“What is Autoethnography?” you might ask. My brief answer: research, writing, story, and method that connect the autobiographical and personal to the cultural, social, and political.
My research report will focus on how the characterisation of females in Asian animation differs from Western animations. I will compare production companies – Disney and Studio Ghibli to understand how culture is an influence on entertainment. Culture is evident through films as they are a direct product of the society they were made in. As society becomes more and more modern, so does its films.
My report will be split into three main parts – Research, Writing and Method. As discussed by Ellis (above quote) in regard to Autoethnography. The productions that come out of America often centre the film industry. However, Japan’s Studio Ghibli sets itself apart with its realism despite being an animation company. Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli states “In order to grow your audience, you must betray their expectations.” Miyazaki makes films that aren’t similar to the products of Disney but, represent life in a different way. Disney direct their films to children whilst Studio Ghibli don’t place that restriction on adults.
Snow White was Disney’s first film released in 1937. It was America’s introduction to animation. This film is fictional but despite its elements of fabrication, it represents its context. Snow White has the following characteristic traits:
- Cooking/cleaning as main “skills”
- Marriage as the end objective
- Deceased parents
- Obtains royal status by the end of the film
This list can be related to various female characters within the Disney realm – Cinderella, Aurora, Rapunzel and of course Ariel. Disney films are often associated with moments of nostalgia and one’s childhood. Ultimately, they are seen to be positive films for children. Although, what children are watching are the prolonging of gender roles and how women are seen in society. These female characters are merely one dimensional. That’s not to say, men are represented correctly either, not all men are strong, brave and prince-like. Snow White represents a damsel in distress as the story follows her need to find a Prince with the guidance of seven dwarves. The idea is that Snow White can be ‘saved’ by the kiss of a man after falling into a coma. I use Snow White as an example because it aligns well with The Little Mermaid and Ariel’s reliance on Eric to kiss her for the sake of having legs. Disney’s motivation is to be the world’s leader in entertainment and provider of information. Since 1937, a lot has changed with their newest releases Frozen and Moana. Female characters are becoming more diverse and relatable.
“Many of my movies have strong female leads – brave, self-sufficient girls that don’t think twice about fighting for what they believe in with all their heart. They’ll need a friend or a supporter, but never a saviour.”
This represents the core values of Studio Ghibli. As co-founder, Miyazaki understands what many animations are missing – reality. Japanese culture focuses highly on anime and its phenomenal reach around the world. The comic book ethos exists both in America and Japan. They share a talent for creating cartoons that resonate with masses of people. American comics are often directed at children as are Disney films. Though, Japan is known to hold adults as readers and engagers of anime (Hoffman, 2013). I first watched Spirited Away with my mum… when I was… nineteen. A film that offers nostalgia without dismissing the fact that you’re an adult watching.
Studio Ghibli films don’t follow the typical storyline of a girl meets boy with a dash of royalty, as does Disney. Howl’s Moving Castle follows a young girl, Sophie who seeks to reserve a curse placed on her by a witch. Another example is My Neighbour Totoro as it is about two girls and their friendship with the spirits who live in the forest close by. Lastly, Princess Mononoke, an animation about a village being threatened by a demon curse. All these films feature convincing female characters who act beyond the stereotypes placed on girls; women. Studio Ghibli has done so since they were first established in 1985. Four years later, Disney announced the release of The Little Mermaid.