The 2013 film Pacific Rim is a science fiction monster movie where the earth is under attack by Kaijus- large monsters sent to wipe out the human race for colonization. To fight these monsters, Jaegers were created–huge humanoid robots controlled by two human pilots who would join minds in a neural bridge. Although the plot seems to center mostly around male pilot Raleigh Becket, it also focuses on Mako Mori- a rookie female pilot who has never fought the Kaijus before. Despite being the only main female character in the movie, and despite the way she is often “protected” by the men in her life, Mako is presented as very empowered woman; one who is strong and capable and who is equal to her male counterparts in both mental ability and physical ability.
When Mako is first introduced, we see her in an outfit that looks very similar to a military uniform–loose fitting cargo pants, boots, and a long jacket and carrying an umbrella. She wears a similar outfit for the rest of the movie, later swapping her jacket to for a button up shirt. She only varies from this outfit a few times. In one scene on a day that seems to be her day off we see her in her bedroom wearing a flower cardigan. In another scene, when candidates are testing their fighting skills against Raleigh, she removes her button up shirt to reveal a tank top which she wears during the testing. Her last outfit is the same outfit that all the pilots wear–a black suit that resembles armor, covering her entire body and identical in design to her male counterpart. Mako Mori is never once presented in an a sexualized way. Her most revealing outfit is the outfit she wears when fighting; however, even that isn’t very revealing as the most exposed part of her body is her arms.
But throughout the movie nobody comments on her appearance. At least until she finally gets to wear her pilot suit. When she enters and see Raleigh, he comments on the fact that she looks good. But he’s not commenting on her appearance because of a sexual attraction to her. She is wearing a suit that covers her entire body and looks exactly like his. It’s the same suit that all pilots wear. He’s not commenting on her sexual appeal; he is commenting on the fact that she is finally where she wants to be, she is finally a pilot about to drift for the first time and she is finally achieving a lifelong goal, one that she has worked hard to reach. To her this outfit represents that goal and that work, something that Raleigh understand because it was him who pushed Marshal Pentecost into allowing her to be his co-pilot.
Besides her outfits, Mako is presented as an empowered women because of her intelligence and position. When Pentecost first introduces Mako, he refers to her as their “brightest” and she quickly proves him rights. When she talks to Raleigh, she explains her near perfect test scores than offers him a critique of his own performances which she has been studying in order to find him a new co-pilot. She points out some of his flaws and errors he has made. Throughout the movie Mako is praised for her intelligence and proves that she is fully capable or even more capable than many of the men. It is up to her alone to find co-pilot recruits for Raleigh to test with and for her to judge the compatibility of the recruits. Besides Pentecost, it appears that she has the most power in the workplace as she answers to no one besides him.
But it’s not just intelligence and her position that empower Mako. She is also equal to her male counterparts physically. When Raleigh asks to fight against her when testing co-pilot recruits, Mako and Raleigh are an equal match. When Raleigh scores, Mako scores, and their score stays equal throughout the test. Despite her smaller stature and her different fighting techniques, she is able to physically defend and take down Raleigh, a man almost twice her size. Because of this, we learn that Mako and Raleigh are fully compatible, meaning that they would be the perfect team to control a Jaeger together. Jenn Smith describes how the the Angels in Charlie’s Angels “were introduced as being able to do what ‘no man can’ and they proved throughout the movie that they were able to physically defend themselves, use teamwork and intelligence and their sexuality to fool the boys and beat the bad guys” (Smith). Mako is introduced in a similar manner. Although she doesn’t use her sexuality, she proves her intelligence and physically ability which makes her the perfect candidate to “beat the bad guys.” She is just as capable as her male counterpart in every way.
Despite her position of power and her intelligence and physically ability, Mako is often held back and “protected” by the men in the movie. Pentecost in particular often tried to hold Mako back. However, it appears that it’s not the fact that she is a woman that he does this; he does this because he is a fatherly figure to her. When she was child, he rescued her from the Kaijus and has helped her achieve her goal of becoming a pilot. But if she were a boy who was saved by Pentecost, would he still feel this overwhelming protective instinct? Is it because of their father-daughter relationship that he feels like he needs to protect her? Or would he feel just as protective in a father-son relationship? Maybe he would, but maybe he is protective because she is woman. But if that’s true, why did he help her become a pilot in the first place and why did he employ her in a position where she would be working very closely with Jaeger pilots? Did he do this to keep her satisfied and give her the feeling that she is on control or as a way for her to gain experience before she becomes a real pilot? But Pentecost does eventually make her Raleigh’s co-pilot after seeing how compatible the two were. But it’s not just making her co-pilot on an ordinary mission; this mission is extremely important and the fate of the earth and mankind depends on the success of this mission.
