Shinji Nishikawa Interview

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Shinji Nishikawa

(Conducted in December 1995)

Shinji Nishikawa took part in designing many of the monsters and military aircraft and tanks seen in GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995), or one of the other more recent Godzilla films. He also created GODZILLA LEGEND, a comic in which thousands of cute, tiny Godzillas terrorize Japan.

David Milner: Your original design for the form of Biollante seen at the end of GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE features a mouth that is somewhat similar in appearance to a flower. Why was the mouth changed?

Shinji Nishikawa: My original design with a four-part mouth was approved by Koichi Kawakita, but the producers decided to change it. They thought the mouth should look more like that of a reptile. (Mr. Kawakita directed the special effects for the last six Godzilla films.)

DM: Your design for Ghidrah is much more like that of the original Ghidrah than the one that ended up being used. Do you prefer the original design to the new one? (Ghidrah appears in GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), and GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991).)

SN: I prefer the original design. The three heads of Ghidrah were modified because it was very difficult for the members of the special effects staff to superimpose all of the individual strands of hair located at the back of Ghidrah's heads onto footage of people fleeing.

DM: Your design for MechaGhidrah features the Machine Hand. Did you come up with the idea for it? (After Ghidrah is defeated by Godzilla, he is turned into a cyborg.)

SN: The Machine Hand was described in the script as having four huge mechanical claws which grab onto Godzilla. The problem was making the claws seem credible since Godzilla and Ghidrah were about the same size. It just wasn't possible. So, I decided to change the design the Machine Hand so that it had only one mechanical claw.

DM: Your design for the Godzillasaur looks much more like Godzilla than the design that ended up being used. Do you think that the Godzillasaur should have looked more like Godzilla and less like a Tyrannosaur? (The Godzillasaur, the dinosaur Godzilla was before being mutated by radiation, is introduced in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH.)

SN: There was a Tyrannosaur in Kazuki Omori's original story outline, but I couldn't accept the idea that a Tyrannosaur could become Godzilla. So, I came up with the idea for the Godzillasaur. I drew some sketches, and submitted them to Toho. When I saw the first draft of the script, I noticed that the Tyrannosaur had been replaced with the Godzillasaur. (Mr. Omori wrote and directed GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE and GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, and wrote but did not direct GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992) and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. The Toho Company Ltd. produced all twenty-two of the Godzilla movies. It also produced RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), KING KONG ESCAPES (1967), and many other science fiction films.)

The Godzillasaur's skin was made very rough by radiation. In addition, it is what made the small fins on the Godzillasaur's back turn into the large ones on Godzilla's.

Baby Godzilla's skin is very smooth. That shows that he has not been exposed to radiation. It also shows that the design of Baby Godzilla was influenced by that of the Godzillasaur. (Baby Godzilla is introduced in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993). He grows into Little Godzilla in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994) and Godzilla Junior in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

DM: Your design for Mother is very reminiscent of the huge spaceship seen at the end of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Did you base your design on it? (Mother is the time machine that brings people from the future to the present in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH.)

SN: I drew many different pre-production sketches of Mother. One of them is based on the spaceship seen in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. However, the design that ended up being used is not.

DM: Did you come up with the idea to include a teleportation device in Kids? (Kids is a relatively small time machine carried within Mother.)

SN: The teleportation device in Kids was mentioned in the original story outline. However, I designed the device.

DM: Your design for the larval Battra features short tusk- like growths that rotate. Why did you make them rotate? (Battra is the "Battle Mothra" seen in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA.)

SN: I made them rotate because Battra was going to tunnel underground. I felt that he needed some drill-like device. I originally envisioned Battra as growing not only bigger and bigger, but also less and less like Mothra.

Battra was described as a black Mothra in the script, so I tried to make him only a little different from Mothra. I kept the basic shape of the larval Mothra, but made Battra black. I also put glowing red spots all along his body.

DM: Your design for the adult Battra is very unusual. It's somewhat reminiscent of the creatures seen in the ALIEN trilogy. Did you base it on them?

