The scene of Mel Gibson intensely putting on black tights and mascara while experiencing his first-ever wax in a bid to understand what women really want in Nancy Meyers’ 2000 comedy, “What Women Want,” flashbacked as I was watching “21st Century Girl,” and I couldn’t help but smile with relief. Thankfully, I thought, long gone are the days when women’s ambitions in life were perceived as superficial. Living in today’s complex and high-paced society has led women to address topics that challenge them to a much more sophisticated level. And the best outcome of this so far is that, at last, women are not afraid to explore their talents and ambitions — nor talk about “difficult topics.”
“21st Century Girl” is a perfect example. In 2018, director U-ki Yamato launched a professional challenge that was to collect films by fellow female directors of similar age, with each, exploring the theme of self-awareness and sexuality. The directors were to provide a short film on the topic that was to be combined in one omnibus-style movie, the primary purpose of which was to prove that the women of the 21st century are bold, diverse, and creative and they don’t shy away from hiding it. Upon completion, “21st Century Girl” was comprised of 14 short films and one animated end-title sequence created by young female directors born in the 1980s or 90s. The movies, exploring relationships, self-awareness, sexuality, love, lust, and more, are bold as their creators are. And while speaking of the creators, let’s dig in a bit deeper into their past to get to know them better.
1.U-Ki Yamato (山戸結希)
Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1989, Yamato is an established director known for depicting the complex emotions of adolescent girls. She made her breakthrough in 2012 with her self-taught debut work, “That Girl Is Dancing by the Seaside,” a movie she filmed while still in college. While at university she studied ethics and had planned to become a researcher, the excellent receipt of her debut film persuaded her to direct her talent toward filmmaking. In 2013, she won the music and film competition Moosic Lab’s Grand Prix for her film “Like a Fairy Tale,” and in 2016, she directed “Drowning Love,” her first large-scale production (and instant hit) starring movie stars Masaki Suda and Nana Komatsu. Aside from filmmaking, Yamato has also worked on the music videos of some of Japan’s top musicians and groups, including Nogizaka46, Radwimps, and Little Glee Monster. Yamato produced and planned “21st Century Girl,” while also including her own short film “For Lonesome Blossoms,”saying that she “wishes the movie opens the table for new debates and hope.” Her most recent movie is “Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy.”
『For Lonesome Blossoms』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
2.Aya Igashi (井樫彩)
Emerging as a promising director at the age of just 22, director Aya Igashi’s success is a mirror of her devotion to the craft and unquestionable originality. A native of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, Igashi studied film at the Toho Gakuen Film Techniques Training College in Tokyo, which she graduated with a promise of success. Her graduation film “Tokeru” (2016), about an unhappy girl who changes thanks to her cousin’s unexpected support, won multiple awards and was screened at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, on the recommendation of Japanese director Naomi Kawase. Her first long feature, “A Crimson Star,” about two emotionally damaged people who find solace in each other’s company, was released in 2018, further inspiring hope for Igashi’s successful career. For “21st Century Girl,” Igashi directed the gender-bending self-discovery “Your Sheet.”
『Your Sheet』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
3.Yuka Eda (枝優花)
Born in 1994 in Gunma Prefecture, Eda grew up watching movies as “the only pastime” in her small town. Now that she has established her name in the Japanese cinema, she looks back to her childhood days remembering that she was “always curious about what was on the other side of the screen.” After winning the audience award at Waseda University’s film festival, Eda began work on her first long feature, “Girls Encounter” (2018), a movie about school bullying and friendship based on her own experience as a teenager. Eda directed “Love Desiccant” for “21st Century Girl,” a quirky short about first-time romance gone dry.
『Love Desiccant』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
4.Ayaka Kato (加藤綾佳)
Ayaka Kato’s leading characters are young women struggling to come to terms with life. Kato launched her career as a film and commercials director after graduating with a Fiction Major from a movie college in Tokyo, and her long feature debut film “Dislike A Girl Like Thing” (2015) won her immediate popularity among movie critics. Her most recent film “Itsumo tsukiyo ni kome no meshi” tells the story of a young woman who matures as she starts working at a restaurant following her mother’s disappearance. Kato’s “21st Century Girl” entry was “Mucous Membrane,” telling the story of a woman’s peculiar wonders about her erogenous zones.
