Mamoru Hosoda has had a good week. On July 15, the anime director known for films such as “Summer Wars” (2009) and “Mirai” (2018) debuted his latest movie, “Belle,” at the Cannes Film Festival to a 14-minute standing ovation. It opened in Japan a day later, where it made around ¥890 million on its opening weekend, putting it on solid footing to be one of the year’s biggest films.
Hosoda, 53, also made headlines for comments he made at Cannes about the way women are portrayed in anime.
“You only have to watch Japanese animation to see how young women are underestimated and not taken seriously in Japanese society,” he said in an interview.
He isn’t wrong. Any given season of anime features more than its fair share of misogyny and a lot of it is not particularly subtle. The popular “The Rising of the Shield Hero” (2019) extolls the virtues of keeping women as slaves, this season’s “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S” somehow features both impossibly large breasts and implied endorsements of pedophilia — and the list goes on. Boy, does it go on.
So while Hosoda has a point, I found it odd that he turned his ire on Hayao Miyazaki, the lauded director of films like “Princess Mononoke” (1997) and “Spirited Away” (2001). Miyazaki, whose central characters are often women, is usually cited as one of the good guys when it comes to feminism in anime, but Hosoda isn’t having it. In his comments, he complained about Miyazaki’s “veneration of young women” and posited that the 80-year-old director features women as heroes “because he does not have confidence in himself as a man.” Ouch.
It’s undeniable that Miyazaki has displayed a penchant for putting young women on a pedestal, especially early in his career. Clarisse, the damsel in distress from Miyazaki’s “The Castle of Cagliostro” (1979), is sometimes seen as helping kick off the trend of fetishizing anime girls known as “moe.” And Nausicaa, the titlular character of his film “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” (1984), while no damsel in distress, is a one-note goddess/mother figure who can do no wrong.
But Miyazaki’s films are also rich with multifaceted women of all ages, occupations and dispositions, from the ruthless but caring Lady Eboshi of “Princess Mononoke” to Chihiro, the spoiled girl who learns to fend for herself in “Spirited Away,” to Sophie, the soft-spoken protagonist of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” who learns that old age isn’t the curse it’s made out to be.
Miyazaki has some real-life feminist bona fides, too, like the preschool he set up for employees of his studio, Ghibli, to drop off their children during work hours.
“Howl’s Moving Castle” may be a large part of Hosoda’s source of beef with Miyazaki. Hosoda was set to helm that film, but bristled under the creative restrictions imposed by Ghibli. Hosoda eventually left the project and was replaced by Miyazaki himself.
Miyazaki may not have been the ideal target, but Hosoda is correct in pointing out the problem. Thankfully, female directors and screenwriters are adding their voices to the discussion, such as Mari Okada (“Maquia”), Sayo Yamamoto (“Michiko & Hatchin”) and Naoko Yamada (“Liz and the Blue Bird”), to name a few. It’d be great to see Hosoda spread the word about them, too.
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