SN: I tried to make the adult Battra very different from the adult Mothra. There wasn't much I could do with the wings and limbs, so I made the head very different. For example, I combined Mothra's two eyes into one large eye. I wanted Battra to be very alien in appearance so that the members of the audience would have sympathy for Mothra instead of Battra.

It was very difficult for me to design the adult Battra. I wanted him to be very different from the larval Battra, but I also wanted him to have something in common with the larva.

DM: I've heard that MechaGodzilla originally was going to be made up of components of tanks and aircraft that had been destroyed by Godzilla. Is that true?

SN: MechaGodzilla originally was going to be made up of several pieces of military hardware, but they never were going to be components of tanks and aircraft that had been destroyed by Godzilla.

DM: Like your design for Ghidrah, your design for Rodan is much more like the original than the design that ended up being used. Do you prefer the original Rodan to the new one? (Rodan appears in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

SN: Yes. I prefer the original design of Rodan. I think the new Rodan should have been as similar to the original as possible.

DM: Like your design for the Godzillasaur, your design for Baby Godzilla were much more reminiscent of Godzilla than the design that ended up being used. Do you think that Baby should have looked more like Godzilla?

SN: I tried to make Baby look like a dinosaur. That's what Takao Okawara wanted. He wanted the head to look like Godzilla's, but the body to be more like that of a dinosaur. (Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. He also directed YAMATO TAKERU (1994).)

DM: You originally envisioned the Kumaso god as a giant spider with the upper body of a man instead of a creature made of stone. Did you base your design on the Minotaur of Greek mythology? (The Kumaso god is one of the monsters in YAMATO TAKERU.)

SN: The pre-production period for YAMATO TAKERU was a long one, so there were many different pre-production sketches drawn for the movie. In addition, many of the original monster designs were altered.

I imagined the Kumaso god as being half human and half animal. Although my design isn't based on the Minotaur per se, it is reminiscent of the kinds of creatures described in the mythology of many ancient civilizations.

By the way, there originally was going to be a giant salamander in YAMATO TAKERU. He was going to appear during the introduction of Oto Tachibana. She was going to do battle with him. (Oto Tachibana is the consort of Yamato Takeru.)

DM: Why doesn't the salamander appear in the film?

SN: Since sea god Muba already was in the movie, it was felt that another creature that lives in water would be redundant.

DM: Is the design of Space Godzilla based on that of the Super Godzilla featured in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Super Godzilla game?

SN: It is based on the design of Super Godzilla. (Both Super Godzilla and Space Godzilla were designed by Minoru Yoshida.)

DM: Did you draw any pre-production sketches of Space Godzilla?

SN: I didn't spend much time working on GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA. I was very busy working on other projects at the time. I just drew a few rough sketches of Space Godzilla and MOGERA. (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.)

My design for Space Godzilla doesn't have large crystals on the shoulders. Instead, it has huge fins that are used as wings on the back. The design looks very much like a Western dragon. In addition, it is very muscular, but not bulky the way Space Godzilla is.

My design for MOGERA is much more reminiscent of today's military hardware than that of the original Mogera. The original Mogera looks very futuristic and alien.

DM: Did you base the design of the Super X III on that of either the Super X or the Super X II? (The Super X flying tank is used to fend off Godzilla in GODZILLA 1985 (1984). The Super X II is used to direct Godzilla's own radioactive breath back at him in GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.)

SN: The Super X III was described as a silver, bat-shaped stealth aircraft in the GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER story outline. So, I designed an aircraft that resembled the Northrop Flying Wing. Mr. Kawakita accepted that design, but shortly after he did, I was asked to add a fuselage. I added a small one, but it eventually was enlarged. The final design really is the product of many different people.

DM: The MB 96 Laser Tank is very similar in appearance to the maser tanks seen in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). Did you base its design on them? (Like the Super X III, the MB 96 is armed with a "super low temperature" laser.)