Raleigh comments on Mako and Pentecost’s relationship, asking Mako why she obeys him. Mako explains that “it’s not obedience, it’s respect.” To Mako, her relationship is built on mutual respect and she doesn’t “obey” him. Instead, she respects his decisions. This is important for Mako’s character. She wants Raleigh to know that she isn’t simply doing what she is told, to her there’s a clear choice and her choice to respect what Pentecost wants. At times it seems that Mako obeys him because she feels a sense of duty to him because he saved her a child, but she makes it clear that this isn’t the case. She never mentions that she owes Pentecost anything, only that she respects him. Even later in the movie, when Pentecost becomes a co-pilot to save the mission, Mako still doesn’t obey him because a sense of duty. Pentecost tells her “I need you to protect me.” Mako protects him because of her affection and respect for him. Pentecost is flipping their roles and acknowledging that he need her to protect him now, like he has tried to protect her in the past. This moment seems to indicate a huge shift in their relationship. It’s no longer a father-daughter relation; now it’s a relationship between two pilots of equal rank, both trying to save the world. This reinforces Mako’s position as a pilot, and not just a pilot, but a capable pilot who is needed by another.
Like Pentecost, Raleigh also feels a need to protect Mako at times. When another pilot insults Mako, Raleigh steps in to “protect her honor.” Despite the fact that she has proven her capabilities over and over again, the men in her life still feel the need to protect her, perhaps because of her small stature and her quiet voice. Near the end of the movie, Raleigh and Mako (who are piloting a Jaeger together) make their way down into the breach, a portal connecting the earth to an alien world, so that they can detonate their nuclear Jaeger and collapse the portal to stop the Kaijus. Once inside, Mako loses oxygen causing her to lose consciousness. Raleigh states that he can finish alone so he gives Mako his oxygen, then ejects her out of the Jaeger, risking his life to save her and the world. Mako was rendered unconsciousness at the most critical point in the movie, causing the male protagonist to take all the risk and save her. However, Mako’s inability to complete the mission is not caused by the fact that she is a woman and it has nothing to do with her ability or lack of ability. It was caused by damage to the Jaeger which could have affected Raleigh instead which begs the question- Why didn’t Raleigh lose consciousness instead, letting Mako save him and the world?
Mako and Raleigh’s relationship is extremely important in the story. While Mako was obviously physically attracted to Raleigh (she spied on him taking off his shirt), there is little indication of anything more than friendliness and respect from Raleigh. Until they drift together. In the drift, partners sync their minds. They can see each other’s memories, hear their thoughts, and feel their emotions. It’s not until after the first time Mako and Raleigh drift together that he seems to feel for her romantically. It’s not until Raleigh truly knows Mako’s mind that he develops these feelings for her. Mako is never sexualize and she is never reduced to just a love interest for the male protagonist. She doesn’t seduce him and he doesn’t seduce her. There is no physically intimacy, only emotional. Their relationship remains professional and platonic until the very last scene where they kiss for the first time.
What empowers Mako the most, however, is that fact that she gets her own narrative. Her story and motivations do not support the male protagonist’s story. Mako isn’t motivated by the men in the movie, she is motivated by her own need to avenge her family who were killed in a Kaiju attack. While Pacific Rim would not be able to pass the Bechdel Test because she never talks to another woman, the movie still portrays her as an empowered women and it deserves recognition for that. So the Mako Mori test was created which thats that a movie must have “least one female character, who gets her own narrative that is not about supporting a man’s story” (The Bechdel Test). Mako’s narrative is completely independent from Raleigh’s. Although her desire to be a pilot may be influenced by Pentecost who was the Jaeger pilot who rescued Mako as a child, her narrative does not support his or Raleigh’s narratives.
Ritch Calvin states that “Science fiction as a form allows the possibility to imagine worlds in which women are full participants” (4). Pacific Rim is a good example of this. Although Mako is the only woman in the movie that is a main character, we also see another female pilot who is killed during the mission. The world that the movie exists in, allows women to be full participants and even allows them to become world saving heroines. But it’s not just women who are full participants: individuals of any race and class have the opportunity to become heroes, as long as they are drift compatible. In this society Mako is not held back by her gender; instead, she is fully able to become a heroine who helps save the world.