Category Archives: Spirited Away

Spirited Away: The Power of Food

The Power of Food in Spirited Away

            Food is a recurring theme in many of Miyazaki’s films and is utilized in Spirited Away to depict the importance of food in culture and life. People should be thankful for the food that they get to eat and should not become too greedy. Food also has the power to tie people and cultures together and food can provide comfort and suppress the evil in people.

Food and greed are important motifs in Spirited Away. At the beginning of the story, food sets the whole story into motion by inviting Chihiro and her parents to the food stand. Eating the sacred food ends up turning Chihiro’s parents into pigs. This scene gives the idea that people should be always thankful of the food they get to eat and should not eat needlessly just for the sake of eating. It is a habit widely forgotten by many of the developed countries as food has become abundant in recent years. In Japan, people say itadakimasu before a meal and gochisosama after a meal in order to show their appreciation for the meals that they eat. However in recent years, some people have forgotten about the true meaning behind the words and say them only for the sake of saying them. Through food, Miyazaki attempts to convey the message that people should be thankful for the things that they have and should not become greedy.



Chihiro’s dad gorging himself with food

In Spirited Away food is an important component that ties people and cultures together. As Chihiro was starting to disappear in the spiritual world, Haku fed her food from the spiritual world in order to tie her to the spiritual world and keep her from disappearing. Every culture around the world has its own unique types of food and the type of food that a culture has can be used to identify it. I believe that by learning about the food of a certain place, you are also assimilating into its culture. Therefore, when Chihiro, a foreigner, was starting to fade away, Haku gave her food from the spiritual world to help her become a part of the spirit world. Later, when the workers at the bath house were complaining about Chihiro’s human smell, Haku explains to them that if she eats their food for a few days, she would soon lose that smell, indicating that she will lose her human identity and gain her spiritual identity as Sen. This line supports my idea that eating the food of a certain culture makes you a part of that culture in a way. Food forms bonds between people and cultures.

Haku giving Chihiro onigiris in the garden with the soft, tender background music

Haku gives rice balls to Chihiro to cheer her up

Food is a source of comfort to many people. Food can calm people and also suppress inner anger and evil. The magical cake given to Chihiro by the river spirit is an example of how food can remove maliciousness from a person. The cake is special in that it makes whoever that ate the cake throw up whatever evil was inside them. Chihiro uses this on Haku and no-face to have them throw up the bad things that were dwelling inside them. Haku throws up the gold seal he stole from Zeniba and the slug that Yubaba was using to control him. After eating the cake, No-Face throws up the evil force and anger that was inside him, stopping his rampage. The cake shows how food has the power to suppress anger and comfort people. Miyazaki is trying to convey the point that food has the ability to remove evil and malicious feelings from a person and cleanse them. Food also provides comfort to Chihiro on many occasions. When Chihiro was starting to fade away on her first night, Haku gives her some food from the spiritual world to help her maintain her form. The next day when Chihiro was going through an emotional breakdown, Haku gives her rice balls in order to cheer her up. Food is a positive force that suppresses evil and brings comfort to people.


No-Face, angered by Chihiro’s refusal, starts to eat everything he sees

Overall, food is an important theme in Spirited Away and is used by Miyazaki to convey the importance of food in Japanese culture and how food is comfort. Food is a recurring motif in many of Miyazaki’s films and is used to convey the themes within his films.


Spirited Away: over-consumption and environment

Spirited Away is a Hayao Miyazaki film in which a 10-year-old girl named Chihiro becomes trapped in a mysterious world and is forced to work in a bathhouse that serves the spirits. Chihiro struggles to save her parents, who have transformed into pigs and receives support from creatures all around her. The film contains several scenes in which meals and food are consumed or shared. In Spirited Away, characters over-consume to fill an internal void created by loneliness or hopelessness, and end up exploiting or harming the environment.

