REVISITING LATITUDE ZERO! Actress Linda Haynes Recounts Her Toho Experience!

linda_haynes_lz4smaller

Richard Jaeckel, Linda Haynes, Akira Takarada, Joseph Cotten, and Kin Omae prepare for battle in Latitude Zero (1969). Latitude Zero © 1969, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Haynes was born in Miami, FL. Her parents were both from Sweden, and Swedish is actually her first language. Ms. Haynes went to school in Miami and then in Caracas, Venezuela. Her father was a sea captain, so she got to travel when she was little. Ms. Haynes was a child model until the age of 6 or 7. She also has two sisters, who modeled, too, and did the cover of Sports Illustrated circa 1973. Ms. Haynes went to high school in Caracas and in Miami. She eloped at 16 years old with a man eight years her senior. Together, they moved to Los Angeles.

During their stay in L.A., Ms. Haynes and her husband were walking their dog on Rodeo Drive, when a man pulled up in a Cadillac and said, “I’m Ben Bard, and I have an acting class, and I wondered if you would be interested in attending.” (He was a silent movie actor.) Having nothing else to do, Ms. Haynes attended. She got a screen test at 20th Century Fox as a result, and got her first agent from that, as well. This occurred during the contract days, and since the studio didn’t like the result, no contract came about. She went on to do a small, non-speaking part in the film In Like Flint. Her second movie was Latitude Zero.

Ms. Haynes lived in California for about 15 years, and she is a Life Member of the Actors Studio, which she joined on her first audition for Lee Strasberg. Ms. Haynes also did a play in San Diego, The Lenny Bruce Story, and she did a few commercials and TV shows: Room 222, My Three Sons, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, Paper Moon, This Is the Life, and one of the Judgment series with Stanley Kramer directing – Court Martial of Lieutenant William Calley. Her other films include: The Nickel Ride with Robert Mulligan directing, Brubaker with Robert Redford, The Drowning Pool with Paul Newman, and Rolling Thunder with William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones. Ms. Haynes had the lead role in Human Experiments which brought her a Best Actress award at the Sitges Catalonian Film Festival in 1981 and a Golden Scroll Award of Merit for Outstanding Achievement from Dr. Donald Reed of the Academy of Science Fiction Fantasy and Horror Films, as well as an award from the Le Festival International de Paris du Film Fantastique et de Science Fiction in November of 1979. She went on to do the four-hour docu-drama The Guyana Tragedy with Powers Boothe in 1980, released for television.

After that, Ms. Haynes decided to change her life completely, left L.A., and bought a farm in Vermont, where she stayed briefly, and then moved back to Florida where her family still lives and where she raised her son. In a 2007 telephone interview, Ms. Haynes shared her memories of playing Dr. Anne Barton in Latitude Zero with Brett Homenick.           

Brett Homenick: How’d you get involved with Latitude Zero?

Linda Haynes: I’m sure I interviewed with Don Sharp and Warren Lewis, the American side of the production. The director, Ishiro Honda was not there, and usually the director is there when casting a film. But I interviewed, and they apparently liked what they saw, so they hired me. I can’t really remember much about it. Off I went to Tokyo. It was my first film where I would spend quite a bit of time away from home (two months), and I knew nothing of the culture, the work I would be doing, and I was uncomfortable because everything was foreign. Now, of course, I’ve read about Japan, and I’ve been back to Tokyo on vacation, and I’m much more comfortable. But that’s how I got the part; essentially I just interviewed, and I can’t remember if I read for it or not. I’m sure I must have because in those days I had to read for everything.

linda_haynes_lz5smaller

Dr. Anne Barton at work in Latitude Zero. Latitude Zero © 1969, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: In Japan, what were your living arrangements?

LH: First we stayed at the – I think it was Tokyo Tower Hotel. It was built like a tower, and then for some reason they moved us, and we ended up in the Tokyo Palace Hotel. It was right across from the Imperial Gardens. The hotel was very comfortable and first-class.

BH: Do you have any memories of any of the preproduction meetings?

LH: We went to the set, out to the studio, and we were assigned our dressing rooms. My dressing room was comfortable, not plush but comfortable, and afforded me a haven for a few minutes of privacy now and then between scenes. I remember being surprised at the toilets as they were something you straddled and squatted over in those days. They worked, though! One of the first things we did were makeup tests. Patricia Medina and I were made up in a different fashion than what we were used to because the makeup artists were used to making up Japanese actors or actresses, and the shapes of their eyes were different. We ended up with long tails of eyeliner. We didn’t think we looked the way were supposed to – we looked so strange when we looked in the mirror! I guess we were allowed to do our own eye makeup because (that’s) what ultimately appeared in the film. The makeup artists did our foundation, and the hair stylists did our hair – and in those days, I wore a fall; it was the sixties, and that was fashionable. My hair looked bigger and thicker.

We went to the cafeteria at Toho Studios and had lunch one day, and I remember we were going to have squid. I was appalled because this didn’t sound appetizing, and I was afraid it would be raw; I had never eaten squid before. It turned out to be excellent, French-fried white meat and delicious. We had a long ride from Toho Studios to the hotel, and the drivers were really good at getting us where we needed to go through gridlock traffic. I don’t remember riding on freeways like Tokyo has today, so it would be a matter of winding through streets with lots of traffic. They were great, speedy drivers!

