Is Hayao Miyazaki Sexist?

I think some context is needed before I discuss the subject of the day:

I found this article both almost 6 years too late and without intending to. It began with a discussion on Twitter with a fellow Infinite Rainy Day writer about whether or not Hayao Miyazaki really respects women. Said writer wasn’t convinced and felt like fans would defend him regardless. Said writer also pointed out how only two articles online deal with Miyazaki’s sexism, yet were buried beneath non-stop praise for his feminism. I decided to do digging to see if that was true, and this article was the first to support that claim…kinda.

About late-September of 2011, an article was written on Cartoon Brew, which you can read here, discussing how Hayao Miyazaki’s Twitter account had mentioned his disdain for the growing number of female animators and writers in anime, claiming it’d “doom the industry”. The article stated that Miyazaki himself had composed the Tweet, but given that Miyazaki has openly compared iPads to masturbation I’ll assume it was a transcription of sorts. Anyway, when pressed for further clarification to his admittedly-vague claim, his responses only made matters worse by not really clarifying anything. Regardless, the comments section exploded with banter about whether or not Miyazaki was secretly chauvinistic.

I’d like to remind everyone that the internet isn’t a great place for political and intellectual discourse. It has a lot to offer in both areas, don’t get me wrong, but more often than not it blows simple misunderstandings, claims and false claims out of proportion for effect and views. This leads to arguments from individuals whom aren’t always the sharpest or most-reliable. In other words, the internet is a cesspool of click-bait and extremist rhetoric, even when it’s onto something. So I wasn’t expecting much as is, but since Miyazaki’s notorious for fanning the flames of controversy, I figured I’d dissect this article anyway.

Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favourite living directors. I don’t love him blindly, I think Howl’s Moving Castle is a mess, but I recognize and respect his craft and visionary genius. He’s also, unfortunately, a bitter old man when it comes to the anime industry, frequently criticizing it for issues ranging from a lack of real artists, to little girl characters who don’t behave like little girls, to even a lack of humanity in zombie animation. And then there’s the above, which does him no favours.

Miyazaki’s not the only one from Studio Ghibli who’s shot his mouth off about women. Earlier last year, Yoshiaki Nishimura, currently the head of newly-formed Studio Ponoc, made an egregious claim that women couldn’t direct fantasy films because they’re not idealistic enough. This incited rage from long-time fans of Studio Ghibli, prompting him to quickly apologize, largely because the remark was uncalled for. This sort of stuff happens constantly in a male-centric industry like anime.

Additionally, auteurs being critical of the industries they’ve helped shape isn’t exclusive to anime. Remember how Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted the doom of Hollywood a few years back? Remember how George Lucas compared Disney to “white slavers” after selling Star Wars to them in 2012? Artists, especially visionaries, are often really critical of the fields they work in. It’s like my cousin told me not too long ago: the best artists are usually the crabbiest.

This is all helpful context when understanding what Miyazaki says about anime, as well as why it’s, usually, not worth getting worked up about. However, because it’s the internet, people do anyway. And I wouldn’t mind if the hyperbole wasn’t “the end is nigh” levels of extreme, but because it is I have to put my foot down. Because it’s not the end of the world if some big-wig criticizes art. Artists only grow from feedback, and so long as the feedback is helpful, as opposed to toxic and reductive, any attempts at rebuke are welcome.

Which this claim, about women diluting the anime industry, isn’t. Despite their biological differences from men, women are still people, and, thus, deserve a chance to share their voices in any field. This includes animation, which, like most other fields, has been predominantly male-centric for decades. Women have been largely absent from it until fairly-recently, and their presence has caused an uproar from traditionalists who prefer the status-quo. If Miyazaki’s words are anything to go by, then chances are he’s another one of those traditionalists.

But that begs the question: if Miyazaki is against the rapid hiring of women in anime, does that make him misogynistic? One of the big points used against this claim is his repertoire of interesting, female leads in his films, but that doesn’t mean much outside of that. Artists aren’t their art, they’re people. Their ideas and thoughts might shine through in their work from-time-to-time, but it isn’t indicative of who they are as individuals. Clint Eastwood, for example, is a brilliant writer, actor and director, but he’s also a pig. Mel Gibson is a talented actor and director, but he’s also sexist and Antisemitic. I know this ties into a running motif in my writing about differentiating art from artist, but it’s no-less true: artists are human beings first, artists second.

I’m not entirely convinced that Hayao Miyazaki is the misogynistic jerk this article implies he is. Sure, his comment was sexist, and I don’t condone that behaviour. But I don’t think he intended malice. It simply reeks of poor phrasing on the part of an old man who, quite frankly, has said some radical and insensitive stuff about the anime industry before. This particular remark simply crossed the line into outright bigotry.

I’ll add that Miyazaki, for all of his positive qualities, is still a product of his generation and experiences, as we all are. People don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re part of a collective known as society. Society has varying degrees of life experiences, and no-two are identical. Even someone like myself, who tries to be open-minded and progressive, still has to remember that my Jewish upbringing has played a huge part in my development. There’s a reason why I keep much of my cultural background out of reach from my internet persona, and it’s because a lot of it might be horrifying or insensitive to those not familiar with the intricacies surrounding it. Miyazaki is the same, except, in this case, he’s a product of old-fashioned, Japanese feminism.

I mean, think about it: for all of his feminist themes, how often has Miyazaki ever dealt with class sexism? Not often. Sex-shaming? Never. Queer sexism? Does he even know what that means? (No really, I’m curious.)

I think we forget that Japan, for all of its creativity and eccentricities, is a much more conservative-minded society than many countries in the West. Women are still largely shunned there, more so than here. So while Miyazaki, and-by extension-Studio Ghibli, is pretty progressive compared to, say, Disney, a lot of his views on women are pretty traditional. We can infer that he respects them a lot, enough to feature them heavily in his films, but does he consider them equal? Does he value them enough to place them in high-paying positions? Would he consider giving them directorial jobs, as opposed to only screenwriting and animation jobs? We may never know.

But that doesn’t mean that Miyazaki is suddenly lesser an artist. Even if Hayao Miyazaki is the Japanese-equivalent of a “white, male feminist”, that doesn’t mean he’s not still a fantastic director, correct? If his films are any indication, I think his talent pretty much speaks for itself. It’s merely a shame that he can’t be happy with the anime industry, but c'est la vie!


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