Honest, warm and full of humanity, the filmography of Naoko yamada Throughout the last decade he has established him as one of the most distinctive and captivating authorial voices in contemporary Japanese animation, surpassing in how many years the status of ‘promise’ to assume a privileged position as leader and one of the public figures recognized by the beloved Kyoto Animation studio.
Born on November 28, 1984 in Gunma Prefecture, Naoko Yamada demonstrated a particular interest in drawing and animation at a young age. Such a hobby would reinforce his passion for the field of arts and lead him to graduate from Kyoto University of Arts and Design with a major in oil painting, as well as joining the photography and special effects clubs during his professional training.
Upon graduation, Yamada intended to work in the film industry, but decided to join KyoAni after seeing a recruitment advertisement and feeling it was the right move. His first works were doing in-between animation for InuYasha, at a time when the studio would begin to produce its own series. She was promoted to the role of cheerleader in titles like Air, The Blues of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kanon or Lucky Star, and soon, she would receive the opportunity to debut as a director in some of the crucial episodes in Clannad: After Story, including the iconic episode 16. And the end. This would pave the way for Yamada to be tasked with commanding his first series at just 24 years old in 2009.
Self-described as a “director of method”, Naoko Yamada’s work is characterized by an extraordinary talent for portraying human emotions in a genuine, empathetic, respectful and fresh way from the most ordinary moments of everyday life. His meticulous attention to detail, evocative imagery, as well as constant experimentation with composition and cinematographic techniques commonly used in live action, have put him at the forefront of the new generation of directors in the industry. Artistic sensibilities that have had a clear influence on the new talents that join KyoAni year after year.
Next, we review the filmography of a prodigious artist who has established herself as one of the great directors currently working in the animation industry.
4. K-On! The Movie (Directed by Naoko Yamada, 2011)
Few works in the history of animation have captured the « spirit of adolescence » as a newcomer Naoko Yamada did with her adaptation of the four-panel manga K-On !, written and illustrated by Kakifly. Across two seasons comprised of 36 episodes, three bonus chapters, and a couple of OVAs, the worldly adventures and entanglements of Yui Hirasawa, Mio Akiyama, Ritsu Tainaka, Tsumugi Kotobuki, and Azusa Nakano, members of the High School Light Music Club Sakuragaoka, captivated millions of viewers in Japan and the rest of the world, being the first anime franchise to sell more than 500 thousand discs on Blu-ray. Screenwriter Reiko Yoshida, who has collaborated on all of Yamada’s projects, still recalls with joy how passionate the young director was for telling a story about characters who did not live at any other time outside of the present, leaving them unaware of the painful and inevitable step. of time, and resulting in one of the most faithful portraits of a stage of self-discovery that ends with the beginning of the transition to adult life. Yamada’s debut feature recounts the girls’ graduation trip to the city of London and the genesis of the endearing song “Tenshi ni Fureta yo!”. K-On! perfected the moe and narrative aesthetic of the slice of life subgenre that has characterized most of KyoAni’s works and would let us see the emergence of several of Naoko Yamada’s stylistic hallmarks as an author: character designs that embrace feminine delicacy and elegance as part of their artistic strengths; the use of special effects to emulate images that appear to have been captured using different camera lenses; the constant play with lighting and color to faithfully reflect the mental state of its protagonists; the use of ambient sounds to provide greater veracity to the development of a scene; a subtle direction focused on the small actions, gestures and movements of the characters to tell the story and, of course, countless leg shots to express their emotions. The film saw improvements in all aspects of production over the original series and is a gift to all Ho-kago Tea Time fans.
3. Tamako Love Story (Directed by Naoko Yamada, 2014)
Tamako Market, the second series by Naoko Yamada, was an original project developed in conjunction with the same team behind K-On !, such as Reiko Yoshida and character designer Yukiko Horiguchi. The concept was simple: create a world where a dark side of society or the human condition was not portrayed. An unpretentious story that allows the viewer to relax with the optimism and overflowing warmth of the inhabitants of the vivid Usagiyama shopping district. Despite its impeccable technical section, Tamako Market failed to replicate the magic or success of his previous work, in part, because of how inconsequential it could feel at a narrative level. All of this changes completely in the sequel Tamako Love Story, one of the purest and loveliest coming-of-age tales of teen romance you’ll ever see. Tamako Kitashirakawa is the daughter of the owner of a mochi shop (a Japanese dessert made from rice). During the series, our protagonist had struggled to maintain the status quo to continue spending time with her friends and the people of Usagiyama, while continuing to make mochi with her father and grandfather. In the film, her last days of high school are approaching and Tamako begins to notice how everyone around her makes decisions that will bring momentous changes to their lives. Things get complicated when Mochizō Ōji, his neighbor and childhood friend, finally musters the courage to confess his feelings to him and let him know that he plans to leave for Tokyo to pursue a career in filmmaking. Confused and her emotions overwhelmed, Tamako will accept and take responsibility for her uncertain future into her own hands for the first time. Once again, Yamada demonstrates her subtlety and impeccable touch with another story about the conclusion of adolescence and makes latent a greater confidence and evolution as a filmmaker, giving us an authentic audiovisual show of which she completely made the storyboard, loading each shot of symbolisms and showing much more daring in the use of all the animation, film and painting techniques at his disposal. Her work earned her the prestigious New Artist Award at the Japan Art Festival and immediately positioned her as one of the directors to follow closely for years to come.
