Research Report

“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.

Introduction

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.

Research

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:

  • Caucasian
  • Cooking/cleaning as main “skills”
  • Marriage as the end objective
  • Deceased parents
  • Obtains royal status by the end of the film
  • Princess^

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.

Princess Mononoke

The process of autoethnography asks for the data to answer a series of questions, as suggested by Chang (2016),

1/ search for recurring topics, themes + patterns
2/ look for cultural themes
3/ identify exceptional occurrences
4/ analyse inclusion + omission
5/ connect present + past
6/ analyse relationships between self + others
7/ compare yourself with other people’s cases
8/ contextualise broadly
9/ compare with social science constructs + ideas
10/ frame with theories

Today, I’ll be watching Princess Mononoke with these ideas in mind for my research report.

Ariel

 

The Little Mermaid (1989) is constantly critiqued for being an anti-feminist Disney film. But should we see value in Ariel being awake unlike the previous female characters – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. We can’t deny the obvious, Ariel gave up her voice for Prince Eric. But again, the progression of female characterisation in Disney films has come a long way *cheering*

giphyThe Little Mermaid and Princess Mononoke were released eight years apart. Both films are very different, culturally and in terms of their female characters

Today, I’ll be watching The Little Mermaid and taking notes here rather than live tweeting. The main female characters I’ll be discussing are the following:

  • Ariel = Sea princess
    • [Ariel has a lot of sisters, which we’ll simply mention]

Men determine how Ariel feels throughout the movie. Her father King Triton puts his expectations on her, restricting what she does, she responds/sings “young women sick of swimmin’, ready to stand” during the ‘Part Of Your World’ scene.

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Prince Eric is Ariel’s love interest, he is the reason she decides to leave the sea for the land. The second time they meet, Ariel is voiceless and is the typical damsel in distress. The ending shows Ariel with legs, married and away from her family. But is it her choice?

I’m the product of my own culture as I watch Ariel’s story wearing my feminist cap. By examining the film through this lens, I’m able to see the growth of Disney films – from Ariel to Mulan and now Elsa and Ana, the animations have evolved with society.

  • Ursula = King Triton’s rival, the villain

Ursula, she is the token villain with a flamboyant personality. Her scenes come with a certain darkness. She is jealous of Ariel’s beauty, age and status. She’s witch-like and lures Ariel into making the decision about losing her voice to become human. She sings, “It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man” in the song ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’.

Is Ursula a feminist? Ultimately, she’s independent and makes her own choices, even though they may not be morally acceptable…

  • Carlotta = Prince Eric’s maid

Carlotta isn’t present often during the movie. She is the caretaker for Prince Eric, his housemaid. Her scenes mainly involve her commenting on Eric and Ariel’s interactions. Carlotta’s life is based on how Eric lives.

The Little Mermaid shows these three female characters of different ages to be the same? Their lives are ruled by men – Ariel is desperate for love, Ursula is seeking revenge against King Triton and Carlotta’s job is to care for Prince Eric.

Next week I’ll be watching Princess Mononoke!

 

Compare the pair

Here’s an update of my research project…

My idea has changed based on what films to watch. I will compare The Little Mermaid (1989) to an Asian animation. I have changed my choice of Spirited Away (2002) to Princess Mononoke (1997). The context of both animations is closer together as well as the latter involving a princess in the storyline. I haven’t seen Princess Mononoke and as for The Little Mermaid, it’s been a while – since my childhood.

Live Tweeting will be my data collection. Heewon Chang (2016) focuses on the importance of turning one’s data into autoethnography, despite how ‘random’ the data may appear. Chang’s advice is to keep ‘memos’ during the “initial reading and listening” process. The tweets will act as memos as I engage with the texts.

During my autoethnographic experience; watching the films, I intend to look for the following:

  • The female characterisation will be my main focus
  • Themes within the storyline
  • The role of a princess in the animations (West vs Asia)
  • The actual animation, how it differs due to context and place

The search for cultural themes within the process of autoethnography is highly important. Chang uses the example of being raised in a family where education is valued, and how that reflects the process of autoethnography. Watching these animations, my own values and beliefs with stem through the process of data collection/tweeting.

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Diagram of Culture

Following data collection and watching the films, I plan to make a short video comparing key scenes of the films with a voiceover of commentary. This video will then be embedded into my blog with tweets and discussion to accompany.