Haku giving Chihiro onigiris in the garden with the soft, tender background music
Haku giving Chihiro onigiris in the garden with the soft, tender background music

Comparing No Face with Chihiro points to food’s role in Spirited Away as “filling one’s soul.” Chihiro and No Face have similar backgrounds, though the film mainly shows the paradoxical aspects of each character. Chihiro and No Face are both alone in this world, without their families. Both wandered into this mysterious world alone, and No Face expresses his feelings by saying “I’m lonely, I’m lonely… I want Sen, I want Sen…” On the other hand, Chihiro, a 10 year old girl determined to work in a place maybe forever to help her parents, behaves dauntlessly saying nothing about abandoning her job (this was also because she was told by Haku that if she said one word of going home or quitting her job, she would never get her parents back). In this scene, however, Haku gives Chihiro 3 onigiris in a garden, promting her to cry out of loneliness. In this shot, Haku has his arm around Chihiro’s shoulder to show relief in a calm garden having soft, melodic background music which also imbues the scene with tenderness. This scene is significant because onigiris have a special meaning to children in Japan. Onigiri literally means “handmade” rice balls, not to mention rice is our soul food in Japan. Haku’s handmade onigiris made Chihiro feel secure and relieved which lead her to burst into tears.

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Even No Face has grew big, the food is bigger than himself, scattering the gold

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He keeps on saying he is lonely although consuming all the food served to him


No Face, Chihiro (and her animals), and Zeniba at her cabin, greeting them with tea, cake and other food.

No Face, on the other hand, could not find someone to care for him, and he uses his ability to literally ‘make money’ to consume a huge amount of food, even swallowing three employees in the bath house to abate his loneliness. No Face can be seen as representative of vanity and materialism, regarding money as everything and thinking of grasping whatever he wants- including food, authority, even love. He uses his power to make gold to blind employees with their own greed, and have them bring the enormous amount of food to him. His enormous consumption, however, did not make him full, either literally or in his heart: although he comes to look like a monster, he keeps on saying that he is lonely. Food made without anyone’s heart will never make one full, and he realizes his vacancy despite having money and people around him. Later on, he finds out that money was not the thing he needed when he goes to Zeniba’s cabin with Chihiro and makes a manmade barrette for her using no magic. He looks so happy being needed by someone. This scene is when he appreciates the taste of a cake filled with acceptance. Therefore, from both Chihiro and No Face’s perspective, food, when it is prepared with care or love, plays a role of filling out one’s anxiety of love, care, and tenderness when you are alone or when you feel a vacancy in your heart.


All the garbage filling the whole room coming out of the Stink Spirit

Secondly, Miyazaki deploys food and consumer goods as a metaphor for human carelessness and waste. The above scene depicts a pile of junk coming out of the Stink Spirit, who actually turns out to be a river god. Miyazaki’s environmental message is that while we see polluted rivers and avoid them or try not to get involved with them, it is indeed humans that have made that mess. The Stink Spirit came to the bath house to wash off all the sludge and muck made by the human beings. The scene suggests that throwing one thing away would not be a big deal, but having everyone doing it will lead to a serious pollution of the river and because of the egoism of them the nature will die. This plot point is very similar to that of Haku’s because he is also a river god, and in the end we know that his river had been landfilled due to construction of an apartment.

Throughout the film, Miyazaki used food to represent both human values and vices. Food can be used to fill one’s void coming from loneliness or sadness, but at the same time if you over-consume food, it will also lead to a big environmental problem. As long as we have a wasteful society, we will never have a radiant future with a sustainable world as Miyazaki wanted it to be.

Meat and its Negativities

In Spirited Away, Miyazaki uses various devices to illustrate vices of human nature as well as virtues; specifically, he often uses foods as part of his design in constructing these narratives. However, not only does Miyazaki simply employ food in general to elicit different responses in his viewers, he also choicely selects what types of foods best matches with his intended plot lines. In fact, meat is only used in instances characterized by negative vices like gluttony or greed, while meat free diets are used in scenes depicting gentler qualities like healing, or regeneration. Through analysis of this technique that Miyazaki utilizes, we can draw broad generalizations of his attitude towards food consumption, and of the subtle nuances he is able to employ through careful selection of different types of foods.

