Food: Balanced and In Moderation in Spirited Away

Spirited Away, the anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki released in 2001, is a complex story due to the presence of spirits, monsters, and lost identities. Despite this, the theme of food is carried throughout the entire movie in various ways. Chihiro enters another world, where her parents become pigs, and she loses part of her name to her boss Yubaba so that Yubaba can control her. Miyazaki uses the contrast between the negative impact food has on Chihiro’s parents with the positive one it has on Haku and Chihiro as a means of showing that food can be positive or negative, depending on whether you use it properly and in moderation.

One of the first things that happens in the new land is that her parents “sniff out” food like dogs, and then consume large amounts of it without checking with the restaurant owner first. Because of their greed, they become literal pigs. This is significant because pigs are a symbol for excess and filth. Some may say that this scene reveals Chihiro’s parents’ true form.


Chihiro is afraid when her parents turn into filthy pigs, emphasizing their greed.

Chihiro’s small size, placed to the side of this screenshot, shows that she is of minimal importance. The focus is on the filth of the discarded food waste, and the mess that Chihiro’s parents have become. Chihiro is frightened by what her parents have become, similar to how some people are disgusted with the modern culture of consumerism.Spirited Away has an overall theme against consumerism, and it is most evident in this scene.

However, food is not used in this movie just as a way to show the evils of consumerism. Miyazaki balances the healing properties of food to show that if people use nature and food correctly, they will be rewarded. Haku gives Chihiro food from his world, the one full of spirits, right after she arrives so that she will not disappear. This early use of food for a good cause establishes the fact that there is balance. Even more significantly, Haku takes Chihiro to see her parents in their pig form, and gives her some rice to help her regain her strength.


Chihiro takes more food after crying over her past life.

In this screenshot, viewers call tell that Chihiro is upset and Haku needs to console her. He does that with food. The significant part of this scene comes from Miyazaki’s juxtaposition of food with Chihiro rediscovering her identity. She finds her farewell card in her clothes, and remembers her name. This shows that food and identity are related. Cuisine can connect people with their culture and the others within it. The Westernization and modernization of Japan caused some people to lose pieces of tradition and their past, but eating traditional foods allowed people to regain part of their history, as Chihiro does with rediscovering her name.

Miyazaki uses Haku’s seemingly fatal injuries from consuming Zeniba’s seal to exhibit that food has healing properties. The River God gives Chihiro an herbal cake after she saves him. That act shows her kindness, and since she is a kind person, the world is kind back. She uses the herbal cake to save Haku, further illustrating her good.


Chihiro uses her gift from the River God to help Haku.

Chihiro has to force feed Haku, showing that sometimes people do not want to eat, but they must for their health. Not eating is dangerous as well, so Miyazaki’s many uses of food show that there must be a balance. Chihiro also does not feed Haku the entire herbal cake, only what he needs, which is another example of Miyazaki’s belief in moderation. There are many underlying themes that come from the use of food in the film, but the main idea is that the use of food can range from abuse to healing to starving. Chihiro is a good person, and uses food to help her friend instead of selfishly consuming it, so nature and food are helpful to her.

Spirited Away may seem like a simple anime movie at first, but Hayao Miyazaki uses food to make a statement about the importance of balance and moderation. Chihiro’s parents’ transformation into pigs shows the concerns that Japanese people had of consumerism. However, Miyazaki juxtaposes this with Chihiro’s selfless deeds of love for Haku, and the food that helps them recover. This is important because although the world is corrupt with consumerism, there is still good in people. It is clear that Miyazaki believes in karma and that nature should reward or punish humans depending on their consumerism or moderation.


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