A Ghibli Secret Revealed! Spirited Away Animator Shares the Truth About This Mysterious Food

Nationwide Entertainment Ghibli 2020.09.25
This Ghibli animator has taken to Twitter to finally answer a question fans have been wondering about for ages.

So, What Is That Mystery Meat in Spirited Away?

When Studio Ghibli took the initiative to release 400 high-quality stills from their films, perhaps aiming to give fans more Ghibli Zoom meeting backgrounds or tide them over until they can finally visit the museum again, netizens were clearly excited but also... not sure what to do with hundreds of gorgeous animation stills. An iconic shot from the much-beloved film Spirited Away, however, sparked new life in a long-held debate, a topic Ghibli-lovers have been discussing for nigh on 20 years. And thankfully, this time, we actually got some new information! Former Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who worked on the very scene in question, weighed in on the subject in a handful of tweets on his personal account.

The question we've all been asking: What on earth is that thing Chihiro's dad is eating?
  • Image Source: Studio Ghibli

    A lot of the food is somewhat identifiable, but remember this weird lump?

Personally, I didn't actually remember this scene that well, and when I saw the still for the first time I just assumed it was a weird hunk of chicken. But after seeing other images and GIFs being shared around the internet, I remembered the strange way the texture was animated, and realized that "chicken" definitely could not be the right guess. It's clearly a little transparent and kind of jelly-like, and maybe even a little slimey.
  • Image Source: Esuteru

    Turning into a pig in three... two...

The thing is, before this new revelation, the most common guess for this mystery food was actually Taiwanese ba-wan, a sort of savory dumpling. Since lots of fans have already compared the scenery in Spirited Away to the Taiwanese town of Jiufen, with many assuming that Miyazaki used it as a model, this didn't even seem like such a wild guess. Some Japanese commenters even mentioned that they'd visited Jiufen and made sure to eat ba-wan during their trip just because of this scene! But Yonebayashi's tweet made no mention of ba-wan at all. Instead, it revealed that the mysterious, translucent shape that Chihiro's father is gobbling down with such relish is actually...

a coelacanth stomach!?
A rough translation:

Original tweet:
Since Ghibli released these stills to use freely, I'm going to talk about my own keyframes. Spirited Away was the very first feature film I worked on, and I was very nervous about it, but I learned a lot. For the scene where Haku is fed the [medicine] ball, we all got together and spent time with a large dog, observing the way it moved.

Follow up:
The jiggly food that Chihiro's father is eating is coelacanth stomach, as was written in the original storyboard. Haku moves quickly and stops suddenly, so his animations require fewer keyframes, making him easier. Chihiro is always trembling nervously, so she requires more keyframes, and is more work.

It's a Living Fossil, Is It Good to Eat?

The "coelacanth" that Yonebayashi is referring to is a deep-sea fish often called a living fossil, since coelacanths have existed for the past 350 million years. Once considered extinct and found only in fossils from millions of years ago, a living specimen was found in South Africa in 1938―largely unchanged. While they once lived in freshwater and shallow seas, they hid out for all this time in deeper waters, surviving until the present day.
But, can you actually eat coelacanth? Signs point to yes―the fish are technically edible―but when it comes to flavor, opinions vary. People who have tried coelacanth don't seem to be recommending it, but the way Chihiro's father slurps it up, this weird fish's stomach does look kind of delicious.

At this late hour, however, another voice entered the conversation! In the comments of Yonebayashi's tweet, a fan added another opinion, backed up by an image from the original Spirited Away storyboard (possibly taken in the studio exhibition of the Ghibli Museum). This commenter says that the text of the storyboard actually calls this jiggly item a "lamb's stomach."
At this point, whether it's a lamb stomach or really, truly a coelacanth stomach... it's definitely not ba-wan! A sad day for Taiwanese fans everywhere. Hearing that the mystery meat was actually a coelacanth stomach was certainly a shock, especially after looking up the fish and seeing such a truly unappetizing face... but I guess the moral of the story is don't eat food of mysterious origins.
  • Image Source: Studio Ghibli

    All the credit cards and cash in the world can't save you from some consequences.

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