Category Archives: blog 2

Euphoria: An Analysis of Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Exotic is strictly defined as something originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country. However, to be truly exotic is not simply to have a foreign pattern or single flavor; rather, it is a symphony of different experiences and emotions evoked by the item in question. This idea of a complete exotic experience is dramatized in Tanizaki Junichirō’s The Gourmet Club through the use of food.

Many people have said that the true value of something is not in the destination, but the journey; this idea is also prevalent in The Gourmet Club. The five men in the club ceaselessly search for delicious food, wandering the streets of Tokyo in search of that special, exotic meal. “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo […] like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find” (102). Their quest emphasizes the importance of what they are searching for: food. To them, food is not simply something to survive; it is their reason for living. The comparison to curio collectors also suggests an exotic element to their search and implies a sort of discovery. Both the mystery and the discovery contribute to the idea of exoticism.

Another element of exoticism is the emphasis on beauty and the euphoria of experiencing it. This is exactly what the Count encounters at Chechiang Hall. Even before entering the place, he is thrown into an ethereal reality where his senses of taste and sound combine: “[…] when suddenly the melody became full, rounded, and plaintive like a voice that is thick with tears, he thought of a rich broth of braised sea cucumbers, so full-flavored that each mouthful keeps permeating one’s taste buds to their very roots” (109). Junichirō’s use of synesthesia links the deep emotions of the music to the complexity of a delicious meal; food becomes an emotional experience for both the Count and the reader. The fact that the music alone is enough to evoke such a reaction from the Count is only a prelude to the exoticism he encounters in the Hall itself. There he finds dishes he never encountered or dreamed of before. These dishes serve as inspiration for his exotic meals that can only be truly savored using the entire body: “[…]They did not merely taste the cuisine with their tongues: they had to taste it with their eyes, their noses, their ears, and at times with their skin. […] every part of them had to become a tongue” (131). Not only are the meals exotic, but also the way the men enjoy their food is completely novel. Mind and body must become completely immersed in the dining experience to fully savor the meal, suggesting euphoria in the act of eating. The emphasis on experiencing the food, rather than simply eating it, furthers the theme of exoticism. The ecstasy of food clearly demonstrates exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

The complete experience of food, both leading up to and the physical act of eating, dramatizes exoticism in The Gourmet Club. Junishirō demonstrates through emphasizing exoticism, that for the members of the club, food is something alluring, something to be coveted. He proves that food can be more than simple sustenance; it can be a euphoric, exotic experience.

Charm of the Unfamiliar

Introducing a cultural influence in novel works of art and literature, exoticism evokes an atmosphere of curiosity about unfamiliar worlds and unusual conditions. “The Gourmet Club” represents a story about five, food-motivated individuals, led by the informal president, Count G. This exclusive club quickly develops a tale of increased consumption—not only of food, but also of character personality. As eccentric items begin to emerge on the menus, the consumers start to cultivate a sense of obsession and an element of lunacy. Through a plethora of sensory and visual descriptions, Junichiro Tanizaki employs a quest motif to dramatize the idea of food and exoticism in “The Gourmet Club.”

The Count—an outlandish figure who prides himself over his search for fine foods—fosters an intense desire to search for inventive, gourmet meals and new, delicate tastes. He signifies the most ambitious individual of the group as “he only sees dreams of food” (104): “food whose flavors would make the flesh melt…” (104) and “food like music that would make men dance madly” (104). Nevertheless, the Count’s search epitomizes the foundation of Tanizaki’s quest motif: a tenacious pursuit of atypical, alluring worlds. This persistent yearning of a fantasy world empowers the Count to illustrate his utmost cravings. In the passage, food metaphorically signifies an exotic environment of a far-off land or a serene realm. The Count imagines food as an angel who “raises the soul to heaven” and as music that entertains the ears of humanity. In reality, food captures taste buds and fills hunger, but in exotic fantasy, food heals damaged lives and breathes inspiration. The obsession to find new, luscious foods not only appears strange and unfamiliar, but also intrigued and peculiar—qualities of exoticism.

