This is something that slips past the Western viewers- it looks like it’s reaching out for Chihiro, in a malicious way, to the Western viewers. It’s what I thought growing up.
However, now, that I know that it’s a way of signalling for someone to ‘Come here!’ in Japan, the scene takes on a whole new meaning.
That spirit knows that if Chihiro doesn’t eat the food, she will disappear. And it knows if it offers the food, she cannot be cursed as a gluttonous pig because it wouldn’t have been stolen.
Just a unique take when you have all of the context.
And also, the red lanterns spell out ‘おいで’ which translates to “Come here” or “Come in” :)
This is why it’s my favorite movie ever, because so many little things Miyazaki included in this. (I personally never took the spirits as malicious, but either welcoming her, or shooing her away when I was younger) But things like this.
Not all the spirits are mean, in fact, we see few “bad” spirits in the movie, everyone has a story and is justified at one point or another. The overall concept of the whole movie seems to me, learn to love others, and in it you will grow.
Chihiro goes from afraid, immature, and wary of everyone, to brave and loving of the spirits that take care of her along the way. No Face tries to attack her, and what does she do? She leads him out of the bathhouse, and takes him with her on the journey where he finds a place and purpose.
I love Spirited Away.