What challenges are there in making costumes for period dramas? How do you choose your material?
Whether it is for operas, films or plays, the important thing is the texture of the material. I often make the materials myself, but when I use a piece of material already made I adapt it by adding or removing certain elements. Sometimes I remove the colour in order to create something to my own taste. Even in the case of period dramas, we have to remember that the audiences are made up of our contemporaries. While we try to preserve certain historical elements of plays set more than a hundred years ago, I add modern colours to the mix. Moreover, for large-scale productions a major issue is getting hold of the basic material. For instance, to make costumes for an opera with a chorus of 160 people and 100 extras, how does one secure 10,000 metres of material? In such cases, I leave the costume for the leading actors until later.
With films, in most cases, while shooting is under way I make the costumes for the subsequent scenes. Ran is the film in which I had the most time at hand to prepare. The filming was interrupted because of financial difficulties, but because I had already ordered the material for the costumes in Kyoto it was out of the question to cancel it at that stage. So the director Akira Kurosawa and I decided that, if there was no other way to keep the production going, we would pay for the material ourselves. Eventually, however, funding was secured and the film was completed. And I managed to keep my house! For Ran, all the costumes had been made by the time shooting started. On the other hand, for Kurosawa's film Dreams I was under more pressure as the timing was very tight.
You have designed many wonderful costumes. When you are thinking about and making them, what points are particularly important? Where do you derive your inspiration?
Well, I look for inspiration in my memories and experience. As I grew up in Kyoto, the wood of the Buddhist statues, trees, the grain of the wooden pillars, the patterns on the floor, the stones in the gardens, the bamboo, trees and plants in Kyoto are all a part of me, and as I read a script I borrow from all these things. As I have had a long life, I have accumulated various memories and experiences, and in the quest for inspiration my mind may jump from the Sanjusangendo temple in Kyoto to a wisteria flower I have seen in Rome. Since I travel all over the world in the course of my work, I absorb and keep hold of memories from everywhere I have been. Of course, I buy and study books and whatever else catches my attention in the various places I visit. The things that appeal to me at such times, the shapes and colours, become part of what inspires me. Take the costume for the character Tsue in Ran, for instance. The colour came from one of the works of the Italian painter Botticelli, and I incorporated it into a Japanese kimono. In House of Flying Daggers, the idea for the hat in the bamboo forest scene just popped into my head! I made it in the irregular weaving Kyoto style, but in China and Ukraine, where the filming took place, they don't have that special style, so I had a sample made by a bamboo artist in Kyoto and then had the hats made in China.
My work takes me all over the world, but the basis of my designs is Japanese, particularly the style of my native Kyoto.