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Field Notes: Double Feature

photo of Thomas (left) and Curtis Nishimoto
Thomas Nishimoto (right) wrote a dark fantasy film incorporating elements of Japanese folklore, which his twin, Curtis Nishimoto, will direct.

With its groundbreaking special effects and sweeping storytelling, the Star Wars franchise has surely led many a youthful viewer to pursue a career in filmmaking. Indeed, one of these space epics is partly why identical-twin brothers Curtis and Thomas Nishimoto are film and media studies majors. Well, sort of, the juniors say. “When we were 4 or 5, we had Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on DVD and we just would watch the making-of special, over and over again,” Thomas says. “Yeah, I think we saw the behind-the-scenes stuff before we saw the actual movie,” Curtis adds. 

The nuts-and-bolts glimpses of the world on the other side of the camera proved even more magical than the movie itself, and soon the two were creating their own cinematic offerings. (Not that George Lucas had to look over his shoulder—the twins initially specialized in stop-motion animations using Legos and a camcorder.) Still, the movie bug stuck. Coming to Johns Hopkins, the self-described “best friends forever” were both convinced, as the cliché goes, that what they really wanted to do was direct. But then they joined Studio North, a student-run production company. “Curtis went into production and I decided to check out screenwriting,” Thomas says. “And I discovered that, hey, I really liked writing.” 

Now the twosome is combining these talents for the film Nurikabe, which Thomas wrote and Curtis will direct. The 12-minute movie, to be shot next summer, is described as a dark fantasy in the vein of 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth and incorporates elements of Japanese folklore. Indeed, the title is the name of a Japanese spirit creature that takes the form of a wall impeding travelers. In Thomas’s script, three friends are on a hike during the summer before their first year of college.  

“The theme concerns facing the future and incoming obstacles,” Thomas says. “Going off to college represents a big change and is a source of anxiety. And so the Nurikabe is kind of a creature that embodies all those fears and anxieties—it manifests itself as all the obstacles and boundaries and things that you have to get past.” 

Presently the brothers are putting together the cast and crew for this fantastical coming-of-age tale. The ideal location has already been scouted: a historic lockhouse on the C&O Canal in central Maryland. It’s the perfect setting for the Nurikabe to appear—if not the best place to shoot a film.  

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Curtis notes. “There’s no power, no air conditioning, and it’s a quarter-mile walk from the nearest parking lot.”  

Still, there’s no going back to Legos.