BH: (laughs) What do you remember about Ishiro Honda?

LH: I remember that he couldn’t speak English, but he would speak to me in Japanese, and he would look me in the eyes. We would look each other in the eye, and he would use a certain amount of hand gestures, and we communicated; there was an understanding somehow that went beyond words. We had two interpreters Henry Okawa, Henry-san, was one of the interpreters, and the other was a lady who was very smart and most helpful.  They were excellent. But I got a sense of what Honda-san wanted just by looking at him. It was just a connection which happens with a good director. He was very quiet, very gentle, and I enjoyed working with him.

I had my 21st birthday there, and they had a cake for me, and they had, like, a board room with a big, big table, and everyone was there. The table was filled with people, you know, producer, director, etc., and Joseph Cotten, Patricia Medina, Richard Jaeckel. I remember that because the whole thing centered around me I was a little embarrassed  because they were making such a big deal. It was very special.  Toho Studios put on extravagant dinners for us, where we each had a geisha serving us. The geisha kept pouring sake with lots of courses of interesting food, and we all sat in a U-shaped manner, on cushions at the low Japanese tradition table which surrounded a stage. The “stage” area was an area where geishas entertained us, or we were invited to get up and play games (I didn’t want to get up – too shy). Then they had a Christmas dinner especially for us which was festive and elegant, and at that dinner we dined at regular tables. We were treated very well.

I know that we didn’t get paid our salary for awhile which was a problem that came from the American side of the production. I can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I know we received our per diem because I was out spending money! (laughs) When I wasn’t working, I would walk around the Ginza, and I bought  pearl rings and pearls for my mom, and all kinds of stuff, and a Nikon camera. But anyway, as to our paychecks, I guess there was a problem with that, and Joseph Cotten and his agent took charge of all that because I really wasn’t sure what the problem was. I believe he threatened to go back to the States, and that must have solved whatever problem there was. I didn’t know exactly what happened or don’t remember, but eventually it straightened out. There may have been ramifications when it came to releasing the movie as to where it could be released. I’m not sure exactly. National General released it, and it’s been on TV in the U.S., so I don’t know the particulars. The movie opened in a small theater in Santa Monica. I went and saw it, and there were a lot of kids in the theater. They laughed and howled and thought it was great fun with the monsters. It used to come on once in a while on The Late Late Show, so I managed to tape it along with ten million commercials interrupting.

linda_haynes_lz6smaller

BH: Okay, well, my next question is, and you talked about this a little bit, but could you describe Ishiro Honda’s directing style more in detail, or is that everything you remember about it?

LH: Well, I just remember pretty much how he dealt with me because that was, you know, probably what made the most impression on me, and it’s always that way when you work with a good director. I’ve worked with Stanley Kramer, Robert Mulligan, and others who were on the quiet side, kind of quiet and personal, and they were able to connect with the actor and kind of draw out of the actor what they wanted.

For years, I thought I did a really bad job in Latitude Zero because I was so uncomfortable, and I guess I was stiff. I played a doctor, so maybe the “stiffness” could have worked for the role in retrospect. When I look at the movie now, it wasn’t that bad. I was fairly natural, the way I did it. I’m probably a lot less critical today. For years, after I left Hollywood,  I wouldn’t even talk about or watch any movies that I had made for a long time. I’ve had to watch a few lately because I had to refresh my memory before giving interviews for DVDs.

I remember Patricia Medina was great fun, and I really liked her. At one time, the chauffeur picked us up to take us to the studio or take us somewhere – it probably was the studio – and I asked a question, I said something like, “Well, I wonder if the actresses are going have to be somewhere,” or whatever the question was. She turned to me, and she said, “Well,” in her British accent, “as far as I’m concerned, I’m the only actress in this production.” I felt two inches tall because I wasn’t really confident in the first place. But I didn’t say anything. Patricia was so darn nice, you know, and she was full of fun. I just figured, “Well, okay, she’s entitled to her opinion, and maybe she’s right.” (laughs)  But anyway, she was really nice, and both she and Joseph Cotten had a great sense of humor. As to Cesar Romero, “Butch” as he was called by Patricia Medina, I met him, but I didn’t really have a lot of contact with him because he and Pat Medina worked together mostly. I’m sure they had a ball working together, lots of humor going on.

BH: Well, that does dovetail into what I was going to ask next. I was just going to ask what your memories of some of the actors were, and the first one I wanted to ask about was Richard Jaeckel.

LH: Well, I couldn’t believe how young he looked  because he told me on the plane that he already had a grown son, and he looked so young, He just had that kind of face. But he was very professional and helpful. Of course, he had done lots of movies, and he was absolutely at home in Japan, and he had friends there that he went and visited when he wasn’t working. He was so easy and to work with.

