Takao Okawara Interview II

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Takao Okawara

(Conducted in July 1994)

Takao Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), and YAMATO TAKERU (1994). He also directed SUPER GIRL REIKO (1991).

David Milner: YAMATO TAKERU is very different from GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.

Takao Okawara: Godzilla films are dominated by special effects. YAMATO TAKERU is a drama.

DM: The movie also is a period piece. Did it present more of a challenge to the actors than your Godzilla films because of this?

TO: That is probably true. However, I allowed Yasuko Sawaguchi and Masahiro Takashima to act the way they normally do in the movie. I treated it not as a period piece, but instead as a futuristic drama imagined by people living in the past. (Mr. Takashima plays Yamato Takeru, the heir to the Yamato throne. Ms. Sawaguchi plays Oto Tachibana, Yamato Takeru's consort.)

DM: Did you select Ms. Sawaguchi and Mr. Takashima for their roles?

TO: They were both cast before I was chosen to direct YAMATO TAKERU.

DM: I've heard that the battle between Yamato Takeru and the Kumaso gami (Kumaso god) was shot not by the special effects staff, but instead by you and your staff. Is this true? (The Kumaso tribe lived in Kyushu.)

TO: The battle was shot entirely by me and my staff. The Kumaso gami originally was going to be a giant spider, but I felt that it instead should be a creature made of stone.

DM: Did you come up with the idea to have the hands of the Kumaso gami turn into a bow and arrows?

TO: That was my idea.

DM: How much time was Kioko Ogino given to score YAMATO TAKERU?

TO: She started writing the music on May 20th. It was recorded on June 5th. (YAMATO TAKERU opened in Japan on July 9th.)

DM: Did you allow her to see the rushes?

TO: Since she was given so little time in which to do her work, I did allow her to see the rushes.

DM: How did you become aware of Ms. Ogino?

TO: I was introduced to her by a producer who works for Toho Music Publishing. (YAMATO TAKERU, like all of the Godzilla films, was produced by the Toho Company Ltd.)

DM: Did you first ask Akira Ifukube to compose the score? (Mr. Ifukube, one of Japan's most prominent classical composers, wrote the music for GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and many of Toho's other science fiction movies.)

TO: I did consider asking him to score YAMATO TAKERU, but since it was going to be so different from the Godzilla films, I decided to ask a different composer.

DM: I've heard that YAMATO TAKERU originally was going to be made much sooner than it was. Is this true?

TO: The movie was going to be made right after GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. It was going to be used to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of Toho Geino. (It is an organization that is made up of actors and actresses who work for Toho.)

DM: Was the first version of the screenplay for YAMATO TAKERU very different from the final one? (The script was written by Wataru Mimura. Mr. Mimura also wrote the screenplay for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

TO: A large number of changes were made. YAMATO TAKERU originally was going to be a remake of JAPAN BIRTH (1959). (Both films are based on KOJIKI, the mythological story of the creation of Japan.) However, since the movie was going to be the first of three films based on KOJIKI, I felt that it would be better to focus more on the relationship between Yamato Takeru and Oto Tachibana. So, I omitted several of the events that take place in the myth, and inserted a number of new events. For example, I decided to have Yamato Takeru retrieve the magatama, the circular mirror, and the sword. (They are the three symbols of the Japanese imperial family. The magatama is a comma-shaped jewel.) I also decided to provide him with two companions. (Seiryu, the older of the two, is played by Miyashi Ishibashi. Genbu is played by Bengal.)

DM: Is Toho going to try to export YAMATO TAKERU?

TO: A Taiwanese motion picture distribution company already has purchased rights to it.

DM: Which scenes in GODZILLA 1985 did you direct? (Mr. Okawara worked on the movie as an assistant director.)

TO: I just helped the other directors.

DM: Did you and Ms. Sawaguchi work together while you were shooting the film? (In GODZILLA 1985, Ms. Sawaguchi plays Naoko Okumura, a woman who takes part in conducting research which leads to the discovery that Godzilla can be lured with a sound simulating the chirping of birds.)

TO: No. We didn't.

DM: I've heard that Kenji Sahara originally was going to be in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. Is this true? (Mr. Sahara appears in RODAN (1956), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and a number of Toho's other science fiction movies.)

TO: It's certainly possible. Toho always tries to arrange for actors who worked on the earlier Godzilla films to appear in the newer ones.

DM: Were any of the other actors who worked on the earlier Godzilla movies originally going to be in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA or GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA?

TO: Frankie Sakai was going to be in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. (Mr. Sakai plays a reporter named "Bulldog" Tsinchan in MOTHRA (1961).)

DM: Why didn't he work on the film?

TO: He had a scheduling conflict.

DM: Was it your idea to introduce Baby Godzilla in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA?

TO: Toho wanted to bring Minya back, but I didn't. So, I redesigned him. (Minya, the son of Godzilla, appears in SON OF GODZILLA (1967), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and GODZILLA'S REVENGE (1969).)

DM: GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA is a lighthearted film, but GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA is a very serious one. Did you intend to have the two movies turn out to be so different from each other?

TO: Mothra is a very feminine monster, but MechaGodzilla is hard and solid. Because of this, I did intend to have GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA turn out to be more serious than GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. However, I used Baby Godzilla to provide some relief.

DM: Are there any improvised lines in your Godzilla films?

