Design Discourse Essay

How Miyazaki deconstructs the stereotype of women and offers new feminist role models.

Jennifer McWhirter B00632589 DES130

 Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most popular Japanese animators to this day has many themes ­­throughout this films such as environmentalism, flying and children but one that is hidden in them is Feminism. Many people have noticed that the women in his animations are not represented the same way they would be in Western films, he represents them as being  strong and independent, so I am going to explore this further.  I will mainly focus on Nausicaä of The Valley of Wind (1984), Porco Rosso (1992), Princess Mononoke (1997) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). I will also compare Miyazaki’s films to Disney films such as Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998). 

Suzuki, the producer of Studio Ghibli pointed out that Miyazaki is indeed a feminist and he mentioned how Miyazaki takes good care of his female staff. In the short documentary; The Birth of Studio Ghibli (2003), we are shown how the female washrooms in the studio are less plain than the men’s. This is due to Miyazaki’s belief that “to be successful, companies have to make it possible for their female employees to succeed too.” (Suzuki, 2003). Studio Ghibli actually employs a lot of females in the studio (Miyazaki 2010) and has been thought to be referenced in two of his films, Porco Rosso (1992) where Marco’s plane is entirely built by a team of females and Princess Mononoke (1997), where the females do the hard work in the Irontown production. People believe that this is Miyazaki’s way of showing his respect for female workers (Helen McCarthy, 2001, pg 171) and this respect follows through into his films by showing women as equals to the male characters. Miyazaki offers us new feminist role models in a variety of ways which I will explain.

The female characters in Porco Rosso (1992) and Princess Mononoke (1997) aredressed in the way that do not reveal a lot of skin and their chest area is not overly exaggerated or even shown in a way were it is very noticeable. It shows that Miyazaki does not want to sexualise his female characters like the Western animations where they focus on how attractive the Princesses look.  He doesn’t give his female characters appearances that aren’t unrealistic, he keeps them close to realistic proportions even in his fantasy worlds.

Example of the Pocahontas movie poster (1995) compared to Princess Mononoke (1997).

As you can see between the two images, Pocahontas is represented in a way that makes her seem feminine while San is represented in a way that makes her seem more “feral” and less feminine. The actual Pocahontas is more reminiscent of San as stated by Shanna F. Jones (online, 2014), Pocahontas was said to “have been a wild and fearsome full bodied woman armed with spears and arrows” which is what San is considered to be. Eric Wecks (Online, 2014) stated that Miyazaki shows that appearance should not be the main thing when it comes to relationships and this is clearly visible in “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004)where Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste to lose her young appearance and become an old woman. Howl appreciates Sophie for who she is rather than what she looks like we see this throughout the film as they get to know each other more.

The female lead from Brave (2012), Merida, was given a complete makeover to which many people were not happy about as they ditched the bow and arrows to give her a more feminine look.  This shows that Disney doesn’t want to have Princesses that don’t fit in with their pretty feminine Princesses, clearly showing that the Princesses’ appearances mean more than what their personality. Brenda Chapman (Writer and Co-Director of Brave), was not happy with the change at all, “blatantly sexist marketing move based on money” which is what Eric Wecks (online,2004) talks about in his blog post “The stories of the Disney princess industrial complex follow a formula which sells massive amounts…can be highly problematic in what it teaches young girls”.

Comparison of Merida before and after the makeover

Eric Wecks (Online, 2014) also said doesn’t like the what the Disney Princesses do, he stated that the Old school Disney Princesses were “damsels in distress” to which they did very little to make their situation better while Miyazaki’s Heroines actually try to fix their situation, although their situations aren’t always similar to what the Disney Princesses are they still manage to solve the issues without waiting a prince to show up and save them. Although the most recent Disney/Pixar films have somewhat challenged this “damsel in distress” princess, they are still considered to be sticking with the stereotype to some extent.

Miyazaki’s female characters often have dreams to which they do not give up for marriage or relationships in general. We see this within all of his films such as “Princess Mononoke” where at the end of the film San is asked by Ashitaka to join him and she refuses as she wants to continue living the way she has. It is also seen within Nausicaä where her main priority is to save the Earth rather than to find love.  

