Ghibli producer provokes backlash for comment regarding abilities of women to direct anime

By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

You’ll find very few entities in any creative field that enjoy the sort of widespread respect and goodwill that Studio Ghibli does. The studio’s animated films are consistently held up as shining examples of theatrical storytelling, a feat that’s all the more impressive when you consider how passionate and opinionated anime fans can be.

As such, many fans of animation, both Japanese and in general, were looking forward to the June 10 UK release of Ghibli’s latest, and possibly last, film: "When Marnie Was There." Despite premiering in Japan in July of 2014 and making its way to the U.S. in 2015, it’s taken two years for the film to arrive in UK theaters, despite being an adaptation of the novel of the same name by British author Joan G. Robinson.

And yet, a comment from Yoshiaki Nishimura, one of the film’s two co-producers, has some Ghibli fans who’d been no doubt excited to see Marnie seeing red instead.

Along with Marnie director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Nishimura recently traveled to London to promote the film’s UK opening. While there, the pair sat down with The Guardian correspondent Chris Michael. While the majority of the interview, which can be found here, deals with the themes in "Marnie" and their connection to Japanese culture and society, at one point Michael asks “Will Ghibli ever employ a female director?” to which Nishimura responds:

“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.”

t didn’t take long for the 38-year-old Nishimura’s logic to elicit a negative response on the English-speaking Internet.

Nishimura’s remarks are surprising for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the vast majority of Ghibli’s films have a female protagonist. In addition, the studio’s "Kiki’s Delivery Service," "Only Yesterday," "Whisper of the Heart," "Howl’s Moving Castle," "Tales from Earthsea," "Arrietty," "When Marnie Was There" and "Ocean Waves" are all based on novels or manga written by women. Of Ghibli’s true adaptations, only "Grave of the Fireflies" and "My Neighbors the Yamadas" come from source material with a man as their sole creator (the manga version of "From Up on Poppy Hill" was written by a man and illustrated by a woman).

Still, Nishimura wasn’t expressing skepticism at women’s ability to write or draw fantasy, only to direct it in animated form. Again, that’s a pretty broad-brushed, and far-less-than-sensitive, generalization, although he doesn’t frame his statement as pointing out a shortcoming per se, but rather a difference in natural tendencies between the sexes he claims to have observed.

On the other hand, a comment by Yonebayashi in the same interview suggests that rather than a discrepancy in how male and female directors approach storytelling across the board, he feels they might react differently depending on the gender of the characters their project is centered on.

“I’m male myself, and if I had a central character who was male, I’d probably put too much emotion into it, and that would lead to difficulty in telling the story.”

While Nishimura’s remarks are hardly diplomatic, they could stem from Ghibli’s oddly insular position in the anime industry. Unlike other studios which are primarily staffed on a rotating, per-project basis, Ghibli retains its workers as regular employees. While that policy creates stability, it also makes the studio somewhat removed from outside trends such as the increased role of, and demand for, female-helmed works of fiction.

Finally, while Nishimura’s statement is being interpreted by many as “Ghibli won’t hire female directors,” it’s worth considering that, in general, Ghibli doesn’t hire directors who aren’t Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata. Of Ghibli’s 21 features (including the made-for-TV and often forgotten "Ocean Waves"), studio co-founders Miyazaki and Takahata directed 13, including the first seven. It wasn’t until nine years after "Castle in the Sky Laputa," the first release under the Ghibli name, that someone other than them, Yoshifumi Kondo, sat in the director’s chair for "Whisper of the Heart," and even that was with Miyazaki writing the script.

After that came "Princess Mononoke" (directed by Miyazaki), "My Neighbors the Yamadas" (directed by Takahata), and "Spirited Away" (Miyazaki again). 2002’s "The Cat Returns" was the first Ghibli theatrical release without Miyazaki or Takahata handling direction or scriptwriting, and you have to go all the way to "From Up on Poppy Hill" in 2011, directed by Hayao’s son Goro, for the first time someone other than Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata directed a Ghibli movie for the second time (and once again, Goro’s father was involved in writing the script).

As a matter of fact, when you look at the history of Studio Ghibli, there are only four features (again, including "Ocean Waves") 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.

Nevertheless, with Ghibli currently appearing more than a little rudderless in the post-Miyazaki era, it might want to take a closer look at female directors to help the studio find its direction.

Source: The Guardian via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Our take on Studio Ghibli’s newest anime, When Marnie Was There【Impressions】 -- Studio Ghibli is not Studio Goro – Hayao Miyazaki’s son denies being his father’s successor -- Ghibli director Hiromasa Yonebayashi speaks about recent and future works at animation event

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The only difference is that old men in Japan are allowed to pontificate as if they are letting us in to some amazing insight or wisdom.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Wow, this article really bends over backwards to find every rhetorical trick it can to portray Nishimura's comment as not as bad as it sounds.

News flash: It's as bad as it sounds.

