Nostalgia has been one of the integral elements in Japanese culture, which is a “yearning for a different time—the time of our childhood, the slower rhythm of our dreams” (Boym P.7). As a Japanese film that took inspiration from the theme of nostalgia, Spirited away dramatizes the gap between the child and adult, conjuring up a sense of nostalgia for the childhood innocence that exists outside the modern greed. In Spirited away, the consumption of food is related to the formation of human relationships among the adults and children. More specifically, the properties of the food offered by the adults and those accepted by Chihiro differ greatly; the food exchanged between the adults ( No-face and the worker) is characterized by its appetizing appearance, but their food only serves for “impressing” or “flattering” the others. In contrast, although the food exchanged between Chihiro and her friends is plain in appearance, the power of the food amounts to healing the spirit and the body.
The superficial relationship between the adults constructed on a basis of economic interest and self-satisfaction is well reflected in the shimmering appearance of the food offered by the workers to No-face as shown in the medium shot of the scene, which may refer to the common type of human relationship in the modern era that result in misunderstanding and isolation. No-face can be perceived as a general representation of adults in modern era, in which the lack of face may symbolize the loss of identity and the inability to talk may connect to the decline of communication. In addition to his stark appearance that evokes a sense of loneliness, he explicitly states in the scene that he is lonely and doesn’t have a “home” to go back to. His loneliness is thus expressed in his insatiable appetite as he gobbles the food offered by the workers, or even the workers themselves. For No-face, the act of eating signifies “possession”, in which he attempts to seek for a sense of belonging and connection by consuming the others, or making them a part of him.
Similarly, the workers are taking advantage of No-face’s loneliness and his ability to produce gold by pleasing him with luxurious food. The flamboyant appearance of the food symbolizes the superficiality of such human relationship that is built on the basis of greed and self-interest without genuine mutual concern, as No-face’s appetite can never be satisfied despite of his gluttony because he can never attain the sense of belonging, or the “home”, since his relationship with the workers are only valid on the basis of economic interest and lacks the internality that is the only cure for his sense of isolation. Therefore, he is unable to allure Chihiro in the same way because Chihiro, as a child, has a different perception of human relationships. This also explains why No-face constantly tries to attract Chihiro’s attention in order to satisfy his fierce longing for being truly “loved”.
In contrast to the luxurious food exchanged between the workers and No-face, the food Chihiro receives from the others is plain in appearance, which emphasizes the authenticity of her bonding with her friends, as signified by the healing effect of her food. There are numerous examples for such magical power of food, such as the Onigiri that successfully strengthened Chihiro and the bitter-tasting Dango from River spirit that removed the spell from Haku and restored No-face’s original shape. Thus the film highlights the internal value of her food rather than the appearance or taste, which shows Chihiro, or a child’s perception of human relationship that is not corrupted by the temptation of economic benefit and greed.
In conclusion, food plays an integral role in this film by showing how food consumption is used to relieve the sense of loneliness and to form various types of human relationships, which dramatizes the difference between an adult and a child’s perception of human bonding as emphasized in the contrasting appearance and value of their food. Just as the excessively luxurious food that cannot cure No-face’s insatiable hunger, or his spiritual void, a superficial human relationship based on the condition of self-interest cannot resolve the sense of longing for “home”, the genuine spiritual bonding that only existed in the past, the childhood.