After rigorous trials and barriers of attaining his ultimate goal, the Count grimly manages to hold his quest tightly—never losing focus of eating and consuming the freshest foods. Furthermore, Tanizaki manipulates food as a necessary requirement for basic survival. He uses the Count as a medium to describe food’s superior power—describing the Count as someone who “would gladly have been more insistent still, adopting the wheedling tones of a beggar” (120). Tanizaki diminishes the Count’s dominant prowess down to a beggar, suggesting the bizarre control that food commands over the leader. The quest motif expands further when the Count “could hardly leave the place without at least a spoonful or two” (120) after catching sight of “an amber-colored soup that gave off puffs of steam” (120). Illuminated in a beautiful, pristine manner, the bowls of soup seizes all modes of attention. It becomes something that must be obtained. As the quest to eat the soup enthralls the Count, Tanizaki continues to sensationalize the effects of food on exoticism. The food in this passage indicates an opulent fantasy: an unattainable, sensual, and illusory setting. This exotic situation leads the Count towards a mysterious direction of unknown unfamiliarity, where he is forced to watch others adore the succulent food that he cannot consume.

Rhythmic and inexplicable, “The Gourmet Club” offers a dignified, passionate embrace of all things in a quest. Tanizaki redefines the pursuit of a rare, aesthetic world through a series of exotic descriptions about food—all represented in disturbing, sensual, and unconventional details. He generates boundless examples of the strikingly bizarre actions that an individual undertakes to consume the most appealing foods. Tanizaki’s writing elucidates a cultural echo of exoticism’s unending emphasis on unfamiliar and mysterious conditions.

Work Cited

Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro. “The Gourmet Club.” The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, trans. Ed. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy. Tokyo; London: Kodansha, 2001. 99-140. Print.

Spirit Away: Self-recognition in Materialism

 

Spirit Away: Self-recognition in Materialism

In Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki describes the adventure of a ten year old girl, Chihiro, in the extra-dimensional world called Bath House. Yubaba, the boss, tells her to use Sen as her name instead of Chihiro. Afterwards, Haku gives her special-made onigiri, and the farewell card from her friends with her original name on it. In the Bath House, No-face, a creature who gets lost in the material joyfulness in the Bath House, longs for her. Miyazaki uses the symbols such as the names of Sen and Chihiro, the figure No-face, and the comparison between Chihiro and other workers in the Bath House in order to demonstrate the importance of self-recognition in materialism. His emphasis on self-recognition is a reminder for Japanese society, which had become addicted to materialism; self-recognition is a strong weapon to cure the addiction.

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Yubaba takes Chihiro’s name “Chihiro Ogino” (荻野千尋) away and leaving only “Sen” (千) for her.

Losing name indicates loss of identity. Yubaba detaches “Sen” (千) from “Chihiro Ogino” (荻野千尋). Yubaba takes people’s name away and force them to work for her. No one can leave without regaining their name. Spirited Away was on screen in 2001, right after the collapse of Japanese bubble economy in the 1990s. The people in the Bath House are emblem of the Japanese society during bubble economy; they have lost their identities in materialism. Not only an ID card, identity is also the tool to position oneself in the society. The workers forget their identities and never want them back, addicted to the materialistic life in the Bath House. This life style traps the workers, wiping out their spirits. As if floating buoys on a river, the Bath House workers loses direction in the materialism.

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Chihiro is eating Haku’s specially made Onigiri and crying.

When Haku gives Chihiro his specially made Onigiri instead of fancy cuisine, he helps her reclaim her identity. As fancy cuisine indicates materialism, Onigiri, a humble, traditional Japanese dish, represents the spiritual virtues such as love. Chihiro cries out loud while devouring onigiri, moved by the fact that it is specially made for her. Onigiri and Haku’s kindness evokes Chihiro’s memories of the original world. She remembers that she aims to return to the human’s world. Chihiro’s recaptures her self-recognition, which is a powerful tool to anchor herself in the supernatural world. Self-recognition solidifies the love, a spiritual support, for her parents and Haku. This substantiation within love and self-identification is a reciprocal force; Chihiro’s love for her parents and Haku prevents her from losing herself in materialism.