Miyazaki’s characters are never shown to get married and when they are involved in a relationship it is never the main goal of the female protagonist showing us that Miyazaki wants females to know that there is more to life to than just finding your “prince” and living “happily ever after”.  In Disney’s Princess films where the Princesses usually get married or the story focuses on them finding love. However, this has been challenged to an extent with Mulan where her goal is to serve her family and the country but at the end of Mulan (1998),we see her reject an important role given to her by the Emperor and she decides to go back home. She is then married off to General Shang. So Disney still manage to keep the norm of the Princesses finding “true love”. Christine Kraemer (online, 2000)compares Mulan with Princess Mononokeand she said “…his females are allowed to assume and retain positions of power.” Which is true as Mulan gave up an important role so she could do as her ancestors wished and get married. While many of Miyazaki’s women in power such as Lady Eboshi and Nausicaä.

Not everyone always agrees that Miyazaki’s women are different from the stereotype, some people have argued that Miyazaki’s women are not able to have a role other than a maternal one as seen in an article about “Princess Mononoke” in SFX 50th special edition (pg 87) where McCarthy and Osmond argued about Miyazaki’s women having maternal roles. Which is quite true in the sense that his female characters are often seen nurturing animals such asNausicaä and the creatures from the toxic jungle and Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle.  Even if Miyazaki’s women do become Mothers, Miyazaki said in an interview (2010) that he would like them to become strong Mothers like Sosuke’s Mother in Ponyo (2009). So Miyazaki is saying is that he’s trying to encourage women to become strong and show that they can contribute society in their own way (Shanna F Jones, online, 2014). In the article by Shanna F Jones she explains how Studio Ghibli’s way of thinking is based on the Shinto Philosophy, were everyone is seen as equal and you’re not categorised based on your wealth or looks. Which is true in Miyazaki’s films because the females are as strong as the males, especially with Nausicaä and Lady Eboshi.

In Porco Rosso (1992)we see several good examples of Miyazaki giving us a new role model for women. Porco Rosso is set during the interwar period and so many of the men have left to go find work abroad leaving the women behind to do all the work that was once considered to be men’s jobs. This is clearly shown in the film during the scene in which Porco is having his famous red airplane fixed by the women of Piccolo’s family. This already shows you women taking the lead and doing things such as fixing planes, which would originally never have been a job considered for women to do which is backed up by Porco when he finds out that Piccolo (the airplane mechanic) has left his granddaughter to do the engineering of the planes. At first Porco is outraged and doesn’t believe that she is skilled enough to fix his plane as she is only a teenager and is a girl. But this is proved wrong when Piccolo says that Fio has “something his sons lack” showing that her Grandfather believes she’s even better than his sons. Porco states it himself that he doesn’t believe she can do the job as Fio is a woman and she’s too young to do it.

As I said before Miyazaki represented his female employees in Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke and to back up that statement there are several quotes from the films. “Don’t worry. Women are good, they work well and have guts” this was said by Piccolo during the scene in which we see all the Women working on Porco’s plane. The representation of the women workers in this particular scene can be debated as Helen McCarthy (2001) mentions in her book about how the female employees at Ghibli felt that the scene in Porco Rosso showed Piccolo’s status over the women workers and that since women are less assertive they make for a more easily controlled workforce. Some of the Female staff of Studio Ghibli who worked on this Animation felt that this scene reflected Miyazaki’s studio during the making of the film while others considered it to be a bad thing because they felt it showed Piccolo’s authority over his female staff and that women are “less assertive they make for an easily controllable workforce”. (Helen McCarthy 2001). The quote itself backs this point made by the female Studio Ghibli staff. Although this may be the case many would still believe it Miyazaki’s way of showing that women are just as important in the work place as men since he about companies succeeding if they treat their female employees better.

Piccolo’s Granddaughter Fio, is a good example of a strong female lead in Miyazaki’s films, she’s adventurous and doesn’t let anyone stop her from doing what she loves and this is clearly shown in the film as she travels around with Porco not worrying about the trouble they will end up in. She faces the difficulty of proving Porco wrong about her abilities in airplane engineering. This scene shows us how Fio was able to stand up for herself and show that she able to stick to her dream of becoming an airplane engineer no matter what.  Fio also proves him wrong when they arrive at his home island and there is a gang of men gathered around his house. Fio shouts at them and challenges them to a fight, they all listen to her rather than Porco and this shows that she has authority over these grown men even though she is much younger than all of them. The gang are known as the Mamma Aiuto Gang ,their name translates into Mamma Help which could suggest that they are just a gang of “overgrown school boys” (Helen McCarthy, 2001).So by Fio standing up for Porco it’s almost like she’s in charge of the Gang.

