Shinji Higuchi Interview

by David Milner and Guy Tucker

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Shinji Higuchi

(Conducted in March 1995)

Shinji Higuchi directed the special effects for GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995). He also directed the special effects for COUNTERATTACK OF THE EIGHT-HEADED SNAKE OF YAMATA (1986), NINE LIVES (1990), MIKADROID (1991), and FUTURE MEMORY (1993).

David Milner: Did you take part in writing the script for GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE?

Shinji Higuchi: The first draft was written solely by the screenwriter, Kazunori Ito, but I took part in writing all three of the subsequent drafts.

DM: How was the first draft different from the final one?

SH: There originally were going to be five Gaoses instead of three. (Gaos also appears in GAMERA VS. GAOS (1967) and GAMERA VS. GUIRON (1969).) In addition, several sequences were cut. One was a battle between Gamera and the Japanese Self Defense Force at the Fukuoka Dome, and another was an air battle between Gamera and the Self Defense Force. (The Fukuoka Dome is a stadium located in Fukuoka.)

The Riverside Mansion, a huge apartment building located in Tokyo near the Sumida River, originally was going to be destroyed instead of Tokyo Tower. We planned to destroy the building because it never before had been destroyed by a monster, but we decided instead to destroy Tokyo Tower because of its notoriety.

Guy Tucker: Why were the battle sequences deleted from the first draft?

SH: Budgetary reasons.

DM: Did Shusuke Kaneko take part in revising the script? (Mr. Kaneko directed GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE.)

SH: Yes. It wasn't his idea to cut the sequences. It was mine.

DM: What changes did Mr. Kaneko make to the screenplay?

SH: He changed some of the scenes featuring the Self Defense Force. For example, there originally was going to be a shot of F-15 fighter aircraft taking off right after the first shots of Gaos flying in the skies over Tokyo, but Mr. Kaneko decided not to use it.

There was a battle between Gaos and a number of F-15s in the first two drafts of the script. During the battle, one of the F-15s was going to be sliced apart by Gaos' supersonic beam, and debris from the plane was going to fall on the Yurakucho Mullion building. However, the scene was deleted because representatives of the Self Defense Force objected to it. They argued that it would never actually take place because Self Defense Force pilots are trained to minimize civilian casualties. (The Yurakucho Mullion building is located near Ginza.)

DM: Is it true that the original design of Gamera was different from the final one?

SH: I originally envisioned the new Gamera as a sea turtle instead of a land turtle. His flippers were going to function as wings while he was flying. However, the producers said that my design didn't look enough like the old Gamera, so I had to change it.

GT: Spikes come out of Gamera's elbows at one point in GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. Why were they included in the design?

SH: The old Gamera looks like he has no elbows to me, so I wanted those of the new one to stand out. I included the spikes in my original design, but the producers said that they also made the new Gamera look too different from the old one.

I showed the spikes in order to protest the rejection of my design. However, I hid them until the very end of GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE because they had been rejected.

DM: Was the original design of Gaos any different from the final one?

SH: The design of Gaos was changed only because I found that I had to have a person in a costume portray the monster. I originally had intended to portray Gaos only with puppets.

DM: Why did you have short actors play Gamera and Gaos? (Gamera is played by Takateru Manabe. Gaos is played by Yumi Kameyama.)

SH: I wanted to shoot a large amount of low angle footage of Gamera and Gaos, and the only way to avoid having the ceiling of the set be seen in the footage was to have short actors play the monsters.

GT: Were there any other reasons for having short actors play Gamera and Gaos?

SH: Yes. We saved money by doing so. If the monster actors are tall, the miniature sets must be large, but if the monster actors are short, smaller sets can be used. We saved money by using small sets because it costs more to construct and maintain larger sets than smaller ones. In addition, if the monster actors are short, only two people are needed to help them get in and out of their costumes. Three or four people are needed to help taller monster actors get in and out of their costumes.

DM: Why did you have a woman play Gaos?

SH: I needed a woman to play Gaos because the shape of a woman's body is different from that of a man's. In addition, since virtually all of the people who work in the special effects field are men, I thought that I could make it a little easier for women to enter the field by having one play Gaos.

DM: How long did it take to construct the miniature sets?

SH: We started drawing the blueprints for the miniature buildings in January, 1994, and finished constructing the buildings about six months later. We spent only two or three months actually constructing the buildings.

DM: How many miniature buildings did you make?

SH: We made about forty of them.

DM: How much time did you spend shooting the special effects footage?

SH: One hundred and one days.

DM: How much time did you spend in post production?