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Chihiro is sitting in front of No-face, who has eaten and become much bigger, in the mountain of food left-over.

Chihiro holds on to herself, and the “delicate dishes” pose no attraction on her. Embodiment of materialism, cuisine from the Bath House in the Gods’ world attracts No-face. He is a mirror image of anyone in front of him, with a transparent body and a mask. When he is around Chihiro, he is the helpful, lovely figure, who helps Chihiro in her time of need. Nevertheless, like an empty shell, anything that people give him fills him up. The greedy crowd who try to earn his gold by giving him the most dedicate food makes him a symbol of gluttony. Sadly, occupying a much larger space with so much food in his body, No-face yells “I am lonely…I want Sen”. No-face is a sarcastic embodiment of the people in 1990s Japan, whose spirits are filled with money. Miyazaki criticizes their addiction through No-face’s yelling, but also expresses his reminder that learning from Chihiro is their cure. Chihiro, who cares for No-face, is the spiritual support for No-face. No-face’s solution of disposing of his loneliness is to find Sen, and the materialistic society at that time needs to find themselves and their spirits back.

If one is full of money, then losing money is losing purpose in life. Money is a tool to make a living, but should not be the stuffing for people’s spirits. In the 1990s Japan, after the bubble collapsed, people lost both their living support and spiritual support. This is why the crisis push the society down towards desperation. The workers and maids in the Bath House, immersed in their desires, bury themselves in the mountain of gold made up by bubbles. The moment when the bubbles pop is the time when they loses everything, but Chihiro does not care about the popped bubbles. Chihiro’s faith is to help No-face, and rescue Haku and her parents, so she is not lost and lonely.

Miyazaki, using the comparison between Chihiro and the crowd, recalls the importance of self-recognition in the materialistic society. Self-identification can settle people in their own social position, and save people from materialism.

Chihiro & Her Parents: A Thematic Binary

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Even before they arrive, Chihiro’s eyes nervously scan her surroundings, noticing the nature and forboding vibe; the parents are firmly, calmly fixed on the road. Their modern sensibilities enable a foolish trust in their surroundings.

In Spirited Away, and in his other films, one of Miyazaki’s principle themes is childlike wonder in the face of modern greed, skepticism, and ennui. One of his principle was of presenting “wonder” is through an innocent, young female character. In the case of Spirited Away, the character Chihiro performs this function. The binary of childlike wonder and modern thought is principally explicated in one of the opening scenes of the film, when Chihiro and her family arrive at a mysterious temple, that is supposedly part of the route to their new house. Though the perils of modern thought are already made clear in a later part of the scene, when the parents are turned into pigs, Miyazaki’s values are already made clear in the way that each character, Chihiro and her two parents, first navigate their encounter with the mysterious temple. Their initial reactions to this strange sight immediately align them with their eventual fates. Additionally, they reflect the perspectives of each character. Chihiro’s innocence is still intact. She has an intense awareness of nature and life around her. However, the parents’ sense of wonder has grown callous over the years, and they have enabled the modern thought of their times to become their primary way of seeing. In this small part of the opening sequence, Miyazaki subtly depicts these differences in perspective.

The film aligns with Chihiro’s innocent, cautious point of view, making the action on screen just as forboding and frightening as it seems to Chihiro. Chihiro’s parents seem unphased by the building’s scary presence. Chihiro, sensing the danger, cannot help to remark on the strange power the building exudes, remarking “It’s sucking in the air…”. However, her parents do nothing but lower the power they sense from the building, commenting “It’s made out of wood, but it looks like a new building…” Any wonder they sense from the building is immediately lowered to something they can immediately understand, as in its construction. Furthermore, the parents immediately align the building with something they can understand and are familiar with : technology. Chihiro’s comment is more founded in nature. In stating that “it’s sucking in the air” she gives the temple a much more lively presence. The temple is not just an object they can walk around; it is, in a sense, alive too. The parents immediately make the temple into a powerless object by only commenting on its construction.

