Over the past two decades, Chiaki Yanagimoto has produced a range of narrative and documentary films including Kampai! For the Love of Sake and Words Can’t Go There, both of which screened internationally and at the Hawai’i International Film Festival. Now based in Los Angeles, she has used her connections and experience to build platforms to connect Japanese filmmakers to global audiences.
Growing up in a small town at the base of Mt. Fuji, Japan, Yanagimoto spent hours with her mother watching films on VHS rented from their local video store. After graduating high school, she moved to the United States to pursue her BA in film production at California State University, Northridge. As Yanagimoto began her career in film, she worked closely with renowned Japanese producer Taka Ichise (The Ring, The Grudge).
Yanagimoto joins the Vilcek Foundation as one of our featured New American Perspectives filmmakers at the 2023 Hawai’i International Film Festival, where the Vilcek Foundation will present screenings of her directorial debut, the documentary AUM: The Cult at the End of the World.
SAKKA: Making inroads for Japanese Cinema
Yanagimoto is the founder of Synepic Entertainment, a film production, consulting, and distribution company focused on empowering visionary storytellers from diverse cultural backgrounds. She established SAKKA, Synepic’s distribution arm, to curate and deliver award-winning contemporary and independent films from Japanese artists on an accessible streaming platform.
“There is a whole new generation of talented directors in Japan right now who are doing interesting things,” Yanagimoto says in an interview with Cinema Daily. Her mission to empower Japanese artists is encapsulated by the following statement on Synepic’s website: “While more Japanese films are getting recognized at film festivals around the world, most of them aren’t able to fully spread their wings within the traditional distribution system. We liberate those films and let the world discover them, while giving the power back to where it matters: the filmmakers.”
AUM: The Cult at the End of the World
AUM: The Cult at the End of the World marks Yanagimoto’s directorial debut. In this chilling film about the Aum Shinrikyo cult—the group responsible for the deadly Sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway in 1995—Yanagimoto and co-director Ben Braun made clear directorial choices that set the documentary apart from other films that explore cults and criminal enterprises. AUM: The Cult at the End of the World focuses on activities that should have raised alarms as the organization grew, and highlights how the sensationalization and romanticization of the cult by Japanese media enabled Aum’s more sinister actions to go overlooked.
The Hawai’i International Film Festival
The Vilcek Foundation will present screenings of AUM: The Cult at the End of the World at the Kahala Consolidated Theatre in Honolulu, Hawai’i, on Thursday, October 19, at 8:15pm HST and Friday, October 20, at 3pm followed by a Q&A with Yanagimoto and co-director Ben Braun. Yanagimoto will also participate in a panel discussion with all of the 2023 New American Perspectives artists on Saturday, October 21, at 1:30pm, and will be participating in programs at the festival with SAKKA filmmakers Akio Fujimoto, Yusaku Matsumoto, and award-winning producer Takeshi Moriya.
For tickets and more information, go to HIFF.org.