Fumio Tanaka Interview

by David Milner and Guy Tucker

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Fumio Tanaka

(Conducted in March 1995)

Fumio Tanaka produced LAKE OF DRACULA (1971) and EVIL OF DRACULA (1974). In addition, he co-produced THE VAMPIRE DOLL (1970), YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970), GODZILLA 1985 (1984), and a number of other films with Tomoyuki Tanaka.

David Milner: In what year did you begin working for Toho? (The Toho Company Ltd. produced all of the films on which Mr. Tanaka worked.)

Fumio Tanaka: 1964.

DM: Did you begin working for Toho right after you graduated from school?

FT: Yes.

DM: What position were you hired to fill?

FT: Assistant producer.

DM: On which movies did you first work?

FT: An action film called RETRIBUTION OF THE WILD BEAST (1968) and YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE.

Guy Tucker: Was the screenplay for YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE written before Eiji Tsuburaya died? (Mr. Tsuburaya directed the special effects for GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), MOTHRA (1961), LATITUDE ZERO (1969), and many of Toho's other science fiction movies. He died very shortly before production on YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE got underway.)

FT: I think portions of it were. YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE is the last science fiction film that shows Mr. Tsuburaya's influence. There are primitive natives in it, just as there are in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964).

DM: Was the manner in which the members of the special effects staff worked on YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE any different from the one in which they had worked on Toho's earlier science fiction movies?

FT: Mr. Tsuburaya had more influence within Toho than Teisho Arikawa did. So, the members of the special effects staff were given less time in which to do their work after Mr. Tsuburaya died. This made them work a little less carefully than they previously had.

I remember that at one point during the production of YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE, the eyes of Gezora, the giant squid, stopped working, but shooting was not stopped. That wouldn't have happened if Mr. Tsuburaya had still been in charge of the special effects. (Mr. Arikawa worked on THE MYSTERIANS (1957), WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), and a large number of Toho's other science fiction films as a special effects cinematographer. He directed the special effects for SON OF GODZILLA (1967), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), and YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE.)

By the way, there was some consideration given to dedicating YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE to Mr. Tsuburaya.

DM: Why wasn't the movie dedicated to Mr. Tsuburaya?

FT: It wasn't the property of the people who wanted to dedicate it to Mr. Tsuburaya.

GT: Were the three vampire films on which you worked very successful?

FT: THE VAMPIRE DOLL and LAKE OF DRACULA were successful. However, EVIL OF DRACULA was not.

DM: When was the script for ESPY (1974) written?

FT: The screenplay was based on a novel by Sakyo Komatsu. Toho purchased rights to the novel shortly after its publication, which was in the mid-1960s, and then commissioned a script. It was forgotten about until TIDAL WAVE (1973), which was based on another of Mr. Komatsu's novels, was released. The great success of that movie made Toho's executives want to base another film on one of Mr. Komatsu's novels. (Mr. Komatsu also wrote the novel on which SAYONARA JUPITER (1984) was based.)

There was a great deal of interest in E.S.P. in the early 1970s. That also prompted Toho to produce ESPY when it did.

I remember that the pages of the screenplay were already beginning to turn yellow when I read it.

GT: Was ESPY very successful?

FT: The movie was successful, but I don't know why it was. It may have been successful only because it was released on a double bill with a teen idol film. It also may have been successful because it was released during the holiday season.

DM: Was THE WAR IN SPACE (1977) inspired by STAR WARS (1977)?

FT: Yes. Tomoyuki Tanaka and Teruyoshi Nakano went to Hawaii to see STAR WARS just before work on the script for THE WAR IN SPACE got started. (Mr. Nakano directed the special effects for GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971), THE WAR IN SPACE, GODZILLA 1985, and a number of Toho's other science fiction films. Mr. Tanaka produced virtually all of Toho's science fiction movies.)

DM: Did any of the other members of the staff have an opportunity to see STAR WARS before production on THE WAR IN SPACE got underway?

FT: No.

DM: THE WAR IN SPACE partially was based on ATRAGON (1963). Do you know who made the decision to base it on that movie?

FT: Mr. Tanaka. He wanted to have the Goten fly into outer space. (Atragon is a ship that can travel underwater and fly in the air. It is called the Goten in the Japanese version of ATRAGON.)

DM: What was the title of the original story on which the screenplay for GODZILLA 1985 was based? (The story was written by Akira Murao.)