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Chihiro notices the creepy, abnormal elements around her.

The action on the screen already seems to hint at the fall of her parents, by showing the viewer what Chihiro is sensing in the screen. Miyazaki could have chosen to show an objective, plain building. However, he wanted to show that the “wonder” that Chihiro senses is real, and more tangible than anything that, at this point, Chihiro’s parents could ever sense. Thus, the screen does show the wind flowing into the temple. And the darkness of the doorway is the blackest black on the screen, making it look just as scary as it seems to Chihiro.

Spirited Away: The Magic of Food

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki in 2001, Spirited Away is an animated film chronicling the adventure of Chihiro as she embarks upon the spirit world to save her parents. The film opens with Chihiro and her family stumbling upon an abandoned theme park. As they sit for lunch, Chihiro refuses to join and wanders away as her parents wolf down the “free” food. Upon reuniting, Chihiro discovers that her parents have transformed into pigs, and her world has shifted and become the Spirit World where humans are not welcome. During her time in the Spirit World, many bonds have been formed and manipulated through the sharing and distribution of food.

Give in to gluttony, Chihiro!

The distribution of food throughout the film plays a crucial role in how relationships are formed and maintained in the film. As the film opens, Chihiro’s parents are shown succumbing to gluttony as they stuff their faces with food meant for the spirits. Contrary to her pleas, Chihiro’s parents are transformed into gluttonous pigs that no longer cherish the food and only eat because the food is in front of them. Chihiro is forced to leave them in search of an escape and a cure. The relationship between Chihiro and her parents is seen as mildly disintegrating as her existence is subtly overlooked by her parents. They ignore her requests and partake in whatever they see fit. The introduction of the food enhances this effect on their relationship. Because of her parent’s nonstop eating, their relationship becomes undermined to the point that she prioritizes others before them later on in the film.

As Chihiro embarks in the Spirit World, she stumbles upon Haku, who feeds her a berry to sustain her body. The sharing of this seemingly miniscule berry begins a relationship in which he becomes her savior from the shadows. This duality is also represented in the use of the food which served to either help or hurt relationships. In the case between Haku and Chihiro, food was used to augment their relationship in which he would provide something for her to eat which in turn were used as an enhancement for her body. In one specific scene, Haku notices that Chihiro’s body is feeling worn and she is not feeling well. As a remedy, he gives her magically charged onigiri which enriches her body and makes her feel better. Although he cares for her in secrecy, Haku assumes a duality to cover up their relationship. In public he forces Chihiro to assume the position of peasant while he is the master. On the contrary, when they are in private and Haku gives her food, the two share a humble relationship that only builds later in the film.

Later in the film, Chihiro receives a medicine from the river spirit which she must use to save her parents. As seen earlier in the film, her relationship with her parents has been weakened, and she prioritizes her newfound relationships over the one she shares with her parents. In one scene where she is shown caring for Haku as a dragon, Chihiro states that the medicine was meant for her parents, but they can wait and caring for him is a priority, so she feeds Haku the medicine to change him back into a human and purge the affliction within his body. In another scene, Chihiro is shown using the same medicine to save No Face, who has become a monster set on destroying the bathhouse. After feeding No Face the medicine, his body is purged of the evils contaminating it, and he reverts back to his primal state. Food has played a large impact on these relationships, and Chihiro uses it to save the people she loves.

 

Intimate and Pity Desire

Tampopo is a film about a woman named Tampopo owning a noodle restaurant. A “Western looking” man stopped by the shop one day and notices that the quality of her food is horrible. He decides to help Tampopo with her business and hopefully rebuild her self-esteem to better the quality of her noodles for more business.

In the film, we notice how food brings people to interact with one another. In the first picture below, we see how the guy just goes up to his girlfriend and instantly aims for her breasts and kisses her neck passionately. This already is an intimate scene, but that wasn’t the message that Itami was trying to bring to viewers. In the second picture below, we see how the man cracks up the egg yolk afterwards. This confuses the viewers to question, “Why would he do that?”

