Koichi Kawakita Interview II

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Koichi Kawakita

(Conducted in December 1995)

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), GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995), 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: Was the special effects production budget for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER any larger or smaller than the special effects production budgets for the other recent Godzilla films?

Koichi Kawakita: It was smaller.

DM: Why?

KK: Toho has not had much success in exporting the latest Godzilla movies. (The Toho Company Ltd. produced all twenty-two of the Godzilla films. Only GODZILLA 1985 (1984) and GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE have been released in the United States.)

DM: Would the budget have been larger if Toho had had more success with them overseas?

KK: I wonder.

DM: Do you know why the movies haven't been released in the United States?

KK: One of the reasons is TriStar's upcoming GODZILLA. Another reason might be that Henry Saperstein's rights have not yet expired. (GODZILLA is going to be directed by Roland Emmerich. Among his credits are STARGATE (1994) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996). Mr. Saperstein is the head of UPA, Inc., the company that distributed GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), and several of Toho's other science fiction films in the United States.)

DM: I am surprised that making all of the different forms of Destroyer did not cost a lot of money. (Destroyer is similar to Hedorah, the monster Godzilla faces in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971), in that he transmutes.)

KK: Costumes for robots like MechaGodzilla and MOGERA are much more expensive to make than monster costumes. (Two identical giant robots, both of which are called Mogera, appear in THE MYSTERIANS (1957). Mobile Operation Godzilla Expert Robot Aero-Type (MOGERA) appears in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA.)

DM: I've heard that Minoru Yoshida designed all of the forms of Destroyer. Is that true?

KK: Yes. That's right. (Mr. Yoshida also designed many of the other monsters against which Toho has pitted Godzilla in the past several years.)

DM: Were his original designs very different from his final ones?

KK: Mr. Yoshida was asked to make Destroyer a crustacean. His drawings were given to Noriyoshi Orai, who painted the poster for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, and then a three dimensional model based on Mr. Orai's work was constructed. It was used as the basis for the final design. (Mr. Orai painted the advance posters for the last seven Godzilla movies.)

DM: I've heard that Shinji Nishikawa designed both the MB 96 Laser Tank and the Super X III. Is that true? (The Super X, a "flying tank," is used to counter Godzilla in GODZILLA 1985. The Super X II is used against him in GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.)

KK: Yes.

DM: Who designed Godzilla Junior? (Baby Godzilla is introduced in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. He grows into Little Godzilla in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, and Godzilla Junior in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

KK: Mr. Nishikawa. However, some minor changes were made by the people who constructed the costume.

DM: The design of Godzilla Junior is reminiscent of some of the pre-production sketches of Baby Godzilla. Was it based on any of them?

KK: Baby Godzilla, Little Godzilla, and Godzilla Junior were all designed by Mr. Nishikawa. (So, too, was the form of Biollante seen at the end of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.)

DM: How much time was spent building miniature sets for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

KK: About a month and a half.

DM: How much time was spent building miniature sets for each of the other recent Godzilla films?

KK: A month and a half to two months.

DM: Who came up with the idea to have patches of Godzilla's skin glow? (The patches show that the level of radioactivity within Godzilla's body has increased.)

KK: The original idea was to have Godzilla be luminescent. He was going to be white and red. We tried using both luminescent paint and light reflecting tape, but they didn't look sufficiently natural. So, we ended up using the most orthodox method. We took the Godzilla costume that had been made for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, and put about two hundred tiny orange light bulbs in it. We then put semi-transparent vinyl plates over the lights. There was a very thick power cable coming out of the end of the tail.

DM: Did you come up with the idea to use the lights?

KK: Yes. The steam also was my idea. (Steam is seen rising from Godzilla's body throughout GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

DM: What material was put on the Godzilla costume to make it seem that ice forms on Godzilla after he is attacked with the Super X III? (Both the Super X III and the MB 96 Laser Tank are armed with a "super low temperature" laser.)

KK: Paraffin and liquid nitrogen. (Paraffin is the waxy substance used to make candles.)

DM: Were you concerned that they might damage the costume?

KK: They did damage the costume. We knew that they would, so we shot the Super X III vs. Godzilla sequence last.

DM: Which Godzilla costume did you use for the scenes in which Godzilla is seen in water?

KK: We used three different Godzilla costumes. One was an entire costume, another was a partial that we used for the water scenes, and the third was a mechanical partial that we used for closeups.

DM: Was the mood on the set of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER any different from the mood on the sets of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, and so on?

