Interview of Katsumi Yanagijima -Part 1


Katsumi Yanagijima

original Yanagijima

Born in 1950.Became a freelance Cinematographer after working at Mifune Productions Co. He debuted as a cinematographer in”Commercial Film Girls”(Dir. Izo Hashimoto) released in 1989. He took charge of 14 of Takeshi Kitano’s 16 movies.Notable works include “Battle Royale”(’00 / Dir. Kinji Fukasaku), “Go” (2001 / Dir.Isao Yukisada), “ Sea without Exit” (2009 / Dir. Miwa Nishikawa), “Robo-G” (2012 / Dir. Shinobu Yaguchi), “Like someone in love” (2012 / Dir.Abbas Kiarostami), “Dreams for Sale” (2012 / Dir. Miwa Nishikawa), “Midsummer’s Equation” (2013 / Dir. Hiroshi Nishitani). He has been a Professor at the Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts since 2011.




Film Cinematography and Digital Cinematography,( Interview by Shogo Yokoyama and Sachiko Iioka,2012)

System of the Camera Department


Is there any difference between organization in the days when all filmmaking was done by film cinematography and these days when filmmaking is increasingly digital?


There is not much difference in the shooting crews between film and digital cinematography. The basic style of the organization consists of five people:

  1. Camera Chief – Who controls the lighting
  2. Focus Puller
  3. Loader
  4. Camera Crew – who carries equipment and does chore
  5. Cinematographer



How do you usually decide the “look” of a movie?


I usually decide the ‘look’ to a certain degree when I receive the script, and make a final decision after testing. At that time I explain my intention. On site the crew creates the intended ‘look’ and proceeds with revision of intentions and request in detail. The ‘look’ is different with each work or genre or the the directors’s thoughts.



How do you envision the lighting?


The lighting I’m interested is lighting from the side. I was taught that suspending the lights from above was basic. In most sets the lights doesn’t enter the shot if the lights hang from above. When the lights sets from the side,it takes up space to set the lights and the lights also have to move for every shot. Then the balance of lighting becomes more complex. However, I once realized every shot in which the lightings came from above was almost the same, depending though, on the particular work or setting.

When I was thinking about, “Isn’t there any works which was lit from the side?” to my surprise I found there were many such movies. One good example is “Million Dollar Baby”(2004 Dir.Clint Eastwood). In that movie most of the lightings was from the side. It looks like only one light and it’s quite unnatural light, but it’s entirely satisfactory for film to be dramatic. So, I have gradually felt more stronglythat we do not stick to the basic direction of lighting because it is not necessary for movies to mirror reality.



With the rising enhancement of the digital camera, has the necessary lighting changed?


Lightings has always had to change with passing time, but these differences have become even stronger with digital photography. With a digital cameraif the sensitivity is raised, you can shoot even if the amount of lights is inadequate compared with a film camera,and this is very helpful when shooting at night.

I’m often surprised even in situation where my guts feeling from my days of shooting with a film camera is that we don’t have enough lights at all. But, the moment the gain is raised we are able to capture bright images.

Lighting equipment as well cameras also has evolved, and while fluorescent lighting was dominant a while back, now LED lighting has become a major method. Accordingly,miniaturized and light weight lighting equipment have been developed so lighting sets or angles which were impossible previously have now become possible. For example, with a scene inside a car at night,there used to be only one way to shoot by putting a small light- which was quite a bit larger thanlights nowadays – and a large battery inside the car. Consequently,the lighting was rather unnatural because it was coming from below the steering wheel. But now you can create realistic lighting by using alight source the size of a pencil or smaller than a cell phone.



When you decide the “look” on site of digital cinematography, How do you interact with the director or the lighting crew?


As the efficiency of monitors and cameras gets better, you can view things on a very highly precise monitors. There is a tendency for the Director and staff to decide or judge everything through the monitor. There are increasingly more directors who produce film by watching a monitor. As for chief lighting technicians(gaffers), some try to evaluate lighting through the monitor. There are cases in which the proposal of the “look” takes form between a director and lighting crew with the monitor. Because I prefer to keep the atmosphere of the set as closely as possible, I feel some resistance when things are decided by looking at a monitor. So, I prefer to work with Gaffers who are willing to share the atmosphere on set.

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