SH: Two months.

DM: Shortly after the three Gaoses are placed in cages, they emit a supersonic beam in order to break free. How did you create the visual distortions that represent this?

SH: Digital compositing. (Digital composites are images that are created when a computer is used to combine two or more preexisting images.)

DM: Were computers used to create any of the other special effects?

SH: Yes. Gamera's revolving jets, Gamera's plasma fire balls, the missiles, and the guided bombs all were created with computers.

DM: What kinds of computers did you use to create the effects?

SH: A Silicon Graphics Indigo, a Macintosh, and an IBM-compatible.

DM: Did you or Mr. Kaneko edit the special effects footage?

SH: I would show the footage to Mr. Kaneko after I'd edited it. If he gave his approval, the editing that I'd done would be retained.

DM: Did Mr. Kaneko have the right to make the final decisions about the editing?

SH: Yes. He did.

GT: Did any of the people who worked on the recent Godzilla films work on GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE? (Among the recent Godzilla movies are GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), and GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994).)

SH: Yes. Quite a few. For example, the assistant special effects director, Makoto Kamiya, previously had worked as an assistant to Koichi Kawakita. (Mr. Kawakita directed the special effects for the last five Godzilla films. He also directed the special effects for SAYONARA JUPITER (1984), YAMATO TAKERU (1994), and several other movies.)

DM: A few of the shots in GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE are reminiscent of some of those in the earlier Gamera films. Who made the decision to include them in the movie?

SH: It is merely a coincidence that those shots are in the film. I did not intend to try to remind the members of the audience of the earlier Gamera movies.

DM: There also are a few shots in GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE that are reminiscent of some of those in GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954). Who made the decision to include them in the film?

SH: Believe it or not, those shots also were not intentionally included in the movie. Many people feel that I am paying homage to the first Godzilla film, but I didn't intend to do so. I think that ideas which seemed completely original to me were in fact images from the first Godzilla movie that had been implanted in my subconscious.

GT: GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE is more of a horror film than any of the recent Godzilla movies. Did you intend to have it turn out that way?

SH: Although I did not try to pay homage to GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, the approach I took toward making GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE was somewhat similar to the one with which the first Godzilla film was made.

DM: Is it true that the size of the production budget for GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE was about half the size of the production budgets for the last few Godzilla movies?

SH: Yes.

DM: Did you feel limited by the size of the production budget?

SH: Yes. It wasn't a matter of deleting any scenes, but instead one of the quality of the scenes. I originally envisioned much finer images than those we ended up creating, but budgetary constraints forced me to make a large number of changes. That was the most regrettable aspect of working on GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE.

GT: Did you use all of the footage that you'd shot?

SH: Only two unimportant shots weren't used. One was a shot of one of the Gaoses flying away from a helicopter. I didn't use it because it wasn't very convincing. The other shot was one of debris falling to the ground as Gamera crashes into a building. That one was convincing, but it didn't fit in with the other footage of Gamera crashing into the building.

DM: Why was GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE distributed by Toho? (The Daiei Company Ltd. so far has produced nine Gamera films. RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), KING KONG ESCAPES (1967), and all twenty-one of the Godzilla movies are among the science fiction films that so far have been produced by the Toho Company Ltd.)

SH: Daiei has no distribution network.

GT: Is it true that GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE originally was going to be much shorter and shown on a double bill with an animated movie?

SH: I have never before heard that.

DM: You worked on GODZILLA 1985 (1984) as a "special modeler." What exactly did you do?

SH: I took part in the construction of the Godzilla costume.

DM: Did you take part in the construction of the Godzilla cybot? (The five meter tall cyborg/robot was used in the production and promotion of GODZILLA 1985.)

SH: No.

DM: Did you work with Nobuyuki Yasumaru? (Mr. Yasumaru is the head of Toho's special arts department.)

SH: Yes.

DM: What was working with Mr. Yasumaru like?

SH: It was enjoyable.

DM: Did you work with Teruyoshi Nakano? (Mr. Nakano directed the special effects for GODZILLA 1985. He also directed the special effects for GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971), THE WAR IN SPACE (1977), and many other movies.)

SH: I didn't work on GODZILLA 1985 with him, but I did work on SPACE WORLD with him. (It is a theme park located in Kyushu.)

DM: What was working with Mr. Nakano like?

SH: He was very outgoing.

DM: Have you ever worked with Mr. Kawakita?

SH: I worked on SAYONARA JUPITER (1984) with him. I was just an amateur at the time. Mr. Kawakita made me work very hard, but I didn't mind because I was so glad to be working in the film industry.

