kawaii and kirei: Navigating the Identities of Women in Laputa: Castle in the Sky by Hayao Miyazaki and Ghost in the Shell by Mamoru Oshii

Rebecca Johnson

[1] The representations of female identity in Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Ghost in the Shell seem to comprise a mixed bag of feminist and anti-feminist elements. Both of these Japanese films seem to reflect to their audiences prevailing cultural rhetoric on the role of women. Old fashioned, but mainstream notions about a woman's place in society, particularly Japanese society, are still part of the artists' ethos. And yet, despite the persistence of constraining traditional roles and values in Japanese society, it is clear that through these works, the directors Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki urge their audiences to question the validity of these roles by breaking stereotypes and raising questions about issues that surround the female body (Gelb 21). Potentially, this is an "othering" act; a move away from the traditional, as seen with the heroines examined in these films, is a move towards the fringe of society. The directors of these movies are presenting new notions quietly and persuasively through the visual language of anime.

[2] This essay will explore two Japanese notions of female identity that are expressed in anime. Differing visual styles within anime allude to the complex tension within Japanese society and culture regarding female identity and sexuality. The two concepts or styles that I will discuss are kawaii (cuteness) and kirei (literally meaning pretty, but with a more mature connotation). Laputa: Castle in the Sky represents the concept and style of kawaii, while Ghost in the Shell represents the concept and style of kirei. Although traditional aspects of these concepts filter into the animation, neither stereotypes provided by these concepts are consistent. Both Miyazaki (kawaii) and Oshii (kirei) have found ways to work within their visual medium to provide symbols of the contradiction inherent in artistic representations.

[3] Because kawaii and kirei are the products of Japanese culture, it is important to frame as much analysis as possible of the following works in a Japanese context. Therefore, a distinction between what the word "feminism" means to Japanese women and what it means to American women is crucial. An analysis of these works is more meaningful if done as closely as possible to a Japanese cultural perspective. Up until quite recently, the subjects of Japanese feminism and female sexuality in Japan have been othered, not only by Japanese scholars due to feminism's development in the "radical sector," but also by those in the West who feel that Japan's supposed cultural uniqueness or exoticness renders it useless for comparative studies regarding women's movements (Gelb 2, 5, 6). Even with recent interest in Japanese feminism and culture, it is often difficult for foreigners with limited Japanese language experience to gauge the depth and true variety of feminist camps within Japan.

[4] According to author Sumiko Iwao "American and Japanese women differ on their view of equality" (3). Iwao makes it painstakingly clear that both American and Japanese women believe in "equal pay for equal work," but Japanese women place a great amount of emphasis on keeping cultural harmony, even if it means stifling one's own objections (3,10, 12). Americans tend to think in dichotomies like man vs. woman when it comes to equality. Iwao emphasizes that all Japanese want to be equal as humans, phrasing which circumnavigates any kind of gender war (3, 10). Iwao's words are a little misleading, however. A "humane" way of life for all is seen as more important than focusing on the dichotomy of man vs. woman, but that doesn't mean that there isn't political or social unrest (Iwao 12). Women's groups protest sexual tourism and the rampant availability of sexual material, most commonly noticed in manga (comics) and its kissing cousin anime (Gelb 29). Japanese women seem to be fighting their own sex war, not unlike the 1980s sex wars of America—although the Japanese "sex war" seems not to be against other camps of feminists but rather exclusively against the state which promotes the widespread availability of pornographic material (Allison 47-48,151, 154).

[5] Until recently, women's movements in Japan were characterized as "decentralized, fragmented, and single issue focused" (Gelb 21, 31). Gelb believes that this is due to the lack of receptivity in the political system, although the fragmented state of feminist groups in Japan hasn't stopped women from reaching across party lines to prevent harmful legislation, gain access to contraception, and change the equal employment policy (Gelb 7, 31). Ueno Chizuko, a prominent Japanese feminist, prefers to think of this fragmentation as diversification, a new development in which "feminists [are] divided into different camps or factions" (Gelb 21, 150). The present feminist movement in Japan or "second wave" of feminism began in the early 70s in response to symbolic equal rights legislation that failed to have any real life value (Gelb 28, 29).

[6] Gelb has noted that Japanese feminists operate within an external frame, often looking to the international crowds or standards of gender equity, unlike in America where our government refuses to be shamed into changing (Gelb 4). According to Gelb, Japanese feminists are "in a position of greater weakness politically" and have utilized the tactic of shaming their government into passing international legislation such as with the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (2-5).

[7] However, simple comparisons across cultures reveal deep differences in women's self-perceptions. At the time of the publication of Iwao's book The Japanese Woman in the 1980s, up to 40% of full-time housewives thought of themselves as economically independent and equal to their employed husbands, a big contrast to American sentiment that tended to believe full-time housewives were financially dependent on their husbands (3, 5). In contrast, Iwao shows that in the late 80s and early 90s, around the time when both Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Ghost in the Shell were released, many Japanese housewives viewed their status through their husbands by using social position, economic resources, and freedom to determine disposal of time and money at their own discretion (Iwao13-14). Japanese women seem to have a large amount of control over their husbands and households, especially given that men are typically absent from the home for long amounts of time (Lebra 134; Iwao 13-14, Allison 24). However, other critics such as Anne Allison contend that Iwao's work overlooks issues that "constrain a woman's full entry into the labor market, keep men from assuming domestic responsibilities at home," and the conditions that "require that more women seek employment to defray children's educational costs," but keep these women restricted to low paying part-time jobs that can accommodate the home" (xx). A Japanese woman's expression of feminism may be restricted so that family relations and societal influence are not agitated (Iwao15). Some of these influences have to do with societal opinions on how to raise children and be the best mother. Japanese society's need for harmony together with the influence of pop culture create a hesitancy to accept a more mature or diverse view of the female population.

The Complexities of kawaii: Where did it come from? What does it mean?