I’m going to watch/live tweet next week! Feel free to follow my project’s progress on Twitter.

 

 

Animation for adults?

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Films can be seen as a form of education. Particularly, animations for children as they act as an introduction into the medium. Disney is a large production company which comes out of America, whilst Studio Ghibli is based in Japan. Both companies make animations but they differ when it comes to their female characters. I want to compare the two, and their choice of characterisation.

Denshire (2013) understands autoethnography as a “reflexive examination of conceptions of both self and culture” whilst undergoing research. This research will highlight the similarities and differences of culture as I watch with my own conceptions. My cultural exposure is different from when I was a child. As a child, you’re less likely to be conscious of culture as an element of one’s self.

Growing up my favourite animation was Spirit (2002), who doesn’t love a coming-of-age horse story? Although, Disney princesses were and still remain most popular amongst young girls. From Snow White to Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty, these female characters centre their lives around heterosexual love.

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On the other hand, Studio Ghibli films focus on developing their female characters further than romance. Hayao Miyazaki, a founder of Studio Ghibli wanted his characters to be three-dimensional and reflect society. Unlike Disney and their often shallow perceptions of the human state. Even the idea of dreaming differs between these animation companies. You don’t always need a prince to kiss you awake.

The Plan:

  • Watch The Little Mermaid (1989) and Spirited Away (2001)
  • Compare American / Japanese Animation
  • Live Tweet as I watch movies back-to-back, gathering autoethnographic data
  • Compare storylines based on the differing cultures
  • Main focus: the characterisation of the female protagonists

Ariel versus Chihiro?

Animations are judged based on how simple they appear, typically why they are directed towards children.  However, as my research shows, animations have a large audience of adults, particularly in Japan with Studio Ghibli productions.

Is Chihiro is the real ‘princess’ every young girl needs?

 

 

Go Fund Me

A film relies on its country of origin for overall success. Australians have an essential role in the continuance of their film industry. Funding is provided by the government as it is a cultural and economic investment. However, if there is no interest in Australian film, the investment is questioned.

In order for Australian films to maintain their relevance and presence within society, Australians themselves must support the content. Increasingly, Australians are disinterested or unaware of home productions. American films act as a distraction due to Hollywood being the leader of the international film market. According to Screen Australia, in 2017 there were a total of 36 Australian films released alongside 170 American films. This confirms the need for domestic interest in Australian content. Hollywood productions dominate on an international level. For example, Disney’s release of Avengers: Infinity War is the top grossing film of 2018 thus far. Australian films can’t compete with such a large budget and already established fan base. Breath starring Simon Baker was released during the same time. This Australian production was based on a national bestselling novel with the same title. Breath made a little over $3.2 million in the Australian box office with the competing film, Avengers: Infinity War making $21.2 million. Although the films are very different both in genre and subject matter, local films can’t keep up with action-packed blockbusters coming out of America.

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The industry itself is attempting to spread the importance of investing in one’s own film industry. Through campaigns like ‘Make It Australian’, industry professionals are communicating the economic and cultural value of the industry to the Australian government (Broinowski 2018). As Broinowski reveals, leading actors like Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, and Chris Hemsworth are amongst the forerunners of the campaign.  Funding for the arts is determined by the government. Following the heavy federal budget cuts, creatives wrote an open letter outlining the need for change. It stated, “our ability to keep telling Australian stories on screen is at risk, our voices in danger of being drowned out by a deluge of overseas content.” Australian feature films are typically labelled as ‘low-budget’. in the late nineties, an average film could be made for just under six million (Maher 2004).  During this time, films weren’t limited to Australian soil and receiving foreign investment was accepted. The industry underwent such ‘structural’ changes still seen today (O’Regan 2015). However, the investment ratio between domestic and foreign still struggles to find a happy medium. Australian content is based on its production and must meet the SAC test to be considered. Screen Australia enforced the SAC test as a way of regulating what is seen to be Australian. It questions the subject matte of the film, where it is being filmed and the nationalities of its production team.

