Kenpachiro Satsuma Interview I

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Kenpachiro Satsuma

(Conducted in December 1993)

Kenpachiro Satsuma plays Godzilla in GODZILLA 1985 (1984), GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993). He also plays Hedorah in GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971) and Gigan in both GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972) and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973).

David Milner: The Hedorah costume had a large amount of material loosely hanging down from it. Was it difficult for you to play the monster because of this?

Kenpachiro Satsuma: The costume weighed about three hundred and thirty pounds, so one of the most difficult aspects of playing Hedorah was just waiting around for shooting to begin while I was in the costume. It originally was not nearly as big and bulky. It instead was quite light and very easy to move in. However, a large amount of extra material was gradually added to it.

DM: Was it difficult for you to play such an unusual monster?

KS: Since Hedorah was supposed to be a monster created by pollution instead of an animal, I tried to avoid portraying him as an animal. I tried to make him seem spooky and grotesque.

DM: Was the Gigan costume any lighter than the Hedorah one?

KS: Yes. It was much lighter.

DM: Was the same Gigan costume used in both films?

KS: Yes. However, it was refurbished a little for GODZILLA VS. MEGALON.

DM: Do you play Gigan in the METEOR MAN ZONE (1973) episode in which the monster appears? (METEOR MAN ZONE is a television series very much like ULTRAMAN (1966). Godzilla and Ghidrah also make guest appearances in it.)

KS: No. That is someone else.

DM: Gigan seems to enjoy being destructive. Did you make the decision to portray the cyborg that way?

KS: Yes. I did.

DM: Were you allowed to portray Hedorah and Gigan the way you felt they should be portrayed?

KS: Yes. I was allowed to decide for myself how they should act.

DM: Are you given as much freedom when it comes to playing Godzilla?

KS: No. I'm not. Godzilla's character was established long before I started playing him.

DM: Are there any ways in which you try to mimic Haruo Nakajima's portrayal of Godzilla? (Mr. Nakajima plays Godzilla in the first twelve Godzilla movies. He also plays RODAN (1956), VARAN - THE UNBELIEVABLE (1958), and many of the other giant monster characters that have been created by the Toho Company Ltd.)

KS: I received no advice from Mr. Nakajima on how to play Godzilla. However, this is not because our relationship is not a good one. We, and our families, are very close.

DM: The Godzilla costume that was constructed for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE weighed much less than the one that was constructed for GODZILLA 1985. Did this make it much easier for you to work on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE than it was for you to work on GODZILLA 1985?

KS: The Godzilla costume constructed for GODZILLA 1985 was made to fit a much larger man, but he quit just before production was scheduled to begin. (Hiroshi Yamawaki originally was going to play Godzilla.) So, I took over the role. This, along with the fact that the costume weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds, limited what I could do in it. The Godzilla costume constructed for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, on the other hand, was made to fit me. In addition, it weighed only one hundred and eighty pounds. I felt that the GODZILLA 1985 costume controlled me, but I controlled the GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE one.

DM: You must have enjoyed working on GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE much more than GODZILLA 1985.

KS: Yes. I did.

DM: You have to coordinate your actions with the people operating Godzilla's eyes, jaws, and tail. Does that require much rehearsal?

KS: Yes. It does. It also requires a lot of patience. I remember that there was one time when I had to wait for twenty hours to do a thirty second take.

DM: Is shooting footage of Godzilla in water very difficult for you?

KS: That is the most dangerous part of my job. If I fell over, I could drown. I would never be able to get back up with the Godzilla costume on.

DM: Has your approach to playing Godzilla changed at all over the years?

KS: It depends on the script. Godzilla's character varies from one film to another. For example, in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, I had to portray Godzilla with some tenderness for the scenes in which he interacts with Baby Godzilla.

DM: I think you were very successful in that. I think it comes across very well on the screen.

KS: Thank you very much.

DM: What is MONSTER PLANET - GODZILLA going to be like? (It is an amusement park ride.)

KS: It's based on a different planet. A spaceship from Earth is reported missing, and a second ship is sent to search for it. The second ship finds the first one on a planet on which Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan live in peace. However, through some time distortion, the monsters end up on Earth. They then begin to fight one another.

The ride is going to be in 3D, so we are using two 35mm cameras to shoot the footage for it. The people who go on the ride will be wearing special glasses.

DM: What is the name of the planet on which the monsters are found?

KS: Just "monster planet."

DM: How long is it going to take to shoot the footage for the ride?

