How Hayao Miyazaki Sets the Standard for Female Representation in Western Cinema

In honor of International Women’s Day, which took place on March 8th, millions of women and feminists chose to recognize those individuals whom have encouraged the progression towards empowerment and liberation of girls and women of all colors and in all countries across the world. Understanding who those people are will subsequently allow the public to see why such a day exists and why the celebration of this relatively new holiday is more than just worth it – it’s to remind us that this fight is still being fought.
Over the past few years, the matter of representation in the media and the stories we tell have come into public consciousness, a collective realization has been reached with respect to the effects it has on the perceptions of real life minorities. This is no longer a subject of concern solely for film critics or educated art historians and so, paying tribute to a revolutionary artist’s work gives us greater insight into how these more accurate depictions can be achieved.
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the three founding members of the legendary Studio Ghibli, an animation production company responsible for such phenomenal works as Spirited Away, Ponyo, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. Those are just to name a few of some of the ground-breaking examples of animation that Hollywood has yet to top, or even meet at that. But it isn’t just his level of creativity, imagination and world-building that western movies are still trying to match, rather it is the dimension and complexity, breadth and vitality of his female leads that western audiences have yet to experience themselves.
Almost all of Miyazaki’s films feature female protagonists, drastically ranging in age, and in which all feature a thread of commonality: they are ambitious, and unwilling to give up on their passions and insist on fighting for what they believe in. Although many of Miyazaki’s female protagonists are practically children, he situates them in plots that showcase these characters working hard and finding suitable careers for themselves. His films are also not limited to discussing themes that appeal only to younger audiences, but instead are very much concerned with global issues. For example, Princess Mononoke does not shy away from expressing Miyazaki’s own conservationist beliefs. The rest of his filmography and style on the whole misses no opportunity to highlight his country’s natural beauty.
In a Ghibli movie, and unlike all of western cinema, the main characters share something more than a romantic or intimate connection straddling somewhere in between. Miyazaki doesn’t define for us what the connection is but rather puts the focus on the connection itself. Without defining whether or not the characters are in love, Miyazaki makes a point to only clarify their kindness, support, mutual respect and devotion to one another. Miyazaki’s character creation thus involves an attribute Disney has only recently demonstrated with Frozen and Moana, which is the lack of dependency on a male character. Again, Miyazaki’s work demonstrates that narratives, especially those surrounding a female, does not need to be approached so dichotomously, considering that real women and all sorts of human beings aren’t black and white. Miyazaki’s women, who are self-sufficient and who also function with greater strength due to friendships founded on mutual respect and love, reveals that perhaps the dismantlement of existing patriarchal institutions begins with the development of stronger bonds.
Any newbies to the Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli scene are highly encouraged to delve right into his filmography, including his earliest to most recent movies. His work, despite your possible unknowing of it, does not exist in an indie or niche market but in fact reached incredible international success. Spirited Away remains the highest-grossing film in Japan despite its release being back in 2001, and also took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2003. Over ten years later, Hayao Miyazaki received the Honorary Award from the Academy for his exceptional contributions to motion picture arts. The viewing of such films are sure to be refreshing and provide hope that a journey towards progression is not only possible, but the signs of it are present right within Miyazaki’s dream-like constructs.

Author: Raazia Rafeek

aaeaaqaaaaaaaai0aaaajdm5ngi1zgrhlwu2mgetndrioc1iythkltfiyjvhytkwmdi4oaRaazia Rafeek lives in Toronto writing, painting and studying to complete her final year of her Honours English degree. With an interest and passion for everything creative, she wishes to see her career through in Marketing or hopefully, film and production. Check her work out at



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