"The Heroine Image in Anime" by Minako Saitou, Part XI

Part XI: Miyazaki Anime Changes the Heroine Back Into a Monster

If you think about it the wire-crossing had already started back at the stage of "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind." "Nausicaa" is also about a female hero [onna no hero] rather than a heroine, and it succeeded in making a female image worthy of being called a hero [eiyuu]. However, as "heroes" Nausicaa and Kushana act like they have men's personalities that have been
transplanted into women's bodies--they are images of women based on the male hero model. It's the realization of the male standard. From this point it's only one more step to evil masculinity/macho women images.

The reason the logic behind the Eboshi-led Tatara-ba fails is that it hasn't learned from history and the reasons why women were removed from labor production and military action in the first place. So why were they? The answer is very simple. Women's reproductive labor--pregnancy, birth, and nursing--was thought of as a handicap when doing labor in the workplace. (Which is why it's a matter of course that the Crimson Soldiers of the Boys' Land were young women around the age of 20.) The Tatara-ba is a literal Boys' Land, with neither children nor the elderly, and it could have been gender-equal but it ends up being a caricature of evil modern society instead.

The Boys' Land won't save humanity. That's why Monsley left Industria and defected to the enemy side. If Kushana and Eboshi hadn't sacrificed a part of their bodies, they wouldn't have lasted as leaders of the Boys' Land. (By any chance if they give birth someday, the Boys' Land will probably drag them right out of the leader's seat.)

So can the Girls' Land save humanity? If we think of how Lana and Nausicaa finally reverted to using magic, its clear that it can't. Still, the ecological lands where Lana and Nausicaa live embody people's naive desires.

The mistake is to think, if the modern (masculine) can't save the world, can the anti-modern (feminine) save it instead? The lineage from Lana to Nausicaa to San shows high expectations placed on "the girl who lives with nature." However, if we pursue that ideal, in the end we'll return to the form of the beast/the primitive. If the anti-modern doesn't look squarely and honestly at the modern, it will end up as no different from the pre-modern.

[essay end]


HertzaHaeon said...

I'm unimpressed.

There's obviously not just one reason San is human. While Moro is a good character, her being an animal obviously makes it impossible to relate to her on he same level as a human. It's the same reason the aliens in Star Trek are so often human-like - we relate to them easier and better.

Also, I think the author makes too big a deal of her being beautiful. Ashitaka is also beautiful. The attraction between them that bridges their two seperate worlds would be a lot harder without it. And I must note that Miyazaki didn't do much at all with the romantic possibilities, but leaves them unpronounced and very much up to the viewer. San is a far cry from your usual anime fetish girl and her attraction for the viewer is based on so much more than her looks.

If Eboshi is really a man in drag and that is bad because it somehow detracts from the idea of an essentially female hero, I also fail to see an alternative for her. She can't have traditionally female characteristics, but neither can she have male ones. How should she be? If she can't be neither peaceful or violent, or neither industrial or tree-hugging, then what? And why does she have to be a heroine with a pronounced female nature? I thought her being a woman in a traditionally male role showed that women are indeed human too and that the strengths and weaknesses that are considered typically male are really just general human characteristics that happen to have been dominated by males so far.

asuka said...

firstly, thanks so much for posting all of this.
i have a sort of problem with it - the same problem i have with lots of serious writing on anime - in that it doesn't seem to be saying all that much. and there are so many important and obvious things it omits because of the terms in which it addresses the works.
about conan for instance. yes, industria vs high harbour is a sort of masculine/nurturing opposition, though really the author's most interesting observation here is the point that lana has some classic "magical girlfriend" powers. in what sense though is conan, the boy character, an omake? precisely because he's an outsider to this conflict he's our point-of-view character (like him, we initially know nothing of this world's politics). and also precisely because he's an outsider to the conflict he's able to perform a mediating role in the action of the plot.
but the conceptual scheme is messier than that. lana is also an important mediator in the action because she's simultaneously an insider (unlike conan, she's always part of the conflict) and an outsider (like conan, she's a hopeful child who can show the jaded adults a better way forward).
i think the author takes some worth-while insights (lana as rooted in the magical girl) and then builds an interpretive framework that isn't too illuminating.
(and like the previous poster, i get worried when interpretations start labelling characters as being "in drag": it may be a valid point, or it may just indicate that the source is more flexible than the interpretive scheme at work!)

Adrienne said...

Hmmm. After reading this monster, I have a profound feeling of...emptiness. Like this essay promised more than it delivered. What is Misako Saito's point exactly? She seems to be suggesting that the heroines in Miyazaki's anime are unfufilling as such because they, in the end, become either female stereotypes (as with Lana and Mosley finding lovers), or are simply male heroes with female forms (such as Nausicaa, Kushana, San, and Lady Eboshi).
She also seems to suggest that Nausicaa and Kushana are only acceptable as leaders by the other characters in the story because they are princesses, and if they were to do something so ordinarily female as to give birth, that would diminish their viability as leaders in the eyes of their people.

I'm not sure those are correct assumptions to make, but perhaps she's dissapointed that niether Nausicaa or Kushana had to work hard to gain their positions of leadership. But yet, if they did, wouldn't that make them even more "manly" on the inside? I'm curious to know what sort of heroine would satisfy Ms. Saito.

