Kensho Yamashita Interview

by David Milner

Translation by Yoshihiko Shibata

Kensho Yamashita

(Conducted in December 1994)

Kensho Yamashita directed GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994). He also directed TROUBLEMAN LAUGHS AND KILLS (1979) and NINETEEN (1987).

David Milner: Did Shogo Tomiyama ask you to direct GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA? (Mr. Tomiyama produced YAMATO TAKERU (1994). He and executive producer Tomoyuki Tanaka produced GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993), and GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA.)

Kensho Yamashita: I was commissioned by Yoshinobu Hayashi, the president of Toho. (The Toho Company Ltd. produced all twenty-one of the Godzilla movies. It also produced RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), and a large number of other science fiction films.)

DM: Did you take part in writing the screenplay for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA?

KY: Hiroshi Kashiwabara, Mr. Tomiyama, and I prepared a story outline, and then Mr. Kashiwabara wrote the script.

DM: How long did it take Mr. Kashiwabara to complete the first draft of the screenplay?

KY: The story outline was completed in December 1993, and Mr. Kashiwabara submitted the first draft of the script at the end of March 1994.

DM: When did Mr. Kashiwabara submit the final draft of the screenplay?

KY: He submitted it on May 30, 1994.

DM: How was the first draft different from the final one?

KY: There was a scene featuring two young men admiring a young woman at the beginning of the first draft, but it was not included in the final one. In addition, the battle in outer space between Space Godzilla and MOGERA was much longer in the first draft. (Invading aliens from outer space use two identical robots, both of which are called Mogera, in their attempt to take over Earth in THE MYSTERIANS (1957). In GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, the United Nations Godzilla Countermeasures Center (UNGCC) uses Mobile Operation Godzilla Expert Robot Aero-Type (MOGERA) against Space Godzilla.)

DM: Why were those changes made?

KY: The script for a movie with a running time of one hour and forty-five minutes should be about one hundred and ten pages long. The first draft was one hundred and forty pages long.

DM: Did you select the members of the cast of GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA?

KY: Yes.

DM: Had you previously worked with any of them?

KY: Akira Nakao, Koichi Ueda, and Jun Hashizume. Mr. Hashizume and I worked together on director Kon Ichikawa's MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983) while I was still an assistant director. (G-Force is the military organization run by the UNGCC. Mr. Hashizume plays Koji Shinjo, a member of G-Force. Mr. Ueda, who has bit parts in the five most recent Godzilla films and YAMATO TAKERU, plays G-Force second in command Iwao Hyodo in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA and GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA. Mr. Nakao plays G-Force commanding officer Takaaki Aso in both movies.)

DM: Did you have to get approval from Mr. Tomiyama to use the actors you chose?

KY: Mr. Tomiyama said that I had to use Mr. Hashizume and Megumi Odaka, but he allowed me to choose the other actors. (Ms. Odaka plays Miki Saegusa, a psychic with a telepathic link to Godzilla, in the five most recent Godzilla films.)

DM: Did you make the decision to ask Takayuki Hattori to score GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA? (ECHOES OF LOVE, the song heard while the ending credits are shown, was written and performed by the Japanese rock group Date of Birth.)

KY: Yes.

DM: Why did you choose Mr. Hattori?

KY: Mr. Hattori is very young. In addition, I admire his abilities. He is very versatile. He can compose both classical and contemporary music.

DM: Had you previously worked with Mr. Hattori?

KY: No. A friend of mine who is a musician told me about him. So, I decided to listen to his demonstration tape. It is what convinced me that I should ask Mr. Hattori to score GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA.

DM: Did you first ask Akira Ifukube to score the movie? (Mr. Ifukube, one of Japan's most respected classical composers, scored GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS (1954), TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and many of the other science fiction films produced by Toho.)

KY: There was a scheduling conflict.

DM: Did Mr. Tomiyama ask you to include Mr. Ifukube's music in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA? (Stock tracks were used.)

KY: No. It was my decision. The members of the audience expect to hear Mr. Ifukube's music whenever they see a Godzilla movie.

DM: How much time did you spend shooting GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA?

KY: Fifty days.

DM: Did you direct any of the special effects footage that is in the film? (Koichi Kawakita directed the special effects for GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, GODZILLA VS. GHIDRAH, and all of the Godzilla movies which since have been produced. He also directed the special effects for NINETEEN, YAMATO TAKERU, and a number of Toho's other science fiction films.)

KY: I directed the footage of the NASA spaceship being destroyed by Space Godzilla's crystals. (Space Godzilla uses large crystals as weapons.) I also directed the footage of Fairy Mothra. (Mothra flies into outer space to deflect an asteroid that is on a collision course with Earth at the end of GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. At the beginning of GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, Miki Saegusa has a vision in which Fairy Mothra warns her that Space Godzilla is on his way to attack Earth.)

DM: How much time did you spend in post-production?

KY: About forty days. The schedule was very tight.

DM: Did you or Mr. Kawakita choose which special effects footage would be used?