Chihiro’s parents takes food with no consideration for who they could be for

Chihiro’s parents takes food with no consideration for who they could be for

Miyazaki couldn’t be more obvious in portraying ugliness than during the beginning scenes where Chihiro’s parents are gobbling down on the street food they came across. In that scene, the meal was indeed predominately made up of beef, chicken, and fish. In order to amplify the effect that Chihiro’s parents are stuffing themselves without any appreciation for what the act of “eating” actually means, the food is drawn in a rather abstract manner; they take on a rounded form and do not actually resemble real life food. At the same time, instead of biting and chewing, the fact that Chihiro’s parents are more close to “slurping” down their meals is used to dramatize their disrespect for resources and their conspicuous consumption. Miyazaki could very well have shown the parents to be binging on rice or noodles, but choosing meat instead, especially in a spiritual realm for setting, further stresses the negativities of their act of eating another live being.

No Face looking utterly repulsive after devouring everything in sight

No Face looking utterly repulsive after devouring everything in sight

Similarly, during No Face’s wild rampage, there was the ubiquitous presence of meat. No Face stumbles around the bathhouse, with a bottomless desire to devour everything in sight. As he eats, his physical form contorts as well; he swells significantly in size and loses his original shape. This symbolizes how gluttony, or an excessive hunger for substances, essentially corrupts his self-image and distorts his morality. Especially in the context of a spiritual world, to be unable to contain oneself (in the literal sense), or to lose balance (in bodily proportions), signifies disturbance within a person’s spiritual wellbeing. In both cases characters are eating some form of meat, which carries an extra element of distress because it essentially came from another animal, and is hence a more “vulgar” form of sustenance.  It is clear that in Miyazaki’s opinion, consumerism involved meat eating behavior, which could be due to the fact that widespread meat eating culture was first introduced into Japan more as a luxury than a staple food. And has since then carried with it the image of modern indulgence.

On the other hand, while meat serves as a representation of contortion and excessive consumption, the opposite, namely, simple and meat free diets are used to illustrate virtuous qualities of human nature. Miyazaki is optimistic towards seemingly banal foods taken in reasonable proportions and also properly appreciated when eaten.

Chihiro accepts a plain onigiri from Haku, which is suppose to help her regain energy

Chihiro accepts a plain onigiri from Haku, which is suppose to help her regain energy

Of all the forms of nutrients, a plain onigiri is chosen to have regenerative powers in the film. Haku gives Chihiro only a small amount of food, but just enough for it to take effect in helping her regain energy. Onigiri carries with it the long tradition of Japanese culture before the introduction of western consumerism, and with it, the nostalgia frugalness for many older Japanese people. It would definitely resonant with these folks well to only eat just enough food for functionality, and not in surplus. In this way people can continue to live harmoniously with nature, and find a proper equilibrium within themselves.

A simple looking pill is used to heal Haku

A simple looking pill is used to heal Haku

This idea of simple foods as being “better” than meat carries throughout the film. When Chihiro returns Haku the favor and saves his life, it was with a plain colored small round pill. Contrary to the flamboyance of European royalties, the Japanese people have always valued humbleness and modesty. This is exemplified in religions like Buddhism or other traditional events like tea ceremonies. They like to believe that powerful forces can lie within simple and ordinary objects; and have a great appreciation for unostentatious beauty. This cultural consensus is well represented in Spirited away, as both of the most powerful pieces of food are both quite basic and ordinary externally.
In conclusion, while modern science affirms the nutritious values of meat as a great provider of proteins, in a symbolic sense they are not the most elegant form of sustenance. Within a spirit world Chihiro stumbles into, eating the life of another animal seems to carry a complete different set of consequences. Because for duration in Japanese history, meat was only for the rich, it still retained that image of excessive desire, and indulgence in a very ugly sense of the word. Thus in Spirited Away, meat appears in the two scenes where the characters are clearly submitting towards their very worst natures. In effect, meat free meals, and especially the seemingly unsophisticated ones, can carry great value and power. Though these contrasts, Miyazaki animatedly illustrates the pitfalls of modern society, and urges for a return to simpler values.

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.

