Food plays an important role in several scenes Spirited Away, but is not always used in the same way. While some scenes illustrate food as the symbol of materialism and people’s insatiable desire, others show food as the icon representing genuine friendship. In this way, Miyazaki presents food in a two distinctive ways: extravagant but grossing food eaten by parents, and simple but natural food from Chihiro’s friends.
The pig greedily wants more food but was hit by something.
Parents’ turning to pigs might be surprising for most audience. After entering the “new world”, Chihiro’s parents find delicious food. They can’t help enjoying themselves since no one is nearby, regardless Chihiro’s begging. They pretend to have appropriate demeanor at first but can’t resist the temptation for free food, eating as fast as possible. They are so indulged that they turn into pigs. Although something hits the pigs to stop them from eating, they don’t stop even though they are completely full. Various big-size foods are presented on the table. But they look small with obese pigs nearby. Their insatiable appetite is demonstrated by such comparison, along with the grossing saliva from their mouths.
The film was shown when Japan’s economy was in stagnation after the bubble economy blew up. The free high-class food is the symbol of human’s insatiable desire. For a lot of people, monetary benefit is their priority like the parents: although Chihiro and parents have seemingly intimate relationship at first, faced up with free food, the parents ignore Chihiro and focus on food exclusively. Human can control their minds while pigs can’t, so the parents are more like pigs. The transformation can be understood as a punishment from Miyazaki corresponding to their greedy behavior. Miyazaki has always been urging adults to escape the utilitarian and monetary world, an appeal that is presented as the pigs being hit. In sum, food is presented in an absurd way, and parents’ ugly characteristics are exposed to the audience through their reactions to food.
Her parents’ transformations push Chihiro to be brave and independent. In her adventure, she met friends who change her life, and friendship is the other important part of the movie. The moving friendship is the antithesis of the avariciousness. During the interaction between her friends and her, food, through which Miyazaki praises true friendship, appears in a different way as that of the extravagant food in the former scenes.
Haku is the most important person during Chihiro’s adventure, willing to sacrifice himself to help Chihiro find her way back. Chihiro also helps him return to human and remember his real name. They have met each other before, predestining their encounter.
Haku feeds Chihiro a berry to prevent her from disappearing.
This is a close-shot of Haku when he gives her a berry, which prevents her from fading out. His big eyes reflect his tender solicitude for Chihiro. The berry not only saves Chihiro but also reassures her that she does have friends. The reassurance is invaluable especially when she is helpless. Her recovery proves Haku’s true heart, and starts their friendship.
Chihiro bursts out into tears after eating the rice ball from Haku.
Chihiro doesn’t cry until she eats the rice ball from Haku. Since being brave is her only choice, she conceals all negative emotion to herself. However, the rice ball evokes her sense of nostalgia, and Haku is so approachable that she really wants to confess her sadness. The venting of the emotion is moving.
In these two close-shots of Haku and Chihiro, Miyazaki tightly connects the feeling of the audience to theirs. We feel Haku’s kindness, Chihiro’s sorrow, as well as the tight emotional bond between them. Miyazaki’s presentation of food in these scenes reiterates his advocacy of pure human nature. Though small in size, the berry and rice ball are both granted great function: the berry saves Chihiro physically, and rice ball heals Chihiro mentally. Two foods here illustrate Miyazaki’s emphasis on nature and simplicity. They are much more adorable than extravagant food in former scenes because they represent Haku’s solicitude for Chihiro. Miyazaki wants to tell us that, as long as with warm-hearted nature, even a small object can make a difference for a friend. Genuine friendships don’t need monetary decoration; they need true heart. The relationship between Haku and Chihiro is the paradigm of “genuine friendship”, and food here is simple but emblematic of that.
Chihiro feeds Haku with the medicine.
Chihiro uses the medicine, which she planned on using save her parents, to Haku. This is the point when Chihiro is mature enough to make her own decisions. From a dependent girl without any nerve to a savior, she has made a huge transition. Food from her friends gets her out of the desperation, makes her realize who really cares about her, and helps her be a true good girl.
Miyazaki depicts the parents as materialists, and Chihiro and her friends are the opposite. The food presented also shows Miyazaki’s two different judgement to them. Chihiro is the angel, standing for a person of innocuous nature, the role model Miyazaki intends to create. He places his great expectation on Chihiro, making her fly away from the past. Chihiro will be an independent and helpful girl, and the spirit she got from berry and rice will never disappear.