In “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the multiverse has a killer sense of style.
The 2022 film, created by filmmaking duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, tells the story of stern and emotionally stunted laundromat owner Evelyn Wang, who must deal with a failing marriage, a troubled relationship with her daughter, and a struggling business all in the middle of a mind-numbing tax audit. So when the multiverse comes knocking at Evelyn’s door, it’s really the least of her problems.
The film grasps for countless concepts at once— the dangers of uninhibited power, nihilism, multiple futures, kung-fu, mechanical chef raccoons, coming out to your immigrant parents, and a soul sucking, universe destroying, all-seeing everything bagel — in a way that only an A24 film could even attempt to achieve successfully.
Starring martial arts legend Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has garnered critical success for the expert way it handles its mind-boggling plot while still finding time to tenderly handle the story of a mother realizing her best might not be enough to keep what she loves the most. Its is brash, funny, tearful and takes sincere joy in highlighting the Asian American family at its core.
But it’s also clear from the very first frames that none of this gravitas would have been possible without the creative vision behind the film’s amazing (and often universe-defying) costumes — Shirley Kurata. From simple and carefully crafted accountant fits and hibachi uniforms to time temple acolytes, the movie aesthetic equally holds a double life — one that could potentially sweep both Halloween stores and awards season in equal measure.
As a celebrated stylist and costume designer, Kurata’s work has graced the pages of major fashion publications. Since becoming a staple in the fashion industry in the 90s, she’s designed the aesthetics for a variety of projects including commercials, music videos, television series and major motion pictures, in addition to working with celebrities including Tierra Whack, Billie Eilish, Pharrell, Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham.
CBS News spoke with Kurata about how she started working on the project, her favorite designs that made it to the big screen and why she’s proud to be part of such a diverse story.
The following interview contains at least one major spoiler for the film. You’ve been warned.
CBS News: As a film, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is a masterpiece. But as a project, I’m sure it could be extremely hard to describe and even harder to create. When were you first approached by the Daniels for the project and what made you want to work on the film?
I was approached in April of 2019 by producer Jonathan Wang, who I worked with on various commercials I styled. He didn’t describe it at all. He just sent he had a Daniels script he said he would love for me to potentially costume design. I told Jonathan it was “my kind of crazy” and yes, I was very interested in working on the film. I was aware of “Swiss Army Man” and of their music videos, so I knew it was going to be an unconventional film, which is what I love. It’s my kind of crazy — the good kind of crazy. So he set up a meeting with the Daniels and talking to them sealed the deal.
How do you go from script to screen with design work? What kind of preparation is involved in transition like that?
It always starts with a discussion with the directors and what their vision is. The Daniels gave me a list of films to check out, ones that had great martial arts sequences, ones that embodied their script in spirit, and ones that were weird in a good way. They also had some reference images for the costumes and from there I would further my research to find other references that was in line with their references. I also had to do a budget breakdown and figure out how much money I could spend for each costume, which would in turn affect how I would create the costume.
I watched a lot of films in preparation for this — Stephen Chow films, Michelle Yeoh films like “Wing Chun and Crouching Tiger,” “Hidden Dragon,” Wong Kar Wai films and some of the films they recommended like “Holy Motors” and “Paprika.”
What other influences did you use to design the costumes?
At that point, I had been working with musician Tierra Whack. Her style is quite unconventional, so I was well versed with avant garde designers and fashion school alumni who were making interesting work. So tapping into that world definitely helped with creating looks for Jobu. I’m also a big fan of costume designer Eiko Ishioka, who did Coppola’s “Dracula.” I have a book of her costumes and they influenced Jobu’s bagel universe look. For some of her other looks I studied Japanese Harajuku fashion publications and blogs. For Evelyn and Waymond, I studied different blogs like Chinatown Pretty for their tax universe looks and Beijing Silvermine for the flashback scenes. And of course, “In the Mood for Love” mixed in with the personal styles of Michelle and Ke was an influence for the movie star universe.
Were any cast members involved in some of the costume choices?
