Spirited Away (2001)

Ghibli Animator Reveals the Mystery Food Chihiro’s Parents Eat in ‘Spirited Away’

By: Domonique Salberg

Studio Ghibli has done something unprecedented and decided to release 400 images from its free for the public to download and use, which unexpectedly inspired one of its animators to reveal something many fans have wondered. What were the secret foods Chihiro’s parents ate in Spirited Away? Well, 19-years later, one animator that worked on the film, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, has revealed some surprising revelations after the release of the now-public images, for which some he illustrated. And famously, the studio’s youngest-ever director with the film The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), Hiromasa, gave us answers by sharing several Ghibli images released via Twitter.

So, revisiting the momentous scene where Chihiro watched her parents gorge themselves and turn into pigs with her very eyes, there was one mystery food people have theorized about for years. The unidentified food eaten by Chihiro’s father was revealed as the stomach of a coelacanth. Yonebayashi recalls, “It was written on the storyboard that the soft, flabby food the dad eats is the stomach of a coelacanth.” The peculiar, pale bird-like dish is pictured below.

Some believed it to be lamb’s stomach, or Taiwanese street food called ba-wan, made up of translucent dough produced from sweet potato starch. And others had this to say:

"What?! I thought this was meant to be ba-wan?" "I always thought it was some sort of magical onion!" "Isn't it an over-steamed quail that turned into gelatin?" "Well, coelacanths certainly look like they're from another world, so it's still mysterious." "Does this mean someone at the studio actually ate a coelacanth?"

Now we know what it is; unfortunately, pictures of the original food are hard to find as it was once thought to be a “living fossil.” Yonebayashi goes on to say, “Apparently it wasn’t written in the storyboard…maybe it was written in the layout drawn by Director Miyazaki? Incidentally, it was retouched to be about three times more jelly-like than the original picture.”

The Coelacanth fish.

That is why if you have seen the real dish, it may look a tad different from the one featured in Spirited Away. But get this, for those who thought it looked appetizing, I will spoil that fantasy here. Considered a poor source for humans, it has high amounts of oil, urea, wax esters, and scales that emit mucus that give the flesh a distinctly unpleasant flavor, and fisherman avoid it because it has the potential to sicken consumers. I guess this unpleasant food was fitting for what became of her parents and a testament to their gluttony.

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