What we read and watch shape our personalities and views toward life when we grow up and I believe Miyazaki Hayao has done a marvelous job educating girlsfutu through his animated movies since the start of his career.
I don’t mean to denigrate the American animation giant in favor of the Japanese anime maker. There are scores of Pixar cartoons that I love, namely, Inside Out and the latest masterpiece Zootopia. They have impressive 3D-animated designs and deliver invaluable lessons. But the essence of humanity in Miyazaki’s works mesmerizes me. Either you’re a huge fan of animated movies or an on-and-off audience in search for occasional alternative, you can easily find yourself dumbfounded in the fantasyland of Miyazaki. He’s a master of storytelling, a God-sent genius of imagination. Details in his works prove that.
Unlike the absurd spontaneity and undue irrationalities usually seen in Japan’s media products, Miyazaki focuses on things that are primal. Details of highest level of fantasy in his wonderland turn out to be so real. It’s because he’s so talented at balancing the brain of fantasy and the brain of telling decent stories. Yet, the quality that I adore most is his wordship of feminity.
In addition to environmentalism and humanity being the underlying theme in his works, Miyazaki vigorously encourages self-development for young girls. Most of the protagonists are juvenile females who start off fragile, clumsy and whiny but gradually evolve into mature, independent women responsible for what she wants. He believes human nature lies at the heart of understanding what they really want. By simply knowing what you want, the rest can be settled by efforts.
Every time I wrote or drew something concerning the character of Chihiro and her actions, I asked myself the question whether my friend’s daughter or her friends would be capable of doing it. That was my criteria for every scene in which I gave Chihiro another task or challenge. Because it’s through surmounting these challenges that this little Japanese girl becomes a capable person.
Miyazaki despises Japanese anime industry’s pathetic strategy of gaining attention by using lots of characters’ excessive overreactions. Focusing on realism, Miyazaki meticulously depicts the subtlest movements to enrich the character’s personalities, showing who they really are, their moodiness and how they do things. We can learn from the smallest nuances in his movies.
The best of all is that Miyazaki was far beyond his era for producing feminist films during the 80s and 90s when Disney and other media conglomerates were busy promoting consumerism and sexism. Nausicaä in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Chihiro in Spirited Away and Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle. They are young girls fighting for love. Love of all kinds. Love for family, for country, for animals and for men. They love their jobs and work harder than their male counterparts. They’re brave and dedicated yet also very charming and caring. They don’t pursue feminism through victimhood as a means of social control against men. They earn equality with their ability and sincerity.
Aren’t they beautiful things we want to teach our girls? The values of compassion, self-reliance, determination and human nature in its finest form: being yourself and your better self through trying with sincerity. This sounds difficult, obviously. But it’s real. Our hope is real, even it’s impossible sometimes.
Though Miyazaki spent most of his life promoting humane values, the animator himself is a pessimist. He understands that life is imperfect, and imperfection is necessary for realism.
In fact, I am a pessimist. But when I’m making a film, I don’t want to transfer my pessimism onto children. I keep it at bay. I don’t believe that adults should impose their vision of the world on children, children are very much capable of forming their own visions. There’s no need to force our own visions onto them.
Miyazaki believes in humanity, but he has to accept reality’s outnumbering dark sides mostly brought by humans. There’s no good-or-bad statement in his works, no eye-opening enlightenment or painful condemnation, just life being life, cruel and beautiful in many ways. Somehow we can feel it with our heart.
Girls need this to grow up strong, loving and untarnished.
*Quotes from his interviews