Koichi Kawakita Interview I

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Koichi Kawakita

(Conducted in December 1994)

Koichi Kawakita directed the special effects for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994), and a number of other science fiction films. He also directed the special effects for SAMURAI OF THE BIG SKY (1976) and ZERO (1984), both of which are war movies.

David Milner: Why wasn't GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE produced sooner than it was?

Koichi Kawakita: Shortly after TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975) was released, a large number of Godzilla fans began urging Toho to produce another Godzilla film. (The Toho Company Ltd. produced all twenty-one of the Godzilla films. It also produced RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961) and many other science fiction movies.) That is what eventually prompted the release of GODZILLA 1985 (1984). It was not as successful as Toho had anticipated it would be, so the studio decided to pit Godzilla against another monster in the next Godzilla movie. (Godzilla is the only monster in GODZILLA 1985.)

A story contest was held to obtain ideas for what was being called GODZILLA II. About three thousand entries were received. The members of the selection committee read over all of the entries, and after a year chose twenty for further consideration. After a second year had passed, two stories were chosen from among the twenty for final consideration. One pitted Godzilla against Biollante, a monster that had been created by bio-technology, and the other pitted him against a massive computer. Finally, after a third year had gone by, Toho decided to produce the story featuring Biollante.

DM: Why wasn't Deuterios included in GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE? (Deuterios, a monster created by the combination of rat and fish cells, is in the original story contest entry.)

KK: I don't remember.

DM: Footage showing Biollante's tendrils attacking Godzilla was created with claymation techniques, but it wasn't used. Why wasn't the footage used? (Biollante is created when cells from Godzilla, a woman, and a rose are combined.)

KK: No water could be seen in the footage. It didn't match the other footage of Godzilla and Biollante doing battle in Lake Ashino that we'd shot.

DM: The rays emitted from Ghidrah's three mouths in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH originally were all going to be different colors. Why did you decide instead to make them all yellow?

KK: I considered many different colors for the rays, but I ultimately decided that the original color was the most suitable one. (GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964) is the first of several movies in which Ghidrah appears.)

DM: The unfolding of Mothra's wings that takes place immediately after Mothra emerges from his cocoon in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA originally was going to be depicted with computer graphics. Why was it instead depicted with models of the wings?

KK: The look of analog film is very different from that of digital video. Matching the two is very difficult. I didn't think the computer graphics fit into the footage that we'd shot on the set very well.

DM: Why did you change the color of Godzilla's breath from blue to red at the end of GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA? (The change occurs after Godzilla absorbs energy from Fire Rodan.)

KK: The idea was not in the script or the storyboards. As James Cameron said to me, films are living things. They change as they go through the various stages of production.

I decided to change the color of Godzilla's breath for two different reasons. One was the fact that Rodan changes color after Godzilla attacks him with his radioactive breath, and the other was my desire to show the power of nature. (Rodan transforms into Fire Rodan after doing battle with Godzilla. Rodan is brown in color, but Fire Rodan is red. The main theme of GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is "real life against artificial life.")

DM: The design of Space Godzilla is very different from that of the other monsters Toho has created. On what was it based?

KK: It was based on the design of Super Godzilla in the SUPER GODZILLA game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Space Godzilla from the chest up is very similar in appearance to Super Godzilla.

I thought Space Godzilla should have crystals on his shoulders. I also thought that he should have some special power, so I put an antenna-like object on his head. (The "space horn" provides Space Godzilla with a radar capability.) I first designed Space Godzilla, and then came up with the explanation of his creation. (A Godzilla cell is sucked into a black hole in outer space.)

DM: Little Godzilla is very different in appearance from Baby Godzilla. Why is this? (Baby Godzilla is introduced in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. In GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, he grows into Little Godzilla. Little Godzilla is not only much larger, but also much cuter, than Baby Godzilla.)

KK: GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA was very successful because an unusually large number of women went to see it. So, we wanted to include something in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA that would appeal to them. In addition, I wanted to show Little Godzilla growing from a dinosaur into a monster. (GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA was more successful in Japan than any of the other Godzilla movies that have been produced since 1966.)

DM: Why was MOGERA included in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA? (Aliens from outer space use two identical robots, both of which are called Mogera, in their attempt to take over Earth in THE MYSTERIANS (1957). In GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, the UNGCC (United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center) uses MOGERA (Mobile Operation Godzilla Expert Robot Aero-Type) to fend off Space Godzilla.)

KK: When Space Godzilla arrives in Fukuoka, large crystals instantly appear in the city. They are the source of his power. Since the crystals have underground roots, a machine that can tunnel underground is needed to destroy them. (Mogera tunnels underground in THE MYSTERIANS).

