Hayao Miyazaki, women at the center of his work – Artistikrezo

If the films of Hayao Miyazaki are very appreciated for their irreproachable quality of animation, one cannot watch them without noticing one thing: the female characters are systematically put forward.

Indeed, for the overwhelming majority of the successes of the founder of Ghibli studios, we do not follow the adventures of a hero but of a heroine. In truth, this stems from an intention of the author himself. The figure of the woman in Miyazaki’s films breaks free from all the stereotypes often conveyed in animation.

The production of animated films, especially for children, often falls into the ease of resorting to caricature. These offer very stereotypical characters. Unfortunately, it is often the female characters who suffer. They then fall into the clichés of women without nuances, too kind or too cruel, too beautiful or too ugly.

In 1989, Disney released The little Mermaid where Ariel gives up her voice to join the man of her dreams. The same year Ghibli comes out Kiki’s Delivery Service where the heroine discovers the responsibilities of independence. If all Disney princess films have a woman as their main character, she will have to systematically benefit from a man (often the prince) in order to fulfill her destiny. Miyazaki said in a 2015 interview:

“A lot of my movies have strong female characters. Brave and independent girls. They may need a friend, or support, but not a savior”.

These women, young girls and children thus become the sole mistress of their history.

Still from the movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service”

The figure of Miyazaki’s female character is extraordinarily varied. She can be magical or evil, young or old, orphan or family. The heroines span a wide age range from tiny girls to Ponyo on the cliff to octogenarian in The Howl’s Moving Castle. Single mother, hatter, student, if they can be beautiful or ugly, they are often quite ordinary. Moreover, they often have few signs that distinguish them as being the main character of the work.

Indeed, animation, especially Japanese, is known for giving the main characters improbable hairstyles or colored hair. Hayao Miyazaki’s heroines sport rather brown hair, a simple ponytail and small common eyes. This groundes them in reality and allows for a fairly universal identification that helps prove to young audiences that you don’t have to be extraordinary to accomplish great things. Moreover, they do not need to be “strong” women to be put forward. If San of Princess Mononoke constitutes the archetype of the warrior woman, Chihiro du Spirited Away is a fearful and whiny child who nevertheless took her courage in both hands to save her parents.

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Still from the movie “Spirited Away”

Memorable female characters from Miyazaki’s films aren’t just the heroines, they can be antagonists, always with nuance. This is the case, for example, of the witch of the moors of Spirited Away. She first appears as a diva jealous of Sophie, making a pact with a demon in order to satisfy her greed for power. We finally find her in her true form and become a very old woman, fragile and harmless. It was in truth the grief of seeing her great love depart that led her to be consumed in an unhealthy jealousy.

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Still from the movie “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Likewise, in Princess Mononoke, Dame Eboshi represents the antagonistic figure of San. When the latter represents fauna and flora, Eboshi is industry and weapons. She appears as the leader of a community of lepers she has collected and who build weapons. Her unfailing loyalty to her proteges pushes her to harbor a blind hatred towards the people of the forest. She is an arrogant and strong woman who delivered the inhabitants of the village from oppression. However, she was first a victim herself and is aware of the injustices suffered by minorities. She understands at the end of the film that she and San are actually fighting the same kind of fight and promises to leave the people of the forest in peace.

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Still from the movie “Princess Mononoke”

In Japanese culture, gender norms remain very conservative. Hayao Miyazaki offer female models staged in fables intended for a rather young audience. It thus makes it possible to place the woman as a true actress of her destiny.

To know more :

Read also on Artistik Rezo, “Hayao Miyazaki, between fantastic universe and criticism of modern society”.

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Hayao Miyazaki, women at the center of his work – Artistikrezo

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