KK: I didn't sense any significant difference. All of the members of the staff knew that Toho was planning to resume production on the Godzilla series at the beginning of the next century, so the mood was not especially serious or somber.

DM: I've heard that Ryo Hariya played Destroyer. Is that true?

KK: Yes. (Mr. Hariya also played Space Godzilla.)

DM: Did Hurricane Ryu play Godzilla Junior?

KK: Yes. (He also played Ghidrah, Baby Godzilla, and Battra, the "battle Mothra" seen in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA.)

DM: I've heard that Bandai Destroyer action figures were used in the production of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. Is that true? (Bandai, Inc. is Japan's largest toy manufacturer.)

KK: That's true.

DM: For which scenes were they used?

KK: The Metropolitan Police vs. Destroyer sequence. They are seen in only a few very brief long shots.

DM: How much time did you spend shooting special effects footage for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

KK: Three months. That includes the location shooting we did in Hong Kong. (Godzilla appears in Hong Kong at the beginning of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

DM: How long were you in Hong Kong?

KK: A week. We shot during the day, but used a filter to make it seem that the footage was shot at night.

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

KK: One and a half months. We were very rushed.

DM: How long did it take to create the computer graphics?

KK: About a month. The main title and destruction of Tokyo sequences were especially difficult to create.

We included more computer graphics this time than we ever had before. We were in a rush, so we had to hire an outside firm to create the graphics.

We also included more digital composite shots than we ever had before. They took about two and a half months to create. (Digital composites shots are created when computers are used to combine two or more separate shots into one.)

DM: Was the Silicon Graphics Indigo used? (It is a highly sophisticated computer used by many movie studios.)

KK: That's right.

DM: Were IBM-compatible and Macintosh computers also used?

KK: Yes.

DM: Were the computer graphics very expensive to produce?

KK: They weren't too expensive because I chose which shots should be created with computer graphics during planning.

DM: Did you shoot much footage for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER that wasn't included in the film?

KK: Much.

DM: For example?

KK: Godzilla and Destroyer originally were both going to die when Godzilla melted down. We shot that version of the ending, but weren't very happy with it.

DM: What other footage did you shoot but not use?

KK: Footage that was going to be included at the very beginning of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.

DM: Hong Kong footage?

KK: That's right.

DM: Why was Godzilla Junior's appearance kept a secret until GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER was released? (Toho generally does not try to keep secrets about its movies before they're released.)

KK: Toho's executives decided to keep it a secret because of the death of Godzilla.

DM: I've heard that a few props were stolen. Is that true?

KK: That's true.

DM: What was stolen?

KK: The mechanized crustacean form of Destroyer and the one meter tall Godzilla Junior model. They were never recovered.

DM: Did the thefts interfere with production?

KK: Yes. They interfered with production for several days.

DM: Are you pleased with the way GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER turned out?

KK: I'm satisfied with it.

DM: Which of the Godzilla films for which you directed the special effects is your favorite?

KK: GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.

DM: Why?

KK: I was given the opportunity to show the death of Godzilla. That will never again happen during my lifetime.

DM: Takao Okawara wanted to have Godzilla be killed in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, but he could not obtain permission for it. Why was permission granted this time? (Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. Mr. Kawakita is the one who suggested that Godzilla be killed in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

KK: Toho's executives didn't feel that the time had come for Godzilla to die when GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was produced, but they did this time.

DM: Had they already decided to put the series on hiatus?

KK: The decision to kill Godzilla was made before the decision to put the series on hiatus was.

DM: Was Godzilla's death prompted by TriStar's GODZILLA?

KK: Yes.

DM: Which of the Godzilla movies for which you directed the special effects was most challenging to produce?

KK: GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. It was the most challenging.

DM: Why?

KK: Well, the real title is GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, but to me, the title is GODZILLA IS DEAD. Godzilla's death had a big effect on me.

DM: I remember seeing an interview with you on CNN during which you said that shooting the scene in which Space Godzilla levitates Godzilla was very difficult. What made that so difficult?

KK: Space Godzilla came from one of Godzilla's cells. So, having Godzilla do battle with him was just like having Godzilla do battle with himself. For that reason, I tried to make the battle very unusual. That's why it was so difficult to shoot.

DM: Do you ever feel constrained by the production budgets with which you work?

KK: I always feel constrained by the budget and by time. We always are very rushed during both production and post- production.

It's the nature of movie directors. We always want more time and more money.

Most people who work in the American film industry are very surprised when they find out what the Japanese film industry is like. (Production budgets for Japanese movies generally are about one-tenth as large as those for American movies.)