KS: We will be finished on January 20th. (Shooting began in the middle of December.)

DM: How long will the ride last?

KS: Only five minutes.

DM: That's a lot of work for something that lasts for only five minutes. What are your working hours?

KS: We're supposed to work from nine to five, but we often end up putting in extra hours.

DM: How much of a vacation do you get at the end of the year?

KS: We will be off from December 29th until January 5th. (It is customary for Japanese companies to give their employees a week-long vacation to celebrate the new year.)

DM: So you don't take Christmas off?

KS: No. We don't. We do, however, get a day off on December 23rd for the emperor's birthday.

DM: Which of the movies in which you play Godzilla is your favorite?

KS: GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. The script allows Godzilla to express himself quite easily.

DM: Which of the older Godzilla films are your favorites?

KS: GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954). It really stands out from all of the other movies in the series. Eiji Tsuburaya and Ishiro Honda tried to hide Godzilla as much as they could in the film, and this created a great deal of suspense. I feel that this technique should be used in the Godzilla movies that are being produced now. (Mr. Honda directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), and a large number of Toho's other science fiction films. Mr. Tsuburaya directed the special effects for many of the movies.)

DM: Which American science fiction films do you especially like?

KS: My favorite is E.T. - THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982). I really envy the members of the production departments of American movie studios. Their ideas are better, and they are given much more time to work on films.

DM: Would you say that American movies generally are better than those made in Japan?

KS: Yes. I hope that we some day will have a big budget and a lot of time in which to do our work. It is my dream to have an American staff and a Japanese staff work together to create a Godzilla film.

DM: What do you think of JURASSIC PARK?

KS: I haven't seen it. However, I was impressed with the scenes from the movie that I saw on television.

DM: What types of films do you enjoy aside from science fiction movies?

KS: I like cowboy films. There are almost no westerns being produced these days.

DM: Do you know karate?

KS: Yes. I am a black belt.

DM: What is Godzilla kenpo?

KS: It is a combination of karate and the kinds of moves I make while playing Godzilla. I developed it to help me from becoming too worn out while playing Godzilla.

DM: How was working with Teruyoshi Nakano different from working with Koichi Kawakita? (Mr. Nakano directed the special effects for GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, GODZILLA 1985, and a number of Toho's other science fiction movies. Mr. Kawakita has directed the special effects for all of the science fiction films that Toho has produced since 1989.)

KS: He was a very different type of director. Mr. Nakano and I would always discuss the choreography in detail, but Mr. Kawakita just tells me what Godzilla should do and then leaves everything else up to me.

DM: So you have much more freedom working with Mr. Kawakita?

KS: Yes. That's right.

DM: What is Mr. Nakano doing these days?

KS: He helps create special attractions like the one we are working on now.

DM: You appear in a number of samurai movies that were produced before you began playing giant monsters. Did you enjoy working on those films any more or less than you enjoy working on monster movies?

KS: I enjoyed working on those films, but I am especially proud of the work I have done since I started playing Godzilla.

DM: You never had a chance to work on a Godzilla movie with Ishiro Honda.

KS: I would have liked to have worked on one with him. I asked Mr. Honda to direct the next Godzilla film at a party that was held shortly before he died. He said that he would. I don't know how serious he was.

Mr. Honda was a great man. He was not at all pretentious. He always treated the staff, the actors, and the fans the same.

DM: Do you feel that the offense some Americans felt when they saw the sequence in GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH which shows the Godzillasaurus attacking a number of American soldiers was justified? (In GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, Godzilla is seen both as Godzilla and as the tyrannosaurus rex-like dinosaur he was before he was mutated by radiation.)

KS: This is the first I have heard of this. I understand their reaction, but I thought the American people were more open-minded than that. That sort of reaction seems a bit extreme to me, especially since the war ended about fifty years ago.

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

KS: I know they will feature Godzilla battling other monsters. I think there should be more time in between each of the films. There should not be a new Godzilla movie produced every year the way the last few have been.

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

KS: If it is made with the latest special effects techniques, it could be the best Godzilla movie ever produced. I hope that it will not be like the Nike commercial featuring Godzilla and Charles Barkley. That was much too slick and commercialized.

DM: Is there anything that you would like to say to Godzilla fans in the United States?

KS: Godzilla is an outrageous monster that is played by an outstanding guy! I am a little short, but in my heart burns the spirit of the samurai.

Kenpachiro Satsuma Interview I © 1998 David Milner