[8] One of the most popular animation styles in Japan is called kawaii. While doubling as a concept embodying purity, cuteness, and a certain childishness, it has a deep impact on how women have been viewed in Japanese society throughout the late 80's, 90's and into the new millennia (Shiokawa 93, 95; Hasegawa 127). kawaii conveys principles about how Japanese women should look and behave (Shiokawa 94). Artistically, kawaii is recognizable by a character's round, dewy eyes, a soft, curved body shape, and simple features (Shiokawa 97). Popular recognition of this style demonstrates how ingrained this concept is in Japanese culture and how pleasing it is to the anime industry and audiences. The implicit message of the word kawaii expresses ideologies first associated with the Confucian practices of the Muromachi age of Japan (Iwao 5). The Confucian Three Obediences are highly influential on women's roles. They entail: obedience to fathers when young, obedience to husbands once married and obedience to their children when in old age (Iwao 5). The Three Obediences combined with the reaction to the loss of confidence felt by Japanese men after the country's defeat in WWII contributed to "infanticization of post-war culture" and resulted in "the establishment of immature and distorted gender relations" (Hasegawa 128). This enabled women of the modern age to be seen as either something to protect (not fully adult) or something to seek affection and protection from, a mother-figure (Hasegawa 128; Iwao 18). This belief or assumption about the function and competency of women harkens back to the days when married women were classed in the same category as minors and "other legal incompetents" (Mackie 23). The directors of Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Ghost in the Shell, though, make a good effort to portray their female characters in a way that doesn't relegate them to roles where they are seen purely as needing protection or purely as mother-figures.

[9] The relationship between cuteness and pitifulness as expressed in kawaii illustrates the Japanese cultural perception that there is an "undercurrent of charm being exerted by their very helplessness" (Shiokawa 95). Other definitions assume that kawaii women are useful, pleasantly positive, and nondescript (Shiokawa 95). In fact, Shiokawa notes that men often utter "kawaii ne" which translates into "I think you are very cute" as opposed to "I love you" (Shiokawa 120). In contrast, women often utter the same expression to put men in their place (Shiokawa 120). In effect, there is a relationship developing between people based upon helplessness. In this case, men show that they appreciate their girlfriends' "helplessness" and compliant positive attitude, expecting their women to fade into the background. Conversely, women can shame their boyfriends by calling them "helpless" (Shiokawa 120). Men are let off easily by being "put in their place" in this manner, but women have been paying the price for their so called helplessness, experiencing gendered labor practices that put women in the workplace at a disadvantage financially and emotionally (Mackie 9, Iwao 205). It wasn't until the 1980s that issues of equal opportunity, "protective legislation," and ideologies that prevented women from working effectively in the public sphere were "fully analysed and transcended" (Mackie 11-12, 125). Mackie's word "transcended" seems overly optimistic, because, as Gelb notes, there is a "reality gap" between women's promised and actual gains in the workforce and politics (39).

[10] Additionally, kawaii shapes ideologies about the way a woman's body should appear both in reality and in animation. Art imitates real life as female characters across consumer culture, including the sex industry, are characterized as kawaii (Hasegawa 128). They represent the ideal "real-world" woman: non-threatening. Aesthetically, kawaii shows a preference for animated characters that have round, flat, simple features, big eyes, and qualities of smoothness and roundness which are preferred to shades and angles (Shiokawa 97). Non-threatening describes the look of almost every character in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Even the antagonist, Muska, is stylistically kawaii; what makes him threatening is his characterization, which is reinforced by his actions and dialogue. Once viewers are past the initial shock of Dola's brashness, she even appears kawaii because she embodies elements of a non-threatening grandmother. Her meekness is illustrated by the subtle affection she extends to Pazu and Sheeta.


[11] Laputa: Castle in the Sky, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released in 1986, is a representative example of the visual language of kawaii. As often with Miyazaki films, Laputa contains environmental themes, stressing the need to sacrifice technology for the good of Mother Nature. However, character interaction, dialogue, and artistic style give insights to Japanese cultural tensions. Laputa: Castle in the Sky is the tale of Sheeta, a girl who is genetically linked to a magic necklace that points the way to Laputa, the floating castle. She and her new-found friend Pazu, are pursued by Dola and her pirate family and the villainous Muska, who seeks to use Sheeta in his quest for power over the long forgotten Laputian technology.

[12] Despite the fact that some elements of Laputa: Castle in the Sky make use of kawaii in an untraditional manner, certain aspects of the film still play into the classical meaning of the concept, creating contradicting messages within the medium. Indeed, the film often seems to be flipping back and forth between Japanese and western representations of woman. As Napier notes, Typical Miyazaki heroines express a western quality in their personalities. However, Sheeta must still undergo trials and tribulations that make her familiar to the culture she was created by (Napier 473-474). Viewers are able to contrast the equalities and inequalities in the heroine's life indirectly by following the story. But then again, in Japanese culture, equality is relative to the woman's personal beliefs and is more about the long-term harmonious solutions than dichotomous case by case examples of equality of the sexes (Iwao12-13, 15). An easy-to-read situation, at least from a Western perspective, is a scene where Sheeta is bribed by the army with gorgeous dresses in return for cooperation. This implies the seemingly universal belief that all women appreciate femininity the same way and will easily be swayed by the promise of new clothes and other material goods.

[13] The many images of housework in Laputa can be used as a focusing point to explore the differences between Japanese and Western notions of domestic work. Consider the following scene: Sheeta is put to work on a pirate ship, cleaning and cooking in the ship's tiny, but overwhelmingly dirty kitchen. Happily, like the complacent girl exemplified by kawaii, Sheeta accepts the tasks put before her, keeping the harmony of the people on the ship intact. There is no accountability for the men of the ship, a typical deemphasis of men's social roles inside the domestic sphere (Allison 24). In truth, homemaking is a common role of Japanese women, but here is where cultural differences become clearer (Buckley 179). From a Western point of view, Sheeta's situation is unfair, but Japanese perspective contrasts. Obviously many women, Japanese and American women, feel personally unfulfilled when restrained to the home, but the traditional Japanese view of housework is not one of drudgery (Iwao 83). In Japanese homes, housework is considered a good way to relieve stress, especially stress accumulated from the work place, whereas in America housework was "drastically devalued when women began to consider it a waste of time" (Iwao 83). This illustrates that while American and Japanese homemakers have things in common, matters of perspective, attitude, and priority can set each culture at different ends of the spectrum.

