There is a tension between commercial Japanese self-identifying female film directors and both commercial film industries and film criticism. Films by Japanese women in commercial cinema circuits are often marketed to Japanese female-identified audiences as a form of gendered branding (Laird, 2013). Likewise, critics and scholars often bring similar gendered expectations to screenings. They seem to seek new approaches to filmmaking and are eager to hear voices of “female” storytelling as exemplified by the text overlay in the trailer above that claims Momoko Andō’s movie is a “real girl’s film.” As a result, critics will often anticipate or expect signs of a collective feminist movement between women directors, or at least the depiction of gendered politics that constitute a feminist dialogue between them–a sense of an artistic community of female film directors working with and supporting each other. However, most commercial, mainstream women directors in Japan resist association with feminist politics and packaged identification as a “woman director” (e.g. Sharp, 2009). Many have claimed outright that gender has no impact on their works or their work conditions. And yet, even as they have disavowed a gendered positionality or political stake, their films often confront gender issues, gendered experiences, gender identity, and gender inequality outright. The contradiction between what these directors say publicly about their work and what their works depict has made feminist analysis of their films, not to mention their stake in the industry, a complicated and difficult task.
There is, however, a collaborative movement; it’s just very quiet. It’s a behind-the-scenes, off-camera kind of feminism observable when we shift our analytical lens from words to actions. Far more important than what these directors say in interviews about their public director image is what they actually do, the films they make, and the formal and informal networks to which they belong. For example, director Nishikawa Miwa teamed up with her mentor Kore’eda Hirokazu and founded the production company Bunbuku (分福). In addition to funding three of Kore’eda’s films and Nishikawa’s 2016 film Nagai iiwake (永い言い訳, The Long Excuse), the company has funded two other directors: Sunada Mami and Hirose Nanako, both women. Ogigami Naoko, whose most recent work featured Japan’s first transgender protagonist in a feature film (Karera ga honki de amu toki wa, 彼らが本気で編むときは, Close Knit), works with production company Paradise Café, a company that has actively supported women in the industry and launched Matsumoto Kana’s directing career based on the success of Ogigami’s films. Similar connections are being forged throughout the industry, such as with Momoko Andō, who won the award for Best Director for 0.5 miri (0.5 ミリ, 0.5 mm) in 2014. She got her start with Kakera (カケラ, Kakera: A Piece of Our Life, 2009) because of, “a producer who was looking for a young female first-time director” (Sharp, 2010). When all is said and done, or rather done and not said, these women may not be vocalizing a women’s movement, but there does seem to be a call to action reverberating through networks of collaboration.
Laird, Colleen. “Imaging a Female Filmmaker: The Director Personas of Nishikawa Miwa and Ogigami Noako.” Frames Cinema Journal. Special Issue: “Promotional Materials.” May 2013. http://framescinemajournal.com/article/imaging-a-female-filmmaker/.
Sharp, Jasper. “Yuki Tanada.” Midnight Eye. August 25, 2009. http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/yuki-tanada/
----- "Momoko Ando." Midnight Eye. March 29, 2010. http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/momoko-ando/