Why We Need More Characters Like Mako Mori

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In the midst of all of the increased negativity surrounding the misrepresentation of female characters in the entertainment industry recently, it’s become popular to complain and argue about how unfairly women are portrayed in mainstream entertainment. While this point of constructive criticism may be irrefutably valid, it’s easy to forget that there are a number of exceptional portrayals of strong female characters in the mainstream media that sadly go unrecognized.

I’m a generally optimistic person, and I believe that if we spend less time complaining about the movies that do female characters wrong and more time praising those that do it right, we’ll be more likely to receive a better quantity and quality of female characters in the future. The character of Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi in Guillermo del Toro’s epic childhood fantasy come to life Pacific Rim) is one of the most mature, intelligent, and socially progressive approaches to writing a female character seen in the past number of years.

Even though the main character is a white dude, the character in the film that is given the most personality, character development, backstory, and pivotal role in saving the day is played by an Asian female — and never once is she treated as a stereotype. There’s no moment where someone says, “Mako, you can’t be a Jaeger pilot, you’re a girl,” or some other stupid sexist remark.

Laser List, Mako Mori, female, lead, charcter, feminist, Pacific Rim

“Mako, you can’t use the sword — oh, wait…”

Also, despite the fact that Rinko Kikuchi is an undeniably attractive woman, Mako is never objectified in the film at all, whether it be by any of the other characters or the filmmakers. Most surprising of all, they never resort to turning her into a love interest for leading white guy Raleigh. There’s a bit of awkward sexual tension between the two, but they never officially end up together or even share a kiss on screen, which defies the traditional storytelling trope you would expect.

Outside of the overall embodiment of Mako Mori and how she is treated in the film, she is also given what could be considered many fans’ favorite scene in the film: the reveal of Gipsy Danger’s sword and the killing of Otachi. On the Blu-Ray audio commentary, Guillermo del Toro stated that he purposefully intended to give the biggest “wow moment” of the film to the female character because this would normally be given to the male lead in a movie like this.

Beyond Mako, Pacific Rim manages to sprinkle in a few other subtleties that enforce feminist positivity as well. Del Toro also says in the commentary that the Jaeger pilot in control of the right hemisphere of the Jaeger is referred to as the “dominant pilot.” In the case of Russia’s Jaegar, the dominant pilot in Cherno Alpha’s husband-and-wife pilot duo Sasha and Aleksis Kaidonovsky is the female. Despite the fact that the two barely have any dialogue or screen time, this one miniscule detail creates a world in which a female is given the power to have dominance in the military — without having it be considered taboo or out of the ordinary.

Laser List, Mako Mori, female, lead, charcter, feminist, Pacific Rim

Dah.

But despite being such a positive representation of feminism in film, Pacific Rim has largely been dismissed from the conversation solely because it does not pass the infamous Bechdel Test, which — for better or worse — has become the defining factor of whether or not a film is considered “feminist” in the mainstream.

While the Bechdel Test has become the biggest staple for recognizing feminist representation in film, it is undeniably flawed due to the fact that movies with poorly conceived, one-dimensional notions of female characters like What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Sex and the City could pass it, yet movies with great female characters like Pacific Rim can’t. Shortly after Pacific Rim was released in theaters, The Daily Dot wrote a story about a Tumblr user who proposed an alternative called The Mako Mori Test to “live alongside the Bechdel Test.” The basic requirements for passing are:

  1. Have at least one female character
  2. who is given her own narrative arc
  3. that isn’t about supporting a man’s narrative arc.

As I thought about the requirements for passing this test, I compiled a short list of some other female characters in recent mainstream Hollywood films that pass the Mako Mori Test without question:

  • Black Widow (The Avengers/Captain America:The Winter Soldier)
  • Mystique (X-Men: Days of Future Past)
  • Gamora (Guardians of the Galaxy)
  • Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
  • Ryan Stone (Gravity)
  • Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
  • Hit-Girl (Kick-Ass)
  • Amy Dunne (Gone Girl)
  • Catwoman (The Dark Knight Rises)
  • Cassandra Anderson (Dredd)
  • M (Skyfall)

Laser List, Mako Mori, female, lead, charcter, feminist, Pacific Rim

“I don’t pass the Bechdel Test? No problem!”

I’m not saying that the Mako Mori Test is a more efficient way of judging feminism in film than the Bechdel Test or vice versa. I’m only suggesting that there is more than one method for measuring the quality of feminist representation in film, and we should be open to the idea of accepting all of them if we want better female characters in the future. Just because a movie is about giant robots punching alien monsters in the face doesn’t mean that it can’t have just as many positive themes as an “important” movie.

Article by contributor Mike Pisacano.

13 thoughts on “Why We Need More Characters Like Mako Mori

    1. Yes it is… The article stated as much, and thus proposed an alternative.

      Though I think that using any kind of standardized “test” in film is stupid to begin with. You shouldn’t judge a character’s worth with a list of check boxes, in the same way that you wouldn’t judge a person in real life with a list of check boxes.

      1. I came here to say exactly that. I only comment to reinforce it.

        If you can’t enjoy something without applying a superficial test to it, you don’t know how to enjoy anything.

    1. I was considering her for a while when I was writing this because she is badass and strong, but decided against it because she ultimately exists only to train Tom Cruise, which in its own sense, a woman having to train a weak, cowardly man into being just as badass as she, is an empowering figure for women, but it kind of contradicts points 2 and 3, she isn’t given her own narrative arc, and she exists to support the narrative arc of the man.

  1. The Bechdel Test has the first Thor as a feminist masterpiece. Which is kind of bizarre. I prefer this test even though Thor does not pass that one.

    1. I dunno about female masterpiece, but women in general do seem to like that movie a lot. Though I have a feeling that has more to do with the fan service of a shirtless hemsworth, and less with anything involving the female characters.

    2. Same with a movie like Spring Breakers, which yes, does indeed have female protagonists, but it’s mostly an exploitation of former Disney channel stars, and the director’s wife, which leers at their bikini-clad asses for the entire duration of the runtime. That’s the biggest problem with the Bechdel Test. It only accounts for the basic representation of women and doesn’t take into account HOW they’re represented.

  2. More Asian women and more Asian men in movies about that aren’t about racing cars. I’m still pretty pissed that Ken Watanabe was just a side character in the newest Godzilla movie.

  3. Disagree to an extent. She didn’t have her bewbs out and up around her ears, but she was still a largely stereotypical wide-eyed Asian chick that over the course of her character arc becomes increasingly beholden to the male lead. Really enjoyed that film though.

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