In the film Princess Mononoke (1997)there are two good female role models, Mononoke (San) and Lady Eboshi. Both of these characters have similar characteristics, they do not let anyone interfere with their main goals. Lady Eboshi is in charge of her own town, she is seen as a “god” by the women of the town and this is because Lady Eboshi favours the women over the men. She provides the women with the rifles and better jobs than the men who live in the town. Lady Eboshi actually saved most the women in her town from brothels and gave them a better life as Dani Cavallaro (2006, pg 124) says she’s compassionate for things she does for the “outcasts” of the society. This is a good example of how Miyazaki’s women are better role models because she is showing how she doesn’t care for what you’re like. San on the other hand is a bit harder for females to look up to as she is a “feral” human but the way  that she rejects Ashitaka’s love for her because she wishes to keep the forest safe shows that she wants to pursue her dreams rather than give them up for a relationship.

            It is obvious that Miyazaki prefers to have female lead characters as nine of his thirteen films, have female protagonists. Although Miyazaki does not intentionally aim to challenge the stereotype of women in films as his main purpose is to entertain rather than address such issues, according Helen McCarthy (2001, pg 80) Miyazaki prefers to have a female leader in his adventure stories because if it was a male he would just be recreating Indiana Jones. Even if Miyazaki does not have the intention of challenging to female stereotype he still manages to do it and he offers females of all ages new role models to which they can relate to more than the Disney Princesses. Dani Cavallaro (2006, pg 123) feels that Miyazaki is “shunning” the stereotypes so this shows that many people do believe he is ignoring the West’s portrayals of women and creating his own. The topic of how Miyazaki’s female leads are considered to be great role models for young girls and as feminists is a broad topic and I could only cover a small portion of this.  


Cavallaro, D. 2006, The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki, Pages 123- 124 McFarland & Co, Jefferson, N.C.

F.Jones, S. 2014, 30th May 2014-last updateHayao Miyazaki: the great feminist filmmaker of his time. Available: Dec 2014].

Gabriel, M and Goldberg, E. 1995, Pocahontas, Walt Disney Pictures, USA

Kraemer, C.H. 2000, Disney, Miyazaki, and Feminism:
Why Western girls need Japanese animation
. Available: [2014, February].

McCarthy, H. 1999, Hayao Miyazaki: master of Japanese animation: films, themes, artistry, Pages 80, 171 Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, Calif.

Miyazaki, H. 2004, Howl’s Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli, Japan.

Miyazaki, H. 1992, Porco Rosso, Studio Ghibli, Japan.

Miyazaki, H. 1984, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Studio Ghibli, Japan.

Miyazaki, H. 1997, Princess Mononoke, Studio Ghibli, Japan.

Osmend, A. & McCarthy, H. May 2011, Talking Ghibli, SFX Special Edition 50 edn, Future, UK.

Pinkert, A. May18th 2013-last update, Disney reverses Merida makeover, but still seems to miss the point. [Dec 2014] Available from: 

Princess Mononoke Movie poster (1998) [Poster] At: (Accessed Dec 2014)

Pocahontas Movie poster (1997) [poster] At: (accessed Dec 2014)

RedSzer9’s channel. 2012. The Birth of Studio Ghibli part 1. [Online]. [Dec 2014] Available from:

RedSzer9’s channel. 2012. The Birth of Studio Ghibli part 3. [Online]. [Dec 2014] Available from:

Bancroft, T and Cook, B. 1998, Mulan, Walt Disney Pictures, USA

Wecks, E. 2014, 20th Jan 2014-last updateGreat Geek Debates: Disney Princesses vs. Hayao Miyazaki. Available: 2014].

U.C Berkley Events. 2010. Hayao Miyazaki in conversation with Roland Kelts [Online]. [Dec 2014]. Available from:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s