“Tetsuo Nagata’s like a samurai who works with light,” says helmer Vincenzo Natali, who worked with Nagata on the highly stylized “Quartier de la Madeleine” segment of “Paris, je t’aime.” “He has such a clean and precise way of lighting and composing, and he does everything seemingly without effort. He’s like the Toshiro Mifune of cinematographers.”
The comparison may be apt, but Nagata grew up worshipping the films of Fellini and the Nouvelle Vague over those of his homeland. “I was more fascinated with Jean-Luc Godard than Japanese films,” says Nagata, who was born in Nagano.
He moved to Paris more than 20 years ago with big cinematic dreams, starting as Argentine cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich’s assistant. The year 2002 proved pivotal for his career when he was presented with a Cesar Award for his cinematography on “La Chambre des officiers” at Cannes.
While critics devoted most of their ink championing Marion Cotillard’s performance as Edith Piaf in Nagata’s most recent feature, “La Vie en rose,” they also took pains to extol the d.p.’s atmospheric, at times surreal lensing. Nagata, ever humble, downplays the praise. “Sometimes I made mistakes,” he says, “but Marion was always so strong that it didn’t matter.”
While the visuals of Olivier Dahan’s “La vie en rose” exude an almost dreamlike reverie, Nagata’s work on Natali’s vampire-themed segment of “Paris je t’aime” is chillingly monochromatic.
“He suggested using phosphorus material in the makeup and lighting it with black lights,” says Natali. “The effect was beautiful. Tetsuo is very classical in his style but completely experimental in his techniques.”
Fave tool: “Silk mousseline & dark (black) cloths; Primo lenses: The contour between the sharpness and the out-of-focus on the Primo lenses is excellent!”
Preferred film stock: “I worked with Fuji 8573 for the last film.”
Inspirations: “Italian pasta with tomato sauce, Tomatito’s melancholic guitar sound or Steve Vai’s screaming guitar sound (guitar is my second passion), a foggy sunset in Santa Monica… and everything around my life.”
Up next: Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice,” starring Adrien Brody
Reps: Jonathan Silverman and Devin Mann, Endeavor