Author Archives: xhuangmiffy

Spirited Away: modern gluttonous monsters

Written and directed by a renowned Japanese director, Miyazaki, Hayao, Spirited Away(2001) is a great anime work about how a weak young girl, Chihiro, learns to survive in a spirit world she enters by accident. In this story, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs by a witch, Yubaba, but through the help of her friends and the power of love, Chihiro becomes more tough and independent and finally saves her parents. One of the vices of modern Japanese society Miyazaki tried to disclose in this movie is the increasing greed in people’s hearts aroused by the Japanese Bubble Economy(1990s). In this anime, Miyazaki used food to represent the endless lust in people living in the modernized and mercenary world. He also produced images of “gluttonous monsters” to show the greed and emptiness in people’s hearts and the way to save them.

The first appearance of gluttony is when Chihiro’s parents are lured by the delicious food in a restaurant after they came to the spirit town. They engorge the food without the permission of the owner and are turned into pigs because of their uncontrolled desire.



In this scene, Chihiro’s parents are eating by hands, tearing meat like wild people with various well-prepared food in front of them, while Chihiro looks worried and suspicious, keeping a distance from her parents. This scene is a projection of modern society. The food represents the original lust of human and her parents represent people who value money as almighty because as long as they have enough money, they can satisfy all their lusts. Just like the street in the spirit world filled with various delicious food which can change people into pigs, the rapidly growing society is filled with temptations luring people to become slaves of their lusts. After Chihiro’s parents become pigs, they can’t remember anything but eating; they are similar to people in this society, who don’t care anything except earning money to sate their desire. Miyazaki used this gluttonous image to insinuate this greedy world and he assigned a pure child to save the insatiable people.

Another important scene of gluttony in this movie is when No Face becomes a monster by eating too much.


In this caption, Chihiro and No Face is surrounded by a mountain of food waste left by No Face. Just like Chihiro’s parents, No Face is lured by the gold and he becomes a monster controlled by his lust, engorging everything he gets. The various delicate food in the picture shows the complicated and endless desire of No Face. At first, No Face is nice and quiet but the ruthless and mercenary bathhouse changed him into a “gluttonous monster”. He feels lonely and his heart is empty, but instead of filling it with love, he fills it with money and food, which represents his insatiable lust. When Chihiro asks him where are his parents, he shouted at her, “I am lonely.” and “I want Chihiro.”. What Miyazaki tried to convey in these two short sentences is that people are changing into “gluttonous monsters” because when everyone values power and money, this society is lack of love and care.

At last, Miyazaki showed that the key to save these “gluttonous monsters” is to bringing them to another world filled with love. In this movie, Chihiro takes No Face to a better place where he would be taken care and no longer lonely.


In this caption, No Face is eating the cake quietly and elegantly,with his friend around him. Although the food they are enjoying is simple but everyone is satisfied and content. Now No Face’s heart is no longer empty and greedy, but charged with care and quietness because he is in a peaceful place without any hierarchy and supremacy of money. Here, food is not the representation of lust but a pleasant and enjoyable thing to help people get intimate to each other. This picture depicts a warm ideal world that Miyazaki values more than the cold modernized and money-focused world. Back in the bathhouse, people are “gluttonous” because their souls are lured by money and they are lonely without care. Thus, to eliminate the greed hidden in people’s hearts, we should make a world where money is no more important and love is regarded as almighty. 

As the society develops rapidly, people tend to emphasize more on the material life rather than the spiritual world. They insatiably pursue money and higher status for a better material world. However, Miyazaki produced this movie to reflect on this characteristic of modern world by using food to represent the lust of people and depicting gluttonous images to show the ugly figures of the greedy people. He demonstrates by the changing of No Face that only love can save them.


Tampopo: glory of the humble

In this movie Tampopo(1985), Itami Juzo tells an encouraging “ramen western” story about how a motivated widow called Tampopo realizes her dream of owning a desirable ramen restaurant with the support of a truck driver Goro and his friends. He also uses many comedic vignettes to show the incongruities of contemporary Japanese society and food rituals. The success of Tampopo represents the optimism about conserving the traditional handmade delicate Japanese food, like ramen, through the overwhelming flow of western or global food.

For me, the most important scene in this movie is when Goro takes Tampopo to see some of his senior sensei, who surprisingly turn out to be a group of hobos. Although humble and impecunious, they are very hospitable and honest, eagerly sharing all their insightful appreciation of food with Tampopo.


In the picture above, the hobos are talking and laughing ardently. Sitting in the darkness with shabby clothes, they are homeless and living a poor material life, but the bright and carefree smiles on their faces show their great enthusiasm for life; they are gathered together, just like a warm family, because they all have strong passion for food. Goro tells Tampopo the sensei with white hood used to be doctor but was betrayed by his cooperator and lost his career. That must be a very miserable and tough time for him but he got through all these difficulties thanks for his consistent love for food. It is food that brings them pleasure and confidence, encouraging them to strive and survive in this mercenary society.


I was impressed by these close-ups of the pop-eyed, open-mouthed, fully excited faces of the hobos when they are giving comments about food, like they are talking about the most delectable thing in the world. These eye-level shots make viewers feel like they are like Tampopo, standing in front of the hobo and attentively listening to his words. The knowledge about food are directly passed down to viewers. Also, ironically and most amazingly, the hobo is talking about high class western food such as French food, pork and wine just like a proficient. They are not educated but they consistently do research and study in food; the fancy wine thrown away by others is their textbooks and now they are imparting knowledge to Tampopo, a humble but modest woman. This scene shows a great power of these inferior people. They not only accept and enjoy the global and highly competitive world but also know how to appreciate the traditional food which faces the danger of being obsoleted. The most impressive words they say in this scene is that the modern mechanical food “have lost their souls” and the traditional elaborate food should be conserved. Those hobos, they insightfully perceive this rapidly changing world and greatly encourage the frustrated Tampopo.

拼图1 tampopo的表情变化

The close-ups of Tampopo show that as she listens to sensei, her attitude change from suspicious to grateful. Thus she finally has the confidence and the determination of conserving the “ramen art” and starts to believe that humble people can also have glorious moments and great joy with food.