Passing the egg yolk into each other’s mouth, they kept a steady position, making sure not to pop the egg yolk. In this scene food brings more of an intimate interaction between the two. Without saying anything, those two are expressing their sexual desires by holding each other tightly- especially in the woman’s position in the second picture below.

When the girl pops the egg yolk, viewers can see how the guy stares at her chest as the egg yolk leeks down all over her clothes. He stares intimately at her, expressing a signal of wanting something (sex). As for the girl, she closes her eyes passionately, which is also a way of expressing her satisfaction. Thus, it also seems as if she just had an orgasm. As the couple holds on to each other tightly, it shows a sign of trust, passion, and true love. Viewers can also tell that the guy has more power in this relationship, because he was the one that took innovative to crack up the egg and also grabbing and touching the woman everywhere.

The point of this whole scene is to show viewers how food has consumed them and how they use food as a way to interact with each other intimately. Throughout the film, food is used differently to interact with other things and humans. For example, in the scene below, we see how the guy notices the little boy staring at him while he eats his ice cream. Hence, because the little boy is wearing a sign that prohibits him to eat any sweets, which made the little boy, want sweets even more.

Food is seen as a pity desire for the little boy. The man offers ice cream to the little boy and he slowly reaches out to get it. Viewers see how foo as bought the man to pity the child. In the second picture, we see the child devoured the ice cream in less than a min.
In conclusion, we see how throughout the film Tampopo, the whole film isn’t only just about Tampopo and her noodle shop but there are also several other scenes that connects food with human interaction with one another. Food is shown as a way of bringing intimacy among couples and also pity needs for a child that is also seen and pretty as a pet because of his message board he worn around his neck.

Sustenance for the Spirited

Spirited Away tells a fantastical story about a girl’s journey into a “spirit world,” where transparent beings dwell and indulge their lustful nature. This 2001 film by Hayao Miyazaki engulfs you into a story of a girl who triumphs over love and evil witches, but what drives this movie is also what fuels its characters: food! Miyazaki places the variety of food in Spirited Away on a pedestal. The spirited world which Chihiro finds herself is a carnival built solely with restaurants and food stands (save the Bath House where food is also abundant). The lavish meals that are speckled throughout the movie create conflict, define setting, and even physically solidify Chihiro within this world.

It is not long after the opening credits where the movie presents its first scene with food. Chihrio and her two parents stumble into a seemingly deserted amusement park. Smelling delectable scents from far away, the parents lead Chihiro to a food stand that is empty except for the enormous feast that has been laid out on the counter as if freshly made. These first few scenes work well to capture the audience into the true feel of movie.

Father loading his plate with the mysterious food

Father loading his plate with the mysterious food

Of the few defining points of the setting, the aspect of food is mainly focused on with the elaborate feast at the food stall along with the fact that every shop into town is a restaurant. As the parents start eating the food, Chihiro notices them quickly turning into swine which symbolizes their pig-like nature for food. As night falls, their lust for this food traps them into the spirit world since they are physically unable to leave as dark beings capture them. As Chihiro runs away from the horrid scene it becomes clear that the stories conflict will be a direct result of her captured parents and even further the meal they ate. Later in the movie, she meets a witch who comments on how her parents greedily stole the food that was not theirs. This highlights the conflict again if that meal had not enticed her parents, she would not be stuck in this world without them.

Food does more than just feed the spirits and dwellers of this world; it has some magical quality to it as well. This carnival run by food collects visitors from a night train that are just floating masks until they enter the food court where they take physical form.

Haku trying to force feed an invisible Chihiro

Haku trying to force feed an invisible Chihiro

The reverse happens to Chihiro. As she runs from the town as it comes alive with spirits (just after she ran from her parents), she starts to disappear. A boy she met named Haku tells her the only way to fix this is to eat something from his world. This means that the physical forms of the spirit world are defined by food itself; without it they would fade away completely.

