Graduating from high school, he began working as an actor and cinematographer under the name Henry Kotani in Hollywood, particularly at Famous Players Lasky. He frequently worked on Donald Crisp"s films. In 1920, on the recommendation of Cecil B. DeMille, the newly formed Shōchiku film company hired Kotani and brought him back to Japan.
There he directed and photographed Shōchiku"s first film, Shima no onna in 1920, and in 1921 wrote, directed and photographed Gubijinsō, the first film of the star actress Sumiko Kurishima.
His career at Shōchiku did not last long, but he helped establish the modern visual style of Shōchiku"s output and raise cinematographers such as Michio Midorikawa. He later became head of the East Asian bureau of Paramount News.