Jamie Lee Curtis sent me a photo of her in costume for the film “Daddy and Them.” She was the visual inspiration for Dierdre, along with some references of tax auditors that I found. For the other cast, as there were so many changes involved, they pretty much trusted my vision, although during fittings we definitely collaborated on which looks would be best or ideal.
The costumes in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” almost work as their own characters in the film, giving the audience clues as to which universe they’re in. This works especially well when the movie reveals Evelyn’s daughter Joy is also the movie’s villain: Jobu. How did you create a look for each universe? What were you trying to communicate to the audience?
I knew there was going to be a lot of jump cuts and fast editing so it was important to also make sure each costume looked distinctive from each other, so I tried to differentiate them by either color and/or shape. For the hotdog universe, I wanted the color scheme to be in hot dog colors — beiges, pinks, tans. I carried over the sweater vest that Dierdre wore but in a beige color as opposed to the yellow that she wears in the tax universe. Also that color palette was very distinctive from Evelyn’s and Dierdre’s colors in the tax universe.
For Jobu, I wanted to play with Asian stereotypes, the use of masks and visors, the K-pop or anime star, the golfer, and have my own spin on it. I wanted a subversive element to her costumes, because it was a way to get Evelyn’s attention. I felt like Jobu would purposefully wear outfits that Evelyn would either disapprove of or confound her, so I thought it would be important to relay that in her costumes.
There’s a quick flashback to a teen Joy and I thought dressing her emo would be a way to show her form of rebellion as a teenager, in black ripped jeans, studded belt, and black hoodie. Jobu could concoct whatever look she wanted so her looks could be even more subversive. I also wanted there to be a thread between Joy and Jobu, so I used plaid as connectors to the two characters.
As much as the costumes play a role, the hair and makeup in the film makes the looks seamless. How much were you involved in that?
It was crucial to have a rapport with the hair and makeup team. Michelle Chung, who did the makeup, and Anissa Salazar, who did the hair, and I would send each other references from the beginning. I would also send them fitting photos of what they were wearing to spark additional ideas for the hair and makeup. And for some looks that weren’t scripted, it was important that I had conversations with them about it.
How much were Daniels involved in the final look?
Some outfits were scripted or ideas proposed by the Daniels, like the Elvis suit, the pro-wrester look and the golf look for Jobu. And all of Michelle’s looks were scripted. Other looks I suggested, like the opening plaid look that Jobu wore.
I was only given the note to hide her face, so I thought that an all plaid look with a matching visor and face mask would be a good opener. I also had this vintage plaid Vivienne Westwood suit that Stephanie really loved so we decided to do a more Old Hollywood ’40s-inspired “Blade Runner” look, which we see for a quick moment in the movie star universe.
How did these complex costumes work for filming, especially in scenes where you would most likely need to have multiple versions of them? Were there any looks that ended up being too difficult to achieve?
Well, most of the complicated stunts were done in their tax universe costume so I made sure we had enough multiples to cover that, and I also made sure they would be able to do the stunts in them, getting different sizes to allow for harnesses and pads.
There was a look which ending up being cut of a battle scene with Evelyn and Jobu in a Viking universe where Jobu slashes her own stomach and out comes candy instead of blood. They wanted it practical so we did a rig with a zipper and figured we would use either a fishing line to open the zipper or have her knife push the zipper open, but it was hard doing it in a way that smoothly mirrored a knife slash. Due to the COVID lockdown and time issues, that scene was cut, which was probably a good thing since it would’ve taken a lot of takes to make it look realistic.
My favorite outfit to create was the Jobu bagel universe costume, which was also the hardest look to create since it was such an open book as to what it could be.
How did it feel to see your work play such an important role in the film? What makes you the most proud?
It feels so great to work on a project where I was given such free rein to be creative, It is also so exciting to hear such great feedback from people who have watched the film. I saw the film 3 times. Once at the crew screening, once at the LA premiere, and once at an IMAX screening.
I’m also proud to be part of a movie that gives a voice to the Asian American narrative in a way that is totally unique, thoughtful and creative but resonates universally in its message of love, acceptance and empathy. And that such a film can have both a critical and box office success, which in turn I hope will open the channels for more diverse stories to be told.
Is there anything else you think our readers should know?
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is now playing at theaters.