Posters - The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro

Here's a question for everyone to ponder: what is the liklihood of seeing a movie poster like this in the United States? The answer is obvious: not bloody likely. It's damned near impossible to find movies where females take center stage, apart from the terribly formulaic rom-coms. And in animation, it is literally impossible.

It's absurd to see this retrograde mentality, while the rest of the world has moved on. The most successful movie outside of the US - Miyazaki's 2001 The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro - demolishes any claims or excuses one can conjure. Here is a movie that was a runaway phenonemon the world over, an Oscar-winner, a high-water mark for traditional, hand-drawn animation. It centers entirely on a 10-year-old girl. And it's aimed at 10-year-old girls, or anyone who once was a 10-year-old girl (to paraphrase Miyazaki).

There is simply no excuse that every American animated movie is centered around boys. There is no excuse why women and girls only play token sidekicks in the Pixar movies. There is no excuse why the only acceptable role for a female lead is the Disney-fied fairy tale princess. There is no damned excuse. End of story.

I've been reading a number of blog posts this weekend on the issue of women and gender roles in animated movies from Pixar and elsewhere, and it's always so deeply frustrating. I can relate to the frustration women feel at dealing with the boys' club, because it's all so damned abusrd and useless. But there is always this attitude of helplessness, as though we are confronted by some immovable force of history. It's as though nobody wants to lift their eyes beyond this nation's borders, to see what the "rest of the world" has been up to.

Why are we still dealing with fairy tale princesses? Is this 1950? Why is there one token female who exists solely for the boy who's the lead? Why are all these movies aimed at 13-year-old boys, anyway? What's the point? The most frustrating thing is that every American animator boasts endlessly of their love for Hayao Miyazaki. Well....what's the deal?

There's no damned excuse. This is a question of access, pure and simple. Give women artists the chance, and they will prove themselves. They can make history. It's happening everywhere else. Why not here?

Oh, and by the way....this is a really great movie poster, don't ya think? Ghibli used it as the cover for their Spirited Away DVD. Enjoy.


RIKYU said...

There just aren't that many women working in animation on the creative side. When it comes to developing stories "the boyz" go with what they know and are comfortable with.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I understand that's changing, at least in the realms of independent and avant-garde animation. But you're absolutely right. Women in this business are too far and too few in between.

Is it any surprise that half (if not more) of the staff of Studio Ghibli is female? Can there be any surprise, then, that their output is so overwhelmingly feminine? Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata did not create their films in a vacuum.

If I were in charge of hiring new talent at any of the major studios, here's what I would do: hire talented female artists, graphic designers, graphic novelists, and animators. Hire women and women only, and bring the gender ratio to an even balance.

Just my own two cents, of course. But if Hollywood wishes to lament falling attendance numbers, they only have themselves to blame. We are not all toddlers and 13-year-old boys.

Justin said...

This blog rocks.

What were some of the articles you were reading Daniel?

Geoff N said...

Women had a few instances of "strength" in Disney movies. =P

Wendy in Peter Pan laid down the law a few times, Esmerelda stood up to Frollo in "Hunchback" and Miss Bianca in The Rescuers had her moments...a stretch I know, haha.

I think the closest Disney has come recently to emulating Ghibli in with a female character was in "Lilo and Stitch", which had a minor Totoro-ish kind of aspect to it.

Malik Ming said...

Geoff N is definitely right about Lilo and Stitch: Chris Sanders has been pretty upfront about Miyazaki's influence on him as far as storytelling goes.

That poster has my favorite shot in the entire film. Simply Chihiro going off on her own. She's grown so fast...Bye, Chihiro...

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

That's what I enjoy about this poster as well. The scene on the ghost train is actually the film's climax, which is a remarkable thing if you think about it. Miyazaki's story was all about inner growth and self-awareness - Chihiro's awareness of herself, awareness of her responsibilities in the world, and awareness of her forgotten heritage.

You've got some good points, Geoff, but these girls are still in supporting roles. Their lives revolve around the boys. It the boys who are the main characters, the ones the audience is meant most to identify. And the more recent Disney films (since Little Mermaid) have this creepy tendency to draw the female leads as supermodel vixens. Creepy, nerdboys, creepy.

For anyone who calls Disney cartoons progressive, I've got a stack of Babes in Toyland albums for you. And what's this I hear about not wearing the purity rings?!

asuka said...

i agree that this is a big problem, but i don't think that one should disrespect the potential role of material like my little pony in addressing it. surely one reason ghibli's art for little girls is possible is the vast cultural matrix of pre-existing shoujo くらぷ (pardon my french), which demonstrates the existence of an audience and lets creators hone their skills.
the more stuff we have like my little pony and even bratz (while not to my taste), the better, i reckon.

RIKYU said...

It's not a matter of hiring or not hiring women. Their simply aren't that many female applicants. I think there is less interest in animation among women. It's very likely that results from the overwhelming majority of the content is male-oriented to start with. Nonetheless, the department I work in has actively tried to hire women and they just aren't out there.

Anonymous said...

Hm, you're right about there being few strong female leads in animated films. (tries to count the last western animated movies i've watched recently that had a strong female lead... uhmm... Coraline?)
And there should be more women in the animation industry, i agree wholeheartedly with that.

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