The Glory of Studio Ghibli & Hayao Miyazaki's Strong Female Leads

The first film I watched that was made by Studio Ghibli and directed by the amazing Hayao Miyazaki was Princess Mononoke.

Princess Mononoke (1997) follows the story of a young woman and a young man from two different worlds that meet in an unexpected collision. Ashitaka, the young man and protagonist of the story is seeking a cure for a disease he caught from a demon. In a fight for his life, he travels to the western forests where he meets San (a.k.a. Princess Mononoke). The story explores the idea of forest preservation vs. mechanization and industrialization. 

The movie is pretty awesome, as all of Miyazaki's films are. 

What gives his films the "it" factor are the new and unexpected plots that carry so much room for interpretation. These films are animated, yet their themes are incredibly mature. They strike down the stigma of animation made for children.

Princess Mononoke is probably one of the most violent Miyazaki films, and it doesn't follow your typical antagonist vs. protagonist plot line. While Lady Eboshi is the supposed antagonist, in many ways she is not the bad guy. Her intentions are good, and the audience can easily tell that, at heart, she is not the villain. Ashitaka, San, and Lady Eboshi all want the same thing: the safety of their people. Lady Eboshi is willing to cut down the trees to build a village where the underprivileged can seek refuge, while San wants to save the forest she was raised in. Ashitaka is the mediator, never choosing one side, but constantly trying to bring the two sides together.

Now, if you haven't watched a Ghibli film, do you see what you're missing? 

Princess Mononoke isn't the only mind-bender. There’s a multitude of Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki films to choose from when you're looking for a new movie to watch. 

Howl's Moving Castle (2004) is the story of a girl named Sophie who is transformed into a ninety-year old woman by the jealous Witch of the Waste. She stumbles across Howl, a magician that lives in a strange moving castle, becoming entangled in his life and past. It's a very entertaining story that has so many niches that can be broken down and analyzed, as many of the films do. Once again, we see a plot that is not set in stone. It shifts from Sophie’s story to Howl's story as the two become inexplicably intertwined. Sophie is now old, but that doesn't mean she is weak or any less than herself. In fact, she seems to grow stronger from this curse, igniting confidence in everyone around her.

It's even got some romance to keep the audience swooning:

Perhaps the most popular Studio Ghibli film is Miyazaki's Spirited Away (2001). It's one of those films that's close to everyone's hearts.

Spirited Away is about Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl that must fight to save her parents in the world of the supernatural. It's comedic, award-winning, and a memorable coming of age story. Spirited Away is sometimes compared to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. They both share the story of a young girl discovering a new world, facing challenges, and ultimately maturing in the end.

The female protagonists in these films always undergo a challenge that they overcome. All three of these films contain a strong female character. This is commonly seen in Miyazaki's films. In Princess Mononoke, you have San, the vicious, badass who is willing to shed blood for the protection of her family.

From Howl's Moving Castle, there's Sophie, a passionate and determined woman that will risk her own life to help a man she just met.

Don't ever forget Spirited Away's Chihiro, the strong-willed ten-year-old who journeys through the fearful world of the supernatural to save her parents, growing stronger and finding herself along the way.

These are empowered women at their best.

Cover image source: Studio Ghibli