Cutters Tokyo’s new colour star who graded Gravity Cat, Diesel Walls and more
In his first year of working as a full-time colourist, Toshiki Kamei has built up a seriously impressive reel of projects. From a music video for Nike to a seriously stylish Diesel spot and the small matter of the multi-award-winning PS4 spot Gravity Cat, Toshiki’s been sprinkling his colour magic over some seriously cool work.
Toshiki’s a great example of why it’s so important to invest in training young talent. He came to Cutters as an intern and gravitated towards the world of colour after spending a year assisting the editors. Taken underwing, mentored by the senior colourists and supported by the management, Toshiki learned not only the craft and tools of his trade but also built up his confidence and communication skills too. And now he’s flying solo, winning everyone over with his great eye and kind personality.
LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Toshiki to learn more.
LBB> Becoming a colourist is such a specialised thing – how did you get drawn to it?
TK> I first started as an intern at Cutters Studios Tokyo, and from there I was introduced to the role of a colourist for the first time. From that moment onwards, I started to adore the idea of becoming a colourist. As I was coming to the end of my internship I had the opportunity to have a chat with Timo [Timo Mitsuaki Otsuki, EP at Cutters] and the management team to express my interest in becoming an assistant colourist.
After I finished my internship I became Ben Conkey’s assistant as a colourist for two years. This year I have debuted as a full-time colourist for Cutters Studios Tokyo. Even as a full-time colourist right now I really enjoy the job and greatly respect my fellow colourists. To this day I see it as an amazingly cool role to take part in.
LBB> You joined Cutters as an intern – how did you get to hear about the company, and what was that experience like?
TK> Before I started my internship, my film school teacher recommended it to me. From the beginning I’ve had an interest in postproduction, like motion graphics and editing with After Effects and Premier Pro.
I was familiar with the existence of Cutters Studios Tokyo as a company because I did some research online. Since I needed overseas experience for Cutters, I was going to give up and not hand in my application. However, I was advised by my teacher to give it a go so I applied for a position anyway.
At first, I was able to study the original culture of Cutters by doing unrelated tasks (which now have all turned out to be relevant, like communication skills and hospitality for our clients).
In the beginning, I started assisting the editors. When I had time to myself, I was able to study colour by assisting a colourist. I also learned how to work with online editing from assisting Dr Yu (VFX Supervisor) with his work whilst studying post production in general.
I was unable to speak English at the time which created a language barrier at the start of my internship. However, I was able to slowly overcome this problem by starting to use hand gestures.
What I gained was great and my life also changed dramatically. I was able to discover my goals for the future.
After coming to Cutters, I was able to work with the highest level of this industry in Japan. This gave me the opportunity to truly open my eyes and change my perspective.
Although I was put under a lot of pressure in the beginning, I was brought up to become strongly passionate. Without knowing, I realised I was being built up from scratch.
I have to admit, my whole life changed completely after I joined cutters as an intern.
LBB> What did you do before you got to Cutters?
TK> At first, I wanted to be involved in the film industry and I was interested in distributing movies. To pursue this goal, I went to a film school called Vantan to become a creator.
LBB> You learned your craft assisting Ben Conkey and Pete Ritchie, what are the most important lessons that you have learned from them?
TK> From Steve [Rodriguez], who I met first, to Ben and Pete, everyone was very nice (for some reason a lot of people who work as colourists are all so kind). The most memorable thing was that they were always enjoying life to the fullest, even during colour sessions.
LBB> In your first year of being a colourist you have worked on some amazing projects – Gravity Cat, Diesel, The Walls etc., all shot by incredible directors! What’s the key to a successful director-colourist collaboration?
TK> When I was an assistant for Ben, he would push me to meet people. I would make my own colour grade and show it to my clients and I would listen to their advice.
I would be happy to see if it works out.
I want to create amazing colour and we don’t want to be a bunch of individual
colourists but, rather, a team.
As I mentioned earlier, I want to work in a happy environment and I would say that I
would want to work with my team again even after the project is over.
I’m not a colourist with charisma yet but I would like to be at my best and work along
with the amazing team I get to work with.
LBB>And you have also worked on a feature movie, this year’s Tokyo Ghoul! How did you get involved in that?
TK> When director Kentaro Hagiwara decided to produce Ghoul, he chose Cutters for colour grading. Our EP, Timo, and Hagiwara-san are friends.
LBB> And how does working on a feature differ from working on a commercial? Obviously it’s a longer process, but are there other things to consider?
TK> The priorities in what I want to show are different. Commercials are made so that consumers will want to buy the product but in movies the colours are decided so that the audience can relate to the story and feel empathy. For commercials it is also important how we show the product.
Because the priorities are different, it’s more fun for me to work on movies since I can experiment with the colours more.
LBB> I always think there is a relationship between colouring and photography – a lot of colourists I know are really into it. I was wondering if this was something that you were into, if it inspired your work?
TK> I want to do photography so I upload my photos to Instagram - and I’ve also bought a film camera too.
When I look back at my Instagram, I can see that after I started my career as a colourist, I’ve been inspired by other people’s photos and I have been able to practice my photo skills as
LBB> What advice would you give to young people thinking of getting into the industry?
TK> That is difficult! I would say, “just try”. It sounds easy but it’s actually really hard to do, to jump into a world you don’t know. Remember, even if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. When I decide I want to do something, I just go for it.
When Steve asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to do this. Hhe told me that I should focus on things one at a time.
Even if you crash into a wall, that’s that and there will always be someone there
that will help you.
LBB> Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you? Were you quite creative as a child?
TK> I was born and raised in Ishikawa prefecture in Japan. I was really shy and quiet, but I was able to become more outgoing after I joined Cutters. I liked to do crafts and also exercise.
I originally wanted to be a sword craftsman when I went on a family trip to see how swords are made.
LBB> What’s Tokyo like as a creative city to live and work in?
TK> It’s always exciting - in a good way and a bad way.
There is something going on every day and there is always someone bustling about trying to accomplish something in Tokyo. I personally like quiet towns, haha!
I think it is a good environment for gathering information. Compared to other places in Japan, Tokyo is full of people who want to become colourists or artists so it’s easier to share information.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you like to do to unwind and inspire yourself?
TK> I like traveling outside of Tokyo.
It’s been six years since I came to Tokyo and before I moved I had always thought there was nothing interesting about the countryside… but these days, I think there is a charm to my hometown.
Nature and history makes me very relaxed; as a colourist I get inspired by natural colours. I also love music, so I always listen to music when I go travelling.
I also like watching movies, cooking, and playing games, but ultimately going outside of Tokyo makes me feel the most refreshed.
LBB> Who are your creative heroes?
TK> They are not in this field but I love the Japanese band Bump of Chicken https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bump_of_Chicken. I read their lyrics and I created my philosophy around it.