By the way, we had less time to shoot the special effects footage for GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER than we did to shoot the special effects footage for any of the other Godzilla films produced since GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.

DM: GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER has received a lot of attention from the American media because of the death of Godzilla. Has the movie also received a lot of attention in Japan?

KK: Here, too.

DM: What is working with Kenpachiro Satsuma like? (Mr. Satsuma plays Godzilla in the last seven Godzilla films.)

KK: I haven't heard what Mr. Satsuma thinks of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER yet, but I would imagine that being the person who played Godzilla when he died would make Mr. Satsuma very proud.

Mr. Satsuma always wanted to avoid portraying Godzilla anthropomorphically. We completely agreed on how Godzilla should be portrayed in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, so things went very well.

DM: What do you think of Mr. Satsuma's portrayal of Godzilla in general?

KK: I have been very impressed with Mr. Satsuma's abilities ever since we worked on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE together.

I spent seven years working with Mr. Satsuma. They passed very quickly.

DM: What is your professional relationship with Kenichi Eguchi like? (Mr. Eguchi is Toho's chief special effects cinematographer.)

KK: Mr. Eguchi loves his work because the footage he gets to shoot is very evocative. He always is very enthusiastic.

Mr. Eguchi has a very good eye.

DM: Do the two of you work closely with each other?

KK: We are very different, but despite our differences, we always manage to work well together toward the same goal. I enjoy that very much.

DM: What do you think of GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995)?

KK: It's enjoyable.

DM: What do you think of Shinji Higuchi's work on the movie? (Mr. Higuchi directed the special effects for both GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE and GAMERA 2 - LEGION ATTACK (1996).)

KK: Immediately after we finished shooting GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, I happened to meet Shusuke Kaneko. I sensed that he was giving a great deal of thought to his work. That made me think that GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE just might be very successful. (Mr. Kaneko directed both GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE and GAMERA 2 - LEGION ATTACK.)

DM: Do you think that Toho's decision to stop making Godzilla films was a good one?

KK: It was a good decision.

DM: Why do you feel that way?

KK: We produced six Godzilla movies in seven years. It was wonderful to provide entertainment that people seemed to enjoy very much, but if we had continued producing the same kind of film over and over again, people eventually would have lost interest.

I think it's good that we stopped while people were still interested. That way, there will be enthusiasm for the series when it is resumed.

Godzilla will be created within a completely different culture, and then, after TriStar's GODZILLA is released, an entirely new Godzilla will be created by Toho.

DM: Why was the Big Pool reduced in size? (It is located on Toho's lot in Tokyo.)

KK: Efficiency. The less area the pool occupies, the more efficiently we can shoot in it. Now that we have digital compositing available to us, all we need to be able to shoot is the subject and the water immediately surrounding it.

DM: I've heard a rumor that you're planning to retire soon. Is that true?

KK: It's not yet time.

DM: Are you going to direct the special effects for MOTHRA? (It is going to be released in Japan in December.)

KK: Yes.

DM: Is the movie going to be a remake of MOTHRA (1961)?

KK: It will be completely different. (Mothra is going to do battle with a new monster called Death Ghidrah.)

DM: I've heard that Toho is going to produce a film featuring Ghidrah in 1999. Is that true?

KK: That film probably will be made at some point.

DM: Is Toho going to produce a sequel to YAMATO TAKERU (1994)?

KK: I'm wondering about that myself. (A script has been commissioned from Wataru Mimura, the person who wrote both YAMATO TAKERU and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

DM: How did you like working on that movie?

KK: I enjoyed it very much. YAMATO TAKERU was a totally different world, so working on it was both very enjoyable and very challenging for me. (YAMATO TAKERU is a period film that features several different monsters.)

DM: When we last met, you said that there were plans to produce a sequel to MONSTER PLANET - GODZILLA. Is the sequel still going to be produced? (MONSTER PLANET - GODZILLA is an amusement park ride featuring Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan.)

KK: It's up to the people who run Sanrio Puroland. There aren't going to be anymore Godzilla movies made by Toho for some time, but there may be another ride created soon. (MONSTER PLANET - GODZILLA runs at the Sanrio Puroland Amusement Park, which is located just outside of Tokyo.)

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

KK: I think that they should be powerful enough to make people forget about all of the previous Godzilla films. I also think that the next few Godzilla movies should be more somber, and focus more on the human characters. If we don't focus more on the human characters, Godzilla films will never be very appealing to foreign audiences.

Koichi Kawakita Interview II © 1998 David Milner