Shogo Tomiyama Interview

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Shogo Tomiyama

(Conducted in December 1995)

Shogo Tomiyama produced YAMATO TAKERU (1994). In addition, he co-produced GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994), and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995) with Tomoyuki Tanaka.

David Milner: You began working for Toho in 1975. What position were you hired to fill? (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.)

Shogo Tomiyama: I was hired as a publicist.

DM: What was that job like?

ST: I spent a lot of time working on the set with Takashi Nakao. In addition, I designed the posters and chose the footage for the trailers. (Mr. Nakao is a still photographer who has been employed by Toho since 1957.)

DM: On which movies did you first work?

ST: BROTHER AND SISTER (1976) was my first assignment. I worked on about ten films while I was a member of the publicity department. Almost all of them were teenage idol movies.

DM: I've heard that you joined the planning department in 1983. Is this correct?

ST: Yes.

DM: What was working in that department like?

ST: I worked on Kon Ichikawa's OHAN (1984) as an assistant producer. The film was produced by Mr. Tanaka. (Mr. Ichikawa also directed THE BURMESE HARP (1956), MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983), and many other movies. Mr. Tanaka also produced virtually all of Toho's science fiction films and war movies.)

I acted as a liaison between Mr. Tanaka and the people on the set. I spent a lot of time on the set.

DM: Did you work on any other films as an assistant producer?

ST: Only that one.

DM: When were you promoted to your present position?

ST: The first movie I produced was THE CHAPTER IN SNOW (1985).

I think of a producer as a person who comes up with the initial ideas for films. By that definition, I didn't become a producer until I began working on LADIES IN LOVE (1986).

DM: Are you responsible for arranging for financing?

ST: Japanese movie producers, especially those who are employed by Toho, work very differently from their American counterparts. If Toho decides to make a film that has been proposed by one of its producers, the studio will finance it.

DM: Do you take part in licensing merchandise?

ST: Toho's Visual Promotion Board is responsible for licensing merchandise, but the head of the board and I very closely work together. We both take part in licensing merchandise.

DM: I've heard that Toho makes more money by licensing Godzilla products than it does by showing Godzilla movies in theaters. Is that true?

ST: Godzilla is a very unique case because he is such a popular character.

It's not true that licensing Godzilla products brings in more money than showing Godzilla films does. It brings in about the same amount of money.

DM: Is Godzilla owned by Toho itself or one of its subsidiaries?

ST: Godzilla is owned by both the Toho Company Ltd. and Toho Pictures, Inc. (According to materials published by Toho, Toho Pictures is the subsidiary of Toho that "handles all the business relating to feature film production.")

DM: Do you select the staff and cast members of the movies on which you work?

ST: I am responsible for selecting the director and the screenwriter. The director and the site producer primarily are responsible for choosing the rest of the staff members and the cast members, but I take part in choosing them as well.

DM: What are the other responsibilities of the site producer?

ST: He has to make sure that everything goes smoothly on the set.

DM: Do you offer suggestions to the screenwriters with whom you work?

ST: First, Mr. Tanaka and I decide what kind of film we should make. Then, the screenwriter and I write the first draft of the script. After the director and the special effects director have read it and offered suggestions, the second draft is written solely by the screenwriter. While it is being written, pre-production sketches are drawn, locations are selected, and so on. After all of that has been completed, the third and final draft is written.

I always get frustrated during the writing of the third draft because there always are long delays.

DM: Do you go to visit the sets of the movies on which you work?

ST: Almost every day.

DM: Do you offer advice or just watch?

ST: I usually just watch.

I sometimes go to the set to speak with the members of the staff. They tell me about the problems they are having, and I try to solve those problems.

I also go to the set to make sure that nothing goes wrong when the staff is working on scenes that are very expensive and/or dangerous to shoot.

DM: Are you responsible for finding new talent?

ST: I am responsible for finding new directors, actors, and so on.

DM: What is Mr. Tanaka like?

ST: He is Japan's first science fiction freak.

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

ST: I have been his assistant since 1989. He is the father of Godzilla, Mothra, and so on. I feel that since I am his assistant, I must continue his work.

DM: I've heard that Mr. Tanaka always sticks to his original ideas. Does he?

ST: That's right. Mr. Tanaka became a producer during the Golden Age of the Japanese film industry. Back then, he had to work on about ten movies per year. In order to be able to do that, a producer must have a lot of ideas. (The Golden Age began in the early 1950s and ended in the mid-1960s.)

DM: How many films has Mr. Tanaka produced?

ST: He's produced over two hundred and thirty films.

DM: Henry G. Saperstein has stated that he feels Mr. Tanaka should be considered "a legend in his time." Do you agree with Mr. Saperstein? (His company, UPA, Inc., distributed GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), and several of Toho's other science fiction movies in the United States.)

ST: Yes. I feel the same way that Mr. Saperstein does. Mr. Tanaka created the Japanese science fiction film genre along with Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya. (Mr. Honda directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), and many of Toho's other genre movies. Mr. Tsuburaya directed the special effects for many of the films.)

DM: Koji Hashimoto, Kensho Yamashita, and Takao Okawara all directed movies for Toho before being chosen to work on one of the Godzilla films. However, Kazuki Omori did not. Why was he chosen to write and direct GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE? (Mr. Omori also wrote and directed GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, and wrote GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER. Mr. Hashimoto directed GODZILLA 1985 (1984), Mr. Yamashita directed GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, and Mr. Okawara directed GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER.)

