By Suvendrini Kakuchi
Chihiro Amano is an aspiring film director and at just 29 years old, is already an icon in the male-dominated Japanese film world. With less than two percent of female directors in Japan, Amano is daring to break gender barriers. And slowly she is going places.
Speaking to IPS in Okinawa where she is one of two Japanese female directors presenting at the Okinawa International Film Festival, Amano explained her ambition is to become a well-known director on par with her male counterparts. “Striving to get ahead professionally,” she explained,” is probably better to pave the way for more female directors
Indeed, Amano’s films do not necessarily push women’s rights. Rather, she thinks the way forward is to make a name for herself. “We can be role models to encourage our counterparts to also challenge the norm,” she said.
Amano represents Japan’s younger generation who are more supportive of gender equality in comparison to their parents. Female university graduates, for example, aim for economically independent lives. In contrast, their mothers commonly stopped working after starting a family. Current surveys indicate that more than 50 percent of Japanese
women in their twenties are single and intend to hold onto their careers after marriage.
Japan’s plunging national birthrate, now at 1.3 births per woman, is often cited as the result of women marrying late. The average age of marriage for women stands at 29—much higher than the 23 years registered two decades ago. Yet, despite the breakthroughs, women’s activists point out that many plucky females face an uphill struggle with the lack of opportunities to become leaders in Japan where such positions continue to be a male domain.
As for achieving their dreams in a competitive job market, the going is tough for both sexes and therefore particularly hard on women who also face traditional social role expectations.
Amano is painfully aware of the long road ahead. Leaving a stable job in the corporate world, the soft-spoken film director explained she threw caution to the wind when she wanted to follow her dream. “I just wanted to do films,” she said.
Currently, Amano juggles a part-time job with her film making and lives with housemates to cope financially. But the tradeoff is the pursuit of her art. Amano’s movies have been screened in international film festivals and she has won multiple awards for her skillful and delicate direction.
In Okinawa, her film, “Neverland in Gamagori” is debuting in the Local Origination section—the festival’s special focus this year, now in its fourth. Located on Japan’s southern most island, which has its own distinct language and culture, the festival has earned a reputation for its unique focus on local towns and villages across the world.
Gamagori is a beautiful seaside resort in northern Japan and, like other smaller towns and villages, is fighting against economic decline as the youth leave for the big cities. The film brings to the audience the forgotten ethereal nature of the resort, based on a fantastical adventure of a young local boy.
Hiroshi Osaki, president of Yoshimoto Kogyou company, a leading entertainment conglomerate that co-sponsors the film festival with the Okinawa prefectural government, explains that the annual event is aimed at showcasing the historical uniqueness of Okinawa, which he says has long been sidelined by the richer mainland.
“There is a need to emphasis the often neglected energy of local communities in Japan, and what better way to achieve this goal than to support a film festival that is dedicated to this cause?” he asked.
True to that theme, many of the 300 films shown to packed audiences were selected on the basis of presenting the unique aspects of Asian cities.
Asano says she is grateful to be able to share her film in Okinawa. The island of 200,000 is home to a controversial American military base and represents the only place where Japan fought a bloody ground battle against the United States at the end of World War II.
“Being able to screen at a film festival here means a lot to the Japanese given the traumatic past. I am proud of the opportunity to feature the beauty of lost towns, ” she said.
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