The works of Hayao Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli have been forever immortalized as films of whimsy, magic, and inspiration. Acclaimed for their fantastic soundtracks, animation, and art style, these films continue to impact audiences from all over the globe. One of the most special things about these titles are the prolific use of female leads. These leads help to uplift and inspire girls and women of all ages. Here are a few of our favourite female protagonists, and why their representation is important.
Kiki, from Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki is introduced as an eager thirteen-year-old girl ready to begin her customary training to become a witch. The process requires her to leave home and see the world on her own. Embarking on her mother’s broomstick, Kiki and her black cat Jiji take to a new place far from her family’s cottage. They wind up in a bustling coastal city teeming with people and possibilities. Using her flying talents to deliver goods to the townspeople, she opens up her own delivery service. Eventually the trials and tribulations of her work soon begin to weigh on her. Her feelings of being different from others her age also begin to take a toll. Ultimately, Kiki winds up losing her magic.
With a little help from the characters she meets along the way, Kiki contemplates what inspires her, and why it is that she wants to become a witch. She is shown as human. Feelings of being lonely and an outsider in a new city weigh on her mind, but her resilience, kindness, and determination reignite the spark of magic in herself. A great female protagonist in a coming-of-age story, Kiki is an inspiration for young girls and women alike.
Arrietty, from The Secret World of Arrietty
Arrietty is what is known as a “borrower”. She and her family are the size of small insects. They live in a makeshift home nestled away in a forgotten cupboard. To survive, they take only what they need from the humans who live in the house; things that won’t be missed, like sugar cubes, small bits of tissue paper. When she and her father venture out at night to gather supplies from the house’s kitchen, she is discovered by a young boy, and subsequently, a housekeeper with sinister motives. Told by her family that all humans are dangerous creatures, she is forced to contemplate their safety while grappling with her curiosity of the boy and the kindness he shows towards her.
Arrietty is portrayed as head-strong; though trusting and compassionate, she is never shown to be too naive. Throughout the film she demonstrates courage to help protect herself and those she cares about. She often makes tough decisions that don’t always benefit her own wants and desires. She takes initiative to save and help others when in need, even if it puts her in danger. A selfless protagonist, she is another example of a heroine in a Ghibli film that takes matters into her own hands.
Shizuku, from Whisper of the Heart
Shizuku Tsukishima, a junior high student on her way to graduating, is a character rooted in uncertainty. Throughout most of the film, she reprimands herself for not knowing what she wants to do in life; her world revolves around reading copious amounts of fiction books from the library, taking her mind elsewhere. She soon meets her love interest, a boy her age named Seiji, who has his future set on violin-making. While Seiji goes off to Italy in order to hone his craft, contemplating whether or not he’ll forego his high school studies in order to move there, Shizuku ponders what it is that she sees herself doing; engrossing herself into the world of writing, she sets out to write her own novel. Though, Shizuku’s passion soon becomes obsessive, causing her grades to drop and her anxiety to increase.
When her novel draft is read by Seiji’s caretaker, she is told that it still needs polish. Distraught, Shizuku first takes this as a failure. When she is told about how passion and talent are cultivated over time, she realises that things won’t always be perfect on the first try. Throughout the film, she grows as a character. Understanding where her passions lie, learning to be less hard on herself and her achievements. Understanding that there is always room to grow, she makes the promise to keep working towards her dreams in a healthier way. In a film grounded in reality, Shizuku exemplifies the creative spirit as an artist, learning and growing towards her aspirations.
Nausicaa, from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Our last entry is the character of Nausicaa, known as the princess of the Valley of the Wind. In a post-war world where toxic spores pollute the earth and kill the living, the Valley of the Wind is one of the few places where civilization remains safe. The people of the valley soon get roped into a new war generated by the humans of the other spore-free cities. This causes even more catastrophe and environmental destruction. Combined with that are the threat of giant mutated insects that live in spore-dense areas, who, when attacked, become enraged and destroy whoever is in their way.
Nausicaa, at the forefront of these conflicts, seeks to bring peace to the humans who lust for war and power. She also makes attempts to save the insects, urging people to understand that they are living beings who pose no threat so long as they aren’t provoked. Despite many trials and tribulations, loss and death, she never gives up in her goals of saving her people and putting an end to fighting. She continues to push through even in the most dire of situations, using her tenacity and compassion to pave the way to a better world.
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