DM: In what capacity did you work on SAYONARA JUPITER?

SH: I was a production assistant.

DM: You drew the storyboards for the special effects scenes in ULTRA Q - THE MOVIE (1990). Did the scenes turn out the way you originally had envisioned them? (ULTRA Q - THE MOVIE is based on the ULTRA Q (1966) television series. The film was directed by Mr. Kaneko.)

SH: They did turn out the way I'd envisioned them.

GT: Who plays the mikadroid in MIKADROID?

SH: Hurricane Ryu. (He also plays Ghidrah in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), Battra in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, Baby Godzilla in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), and the Kumaso god in YAMATO TAKERU.)

GT: Was it difficult for him to remain in the mikadroid costume for a long period of time?

SH: It was difficult because he was playing a robot.

GT: Is playing a robot any more difficult than playing a giant monster?

SH: Hurricane Ryu had to move the way a robot that had been forgotten about for half a century would move. That made it a little more challenging for him to play the mikadroid than it would have been for him to play a giant monster. (MIKADROID is set in the present, but it features a robot constructed during World War II.)

DM: You worked on the designs of the monsters in the ULTRAMAN POWERED (1995) television series. Did anyone else take part in designing the monsters?

SH: I didn't design them by myself. I drew the first drafts of the designs and then the head designer, Mahiro Maeda, drew the final ones.

GT: How did you react when you were asked to direct the special effects for GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE?

SH: I originally was only going to design the monsters with Mr. Maeda. One day I asked the producers who the special effects director was going to be, and they told me that they had not yet chosen one. So, I asked to be the special effects director.

DM: What was working with Mr. Kaneko like?

SH: Mr. Kaneko is a big fan of monster movies, but he managed to maintain a professional detachment while he was working on GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE.

GT: Are you pleased with the way GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE turned out?

SH: I get a different impression every time I see the film. The first time I saw it, I was very upset because it had turned out to be so different from what I originally had envisioned. The second time I saw the movie, I was still very upset so I just watched the scenes featuring Kojiro Hongo and Akira Kubo and then left the theater. (Mr. Kubo and Mr. Hongo make cameo appearances as ship captains at the beginning of GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. Mr. Hongo is best known as Kasuke, one of the fortune hunters in GAMERA VS. BARUGON (1966), Shiro Tsutsumi, the engineer in GAMERA VS. GAOS, and Nobuhiko Shimada, the scoutmaster in DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968). Mr. Kubo is best known as Tetsui Teri, the inventor in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), Goro Maki, the reporter in SON OF GODZILLA (1967), and Katsuo Yamabe, the captain of the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968).)

DM: Which of Toho's older science fiction films are your favorites?

SH: The first ones I saw were TIDAL WAVE (1973) and LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH (1974), so they were my favorites when I was young. I now especially like ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963) and THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960).

GT: What is it you like about those two movies?

SH: Kumi Mizuno and Kaoru Yachigusa are irresistible. (Ms. Yachigusa plays Fujichiyo, the dancer in THE HUMAN VAPOR. Ms. Mizuno, who is best known as Miss Namikawa, the woman from Planet X in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965) and Dayo, the Infant Island native in GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), plays television star Maimi Sekeguchi in ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE.)

DM: How do you like the recent Godzilla films?

SH: You will see the answer if you carefully watch GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE.

DM: What do you think of Mr. Kawakita's work?

SH: I learned much from it.

GT: How do you like the older Gamera movies?

SH: I grew up watching Toho's science fiction films, so I don't take the older Gamera movies very seriously. They seem like comedies to me.

While I was working on ULTRAMAN POWERED in Los Angeles, I saw THE COMEDY CHANNEL on cable television. While I was watching it, I saw someone say, "Hey, I'm going to show you the funniest visual image that has ever been created on this planet!" It was Gamera doing a back flip in GAMERA VS. GUIRON. So, I learned that Americans also see the older Gamera films as comedies. (ULTRAMAN POWERED was shot in Los Angeles in 1993.)

DM: Is Daiei planning to produce any other Gamera movies?

SH: Daiei's executives are discussing the idea of producing a sequel, but they have not yet made a final decision about it. I've heard a rumor that if a sequel is made, Viras will be in it. (Gamera and Viras do battle in DESTROY ALL PLANETS.)

DM: How do you feel about TriStar Pictures producing a Godzilla film in the United States?

SH: It should be good.

DM: Are you looking forward to seeing the movie?

SH: Yes. I am.

Shinji Higuchi Interview © 1998 David Milner