Takashi Nakao Interview

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Takashi Nakao

(Conducted in December 1994)

Takashi Nakao is one of the Toho Company Ltd.'s still photographers. He has worked with the studio's special effects staff on KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994), and many other science fiction films.

David Milner: In what year did you begin working for Toho?

Takashi Nakao: 1957.

DM: What position were you hired to fill?

TN: Assistant still photographer.

DM: To which films were you first assigned?

TN: THE MYSTERIANS (1957), VARAN - THE UNBELIEVABLE (1958), THE THREE TREASURES (1959), and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959).

DM: Did you work with the standard staff or the special effects staff?

TN: I worked with the special effects staff. The system that was in place at the time was different from the one that now is in place. Back in the 1950s, the chief still photographer would work with the standard staff, and the assistant still photographer would work with the special effects staff. These days, there is a distinction made between standard and special effects still photographers.

DM: In what year were you promoted to chief still photographer?

TN: I was promoted at the end of 1960.

DM: Did you then begin working with the standard staff?

TN: No. In 1960, Toho changed its policy regarding still photographers because the importance of special effects had grown. The studio changed the title of the chief still photographer position to still photographer, and it began assigning two still photographers to work on movies featuring special effects. One would work with the standard staff, and the other would work with the special effects staff.

DM: Were you assigned to any of the science fiction films that were produced by Toho during the 1960s?

TN: I didn't work on MOTHRA (1961), but I did work on KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. I also worked on KING KONG ESCAPES (1967).

DM: Were you assigned to any of the science fiction movies that were produced by Toho during the 1970s?

TN: No.

DM: To which films that do not feature special effects were you assigned over the years?

TN: I worked on many of the movies in which Yuzo Kayama appears. (Mr. Kayama plays the title role in YOUNG GUY IN COLLEGE (1961), BRAVO! YOUNG GUY (1970), COME BACK YOUNG GUY (1981), and all fifteen of the other YOUNG GUY films.)

DM: Were you assigned to the YOUNG GUY movies that Jun Fukuda directed? (Mr. Fukuda directed YOUNG GUY IN JAPAN (1962) and YOUNG GUY IN HAWAII (1963). He also directed GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974).)

TN: I didn't work on those films, but I did work on YOUNG GUY IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC (1967). I did some underwater shooting for it.

DM: Was that very difficult?

TN: No. I had an underwater photography permit. I was a member of the division for underwater photography that Toho had created.

DM: Were you assigned to any of Akira Kurosawa's films? (Mr. Kurosawa directed SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), RED BEARD (1965), AKIRA KUROSAWA'S DREAMS (1990), and a large number of other movies.)

TN: No.

DM: What was Eiji Tsuburaya like? (Mr. Tsuburaya directed the special effects for GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), MOTHRA, KING KONG ESCAPES, and many of the other science fiction films that have been produced by Toho.)

TN: Mr. Tsuburaya was very friendly. He had a lot of ideas, but he wouldn't force them on the members of his staff. He instead would allow them to make their own decisions.

DM: I have been told that Mr. Tsuburaya was very shy. Was this your impression of him?

TN: Yes. He was very shy.

DM: What is Teisho Arikawa like? (Mr. Arikawa worked as Toho's chief special effects cinematographer before directing the special effects for SON OF GODZILLA, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), and YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970).)

TN: He is clever.

DM: Was Mr. Tsuburaya's professional relationship with Mr. Arikawa a cordial one?

TN: It was very cordial. Mr. Tsuburaya would always allow Mr. Arikawa to do his own work.

DM: What is Haruo Nakajima like? (Mr. Nakajima plays Godzilla in the first twelve Godzilla movies. He also plays Baragon in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), the green gargantua in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), and a number of the other giant monsters characters that have been created by Toho.)

TN: He is a tough guy.

DM: Did Tomoyuki Tanaka visit the special effects set very often? (Mr. Tanaka produced virtually all of Toho's science fiction films.)

TN: About once a week.

DM: Did he offer advice or just watch?