2. Liz and the Blue Bird (Dir. Naoko Yamada, 2018)
With the passage of each project, Naoko Yamada’s authorial voice becomes clearer. With each film, the director gains more ground within her studio and, consequently, her cinema can be much more experimental. Liz and the Blue Bird (Liz to Aoi tori) is unlike any other film in Kyoto Animation’s portfolio, as it is primarily a Naoko Yamada film. This spinoff feature film from the Sound! Euphonium – whose first season Yamada served as series director – focuses on the relationship between the lonely Mizore Yoroizuka and the outgoing Nozomi Kasaki, as they prepare for their final performance in the Kitauji High School Symphony Band. The free piece with which they will compete in the Nationals includes a duet between Mizore’s oboe and Nozomi’s flute, a composition inspired by a fairy tale that refers to their own story: two close friends who seem destined to say goodbye. As the rehearsals progress, the distance between Mizore and Nozomi deepens and the two are forced to reassess their feelings for each other. A relationship reflected through subtle gestures, silences and unfinished dialogues. Liz and the Blue Bird is a jewel, a work of art, a production that takes advantage of all its visual and sound elements to give us an intimate and minimalist sensory experience. In order to better fit the themes and tone of the story, it was decided to completely change the aesthetics in the film compared to that seen in the series. To do this, Yamada had the support of character designer Futoshi Nishiya, color designer Naomi Ishida and art director Mutsuo Shinohara, who brought that distinctive flavor to A Silent Voice and, sadly, they would be three of the 36 victims. mortals from the arson attack on Kyoto Animation in July 2019. The soundtrack is also a delight, be it Kensuke Ushio’s melancholic score (A Silent Voice), created from the recording of music and sounds of common objects within the royal school that served as inspiration for the anime, or the beautiful orchestral scores conducted by Akito Matsuda, composer of Sound! Euphonium. Clearly, it is not a film for all audiences, since it belongs to a vein closer to arthouse cinema, whose formal elements had been part to a lesser or greater extent of all the director’s previous works. It should be noted that, like Tamako Love Story, it is a feature film that can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of the franchise that precedes it.
1. A silent voice (Dir. Naoko Yamada, 2016)
A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) is undoubtedly one of the most important projects that have been entrusted to Kyoto Animation in all its history, being its first production not intended to give rise to a franchise and the adaptation of an acclaimed manga that Among many other awards, its author Yoshitoki Ōima received the Prize as a new artist in the 19th edition of the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. Everything about Koe no Katachi makes it clear that there was no better director or studio in the industry to command a feature film so strongly focused on non-verbal communication and on conveying emotions through expression, like Naoko Yamada and the KyoAni staff. Although the original work featured seven volumes to explore in depth the psyche of all its characters, Yamada and screenwriter Reiko Yoshida are determined to focus during the film on Shoya Ishida’s point of view. When he was a child, our protagonist made a deaf girl named Shoko Nishimiya the object of his abuse, with the complicity of his classmates and under the tolerant gaze of his teachers. Eventually, one of his jokes crosses the line and he ends up being sidelined by the rest of the class. Despite his efforts to make amends for his mistakes, his path to redemption begins when Shoya meets Shoko again in high school. With empathy, respect and his humanistic perspective, Yamada makes this a story of self-acceptance, dedicated to all those who constantly seek forgiveness from others, but are unable to forgive themselves. In her first collaboration with character designer Futoshi Nishiya, art director Mutsuo Shinohara and composer Kensuke Ushio, the filmmaker delights us with a visceral dance of movement, color and sound that transforms intangible concepts into a lyrical visual expression of antidotes. against guilt, self-loathing, the difficulty of communicating and the anxiety to reconnect. Yoshida’s script also offers an acute sociological dimension to topics such as bullying, suicide and the behavior of society towards individuals that it considers “different”, which acquire an even more complex dimension within the dynamics of Japanese culture. The production boasts the mark as the studio’s highest grossing film with ¥ 2.3 billion yen in Japan and garnered numerous accolades, including at the Japan Film Critics Awards, the Japan Art Festival, the Tokyo Anime Awards and the Japanese Academy of Cinema. A masterful film with a light message at the end of the tunnel: « you’ll be fine. »
Gustavo Pineda I write about film, television and anime at Cine PREMIERE
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