potential devastating effects accompanied by one’s actions. In Spirited Away, food assists in presenting the destructive side effects of consumerism. Exhibited by Chihiro’s parents and No-Face, overindulgence causes destruction of the bath house’s environment. However, they are not displayed as hopeless. Haku and Chihiro prove that a balance can be established and that not all consumers are overindulgent—there can be a co-existence between needs and wants.