Spirited Away: Coexistence between Nature and Modernity

Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Spirited Away follows a story of a young girl named Chihiro who unknowingly enters a spiritual realm with her parents, and suddenly finding herself in the position to save her parents who transforms into pigs and find her way back to reality. Upon entering this unknown spiritual world, Chihiro, determined to save them, assumes a different identity (as Sen) when she signs Yubaba’s, the head of the bathhouse, working contract in order to stay in their world. As she embarks on her journey and meets different individuals, she too grows as an individual eventually leading her to the conclusion of her journey and returns to the other side of the world. In this animation, Miyazaki illustrates the bathhouse as a structured hierarchy in the labor force work as a result of a modernizing Japan, contrasting them from each other. Miyazaki points out the problematic result that can occur in a country that is modernizing rather quickly but also points out that it is finding the balance that will create a harmony between advancements and nature.

When Japan opened its doors to the West, it resulted to foreign ideas, food, technology, clothes and other goods to enter Japan’s lifestyle. Japan started to demand more labor to keep up with the industrialized West and to modernize itself.  Kamaji’s boiler room represents Japan’s labor force that is rapidly growing due to the demand of consumer goods. To keep up with the demand means creating mass production while reducing the required physical labor. This resulted in the use of assembly lines, a process in which different parts of products are created and assembled much faster by machines. Kamaji is very similar to these assembly line machines because with his six arms, he operates the boiler room of the bathhouse on his own. Kamaji as the machine in the labor force is able to provide and meet the demands of the bathhouse, hence when Chihiro first asked for a job, he denies her because he has all the help he needs – the soots and himself.

Kamaji operating the boiler room, keeping the bathhouse running

Kamaji operating the boiler room, keeping the bathhouse running

In comparison, Yubaba’s office found at the very top of the bathhouse is the complete opposite of the boiler room which draws a distinction on the levels of the hierarchical labor force. Yubaba’s office in comparison to the rest of the bathhouse has a very Western influence to it. The halls are grand and tall, the walls and furniture are very ornate, items such as pillows has a lot of embroidery – overall it is very Westernized. Even Yubaba’s clothes compared to the workers is Western. Yubaba’s office being located on the very top of this hierarchy in a way associates the West with luxury and the better economic status. Yubaba runs the bathhouse and has control over everyone that works there. The difference between the boiler room and Yubaba’s office suggests that the accumulation of material goods can establish one’s status.

A view of Yubaba’s ornate office

A view of Yubaba’s ornate office

Miyazaki illustrates this as one side of industrialized Japan, where the people itself are so caught up to the luxurious lifestyle associated with the West that in the end it hurts them. For example when the filthy river god, who Yubaba thought was a stink spirit, enters the bathhouse it turns out he had consumed all these materials. It was not until Chihiro helps him that he is able to cleanse himself away from the filth that was dragging him down. This suggests the idea that filth can come along with consumerism when it gets out of hand. After Chihiro helps the river god, he gives her a healing cake which she uses later on to help Haku and No-Face. This herb-like healing cake she uses for No-Face to vomit everything he consumed suggests that a balance between nature and the growing industrialization in society is needed for sustainability.

The river god spews out various objects with the help of Chihiro

The river god spews out various objects with the help of Chihiro

However, Miyazaki also includes that industrialized Japan is not always a bad thing. Nature and industries can coexist harmoniously if people control their consumption of consumer goods. For instance, Yubaba’s twin sister Zeniba also lives in a Western-influenced place but it is much more simple and humble. Zeniba’s humble home paints the idea that adopting Western influence does not automatically means it will end in a disaster. It really depends on the people how they will balance both sides, and how to control their desire for materials. Zeniba’s home is a depiction of this balance, with her Western furniture that are not over the top, and her house not containing a superfluous of items. Furthermore, the plants she has hints on nature coexisting with modernity.

Chihiro and friends entering Zeniba’s humble home

Chihiro and friends entering Zeniba’s humble home

Miyazaki carefully highlights the problem and consequences that arise from a growing industrial country like Japan, and the rise of consumerism. As seen in the cases of the spirit god and no-face who over consumed, lost their true identity and it was not until they were cleansed that they gain their true identities back. Some may lose their sense of self because of their desire for wealth. However, it is also depicted in the animation that such coexistence between the two is possible as long balance is sought.