[14] In Laputa, kawaii seems to also imply the use of the female body as a tool; a body which must follow the orders of its superiors or face being devalued. As the only one who can use the necklace to find Laputa, Sheeta's gender allows her to be taken advantage of in the same manner that pedigree bitches are used for breeding purposes. This is the female body as a helpless tool, expressed though kawaii. Sheeta's position could also however, be read as suggestive of the power of motherhood and its strong influence in the home, and of the power a wife has over her husband in a more modern context. By the early 90s men's power within the home had eroded to that of wage earner as mothers gained more power within their sphere of domesticity (Iwao128). Sheeta has all the power as the potential spiritual mother of Laputa, destined to reawaken ancient technology. Muska is powerless, all he can do is threaten and bribe her.

[15] Another problematic relationship Sheeta has is with power and leadership, as shown in her interactions with the robots that protect her in Laputa. The problems associated with being a leader of gender ambiguous robots is symbolic of the problems Japanese women have had when women were looking for opportunities to be taken seriously outside the home. When Laputa came out in the late 80s, Japanese women had not occupied positions of "significance" in policy making and business (Iwao 7). In the past these women's voices "have been pretty much ignored by men in formal arenas" (Iwao 7, Mackie 125). Despite this, female representation had increased in Japan in 1989 (Gelb 14). It was a year characterized by the term "Madonna Boom" a reference to the virtuous and "pure" characterization of women who began to ascend the political ladder in an effort to clean up "dirty" politics and is somewhat analogues to "The Year of the Woman" in America in 1992 (Gelb 14, Shiokawa 109). Additionally, the Japanese political system has begun to give more space and opportunity to women's advocacy groups and female representation in the government; former Prime Minister Koizumi, for example had four female cabinet members out of 17 in 2003 (Gelb 20). The robots treat Sheeta like their matriarch, protecting her as their leader so long as she remains in control of the necklace. The robots follow out of instinct, but they don't listen to her. Commanding robots may also be unconsciously telling of the notion that women are only suited to rule over something lesser then men. This an odd juxtaposition given that so much acknowledgment is given to the fact that women have all the power in the home and that many men admit their dependence on women for a stable home and financial life (Iwao 3, Lebra 134). Looking in from the outside, this seems like a frustrating position, however, Iwao has a different opinion:

There is an advantage in this state of "inequality." It has exempted women from having to hit into the frameworks set down by the public or private organizations of society and has allowed them the margin of freedom to explore their individuality in ways not permitted to men. (7)

The above is a positive way to view the situation and begins to address the concern that women find full-time working in Japan as "grueling, inhumane and distasteful," a sentiment expressed in the 80s and in recent times (Allison xix). This leads one to believe that women have not had much success exploring possibilities and making differences in the work places. One problem in making a positive difference could be that many women, still restricted to part-time jobs, do not have the legitimacy that full time working citizens have to "approach the state" with demands (Mackie 5). Japanese women have made gains in addressing sexual harassment, or sekuhara, a word first greeted with derision by the Japanese media in the late 80s (Gelb 30). Sexual harassment is now discussed and addressed through litigation, but Mackie asserts that the lack of women in decision making positions in large corporations makes it unlikely that conventions will change (Iwao 196, Mackie 196 Gelb 30). In Laputa, Sheeta doesn't crave the power to rule over robots or men either way, she's also too young to really feel the pressures of balancing home and career life. What she does seem is scared and frustrated at chaos she cannot control, perhaps as some of the first women of the post-war generation may have felt stepping into what was considered men's territory.

[16] Dola, the other main female character of Laputa treats the world around her as personal territory without fear or hesitancy. Leading her family, a band of pirates, she is a take charge woman who shows her Japanese audience that women are more than capable of casting away the kawaii syndrome plaguing them. Dola is othered because she is able to balance her career and her family, despite the fantasy aspect of this scenario. One problem, however, is that Dola's dialogue does not always support the claim that she is free of the ideology supported by kawaii. She resembles many of the post-war generation women in Japan who began to reject old values of the past (Iwao 20-24). Implying a state of reverse kawaii (infantilizing the male) Dola barks, "You call yourself a man!" stripping Pazu's manhood away for leaving Sheeta in army captivity. Her dialogue also reinforces the usual dynamic of "boy saves girl." Later in the denouement, when Sheeta's braids are shot off by the antagonist, Dola remarks, "the worst part is having your hair hacked off." This dialogue provides comic relief but seems frivolous considering that Sheeta's life was in danger the moment they were shot off. Furthermore, Dola doesn't exhibit fits of vanity. On the other hand, that's not to say that appearance and femininity are not important to a woman who considers herself liberated or feminist.

[17] In fact, clashing viewpoints of the definition of 'feminism' and 'liberated' lead to tragic consequences in real life. Many Japanese husbands tend to emphasize the desirability of femininity for wives, even if they work outside of the home (Lebra 137). Based on Lebra's research, it seems that there are at least a few subjects who do not approve of "women's libbers" mainly because they are unfeminine (137). Lebra also cites at least two female subjects who agreed that their marital friction and domestic abuse were caused by their lack of femininity (137-138). It seems that sentiments like these from as far back as the 70s led feminists to try and reclaim the word in a more positive manner (Mackie 160-161). The Japanese media tries to reframe the concept of feminism or women's gains into something more feminine and pure sounding; such as the labeling of the "Madonna Boom" of the 80s (Shiokawa 109). Unfortunately, viewers can only read superficially into Dola's thought process, so there is little to add on the issue of spousal relations in the context of Laputa.

