Otaku USA Magazine
Six Women Who Should Direct Studio Ghibli’s Next Film

Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (actually, ex-producer, as he made sure to point out in his apology) kicked up a ruckus last month when he declared that women are “realistic” as compared to “idealistic” men, making the former unsuitable for directing Ghibli films. Never mind that the large majority of Ghibli movies, including the very film Nishimura was promoting in the interview, are based on source material written by women.

Discussing the whole dustup with a friend the other day, while both agreeing Nishimura is a bit of a blockhead, we couldn’t name a single female anime director beyond “uh, y’know, that one woman who did Michiko & Hatchin.”

In order to both remedy my own lack of knowledge on great female animators and to kindly suggest a director to Studio Ghibli (or Nishimura’s new Studio Ponoc, for that matter) for their next film, here’s a list of six women holding their own in a male-dominated industry.

Name: Sayo Yamamoto
Credits: Michiko & Hatchin, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
Current project: Yuri on Ice

Sayo Yamamoto is the director of not one but two of the most stylish, hyperkinetic and cool anime series of the last decade, Michiko & Hatchin, which often felt like a spiritual successor to Cowboy Bebop, and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, the Fujiko-centered Lupin III spinoff.

Yamamoto started making animation while at design school, and one of her first jobs in the anime industry was working on Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Michiko & Hatchin has a Cowboy Bebop feel – she worked as a storyboard artist and episode director on Shinichiro Watanabe’s follow-up to Bebop, Samurai Champloo.

The director, who came up with the idea for Michiko & Hatchin on a trip to Brazil, is currently working on figure skating anime Yuri on Ice at studio MAPPA.

Name: Mitsuko Kase
Credits: Glass Maiden, Ristorante Paradiso, Saikano, Young Black Jack

Mitsuko Kase is one of the industry’s most veteran female directors. Getting her start in the industry as an animation runner on 1977’s Chodenji Machines Voltes V, Kase’s directorial debut was Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team: Miller’s Report.

Kase’s impressive list of credits also includes Saikano, Glass Maiden, Ristorante Paradiso and last year’s Young Black Jack.

Name: Naoko Yamada
Credits: K-On!!, Tamako Market
Current project(s): A Silent Voice

31-year-old Naoko Yamada joined Kyoto Animation after college, starting as an inbetweener on Inuyasha before quickly rising in the ranks, making her debut as a director with K-On!! at age 24. Yamada also directed KyoAni’s Tamako Market and its theatrical sequel, Tamako Love Story.

Yamada is currently at work on her second theatrical film, an adaptation of the manga A Silent Voice, which debuts September 17.

Name: Noriko Takao
Credits: The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls, Saint Young Men

Like Naoko Yamada, Noriko Takao got her start working on Inuyasha at Kyoto Animation, gaining a reputation as a skilled key animator and storyboarder on hits like Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad and Yamada’s K-On!!.

Takao later become a freelancer, debuting as a director on Saint Young Men and going on to helm 2015’s The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls.

Name: Ai Yoshimura
Credits: Blue Spring Ride, Dance With Devils, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Current project: Cheer Boys!!

Ai Yoshimura, who is based at studio Sunrise, started in the anime industry as a runner on – you guessed it – Inuyasha (the 2004 film Fire on the Mystic Island, to be precise). She built up a solid list of storyboarding and episode directing credits on shows like Gintama, Black Butler and anohana before debuting as a director on 2013’s My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU.

Yoshimura most recently helmed Blue Spring Ride, and is currently at work on Cheer Boys!!, a series about male cheerleaders which debuts this week.

Name: Eunyoung Choi
Credits: Ping Pong (episode director), Space Dandy (episode director), Kick-Heart (assistant director, key animation)
Current project(s): Upcoming Masaaki Yuasa film

Eunyoung Choi, a native of Korea who spent her childhood in Japan, went to London to study animation, returned to Japan and began to work with auteur Masaaki Yuasa’s team on projects like Kemonozume, Tatami Galaxy, Kick-Heart and Ping Pong. She’s also directed episodes of Space Dandy and Casshern Sins.

Asked by us back in 2013 about challenges facing female animators, Choi said “In most anime, I don’t really agree with the way females are portrayed… I’d like the industry to say something different, but they keep doing the same thing over and over.”

There you have it – a list of some (but certainly not all) of women who are surviving and thriving as directors in an industry (and country) not exactly known for workplace equality.

The good news is, despite some backwards thinking of the way of folks like Yoshiaki Nishimura (who, to his credit, did apologize) the situation for women in the industry seems to be improving. It’s no coincidence that two of the women on this list got their start at Kyoto Animation, a studio that prides itself on fair working conditions.

Ironically, Ghibli itself is another studio known for its fairness to women. Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki has been quoted as calling co-founder Hayao Miyazaki a feminist who “has this conviction that to be successful, companies have to make it possible for their female employees to succeed too.”

Mr. Suzuki, if Ghibli ever makes another film, how about considering one of the women above?

Matt Schley is OUSA’s man in Japan and e-News editor. Send him a tweet.

Matt Schley

Matt Schley (rhymes with "guy") lives in Tokyo, and has been OUSA's "man in Japan" since 2012. He's also written about anime and Japanese film for the Japan Times, Screen Daily and more.