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 (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 premiered 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 around 4 years after finishing college and starting work for the studio.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Yamada was born in Kyoto Prefecture.[5][6][1] She enjoyed drawing as a child and would copy images from the Patlabor and Dragon Ball series.[6] Always showing an interest in film, Yamada would stay up late as a child just to catch whatever film might be playing in the evening slot. She showed interest in extracurricular activities as well, joining the volleyball club in primary school and the tennis and photography clubs in high school.[6] At the Kyoto University of Art and Design,[7] she studied oil painting and was a member of the special effects club.[6]


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.[6] She first worked as an inbetweener for the very popular anime Inuyasha (2000-2004), which was outsourced to the studio at that time.[6][8] She was eventually promoted as a key animator for a TV adaptation of Air (2005).[6] 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."[9]

Her first directorial work was for the 17th episode of the anime series Clannad (2008),[8] though it was K-On! (2009) that marks her chief directorial debut and the development of her unique style.[6] The series would become successful, breaking numerous records and spurring another season in 2010 and a film in 2011, both directed by Yamada.[6] 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.[10] She storyboarded the entire film herself,[11] and also wrote the lyrics for the opening theme song, Everybody Loves Somebody.[12]

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,[13] but rather wanted the audience to focus on the more positive aspects of the film[14] and use bullying as a means of showing Shoya's personality as a teen.[15] 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.[16] 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. A Silent Voice is scheduled to be re-released in North American theaters on October 12, 2022 for the film's fifth anniversary.[17][18]

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.[19]

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.[6] 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."[20] This desire to connect with characters' thoughts and feelings also extends to the frequent LGBTQ+ characters and themes depicted in her works, with Yamada stating that although she doesn't desire to either avoid LGBTQ+ themes or give them special treatment, she aims to depict them as a "natural course".[4]

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."[8]

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.[21] 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.[20] 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 can 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.”[22]

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."[21]




Original net animation[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Title Japan Media Arts Festival Mainichi Film Awards Tokyo Anime Awards Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival
  • TV Category
  • K-On! (2009)
  • TV Category
  • K-On! (2009)
  • New Face Award
  • Tamako Love Story (2014)
  • Best Animated Film
  • A Silent Voice (2016)
  • 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. ^ a b Stevens, Josh A. (November 4, 2022). "Interview: Anime Director Naoko Yamada on Science SARU and LGBTQ+ Inclusion". Anime UK News. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ a b c Harding, Daryl (29 November 2019). "Celebrating Kyoto Animation's Naoko Yamada's Growth as a Director". Crunchyroll. Retrieved 17 October 2021.
  9. ^ kViN (2016-10-03). "Hibike! Euphonium Movie Stage Greetings – Tatsuya Ishihara x Naoko Yamada". Sakuga Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  10. ^ Nelkin, Sarah (28 September 2014). "Giovanni's Island Film Wins Media Arts Award". Anime News Network. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  11. ^ "監督インタビュー" [Director interview]. Tamako Love Story official website (in Japanese). 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Doi, Nobuaki (24 October 2017). "INTERVIEW: Director Naoko Yamada on 'A Silent Voice,' Now in U.S. Theaters". Cartoon Brew.
  14. ^ Osmond, Andrew (28 September 2018). "Naoko Yamada interview | Anime etc". Anime etc.
  15. ^ Medina, Nathalie (4 November 2017). "'A Silent Voice' Director Talks Coming of Age Outside the Norm". Newsweek.
  16. ^ Pineda, Rafael Antonio (December 18, 2016). "Top 20 Highest-Grossing Films in Japan Has 6 Anime Films". Anime News Network. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  17. ^ Lonner, Brenna (3 July 2022). "A Silent Voice Returns to Theaters for Anime's Fifth Anniversary". CBR. Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  18. ^ Tan, Melvyn (2 July 2022). "Eleven Arts To Re-release A Silent Voice". Anime Trending. Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b ultimatemegax (2015-01-31). "Tamako Love Story/Director Naoko Yamada interview: Media Arts Festival ver". Ultimatemegax's blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  21. ^ a b kViN (2020-07-21). "KyoAni's Present And Future: Naoko Yamada and Haruka Fujita Interview". Sakuga Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  22. ^ kViN (2016-12-27). "Koe no Katachi Comic Natalie Interview – Naoko Yamada". Sakuga Blog. Retrieved 2021-12-04.
  23. ^ "榮倉奈々、前田敦子ら『モダンラブ・東京』出演 黒木華、窪田正孝は声優として参加". Crank-in!. Retrieved July 29, 2022.
  24. ^ Pineda, Rafael Antonio (August 3, 2023). "Naoko Yamada, Science Saru's Kimi no Iro Anime Film Rescheduled to 2024". Anime News Network. Retrieved August 3, 2023.

External links[edit]