Naoko Yamada is a big name in Japanese animation. Best known in France for feature films such as Silent Voice or Liz et l’Oiseau bleu, she made her debut at Kyoto Animation Studio in various positions and on various franchises including K-On! Or even the Tamako market before embarking on his own projects.
In July 2019, a man set fire to the studio, killing 36 people. If Naoko Yamada comes out unscathed, she is deeply affected by the event. She then joined Science Saru, the studio founded by Masaaki Yuasa to produce The Heike Story series. She was in Annecy to present the short film “Memorial Garden”.
Can you present the remembrance garden you came to present in Annecy?
It is the story of two girls and a boy, a love triangle where they both love each other. It is a short film that evokes their feelings and their development.
The official stadium: a messy room. Empty beer cans, dead bottles, half a glass of whiskey … A stray girl wakes up, and begins to get ready. Your morning starts. You are lazy and hard to wake up. The code is I’m watching you. I play tricks on you, while you play guitar and wood. One day, in the city, you came across your childhood friend buying an anemone that you loved, and remember I loved him, you hurry to buy one. The child’s friend carefully arranges the anemone. One day, years after my death, you hear voices coming from the closet. By opening it, you see my garden right in front of you. Overflowing with feelings between you and me. When you exit the room with the memories, a picture of the anemones you drew in your new room is shown.
What are your first moving memories?
The first animated movie I remember was Kié La Petite Peste directed by Isao Takahata. It’s a series that I discovered on TV when I was young, it’s really my first memory.
[Après la sortie du film en 1981 au Japon, Isao Takahata envisage une suite et finit par produire une série animée de 64 épisodes]
Did you watch the Saturday morning cartoon, if this is a custom in Japan?
Yes, exactly the same. We watched a lot of cartoons on a Sunday morning or evening, and I especially remember Sazae-san and Doraemon.
Was there an animated movie that made you want to become an animator?
What made me want to work in this environment was not a specific film, but a Czech director who mixed different techniques including stop motion: Jan Švankmajer.
Do you watch other anime series produced outside Japan?
[Elle réfléchit longuement puis éclate de rire] When I was young, I used to watch Batman!
Is it complicated to be a woman in the middle of Japanese animation?
When I started it was hard, yes. And then I became a very combative person, it motivated me to find my place and work in the industry. Now there is no distinction between men and women. So I would say that the situation has improved.
Who are the female cartoonists that you admire?
[Elle réfléchit longuement, hésite] I don’t have a name on my mind. In fact, I don’t ask myself a question about sex when I think of the people in my profession. So I wouldn’t have a good answer.
You have left Kyoto Animation for Science Saru, Masaaki Yuasa Studio. How was your work there on The Heike Story?
I really enjoy working at Science Saru studio. And then, creating something is always exciting. I must add that the Science Saru team has a very positive spirit in terms of creativity, they give me a lot of energy.
[The Heike Story – Heike Monogatari raconte l’histoire du clan Taira pendant la guerre de Genpei au 12e siècle. Les 11 épisodes sont disponibles sur Wakanime]
You can double the hats: chara design, writing, animation, and production. what do you prefer?
Of all the stages of project implementation, I prefer writing and drawing storyboards. These are the most creative steps.
And to come back to your question about the women I adore, she doesn’t do the animation but I like Sofia Coppola’s work.
What was the last movie or animated series that you liked the most?
I want to quote Ann with Red Hair – Akaj No Ann. It’s an old series, I actually saw it when I was young and discovered it recently, realizing its interest.
[Anne aux Cheveux Roux ou Anne et la Maison aux Pignons Verts est une série d’Isao Takahata et (partiellement) d’Hayao Miyazaki datant de 1979. Elle est disponible en DVD]
Garden of Remembrance will be released in 2023. Thanks to Florence Depardat, Totonji’s decorations for the AllTheAnime team.