TO: We didn't do any improvisation while we were working on them. However, all of the bum's lines in GODZILLA 1985 are improvised. (The bum is played by Tetsuya Takeda.)

DM: There are a large number of outtakes from GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. What scenes are included in them?

TO: The simulated battle between the members of G-Force and Godzilla originally was going to appear to be a real one. We were going to reveal that it was simulated only at its conclusion. (G-Force is the military organization run by the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center.)

Jun Sonezaki was going to fall in love with Catherine Burger. (MechaGodzilla co-pilot Catherine Burger is played by Sherry Sweeney. MechaGodzilla weapons officer Jun Sonezaki is played by Ichirota Miyagawa.)

Many shorter scenes also were not used.

DM: Are there many outtakes from GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA?

TO: Fewer than there are from GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.

There was going to be a quarrel about Mr. Ando exploring Infant Island in a suit. It was going to provide comic relief. (Kenji Ando, an executive of the Marutomo Corp., is played by Takehiro Murata.)

DM: Was there much special effects footage shot for YAMATO TAKERU that wasn't used?

TO: Yamato Takeru originally was going to jump onto one of the heads of the Yamata no orochi (eight-headed snake of Yamata) not just once, but twice. In addition, the sequence in which the utsu no ikusa gami (battle god of outer space) and the Yamata no orochi do battle originally was going to be much longer. (The utsu no ikusa gami is a huge metallic samurai into which Yamato Takeru and Oto Tachibana transmute.)

DM: Why was the sequence edited?

TO: We showed a rush edit of YAMATO TAKERU to a number of Toho executives, and they felt that it should be shorter. (The running time of the rush edit was one hour and fifty minutes.) So, Koichi Kawakita reworked it. I felt that his editing made the sequence a little too short, so I asked him to put several shots back into it. (Mr. Kawakita directed the special effects for YAMATO TAKERU. He also directed the special effects for the last five Godzilla films.)

DM: During our previous conversation, you mentioned that you got the idea to have Takuya Fujita flail his arms while you were watching THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991). Were any of the scenes in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA or YAMATO TAKERU inspired by scenes in American movies? (Takuya Fujita, who is played by Tetsuya Bessho, flails his arms in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA after he learns that he is going to be stuck in jail for fourteen years.)

TO: I can't think of any.

DM: Did Tomoyuki Tanaka come to visit the set while your films were being shot? (Mr. Tanaka produced virtually all of Toho's science fiction movies.)

TO: Yes.

DM: Very often?

TO: Only a few times.

DM: What is your professional relationship with Shogo Tomiyama like? (Mr. Tomiyama produced YAMATO TAKERU. He and Mr. Tanaka co-produced the last five Godzilla films.)

TO: Even though SUPER GIRL REIKO was not very successful, I was chosen to direct GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. I think Mr. Tomiyama helped me get the job. When Toho was trying to decide upon a director for YAMATO TAKERU, I think he again helped me.

DM: Does Mr. Tomiyama come to visit the set very often?

TO: Yes.

DM: Does he offer suggestions or just watch?

TO: He offers suggestions.

DM: What is your professional relationship with Mr. Kawakita like?

TO: We each have our own ideas. If they fit together, things go very smoothly. However, if they don't, we end up competing with each other.

DM: Do you and Mr. Kawakita work together at all while you are filming?

TO: We work together while we are planning movies, but we work separately while we are shooting them.

DM: Do you choose which special effects footage will be used?

TO: I have the right to make the final decisions. However, I usually only offer suggestions when I see the special effects footage.

DM: Does Mr. Kawakita offer suggestions about the standard footage?

TO: Sometimes.

DM: Have you worked only as a film director?

TO: Toho employees must work for the company for six months before they officially will be hired. During my first six months with Toho, I worked at a number of different jobs. However, when I officially was hired, I was made an assistant director.

DM: Do you take part in writing the scripts for your movies?

TO: Wataru Mimura, Mr. Tomiyama, and I take part in writing the scripts. After several different outlines have been written, we call in Mr. Kawakita.

DM: Many directors find it difficult to draw storyboards. Do you?

TO: Drawing storyboards is a painstaking job, but it's one that must be done.

The sequence in which Yamato Takeru does battle with the Kumaso gami is made up of eighty different shots. Immediately after the script for YAMATO TAKERU was completed, I was asked to draw the storyboards for the sequence because without them, no one could have prepared to shoot it.

DM: During our previous conversation, you mentioned that you have a few story ideas. Are you willing to reveal any of them?

TO: I have two. One is a human drama about a zookeeper. The other is an occult comedy.

DM: Do you think either one will be made into a film anytime soon?

TO: I have sent them to Toho's planning office, but they haven't been picked up yet.

DM: Are you going to release a director's cut of GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA on home video?

TO: I see filmmaking as the art of editing. Because of this, I am reluctant to release one on home video. (A director's cut was not released.)

DM: Are you going to direct the two sequels to YAMATO TAKERU?

TO: I unofficially have been selected to direct the first sequel.

DM: Will it be your next movie?

TO: Yes.

DM: When will it be released?

TO: That depends on when the American Godzilla film is released.

DM: Will Toho produce a Godzilla movie in 1995?

TO: That also depends on when the American Godzilla film is released.

Takao Okawara Interview II © 1998 David Milner