Production Designer and Art Director Katsuya Imai brings life to ‘The Next Generation Patlabor’

Patlabor2_by Eri Kobiki
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

Katsuya Imai is more than an artist. He is a storyteller. His passion for art that started as a child, painting and building models, transformed into something much more as he grew. His love for movies became more prominent; not just watching them, but observing them, noticing the craft and skill that took place behind the scenes. With interests like these, it is no wonder why Imai became a production designer and art director. However, it is his talent that has made him the success he is, and recognized as one of Japan’s best.

Throughout his career, Imai has had the opportunity to work on projects that he was already a fan of throughout his life. As production designer on the film Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger: 10 Years After, he was able to design for his childhood heroes. While working on the films and television series The Next Generation Patlabor, he was able to do the same.

“I have loved the animation in the original Patlabor films since I was a student. I watched these so many times and have some books about the art setting and method of directing in them. I have knowledge of these background, so it was very helpful to design it,” said Imai.

The Patlabor franchise includes three films and a television show. Therefore, The Next Generation Paltabor has many background stories that do not need to be mentioned in the script. Imai has worked on many different aspects of The Next Generation Patlabor, including the film The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War.

“It was very exciting. I was so happy that I could read the new script of the film. The script was connected to Patlabor: The Movie 2. That is my favorite film. I really enjoyed designing it. I thought it was one of my dreams coming true,” said Imai.

As a fan of Director Mamoru Oshii’s films (Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and the original two Patlabor films). Imai also wanted the opportunity to work alongside one of his filmmaking heroes. He immediately impressed all those he worked with, and contributed greatly to the film’s success.

“Katsuya had years of experience and was very skillful, so we could leave the shooting to him. He is very serious and calm as art director. He always directed surely to the other crews,” said Supervising Art Director, Masato Ando.

The film tells the story of an attack that takes place on Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba, Tokyo by the fighter helicopter `Gray Ghost`. Two days earlier, the Gray Ghost was stolen. The perpetrators are followers of Yukihito Tsuge. Yukihito Tsuge planned a coup of Tokyo 13 years earlier. The leader of Special Vehicle Section 2, Keiji Gotoda, sets out to stop the terrorists. It went on to be an Official Selection at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Patlabor3_by Hitoshi Ohta
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

“I was very happy to hear that. It’s always an honor that the film I worked on is watched by many audiences,” said Imai.

As Art Director, Imai went to location scouting, trying to find the perfect set for the film. His knowledge of the Patlabor series were designed elaborately and rated highly by the fans. This made him an asset to the television series The Next Generation Patlabor as well.

“Normally working on a television show, we shoot each episode at a time. We are given the next script during filming the previous episode. The production has to reflect the review and reaction from the audience to the script. However, this project already has all 12 episodes scripted in the pre-production. This made it easy to plan and design the whole project,” said Imai.

The show is a story of a world where giant robots are built and used for labor, a special police force of robots is created to handle crimes relating to these machines. Imai built two full-size robots. Each one was eight meters high. This made the series a bit conspicuous.

“While we were filming, fans were not aware of a Patlabor revival. However, we had to do shooting at the location with a full-size robot. It was impossible to hide it because it’s too huge. Some people noticed that robot and posted the photo to Twitter. All the Patlabor fans were excited on Twitter,” said Imai. “We ended up using the full-size robot for the promotion. It’s huge and attracts people. The Patlabor fans said the film became reality.”

Episode 10 of the series went on to be screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014. Without Imai’s keen eye while designing the set and special props, such as the iconic robot, the show may not have achieved what it has. Fans of the original series were immediately enthralled with The Next Generation Patlabor, enjoying how true it kept to its base story. Imai, as a big fan of the show, knew exactly what was needed to win over the hearts of other fans, and he definitely succeeded.

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