Tag 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.

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.

Spirited Away: Identity Formation, Preservation, and Recollection

Robert Vander Veer
3 Page Analysis on Spirited Away
Japanese 70, Discussion 1B

 It is difficult to pinpoint just one overall theme in Spirited Away, a movie as complex and ridden with symbolism as it is beautiful. Chihiro, the movie’s main protagonist and central character, is not the only one in the movie who experiences her own change and development. As the story unfolds, even the minions who are obstructions on the quest to save her parents naturally turn into allies that walk by her side as she vigilantly keeps her goals in sight despite the oppressive and chaotic nature of the “Bathhouse”. In order to serve their purpose within the hedonist and egoist environment, the characters are given one-dimensional roles via the replacement of their identity by Yubaba, who owns them once she makes them forget their “name” (their true self) and gives them a new one. This may seem odd in the literal sense, but metaphysically and symbolically, there is no better representation that parallels quite accurately how people are “indoctrinated” into society, and how they transform and lose themselves when being swept up in the world of unfulfilling work, losing themselves day by day. Spirited Away thus becomes a story about the preservation, recollection, and formation of identity and of the “self” in a modern society wherein it is easy to lose yourself when becoming a gear in the “machine” of society.

            To understand the central themes of identity reformation and preservation in Spirited Away, it really helps to make sense out of the rules of the world the movie takes place in. At first, they seem very foreign, and just made up to seem “otherworldly”, but the fact of the matter is that they are not very much unlike our own, in that they are metaphysical representations of the conscious and what takes place “inside” rather than actual “cause-effect” physical realities. When Chihiro is first “absorbed” into the Spirit World, she becomes transparent, as if fading from existence. Because she does not belong in the world, and has no ties, it is almost as if she has nothing within that world to “ground” her into that reality, no identity or purpose within this society in which she doesn’t belong, that is, until Haku comes. “Don’t worry, I’m a friend.” As he gives her a small tidbit of food, Chihiro becomes rematerialized, having partaken in a simple exchange of food with Haku. Although this seemed like such a simple moment, it is one of the most significant, in that by eating the food, Chihiro is almost given an identity for this particular society, now having established a bond with Haku, someone being from within the society to indoctrinate her. In this sense, food almost seems to always embody something within the movie, and in this scene, it was the establishment of a bond that kept her from floating away; a new identity, or persona if you will, that enabled her to act upon and exert her presence materially on the other worldly society thanks to Haku.

An astonished Chihiro holds a panacea that seemingly has the potential to remedy the ailments brought on by the desensitization and traumatizing disenchantment (or malicious enchantments) of the Bathhouse World. This was given to her by the River God that she helped, showing how powerful bonds are in order to be established within a society and to build upon your identity.

            Later on in the movie, When Chihiro helps a River God from another world, he gifts her with a special Panacea that can seemingly “purge” anyone of anything that ails them within the world of the bath-house. Given to her because of her selflessness and lack of presumptions about his character, the River God brings something in which even the hedonist world of desire cannot trample under, and this embodies something from a different, supposedly more tranquil world. In a sense, since only Chihiro could have obtained this gift, it’s almost as if it the manifestation of a 2nd identity for her in the world of the bathhouse, as she is indoctrinated by the semblance of this item bestowed unto her. Whereas the previous exchange with Haku preserved and reformed a new identity within the bathhouse world, this new exchange between her and the nameless River God gave her a new, more empowered identity, one of an objective worldview that could be used to take on the hardships of the bathhouse, rather than just be encompassed by them. Astonishingly, this takes the form of food, which has two interesting and very important qualities central to the film: It can be shared with others, and it is expendable. Because it can be shared, she too, can bestow it unto others, as if to put her own strength of heart and purity into others to purge them of the noise of the bathhouse.


A newly purged No- Face accompanies Chihiro, who is more than willing to let him come along. Realizing that the bathhouse is what makes him crazy, she knows it is best to take him as far as possible from there.

Much like Chihiro, No-Face is initially transparent, has no place to go, and knows no one in the bathhouse, and thus has no “self” to place him in relation to anyone or anything in the world. When Chihiro opens the door for him in the rain, she is performing a subtle ritual of initiation, establishing an indirect bond with No-Face, although unbeknownst to her. In a sense, you could say he really has “No-Face”, or no identity. The mask he wears is expressionless, and gestures and utterances are his only form of communication. Because he has no identity to establish, he is impressionable to the world of the Bathhouse, and is quickly engulfed by the desire and greed around him. When he sees Chihiro as someone who stands above all of this chaos, he is filled with a strange sort of infatuation for her, almost as if she is like a diamond in the rough. He constantly gives her gifts throughout the story, almost as if he wants her to fall into the world of desire with him, possibly in order to rationalize that there is no one who could possibly resist, that falling into the ordinary flow of the Bathhouse is normal. He is torn between wanting Chihiro, and wanting to be like her. Upon becoming engorged after indulging in every whim of the bathhouse, he comes to find that he is still miserable. Wanting to possess Chihiro, (being the embodiment of tranquility and enlightenment; being free from material desire), he pursues her, wherein Chihiro gets him to eat the Panacea, using the very last bit on him rather than on her parents. No-Face is purged of all the darkness of the Bathhouse, regurgitating everything that he had absorbed as he follows Chihiro. He eventually joins her as a travelling companion, leaving everything behind, including all that plagues him, to walk with Chihiro to Swamp Bottom. In the slower, rhythmic world of nature, No-Face is free to live a life free from the circle of desire and suffering that is commonplace in the bathhouse, and is allowed to stay with Zaniba. Here, he can take the baby steps he needs to find out what he wants to do with his life.


