Food Movies, Episode Three: Spirited Away
"All my films are all my children". This is how the creator of the Ghibli studio and director Hayao Miyazaki commented on his films. As such, he is probably one of the most influential figures on the film scene.
His first film dates back to 1979, "Lupin III", which was followed by dozens of works including feature films, animations and various short films, which were always very much recognized in East Asia. The success extended to the rest of the film scene, especially on the western shore of the cinematic planet. In 2003 cam the first and only Oscar for the animation from the director for a hit film. The film in question? "Spirited Away" The springboard to worldwide success came thanks to the boom of this feature film inspired by the novel "Mysterious Land Beyond the Fog". Food in the world of the master Miyazaki has always played a central role, often as a means of protest against issues such as war, capitalism, pollution. Hayao has always hidden behind his works with strong and revolutionary messages, something not usual in the works of animation. In short, a brilliant artist. So, let's go today to see together the messages, representations and secrets hidden behind four scenes of the film that has made him "international". A film that completely escapes every cliché and prejudice of the category "animation" (as all the works of Miyazaki do as well). Food for Pigs After getting lost, Chihiro and her parents are drawn to what apparently looks like an abandoned amusement park. Reality changes quickly when they find a buffet full of every possible delicacy lying unattended in front of them. The little girl doesn't like it very much, and she immediately understands that they shouldn't be there. Nevertheless, the parents, attracted by the wonderful food, decide to sit down, and help themselves, without any permission, without any second thoughts. "Don't worry, we can pay them when they get back." "Don't worry... I've got credit cards and cash". This is what they tell the little girl, as if the only problem was payment, the fulfillment of an economic promise. Without waiting long, the length of only 8 minutes of film, we already see one of the biggest criticisms of modern consumerism, by director Hayao. Yes, because it is not just about their desire to serve themselves without permission, together with the discarding of education, but it's the size and the eagerness with which the two parents rush to the opulent banquet.
An inordinate consumption, which goes beyond human need, arriving at a "binge", to the point of exaggeration, of greed. A behavior that is alien to the need to feed oneself, aimed only at possessing, using, and consuming the greatest quantity of available goods. Chihiro decides to leave and look for answers on the spot. Once the sun goes down, she is forced to leave because at night, in the park, there is no room for human beings. And the parents? After gorging themselves and finishing all the food available, we see how they are repaid with an almost "divine" punishment. They are turned into pigs, into swine, and are beaten and whipped by the owner of the restaurant, in the meantime revealed to be from the world of the dead. But why pigs? The answer may seem rather obvious, but we have a reference to Buddhist beliefs, where the pig represents ignorance, one of the three illusions that prevent a person from reaching the fullness of life. Food: A Bridge Between Soul and Body At this point we must introduce another key character for the continuation of the story, and the understanding of the function of food. We are talking about Haku, janitor and helper of the mistress of the "enchanted city", a figure who throughout the course of the film will help our young protagonist first to settle in and then to leave the enchanted city. Moments after realizing that her parents could no longer help her except to grunt at her, Chihiro tries in vain to escape, and throws herself to the ground, letting herself go into a desperate cry. It is right here that we see how Haku, rushing to the little girl's rescue, handing her food for the first time, which will save her from a sad end.
"Unless you eat something from this world, you'll vanish."
The food, therefore, stands as a bridge between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a sustenance not only for the body, but also for the soul, necessary to continue to exist in this dimension.
Remembering, Eating It is again between Haku and Chihiro that we see further evidence of the importance of food in the young woman's adventure. Time within the parallel world continues to pass, and Chihiro is stripped of her clothes and her name by the ruling witch. She will be called Sen, and her first name will remain the property of the evil lady: a seal, and a sign of belonging. The child's true identity has been kidnapped. Haku, once again playing the role of protector, knows very well that the only way to keep alive Sen's hope of returning home, is to make her not forget her own name and her parents.
For this reason, he secretly takes her to see the pigsty where Mom and Dad are kept, gives her back the clothes she arrived in, and tells her, her real name: Chihiro.
The little girl realizes and collapses back into a chasm of sadness.
Haku then offers her some food, something to give her strength but also remembrance and courage.
Traditional Japanese comfort food: onigiri, triangular rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed and filled with various condiments.
The little girl wakes up from the moment of darkness and lets herself go to a liberating cry: a sad gesture but so human and carnal that it strengthens the bond with the world she has almost forgotten: the one of the living.
Slowly the tears dry up, leaving space to glow: springing from recalls, memories and hopes, having as a guide that food, which knows so much of home and of love.
The Faceless Demon: A Pill of Brutal Humanity
Next is one of the most touching and raw scenes, not only of the film in question, but of the entire film curriculum of the Japanese director.
A scene that screams pain and help, an animated representation of society and the soul of our being.
The faceless demon, capable of generating gold nuggets from his own hands, arrives at the enchanted city in search of relief, companionship, and warmth.
At the sight of the generous gift he is able to create, all the city's employees pledge to bring him any kind of preparation, rich or tasty, that was present in the kitchens.
One by one, they submit to the demon trays full of wonders, for the eyes and for the palate, in the hope of having in exchange a few grains of gold.
A gesture that is perceived by the faceless demon as a manifestation of love and attention, so as to continue to swallow and tear into every delicacy present.
It won't take long to realize that all this is in vain.
Thanks to Sen's help, the demon realizes that this eagerness, voracity, and unhealthy hunger comes from a less carnal malaise, and much more of the soul.
The intake of food (and people, since yes, he will eat people too) is nothing but a way to fill an absence, a hole; to heal a wound of the soul, with material food.
Sen will be able to cure the demon, who will vomit every gram of this useless and insane
banquet: relieving him of a weight that is useless for nourishment, if not for the apparent distancing from his real pain: depression.
A cry and a denunciation by the director, who brings to the big screen a metaphor of what man is today: a maniacal search for a material, superfluous nourishment, for fear or inability to face the real human issues.
A sense of satiety with the aim of shelving into oblivion our greatest societal illness.