People | WHY DID YOU LEAVE JAPAN?

Aika Miyake: Film editor makes the cut in both Japan and U.S

by Kaori Shoji

Contributing Writer

There aren’t many female filmmakers in Japan, making even fewer female film editors. Aika Miyake is an exception.

“Somewhere in my mind is an optimistic me, hoping that my example will inspire other Japanese women to work in filmmaking,” she says.

Believing that “editing is all about bridging the gap between the film and the screen,” Miyake has worked as a film editor for many different directors in Japan and in the U.S.

For most of her 12-year career Miyake has been based in Japan, but in late May this year she finally secured a visa to emigrate to the U.S.

“I’ve been looking to get this visa for as long as I’ve been working,” she says, just two days before her departure. “Originally, I had planned to move over the summer. But then I thought, the visa’s come through, so why wait another minute? I had wanted this for so long. I figured I had better start making up for lost time.”

Miyake hails from Aichi Prefecture, and until she reached high school-age, she led an uncomplicated life in a well-to-do household. The youngest of three siblings, she describes her childhood as “being on the sidelines,” watching her sisters talk to her mother.

“They would have all these fascinating conversations that I couldn’t understand or be part of, because I was too young,” she recalls.

With sisters six and eight years older than her, Miyake says she was always tagging along and not really participating in their activities.

“I couldn’t get into the inner circle of my mother and sisters so I became a watcher,” she says. “That was when I acquired my love and skill of observing things.”

When Miyake was 17, her father died, leaving the entire family devastated, not just emotionally, but financially.

“My whole world turned upside down,” she says. “It turned out that my father died with debts, and for the first time in my life, I found myself worrying about money or whether I could go to college.”

Forced to rethink her future, Miyake came up with a plan to find a viable vocation.

“I decided to abandon any ideas of attending university in Japan. At the same time, I told myself I had to learn English, since that skill would come in handy in whatever path I chose,” she recalls.

She asked her mother for the tuition fees to study at a conversational school, and then took off on a five-week trip to Australia for a crash course in speaking and listening.

“I also wanted to work on shedding my natural shyness. My father was gone, and as part of coping with my loss I wanted to reinvent myself into someone who was independent, creative and capable of choosing her own destiny,” she says.

“After Australia I felt like I had gained enough confidence to talk to people and live on my own, but the next step for me was to secure an education that would lead to a profession.”

She set her sights on studying in the U.S. for a degree, but knew that it would be expensive.

“I talked it over with my mother and she was willing to support me, but I knew I couldn’t rely on her to pay for college and my living expenses,” she says. “I knew I had to fend for myself. That made me nervous, but I guess I’m naturally optimistic.”

It took approximately two years after her father’s death, however, before she finally flew out of Japan. In those two years she worked part time, saved money, researched her options and prepared for her future. She chose to apply to Modesto Junior College, in northern California.

“It’s not on anyone’s radar and it’s way out in the middle of nowhere,” she says, laughing at the question “Why Modesto?” “But it’s actually George Lucas’ hometown and where he set the film ‘American Graffiti.’ I had notions to go into filmmaking, so I thought that was a good omen.”

George Lucas attended Modesto Junior College before going on to the University of Southern California and making his first film, so it’s no surprise that the college honors its famed alumni by offering excellent courses in film making.

The first thing Miyake realized, however, was that her English wasn’t good enough to navigate through other film courses such as directing. When she tried her hand at editing, though, she was stunned by it: “I thought, wow, I can do this! Editing came very easily to me and, perhaps more importantly, the whole process made so much sense. You can’t complete a film without an editor.”

Miyake stayed in Modesto for four years, living on a strict budget of $2,000 dollars per three months, which was all that her mother could afford to send her.

“I don’t know how I managed it, actually. I was living on roughly $600 a month, which was really, really tough,” she recalls. “My friends helped me out a lot and I also learned the art of extreme frugality.”

Through it all, Miyake continued to hone her skills as a film editor. She also grew very fond of Modesto, saying, “I would have stayed if I had any job prospects. But there were none and I had to go back to Japan.”

Her big break came in 2012, when she was recruited to work on the film “Hafu,” directed by Megumi Nishikura and Lara Takagi. “Hafu” sheds light on the lives of multiracial individuals living in Japan and elsewhere, and their journey to accept the societies they live in as their own (or not).

“I really loved working on that film. I’m intensely interested in social problems, and the story of multiracial people in Japan intrigued me,” she says. “I worked on editing the film for a year, and it was gratifying because the two directors treated me as an artist and not like some operator in the studio, splicing and cutting according to their specifications.” The movie paved the way for other projects in Japan, with her most recent work being a Nike commercial starring Naomi Osaka.

“I love Japan for its many virtues but speaking as a film editor, I just couldn’t get over my longing to be in LA,” Miyake says of her return to the United States. “The film industry is so open to everyone with skills there, and there’s far less gender discrimination, which is not something I can say about my own country.”

The quality of filmmaking, she says, is also a draw.

“It’s incomparable — it’s just sheer joy to work on the footage. An editor can’t choose the quality of the material, but in the U.S. you have a lot more say over what’s good or just mediocre,” she explains. “In Japan I felt a little stifled as a professional film editor, but in LA I feel like I belong.”

Profile

Name: Aika Miyake
Profession: Film editor
Hometown area: Aichi Prefecture
Age: 36

Key moments in life and career:

  • 2000 Father passes away
  • 2001 Starts studying English and studies in Australia for five weeks
  • 2002 Enrolls in Modesto Junior College in California
  • 2006-07 Returns to Japan and starts working for the Crazy TV production company
  • 2010 Starts freelancing as a film editor
  • 2012 Edits the movie “Hafu” and joins Cutters, an editing organization
  • 2017 Leaves Cutters to work solo
  • 2019 Emigrates to the U.S. to settle in Los Angeles

Words to Live By: “‘Everything in life is vibration.’ This is an Albert Einstein quote and I’ve always loved it. Love is vibration, life is vibration — and through my work, I hope to add a little vibration to people’s minds.”