Food and Desires

“Spirited away”, which is the masterpiece of Hayao Miyazaki, was called “eastern Alice Wonderland.” In the film, the main character Chihiro moves to a new house with her parents. On their way, they accidently go into a mystery world as a result of a wrong turn. Chihiro’s parents are attracted by the delicious food’s smell and eat without permission, which turns them into pigs. Then, Chihiro starts her adventure with the help of Haku, and prepared to live in the Magical World in order to save her parents. In the film, food takes a really important role. Different people have totally different regards on “how to eat” and “what to eat”. They see food as absolutely distinct meanings. Through the food, it is easy to understand each character better. Although food seems easy and simple, it exactly reflects each person’s identity and desire.


This scene happens in the start of the movie when Chihiro’s parents eat too much and turn into pigs. This scene is a medium shot. Chihiro holds her parents and tries to save them, but it is too late. The music in this scene is rapid which reflected Chihiro’s worries. Also, the food is wasted everywhere in the shot shows that Chihiro’s parents represent the identity of greed. Food to them is like desires of enjoyments and happiness. So, they eat food without any controls that lead them turn into pigs. Ironically, they eat foods but meanwhile become the food for others. This implies that greedy people will eventually bring the retribution. When the parents eat the food, they say that they can pay later. However, sometimes it is not only about the money, but also about the respect. When they eat the food without permission, they already controlled by their desires of enjoyments. Just like Chihiro said her parents “Don’t eat too much or you will be killed”, which implies that even the good things should not take too much. Otherwise, the desires may bring bad effects.



There is another prominent character in this film that is called No Face. No face represents the identity of loneliness. He has no friends and nobody loves him. At this specific scene, No face eats the Frog and changed to the Frog’s voice which indicates that the food for the No Face is desire of identity. In this shot, there is no music and dialogues, and the lights are dark. This setting emphasizes that No face is lonely and empty. Therefore, eating the food is a way of feeding him full and a way of proving his existence. However, he eats too much food at last, which changes him to a monster. He is not being loved by Chihiro as he expected, but is being scared by others.

Instead of eating the food themselves, Chihiro and Haku choose to share the food. Therefore, unlike Chihiro’s parents and No face are dominated by food, they seem to use the food as a way of love.



This scene happens right after Chihiro saw her parent’s as pigs. Her parents are totally forgot her. She is sad, alone and helpless. After seeing her parents, Chihiro and Haku sit in front of flowers when Haku passes her a magical rice boll and let her to eat. This shot is bright and the lyric is slow and comfortable, which provides an environment of warm and peace. At this moment, this Rice boll stands for not only the food, but also the support. By giving the rice boll to the Chihiro, Haku is in another approach tries to tell Chihiro that he will be here to help her. Food serves as an encouragement for Chihiro to keep going ahead. It is also interesting to notice that it is the only one time in the film when Chihiro cries. Chihiro is a tough girl, even when her parents changes to pigs or climbing the perilous ladder, she does not even cry. However, when she receives the rice boll made by Haku, she cries out loud. This is because the warm and delicious rice boll tells Chihiro that even in this terrible situation, there is still someone here cares about her and she is definitely not alone. So, at this moment, food also serves as desire of “love”. Chihiro cries not because she eats the rice boll, but because she receives the love and the care.


Chihiro receives the love given by Haku, and in the last part of the film she shares her love back to Haku. This is where this scene happens. Haku steals Yubaba’s seal and hurt by her paper birds. He is injured so much and even worse there is a “curse spell” in Haku’s body. Haku is nearly dead that is when Chihiro gives the Haku the emetic dumplings. As known, Chihiro saves the emetic dumplings for her parents in order to change them back to humans. However, at this point, Chihiro bestows the Haku emetic dumplings without hesitation, which shows her kindness. In the shot, Chihiro opens Haku’s mouth with a lot effort, which indicates her determination of saving Haku. Emetic dumplings also can serve as a desire of living. Emetic dumpling gives Haku the energy and chance to survive. Also, when Haku steals the seal from Yubaba, no one understands him. Everyone sees him as a thief. Nonetheless, this time, only Chihiro gives him support. By sharing dumplings with Haku, Chihiro passes the ideas of forgiveness. So in fact, sharing the food is another way of sharing the love.

