Gobbling Up Ghibli: Food In Anime

Celebrated Anime Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki turns 82 today, January 5. And while the films from his Studio Ghibli stable are a testament to technical and artistic virtuosity, with deeply affecting stories and characters at their core, fans are also overwhelmingly drawn to the myriad depictions of food. 

In a Studio Ghibli film, food is rarely just that. It signifies love and care, a gesture of comfort, the warmth of a newfound friendship, or the beginning of a physical transformation. Sometimes, it has magical elements, but more often than not, it is mundane. Even then, it ends up speaking volumes, adding nuances that the narrative may not feel the need to spell out: the ease with which a young girl prepares meals for her father and sibling, how deftly a wizard wields a sizzling skillet full of eggs and bacon for breakfast, or the tears rolling down a character's face as she wolfs down onigiri. 

Neatly packed bento boxes jostle for viewers' attention alongside bowls of piping hot ramen; a multi-course repast evokes just as much hunger as a pot of soup bubbling over a campfire. It isn't solely about the big picture; every individual detail — for instance, ingredients like meat, vegetables, rice, seafood, cheese, bread or eggs — is rendered with meticulous care. Extravagant banquets find place in the Ghibli canon, as do simpler meals, shorn of all social airs, consumed with one's family at home. Ghibli features encompass the full range of Japanese dining experiences and contexts: from Washoku (indigenous Japanese food), Nihon Ryori (restaurant-prepared food) and Yōshoku (food influenced by the West), to Kaiseki (fine-dining).

The delectable spread in Studio Ghibli films has prompted many-a-viewer to attempt recreating some of those dishes themselves. Entire Instagram accounts, university projects — and even a two-part exhibition at the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan (where the in-house Straw Hat Café serves breaded pork cutlets, hot dogs, desserts and beverages) — have been devoted to presenting the real-life versions of this animated food, often in settings that replicate the source material as closely as possible. Considering that Hayao Miyazaki's onscreen depiction of these dishes was based on meals he actually cooked, such tributes mark the inspiration coming full circle. 

According to Studio Ghibli's curatorial notes for the 2017 exhibition (titled "Delicious! Animating Memorable Meals") at its museum, the depiction of food in their films works not only because of stunningly realistic detailing but also because it is very closely tied to memories and emotions. Fans who have the ramen scene from Ponyo on repeat would wholeheartedly agree.