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The Way to The Heart Is Through the Stomach: The Cinematic Role of Food in Anime


Studio Ghibli's Food; image courtesy of Lanigan, Roisin. “Why Animated Studio Ghibli Food Looks so Delicious.”, i-d.vice.com/en/article/4adkeg/studio-ghibli-food-scenes-hayao-miyazaki-recipe. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023.


With much of the anime industry focusing on a commitment to animation quality and the power of visual storytelling, it comes as no surprise that culinary representation plays a significant role throughout the industry as not only a source of realism anchoring viewers to something familiar but also as a representation of the communal aspects of food—whether familial, friendly, or romantic.


Much like many other storytelling tools, food can play a versatile role depending on the genre and audience’s expectations of the media it features in. The role of genre in the portrayal of food becomes apparent by comparing the role of food in the classic animated films produced by powerhouse studios such as Studio Ghibli and more modern films produced by popular directors such as Makoto Shinkai.


Hayao Miyazaki, Ghibli’s chief director, features food prominently in many of his films. Often using evocative visuals of cooking and the sharing of food, combined with the warm storybook feeling elicited by the studio’s well-known animation style, Miyazaki uses food as a representation of family, community, and friendship.


Ranging from the sweet Siberia Cake featured in ‘The Wind Rises’ (2013)[1] to the hearty warm bowls of ramen featured in ‘Ponyo’ (2008)[2], Miyazaki creates a simultaneously soft and endearing art style that remains visually stunning, and it is through these stylistic features that Studio Ghibli portrays food’s intersection with the building of community and relationships.


While the examples from Studio Ghibli’s repertoire are often cited as popular representations of Japanese culture through food, ‘Your Name’ (2016), produced by Makoto Shinkai, provides an alternate perspective on the role of food and drink in anime. Shinkai’s decision to feature Kuchikamizake[3], a rice-based alcohol that serves as one of Japan’s earliest forms of alcoholic beverages, exemplifies how food and drink can be used in animated media to provide insight into wider cultural history.


When placed together, the two examples create an interesting dichotomy that speaks to the dynamic role that food assumes depending on genre and individual creative style and intent. In Miyazaki’s works, food is typically representative of friendship and familial ties, both themes that feature heavily in his animated works. Conversely, Shinkai’s approach dips into areas of cultural heritage and the preservation of old beliefs.


Ultimately, whether you prefer the homely traditional approach of Studio Ghibli’s portrayal of food in familial contexts or the more modern complex approach of the ‘new age’ directors such as Shinkai, it is evident that food has a defined role in the Anime industry and will likely remain prevalent as a strong storytelling motif communicating a variety of different experiences for years to come.

[1] Jenner, Simon “Food in Anime: A Symbiosis of Colour and Culinary Curiosity” Japanese Nakama https://www.japannakama.co.uk/food-in-anime/#JapaneseCake [Accessed 13/10/2023] [2] Jenner, Simon “Food in Anime: A Symbiosis of Colour and Culinary Curiosity” Japanese Nakama https://www.japannakama.co.uk/food-in-anime/#Ramen [Accessed 13/10/2023] [3] Jenner, Simon “Food in Anime: A Symbiosis of Colour and Culinary Curiosity” Japanese Nakama https://www.japannakama.co.uk/food-in-anime/#Kuchikamizake [Accessed 13/10/2023]


 

Edited by Trisha D. Gupta, Co-Food and Drink Editor

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