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Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994) 

 

As mentioned above, Breath is a recent Australian film. It is a coming-of-age story set in the 1970s. However, Film critic Glenn Dunks describes it as “a movie made for middle-aged white guys and literally no one else”. The lack of diversity on screen is the main reason why audiences show limited interest in the content. Representation is key to achieving success for a film or television series. Chris Peacock poses the question – “Are Australian audiences lulled by reassurance into enjoying ignorance of themselves”. Peacock suggests that perhaps ignorance comes too easily for Australian audiences. Film and television educate its audiences on their own society. Prior to the release of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert in 1994, drag culture wasn’t yet seen on screen. Writer and director, Stephan Elliot found a perspective missing from the industry. Also, notably, the film, Samson and Delilah directed by Warwick Thornton. The film broke barriers as Thornton’s first feature started a national conversation about poverty and what an Australian love story is. As Thornton states, “It’s just as much a white story as it is a black one”. Peacock (1996) pairs the importance of Indigenous film with Indigenous art as it reinforces a national identity as well as give recognition to Indigenous culture; Australian culture. Australia’s national identity is typically seen to be male. Women are missing from the screen with only a small percentage (15 per cent) of leading roles available and 30 per cent offered as speaking roles (Siemienowicz 2015). Screen Australia’s ‘Gender Matters’ report of this year reveals that from the 37 Australian feature films last year, only 16 per cent were directed by women. The entire industry lacks representation from gender to religion to race to sexual orientation. A viewer engages with content based on whether they’ve been represented or not. Without representation, viewership diminishes thus, funding or the potential for investment into the industry does too.

A still from the film 'Samson and Delilah'.
Samson and Delilah (2009)

Another contributing factor to the issue of funding is based on access to the content. Films are mainly distributed via cinemas. Mark Peranson identifies film festivals
“as an alternative distribution network” where films whether marketable or not are shown in a public space (Carroll Harris 2017). Film distribution is vital in getting viewership. The process begins with film festivals, where the films are tested to an audience who are industry educated. Typically, independent films are showcased as it is more “affordable” than other forms of distribution (Carroll Harris 2017). According to Lauren Carroll Harris, the test is whether screenings sell out. This gives the audience influence over what they want to see in cinemas. If there is a great desire to see a film based on ticket sales, the film will be distributed further. Film festivals allow for a targeted audience to be revealed. This will increase the film’s revenue if they know who to sell it to. Ultimately, films are an investment both culturally and economically. Funding is required for films to be made but also during the process of distribution as the Australian public must be aware of the releases.

Australians must support their own industry by increasing the demand for the local like in the 1970s with Ozploitation films. The Australian government might determine how much funding is appropriate for the film industry but Australians also play a vital role in making that calculation.

N E O 東 京

So, Akira (1988) is only a year away… Is an apocalypse looming?

Akira brought Japanese culture to the West which gave Western productions an inspiration board to bounce ideas off. VICE’s Tom Usher reveals how the following forms of Western content drew from Akira:

  • Midnight Special (2016)
  • Chronicle (2012)
  • Inception (2010)
  • Looper (2012)
  • Stranger Things (2016 – )

All the films above share similarities based on young children having powers and the overall dystopian setting. No cultural experience is the same for the characters within their fictional worlds. However, if I were to watch all of them back-to-back, my experience wouldn’t change as it would require the films to be outside Western culture.

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created using Ellis reading

The mix of autobiography and ethnography creates autoethnography. Autoethnography is defined as both a ‘process’ and ‘product’ as Ellis (2011) states “to do and to write“. One’s cultural makeup determines how they understand the world, how they understand texts. As the above graphic shows, one must fathom what personal experiences they’ve had so they can identify their cultural experience. By achieving this, the process of autoethnography can occur. The product comes later. Japanese films like Akira increase my cultural experience as I watch. However, it goes beyond storytelling, as a researcher, one must ‘analyse’ their experiences (Allen 2016).

The act of live-tweeting #BCM320 is the process of autoethnography whilst the tweet is the product. Twitter encourages hindsight as a possibility. This allows you to look back; remove yourself from the moment. By reflecting and observing your product you can remember the process whilst understanding how your personal and cultural experiences influenced both. download

This meme above indicates how cultures can interact with their content. Shakira is a Colombian singer-songwriter who lives in America and now she is a part of the Japanese culture of anime. The following meme was created as a reversal of the one above:

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The act of researching can be ’emotional’ according to Ellis (2011) as you unlock yourself through autoethnography.  To conclude, he states:

Consequently, personal stories can be therapeutic for authors as we write to make sense of ourselves and our experiences, purge our burdens, and question canonical stories—conventional, authoritative, and “projective” storylines that “plot” how “ideal social selves” should live.