Forget Being a Disney Princess, I want to be a Ghibli Heroine!
Like many people in North America, I was raised on Disney movies. Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood, The Little Mermaid, and so on and so forth. They are good movies, and I still enjoy them to this day – but I wish I had been raised on Studio Ghibli movies too.
Studio Ghibli is the Japanese equivalent of Disney. Founded in 1985, they have been creating animated masterpieces for over 30 years. While Disney movies are starting to have stronger and more independent heroines, they used to mostly be tales about princesses who didn’t have much more going on than being good people who were pretty. Since its inception, Studio Ghibli has made films with strong female protagonists who were leaders and heroes, while also maintaining very real and human flaws and vulnerabilities. The protagonists can make mistakes, and we can develop sympathy for the antagonists. Studio Ghibli movies will also often have quiet moments that show the mundane lives of their protagonists. These moments of ordinary make them seem more like real people, and make for accessible role models. The heroes aren’t in hero mode 100% of the time, they have moments of ‘real life’ too. The stories are also more varied than the boy meets girl, they get married and live happily ever after template.
The first Studio Ghibli film I ever watched was ‘Princess Mononoke’. The protagonist is male, but the movie’s namesake is a close second. She’s a girl who defies all the stereotypes that are associated with the word “princess”. Literally raised by wolves, San operates mostly on instinct, and certainly doesn’t have any of the normal princess mannerisms. She is fighting against civilization to protect the forest that has been her home, and she is fierce and uncompromising as she does it. San is definitely a heroine with courage and the ability to protect what she holds dear.
Some of the other Ghibli heroines don’t have the same kind of epic battles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as heroic. A great example of this is Satsuki from ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. She is a child whose mother is quite sick. Satsuki, her father, and her younger sister move to be closer to the hospital that is caring for her mother. She stays strong for her family, takes care of her younger sister, and still has cheer and laughter despite her circumstances. It may not be what we are used to describing as a movie hero, but Satsuki is brave and she sets a wonderful example of dealing with life’s difficulties with optimism and grace. There is a wide variety of characters and they are heroes in their own unique ways, showing strength in all its different forms.
Studio Ghibli movies have more going on than just great characters. Their stories are rich and moving, and the animation is beautiful. Each movie of theirs that I have watched has deeply affected me, and made me realize something about myself or world view. They have a way of touching your heart and challenging your mind in ways that are completely different from what we are used to. One of their most unique films is ‘The Red Turtle’ because there is no dialogue. This story of a shipwrecked man uses art and music, and a few vocalizations, to convey they story. I think this movie proves that the people at Studio Ghibli are master storytellers.
Lucky for you, the Waterloo Public Library has many Studio Ghibli movies! While it isn’t technically a Studio Ghibli movie because it was made before the studio’s official founding, you should see ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ because it is amazing. You can visit your closest WPL location to also check out: ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’, ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’, ‘When Marnie Was There’, ‘Ponyo’, ‘Only Yesterday’, ‘The Wind Rises’, ‘From Up On Poppy Hill’, ‘Spirited Away’, ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, and ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.
— Ashley T.