My Favorite Female Characters are from Japan's Studio Ghibli
by Talia Trackim
When I was a little girl I loved playing princess games. Hilariously enough, I would force my friends, and even my grandmother, to play the princess while I pretended to be her servant, or better yet, her loyal and spunky best friend. I wanted to be the one who did the hard work, who fought the dragons, and who saved the day. Unfortunately, I was alone in my ambitions and found myself frustrated by the princesses like Snow White who relied on someone else to save them.
Now that I’m an older, I feel as if all I’m surrounded with are strong female characters who are becoming stereotypes themselves. Characters like Tris from “Divergent” and Rey from “The Force Awakens” never really resonated with me because they didn’t seem real. Sure, they are intelligent, stoic, and tough, but they lack fundamental flaws and complexities found in real life women. I almost feel like they were created for the purpose of satisfying the need for a “strong female lead”, rather than strong characters who stand on their own.
It wasn’t until pretty recently that I discovered Studio Ghibli, the Japanese film studio that I’ve been looking for my entire life. Spearheaded by director and acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli films all feature strong, well rounded heroines who prove that they can work hard, fight the dragons, and perhaps even save the day. Here are some of my favorites:
Shizuku from “Whisper of the Heart”
One of Studio Ghibli’s most underrated films, “Whisper of the Heart” is most likely my favorite. The main protagonist, a fourteen year old student named Shizuku, has a penchant for writing song lyrics and immerses herself in reading books. As the story progresses, Shizuku falls in love with a boy whose own ambitions take him to Italy to study violin making, leaving Shizuku behind in Tokyo. However, instead of woefully waiting for him to come back, Shizuku resolves to test herself as well and dedicates two long months to writing a book. Though Shizuku doesn’t get to fight the bad guys or save the day she is incredibly real, which is my favorite part about her. Shizuku is imaginative, sensitive, and stubborn, with a nasty temper, but her sheer determination and willpower to accomplish her goals is something that we all can relate to.
Chihiro from “Spirited Away”
Studio Ghibli’s most acclaimed film, “Spirited Away” tells the story of a little girl who is thrown into the spirit world and forced to work in a bathhouse in order to save her parents. However, there’s a catch; in order for Chihiro to work at the bathhouse she must give up her name. If she forgets it then she’s destined to stay at the house forever and can never save her parents. However, despite its eccentric plot and absurd story, “Spirited Away” is truly a coming of age film. Chihiro starts out the film a whiny, self-centered, and fearful little girl. But as the film progresses, Chihiro works hard to complete the difficult labor, makes unlikely friends, and takes a selfless journey to save her friend, all while struggling to hold onto her identity. It is truly a gift to watch Chihiro transform from a little girl who is afraid of the her own shadow to a courageous, compassionate, and self-assured heroine ready to take on the world.
Nausicaa from “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”
1,000 years into the future after the destruction of the earth, small pockets of humans exist alongside a vast toxic jungle. Nausicaa, the princess of the Valley of the Wind, seeks to understand the jungle, rather than destroy it. When her kingdom gets invaded by an empire set on destroying the toxic forest, Nausicaa becomes determined to protect the forest, her people, and ultimately, the rest of humanity. Nausicaa is probably the most similar to the modern heroines in that she is fiercely independent and brave. However, she also proves herself to be a fleshed out, well rounded character who is also kind, gentle, and idealistic.
Anna and Marnie from “When Marnie was There”
Potentially Studio Ghibli’s last film, “When Marnie was There” is tender, moving, and incredibly honest as it takes a look into the lives of two troubled girls who find solace in each other. Anna is a twelve-year old orphan living with her foster parents. She is moody, depressed, and extremely quiet, due to the fact that she believes her foster parents don’t love her and are only taking care of her for money. When she is sent to live with her aunt for the summer after suffering from a severe asthma attack, Anna meets and befriends a mysterious girl named Marnie. Marnie is everything Anna is not; outgoing, charming, and reckless, Marnie helps Anna get out of her comfort zone and learn to recognize just how loved she actually is. Without giving too much away, “When Marnie was There” is an incredible film about the power of female companionship, and it is sure to touch the hearts of many.
All in all, these fantastic females teach us more more about our world and about ourselves. If you are looking for a complex, well-rounded, and strong female lead accompanied by an intricate storyline and beautiful animation, be sure to check out Studio Ghibli!