Alumni Spotlight: Yoko Okumura (CLWS ’02)

Yoko Okumura, pictured under a beautiful ceiling with multicolored light fixtures

Director and filmmaker Yoko Okumura’s new film, “Unseen”, debuts on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 on-demand, and will stream on MGM Plus in May. Read more about Yoko and her personal and professional journey in this great article from the Star Tribune, and in our 2018 interview with Yoko, below!

“Waldorf school taught me that creativity and the arts should be integrated into life,” says filmmaker Yoko Okumura CLWS ’02. “I was never afraid to pursue the arts as a profession.”

Okumura has been fixed on film since her grade school days at City of Lakes, when she was, as she laughingly puts it, “that kid who was always holding the taboo video recorder—I recorded all of our school plays!”

She stuck with it through an arts high school and BFA and MFA programs in film, ultimately gravitating toward directing.

Although directing is her passion, any neophyte filmmaker also has to write and produce her own work, which Okumura has done. Her film short Kimi Kabuki, an MFA project, earned her the Jury Award at the 2015 Austin Film Festival, among many other accolades. “That film got me a manager, an agent, and a lot of good meetings,” Okumura says. “It was a big step into the industry.”

Thanks in part to the success of Kimi Kabuki, Okumura today fully supports herself as a filmmaker. Along with working on feature films, she produces documentaries, including a recent one about her father, Soto Zen Buddhist priest Shohaku Okumura.

Her feature films currently in development are “pretty much all about Asian American women,” she says. “I want to tell more nuanced stories about minorities in this country.”

And although film is her primary creative outlet, it is by no means the only one, says Okumura, who also continues to draw, act, do improv and standup comedy, and perform in the circus arts. That last interest, she laughs, is “definitely something I got from Waldorf.”

“I’m blessed I got to do all these arts for eight years at City of Lakes,” says Okumura. “I gained a confidence in myself and in my creativity that my conventionally schooled friends have struggled for.”

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