KY: I had the right to edit both the standard and the special effects footage, but I did not do so. Mr. Kawakita edited the footage that he'd directed and I edited the footage that I'd directed. We then discussed each other's work and did the final editing together.

DM: Did Mr. Tomiyama take part in the editing?

KY: I had to obtain his approval during the final stage of editing.

DM: GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA has some of the characteristics of a teen idol movie. Why is this?

KY: Mr. Tomiyama and I felt that Miki Saegusa was at a good age to begin thinking about something other than Godzilla. (Ms. Odaka recently turned twenty-three.)

DM: Are there any improvised lines in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA?

KY: Many.

DM: Can you remember which lines were improvised?

KY: As Akira Yuki watches Godzilla leave Fukuoka at the end of the movie, he says that he is going to retire from G-Force and leave battling Godzilla to the younger members of the organization. He also says that since Fukuoka is where his good friend Goro Gondo was born, he will stay in the city for a few days. Those lines were improvised. (Akira Yuki is played by Akira Emoto. Col. Gondo, who is killed by Godzilla in GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, is played by Toru Minegishi. The battle between Godzilla, Space Godzilla, and MOGERA at the end of GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA takes place in Fukuoka.)

DM: Little Godzilla is much cuter than Baby Godzilla. Why is this? (Baby Godzilla is introduced in GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA. In GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, he grows into Little Godzilla.)

KY: The monsters are designed by the special effects staff, so I don't know why Little Godzilla was designed the way he was. However, I suspect that Mr. Kawakita did not like the design of Baby Godzilla so he made Little Godzilla much cuter.

DM: The soundtrack for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA was recorded with digital equipment, but the one for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA was recorded with analog equipment. Why is this?

KY: The sound system that is now being used is soon going to be replaced by a more sophisticated one. Toho is waiting for this to happen. In addition, all post-production work on GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA would have had to have been completed at least one month before the film opened so that theaters could be re-equipped for digital sound.

DM: Were there any scenes shot for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA that weren't included in the movie?

KY: Yes. We shot a scene in which a young man teases a waitress in a restaurant. It was going to be inserted at the beginning of the film. We also shot a scene in which the head of the mafia orders Dr. Okubo to send Godzilla to attack Tokyo. (Susumu Okubo, a member of the mafia organization which kidnaps Miki Saegusa and steals the equipment she uses to control Godzilla, is played by Yosuke Saito.)

DM: I've heard that there was footage shot of Godzilla trying to free Little Godzilla from Space Godzilla's crystal trap on Birth Island. Is this true? (Godzilla does not succeed in freeing Little Godzilla.)

KY: Mr. Kawakita told me about that footage. He said that he didn't use it because it was too serious.

DM: Was there any consideration given to including any monsters in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA that did not end up appearing in the movie?

KY: Mr. Tomiyama suggested that we have three giant dragonflies attack Little Godzilla on Birth Island, but I decided not to use the idea.

DM: Was there any consideration given to including a new MechaGodzilla in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA instead of MOGERA? (MechaGodzilla is destroyed at the end of GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA.)

KY: Mr. Kawakita made the decision to use MOGERA instead of a new MechaGodzilla. It allowed the battles in the film to take place in a wider variety of settings. (MOGERA is formed when two different vehicles, the Star Falcon, which can fly in outer space, and the Land Mogera, which can tunnel underground, are combined.)

DM: You began working for Toho in 1969. Were you hired as an assistant director?

KY: That's right.

DM: On which movies did you first work as an assistant director?

KY: WHO AM I (1969) is the first one on which I worked. It is a situation comedy about a frustrated businessman who wants to escape from reality. He turns into a bull, but soon afterward his girlfriend begins trying to turn him back into a human being. (The businessman is played by Tani Kei, the member of the Crazy Cats comedy team who takes his name from Danny Kaye.)

DM: Which other films did you work on as an assistant director?

KY: BATTLE OF OKINAWA (1971), which was directed by Kihachi Okamoto. It is the first major movie on which I worked. (Mr. Okamoto also directed ALL ABOUT MARRIAGE (1958), THE LAST GAME (1979), RAINBOW KIDS (1991), and a large number of other films.)

DM: You served as the chief assistant director on TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. Did you direct any of the scenes in the movie?

KY: I can hardly remember, but probably not.

DM: What was working with Ishiro Honda like? (Mr. Honda directed TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. He also directed GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS, GHIDRAH - THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), and many of the other science fiction films produced by Toho.)

KY: Since TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA was the first movie on which I worked after I was promoted to chief assistant director, I was very nervous. So, I didn't give Mr. Honda any advice. I just studied him and tried to learn as much as I could. I knew that Mr. Honda was a craftsman, so I just tried to learn his craft.

I had the impression that Mr. Honda was a very serious person before I began working with him, but once I got to know him, I discovered that this was not what he was like. He was very warmhearted and open minded.

DM: You must have enjoyed working with Mr. Honda very much.