[18] Despite the lack of spousal interaction (which in and of itself is characteristic of Japanese families, where the husband is usually absent from the home), there is no lack of mother and child interaction (Allison 24). Dola's relationship with her sons comes into question as the film progresses. Intentionally or not, the concept of kawaii affects how this dynamic works. There may be a symbiotic effect going on in which ideal girl/mother behavior is passed into popular culture via kawaii and then thrown back to audiences and influencing societal behavior. The traditional role of women "equate[s] femininity with maternity" and maternity with every other facet of life (Mackie 8). For example, Japan is the only "industrialized country where education has a negative effect on women's employment" (Allison xviii). The more educated a woman is, the more desirable she is for marriage because it will make her a good "education mother," that is better at overseeing her child's education (Allison xviii). However, it also means a shorter time in the workforce (Allison xviii).

[19] In Japanese culture, a girl's body is transitioned into subscription as a "motherbody," marked almost solely for a life as a wife and mother by the fabric of her society (Buckley 179). This transition to a "motherbody" implies complacency or willingness to go along with mainstream society that kawaii implies. Sons, on the other hand, do not suffer the same sort of scrutiny during puberty; men transition into adult sexuality when they begin college and are encouraged to have a "healthy," sexual, interest in girls (Buckley 179-180). Therefore, men transfer their "desire and dependence" from one motherbody to another: from those of their own mothers, to those of their future wives (Buckley 180). Women, however, do not have the option of being cared for; they are always the caregivers. The situation of Dola's sons is very similar to the one described above as they express dependence on their mother for their livelihood and for their everyday comforts. Again, this is especially verified when Sheeta comes aboard and takes up the role of homemaker. They look to her as another female who could fulfill their needs and provide protection. Iwao may ask that these sons be pitied in real life for their dependent natures (7). One the other hand, it seems as if the sensitivity cultivated by Japanese women enables men to take advantage of being the dependents in the relationship ( Iwao 7). At the very least, men who are indoctrinated into a traditional way of thinking seem to want the motherly qualities of their wives over anything else. Dola's sons are a good example of this kind of person; their dialogue reveals their need for motherly qualities in their wives.

[20] Dola's sons have not made the transition from one motherbody to another; they are not married. They are also limited to Dola for their example of feminine behavior and interaction with the opposite sex. In essence they are good examples of men who fit the Ajase Theory and other behavioral norms for Japanese men. The Ajase Theory, developed by Kosawa Heisaku, is about the bond a son forms with his mother (Allison 3). In a household where the father is almost always absent, the son must remain bonded to his mother while recognizing her as an individual, rather than an "omnipotent ideal"(Allison 3). Unlike Freud's Oedipus Theory, where the son would "individuate from the mother and form an identity...apart from the family," the Ajase Theory posits a son who must overcome feelings of resentment in order to stay close to his mother (Allison 3, 25). Kosawa used this theory to explain the dominant social values concerning individuality and family structure in Japan (Allison 3-5). Dola's sons, who are incidentally lumped into one group which we must identify by mentioning their mother, seem to exemplify the model of the Ajase Theory: sons who are grown yet remain heavily tied to their mother. In a sense their mother is a part of their identity; she ties them all together producing a harmonious household. Dola in turn, appears to be fulfilling her role by providing them with care in a physical sense and in a social and psychological one (Allison 24).

[21] Concerning Buckley's "motherbody": in one scene, Dola tells her sons, "You boys want to marry, look for a girl like her," referring to Sheeta. In response, her sons say, "So...that girl will grow up to be mama?" Even though the remarks from Dola's sons are slightly humorous, they show that they are so well indoctrinated with typical views of the opposite gender that they almost completely assume Sheeta will be exactly like their mother. They seek a mother in their own wives and are typical in that they show a striking "lack of awareness and genuine understanding or appreciation of the changes that are occurring in women" (Iwao 17). Even so, Dola may be suggesting they look for someone that is more than the typical housewife: someone who can cook, clean, and stand up to evil villains. As tongue-in-cheek as that sounds, perhaps through Dola, Miyazaki is softy urging men to desire more than passive or submissive qualities in their future wives; to understand and support a wife who needs to feel fulfilled outside of the home.

How kawaii is Being Used Ironically to Break Down Stereotypes

[22] If Japanese audiences are comfortable with a certain animation style, then they may not be too critical when concepts like kawaii are used to break down stereotypes instead of reinforcing them. Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a good example of the changes in female depiction during the 80s (Shiokawa 112). The main heroine of Laputa, Sheeta is more self-sufficient and more aggressive than earlier manga and anime heroines, all of whom are characterizations of fictional female characters created in this period. Moreover, Sheeta seems to be a moderate version of an acceptable feministic woman, not too radical and still willing to take care of domestic aspects of life. Though she looks traditionally meek, Sheeta does not exemplify the concept of docility and "demure virtues" ascribed to women by the dominant, traditional Japanese cultural rhetoric. Sheeta is daring to defy her enemies to protect the castle in the sky. Mentioned earlier, Napier contends that Miyazaki's female characters have a "take charge" attitude because they "exemplify more western-type models of courage and heroism," even while they retain the aesthetics of kawaii (Napier 473-474). Napier's ideas on this subject may infer that Miyazaki had to look to foreign models of courage and heroism in order to construct strong Japanese female characters for his audience. Indeed the repeated usage of the label "Joan of Arc" to describe feminists since the 1880s suggests a lack of an "established model for politically active women in Japan" (Mackie 125). This also seems to suggest further lack of strong, active women in other areas of culture as well. Although it is important to acknowledge that Western and Eastern cultures have different ideas about what virtues make women strong, Napier's assertion may be true, given that the characters Sheeta and Dola do not embody "virtues" of helplessness traditionally ascribed to women by Japanese culture.

