The Discover Beauty Symposium, sponsored and co-sponsored by Japan Cultural Expo and Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, took place this week, and we'd like to highlight some of the important discussions the panelists had.

For this symposium, women in the film industry joined moderator Chuk Besher to discuss the role of women in film in the U.S and Japan. Panelists included art director and Emmy-winner Chikako Suzuki, documentary director Ema Ryan Yamazaki, and Japanese commentator and actor LiLiCo.

The discussion also touched on the subject of "beauty," looking back through history at the Japanese women who contributed to establishing the Japanese culture of beauty and have been highly regarded abroad.

“Discover Beauty” also hosted a screening of the "Discover Beauty Program," a collection of short films depicting Japanese beauty from the perspective of female directors. If you missed it, check out the lineup of all the female-directed short films in the Discover Beauty program.

Watch the recording of the Beauty Symposium below, then dig into the main takeaways!

The Celluloid Ceiling

Besher opened the discussion with statistics from the Center for the Study of Women in TV & Film about how few women are in leadership roles in Hollywood.

Suzuki, who works exclusively in Hollywood, said she has seen things changing since the advent of the #MeToo movement, and even in the male-dominated lighting and grip departments, she is seeing more women.

"I don't think women are working thinking, like, they are women," Suzuki said. "But definitely they can bring a different element to the set. And I feel like female actors and performers, they feel a little more comfortable if more women are around on the set."

Yamazaki, who works mostly in New York, told a story about a boss who cut her maternity leave short to secure her job. She worries she'll have to do the same.

"I'm very concerned about being forgotten in a way if I don't work for a few years," Yamazaki said. "I think it's kind of an unforgiving industry, both in the U.S. and Japan. But I think in Japan especially there's issues still around working with young kids that I foresee in my near future."

LiLiCo (who was born and raised in Sweden) agreed, saying that women in Japan face discrimination if they want to have children.

Discover_beauty_panelCredit: SSFF & ASIA

Creating diverse crews

Yamazaki said she has only recently started to consider whether she got or lost jobs because of her gender. She is mindful of this as she is crewing her own projects.

"I do look out for younger women," she said. "Because if I knew what I know now, when I was 10 years younger, I think I wouldn't have had to be as afraid sometimes. But I also think that it does depend on the woman. When I'm assembling a crew, I just want to think of the best person for the job. Because I am a female and I am the director, I like to balance out the teams. Often I work with male directors because, depending on the subjects, different people might be drawn to different personalities, different genders."

If her subjects are young children, for instance, she likes to have diverse options on the crew who might be able to connect with those subjects.

The struggles of Japanese film

The percentage of female writers and directors in Japan is quite low, as Besher pointed out.

Yamazaki said, "Very few girls are dreaming of becoming film directors because there are very few role models. I can't really imagine that there wouldn't be interest if the opportunity was more normal. I think Japan is quite behind in that way."

Suzuki said she has not accepted projects in Japan because she doesn't feel she would have the freedom to be creative like she is in Hollywood. She told a story about being asked to act as an advisor on a project, but the person she was asked to help was a Japanese man who treated her as if he didn't want her help.

"I do feel like [the] Japanese industry has this old way of doing things," she said.

This was some amazing insight into Japan's film industry and how women are treated in film around the world. Make sure you check out the entire panel for more from these experts!

Ema_ryan_yamazakiCredit: SSFF & ASIA


Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia is an Academy Award-accredited festival. This means the winner of the best short awards in the competition, as well as the non-fiction competition, is eligible for nomination in the short film categories of the Academy Awards the next year.

The festival was founded in 1999 as the Short Shorts Film Festival (SSFF). In 2004, SSFF added a program for Asian short films and established Short Shorts Film Festival Asia with the support of the Governor of Tokyo.

Now, the combination of the two festivals takes place annually in Tokyo as Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia, one of the largest short film festivals in Asia. This year's fest takes place June 11-21 with online and in-person screenings and events.

Check out all of our festival coverage here!