Ito Soma is a high school student in Hirosaki City, Aomori. Her hobby is playing the Tsugaru shamisen, a three-string instrument that is popular in her home prefecture. She picked up the skill from her late mother, a talented shamisen player in her own right. While Ito can express herself through music, talking is a little harder due to shyness, which, when coupled with her strong Tsuguru dialect, makes it hard for her to communicate. And so she has few friends but, despite this, she has a strong inner spirit and she makes a big decision to start a part-time job at a maid cafe, much to the concern of her father Koichi. With every meeting that Ito has, her confidence begins to grow. (Osaka Asian Film Festival)
Born in Aomori Prefecture, Yokohama studied filmmaking at the The Film School of Tokyo. She made her directorial debut with Chiemi-chan to Kokkun Batcho in 2005 which won Best Film at the CO2 Open Competition. The grant she earned helped her make her second feature German + Rain which not only earned her the Directors Guild of Japan Newcomer Award, but was selected to the Bright Future program at the 2007 International Film Festival Rotterdam. She later followed with Bare Essence of Life, Girl In the Apple Farm and The Actor. Based on on the work by novelist Koshigaya Osamu, Ito‘s coming-age-story depicts a young country girl learning to communicate both with her own words, but also with the traditional music of her hometown. Set in Aomori Prefecture, Yokohama and lead actress Komai Ren’s birthplace, it was important that the actor portraying Ito could speak the local Tsugaru dialect. “I had the choice of an actor not native to Aomori practice the Tsugaru dialect, but I’m also from Aomori, so it’s tough to hear a manufactured Tsugaru dialect. Plus, my instinct was it wouldn’t be good for the film.” (JFF+ Interview) Komai also studied playing the Tsugaru shamisen while the production was delayed by the pandemic for a year.
Yokohama has often portrayed people who do not fit into the norms of society, but either do not realize it or are not bothered by it. They continue to live for themselves despite how others view them. She has particularly portrayed women who don’t pander to anyone. Ito is no exception. Speaking about this common theme in her filmography that there is no set way of living Yokohama states, “[…] I like to portray people in films who aren’t given a [label] in society. The main characters in my films are all people who can’t give a good answer to the question, ‘What’s the purpose of living?'” (JFF+ Interview)