SN: Yes. The trailer is less angular and more curved, but the design pretty much is the same.

I originally designed the MB 96 for MOTHRA VS. BAGAN. Since the movie was going to feature Mothra, there was going to be a device similar to the Atomic Heat Gun in it. When MOTHRA VS. BAGAN was cancelled, the members of Toho's special effects staff began trying to find a way to use my design in some other film. They finally did when GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER went into pre-production. (The Atomic Heat Gun is used in an attempt to burn Mothra's cocoon in MOTHRA. MOTHRA VS. BAGAN was going to be produced in 1990.)

By the way, the muzzle of the MB 96 unfolds in four parts because Toho changed my design of Biollante. I finally got my revenge!

DM: What other pre-production sketches did you draw for MOTHRA VS. BAGAN?

SN: I created more designs for that movie than I did for any of the Godzilla films on which I worked. I worked very hard on that project.

DM: How far did it get before it was canceled?

SN: The story outline was finished, but the script never was completed. Only a first draft was written.

DM: Why was the project canceled?

SN: I'm not sure, but I think it was canceled because GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE wasn't as successful as GODZILLA 1985. Toho's executives probably thought that a Mothra movie would not be very successful.

Tomoyuki Tanaka himself wanted to produce MOTHRA VS. BAGAN. It's very unusual for a project of his to be cancelled. (Mr. Tanaka produced virtually all of Toho's science fiction films.)

DM: Toho considered producing a new KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) a few years ago. What was it going to be like? (The studio could not acquire rights to King Kong.)

SN: I submitted a story outline for that movie. Since King Kong was going to be in it, I felt that one of the main human characters had to be a woman. So, I came up with a female scientist who saw King Kong only as an object with which to experiment. She even was going to turn him into a cyborg.

DM: Have you written any other story outlines?

SN: I write one every time a Godzilla film is proposed. For example, I wrote one for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA that is similar to the story outline on which GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER is based.

DM: In what ways is it similar?

SN: There is a battle within Godzilla that is reminiscent of FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966). It triggers a nuclear reaction within Godzilla, which eventually causes him to explode. Baby Godzilla absorbs the released energy, and then becomes the new Godzilla.

By the way, the military salvages MechaGhidrah and uses its technology to create weapons for use against Godzilla in that story outline. (In GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC) salvages MechaGhidrah and uses its technology to create MechaGodzilla.)

DM: Were you surprised when you saw GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER?

SN: I wasn't surprised because I'd known that Godzilla was going to die for some time. I also knew that Baby Godzilla would become the new Godzilla.

By the way, the story outline on which GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER is based was written by Hideki Oka, a former assistant special effects director.

DM: What made you decide to create GODZILLA LEGEND?

SN: I'm amazed that you know of it!

I've always enjoyed monster movies, but when I got to know some of the people who take part in their production, I began to see the films from a very different perspective. I think it is what inspired me to create GODZILLA LEGEND.

DM: How did you come up with the idea of thousands of cute, tiny Godzillas attacking Japan?

SN: I was in a comics club when I was a college student. One of the more talented members created LEGEND OF DRAGONFLY, which features a huge dragonfly that attacks people. What I did was reverse the idea. Instead of turning a tiny creature into a huge monster, I turned a huge monster into a tiny creature.

DM: What prompted you to create MAKING OF GODZILLA LEGEND?

SN: It's a parody of GODZILLA LEGEND. It's also a comment on the enormous number of books on Godzilla that are published whenever a Godzilla movie is released.

By the way, GODZILLA LEGEND and MAKING OF GODZILLA LEGEND are what made Mr. Kawakita aware of me. Toho was going to make a film about dinosaurs in 1989, and Mr. Kawakita was looking for someone who could design very cute dinosaurs. So, a mutual friend named Kazuo Sumiya showed my comics to him. The dinosaur movie didn't make it into even pre-production, but Mr. Kawakita did ask me to work on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.

DM: How did you learn to draw?

