Girl Power in Japan’s Animation Industry: Female Directors Who Take Center Stage

  • In a largely patriarchal society, it is a common mistake to underestimate women. Fortunately, the world is becoming more aware of what women can do. Thanks to great women who excelled in their chosen field, we now know a woman can be a leader, a soldier, a president. They can have a job that is considered “for men” and be good at it. Right now, we will take a look at the stories of two Japanese women who made their mark in the anime industry and proved that girl power is indeed real.

    Sayo Yamamoto

    As the director behind “Michiko to Hatchin” and “Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine,” it is obvious that Sayo Yamamoto has a fascination in presenting different sides to female characters. For example, the characters in Michiko to Hatchin, the characters Michiko Malandro and Hana Morenos, both have deep backgrounds and are in a way, reflection of the cages – literal or figurative – that trap women. Michiko is an escaped convict who is on a quest to find the man she loves. She is trapped both by a literal prison and the jail she built on her heart. Hana Morenos, on the other hand, cannot seem to escape her own personal demons – also known as her foster family. In Lupin III, Fujiko Mine becomes more than “the girl of Lupin’s desires,” she is now her own protagonist. Imagine that?

    It is no wonder Yamamoto’s anime has such vivid and fascinating women. After all, she herself is a fascinating woman. It is not easy to get in the anime industry, as Yamamoto herself mentioned in one of her interviews. Before becoming a director, Yamamoto took on part-time jobs until she submitted her animation work to Satoshi Kon (director of Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, and Paranoia Agent) and impressed, Kon hired her to work with him on Millenium Actress. However, she was let go because of workplace politics. But instead of being disheartened, Yamamoto dedicated her energy in perfecting each and every work she takes on.

    Eventually, she received an offer to collaborate with director Shinichiro Watanabe and writer Dai Sato to work on Samurai Champloo at Manglobe Studio. After that, she received another offer. This time, she was asked to direct with full creative control. She knew that was a big responsibility and so she took her time in deciding what kind of project she wanted to direct. Some time after, her first series, Michiko to Hatchin, was released. Here is a girl who knows what she wants and goes for it. We’re rooting for you, Sayo Yamamoto!

    Notable works:

    • Michiko to Hatchin (2008; series director)
    • Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (2012; series director)
    • Yuri!!! on Ice (TBA; series director)[4]
    • Texhnolyze (2003; storyboard, episode director, ending animation director)
    • Gunslinger Girl (2003; storyboard, episode director)
    • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (2010; storyboard, episode director)
    • Dragon Drive (2002; storyboard, guest director)
    • Gokusen (2004; ending animation storyboard and director)
    • Samurai Champloo (2004; storyboard, episode director)
    • Eureka Seven (2005; storyboard, episode director)
    • Rozen Maiden Träumend (2005; storyboard and unit director for opening animation)
    • Ergo Proxy (2006; storyboard, episode director)
    • Kemonozume (2006; assistant episode director)
    • Wooser’s Hand-to-Mouth Life (2012; opening and ending animation director)
    • Psycho-Pass (2012; opening animation storyboard and director)
    • Attack on Titan (2013; ending animation storyboard and director)
    • Space Dandy (2014; ending animation storyboard and director; episode 2, 20 storyboard and director)
    • Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (2014; ending animation storyboard and director)
    • Trava: Fist Planet (2003; storyboard, assistant director)
    Atsuko Ishizuka

    Ishizuka is somewhat of an ‘accidental star.’ She was not really an avid fan of anime when she was growing up. However, she was interested in graphic arts and music. While studying at Aichi Prefecture University of the Arts, Ishizuka did several animated videos either for school or for her own amusement in order to channel both of her passions – graphic arts and music. One of these films, “Gravitation” caught the attention of two big names in the entertainment industry – NHK and Madhouse studio. She decided to work for Madhouse as a production assistant and declined NHK’s offer to animate a music video segment for the short film program Minna no Uta but the program’s staff was unwilling to give up. They took their case to Madhouse and asked them to take on the music video project with Ishizuka as director. Thus, Ishizuka’s first professional film “Tsuki no Waltz” (The Moon Waltz) was born.

    Ishizuka only soared higher from there. With her dedication and hard work, she rose in the ranks. From production assistant, she moved to staff animator. From staff animator, she became an assistant director on NANA. Madhouse publicly promoted her talents and as such, people within the industry are expecting her to be the first female series staff director at the studio. Ishizuka’s quick rise to the top may be attributed to the fact that she is always pushing herself outside of her comfort zone. In fact, in an interview, she mentioned that she is consciously making an effort not to stay in the areas she has already done before. With talent and determination like that, she could conquer anything!

    Notable works:

    • CREMONA short (2003) – Director, Story, Animator
    • Gravitation short (2003) – Director, Story, Animator
    • Sakurami Aka short (2004) – Director, Story, Animator
    • Minna no Uta “Tsuki no Waltz” short (2004) – Director, Story
    • Minna no Uta “Sen no Hana Sen no Sora” short (2005) – Director, Story, Storyboard Artist, Animator
    • NANA series (2006–2007) – Assistant Director, Episode Director, Episode Storyboard Artist
    • Piano no Mori film (2007) – Unit Director
    • MapleStory series (2007–2008) – Assistant Director, Episode Director, Episode Storyboard Artist
    • Top Secret ~The Revelation~ series (2008) – Episode Director, Episode Storyboard Artist
    • Kurozuka series (2008) – Ending Credits Director & Storyboard Artist
    • Moryo no Hako series (2008) – Episode Director
    • Aoi Bungaku series (2009) – Director, Screenwriter, and Storyboard Artist (Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “The Spider’s Thread” and “Hell Screen”), Episode Director (“Hell Screen”)
    • Supernatural: The Animation series (2011) – Director, Episode Director, Episode Storyboard Artist
    • Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo series (2012–2013) – Director
    • No Game No Life series (2014) – Director
    • Hanayamata series (2014) – Director
    • Prince of Stride: Alternative series (2016) – Director

    These anime directors are only two of the most brilliant female minds in the industry. There are many more women out there who are making a difference. However, I hope that the stories of these two women can at least inspire people to believe that you can achieve anything you put your mind into regardless of your gender, social standing or personal background. As another iconic woman, Emma Watson said, “do not let other people tell you what you can or cannot do.” To women out there who have dreams and are fighting for it despite diversities, you go girl!

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