FT: It was called THE REVIVAL OF GODZILLA. It was written long before the decision to produce GODZILLA 1985 was made. The story featured Godzilla doing battle with Bagan, a monster that could change into three different forms. (Bagan was going to be able to change into a "monkey god," a "water god," and a "dragon god." A script entitled MOTHRA VS. BAGAN was submitted to Toho by Kazuki Omori in 1990, but it was rejected. Mr. Omori wrote and directed GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989) and GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), and wrote but did not direct GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992) and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995).)

A number of Toho's executives wanted Bagan to be in GODZILLA 1985 because they felt that the film would have a greater chance of success if it featured Godzilla doing battle with another monster instead of Godzilla alone. However, Mr. Tanaka decided to have Godzilla be the only monster in the movie.

DM: Do you know why he decided to have Godzilla be the only monster in GODZILLA 1985?

FT: He wanted the tone of the film to be similar to that of GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS.

DM: How was the first draft of the screenplay for GODZILLA 1985 different from the final one?

FT: Shuichi Nagahara, the person who wrote the script, submitted four different drafts of it. (Only three drafts of screenplays for Japanese movies ordinarily are submitted.) In the first draft, the ship seen at the beginning of the film was going to be caught in a tornado. Soon afterward, a member of the crew was going to find himself in front of a huge cave. He then was going to be attacked by Shokiras. (A reporter aboard the Yahata Maru is attacked by Shokiras at the beginning of GODZILLA 1985.)

DM: Was the first draft different from the final one in any other ways?

FT: Not in any significant ones.

GT: Was the production budget for GODZILLA 1985 much larger than the production budgets for the other science fiction movies on which you worked?

FT: I was not satisfied with the production budgets for any of the films on which I worked, but the one for GODZILLA 1985 was substantial.

The production budget for ESPY also was substantial. Toho was willing to spend a large amount of money on that movie because of the success of TIDAL WAVE. However, budgetary constraints did force some changes to be made. For example, the hideout of the villain originally was going to be a satellite in orbit instead of a mansion in the mountains.

The production budget for THE WAR IN SPACE was very small. In addition, the shooting schedule was very tight. Pre-production work got started in the summer, and the film was released in December. (Pre-production work includes writing a script, preparing a budget, setting up a shooting schedule, and so on.)

DM: What were your responsibilities as a producer?

FT: I was responsible for movies from the first day of planning to opening day. If a problem occurred, I had to make sure it got solved.

The relationship between producers and the people who work in the planning department, the publicity department, and so on is similar to the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats. A producer will begin working with the members of the various departments only after he has been selected to produce a film.

DM: Did you take part in selecting the staff and cast members of the movies on which you worked?

FT: Choosing the actors was my responsibility. Those that I chose often had scheduling conflicts, so I often would have to select replacements.

If an actor did not want a role that I'd offered, he simply would turn it down. Working on television series was much more important than working on films to most actors because it provided much steadier income.

DM: Did you take part in writing the screenplays for the movies on which you worked?

FT: Yes. I would meet with the directors and the script writers.

DM: Did you go to visit the sets of the films on which you worked?

FT: I visited the sets of some of the movies. If a very famous or temperamental actor were taking part in the production of the film, I would go to visit the set.

The relationship between the producer and the other members of the production staff is similar to that of a general and the soldiers under his command. So, I don't think that a producer should become very involved in the work of the other members of the staff.

DM: Did you only watch the other members of the production staff and the actors do their work while you were visiting sets?

FT: They didn't need advice from me. Besides, I knew that offering advice to them could have a bad effect. I sometimes would talk with the directors after shooting had been completed for the day, but I never spoke with them while they were doing their work.

GT: Do you appear in any movies?

FT: No.

DM: You wrote a biography of Tomoyuki Tanaka. You also wrote the novelization of GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH. Have you written any other books?

FT: I've written a number of horror novels.

DM: Have any of your novels been turned into films?

FT: Yes. However, the movies were not shown in theaters. They instead were released on VHS tape and laserdisc.

GT: Have you written for any magazines?

FT: No.

DM: You're a member of the Japanese Science Fiction Writer's Club. When was the club formed?

FT: During the early 1960s.

DM: What functions does the club perform?

FT: It's just an informal club. It provides writers with a means of socializing with each other.

GT: Are only novelists members of the club?

FT: A number of comic writers and illustrators also are members.

DM: Do you know why Toho Pictures, Inc. and the Toho E*B Company Ltd. were created? (The two subsidiaries were incorporated in 1971. According to materials published by Toho, Toho Pictures "handles all the business relating to feature film production," and the Toho E*B Co. "handles all the visual artwork and special effects for the films produced at the Toho Studios.")

FT: There were two reasons. One was to reduce costs and the other was to reduce the power of the unions. After the subsidiaries were created, the unions found their power greatly reduced because they were dealing with two small companies instead of one large one.

