12 January, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live


As human beings we're naturally inclined to start seeing patterns in chaos. We're natural, born classifiers. We do it with just about everything. You can see it in how we order animals, how we list celestial bodies, and even the basic atomic structures. Hell, I doubt there's a single one of you reading this that doesn't have their CD collection organized in some way (mine is sorted autobiographically).

As a film major, I've been indoctrinated into doing this same exact thing, but in a much more annoying and much less useful manner. There's a whole theory about this kind of a thing-- the Auteur Theory is one of them, but I really don't want to get into that. Even though the Auteur Theory has been more or less debunked, I doubt there's a film dork around who doesn't start making connections between actors, directors, composers, film stock, or whatever as soon as he hears about a movie. It's what we do. It's a fault, I admit, but to err is to be human.

I just finished watching Kiki's Delivery Service about an hour ago and it got me thinking about something very specifically filmy. I watched another movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Ponyo (on the Cliff by the Sea) about a month or so ago and I guess that combined with this got me thinking about Miyazaki's female protagonists (I also have the Ponyo theme song stuck in my head again, but that's a whole other blog entry). I didn't plan on making a whole thesis on this idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'm on to something.

(Kiki's Delivery Service is a perfectly fine film, with more than a few delightful moments. It isn't my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movie, but that's a bit like A Serious Man not being your favorite Coen Brother's movie, right?)

I'm right, damnit, and you're going to listen to me.

In a move rare to film, most of Miyazaki's movies are crammed full of strong, female characters and, what's more, they're often the main characters. Sure, they fall in love more often that a pure feminist outlook would enjoy, but, unlike most films with females as the leads, in his movies, finding love isn't their main goal in life and they're saving the day more often than men save them. Those are important and that's why I'm pointing this whole thing out.

In Kiki's case, there's a big fat pregnant woman that takes care of Kiki. She's unusual for a couple of reasons (being fat and being pregnant not withstanding), in that she A) Seems to run the bakery she works at without it ever been explicitly stated (and there's a lot of explicit statements going on in the American script for Miyazaki movies, for some damn reason) and B) Not only does her husband lack a name, but he never actually says a single word in the film.

(Of course, Kiki is the hero of the film, as well as the title character, but I figure that's a bit obvious. Though, as I'm going over this entry, I realize that while Kiki's Delivery Service doesn't have a bad guy in it, the most unlikable people in the film are also girl her age.)

The examples go on. Just off the top of my head, there's Spirited Away where the main character is a bratty little girl trapped in a holiday spa for spirits (which is run by a woman-- a bad witch, in this case). There's Ponyo (on the Cliff By the Sea), where, even though the main hero is a young boy, his adventure is caused by the titular little girl (who has an idiot for a dad and a goddess for a mother), and the parent that's most present and caring in the film is his mother. Then there's Nausicaa, which is another titular female character, who is a princess and the real hero of the film. Princess Mononoke, like Ponyo, is split between two characters-- Prince Ashitaka and Sai-- and while Ashitaka is the real protagonist of the film, Sai incites most of the film's conflict, along with the morally grey antagonist, Lady Eboshi, who runs an iron works where all of the employees are women (in fact the biggest badasses in the film are Sai, Eboshi, and Sai's adopted mother, everyone else is either in the way or tagging along).

I could go on, but I think I might have run out of movies where the female being the most important-- or strongest-- character. That's enough, isn't it?

It's not all of his movies, but it's enough to take notice and to start to imagine a pattern. And, let me ruminate on what I said higher up, how many other director's-- male or female, Japanese or whatever- where that is true? How many directors make movies where a little girl is the hero and its directed towards a general audience?

I'd reckon not very many.

I guess if you wanted to be some sour-grapes feminist you could argue that Miyazaki's film are inherently sexist because they're scripted and directed by a man and there's nothing a man can do, even when he's trying not to be--ESPECIALLY when he's trying not to be-- to not be a mysogynist in some way, because that is simply the structure of the phallocentric cockocracy. And, I don't even need to get started on the fact that Studio Ghibli's films feel the need to stick their female characters into fantastic scenarios like being a monster princess or married to a sailor instead of putting them in real situations like coaching Portia de Rossi on how to give birth while submerged in a tub. Real issues.

Of course, that bitch can go pound sand.

Miyazaki's films aren't exactly bell hooks essays, but they're amazing pieces of animation and unlike a piece by hooks, his movies actually have a chance at being seen and appreciated. Children need to see these kinds of movies and to let them know, even in the most gentle, hackneyed way sometimes, that, yes, as a girl you can go and do some amazing things. Now, could you please suck some blood out of your magic, wolf-mother's neck, she's been shot by a samurai and the shot is working its way to her heart.



SIDE NOTE: For the record, my Studio Ghibli films are in this order-- Princess Mononoke > Porco Rosso > Spirited Away > Ponyo> Kiki's Delivery Service > Nausicaa.

SUB-SIDE NOTE: Oh man, if I ever got to teach a class, I'm totally doing a lesson on feminist theory and Hayao Miyazaki.

SUB-SUBE SIDE NOTE: I posted the Japanese trailer because, at the expense of looking like a fucking weeaboo, it is an order less annoying than the American trailer. Upon looking up other clips from the movie I noticed that Disney ruined, RUINED the songs in the film. Instead of this cool, little, 1960's rhythm and blues song, it's been replaced by this slick, poppy dreck that doesn't fit into the movie at all. And it isn't as though it's a bad song! It's a really fun one! Leave it alone! I can understand adding dialogue for the dumb babies, but don't make them suffer through shitty music. That's too far, mate.