The Kassai Family - Japan

“Our family and friends aren’t Star Wars fans at all,” says Hinako Kassai, who lives in Tokyo with her husband Kento. It came as a surprise, then, when these family and friends arrived to the Kassais’ wedding reception two years ago to find it was Star Wars-themed. “We set it all up as a secret,” says Kento. “We had over 20 characters come out in costume.” 

The day was plotted accordingly. “The story was that the Empire came to celebrate our wedding,” Kento goes on. “Right when we were supposed to exchange rings, we couldn’t find them, and then the Jedi, R2-D2 and the Empire came out to deliver the rings.” The day was a huge success, even to those unfamiliar with the saga. “Everyone was really surprised and excited. Even after some time had passed they talked about how great it was.”

“We set it all up as a secret. We had over 20 characters come out in costume.”  

- Kento Kassai

Kento and Hinako, both 29, met while studying graphic design at Tokyo Zokei University. “We had different classes, but we met somewhere on campus and talked a lot,” says Kento. “I thought she was… stylish, so I asked her out on a date.” Hinako, too, was drawn to her partner’s style. “My first impression of him was that he had a lot of different clothes,” she says. “I thought he had such a variety.” Later, they went to a Halloween party together, dressed as a Jedi and a Jawa respectively, setting the tone for a life together in which a shared love of costume would play a prominent role.

Star Wars has permeated Kento and Hinako’s daily lives. The couple have been members of the 501st Legion — an international Star Wars fan organisation dedicated to dressing up as villains from the Skywalker saga — for six years, and Kento has worked his way up the ranks of the Japan Legion to become a Commanding Officer, a role that consists of many responsibilities. The Legion put on a plethora of international events every year including charity work, fundraisers for hospitals, and a beach cleaning event in costume that Kento and Hinako take part in every summer.

“He manages everything himself with confidence, and I have that same goal for my life too.”

- Kento Kassai

“When there is a new production opening for a movie, we always go to buy a pamphlet,” says Hinako. “I read them carefully and [Kento] also reads them very thoroughly.” They keep the pamphlets but, in general, the couple are more interested in costumes than collecting. They are drawn to the performative aspects of dressing up, rather than amassing paraphernalia for its own sake. Kento and Hinako find that wearing costumes has a transformative effect: their behaviour changes to match that of the character whose costume they’re wearing. 

“Once I put on the helmet, I feel like I get into character,” says Kento, who has been working on his replica Jango Fett helmet. “My mannerisms and walking start to match Jango Fett.” Fett is Kento’s favourite character. “He manages everything himself with confidence, and I have that same goal for my life too,” he describes. “I really admire him, and to become a cool adult I want to have the same strengths he does.”

“When I am a trooper... I become sort of dismissive to people. Like when someone asks for a picture while I'm patrolling, I wave them away since I’m busy.”

- Hinako Kassai

At Legion events, Hinako, too, finds it easy to slip into a role. “When I am a trooper, I am a member of the Empire, so I become sort of dismissive to people,” she says. “Like when someone asks for a picture while I’m patrolling, I wave them away since I’m busy.” (She adds that at the end of the events, when the performance is over, she does stop for pictures.) It’s clear that the costumes are more than just clothes for Kento and Hinako. They have an impact on the couple’s relationship to the films as a whole. “My favorite character is the Jawas,” says Hinako, by way of example. “I didn’t care about them at first, but after wearing the costume, I became attached.”

“They were so obsessed with recreating the details of each character and costume,” confirms Piczo, the photographer commissioned to document the Kassai family in Tokyo for Star Wars Families. Based in London, Piczo is well-known for his vibrant lifestyle, fashion, and portrait work, shooting editorial and advertising for an illustrious international client list of brands and magazines. This project was an unusual way of working for the Japanese photographer. “Obviously it’s quite a strange situation, going to someone’s house and taking photos [when you’ve only just met],” he says. 

Then again, the Kassais’ love of costume resonated with Piczo’s fashion-led approach. “This project is [about] shooting family, but also [about] shooting part of a culture: Star Wars,” he says. The difference, for Piczo, was that when the Kassais don their costumes, they become the characters. In the photographer’s fashion or advertising shoots, his subjects aren’t performing such a distinct role. “[This shoot] was quite different. But it was a nice challenge,” he describes. Piczo photographed the Kassais over two days, working with both digital and analogue cameras and showing his subjects pictures as they were being produced.

In the resulting series, suffused with hazy orange light, we see Kento and Hinako dressed in some of their costumes and joined by other members of the 501st Legion, both inside the Kassais’ apartment and out around Tokyo. Despite the elaborate costumes, however, there is no risk of caricature. Piczo photographs with an incredibly light touch, his images full of humour and intimacy. Kento, dressed as a stormtrooper, hangs up a cloth on his balcony in an uncanny meeting of the domestic mundane with the garb of intergalactic battle; in his living room, he presses his forehead against that of one of the brothers from his “found family” in the Legion, an embrace that reads as both tender and fierce. Elsewhere, Piczo’s lens records an orange sunset, a lake, a spray of flowers in a vase. His series explores the textures of a shared life into which Star Wars is seamlessly intermingled.

Star Wars Families presented by eBay is a collaboration between Lucasfilm and British Journal of Photography in advance of the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. An immersive photographic and editorial project, it sheds light on families around the world who have enjoyed the magic of Star Wars for nearly half a century.

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