[23] The only relationship in which Sheeta is empowered or treated as an equal is the one with Pazu, her male companion, who actually bucks the norms assigned to Japanese men by being an orphan who has no familial obligations and who is not on track for a career which would leave him with little free time. The two characters fight alongside each other during their initial attempts to rid themselves of the army and pirates; they have a common goal that creates harmony between them. At one point, the pair jumps onto a moving train to escape their pursuers. Sheeta doesn't fret and cry because she is outside of the domestic sphere; she stokes the engine fire. This scene is an example of the complicated gender roles Sheeta and Pazu develop. Again this is evidence of Sheeta's moderate feministic qualities. Like Dola, Sheeta may look like a representative of the concept kawaii, but her character should be examined like a many-layered onion. The audience sees that she is strong both physically and mentally, and that those traits sit next to her more demure qualities.

[24] Even the role reversal displayed between Sheeta and Pazu is prominent, questioning the notion of gender roles that men and women take. For example, Sheeta tries to protect Pazu after their initial capture by the army, denying that she needs help. In this instance, both characters are "damsels in distress" since they are both under the threat of the army. Instead of taking on a traditional role as a damsel, Sheeta takes on the male role of protector. Pazu is "Sheeta's man" and not the other way around. Usually women are objectified in romantic heterosexual relationships but in this instance the man is the one being objectified. In the long run, however, the narrative indicates that equality should be the prime goal between the sexes; a humane way of life is promoted for the good of everyone. When it is time to destroy the technology of Laputa, the main characters do it hand in hand, sealing the equality of their roles. It is as though Miyazaki is showing us all a dream for the future. A dream in which male and female will work side by side harmoniously in their endeavors.

[25] As discussed earlier, the other notable woman of Laputa is Dola. Dola is the most othered out of all the female characters in this film because she is able to balance her career and her family; she doesn't express the frustration that many Japanese women feel when balancing work and home. Her leadership in or outside the domestic sphere is not questioned by other motifs or symbols in the film like Sheeta's ; if anything the woman as leader role is enforced here. She lives in a positive environment that promotes female power. Because of her feminist attitudes though, Dola is unsurprisingly perceived as scary or foreign by Sheeta. The older woman snaps at the younger girl, "I don't bite!" This dialogue is indirectly communicating that feminists are just like everyone else, nothing to be feared.

[26] Adding to the positive environment around Dola is the rhetorical value of the color of her clothing. A common cultural idea is that pink is the preferred color of women; this idea is rejected in this case. Dola's jumpers and dresses are all blue. In this case, blue's tradition association with masculinity is used to emphasize Dola's strength as a leader and as a woman. Her uniform sets her apart from others because it shows that she has a fully developed identity, whereas if she wore pink, a color associated with the young and cute, her uniform would be a symbol of an incomplete and immature identity (Hasegawa 127). Her sons, who in contrast, do her bidding on the ship, wear uniforms of brown and pink, which indicate, if we believe Hasegawa, that their identities are incompletely developed (127). The latter color shows a role reversal of the Three Obediences; they do the bidding of their mother, not the other way around. They are content working under her motherly direction.

[27] The Japanese word for mother is "okasan" which literally means "the person at the back of the house" (Buckley 177). However, it is safe to assume that Dola, as her sons' captain, is far from being "the woman at the back of the house." Really, Dola is defying the common stereotype of Japanese women because her success is not being measured in terms of the motherly and wifely capabilities by which many contemporary Japanese women are judged (Buckley 178-179). The common Japanese phrase "women are weak but mothers are strong" is one-sided, and proved wrong by Dola (Mackie 24). Her characterization and actions show that she is not only a strong mother but a smart and strong woman in her own regard too. Through Dola, women are shown that they can be mothers without having to live up to the saintly qualities that Japanese cultural rhetoric burdens them with. Dola is an example in anime of a woman fulfilled by more than childrearing, and despite the fact that she is in the dubious occupation of pirating, it is a positive thing.

[28] Additionally, she has a large family; her sons also double as "employees" and help carry out her work. Dola, in a fantastical manner, bridges the gap between home and work. There are examples of women successfully bridging this gap in real life. Most notably Japanese women have organized politically on the local level, earning the label "housewife feminism" (Gelb 28). These women organize as housewives to fight for consumer and environmental rights against nuclear power and for peace (Gelb 28). Notable groups like Agora became associated with this brand of feminism (Mackie 151). Mackie notes that although these women may not "initially" call themselves feminist, "their experiences may lead them to a critique of gender relations in their society" (Mackie 151). Unlike Dola, however, who is all boss in the field, these women cannot or perhaps do not want to shed their housewife image while working for their causes. It's hard to tell whether being housewives would devalue their activist work outside the home or whether it would give them leverage since the term "housewife" would aid them in having a pure image (Allison xx).

Confusing kirei: Ghost in the Shell

[29] Through its interpretation of kawaii, Laputa: Castle in the Sky reflects cultural norms while suggesting ways that they should change for the benefit of women. Ghost in the Shell (GITS) even more so than its Miyazaki counterpart, focuses on identity and how it relates to everyone, especially women, in a technology-enriched world. It posits something unknown, a female/machine relationship, and puts it within the known science fictional environment of cyberspace criminality. Notably, both the crime element and the character's search for identity in Ghost in the Shell are such familiar plot devices that the film's treatment of gender and sexuality become a hidden issue. Despite its absence from overt discussion in the film, sexuality, nevertheless, is still a very obvious aspect of Kusanagi's identity.

[30] Unlike the artistic style of kawaii as represented by Sheeta of Laputa, the female heroine of Ghost in the Shell, Motoko Kusanagi, can be labeled as kirei, which means "pretty," but is nevertheless a term that is associated with characters that are more sexual, powerful, and sometimes evil. Women characterized by kirei have sexualized or more mature looking bodies, provocative outfits, voluptuous breasts, facial expressions that lack the innocence of kawaii and they posses a self-assured body language unlike that of typical kawaii heroines. This style reflects a seemingly conscious decision to give the cyborg heroine a sexual appearance, which would render her as more mature and adult than if she were drawn in the style of kawaii.