DM: Had there been many disputes between Toho and the unions?

FT: Toho had not had a great deal of trouble with the unions since the big strike. However, there had been a few small strikes. (There was a major strike against Toho in 1947. A number of employees left the company shortly after the strike started and founded the New Toho Company Ltd.)

DM: Was the manner in which Toho was run changed at all after the subsidiaries were created?

FT: Before the subsidiaries were created, Toho would produce any movie as long as it had a reasonable chance of success. However, after the creation of the subsidiaries, Toho began making a much smaller number of films. It also began distributing more movies that had been produced by other studios.

DM: Why were those changes to the manner in which Toho was run made?

FT: The employees of the subsidiaries were still Toho employees. So, the payment and benefits that they received were still better than those the employees of other film studios received. This meant that Toho's production costs were higher than those of the other studios.

DM: Did the creation of the subsidiaries have an effect on the movies that Toho did produce after 1971?

FT: The size of production budgets was reduced since the films were being made by smaller companies.

DM: Have there been any major disputes between Toho and the unions since 1971?

FT: No.

DM: What is Tomoyuki Tanaka like?

FT: He always sticks to his original ideas.

DM: What was working with Mr. Tanaka like?

FT: He was never very forceful. He always would try to make sure that the members of the staff got along with each other.

DM: Was your style of producing very different from Mr. Tanaka's?

FT: I think that I didn't stick to my original ideas enough.

GT: Are you related to Mr. Tanaka?

FT: No.

DM: Who made the decision to ask Michio Yamamoto to direct RETRIBUTION OF THE WILD BEAST? (Mr. Yamamoto also directed THE VAMPIRE DOLL, LAKE OF DRACULA, and EVIL OF DRACULA.)

FT: I made the decision to ask Mr. Yamamoto to direct the movie. I chose him because I was impressed with the work he'd done on a television action series.

Mr. Yamamoto mainly had worked as a television series director before I asked him to direct RETRIBUTION OF THE WILD BEAST. He had begun working on television series in 1948. That is when Toho created its television division.

GT: Is Mr. Yamamoto related to Kajiro Yamamoto? (He directed TOJURO'S LOVE (1938), COLONEL KATO'S FALCON SQUADRON (1944), CHILD OF THE WIND (1949), and many other films.)

FT: No.

DM: Who made the decision to ask Riichiro Manabe to score THE VAMPIRE DOLL, LAKE OF DRACULA, and EVIL OF DRACULA? (Mr. Manabe also scored GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973).)

FT: I think Mr. Yamamoto did. He and Mr. Manabe were friends. However, it's possible that the decision was made by the people who were working in Toho's music division at the time.

DM: What was working with Jun Fukuda like? (Mr. Fukuda directed ESPY and THE WAR IN SPACE. He also directed GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974).)

FT: Mr. Fukuda is a gentleman. He also is very intelligent.

DM: What was working with Teruyoshi Nakano like?

FT: Mr. Nakano is a nice guy.

GT: Did Ei Ogawa mainly work on movies or television series? (Mr. Ogawa wrote the scripts for YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE and ESPY. In addition, he co-wrote the screenplays for THE VAMPIRE DOLL, LAKE OF DRACULA, and EVIL OF DRACULA with other writers.)

FT: Mr. Ogawa mainly worked on television series. He is the one who made an industry out of script writing.

DM: Ishiro Honda directed TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975). (Mr. Honda also directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), YOG - MONSTER FROM SPACE, and a large number of Toho's other science fiction films.) Was he asked to direct any of the other science fiction movies that were produced by Toho during the 1970s?

FT: I don't think so. I think Toho's executives wanted members of the generation after Mr. Honda's to take charge of the production of the studio's science fiction films.

DM: Why was Koji Hashimoto chosen to direct GODZILLA 1985? (Mr. Hashimoto also directed SAYONARA JUPITER.)

FT: Tomoyuki Tanaka is a very unique kind of producer. So, a director who could work well with him had to be found. That's why Mr. Hashimoto was chosen. I think he was a very good choice.

GT: Do you know why Mr. Hashimoto became a producer?

FT: After GODZILLA 1985 was completed, Mr. Hashimoto found himself at a crossroads. He could remain a director and have to worry about Toho renewing his contract every year, or he could become a producer and not have to worry about Toho renewing his contract. Since the number of films produced in Japan was steadily declining at the time, and it consequently was becoming more difficult for directors to find work, Mr. Hashimoto chose to become a producer. (Movies produced in Hollywood are very popular in Japan.)

DM: What is Mr. Hashimoto like?

FT: He is a gentleman.