ST: Soon after GODZILLA 1985 was completed, Mr. Tanaka began looking for new talent. He had been a member of the committee that selected Mr. Omori to receive the Kido Award, so he was familiar with Mr. Omori's work. Mr. Tanaka asked Mr. Omori to write the script for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, and was very impressed with what Mr. Omori submitted. So, Mr. Tanaka asked him to direct the film. (The Kido Award is presented for excellence in screenwriting. Mr. Omori already had directed ORANGE ROAD EXPRESS (1978), DISCIPLES OF HIPPOCRATES (1980), and a few other movies.)

DM: Why was the Big Pool reduced in size? (Toho uses it to shoot scenes that take place in water.)

ST: The pool was constructed for the production of TEMPEST OF THE PACIFIC (1960). It was not meant to be permanent. Toho just kept draining the pool, repairing the cracks in it, and refilling it with water.

The last time the pool was drained, the engineers determined that it would be impossible to repair all of the cracks. So, I decided to leave the part of the pool that was still usable intact and convert the rest of it into parking space.

I don't know what we'll end up doing with the pool. We may leave it the way it is, or we may restore it to its original size.

DM: What is the connection between Toho and Hankyu, Inc.? (Hankyu operates department stores, hotels, and several other kinds of businesses.)

ST: They both were founded by Ichizo Kobayashi.

Toho was named after the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, which Mr. Kobayashi named after the famous Takarazuka Theater that he had opened in the Kansai district. (The Japanese character for "taka" also can be pronounced "ho." Kyoto, Osaka, and a few smaller cities make up the Kansai district.)

DM: GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER was very successful. Why do you think it was so successful?

ST: It features the most powerful of the monsters Godzilla recently has faced.

Mr. Tanaka always tries to make the members of the audience experience a sense of wonder. He told me that he accepted the death of Godzilla, but he insisted that we make it clear that there would be a new Godzilla.

While GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER was in production, I received letters from many children asking that we not kill Godzilla. It was very difficult for me not to tell them that there would be a new Godzilla.

DM: Why did you decide to put the series on hiatus?

ST: Mainly two reasons.

The first was TriStar's GODZILLA. As you know, it originally was going to be released three years ago. Now no one knows when it will be released. Every year we waited to see if TriStar would produce its Godzilla film before deciding to produce another one of our own. We got tired of doing that. (TriStar recently announced that it will release GODZILLA during the summer of 1998.)

The second reason was my desire as a producer to provide as much entertainment as possible. If we had continued making a Godzilla movie every year, the series soon would have become prosaic.

By the way, Koichi Kawakita was the one who suggested that we kill Godzilla. (Mr. Kawakita directed the special effects for the six most recent Godzilla films.)

DM: How did you react when Mr. Kawakita suggested that Godzilla be killed?

ST: I was quite impressed by the idea.

DM: When are you planning to resume production on the series?

ST: It depends on when TriStar's movie comes out. I want to see how American and Japanese audiences react to it before I begin working on another Godzilla film.

There have been three breaks in the production of Godzilla movies. The first occurred between GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955) and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, the second occurred between TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975) and GODZILLA 1985, and the third occurred between GODZILLA 1985 and GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE. The fourth break is just beginning.

During the gap between TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA and GODZILLA 1985, Mr. Tanaka produced several science fiction films that did not feature Godzilla. I already have begun doing the same thing. (YAMATO TAKERU is a period movie that features a few giant monsters.)

DM: I've heard that you are going to produce a series of films featuring Mothra. Is that true?

ST: I hope so.

I think that Mothra is too strong a character to play only a supporting role in the Godzilla series. She should be in a series of her own.

I want to have young, talented people work on MOTHRA.

DM: Will MOTHRA be a remake of MOTHRA?

ST: It won't be a remake, but several of the settings will be the same.

DM: Are you still planning to produce YAMATO TAKERU II?

ST: Yes, but it won't be released before 1997. I think that fantasy films like YAMATO TAKERU have to be released during the summer, and we already have made a commitment to release a ghost movie this summer.

DM: Toho is reducing the number of films it produces and increasing the number of films it merely distributes. Why is that?

ST: Toho merely distributes a number of extremely popular movie series. It would very difficult for Toho to produce films that would be competitive with them.

DM: Why haven't the last few Godzilla movies been released in the United States?

ST: I've heard that Toho International, Inc. sent copies of them to all of the major American film studios, but none of the studios expressed any interest. I'd like to know why that happened.

Most of the older Godzilla movies were edited before being released in the United States. Even though the American studios could edit the newer movies, they are not interested. I wonder why.

DM: Do you know how GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA came to be released on VHS tape in England?

ST: They were released in Hong Kong. That's why they're available in England.

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

ST: I'm looking forward to seeing it. I very much enjoy watching movies on which I have not worked.

We tend to focus mainly on Godzilla, but I suspect that TriStar will focus more on the human characters in GODZILLA. We've received letters from people asking us to focus more on human characters, but it's very difficult to do so in a monster movie that lasts for only one hundred or so minutes.

Shogo Tomiyama Interview © 1998 David Milner