SN: My father did book layouts, so I always was surrounded by paper and pencil. However, I didn't begin drawing comics for publication until I was in college.

It's almost unbearable for me to look at the beginning of GODZILLA LEGEND and my other earlier works now. They look very amateurish to me.

DM: Are you a Toho employee?

SN: I'm hired on an ad hoc basis.

DM: How much time does Toho usually give you to create your designs?

SN: About a month. However, I had only three days to design Biollante. I'm usually brought in right after the script is completed and the members of the staff are selected.

Most of the time I'm not satisfied with my work. I'm not only always rushed, but also always offered very little time to talk with Mr. Kawakita and the miniature builders and monster costume makers. It would be better if the designers were involved from the very beginning of pre-production through the construction of the miniatures and monster costumes.

DM: How did you get the nickname Mash?

SN: I've been called Mash ever since junior high school because my hair is very long and thick. Many comic writers use pen names, and when I decided to use one, I chose Mash.

DM: What do you think of Shinichiro Kobayashi's designs of Biollante and Deuterios? (Mr. Kobayashi submitted the winning entry in the GODZILLA 2 story contest, which was held shortly after GODZILLA 1985 was released. Deuterios, a giant monster created through the combination of rat and fish cells, only appears in Mr. Kobayashi's original story.)

SN: I like the design because I like monsters that are similar to a living animal.

DM: What do you think of Mr. Yoshida's designs?

SN: I very much like many of his designs, but not all of them. I like the ones that are very stylish, but I don't like the ones that are not reminiscent of a living animal.

DM: What do you think of Hurricane Ryu's work? (Hurricane Ryu created both THE ART OF GODZILLA, which features a storyboard-like adaptation of GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, and THE ART OF GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, which features a storyboard-like adaptation of GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. In addition, he played Ghidrah, Battra, Baby Godzilla, the Kumaso god, and Godzilla Junior.)

SN: I'm very interested in it.

DM: Are you a science fiction film fan?

SN: I am.

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

SN: That's a very difficult question. My favorites change all the time. I like the plots of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971), and the special effects of MOTHRA and some of the other earlier movies. I'm very much interested in optical effects, so SON OF GODZILLA (1967) is very interesting to me.

DM: How do you think the more recent Godzilla films compare to the older ones?

SN: The special effects are very sophisticated, but the plots are not as well developed. I used to be critical of the new movies because of this, but when I saw GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER, I realized that Godzilla is very dramatic by himself. He is a very powerful character.

The sequence in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER in which Godzilla dies consists almost entirely of special effects footage. I feel that the standard footage should not have been included in the sequence.

DM: What do you think of the older Gamera films?

SN: I liked Gamera more than Godzilla when I was a child.

DM: Why?

SN: I liked his character more.

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

SN: I very much like the new Gamera movie. It is just like the old Godzilla films, and the new Godzilla films are just like the old Gamera movies. So, older Godzilla fans don't like the new Godzilla films, and older Gamera fans don't like the new Gamera movie. It's very ironic.

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

SN: Mr. Kawakita is very experienced, but repetitive. Mr. Higuchi is more like an amateur in that his work is very meticulous. That's why GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE turned out so well. I hope that Mr. Higuchi will always work the way he did on GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE.

DM: How would you change the current design of Godzilla if you could change it?

SN: I think Godzilla is too bulky below the waist. So, I would make him trimmer. In addition, I don't think Godzilla should have ears or two rows of teeth.

The material that is used to make the Godzilla costumes these days is a little too hard. It doesn't look like real skin. I think the material that was used in the past is better.

DM: What do you think of the design of the new Gamera?

SN: I very much like the design of the old Gamera. I think it's very credible because the old Gamera, like all other turtles, can't move very quickly on land.

DM: How do you feel about TriStar Pictures producing a Godzilla film?

SN: I'm very much looking forward to seeing the movie. I'm looking forward to seeing what TriStar does with Godzilla to make him fresh.

Shinji Nishikawa Interview © 1998 David Milner