For International Women’s Day, we’re reflecting on women in entertainment, and it’s impossible to overlook how often they’re underwritten and not given agency as characters in film and television. Certain filmmakers have, however, spent most of their careers showcasing that women and girls can be and are just as strong, smart, and worthy of myth as any man. One such filmmaker is Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki, who through the course of his 11 feature films has bolstered heroines and strong supporting characters. Here’s the master’s philosophy:
“Many of my movies have strong female leads – brave, self-sufficient girls that don’t think twice about fighting for what they believe in with all their heart. They’ll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a saviour. Any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man.” – Hayao Miyazaki[/nerdist_section]
And when you look at his cinema, almost all of his films have a female protagonist, and the ones that don’t still feature women prominently and not as damsels in distress. Let’s take a look at some of Miyazaki’s best heroines.
NAUSICAÄ – NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND
Miyazaki’s first major heroine is still one of his best. A princess living in one of the last valleys of peace and life following an apocalypse, Nausicaä hopes to understand the nature that has been long forgotten to bring an end to war and hatred. However, she has to contend with a rival princess who wants to destroy the remaining vestiges of the non-mechanical world. Nausicaä is a figure of hope for her people and a powerful leader.
KIKI – KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
Women and girls in Miyazaki movies are strong and clever, yes, but they’re also people and people have self doubts. Kiki the young aspiring witch who moves to the big city to make it on her own finds that she’s often confused and unsure about how to proceed, but nevertheless finds the strength within herself to overcome it. Even when she begins to lose her powers, she still manages to fly her broom and save her friend and the city from a runaway hot air balloon.
SAN – PRINCESS MONONOKE
While not the point of view character in Miyazaki’s 1997 classic, San is nevertheless the most iconic. She–the titular “Princess of Monsters”–was raised by the giant wolves of the forest and has a hatred for all humans, yet she has to change her ways when Prince Ashitaka tries to save the Forest Spirit from the ruler of Irontown. Her feral exterior gives way to one of Miyazaki’s deepest and most soulful heroines.
CHIHIRO/SEN – SPIRITED AWAY
Miyazaki’s allegorical condemnation of exploited children everywhere, Spirited Away‘s heroine is Chihiro, a young girl whose parents get turned into pigs and who ends up in the spirit world, where her name is taken away (and replaced with the name Sen) and she is forced to work in a bathhouse. Despite being the youngest heroine on this list by far, Chihiro is arguably the most capable and brave of the bunch, earning her respect among the spirits, and the ability to free her friend from his dragon-ish fate.
SOPHIE – HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE
Sophie gets the short end of the stick in many ways, getting turned into a 90-year-old woman almost immediately, simply because a jealous witch saw her speak to the wizard Howl. Because of this, Sophie constantly feels out of sorts in the story, and like less worthy than she truly is. But it ultimately falls to her to save Howl and all of her new magical friends, which she does, whether she’s trapped in an old person’s body or not.
Kyle Anderson is the associate editor for Nerdist. He’s the writer of Studio Ghibli retrospectives Miyazaki Masterclass, Takahata Textbook, and Ghibli Bits. Follow him on Twitter!