Naoko Yamada

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Naoko Yamada
山田 尚子
BornNovember 28
Alma materKyoto University of the Arts
  • Animator
  • director
  • storyboard artist
Years active2004–present
EmployerKyoto Animation (2004–2020)
Naoko Yamada signature.svg

Naoko Yamada (山田 尚子, Yamada Naoko) is a Japanese animator, television and film director. Working at Kyoto Animation, she directed the anime series K-On! (2009-2010) and Tamako Market (2013), and the anime films A Silent Voice (2016) and Liz and the Blue Bird (2018).

In 2021, she directed the original net animation The Heike Story under Science SARU. The series will premiere on Japanese television in January 2022.[2][3] She has won multiple awards for her work, as well as become world renowned for her stylistic choices in anime. She was also one of the youngest people to be made a director with Kyoto Animation, getting her first directing opportunity at the age of 23.

Early life and education[edit]

Yamada was born in Kyoto Prefecture in 1984.[4][5][1] She enjoyed drawing as a child and would copy images from the Patlabor and Dragon Ball series.[5] Always showing an interest in film, Yamada would stay up late as a child just to catch what ever film might be playing in the evening slot. She showed interest in extra curricular activities as well, joining the volleyball club in primary school and the tennis and photography clubs in high school.[5] At the Kyoto University of Art and Design,[6] she studied oil painting and was a member of the special effects club.[5]


Yamada originally intended to work in film after graduating from university, but she decided to join Kyoto Animation after seeing an advertisement the company had posted at her school.[5] She first worked as an inbetweener for the very popular anime Inuyasha (2000-2004), which was outsourced to the studio at that time.[5][7] She was eventually promoted as a key animator for TV adaptation of Air (2005).[5] From there she would work as the Key Animator on a number of other shows including The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kanon, and Lucky Star. She would then be mentored by one of the directors already working at Kyoto Animation, Tatsuya Ishihara. When asked about his initial thoughts on Yamada, Ishihara said " I thought she was a weird subculture girl who went to an arts university."[8]

Her first directorial work was for the 17th episode of the anime series Clannad (2008),[7] though it was K-On! (2009) that marks her chief directorial debut and the development of her unique style.[5] The series would become successful, breaking numerous records and spurring another season in 2010 and a film in 2011, both directed by Yamada.[5] In 2013, she directed Tamako Market, an original work which focused on the main characters change from adolescence to adult hood. The following year, she directed its sequel film, Tamako Love Story, in which she won the New Face Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival.[9] She storyboarded the entire film herself,[10] and also wrote the lyrics for the opening theme song, Everybody Loves Somebody.[11] Yamada's next project was the feature film A Silent Voice (2016), an adaptation of the manga of the same name. Although it reflected on elements of bullying and physical impairment in Japan, Yamada did state that she did not want those to be the central focal point,[12] but rather wanted the audience to focus on the more positive aspects of the film[13] and use bullying as a means of showing Shoya's personality as a teen.[14] The film opened at #2 in the Japanese Box Office and grossed a total of ¥2.3 billion, the 19th highest-grossing film in Japan in 2016.[15] The film also received multiple award nominations, including Best Animation Film in the Mainichi Film Awards and the Excellent Animation of the Year in the Japan Academy Prize.

On July 18, 2019, a man started a fire at the main studio of Kyoto Animation, killing 36 of Yamada's colleagues and wounding 33 others. Yamada was reported not to have been hurt in the fire.[16] The incident would force Yamada and many of her colleagues to look elsewhere for work.

In 2020, Yamada departed from Kyoto Animation, and she debuted with her first work outside of her home studio. Yamada started her work on the original net animation The Heike Story, at the anime studio Science SARU, which released its first episode in September 2021.[2]

Style and Themes[edit]

For Yamada, the most important part of being a director is to observe people. She describes herself as a "method" director, emphasizing the minds of the characters.[5] In an interview about her work on the K-On! series, Yamada states, "It’s very important to me to treat the characters as individual people. I don’t think of them as imaginary; instead I try to come in touch with them from their perspective."[17]

Yamada's work often features low-angle shots on the legs, a stylistic choice that sets her apart from many other anime directors. When asked about this choice, she explained, "when you're nervous, you move your legs around. I think that it would be nice to express emotion like that."[7]

Yamada credits the majority of her style and themes to her love of live action film. Even though she decided to work in animation, much of her shot composition and use of space is heavily influenced by film styles found in live action work.[18] Specifically, her use of low angle shots, shallow depth of field, and varying camera movement, allows Yamada's to pull in the audience stylistically just as any live action film would. Yamada has mentioned her inspiration from film by saying, "When I was younger, I would stay up late and watch movies screening that late. Each time I saw one, I would get so excited that I couldn’t go to sleep. I wanted to relish that feeling. Now when I’m the one making the film, I wanted to have the audience savor that excitement from one of my works."[17] When it comes to how Yamada thinks about her characters, she focuses heavily on styles of communication. Yamada also focuses a lot on the color composition in each shot of her works, by using specific tones she is able to better portray the emotions the characters are going through.