DM: Was there much special effects footage shot for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA that was not included in the film?

KK: Yes. The majority of it is from the battle between Godzilla, Space Godzilla, and MOGERA in Fukuoka.

DM: Some people prefer the version of SAYONARA JUPITER (1984) that was broadcast on Japanese television to the one that was released in Japanese theaters. Which version do you prefer? (The movie was edited before it was broadcast.)

KK: I prefer the edited version. I share Sakyo Komatsu's concerns about the environment, but I feel that the scenes which take place at the Jupiter Foundation are not necessary. (Mr. Komatsu wrote the original novel on which SAYONARA JUPITER was based. He also wrote the screenplay for the film. The Jupiter Foundation is an organization of people who reject technology and prefer to live in harmony with nature.)

DM: Was GUNHED (1989) based on the GODZILLA II story contest entry in which Godzilla does battle with a massive computer?

KK: It was based on that story.

DM: Was the full-scale model of Gunhed very difficult with which to work?

KK: The full-scale model was constructed not only for filming, but also for use in promotion. It was much more difficult to work with than the smaller models. Gunhed was designed by an artist who primarily works on animated movies, and it was very difficult to make a three-dimensional object from his original design drawings.

DM: The hands of the Kumaso god transform into a bow and arrows in YAMATO TAKERU (1994). How was that footage created?

KK: The original footage was input into a computer and processed. The processed footage then was inserted into the film. That is my image of the future of movies.

DM: The monsters that you create all transform. Why is this? (The Godzillasaurus seen in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH becomes Godzilla, Rodan turns into Fire Rodan in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and so on.)

KK: I prefer to have them transform. It provides more entertainment for the members of the audience, and it serves as an identifying characteristic of the current Godzilla films.

DM: The monsters you create do not wrestle with each other very much. They instead just use their rays. Why is this?

KK: There are two reasons. One is the fact that it would almost be impossible for the monsters to wrestle with each other because of their tremendous size and weight. The other is my feeling that the monsters seem too human when they wrestle with each other.

DM: Why wasn't MOTHRA VS. BAGAN (1990) produced? (It was proposed by Kazuki Omori, who wrote and directed GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE and GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, and wrote but did not direct GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA.)

KK: It wasn't produced because Godzilla wasn't in it. Toho didn't think that Mothra was popular enough to attract a large audience.

DM: Why wasn't COUNTERATTACK OF GHIDRAH (1991) produced?

KK: Toho conducted a survey which showed that Mothra was women's favorite monster. The studio couldn't ignore that. Besides, it would have been too easy to bring Ghidrah back. (The survey showed that Ghidrah and MechaGodzilla were men's favorite monsters.)

DM: Toho recently gave some consideration to producing a movie in which Godzilla was going to face MechaniKong, but the studio could not obtain permission to use the robot. What was the film going to be like? (MechaniKong appears in KING KONG ESCAPES (1967).)

KK: Toho wanted to pit Godzilla against King Kong because KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) was very successful. However, the studio thought that obtaining permission to use King Kong would be difficult. So, it instead decided to use MechaniKong. Soon afterward, it was discovered that obtaining permission even to use the likeness of King Kong would be difficult. So, the project was canceled. (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was more successful in Japan than any of the other Godzilla movies.)

MechaniKong was going to have injectors. A number of people were going to be injected into Godzilla while the robot was wrestling with him. They then were going to do battle with Godzilla from within while MechaniKong continued to do battle with him from without.

There were going to be many different strange worlds inside Godzilla. The concept was very much like the one on which FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) was based.

DM: Have there been any other science fiction films proposed by Toho since the release of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE that were not produced?

KK: Many were planned. Toho did produce SAYONARA JUPITER, GUNHED, and YAMATO TAKERU, but they didn't do as well as the Godzilla movies. I would like to work on something other than Godzilla films during the summer, but Toho keeps insisting that we make a new one every year. (All of the Godzilla movies for which Mr. Kawakita directed the special effects were shot during the summer.)

DM: You began working for Toho in 1962. In what capacity did you work back then?

KK: I worked in the matte photography department. (It creates composite footage.)

DM: When did you begin working in the optical department? (It creates radioactive breath, electrical rays, and so on.)

KK: Three or four years later.

DM: You worked as an assistant director on GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971). Did you work with the standard staff or the special effects staff?

KK: I generally worked with the special effects staff after being promoted to assistant director, but I occasionally worked with the standard staff. I worked with both on GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. (Mr. Kawakita also worked on THE LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH (1974), THE WAR IN SPACE (1977), and several other movies as an assistant director.)

