Fata Morgana (chimerically) wrote,
Fata Morgana

follow-up: female characters and Miyazaki's films

As a follow-up to my post earlier today about Pixar's not-so-great record of female character numbers (only 22% of voiced characters are female, and only one is *possibly* a main character), I wanted to highlight that making popular animated movies with good female lead characters can be, and in fact has been, done right. Hayao Miyazaki, of Studio Ghibli in Japan, has produced a number of blockbuster animated films rivaling Pixar and the heydey of Disney - and eight of the nine have female lead characters, with the ninth having a strong female supporting character. (There are two others that are borderline - Princess Mononoke and Ponyo - but the female character in question is pretty central to both, and in fact the namesake of the movie, so I've called those leads in this analysis even if the story generally isn't told from their perspective). In fact, Kiki's Delivery Service apparently fails the reverse Bechdel Test (there are not two male characters to talk to one another about something other than women in the film). Studio Ghibli has been around about as long as Pixar has, and has made a comparable number of movies.

How does Miyazaki fare with minor characters? Does he fall into the same trap that both Disney and Pixar do of defaulting to male characters? There numbers aren't as definite because while I've seen all of these, it's been a while for most of them, and I don't recognize the gender of Japanese names as well as American names. (For some minor characters I just had to go off of the gender of the voice actor's name for Disney's dub and hope it wasn't someone like Nancy Cartwright.) It's also hard to define minor vs. supporting in some cases, and my count of supporting characters is likely low. But here goes:
  1. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: 5 of 14 voiced characters are female (1 main: Nausicaä, at least 1 supporting: Lady Kushana)
  2. Laputa, Castle in the Sky: 4 of 13 voiced characters are female (1 main: Princess Sheeta, 1 supporting: Captain Dola)
  3. My Neighbor Totoro: 4 of 8 voiced characters are female (2 main: sisters Satsuki and Mei)
  4. Kiki's Delivery Service: 7 of 11 voiced characters are female (1 main: Kiki, 2[?] supporting: Kiki's mother[?], Ursula)
  5. Porco Rosso: 2 of 6 voiced characters are female (2[?] supporting: Gina and Fio[?])
  6. Princess Mononoke: 8 of 12 voiced characters are female (1 main[?]: San/Princess Mononoke, 2 supporting: Lady Eboshi and Moro; the story is largely told from Ashitaka's point of view, though)
  7. Spirited Away: 5 of 12 voiced characters are female (1 main: Chihiro, 1 supporting: Yubaba)
  8. Howl's Moving Castle: 6 of 14 voiced characters are female (1 main: Sophie, 2 supporting: Witch of the Waste and Madame Suliman)
  9. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea: 10 of 14 voiced characters are female (1 main[?]: Ponyo, 2 supporting: Ponyo's and Sosuke's mothers; but like Princess Mononoke, this is largely told from Sosuke's point of view)

I added a "Main male" column to this table to better compare numbers of leading females vs. males:

Movie Voiced characters Voiced female Minor female Supporting female Main female Main male
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind 14 5 3 1 1 0
Laputa, Castle in the Sky 13 4 2 1 1 1 (Pazu)
My Neighbor Totoro 8 4 2 0 2 1 (Totoro)
Kiki's Delivery Service 11 7 4 2 1 0
Porco Rosso 6 2 0 2 0 1 (Porco Rosso)
Princess Mononoke 12 8 5 2 1 1 (Ashitaka)
Spirited Away 12 5 3 1 1 0
Howl's Moving Castle 14 6 3 2 1 1 (Howl)
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea 14 10 7 2 1 1 (Sosuke)
TOTALS 104 51 29 13 9 6

This is 49% female characters, and 67% female leads. Quite a departure from Disney and Pixar!

There are other differences. Most notable to me, the stories may be defined by conflict, but generally not by inherent good vs. inherent evil. The "bad guys," when they exist, are often portrayed fairly sympathetically -- you can see how they came to their position, even if you disagree with it -- and they often side with the main character in the end. All of the movies feature coming-of-age stories, but this process is focused on cleverness, daring, and hard work for all characters. The movies also often focus on themes of environmentalism and pacifism. Sometimes there are love interests, but most of the stories don't revolve around them, nor do they generally end with the love interest getting together with the main character.

Studio Ghibli's other work (the stuff not directed by Miyazaki) follows a similar trend. Anime generally does not, though, so this is specific to Miyazaki and Ghibli.

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