One of the most important cultural ambassadors for Japan is claiming that women are not as capable of doing a job as men are. RocketNews24's writers can love Ghibli all they won't, but it won't undo the sexism on display here.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Lovely movie btw, very underrated.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

There is absolutely nothing stopping any woman from starting their own animation company, JUST LIKE THESE GUYS DID, and succeeding.

Studies show that companies founded by women don't get funding. The issue is a bit more nuanced than just "if you want it bad enough go out and do it."

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's not like women directors can't direct their own films / anime. I hope they (the women directors) get out there and prove this guy wrong!

Just one request to all directors and artists: Stop making the characters look so similar to characters in other movies!!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Evidence is that most of the studio's anime has been indeed directed by male directors. I would hope if a good potential female director was available, she wild be given a chance. By the same token, how many female directors have directed the successful Pixar or Disney anime hits? Probably a few to none. Just a conjecture.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You are a bit tiresome, bullfighter. You see the word "japan" and automatically imagine some attack on your beloved, adopted country. Who said only in Japan? Though pompous old men blowing off at the mouth usually get short shrift where I am from. Sometimes from their wives. The difference I was pointing to is between men and women (in Japan, as it turns out). You don't see old women so much regaling captive audiences with insights and wisdom that amounts to little more than prejudice.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Where do women look their best? In the bedroom. The message seems to be that women ought to become a societally accepted notion of "a woman"; otherwise, they're unnatural in some way; men should help them reach that state. Men should be their protectors and the breadwinners, as well as their leaders and teachers. Women in Japan should have as much opportunity and encouragement to work and learn and discover as men do --- I believe there are many intelligent and capable women out there who have unique talents to contribute in ways other than cheerleading or housekeeping or child-rearing --- and that for this to happen on a larger scale, stereotypes must be overcome. Moreover, there needs to be the knowledge in both genders of what is possible, and what the fruits of understanding each other can be.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What accent of English will they have used, I wonder?

As to the prejudice of Nishimura, I bet he would change his tune if the right woman came along.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Male chauvinanime. Boo.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I still fail to see the problem with this. If the company does not hire women and that is the correct thing to do, it will fail. There is absolutely nothing stopping any woman from starting their own animation company, JUST LIKE THESE GUYS DID, and succeeding. The question is: How bad do you want it? If you want it bad enough, you will go out and do it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

According to an article in the Guardian, Nishimura has apologized for his comment and says he is learning.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Personally i have never been impressed by Ghibli, I find actually his imagination poor. There is just a sad emotional line in his film. This way the lack of love in them isn't seen as much. Every piece of love in it, even the poorest one, look stronger. But it does not replace the touch of pure and real love emotional line in a creation. This is the touch of the woman love that make the creation so beautiful, and sometimes men inherit it and sometime they don't. Here, there isn't much of the mother in this man.

Imagination is the strength of the yin more than the yang. We just have here an old man trying to justify the segregation of women around him that probably does not admire his work more than me and gave propositions that does not suit him or his artistique poor line.

Woman love the strength of a dream that can come true as much in real life than in imagination. The more realistic side come from their broken hearts by men that are just able to dream themselves high but unable to reach the ideal view of themselves they are always so sure to be. But they will never be able to make a reality because a man tend to forget is tempers weaknesses and need to be alone at the top without a woman that he despise for her lack of brutality or yang.

European love passion i least I know I do. I don't admire that kind of trick to hide the poorest kind of imagination on earth for me. The apology of tears. But i can appreciate the progress it is for a man that come from probably a hard line and sad form of zen.

I hope someone tell him he is not happy in life and should try to get happiness, the real kind, the one that help us create for us a real and beautiful ART that suit the heart at least as much as the mind.


0 ( +1 / -1 )

Nadège your english is difficult to understand but from what i understood i agree 100% Men like that guy shouldn't blame some women for being so realistic and use this factor as the yin and the yang in their work. Not every woman is like that anyways ive seen great fantasies like fushigi yuugi made by women. I also got a very depressing vibe from all the ghibli movies perhaps miyazaki is truly depressed?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There goes a large portion of my respect for Gibli.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Old company... that has been in decline ever since Princes Mononoke... The great last one was Kurenai no Buta... after that (even Mononoke) was down the hill. They had their some spikes time to time though (Kaguya hime was very nice)... but Ghibli has been in decay long ago and this is only yet another reason why.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

How does one "direct" a film made without actors? Pixels are unable to respond to a director.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Studies show that companies founded by women don't get funding.

In Japan or in general?

Unless I missed it, this story leaves out a very important bit of information. How common are female directors of major anime productions in socially enlightened countries such as the US and the UK?

I couldn't find data specific to anime production in the US or the UK, but there is no shortage of data to show that, for example, theater film production in the US has very few women directors and even fewer minority women directors. Disney and Warner brothers have a particularly dismal record in this area.


This looks to me like another case where gaijin are blowing off about Japan and the Japanese without checking the situation in their national backyards.

The only difference is that old men in Japan are allowed to pontificate as if they are letting us in to some amazing insight or wisdom.

Only in Japan?

Ever heard of Larry Summers?


-3 ( +1 / -4 )

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