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By Esther Doyle
So we’ve all heard that Studio Ghibli may be closing down now that genius writer and director Hayao Miyazaki is finally retiring after a long and fruitful career. So, I thought I would make a small tribute to the amazing film company that has produced some of the best female characters in cinematic history, and particularly animation. In this piece I have picked my favourite characters that I believe will help to mould the minds of young girls into becoming strong, smart, sensual women.
Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Windtaught me that Women can be good leaders.
Although Nausicaa is royalty, she doesn’t act like your typical princess character; she takes action instead of being acted upon. This is the kind of modern day roll model we need for our young girls; one that shows them that fighting for justice is not just for men but for women too. Her strong determination to protect endangered animals only makes her an even more amazing character to most that have come across her.
Another princess from the Ghibli ranks was Princess Mononoke, also known as San. Man is she fierce, figuratively and literally! She fights with her bare hands to protect her family and the forest world that they live in from the interference of meddlesome humans.
If San were to give you dating advice it would be, “Trust no man! Don’t be taken in by flattery! And try and find someone who has the same interests as you. (Ashitaka and I both love animals, enjoy fighting and have a keen interest in saving the world and it’s spirits from the death juices that pour out from the throat of the forest God).”
And once again San is an advocate for the conservation of natural habitats, emphasizing that being conscious of the environment is something to be considered ‘cool’.
Chihiro from Spirited Away is a far more average character. A typically grumpy young teen who’s annoyed at her lack of say in the decision made by her parents to move house; a situation we can all sympathise with.
And that is precisely why Chihiro is such a wonderful female character. We can empathise with her! Chihiro does not live in a magical world and she does not have any magical powers, she is just an ordinary girl from an ordinary family. While Nausicaa and San would have been unfazed by suddenly having to deal with strange spells upon their parents, and oppressive villains trying to enslave them, Chihiro reacts the way that all of us ordinary folk would do too: with fear and apprehension. Still, despite her distressing situation Chihiro’s love for her parents, and honest goodness, allows her to triumph in saving herself, her family and her friends. Chihiro teaches young girls that anyone can be brave and heroic, not just the warrior princesses.
My final Ghibli Girl (okay so normally I don’t like to infantilise women by calling them girls, but I was told that alliterations make you sound clever), is Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, purely because of the great character progression that she shows. At the start of the film she’s timid, shy and has a low opinion of herself, constantly hinting towards the idea that she is plain and unremarkable unlike the other girls around her.
This is something that most young women can identify with. This seems like the perfect set up for some charming dude to come along and tell her, “You don’t know you’re beautiful, and that’s why I dig you.” Yet that’s not how this story goes. Instead, Sophie teaches herself that she is important and beautiful in her own way and by the end of the story she’s the one saving the leading man from his own personal demons, showing that women can also be emotionally strong.
There are so many more fantastic women in the Ghibli universe that I could write about, but this post would then go on forever, so I shall just say that all of Ghibli’s women are interesting strong and versatile, because Hayao Miyazaki created characters (not damsels in distress) and I couldn’t be happier about it!