When it comes to the Japanese entertainment industry, there is a distinctive lack of female directors and animators. In a world where the job is already grueling, trying to break out being a woman can be tough, and in addition to the Japanese societal issues about women in the workplace in general, sometimes it can seem nearly impossible.
Yoshiaki Nichimura, a producer with Studio Ghibli, expressed his opinion on the matter in his recent interview with The Guardian. One part of it stuck out among the rest, a quote about the studio’s lack of female directors, and when whether Ghibli would employ a female director:
It depends on what kind of a film it would be. Unlike live action, with animation we have to simplify the real world. Women tend to be more realistic and manage day-to-day lives very well. Men on the other hand tend to be more idealistic – and fantasy films need that idealistic approach. I don’t think it’s a coincidence men are picked.
As the Mary Sue pointed out, it seems very strange that a representative of Ghibli said such a thing, considering most of their films revolve around female main characters set in fantasy worlds. Also, so many of the films created by the studio come from female authors, such as Howls Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson. Most of the films and their source material involve coming of age stories for young women, and have become popular icons for the female fantasy genre.
My all time favorite Studio Ghibli movie is Kiki’s Delivery Service, wherein a young witch has to gain control over her powers and become independent at a very young age. It spoke to me, as someone who felt that their life was a bit out of control and that I had to grow up a little bit faster than all the other children around me due to my family life. It seems strange to me that Studio Ghibli won’t hire female directors, who would understand young girls and women’s problems in real life, and how that could be reinterpreted into fantasy.
As someone who lives in Japan, I also don’t understand what Nichimura means when he says, “Women tend to be more realistic,” because to me it seems most women in Japan love the fantasy world. Sailor Moon Crystal has seen epic success here, along with a variety of other “magic girl transformation” type of manga and anime. There are females in the manga and anime industry who have rocked it into becoming major successes, such one of my all time favorites Rumiko Takahashi, the author of Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2. Her manga and the anime adaptations dominated from 1990-2010. Granted she wasn’t a director, but she crafted huge, long epics that are iconic both in Japan and on an international scale. Basically, all evidence suggests that Nichimura is making baseless assumptions even within his own cultural context.
Fans of Sutdio Ghibli have reacted with disappointment and anger about the interview.
What’s worse though, as RocketNews reported, Ghibli generally won’t hire directors who aren’t Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata.
Of Ghibli’s 21 features… studio co-founders Miyazaki and Takahata directed 13, including the first seven…As a matter of fact, when you look at the history of Studio Ghibli, there are only four features…that don’t have the elder Miyazaki or Takahata as a director, writer, or producer, which suggests the atmosphere at Ghibli might be less “old boys’ club” and more “club for two old boys.” Also, female writers Keiko Niwa and Riko Sakaguchi collectively have co-writing credits for four of Ghibli’s last five scripts.
It seems the problem isn’t just sexist attitudes, but the fact that Ghibli is very controlling within its own studio and doesn’t want to hand over the reins to anyone who aren’t the two co-founders. Instead, they will use female ides and take all the credit, because women can’t be trusted with such big projects and productions I guess.
As sad as it is to discover the upsetting behind the scenes information, I do have hope that perhaps one day Studio Ghibli will change its practices and choose someone female to at least try their hand at the helm of a production. No matter what gender, everyone can enjoy the immersive fantasy worlds that Studio Ghibli creates, despite what Nichimura believes. Women love fantasy, men love fantasy, in this we are all united.