Studio Ghibli Sexist? — Producer Of Legendary Japanese Animation Company Rationalizes Why All Directors Are Men

A prominent producer of Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese animation studio known for animated movies like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, said something that may bring up arguments of sexism.

During an interview with The Guardian, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the director who was the protege for the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, along with producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, talked about the inner workings of Studio Ghibli and the direction it is going. the first part of the interview thoroughly detailed Studio Ghibli’s latest masterpiece titled When Marnie Was There. Utilizing the voice talents of popular actors and actresses Vanessa Williams, Catherine O’Hara, Geena Davis, Kathy Bates, and John C. Reilly, When Marnie Was There is the Japanese animation adaption of the novel by Joan G. Robinson. It follows the protagonist, a girl named Anna Sasaki who lives with her relatives in the seaside town. While exploring an abandoned mansion, Anna comes across Marnie. Throughout their lives, Anna and Marnie spend time together to find the truth about Marnie’s family and foster care.

The conversation detailing When Marnie Was There went smoothly as Hiromasa Yonebayashi related the animated film to the time it was made during the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Yonebayashi stated the film is full of references to a conservative ideal of Japan which includes traditional festivals, idyllic countrysides, and a secret that connects Anna to her ancestors.

Also, Anna follows somewhat the same mold of strong, independent girl Studio Ghibli likes to portray in their animated films. In My Neighbor Totoro, they were Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe. In Princess Mononoke, it was Mononoke. In Spirited Away, it was Chihiro Ogino (also known as Sen). Finally, in Howl’s Moving Castle, it was Sophie. In short, Studio Ghibli seems to honor and respect independent and strong-willed female characters which come off ironic since they never had a female director in its 30-year history.

My Neighbor Totoro, Studio Ghibli
“My Neighbor Totoro” is probably the most iconic film Studio Ghibli has ever produced. As a matter of fact, Totoro is often seen in the logo for the legendary Japanese animation company. [Image via Screen Capture of “My Neighbor Totoro”]
When asked if Studio Ghibli will ever employ a female director, Yoshiaki Nishimura fields the question. Nishimura rationalizes that women are more realistic and men are more idealistic, something that apparently is important when directing their films.

“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.”

To be fair, Yoshiaki Nishimura’s words do sound questionable, but it isn’t an outright sexist attack on the female gender. He is utilizing his experiences, which probably includes cues from Japanese customs and culture on how women are in his country in association to the country’s animation industry. Nishimura did not say he will never hire a woman to direct. Why, there might be a time when Nishimura comes across a female director in which her scope of work will be far more idealistic than any of Studio Ghibli’s past male directors which include Hayao Miyazaki. Until then, Yoshiaki Nishimura will just have to lean on what he knows and what he has experienced pertaining to the Japanese animation industry.

[AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]