Earlier this week I composed a post about one of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and discussed the strength, depth, and contrast of the protagonist and antagonist, Nausicaa and Kushana. While delving into it, an old thought occurred to me about Miyazaki’s female protagonists: almost all of them have short hair, if not through the whole movie, by the end of the story. Yeah, thanks for pointing out the obvious, you might be thinking, but I want to take a closer look at this trend which I believe is more than just a fashion statement. So, continuing on with the Miyazaki theme, let’s take a closer look at some hair!
First of all, there are many examples of strong female protagonists who begin with short hair; Nausicaa, San from Princess Mononoke, and Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service are a few. Kiki is on a journey for adventure, San lives with wolves and tries to protect the forest, and, if you haven’t read last week’s post, Nausicaa is the strong-willed princess who fights intolerance. Three girls who face ups and downs, but begin with confidence and independence.
On the other hand, Sheeta from Castle in the Sky and Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle–who both begin their journeys with long hair–have some interesting trends in common that differ majorly from the three characters listed above (besides names that both start with “s” and movie titles with the word “castle” in it).
Both girls are burdened by something at the beginning. Sheeta is chased after by several groups of people due to her connection with a fabled land in the sky known as Laputa and thus is living a life that’s like walking on a thin rope, in fear of the next step. Sophie is in no mortal danger at the beginning of the story, but it’s revealed that she doesn’t have much confidence in herself and is overshadowed by her livelier, pretty sister and a little later, she has to deal with a curse placed on her.
Sheeta and Sophie also seem to go through a greater amount of character change by the end than the girls who begin with short hair because, unlike Nausicaa, San, and Kiki, Sheeta and Sophie begin with less independence and perhaps confidence in themselves. To compare the story lines of a short-haired girl versus a long-haired one, while Nausicaa already has the courage to do what she needs to do and just needs to use it, Sophie must first gain confidence in herself before she can truly save anyone else.
Interestingly, it’s at this point of climax where Sophie has gained her confidence that she gives up her hair, giving the moment a feeling of starting anew. The same feeling exists at the end of Castle in the Sky as Sheeta gazes on, free of her burden at last, her new, short hair blowing in the wind.
Of course, this trend doesn’t always hold true; Kiki’s Delivery Service is a journey largely about growing up and personal change although Kiki still begins the story with a larger amount of confidence than Sophie (although it wavers at points) and without a large burden like Sheeta. Also, Spirited Away‘s heroine Chihiro begins with long hair and keeps it even though she goes through a large amount of inner change and gains more strength by the end of the movie.
Nevertheless, the timing of the shortening of Sheeta and Sophie’s hair in their stories and the fact that the girls who already have freedom begin with short hair remains a point of interest. Whether Hayao Miyazaki consciously decided to have short hair represent freedom or not, pop in those films and see what conclusions you come to!