『Mucous Membrane』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
5.Yukari Sakamoto (坂本ユカリ)
Sakamoto launched her career as an assistant director to U-ka Yamato in her debut work “That Girl Is Dancing by the Seaside” (2012). One of the few directors on this list to study film all the way to graduate school, Sakamoto’s expertise lies in film editing and directing. After winning several awards at film competitions, in 2018, she worked on the popular movie “Eating Women.” In “21st Century Girl,” she stunned the audience with “Reborn,” a short film about a collapsed relationship.
『Reborn』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
6.Rin Shuto (首藤凜)
Multiple award-winning director Shuto was born in Tokyo in 1995 and launched her versatile career in high school when she first started filming. Her films include “Let’s Sleep Together Again” (2016) and “Please don’t go anywhere” (2017), for both of which she directed and wrote the script for. Shuto won three awards at the film and music competition Moosic Lab in 2017, including the runner up Grand Prix for her film “Please don’t go anywhere.” Her “21st Century Girl” feature was “I wanna be your cat,” an exploration of hidden desires.
『I wanna be your cat』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
7.Risa Takeuchi (竹内里紗)
With eight-plus titles on her portfolio already, 28-year-old Takeuchi is one of the most prominent rising stars in the new generation of Japanese cinema. Her 2014 debut film “Michiteiku,” a story about an athlete schoolgirl who hides an odd fetish, won several awards at film competitions, forming Takeuchi’s path to fame at a fast pace. After returning to graduate school to complete her film studies, Takeuchi directed and wrote the script for several more successful titles, among which “Follow” (2016), “Synchronizer” (2017), and ”Mirror,” her “21st Century Girl”‘s entry about a photographer and a former flame’s peculiar relationship.
『Mirror』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
8.Aimi Natsuto (夏都愛未)
Perhaps the only name on this list which has stretched her arms into the music, acting, and directing industries, Natsuto’s career is as versatile as her film themes are. Natsuto studied music composition at college but debuted as an actress in Takuya Misawa’s 2014 movie “Chigasaki Story,” an internationally acclaimed film that has won several awards. Natsuto debuted as a director with her short film “Spring-ing,” which she filmed for “21st Century Girl,” in which she explores a love triangle flourishing amid the short-lived season of cherry blossoms. Her first long feature film as a director is titled “Hamabe’s Game” (2019).
『珊瑚礁』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
9.Kanae Higashi (東佳苗)
Kanae Higashi comes from a professional fashion background, which explains her theme in “21st Century Girl”‘s short film “Out of Fashion,” a story of a charismatic model who faces crossroads. But while Higashi’s directing skills are undoubtful, her main strength lies in the fashion and design business, where she has established a solid presence. Born in Fukuoka in 1989, Higashi established her fashion brand Rurumu in 2009, and has since continued to work hand-in-hand in fashion and film through art directing, costume design, and actors styling. In 2015, she directed her first short film, “Heavy Shabby Girl,” followed by “The End of Anthem” (2017) and “My doll filter” (2017).
『Out of Fashion』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
10.Momoko Fukuda （ふくだももこ）
Movie director, screenwriter, and novelist, Momoko Fukuda is another versatile talent on our list whose work can not be limited to a single definition. Born in Osaka in 1991, Fukuda launched her movie career with her graduation film “Goodbye Mother,” which instantly won critics’ approval and was screened at a number of domestic film festivals. In 2015, she released another short film “My father’s wedding,” which was equally well accepted. In 2016, she debuted as a novelist with her first novel “En” for which she won a literary award. Her “21st Century Girl” entry, “Sex-less, Sex-friends,” follows the lives of two friends who struggle to define their relationship. Her latest film and novel, “My Father, the Bride” released in 2019, is a heartwarming story of a family that tries to get their heads around the odd transformation of their father who has become their mother.