[31] Kirei is significant as a stylistic movement because it reveals historic complex tension in Japanese culture between the public sphere, sexuality and appropriate (or inappropriate) appearance. Since the Meiji era, women who ventured into the public space or who allowed their image to be printed in publications, "ran the danger of being treated as 'public' women and stigmatized in the same way as women from the brothels would be" (Mackie 274). Although less extreme, this distaste for 'public women' still exists in post war Japan. This distaste affects women in the political field, and women who are perceived as unclean for working in the sex industry (Allison 45-46). Women who earn their living working in "soapland," "pinku sarons," or in "mizu shoubai," all different varieties of places where men are allowed to practice recreational sexuality, are all othered by and considered "social peripherals" by men and possibly women who see themselves as above the women who work in this industry (Allison 46). These are the type of women that "no self-respecting man would marry, they are females who are "dirtied" by the sexual use they endure" (Allison 46). Kusanagi is an example of the concept of kirei and although not dirtied specifically by her actions in the film, her realistic body image coupled with her cyborg augmentations is enough to "dirty" or "other" her enough to make her undesirable outside of her work environment.

[32] In fact, it is this sexual otherness that attracts men to these so-called dirty women, especially since men are encouraged by the state, perhaps for economic purposes, to enjoy sexual recreation outside the home (Allison 46-47, 151). Even in a state that encourages this kind of sexual behavior, there has been a long time legal and symbolic division between acceptable and unacceptable sexual deviance (Allison 150-153). Despite the fact that men can seek fantastical sex outside the home, what was prohibited almost arbitrarily in media was the showing of the pubic region of a women. The showing of the pubic region was too "realistic" and considered obscene because of the area's association with reproduction, a sacred thing (Allison 151, 155-156). This leads to the interesting conclusion that the sex industry and sexual forms of media (such as manga) promote certain sex acts and favor women who look prepubescent because they offer no chance of reproduction (Allison 151, 172). Only fairly recently within the early 90s have officials begun to relax the ban on viewings of the pubic area in media, although it seems that the reasoning behind this is pretty arbitrary (Allison 149). Still feminist groups are not content. The widespread availability of pornography, coupled with the fact that most men partake of it as they commute, have led to attacks and protests of "Rush Hour as Porno Hour" (Gelb 30).

[33] Aside from the women of the sex industry, women in the political field and academic fields have also been othered by traditional Japanese values, although not to the extent of sex workers. Women in the public eye are likely to be viewed as women who perhaps aren't doing their wifely or motherly duty. Women who struggle to get Ph.D.s and graduate from prestigious schools like Tokyo University have been historically discouraged by doctoral supervisors and spouses (Lebra 228-241). Instead emphasis is placed by others on these women entering the domestic sphere and staying there (Lebra 228-241). Additionally, many of their male counterparts in the political arena find women only suitable for jobs that bring out their housekeeping instincts (Lebra 241). Despite the fact that many women participate in part-time work and hold valuable positions in the medical, legal and teaching fields, starting a full-time career is hard for women because their peers and superiors create a shame based environment for those not adhering to traditional wifely or motherly duties (Lebra 228-241, Iwao 153,189).

[34] Visual appearance and dress styles have been key in the tension between domestic and public roles for Japanese women. Women from the pre-war generation must have carried a very conscious awareness of their own sexuality in order to avoid receiving this stigma when out in public. In the 1930s during Japan's war with Manchuria, women who were mobilized to work outside the home were given aprons as uniforms (Mackie 103-104). The aprons served as a way to mask class distinctions and provided a way for women to metaphorically take their kitchen with them, purifying the image of women who were out in the public (Mackie 103-104). In GITS, it seems there is no need for Kusanagi to bridge class distinctions or purify her image, mainly due to the fact that she works in the military, a relatively insular world in this film. In a sense, her uniform, while being more mature and thus, kirei, also emphasizes a more masculine side which, while sacrificing some of Kusanagi's femininity, is decidedly more mature than the style of kawaii.

kirei Enforcing Sexuality as an Object

[35] Kirei confounds the vision of a woman as a public (but domestic) figure. In the place of apron and uniform, kirei's visual style embraces the sexual, hybrid, technologically-mediated body. It is easy to label Motoko Kusanagi as kirei because of Japan's enthusiastic reaction to new technology. Springer, as quoted by Cranny-Francis says, "Popular culture often represents a collapse of the boundary between human and technological as a sex act" (Cranny-Francis 147). This idea is subtly represented by Kusanagi because she blurs the boundaries between human and machine. She can perform tasks with machine-like precision and look sexy while doing it. Sex and power come together, making her the embodiment of kirei. Kusanagi, in her othered state as a non-mother, representing the qualities of kirei, fulfills mens' craving for non-everyday sex fostered by the state (Allison 151, 158).

[36] In Kusanagi's opening birth scene, her body is assembled and controlled by a machine that carries her through various liquids and floats her through vacuums that suck away layers to reveal human looking skin (Kakoudaki183-184). The newly assembled Kusanagi is nude; the camera zooms in on her breasts and genitals (Kakoudaki183-184). We do not get to see when her "ghost" or the essence that makes her almost human is introduced into her body, despite the fact that her "ghost" is her most important part. Additionally, we do not see any of the flat round characteristics of kawaii. Overt sexuality and realism help convey the style or concept of kirei: a mature woman. Kusanagi is experiencing her "birth" as a cyborg, yet viewers are experiencing something more sexual due to the imagery created by the animators. The images eroticize Kusanagi's birth, changing it from something innocent that illustrates the miracle of birth, to something sexual and fetishized. To some, Kusanagi's birth may not be so much a birth as the assembling of a sex toy or tool for work, a symbolic image of women that refuses to go away thanks to the craving for non-everyday sex fostered in men (Allison 16). The media and state, with their arbitrary censorship laws, promote images of women in bondage or in other fantasy scenarios but decry frank, realistic depictions of women (Allison 160). Magazines have been censored for showing labias too clearly, yet no one is censored when women are shown as victims of the male gaze and other more violent acts such as bondage and enemas (Allison 160). There are critics who find this tabooing of real sexuality and illustrations of the real female body "lamentable" because they take away or cast a dirty shadow over the pleasure of sex (Allison 155). GITS follows this trend in female depiction in Japan; in Kusanagi they have succeeded in creating a whore-image rather than a mother-image, because her birth is more like the assembly of equipment than the birth of a new life. Despite Kusanagi's exotic birth, however, she is still more realistic than the pre-pubescent girls characteristic of kawaii.