It is similar to the everyday life. Desires are definitely important to people, but still people need to control themselves. Sometimes, people keep pursuing their dreams too far, which lead them to lose themselves. Even if something people like so much, they still should not have them all. Food is implication of desires. However, if a person only thinks about getting them, he will in turn lose more. Sometimes, people should learn more about “let it go”. Only sharing the things we desire, we could get what we want finally.



Spirited Away: Beauty of Simplicity

            Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film, Spirited Away, tells a beautiful tale about a young ten-year old girl, Chihiro, who finds herself lost in the spirit world. She is forcefully thrust into a strange world, with a bustling bathhouse, strange spirits, and mysterious magic. However, Chihiro manages to find her place and remain true to her morals in the bathhouse filled with greed and materialism. Surrounded by corruption and capitalism, Chihiro represents the struggle between the modernization of Japan and the country’s struggle to reconnect with its past. Through the use of food, Miyazaki criticizes the excessive materialism rising in modern times.

Miyazaki clearly illustrates the decline of morals from the very beginning. When Chihiro first enters the spirit world, her parents greedily gobble down food that is not theirs. Her dad says, “It’s ok, I have cash and cards”.  They believe that because they have money, everything is fine; it does not matter that they are stealing food. They use their wealth to validate their deplorable actions.

Chihiro witnesses her parents transform into greedy pigs.

Chihiro witnesses her parents transform into greedy pigs.

Then, they greedily gorge themselves until they literally become mindless pigs. Their actions are disgusting, and Miyazaki uses the pig metaphor to criticize the growing materialism in Japan. A horrified Chihiro witnesses her parents’ lack of morals and messy eating. Food is everywhere and they are covered in the remains of their meal. The complete deterioration of the food as well as the transformation of humans to greedy animals symbolizes the degradation of morals and emphasis on materialism.

Miyazaki also uses the character, No Face, and his relationship with food to criticize the materialism in the world. The first time No Face appears he is meek and shy. However, as the movie progresses, he begins to consume food and becomes increasingly greedy. His gluttony escalates quickly until he devours plates of food and eventually swallows workers whole. In a mirror of Chihiro’s parents, No Face uses money to justify his vulgarity. The staff accepts it because the ridiculous amount of gold he throws around, demonstrating the corruption caused by greed. He transforms from a meek shadow to a gluttonous, frightening entity that completely disregards any form of civility.

No Face's gluttony completely degrades the extravagant food he is given.

No Face’s gluttony completely degrades the extravagant food he is given.

Glistening, delicious food is paraded to him, signifying the importance of food. However, when it reaches No Face, the food is indiscriminately devoured and thrown to the ground. The food, once an extravagant banquet, is now trash splattered everywhere. The perversion of food clearly illustrates the vulgarity of greed and the deleterious effect of materialism.

While food symbolizes the greed and materialism, it also demonstrates its role in establishing relationships and community as well as the merits of simplicity. Early in Chihiro’s work as a yuna, Haku takes her to a field to meet her parents. There, he offers her onigiri, or traditional Japanese rice balls, to encourage her and lift her spirits.

Haku's traditional rice balls encourage Chihiro to continue working hard.

Haku’s traditional rice balls encourage Chihiro to continue working hard.

As she eats them, she does, in fact, cheer up, and the food strengthens both her resolve and her connection with Haku. Not only does the setting contrast with the clutter and extravagance of the bathhouse, but the food is also juxtaposed to its excessive meals. The pretentious food of the bathhouse only encourages materialism; however, simple rice balls reinforce Chihiro’s morals and friendship with Haku. The traditional food also encourages the audience to return to their simple roots in order to maintain their cultural and personal identity. The river god’s medicine ball also represents the merits of simplicity. Chihiro first receives the herbal cake when she remains true to her work ethic as she bathes the river god. It is a job no one wishes to do; yet she puts her full effort into it. As a reward, she receives a simple, medicine cake, a contrast to the extravagance of the bathhouse, similar to the rice balls. However, this unassuming ball becomes a savior for both No Face and Haku. For the former, the simple food purges all the food from No Face. The simple herbal cake restores No Face to his original selfless state; this represents that simplicity and strong morals cleanses one from the evils of materialism. Similarly, the medicine ball also purges Haku from the evils within him and further cements the strong relationship between him and Chihiro. Through the use of simple food, Miyazaki implies that simple morals and good character triumph over the evils of materialism.