DM: Do the contracts that Takao Okawara and Kensho Yamashita have with Toho come up for renewal every year? (Mr. Yamashita directed GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994). Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), YAMATO TAKERU (1994), and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

FT: Yes. They do. I'm concerned about Mr. Okawara and Mr. Yamashita.

Things are not the way they were during the golden age of the Japanese film industry. Back then, many movies were made every year, and directors were payed very well. These days, a director has to work on two films per year in order to live comfortably. If a director only works on one movie per year, his standard of living will not be a very high one. (The golden age began in the early 1950s and ended in the mid-1960s.)

Kensho Yamashita is one of the last of the directors who worked for Toho for a number of years and then were forced to become independent. Many of those directors were very unpleasantly surprised when they started working for other companies as well as Toho. (According to Mr. Fukuda, Toho's policy was "to require assistant directors to direct three films before they would be promoted (to director). Assistant directors were Toho employees, but once they became directors, they would have to quit.")

DM: Why were they unpleasantly surprised?

FT: Toho treats its employees better than most other Japanese companies treat theirs.

GT: Did you get to know any of the other people who worked on Toho's science fiction movies?

FT: Takeshi Kimura and Shinichi Sekizawa. (Mr. Sekizawa wrote the screenplays for MOTHRA, GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, and so on. Mr. Kimura wrote the scripts for RODAN (1956), GORATH (1962), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and so on.)

DM: What was Mr. Kimura like?

FT: Mr. Kimura was very shy. His face was an intimidating one.

I first met Mr. Kimura while I was working as an assistant producer. He was writing the screenplay for a film entitled THE GREAT PIRATE at the time. I think Tomoyuki Tanaka wanted Toshiro Mifune to play the pirate. When Mr. Tanaka read the script, he found it a little odd because there was no sea battle in it. That's why THE GREAT PIRATE wasn't made. (Mr. Mifune is best known as Kikuchiyo, one of the samurai in SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), and Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the samurai for hire in YOJIMBO (1961).)

Mr. Kimura liked me. I don't know why he did. One day, Mr. Kimura asked me to ask his daughter out on a date. I don't know if he wanted me to marry her or not.

By the way, Mr. Kimura was a member of the communist party for a number of years.

DM: What was Mr. Sekizawa like?

FT: Mr. Sekizawa was childish, but in a good sense. He also was very frank. He became rich not by writing screenplays, but instead by writing song lyrics.

Mr. Sekizawa very much liked trains. He had a huge miniature train setup in his home.

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

FT: RODAN.

DM: Why is that?

FT: I always have loved horror films.

DM: Which of the older Godzilla movies do you especially like?

FT: GODZILLA 1985! GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS is very good. I frankly have lost interest in the Godzilla films because they all are so similar.

DM: Have you seen the last few Godzilla movies?

FT: Yes.

DM: What do you think of them?

FT: After GODZILLA 1985 was produced, I realized that it's impossible to write a good story in which Godzilla does not fight another monster. Godzilla has no personality, so another monster is needed to provide him with motivation.

I don't like GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE. There is no reason for it to be a Godzilla film.

After I saw GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, I realized that Godzilla movies are just like sumo matches.

DM: How did you like GAMERA - THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995)? (It, like the eight previous Gamera films, was produced by the Daiei Company Ltd.)

FT: I very much enjoyed it. Gamera is strongly motivated to fight. He wants to prevent Gaos from harming people. (Gaos also appears in GAMERA VS. GAOS (1967) and GAMERA VS. GUIRON (1969).)

I think it would be much easier to make more Gamera films than more Godzilla movies.

DM: Why do you feel that way?

FT: Gamera has a personality. In addition, he communicates with people. So, it's possible to write good stories that feature him.

GT: Have you generally been pleased with the home video versions of your novels?

FT: Yes.

GT: Novels often are simplified when they are turned into films. Do you feel that any of your novels were oversimplified when they were turned into videos?

FT: I don't complain because novels and videos are very different.

GT: Are you currently working on a novel?

FT: I'm working on a mystery that takes place at Toho's studios in Chofu.

GT: What is its title going to be?

FT: I haven't yet decided.

DM: Relatively few movies are being produced in Japan these days. What effect is this having on young producers, directors, and so on?

FT: I think that more and more Japanese filmmakers are learning their craft by producing videos.

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

FT: I don't think that the film will be made.

DM: Why is that?

FT: As I said before, it's very difficult to create an interesting story that features Godzilla. In addition, I've heard that the production budget has been cut. I don't think that there are many American filmmakers who would want to work on a Godzilla movie that lacked a large production budget.

Fumio Tanaka Interview © 1998 David Milner