Or perhaps Misako Saito is dissatisfied with the fact that none of these heroines actually *defeat* their enemies. I have never, sadly, actually seen Future Boy Conan, but am I right in assuming that the film ends in a similar draw to Nausicaa and Mononoke? Now, I can totally sympathise with the idea, that in the context of the film, niether side can claim full victory. I mean, obviously San is fighting a losing battle, and in the film, she never has the pleasure of running Eboshi through with one of her spears. Eboshi, however, is also fighting a losing battle. In such a male-dominated atmosphere, it's only a matter of time before her fortress is destroyed, probably by the emperor's men.

Ms. Saito is correct in calling San an eco terroist, because she is. But obviously, San has to square with the fact that she's human. If she's so blinded by rage she can't do that, she really *is* just a crazed animal like all the others in the forest. It would probably be best if she and Lady Eboshi *did* work together, as Ms. Saito suggests, or are they too irrational to do this? Yeah, Ashitaka is useless to tip the scale either way, as he is the last of his people as well. I wonder if Mononoke Hime is an old man's anguished lament of old, sacred, better things that will be forever ovverun by the mediocre (represented by the emporeor and his ilk).

Most stories with a man as the protagonist would not be satisfied with anything less than the murder of the antagonist.(Even Harry Potter, after gaining "englightenment", is forced to do the dirty deed in the end.) There's a wonderful finality to death. Game Over. Yet, if the antagonist is a pacifist like Nausicaa, so in tune with nature that she has a sympathetic alliance with enormous insects, what can be done? Nausicaa can't outsmart Kushana, they are of equal intelligence. Are they doomed to fight forever, dragging their people into battle after battle? Since there is no real-life answer to this question, it would seem rather insulting to provide a fictional pat-answer to it. But I think Mr. Miyazaki feels that the answer lies in women a lot more than men. The problem, and the answer to it is spiritual, not "scientific", which is not a knock against science, just that it's insufficient by itself to answer a spiritual question.

Hayao Miyazaki is on the "girl's side", as Ms. Saito puts it, but I don't think it's merely because the girl's side is generally anti-war and more sensative to nature (though that may be a part of it). He's on the girl's side, I think, because it is women who dictate the standards of society. The world is theirs to change. In the realm of symbolism, nations are "women" and ideologies are "women." The tone of every home is set by the woman of the house. The man of the house might be a bastard, but the woman of the house can make it a good home nonetheless. That Mr. Miyazaki chooses to look deeper into the idea of what a "woman" is than the surface vanity and obcession with romance is commendable. Miyazaki's films are not fashionable, hip, or cool. With that sort of approach, he has the flexibility to be more timeless and universal. One could say (with that universality in mind) that Miyazaki is using each woman as a symbol of an ideology, and the men represent the rest of dumb humanity who can be swayed in either direction.

I'm still having trouble figuring out what Ms. Saito's point is. Maybe something is lost in translation, but, like I said, I sure would like to know, in her mind, who is a worthy heroine.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I think it would help a lot if we had the full translation of Minako Saitou's book, and not only the third chapter. We are only reading part of her larger thesis on these issues.

That said, I found this to be extremely helpful because it's the only piece of film criticism about Miyazaki that's actually critical. Compared to film criticism here in the West, which lazily repeats the same simple talking least these essays made me think. And they gave me a framework for examining these works critically.

Saitou's ultimate aim remains a bit unclear. She seems more than a little angry, and while I can appreciate her passion, I wonder just how different her worldview would be if she stepped out of her native Japan and visited the West? If she were exposed to the Disney fairy tale princesses, how would that influence her opinions of Miyazaki? I'm afraid she might blow a fuse.

Frankly, when you're criticizing a movie like Nausicaa or Mononoke Hime, you've got it pretty damned good. Those films are not only fiercely feminist, they twist and turn gender roles on their head. The girls get the better of the boys again and again, almost gleefully so. There is nothing in the West that even comes close.

Then again, I don't have the insight of spending time in Japan, and it's that point-of-view that fuels her writings. We must remember that this are insights from another culture, where America is not the center of the universe.

I think what's really needed is an insight into what Saitou believes is the ideal heroine. Both feminine and masculine traits are called into question. But if you cannot behave like a girl, and you cannot behave like a boy, what does that leave you? Just what is the "female hero model?" There's a fine line between being critical and just being a crank. There's a hint of absolutist thought here - my way or the highway.

That said, I'll keep these essays nearby for reference and insight.

Great comments from everybody!

Toongirl said...

"The mistake is to think, if the modern (masculine) can't save the world, can the anti-modern (feminine) save it instead? ... high expectations are placed on "the girl who lives with nature." However, if we pursue that ideal, in the end we'll return to the form of the beast/the primitive. If the anti-modern doesn't look squarely and honestly at the modern, it will end up as no different from the pre-modern."

Modern civilization has always argued it's supposed superiority from books like the "Lord of the Flies" to the current fascination of TV shows like "Lost" and "Survivor."

But interestingly, San's own name is the same as one of the oldest human tribes, the San or Dobe !Kung of Africa. Their nomadic and egalitarian structure proves that so-called "primitive" people have long cultivated the civilized social mores that modern city-dwellers thought that only they themselves had a monopoly on.

In short, I get really tired when city folk think that going back to nature means going back to barbarism. The more evidence archaeologists & paleontologists dig up, the more civilized they find our "primitive" ancestors actually were.

Anonymous said...

While I don't agree with this article's arguments much (but like Mr. MacInnes said, we don't have her full book and full thesis), but I do appreciate having it translated. We need more Japanese criticism on this stuff available in English to study. Plus, even though I disagree, it does make you think. It's kind of like with Michael Barrier for me; I agree with almost none of his thoughts on what films are bad or good, but still, he makes you think about why you hold the opinions that you do. The same applies here.

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