While much of Yamada's work has focused on female protagonists, her work on A Silent Voice features a male protagonist. This was a difficult direction for Yamada because she had said “I love girls, so I want to depict girls from here onwards. Depicting boys is difficult. For example, I thought a lot about what to do if boys who saw the film thought a guy wouldn’t do something like that.” However, Yamada's directing style portrayed both the female and male characters beautifully. Yamada mentioned, "If you make something by thinking 'what kind of person are they' when looking at their root or the core of who they are, then the problems of 'they’re a guy so…' or “they’re a girl so…' become immensely trivial. Because of that, even in A Silent Voice, I portrayed Shoya Ishida just as a person."[19]

Yamada has been known to encourage her co-workers to have an enjoyable work environment, stating that "when I direct a title, I’m determined to do anything to make it great—so that everyone walks out of it thinking it was worthwhile, glad to have been involved."[18] She is a driven director, but understands that the finished product is a culmination of work done by multiple people. After being mentored herself, she tries to show that same level of support and care to the people that work with her.


Television series[edit]


Original net animations[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Title Japan Media Arts Festival Mainichi Film Awards Tokyo Anime Awards Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival
2010 TV Category

K-On! (2009)

2011 TV Category

K-On! (2009)

2014 New Face Award

Tamako Love Story (2014)

2016 Best Animated Film

A Silent Voice (2016)

2018 Best Feature-Length Film

Liz and the Blue Bird (2018)



  1. ^ a b 歴代受賞作品, 文化庁メディア芸術祭. "山田 尚子 | プロフィール一覧". 文化庁メディア芸術祭 歴代受賞作品 (in Japanese). Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Pineda, Rafael Antonio (September 2, 2021). "Science SARU Reveals The Heike Story TV Anime by Naoko Yamada". Anime News Network. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  3. ^ Mateo, Alex (September 15, 2021). "The Heike Story TV Anime Posts Short Video, Visual Before Premiere". Anime News Network. Retrieved October 21, 2021.
  4. ^ 増田弘道 (26 June 2012). "宮崎駿氏は71歳だけど……アニメ監督の高齢化は進んでいるか?" [Mr. Hayao Miyazaki is 71 years old ... Are animation directors getting older?]. ITmedia (in Japanese). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Noel, John (14 October 2012). "Scotland Loves Anime 2012: Day 3, Naoko Yamada Q&A session". chaostangent. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  6. ^ "キャリタス進学" [Career+: Entering University] (in Japanese). 京都造形芸術大学 (Kyoto Art and Design University). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Harding, Daryl (29 November 2019). "Celebrating Kyoto Animation's Naoko Yamada's Growth as a Director". Crunchyroll. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  8. ^ kViN (2016-10-03). "Hibike! Euphonium Movie Stage Greetings – Tatsuya Ishihara x Naoko Yamada". Sakuga Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  9. ^ "Giovanni's Island Film Wins Media Arts Award". Anime News Network. 28 September 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  10. ^ "監督インタビュー" [Director interview]. Tamako Love Story official website (in Japanese). 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  11. ^ "マニュエラ作家陣活躍の「たまこまーけっと」歌モノベスト" [Manual of Errors Artists' Tamako Market best musical pieces]. 音楽ナタリー (in Japanese). 18 March 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  12. ^ "INTERVIEW: Director Naoko Yamada on 'A Silent Voice,' Now in U.S. Theaters". 24 October 2017.
  13. ^ "Naoko Yamada interview | Anime etc".
  14. ^ "'A Silent Voice' Director Talks Coming of Age Outside the Norm". Newsweek. 4 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Top 20 Highest-Grossing Films in Japan Has 6 Anime Films". Anime News Network. December 18, 2016. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  16. ^ Eimi Yamamitsu, Motoko Rich and Makiko Inoue (July 19, 2019). "Japan Fire Killed Mostly Women, at a Studio Known for Hiring Them". New York Times. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  17. ^ a b ultimatemegax (2015-01-31). "Tamako Love Story/Director Naoko Yamada interview: Media Arts Festival ver". Ultimatemegax's blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  18. ^ a b kViN (2020-07-21). "KyoAni's Present And Future: Naoko Yamada and Haruka Fujita Interview". Sakuga Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  19. ^ kViN (2016-12-27). "Koe no Katachi Comic Natalie Interview – Naoko Yamada". Sakuga Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.

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