『Sex-less, Sex-friends』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
11.Hana Matsumoto (松本花奈)
An actress, director, screenwriter, and film editor, Hana Matsumoto launched her career in film as a child and began making movies as early as in junior high school. A former child actress, Matsumoto has starred in over 30 movies, TV series, commercials, and music videos, and has directed just as many. Among her most memorable on-screen appearances are the horror “Juon: Black Ghost” (2009) and Mikihiro Endo’s “Friends” (2013). Her debut film “A midsummer dream,” a coming-of-age drama, was screened at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in 2015, instantly gaining popularity. The success was followed by her next film, “Dadadada seventeen,” a year later, which further won multiple awards, establishing Matsumoto as one of Japan’s top aspiring directors of her generation. Her “21st Century Girl” short “Low Resolution, High Emotion” is a nostalgic record of the memories of a long lost lover.
『Low Resolution, High Emotion』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
12.Yuka Yasukawa (安川有果)
Winner of the annual Japanese Professional Movie Awards’ Best New Director Award in 2015, Osaka-born Yuka Yasukawa debuted as director in 2012 with the horror-drama-Sci-fi film “Dressing Up,” which earned her the 2015 award. Following her initial success, Yasukawa continued working on multiple works, most of which short movies, including “Muse,” the story of a male writer and a female photographer who share the same muse, which Yasukawa submitted for “21st Century Girl.”
『Muse』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
13.Yoko Yamanaka (山中瑶子)
Born in 1997 in Nagano Prefecture to a family with a strict upbringing, Yamanaka wasn’t allowed to watch movies or read comics as a child. But when a teacher recommended several movies to her in high school, she became so captivated that she quit the badminton club “to watch movies.” It was around that time that she became determined to walk the road of filmmaking for a living. She began enrolled at a film course in college, but quit before graduation, spending a year “doing nothing.” But apparently, it was this time of self-search that inspired the creation of her debut work “Amiko,” which she made from scratch, even recruiting staff and crew through social media. The movie brought Yamanaka a huge success, winning her the Pia Film Festival 2017’s Audience Award and a ticket to a number of international film festivals across the globe. Her “21st Century Girl”‘s entry “Anytime, anywhere” follows the lives of the women of a Chinese restaurant — a real restaurant where Yamanaka used to work part-time.
『Anytime, anywhere』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
14.Yurina Kaneko (金子由里奈)
A winner of multiple awards and movie critics’ praise, director Yurina Kaneko has an impressive career despite being — surprisingly — still a college student. Born in 1995 in Tokyo, but currently based in Kyoto, Kaneko has worked on various music videos and films, while also acting as an inspiration to other young moviemakers by setting up independent movie film festivals and participating in various competitions. Her latest release, “Nemuru mushi” (Sleeping Insect), won the Grand Prix at Moosic Lab 2019. In her short film “Projection” in “21st Century Girl” Kaneko switches roles with her audience and becomes the one who’s photographed and filmed for a change.
『Projection』©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
15.Sakura Tamagawa (玉川桜)
The talent behind “21st Century Girl”‘s only animated entry, Sakura Tamagawa is a Hokkaido-native illustrator born in 1985. After coming to Tokyo to pursue a better career, she began working at a local firm, while continuing to draw and hold private exhibitions in her free time. “21st Century Girl” is Tamagawa’s first large scale work.
Endrol Animation ©2019「21世紀の女の子」製作委員会 Produced by Ū ki Yamato
From sentimental dramas and unexplainable, at times even odd, emotional thrills, the movies lined up in this omnibus sensation are impossible to ignore. Not only they explore realistic topics that most women today can associate with, but they also serve as a manifesto: a loud and clear dedication to continuing devoting one’s talent to the women of the future who see one or two of themselves in the 15 movies of “21st Century Girl” — or any of the directors behind the film.
Text by Rose Haneda