While many may see Spirited Away as a simple fairy tale, Miyazaki’s use of food throughout the film clearly demonstrates that strong morals and a simple foundation can fortify oneself against greed. In fact, simplicity saves people from the degradation of morals caused by greed. It is crucial to remain true to oneself and ones morals amidst the growing materialism in Japan and around the world.

Consuming Food in Spirited Away

Miyazaki Hayao illustrates a modern rendition of a Japanese folklore “kamikakushi” in his film Spirited Away (2001). In the film, Chihiro—a young 10 year old girl—and her family take an unexpected detour to their new house. The detour takes them to an “abandoned theme park” where they explore. As the parents are eagerly exploring the area, Chihiro is hesitant and repeatedly begs her parents to turn back. The parents’ stubbornness leads them to the food vendor section of the “abandoned theme park.” They begin eating the food without permission as Chihiro irritatingly watches them. While her parents consume the forbidden food, Chihiro runs into a worker at the spirit bath house owned by a lady named Yubaba. The spirit world quickly transitions to night and the film begins to follow Chihiro’s quest to find work and save her parents from the spirit world. Throughout her quest, Chihiro encounters many different conflicts and in turn becomes a more mature character in the end. Food plays a major role in the conflicts and in Chihiro’s journey overall. The film uses food as a way to comment on Consumerism and reveals the destruction associated with overindulgence.

Chihiro’s parents indulge in food without permission, they feel entitled to have access to the food and as a result turn into pigs.

Chihiro’s parents indulge in food without permission, they feel entitled to have access to the food and as a result turn into pigs.

The first scene that illustrates consumerism through the relationship between characters and food is the scene where Chihiro’s parents eat food from the spirit world. This scene is a direct way of commenting on consumerism. Miyazaki sheds light on the negative aspect of consumerism and the overindulgent consumption of goods by modern day people. The parents see the food and feel as though they are entitled enough to eat it. Even though Chihiro is hesitant, the dad justifies eating the food by saying that he has cash and credit cards enough to cover the cost of the food. His character basically believes that just because he has money, it automatically gives him the freedom to consume whatever he desires. As a result of their superiority and gluttonous nature, the parents turn into pigs. In general, pigs are seen as a symbol of greed and gluttony. Through this transformation, Miyazaki makes a direct metaphor comparing the parent’s actions to that of a pig.

No-Face overindulges and causes disorder in the bath house.

No-Face overindulges and causes disorder in the bath house.

A second scene that showcases excessive consumption of food is the scene in which No-Face enters the bath house and bribes the workers with gold to serve him food. In this case, money also gave the character a sense of power in the situation.  His power is signified by the “camera angle;” there is a low angle shot to emphasize how high of a position he is compared to the bath house workers. Through this scene, Miyazaki illustrates the destructiveness that can accompany consumerism. Although No-Face brings substantial revenue, he also brings disorder and destruction to the bath house. He causes the workers to waste food and water to serve him, and forces them to work during an obscure hour. Even though No-Face is the character shown consuming, the workers are also subject to greed—they are blinded by their desire for money. Once Chihiro/Sen (her name in the bath house) tries to fix the problem, No-Face damages the bath house and initially eats some of the workers. No-Face represents the “monster” that can arise from an excessive focus on consuming and greed.

Haku gives Chihiro the amount of spirit food she needs to survive.

Haku gives Chihiro the amount of spirit food she needs to survive.

To create balance in a culture that prioritizes indulgence and pleasure, the character Haku represents an alternative to this overconsumption. When his character is in a scene with food, he usually is shown not consuming the same as other characters. For example, in screenshot 3, Haku is shown giving Chihiro food from the spirit world to prevent her from disappearing. He gives her the necessary amount that she needs to survive. This contrasts with the scene of No-Face being offered significantly more than he needs. Through Haku’s lack of greed he is presented in a self-less manner—unlike the other characters who do over-consume and are presented in a selfish, greedy manner. Commentary on consumerism is found in the contrast showcased by Haku and No-Face because of the “good” vs. “evil” displayed in their behavior. The audience gets the impression that the overindulgent behavior of No-Face is “bad,” while Haku is seen as a “good” character.

