Tatsuki Imaji was born in Kyoto, Japan but spent most of his years in the smallest prefecture to exist, Kagawa. At the beginning of his college career, he moved to a satellite campus of Tokyo University of Science in Hokkaido, Japan’s Northern most snowy island. Feeling largely uninspired, he took a gap year to study abroad in Toronto, Canada, where his host family introduced him to the arts. It was there his love for film was born.
Upon Imaji’s return to Japan, he took his hand at film submitting an amateur work his hometown’s local Sanuki Film Festival. With positive reception, he jumped the gun and transferred to Nihon University housing Japan’s top film program in the country on the undergraduate level. His first film scoring screenings at IFFNY and Short Shorts Film Festival (the biggest film festival in Asia for short films), Imaji is an up and coming filmmaker freshly hitting the scene.
Hollywood World: First of all, congratulations to the “10424” team for receiving the IFFNY Excellence Award “Honorable Mention” for “Excellence in Short Film” in New York. How did you feel at the time when you found out?
Tatsuki Imaji: Ecstatic. I could say so much, but I am so humbled for my project to get this kind of attention.
Hollywood World: What was the most significant decision in shooting your current film?
Tatsuki Imaji: Honoring the death of my dog Quu was the push I needed make to make this documentary. So many dogs are facing an untimely death, and I want people to experience what the moments leading up to that death feel like. This work pushes people to think about Japan’s “dog shelters,” more deeply. I love Quu so much, and this was the least I could do to honor the relationship I had with him.
Hollywood World: What part of the script/story best stood out for you and why?
Tatsuki Imaji: Actually, there are three. I am sorry! The scene taking you into the incinerator and the audio which overlays the sounds of the dogs reacting to the event, that puts audiences in the moment of a dog’s last breaths is so powerful. When someone watches this moment, they can feel the experience from a dog’s perspective. Following that you see two big blue waste bins, and the final punch is that fact they are full of dog remains. Spectators go through the whole film not seeing a single dog until the very end. The two large bins serve the audience to realize the amount of life being lost as if it were just disposable, when it isn’t.
Hollywood World: How do you bring this story to life while staying true to your vision as director?
Tatsuki Imaji: The absence of narration, interviewing, physical characters, typical traits of a documentary et cetera work to create a unique visual bringing the audience into the consciousness of a dog. This was my intention. I wasn’t trying to make any direct political statements with this film, but simply wanted to give agency for the validity of canine emotion in a way the naked eye cannot see. It’s that very element that pushes this film on the genre borders of documentary and experimental.
Hollywood World: What excites you about this project?
Tatsuki Imaji: My advisor took this film out to show to high school students. I was honored he selected my film for educational screenings, and that my film could have an impact in this kind of capacity. That was exactly what I set out to do with this film in the first place, and it has already achieved that and so much more. The students were moved and even recommended my film to their friends. In addition to that, I’ve racked up six selections at a wide variety of different film festivals and events internationally. And before that, I thought I’d be lucky to just get one. I’m so humbled with how far this project has already come.
Hollywood World: What other works are you most proud of?
Tatsuki Imaji: I’m focusing on right now and am just so glad at the progress this project is making. I’m taking that momentum to the drawing boards for my next films as I brainstorm new ideas.
Hollywood World: What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
Tatsuki Imaji: I recently had the chance to see Steven Spielberg speak at the YouTube space in Roppongi, Tokyo. That inspired me. It’s Steven Spielberg, so I think that one speaks for itself.
Hollywood World: What do you do to enhance the collaborative process when working with actors, screenwriters, producers and others creative members?
Tatsuki Imaji: The fact that this project involves none of that is what makes my current style so special. It’s stripped down, to the point, and impacting in its presentation. Functioning as a one-person team enables me to produce the kind of attention to detail needed for the unique visuals displayed in my work.
Hollywood World: What experiences have you learned from in life? How did that change you and your creative process and the way you go about making films?
Tatsuki Imaji: My grandfather and dog passed away within two weeks of each other. I was suddenly confronted with the concept of death in such an abundance so unexpectedly. As humans, we navigate these kinds of life experiences and concepts in such a beautifully nonlinear fashion. Ultimately, I began to think about how loss is so equal among living creatures. That message brought me to where I am with this project. The visuals created in this film would not be possible without that kind of life experience. I needed that to contextualize those emotions in the creative process.
Hollywood World: How do you see your role as a filmmaker?
Tatsuki Imaji: As of right now, I believe it’s my job to create a product that is rich in reality and unbiased in its presentation of the truth. People need to register a deeper level of being outside of the everyday monogamy of their day-to-day lives. I’m here to deliver that.
Hollywood World: Which film festivals that you have been part of would you recommend to other filmmakers looking to screen his/her films?
Tatsuki Imaji: The Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo, Japan. I witnessed so many different nationalities winning across all categories during the awards ceremony. So many got the chance to bring light on issues not widely spoken about in Asia. This year director Chai Yee Wei’s Benjamin’s Last Day At Katong Swimming Complex received a nod from the George Lucas Award, the highest honor at the Short Shorts. His film will be submitted to the Academy for consideration of a nomination for an Oscar Award. The film deals with topics that are sensitive in Singaporean society. Art has the power to force open dialogues that engender change for the betterment of humanity. I wish direct Chai Yee Wei luck the best of luck as it goes under the Academy’s review.
Hollywood World: Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? What message do you want to convey with your films?
Tatsuki Imaji: We as filmmakers have the chance to make cultural impacts through our work. I want to convey realities people cannot easily see, so they stop and think twice about whatever topic my film handles. I want to create moments where people think to themselves “Wait… Is this how things should be?” It’s that kind of moment that creates the beginning pretenses necessary for change to take place.
Hollywood World: What other hobbies do you have?
Tatsuki Imaji: I do love nature and travel.
Hollywood World: What do you want to be remembered for in life? What valuable lessons have you learned that helped you become the person you are today?
Tatsuki Imaji: I want people to rethink society at large more than anything else. When I’m a bit further into my career I will be able to offer the public something a little more worthwhile as far as valuable life lessons go.
Hollywood World: What are your top five principles of success?
Tatsuki Imaji: I don’t have five, but I’ll leave you with this: we meet so many people in our lives. It’s important to just take a step back and wait or search for what that person has to offer. We realize something new in relationships, and these realizations are priceless for our growth as people.
Hollywood World: What’s next?
Tatsuki Imaji: More about Japan. I am in a position to express situations happening in my country, and I want to capitalize on that. This isn’t the last you’ll see from me.