Food carries very powerful effects in Spirited Away. It works to lure victims into the traps of the spirit world while simultaneously fueling its reality. Miyazaki does an amazing job of tying food into this epic plot in a way that makes it absent from the foreground of the story while still playing an integral role in it.

A Feast of Just Desserts

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, although being a cartoon animation, acts as an allegory to the Japanese bubble economy while also depicting the vices of consumerism and extravagance through food. The consumption of food, more specifically between high class, exotic food and simple, “traditional” food, plays an integral role in providing the message behind Spirited Away.  The use of food further emphasizes the underlying distinction that with such high class comes an obnoxiousness and audacity that is not found within the simplicity of what can be deemed as “traditional” living. Thus Spirited Away is able to send the message that there is more to life than just a focus monetary amenities, but also on maintaining the image of one’s self.

One of the initial scenes found in Spirited Away shows Chihiro and her family leaving what could be seen as modern “society” as they get closer to a forest. Here Chihiro points out some abandoned shrines showing how society has essentially given up its “traditional” aspect. The scene where her father states that having four-wheel drive assures the family that they’ll be fine likewise shows the movement toward commercialism. This culminates into the scene where Chihiro’s parents start to feast. Uncaringly, both her parents begin to binge on the various foods there consisting of what seems to be high-class meats and exotic food under the assumption that the owner would be okay with their service and that the food could automatically be paid with a credit card. Chihiro feels a natural reluctance, of which saves her from turning into a pig like her parents who then become a symbol of gluttony and commercialism, of which shows that like pigs her parents have lost their identities, becoming uncleanly animals with the mentality of only consuming.

The contrasts to this are the simple meals eaten by Chihiro and Haku. Towards the beginning Haku feeds Chihiro some berries, a simple fruit that is able to not only quench one’s hunger but assures Chihiro that she will not fade from the world, acting in essence as one of the bare necessities of life without being extravagant. Likewise the emetic dumpling that Chihiro uses to cure both Haku and No-Face is simple in design and use. Both examples are used at the most basic levels yet are the most helpful to Chihiro. The extravagant food used, such as that to feed No-Face, is used just as a symbol of wealth and aesthetics. It corrupts the consumer as seen by Chihiro’s parents turning into pigs and as No-Face turns into a true monster.

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Chihiro’s parents turned into pigs because of their gluttony representing the vices of such consumerist ideals.

Food is used as one of the main focal points to paint the image that consumerism and the resulting extravagance is corrupting on so many levels. Such extravagance is unneeded as seen by the simple almost traditional foods consumed by Chihiro that sustain her through the movie. Food helps bring the movie full-circle as the audience makes the connection that simplicity at times can be more fulfilling.

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No-Face becomes a true monster after consuming a large amount of high-quality food.

Why Are You Eating?

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away follows the story of a young girl, Chihiro, who accidentally wanders into the world of spirits with her parents and becomes stranded when darkness falls and her parents are turned into pigs. In a world unfamiliar to humans, Chihiro receives help from a spirit, Haku, and throughout the film, several other spirits, to save her parents and escape the spirit world. Transformation is a key theme of the film as Chihiro starts off as a lazy, whiney, and unwilling girl and transforms into a more independent and confident one. Food is a key element that symbolizes this theme in a more literal and physical sense as it has the power to transform both humans and spirits.

The first instance we see of food transforming people is when Chihiro’s parents pig out on the food in the stalls and are literally turned into pigs as punishment for eating the food for the spirits. Food also transforms people to help them as Haku gives Chihiro a berry to eat from the spirit world so she stops vanishing. Later, he also gives her rice balls with a spell to help her gain strength, as she would need it to work for Yubaba as she finds a way to save her parents. A notable difference between the foods Chihiro eats and her parents eat is the amount of preparation in the meals. While her parents eat marinated, flavored, and cooked meat that are laid out in huge batches, Chihiro eats food that is either natural, like the berry, or more simply prepared, like rice balls.