[37] The key to audiences' acceptance of Kusanagi as a fetishized symbol is her skin. Author Kadoudaki agrees that skin is the main reason why "we can have partially realized fantasies about sexually active cyborgs" (170). The images showing Kusanagi's birth try to switch the Japanese audience from thinking about women as mother bodies to thinking about them as sexual objects. This might be promising because it shows that women can fulfill more than one role, but it still limits them to a role based on a male view of women's gender and sexual development. The latter may be especially true in the case of Kusanagi because she is a machine and in this context could be seen more like a glorified sex doll, by some, than an enhanced woman with a soul or "ghost," to use the film's terminology. It is as though being denied the opportunity to give birth and be a mother, Kusanagi is denied her humanity by others. To society, Kusanagi will never fulfill her role as a woman. It's too easy for her to be condemned to the only other option: functioning as a product of a commodified sexuality that is apparent in Japanese pop culture (Mackie144).

[38] The Puppet Master, the antagonist of the film, is an illustration of consequences in store for women who fail to mold to traditional roles. The Puppet Master is powerful in cyberspace, yet helpless in the physical world. He/she looks like a passive and damaged doll but has the voice of a man. The damage is like a warning: the powerful and alluring can be or even must be destroyed (kirei as immoral). The only way Kusanagi is able to avoid the same destruction of her body and maintain her status as kirei, is by following all of the rules set down for her existence by her government. To them she is a tool who doesn't own her own body; the government will reposes her "shell" or body if she quits her job.

[39] Kusanagi, at least on the surface, maintains the image that she is comfortable in the physical world, which sets up the viewer and the characters for the mind/body split that takes place at the end of the film. There, Kusanagi becomes "the body" since she is more comfortable in a real world environment, and the Puppet Master becomes "the mind" since he is more assured of his identity in the idealized cyberspace. This mind/body division may allude to cultural tension surrounding reproduction and the place of women in society. This division implies that women are only needed for their bodies, that their bodies are more important than their intellectual ability. The mind/body split could be symbolic of the transition into motherhood felt by women, movement into a realm where their pregnancy and the child it will produce become the most important aspects of themselves. This indicates that kawaii women (passive and non-threatening) fit in better with traditional society than the kirei woman who encapsulates sexuality and power.

[40] As men and women have struggled for power throughout the ages, Kusanagi too, finds herself struggling with her masculine and feminine sides. When Kusanagi tries to break into an armored vehicle, her muscles bulge, her skin rips, she becomes hard, and in Schaub's opinion, more phallic (96). The physical representation of this power confuses the line between female and male. Her ripping skin symbolizes the opposite of kawaii and is devoid of any sexuality or sensuality. She cannot be a soft, feminine woman while exerting power. Kusanagi's bulging muscles are a symbol of crossing over into masculine territory, which can be paralleled with the sentiments of men who disapprove of women "interfering" in the political sector (Iwao 214). Allison writes that "women who strip are in a dirty place" unlike those who "show their breast in 'respectable' venues" smiling girlishly "as if they are not exposed at all" (Allison 20). She also writes that women who wind up with their clothes off in movies, TV and manga are "usually the victims of attack, violence, duplicity or rape" (Allison 20). However, Kusanagi's disrobing in GITS is a good example of when being nude has nothing to do with victimization or being in a dirty place. Her nudity has to do with her carrying out her job. Aside from being more phallic, it's actually rather clinical. Kusanagi's nudity is like a secondary side effect of being a machine. However, unlike female nudity in most pornographic anime or manga where male viewing of women is qualified, sneaky, or illicit, Kusanagi's nudity resists being viewed in any of these ways (Allison 20). There is nothing sensuous about Kusanagi's body and that allows us to gaze for a long period of time at her body, because we are watching a cyborg, a machine in action and there is no embarrassment to be perceived by the viewer or by Kusanagi. The narrative of GITS, seems to be reinforcing the idea that women can only be one thing at a time: you can't be sexy and powerful; you can't be part machine and have an identity. Or maybe the director is saying is that there needs to be a balance between strength, sexuality and femininity. In spite of all of this, in traditional society, Kusanagi's cyborg duality (human yet machine) would give her no excuse to shrug off traditional gender roles, despite her entirely untraditional upbringing and capabilities.

Complicating kirei: Aren't Machines Asexual?

[41] From the opening birth scene, it is clear that Kusanagi has a complicated sexuality despite the fact that she is a cyborg and therefore sterile. Applying the concept of kirei to the character Kusanagi is doubly complicated because of her supposed asexuality. Whether or not her "ghost" gives her the ability to feel sexual or express sexuality remains to be seen. While Kusanagi has a clear sense of justice and self-determination, she lacks of sexual self-awareness. She seems to think nothing of moments when she is naked between shedding her clothes and turning on her "thermoptic" camouflage that makes her invisible. She thinks nothing of appearing naked in front of her male co-worker.

