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Plays in Shorts Program: One-of-a-Kind
Friday, June 14
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

Eaton Cinema

1201 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20005

Instruments of a Beating Heart


Ema Ryan Yamazaki

Executive Producers

Shin Yasuda, Akihiko Sugie, Mizue Kunizane


Eric Nyari


Mizuki Toriya


Kazuki Kakurai

First graders in a Tokyo public elementary school are presented with a challenge for the final semester: performing “Ode to Joy” at the ceremony for the new incoming first graders. Ayame, who often struggles to keep up with the group, is determined to play a major part — the big drum. We follow Ayame as she experiences shattering blows and joyous victories in the audition process. But to rehearse for the big performance, Ayame must quickly learn to deal with newfound pressure and responsibility. When it comes time to perform in the packed auditorium, will she prevail? Instruments of a Beating Heart intimately examines the Japanese educational system’s tenuous balance between self-sacrifice and human growth as it teaches the next generation to become part of Japanese society.

Director, Instruments of a Beating Heart

Raised in Osaka, Japan, by a Japanese mother and British father, Ema navigated between Japanese and Western cultures. She uses her unique storytelling perspective as both an insider and an outsider in Japan. Ema’s first feature documentary, Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators (2017), was released worldwide by The Orchard after raising over $186,000 on Kickstarter. It premiered at the LA Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival.

Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams (2019), Ema’s second feature documentary about the phenomenon of high school baseball in Japan, premiered at DOC NYC. The film aired in primetime on ESPN and was released theatrically in Japan.

Her latest documentary, The Making of a Japanese, premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2023 and is currently playing at festivals and in distribution around the world. It follows one year in a Japanese public school, observing children learn the traits necessary to become part of Japanese society. Renowned sales agent Autlook represents the Japan/USA/France/Finland co-production.

Ema recently served as Editor and Co-Producer for Shiori Ito’s Black Box Diaries, which premiered to critical acclaim at Sundance 2024.