There is also the difference of why they eat. Chihiro’s parents eat because the food looked good and it is there. They also eat more for the sake of eating. Chihiro eats because of necessity. She needs to eat the berry in order to stop from disappearing and remain in the spirit world and she needs to eat the rice balls to regain her strength. She eats so she can be strong in this unfamiliar world where she must save herself and her parents.

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Haku giving Chihiro a berry to keep her from disappearing

 

The difference between the transformations when consuming cooked, well-decorated food and more natural, simple food is also evident in the spirits. When No-Face gets the attention of the bathhouse workers with his ability to create gold, they bring him piles of dishes with all kinds of well-prepared food to please him, and he gobbles it all up greedily. The more he eats, the more he turns into a monster, and is only able to return to normal when Chihiro gives him the special dango from the river spirit so he throws up all the food he had eaten. Chihiro also forces Haku to eat this dango in order to save him from Zeniba’s curse that is killing him, but it also releases him from the spell Yubaba had on him to control him.

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No-Face surrounded by piles of fancy dishes

Food is a necessary element in all life, even for spirits, but one must not abuse their ability to eat. Spirited Away shows how what you eat and why you eat can define you are.

Girls Before Swine: Images of Food in Spirited Away

In Spirited Away, food is treated in a very unique way. Represented as both the source of the main conflict and as a source of resolution, various foods drive the storyline from beginning to end. Chihiro, a pre-adolescent girl, is faced with the daunting task of rescuing her parents, who have been turned them into pigs. Having been “spirited away” to a kami bathhouse, Chihiro must succeed at her new job, help those around her, unravel the mystery of her new friend Haku, and find a way to break her parents’ spell.

While moving to a new home, Chihiro and her parents get lost and end at a bizarre locale. Her parents follow an appetizing aroma to a food stall and, finding no one there, begin eating, claiming that they can pay for it later. They have neither wonder towards what the bizarre foods in front of them are, nor worry that the food is not for sale. To them, all food is a commodity meant to be traded for money. Because of their gluttony, they are turned into pigs.

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As night arrives, spirits begin arriving. Terrified, Chihiro hides, only to find that she is turning invisible. A mysterious boy named Haku finds her and offers her a berry. Greatly different from the bizarre, processed food that her parents ate, the natural, fresh berry is meant to help Chihiro by stopping her from vanishing from the world.

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Chihiro is forced to take a job working at the bathhouse but is very sad and weak. The evil owner, Yubaba, has assigned her the worst tasks. Haku appears again, this time to show Chihiro where her parents are being kept. The barn is overflowing with pigs in cramped quarters, waiting to be eaten. This personalizes the commodification of animals as merely food sources. Food again serves a positive role as Haku gives Chihiro magical rice balls that return her strength.

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Reinvigorated, Chihiro becomes very successful at her job, partially due to the help of a mysterious black spirit named No Face. After removing a cursed spine from the side of a river god, Chihiro is gifted with a medicinal dumpling. When Haku, in his true form as a dragon, is attacked by enchanted paper men, Chihiro discovers that he has stolen from Yubaba’s sister Zeniba (on Yubaba’s orders) and been cursed. Chihiro decides to go speak with Zeniba.

Unfortunately, Chihiro is sidetracked when No Face begins offering gold to the greedy bathhouse employees for large quantities of food. Yet again, the commodification of food is painted in a negative fashion. No Face gorges on food, growing massively, and even eats several employees. Chihiro uses the rest of her dumpling to force No Face to purge himself of all of the food, demonstrating the value of food as more than just an object to be consumed.

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Employees rushing to feed No Face

Haku recovers while Chihiro is away searching for Zeniba and, relieved of both Zeniba’s curse and Yubaba’s spell, rebels against his master and demands that she let Chihiro and her parents return to the real world. When she agrees, Haku flies off to find Chihiro. After sharing a meal with Zeniba and discovering her to be a kindly woman, Chihiro returns back to the bathhouse with Haku, discovering his true identity along the way. Chihiro passes Yubaba’s final test and is free to return to her own world with her parents.

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The only “family” meal in the entire film.