[42] Kusanagi's lack of sexual awareness is also an indication of further fetishization of the female body. This makes Kusanagi, in the memorable words of Tanaka Mitsu, "a toilet," "a vessel for the management of lust" (Mackie 144). In Tanaka Mitsu's mind "men are unable to see a women as an integrated whole who has both the emotional quality of gentleness and the sexuality which is the physical expression of this gentleness" (Mackie 144). Based on the dichotomy mentioned earlier, where women's identities are tied to either motherhood or non-motherhood status (possibly that of whore), these words first expressed by Tanaka in 1970 are still accurate, despite their subjectiveness. Indifference to nudity may say something about expected behavior for a woman who is being viewed and the way male audiences have been conditioned to react to female nudity. Often gazing at female bodies is considered diversionary and recreational (Allison 47). Gazing is supported by "institutional conditions" of education, the family, and the "condition for a gender division of labor" (Allison 47). Briefly, these institutions, which are highly gendered, "organize[] sexual energies and desires to fit in with and not disrupt the gendered expectations" of workers (Allison 47). Men are always the viewers or in Allison's words the "players" and women are always being looked at or "played with" (Allison 47). While Kusanagi is the subject being viewed in this circumstance, it is important to note that the result of viewing is hardly sexual pleasure in contrast to what the western male gaze theory implies (Allison 31, 48)."Males are thus titillated but satisfaction is deferred" (Allison 48). Kusanagi is the ultimate male fantasy due to her lack of sexual awareness; it's the whisper of the emergence of a new identity, a merging of kawaii and kirei.


[43] Over the decades women have been navigating their own identities as active participants in their own culture. The earliest Japanese feminists sought the creation "of a new identity, a new political subjectivity which would position women as creators of political change," while women of the 1900s declared themselves "new women" (Mackie 10, 36, 49). Embracing individualism and a more active sexuality, they became known as "women in professions," inspired by George Bernard Shaw's play The Professionals (Mackie 10, 36, 49). Now, in the modern age, as Japanese pop culture reaches newer horizons in creating more warped, alternate versions of female identity, certain members of the Japanese population strive to create a newer hybrid. In 1999 the first legal sex change operations were performed in Japan (Mackie 232). For the several hundred on the list for these operations, "tensions between psychic identity and social expectations" and "cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity...were too much to bear" (Mackie 232). In film or reality, we are all trying to find a balance in the world we live in. In the words of Mackie, all of us, particularly Japanese women in this case, wish for "a citizenship based on recognition...of the embodied experiences of women and men" (Mackie 235).

[44] Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Ghost in the Shell respectively give us two representative examples of kawaii and kirei. These two concepts stem from cultural anxiety regarding the identity of the modern Japanese woman and are called into question by the filmmakers. But the hybridity of the human female and machine in Ghost in the Shell offers a third option, creating yet another identity for examination on screen and in our own lives. Near the end of the film, it appears that the Puppet Master and Kusanagi have merged to create one being. Significantly, the new physical body of this being is comprised of Kusanagi's cyborg face and the body of a small child wearing a school uniform (Kakoudaki 185). The replacement body is representative of the subversion of the cyborg power which Kusanagi, as an adult and individual, once held. She now has to "grow up" all over again, and learn to adapt to her new identity. This new childlike body clearly enforces the ideas of helplessness, aesthetic cuteness, and overall immaturity of kawaii. Yet, there is something in the child that is the remains of Kusanagi, something that continues to represent the power, sexuality, and perhaps immorality of kirei. Adding to this symbolism is Kusanagi's military style school girl uniform, the symbol of "political tensions and complications of modernity in Japan" (Kinsella 219). Most likely Kusanagi, not unlike the symbolic uniform wearer, experiences extreme neuroses and anxieties about her new position in the world due the new mutation her identity has undergone (Kinsella 219). Other commentators on Japanese culture, such as Miyadai Shinji, might even look upon Kusanagi as an cultural icon created by people influenced by kogal culture, where girls in school uniforms are regarded as individuals ushering in "a new era of greater personal and sexual liberty" which would tie the fetishism of Kusanagi's new body to a group marked by the prostitution frequently practiced by these young kogal girls (Kinsella 233-234). Kusanagi is not a prostitute, but her new futuristic body is still marked by popular recreational modes of sexuality, including sailor suit fetishes and the desire expressed towards prepubescent females. Groups in Japan who speak out against the sexually charged kogal movement are described as "muted" (Kinsella 235). This group is "deeply shocked by the vision of school girls prostituting" yet, the fetishized image of the school girl, this new identity for young women to grasp on to, is popular and ingrained in modern culture, rather like embrace of recreational sexual activities by male commuters. In a sense kogal culture is a real life example of cuteness and sexiness mixing to create a hybrid identity. Still, kogal girls probably feel a strong sense of self-determination because they choose to be a part of this movement, rather than imitating the sexually-charged passive dolls of anime.

[45] In this new identity, the competing styles of kawaii and kirei have come together to form a new kind of confusing female identity and a new visual identity that seeks to find a compromise between the cute meekness and empowered sexuality. Not only is this a visual clash (sexual vs. cute) but a value clash influenced by modern Japan's view of women. To take a note from Hasegawa, the identity of women is that of a 'ghost' continuously shifting between 'shells,' morphing and fluxating at the whims of society and in attempts to face challenges in their lives (136).

[46] New visual identities depend on what facets of each concept become highlighted when utilized to express an artist or filmmaker's own creative vision. Potentially, the innocent and demure virtues of kawaii could be mixed with the sexual aspect of kirei, creating sexualized dolls. Maybe in this new identity, innocence isn't really anything but a powerful deception. This idea has actually been in sight of anime fans for years, whether it has been realized or not. A look at any online anime retailer will show dozens of pornographic anime DVDs called hentai and figurines with cute faces, maiden like dresses, and gigantic breasts. The film Ghost in the Shell: Innocence also gives us a less superficial glimpse of what lies ahead with its sleek depiction of mechanical sex dolls, which are just as manipulated as the children their spirits are "ghosted" or copied from. "Reduced to simple mechanisms dolls are nothing but human," leaving one to ponder where true innocence resides (Oshii Mamoru). Does it lie in the child? Or in the machine, made to look provocative, despite its childlike voice? Through these distorted and ever changing depictions of current and future female identities in anime, Japanese women gain a visual basis for evaluation of their own culture. Like a reflection in a mirror, as heroines navigate their identity seeking a place in society, so too do we, the audience.

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