KY: Yes. It was very enjoyable. Mr. Honda made a very good impression on me.

DM: What was working with Akihiko Hirata like? (Mr. Hirata plays Dr. Shinji Mafune, the inventor of the device which invading aliens from outer space use to control Titanosaurus, in TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. Among the other characters he has played are Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the inventor of the oxygen destroyer, in GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS and astronomer Ryoichi Shiraishi in THE MYSTERIANS.)

KY: Mr. Hirata had quick responses. He would make quick decisions.

DM: What was working with Mr. Ichikawa like? (He directed not only MAKIOKA SISTERS, but also THE BURMESE HARP (1956), FIRES ON THE PLAIN (1959), and a large number of other films.)

KY: Mr. Ichikawa is a very different kind of director. He distorts reality to fit his own image.

DM: Assistant directors had to direct three movies before Toho would officially promote them to director back in the 1950s and 1960s. (Assistant directors would be fired when they were promoted. They then would have to contract with Toho on an independent basis.) When were you promoted to director?

KY: It was possible for a director to direct three films within a few years or even one year back in the 1950s and 1960s, but these days it is not possible for a director to do that because Toho now produces a much smaller number of movies. Toho promoted me before I directed TROUBLEMAN LAUGHS AND KILLS and proposed that I quit and begin contracting independently after the film was completed. However, I insisted that I remain a Toho employee because directors still had a right to direct three movies before being fired. I finally began contracting independently just before I started working on GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA.

DM: How was working on NINETEEN different from working on GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA? (NINETEEN is a teen idol film.)

KY: The production budget was very low. In addition, very few of the scenes in the movie were shot by the special effects staff.

DM: Was the production budget for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA much larger than the one for NINETEEN?

KY: The production budget for NINETEEN was twice that of TROUBLEMAN LAUGHS AND KILLS. The one for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA was eight times larger.

DM: Was the production budget for GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA about the same as the one for GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA?

KY: Yes.

DM: How did you react when you were asked to direct GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA?

KY: I had been having a very hard time before I was asked to direct the film because several of the movies I previously had worked on were cancelled just before production was scheduled to begin. So, I was surprised and very happy. I also was a little intimidated. I remember that I felt I had to do the best work I could.

DM: Would you say that your work on GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA was influenced by that of any of the other directors who worked on the Godzilla series?

KY: I watched all of the Godzilla films and got a very strong impression of what one should be like, but I wouldn't say that my work was influenced by theirs. I tried to create my own Godzilla movie.

DM: What was working with Ms. Odaka like?

KY: She always thinks while she is acting.

DM: What was working with Kenji Sahara like? (Mr. Sahara plays Takayuki Segawa, the director of the UNGCC, in both GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA and GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA. Among the other characters he has played are miner Shigeru Kawamura in RODAN and inventor Kazuo Fujita in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).)

KY: We worked on many films together while I was an assistant director. Mr. Sahara is a very experienced actor. He knows how to create his own role and how to perform in any given situation. He would have been a very big star if the Japanese movie industry had been more successful. (Films produced in Hollywood are very popular in Japan.)

DM: Are you pleased with the way GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA turned out?

KY: I generally am satisfied with it, but there are some aspects with which I am not completely satisfied. I probably will find more faults in the movie and become less satisfied with it as time goes on.

DM: With which aspects are you most pleased?

KY: I think it is important for special effects footage to blend well with standard footage. So, I tried to make the transitions from the standard footage to the special effects footage as smooth as possible. I think that turned out well.

Birth Island is barren. There are no buildings on it which can be used to show the tremendous size of Godzilla. So, I used the expressions of the members of G-Force to depict it. I think that also turned out well.

DM: With which aspects are you unsatisfied?

KY: All of the events in GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA lead up to the battle between Godzilla, Space Godzilla, and MOGERA in Fukuoka. I don't think there is any reason for the battle between Godzilla and Space Godzilla on Birth Island to be in the film.

DM: Which of the movies you directed is your favorite?

KY: I think that it would be best for me to say that GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA is my favorite.

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

KY: GODZILLA - KING OF THE MONSTERS. It is not a monster movie. It is very difficult to classify. I also was very impressed by RODAN and MOTHRA when I was young.

DM: How did you like JURASSIC PARK (1993)?

KY: I enjoyed it. It's a wonderful film.

DM: Some people have criticized the movie because its plot is so limited. Do you feel this criticism is valid?

KY: I read the original novel, so I do feel that it is valid.

DM: Are you going to direct any other films in the near future?

KY: I don't have any projects lined up at the moment.

DM: Would you like to direct another Godzilla movie?

KY: Yes.

DM: What do you think the next few Godzilla films produced by Toho should be like?

KY: I think Godzilla must remain an antagonist. I see Little Godzilla as a very bad omen because he is so cute.

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

KY: Godzilla was created by radiation from a hydrogen bomb. He no longer would be Godzilla if TriStar were to change this.

Kensho Yamashita Interview © 1998 David Milner