The way No-Face eats his food in Zaniba’s house in the quiet forest is a far cry from how he had been previously engorged and engulfed by desire and misery in the bathhouse. No-Face sips on a cup of tea, almost serenely with a slight expression of delight on his mask.

In conclusion, it is impossible to confine Spirited Away to one central theme, as there are many things to draw and learn from within this brilliant film. In establishing a believable world that is in its own right a microcosm of many societies today, Spirited Away opens up a world of possibilities to revisit and learn something new from time and time again.


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.

Spirited Away: The Amount of Greed and Desire Consumed

            Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is an animated film that is about a ten-year old girl, Chihiro, who accidently enters into the spiritual world. Chihiro journeys through an adventure, as she works at a spiritual bathhouse, owned by a witch called Yubaba, to save her parents and return back home. As she goes through the journey, Chihiro experiences a phase of maturity, learning to let go of her past and move on. Throughout the entire film, food plays an essential role that portrays the idea of the amount of food one can consume parallels to the idea of the amount of greed and desire one has.


Chihiro parents are eating the food


Chihiro finds her parents turned into pigs

In the beginning scene, Chihiro’s parents are allured by an irresistible smell of food and find where the food is coming from. The moment when Chihiro’s parents see where the smell is coming from, they are blinded by the lavishing food. Without any hesitation, Chihiro’s parents indulge on the food and say that they can pay after they are done eating. The food in the scene illustrates how Chihiro’s parents are given into their temptation of eating, losing their morals and identities. They take what they have for granted, but ask for more. When Chihiro comes back and finds her parents turned into pigs, the scene illustrates a physical representation of people’s excessive appetite. Her parents were greedy to devour all the delicious food that they overreached the amount they are able to consume as humans thus turning into pigs. Chihiro’s parents giving in to eating the splendid dishes, represent how people are unable to overcome the temptation of their desires yet have more. Many people are triggered by visual appearances, tempted into wanting something. Metaphorically, when people’s greed for commodities they want becomes inordinate, it turns them into pigs. 


No-face devouring all the food served

In one of the scenes, No-face is devouring all the food while the bathhouse workers entertain him and bring in the best dishes, after hearing that he has gold. The food represented in the scene of No-face eating shows how he continues eating what the bathhouse workers serve him. The use of food portrayed in the scene is very similar to Chihiro’s parents. However, the bathhouse workers serving and entertaining No-face illustrates how money is a powerful tool. Money is the one essential tool that triggers people’s desires. The bathhouse workers are driven by their greed for the gold No-face has. In society, many are driven to have good jobs with higher payments. They give No-face the best food in the bathhouse to receive gold as a tip. The bathhouse workers intentions of serving and entertaining are similar to people who have jobs that have a hierarchal status, where the lower status workers entertain their bosses to receive a promotion or higher payments. When No-face desires to make Chihiro happy by giving her gold, she rejects him, which angers him. Food is seen in a negative manner in the scene when No-face starts eating the workers when they ask for gold. As No-face eat the workers, he becomes a big and fat monster. No-face’s consuming the people represents how people are driven by their endless avidity, turning into selfish monsters.


Haku giving Chihiro food to eat

             The role of food in this scene illustrates of how children have less of a greed and desire than adults. Chihiro represents more of the humbleness overcoming the rapacity. In the scene, Chihiro eats the onigiri (Japanese rice balls) Haku offers her to eat because she needs the energy to work again. The scene physically exemplifies how Chihiro consumes the amount of food she only needs, becoming a necessity rather than a desire. For Chihiro, she is not driven by the urge to overindulge on food. Chihiro eating a simple meal, like onigiri, literally illustrates how a simple meal can still satisfy one’s craving. In comparison to her parents, No-face, and the bathhouse workers, Chihiro is the youngest yet most humble character. In the scenes of her parents and No-face lavishly devouring food, Chihiro has always resisted the temptation of desire and has always been conscious of her surroundings. Chihiro, herself, represents how children are less greedy than adults because they still do not know what the “real world” is like yet. Chihiro being aware of her surroundings and making the right choices point out how sometimes children are more aware and humble of their decisions than adults.

            Overall, food plays Spirited Away contains many visual aesthetics and themes throughout the film. Yet, food plays a big part in the entire animated film. Especially, the food portrayed in certain scenes of the film epitomizes the idea of adults and spirits having more excessive greed and desire than children. Therefore, the act maturity and humility does not come in a specific age order. 

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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.