10-year-old Chihiro accidentally strays into the spirit world, and is forced to work in a bath-house for spirits when her parents become pigs. Initially afraid and confused, her courage, kindness and resistance to corruption eventually win transformation, not only for her parents, but for many of the spirits as well.
This film is a spin-off from Whisper of the Heart and conceived as the sort of story Shizuku might write. In it, shy heroine Haru is taken to the Kingdom of Cats in return for saving its prince’s life. There she learns greater self-confidence, learning to speak her mind and take greater control of her own destiny.
My very favourite Ghibli heroine, quiet, dutiful Sophie only begins to discover her true self when she is turned into a 90-year-old woman and forced to take refuge in Wizard Howl’s magical castle. Being an old woman gives her license to tell everyone – including Howl – what she really thinks of them, and her growing confidence in turn makes her younger. What I particularly like is how you can see how Sophie feels about herself by how old or young she appears, until she finds a version of herself she is happy with.
In this clever amalgam of the Earthsea novels, Therru is initially distrustful of Prince Arren and men in general. However, through a mutual sharing of secrets, she eventually trusts him with her true name and helps save his life, revealing her true self when she is reborn as a dragon. How many girls do that?!
The child of an underwater wizard and a sea-goddess, Ponyo decides to be different from her identical sisters and escapes to land to befriend a little boy called Sosuke. She is full of love, high spirits and determination, but causes problems for herself and others by over-using her magic powers. Eventually she must decide what she would rather be: a magical fish or a human girl?
In this Japanese take on The Borrowers, Arietty is part of an endangered species of tiny people. She shows bravery in her “borrowing” expeditions, but what is most touching is the friendship she forms with human boy, Sho, who has a serious illness and fears that he, too, will die. By befriending one of her people’s so-called persecutors, she shows herself to be a much bigger person than many humans.
16-year-old Umi unexpectedly becomes a campaigner for historic building preservation when she meets Shun and gets involved with the previously all-male clubhouse. Umi and the girls soon show the boys what a female touch can do to the dilapidated building. But Umi is forced to confront deeper issues when she finds out more about her deceased father and his relationship to Shun.
16. Princess Kaguya (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya)
In this re-telling of a traditional Japanese name, Princess Kaguya – a moon princess reborn on earth – refuses to conform to the expectations of her father. She would rather spend her time running free amongst nature than studying calligraphy in layers of silk kimono. And she refuses to accept any marriage proposal, be it from a wealthy prince or the Emperor himself.
Which Studio Ghibli heroines have you encountered? Who is your favorite?
Photo Credits: Studio Ghibli