As a child growing up in Niigata, Japan, Katsuya Imai was always fascinated by film. He would watch movies like Godzilla, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey to be transported to a new world, a place where the sets were immersive and special effects were magical. To this day, Imai still feels the power that these elements add to films, which is why he is such a successful art director and production designer.
Imai’s talents are recognized around the world. He has a true appreciation for what he does, telling a story in a way that actors cannot. He creates a visual world, letting audiences forget they are watching a movie, and allow them to think they have truly gone to another place. His work on the films Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger: 10 Years After and The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War has shown audiences in Japan and around internationally what he is capable of. However, it was his work on the award-winning film Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days that earned him the spot as one of Japan’s best art directors.
“When I was at theater, many audience members were crying at the end of the film. It was one of the most wonderful moment in my career. I am very happy that the film I worked on impresses people,” said Imai.
Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days tells the story of Yuuichi Okano, a baby boomer born raised in Nagasaki, Japan. His bald-head looks like a pecoross, a small onion. His Mother, Mitsue has dementia that began soon after her husband, Satoru, passed away 10 years before. The film depicts their daily life that is full of humor and sweet sorrow. The theme of this film is nursing care and dementia that take up as serious social issue in Japan; the aging of population is advancing rapidly. The Director, Azuma Morisaki, at the age of 85, is now the oldest active film director in Japan.
“I wanted to work on the film because of the director Azuma Morisaki, who is one of the legends in Japan. He has directed over 30 films and been working on film industry for 60 years. He is the one of the directors who made Japanese film history,” said Imai. “Also, I am a fan of the comic book that the film was based on, it is very heartwarming and touching.
Imai was approached by the Production Designer on the film, Takaichi Wakamatsu. The two had worked together on nine major projects in three years, and Wakamatsu knew he needed the best for a film like to be the success that it became.
“Katsuya understands what I want. It is easy to communicate with him. His work product was consistent and beyond satisfactory and his sense of style inspired many on set,” said Wakamatsu.
After its premiere in Nagasaki in August of 2013, the film went on to many of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. At the Yakohama Film Festival that year, it won Best Director and Best Cinematography, at the Takasaki Film Festival it won Best Film, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress, At the Eiga Geijutsu Best Ten it won Best Film, and was a Special Entry at the Japan Film Festival Los Angeles. It also won the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film, and at the Mainichi Film Awards in 2014, it won Best Actress and the award for Excellent Japanese Film. Imai’s talent as an art director contributed greatly to all of this success.
“The film has two period settings. One is present day, and the other is 60 years ago. The story is about a comic writer and his mother. We needed to design two totally different taste of sets. We did a lot of research at the library and from books and watched many films that were made 60 years ago to make sure it was extremely authentic,” Imai described. “We needed to make everything look like it was from the 1950's at the location. We tried to find an old-style place but it was hard, especially in the city. We found an old-style narrow street, but built some flat houses to really capture it. Despite these challenges, it was a great experience. The challenges made it more exciting.”
As the Art Director, Imai designed all the signs and logos, like the huge arch sign of the name of the street that has the 1950's taste. He also took care of construction and shooting. He was on all of the sets with the production designer, double-checking that nothing was wrong with the set. This was very important for the period film.
“People who I hadn’t seen in a very long time saw my name in the credits at the end of the film and sent me a message to tell me how impressed they were. It was really amazing,” said Imai.
It wasn’t just the work, or who he was working with, that made the experience so great for Imai. The film was set in Nagasaki in the south part of Japan, a city was attacked with nuclear bombs during the war.
“We stayed there for a few months for shooting. It was great experience to be in historical city for filming,” Imai concluded.
Imai’s talent is known around the world, and his passion for what he does is evident with every project he takes on, especially Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days.
Photo by Avner Mayer