TN: He didn't offer advice. He would just watch.

DM: Did Ishiro Honda offer advice when he came to visit the set? (Mr. Honda directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1965), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), and many of Toho's other science fiction films.)

TN: Mr. Honda and Mr. Tsuburaya jointly would plan the production of the movies on which they both worked. So, after shooting had begun, it usually was not necessary for them to further consult with each other. However, they occasionally would need to talk to each other during production in order to make sure that the standard footage would match the special effects footage.

DM: Which of the actors most often came to visit the set?

TN: Yoshio Tsuchiya. He always would come to the set and watch. He even did that during the production of GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991). (Among the best known characters Mr. Tsuchiya has played are the Controller of Planet X in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965) and Yasuaki Shindo, the platoon leader in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH.)

DM: Which of the other actors often came to visit the set?

TN: Kenji Sahara. The actresses would come before production had begun, but none of them would come once shooting was underway. (Among the best known characters Mr. Sahara has played are inventor Kazuo Fujita in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and entrepreneur Jiro Torahata in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964).)

DM: Is the manner in which Koichi Kawakita works very different from the one in which Mr. Tsuburaya did? (Mr. Kawakita directed the special effects for the last six Godzilla movies.)

TN: Mr. Tsuburaya was very shy, but Mr. Kawakita is a very strong leader.

DM: How was Mr. Tsuburaya's professional relationship with Mr. Arikawa different from Mr. Kawakita's professional relationship with Kenichi Eguchi? (Mr. Eguchi is Toho's chief special effects cinematographer.)

TN: It was not very different.

DM: Was Mr. Nakajima's approach to playing Godzilla very different from Kenpachiro Satsuma's? (Mr. Satsuma plays Hedorah in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971), Gigan in both GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, and Godzilla in the seven most recent Godzilla films.)

TN: Many of the Godzilla movies that were produced while Mr. Nakajima was playing Godzilla were made with a comical touch, but the tone of the more recent Godzilla films is much more serious. This difference is reflected in the performances of Mr. Nakajima and Mr. Satsuma.

DM: How much time was spent shooting the special effects footage for each of the last few Godzilla movies?

TN: About three months.

DM: Was the same amount of time spent shooting the special effects footage for the Godzilla films that were produced during the 1950s and 1960s?

TN: Yes.

DM: Were the members of the special effects staff any more or less enthusiastic about working on YAMATO TAKERU (1994) than they were about working on the last few Godzilla movies?

TN: Their level of enthusiasm was about the same.

DM: Do you take many low angle shots when you are photographing people in giant monster costumes so that they will appear to be very large?

TN: Yes. I do.

DM: Do you discard many of the pictures you take of people in giant monster costumes because they are not sufficiently convincing?

TN: Yes.

DM: What percentage of the pictures you take end up being used?

TN: I take about ten thousand photographs for each film, and of those about fifty are used for stills and lobby cards.

DM: Do you shoot while the rest of members of the staff are doing their work, or do you take posed shots?

TN: Most of the time I shoot while the rest of the members of the staff are doing their work, but I occasionally take posed shots.

DM: Do you take pictures during rehearsals or takes?

TN: Both.

DM: Do you have any control over what is done with the pictures you take?

TN: Once the photographs have been taken and developed, I hand them over to the people who work in Toho's publicity office, and they decide what to do with them.

DM: Do you enjoy working on movies that feature special effects any more or less than you enjoy working on those that do not?

TN: I enjoy working on both kinds of films.

DM: How do you think Mr. Eguchi's photography compares to Mr. Arikawa's?

TN: Mr. Arikawa was very good at taking fixed shots. Mr. Eguchi, on the other hand, is very good at taking moving shots. I think this difference stems not only from the difference in their personalities, but also from the fact that the cameras used back in the 1950s and 1960s were much bulkier than those that are now being used.

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

TN: I am pleased. It would be wonderful if Japanese and American film crews were to work together on a Godzilla movie.

Takashi Nakao Interview © 1998 David Milner