DM: Were the production budgets for the Godzilla films made during the 1970s much smaller than those for the Godzilla movies that are now being made? (A large amount of stock footage was inserted into both GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972) and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973).)

KK: They were half as large.

DM: How is your professional relationship with Takao Okawara different from the one you have with Kazuki Omori? (Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and YAMATO TAKERU.)

KK: Mr. Omori is very creative. He revises scripts even during shooting. I very much admire Mr. Omori because of his creativity. Mr. Okawara, on the other hand, is more of a craftsman. He knows how to make films.

DM: Was the manner in which you worked with Kensho Yamashita on GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA any different from the one in which you worked with him on NINETEEN (1987)? (Mr. Yamashita directed both movies.)

KK: The two films are very different from each other. NINETEEN is a teen idol movie. However, the manner in which we worked with each other did not change very much. Our intentions both times were to attract young people and take a new approach.

DM: Do you edit the footage you direct or do the directors with whom you work do that?

KK: The directors have the right to make the final decisions, but I generally edit the footage. The directors usually will take part in editing it only if the running time of the entire film is too short or too long.

DM: You directed the special effects for a number of episodes of several different science fiction television series. How was that different from working on movies? (Among the series Mr. Kawakita worked on are ULTRAMAN ACE (1972-1973), METEOR MAN ZONE (1973), ULTRAMAN TARO (1973), MEGARO MAN (1979), and ULTRAMAN 80 (1980).)

KK: The schedule was very tight. We had only five days to shoot the special effects footage for each episode. We would spend three days shooting the set and the monsters by themselves, one day shooting the monsters wrestling with each other, and one day shooting everything else.

DM: Exactly how much footage would you shoot for each episode?

KK: One episode of ULTRAMAN ACE consists of about six hundred cuts. The special effects footage consists of about two hundred cuts. (Episodes of ULTRAMAN ACE are half an hour long.)

DM: You worked with Ishiro Honda on METEOR MAN ZONE. What was that like? (Mr. Honda directed a number of the episodes in the series. He also directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, and many of Toho's other science fiction films.)

KK: I was very excited about working with Mr. Honda. I felt honored. He allowed me to do my own work. Even now I enjoy watching the episodes Mr. Honda and I worked on together.

DM: How long did it take to shoot the footage for MONSTER PLANET - GODZILLA? (It is an amusement park ride that features Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan.)

KK: Just over one month. (The ride lasts for five minutes.)

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

KK: I like all of them, but I especially like THE MYSTERIANS and RODAN.

DM: Which of the movies you worked on as a special effects director is your favorite?

KK: SAMURAI OF THE BIG SKY.

DM: Why is that?

KK: It's the first film on which I worked as a special effects director. In addition, I was given complete artistic control.

I'm especially proud of SAMURAI OF THE BIG SKY because there is no stock footage in it. There have been many war movies produced by Toho, but most of them feature stock footage. There is very little stock footage of Zero fighters in widescreen format, so although the producers wanted me to use stock footage, I insisted that I be allowed to use only new footage.

DM: Do you enjoy working on science fiction films any more or less than you enjoy working on the war movies?

KK: I prefer working on war films because the characters in them can be very expressive, even when they are only relating with weapons.

DM: What do you think of the Gamera movies?

KK: I haven't seen the older ones, but I did see a rush edit of the new one and I think it's fine. (Gamera is recreated in GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995).)

DM: What do you think of the Ultraman television series?

KK: Ultraman, like Godzilla, is too perfect. It's impossible to move away from him. A different approach should be taken, but I know that it's very difficult to do so.

DM: How did you like JURASSIC PARK (1993)?

KK: I enjoyed the film, but it was too realistic. It would have been much more enjoyable if some fantasy elements had been incorporated into it.

DM: What do you think the next few Godzilla movies produced by Toho should be like?

KK: The Godzilla series has lasted for forty years. Whenever we produce a new Godzilla film, we keep that in mind. We also produce each new Godzilla movie with the expectation that the series will continue on for another forty years.

DM: Is there anything you are allowed to say about the next Godzilla film Toho is going to produce? (Godzilla is going to be killed in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

KK: The drama will center around the destruction of Tokyo.

DM: Will Little Godzilla continue to grow?

KK: Yes. He will grow into Junior Godzilla.

DM: Is another amusement park ride featuring Godzilla going to be created in the near future?

KK: There is going to be another one created, but it will not be a sequel to MONSTER PLANET - GODZILLA.

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

KK: I have great expectations for the movie. I'm looking forward to seeing it not only because I direct special effects for Godzilla films, but also because I am a movie fan.

Koichi Kawakita Interview I © 1998 David Milner