Miyazaki Hayao revived the anime genre through his feature-length animes such as Spirited Away. Like many of his films, Spirited Away sheds light on the influence of humans on environments and the potential devastating effects accompanied by one’s actions. In Spirited Away, food assists in presenting the destructive side effects of consumerism. Exhibited by Chihiro’s parents and No-Face, overindulgence causes destruction of the bath house’s environment. However, they are not displayed as hopeless. Haku and Chihiro prove that a balance can be established and that not all consumers are overindulgent—there can be a co-existence between needs and wants.

Care and Health

Throughout the film Spirited Away, the creator, Hayao Miyazaki, reinforces the idea that coming of age is not only the loss of idleness that so characterizes childhood, but also beginning to care for oneself and eventually caring for others as well. Miyazaki uses food to mark Chihiro’s growth throughout the movie as she struggles with adjusting to the working world in order to find an escape.

 the berry

Haku persuades Chihiro to eat a berry in order to stay present in the spirit world

            When children first go off into the real world and become to mature into adults, they have trouble remembering to take care of their own health. In Chihiro’s case, she was thrust into this situation so instead of even considering her health, she focuses on trying return to where she came from; a place where her parents were responsible and took care of her, away from this alien world and its foreign elements did not exist. However, Haku comes to the rescue and persuades Chihiro to eat a berry prompting her to take care of her well-being as well as getting her to focus on the predicament at hand. Food gives her strength to exist as well as realize that wishing will not transport her back to her previous world. Instead, she must find a logical solution to her predicament.

 Rice Cake

Haku again offers Chihiro food after her long and difficult day in the spirit world

            After a long day of close calls and tense moments, Chihiro is assigned to Lin as an assistant and she begins to understand the reality of her situation. When Haku calls her out and offers her rice cakes in the early morning, Chihiro begins to cry because she can do nothing but look forward even though she wants to go back. In offering Chihiro rice cakes, Haku mimics the way Chihiro’s parents cared for her because they provided her with food and shelter. Chihiro struggles internally because she is nostalgic about her past and wants nothing more than to go back, however, because of the responsibilities that have been placed on her shoulders due to her new job, she must live in the present focus on the task at hand. She sobs as she wolfs down the rice cakes because she realizes that she has to grow up and work hard in order to return to her world with her parents as humans.


 mantou on the porch

Chihiro grasps a dumpling and the magic cake with a new energy

            When she receives the magic cake from the River god, Chihiro realizes that she finally has a way to lift the curse on her parents and return to her world! Lin offers her a dumpling as a celebratory reward for Chihiro’s hard work; however, it is more than just a reward to Chihiro. It signifies her maturation because it is the product of her own hands. She realizes that because of her hard work, she can provide for herself and now has the ability to take care of her parents as well. As she holds the previous magic cake in one hand, she eats her dumpling happily and converses with Lin about leaving the Bath house one day, knowing that it is nearer than she had previously thought.

 Eating the magic

Chihiro forces some of the magic cake into Haku’s mouth to save her dying savior

            When Chihiro feeds Haku some of the magic cake that was meant for her parents, Miyazaki illustrates a changed Chihiro who is now caring for her friends the way he first cared for her when she was “dying.” As she matured through the movie, she realized that Haku had cared for her and that saving his life was merely returning the favor. However, it does not symbolize that she has chosen him over her parents. She was able to give the magic cake to Haku without so much a second thought because she now knows that she can work hard and will continue to work hard to find a different way to save her parents.

At first, when Chihiro is caught between her old world and the new spirit world, she is so blinded by her predicament that it is Haku’s generosity and acts of kindness that keep her alive. In the end, she realizes that she has the ability to be a hard worker and take care of herself. As a mature character her responsibilities are no longer merely the regulations of her job but also responsibilities to her loved ones. Chihiro, who began as an idle child who complained about everything, became hard worker who not only cared for herself but also saved Haku and her parents. Chihiro leaves the spirit world a changed character and though it is debatable whether or not she remembers her experience there, the experiences shaped her into a new person.

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.