As to the Japanese actors – Masumi Okada, he showed me a wonderful time. He took me all around Tokyo, and he was a super person, very handsome and spoke fluent English and French. Akira Takarada couldn’t speak much English, so I didn’t really communicate with him, and he had to be coached on how to say the words in English. But he managed to do it and did a wonderful job. I didn’t really get to know him very well because of the language barrier. But Masumi Okada spoke perfect English, and he showed me lots of Tokyo, and I had a really good time.

linda_haynes_lz3smaller

Linda Haynes and Masumi Okada on the set of Latitude Zero. Latitude Zero © 1969, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: I know you mentioned that you didn’t work with him much, but do you have any other memories of Cesar Romero?

LH: Just that he was bigger than life – he really made an impression. He was very glamorous with lots of laughter. I didn’t actually see him work because we had no scenes together, but he had quite a presence.

BH: Wow! Okay, well, I’m very curious about this next question, do you know exactly who wrote your dialogue, and in any case, did you have any freedom to sort of rewrite any of your lines?

LH:  Ted Sherdeman wrote the script, and he and his wife were both there with us in Tokyo. Wonderful people. I don’t remember changing anything because in those days I would not have had the guts to say, “This doesn’t sound right. Let me say it such-and-such a way. Or how about this?” That may have happened later to a small degree, although I didn’t do much of that. I didn’t try to rewrite scripts or be bossy. My job was to get on the set and pretty much deliver what’s written in the script. Later on, after having attended acting workshops, Eric Morris’ class in Los Angeles and the Actors Studio in L.A., I learned that you can really read the phone book, and if you have something real going on inside. That’s what is interesting and compelling to watch; it’s not so much the words. I did insist on one change when they wanted me to be nude in a scene where I get out of a pool, and I did not want to do that.

BH: They wanted you to be nude?!

LH: They wanted me to be nude when getting out of a bath scene with Okada, Jaeckel, and Takarada. I was told, “Well, in Japan, that’s no big deal.” Not totally nude but topless. I guess they didn’t think that that would’ve been any big deal. But I refused to do that, and they even put some kind of skin-colored foam rubber over my breasts to get me to do the scene – must have been a long shot. (laughs) I ended up just getting out of the pool and just wrapping the towel around me without having to show anything. They were good sports about it.  Later on came the middle ’70s, and I did other movies where I did appear nude, and it didn’t thrill me, but I did it. I realize today that it must have been an important element for the box office, but it’s not really necessarily pertinent to the movie. I did it later on, as almost every script had a nude scene, and if it didn’t, they wrote one in to spice it up. Many stars/actresses in the 1970s did because it was a sign of the times, the days of hippies, free love, sexual revolution and all that stuff, so we kind of lost our inhibitions over time.

linda_haynes_lz7smaller

Getting to know the locals in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Haynes.

BH: Do you have any memories of the producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka?

LH: Yes, I do. I remember what he looked like. I remember he was very nice. He was really a big producer, and I felt he was someone to be reckoned with. I don’t remember talking with him a lot. I remember he was at my birthday party, but I don’t remember that he patrolled the set, keeping tabs on what was going on because I guess he had other things to do. I could be mistaken about that, but I don’t remember him doing that. I didn’t really talk to him because of the language barrier, outside of “hellos” and “goodbyes” and those kinds of things. But I do remember what he looked like, and I remember his demeanor.

BH: Do you have any memories of any of the locations, where the scenes were shot? Were they all on Toho Studios, or were any of them filmed on location anywhere?

LH: We went to two locations that I can recall. One was in a Japanese garden that was absolutely gorgeous. I’d never seen anything like it. And that, I think, comes at the end of the movie. We also went to the harbor in Yokohama for an outside scene which was a treat. Today I would have wanted to explore the whole area. I got to travel on the bullet train, which was an experience. I went to Nagoya to see Masumi Okada play Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. He was doing a play on some nights during the filming of Latitude Zero. He would work during the day on the movie, then he did the play at night. I can’t imagine having that much energy. But he did. He let me borrow his glasses to see the play. This was the first time I realized that I needed glasses because when I saw plays, I could never see what was going on very well. So he said, “Well, try my glasses.”  I couldn’t believe the difference; I could actually see the actors onstage! (laughs) So needless to say, when I came back to the States, I got glasses.

I went to nightclubs, and we went to non-Japanese and Japanese eateries. I had food that was not necessarily Japanese. I saw quite a bit of Tokyo. Got to eat Kobe beef with Joseph Cotten, Pat Medina and Dick Jaeckel. It was great, but I had to have mine well done as always. I went to a festival at night that was beautiful; the air was filled with incense, and there were lots of lavish decorations and food stands. A shopping expedition at Takashimaya Department Store was interesting, as it was a huge store that had everything under the sun. So exotic in some sections. I saw a Noh play, and I saw Linda Purl in The King and I. It was great.

linda_haynes_lz1smaller

Make a wish! Linda Haynes celebrated her birthday during filming of Latitude Zero. Latitude Zero © 1969, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Now did you have any interaction with the crew members?

LH: There was a lady who spoke English, and she was also an interpreter, and I feel bad because I can’t remember her name. I know I would recognize it in the credits, but the credits are limited in the tape I have of the movie. But she was really nice. She and I went out to dinner. It was really the language barrier that prohibited getting more friendly with the people. But she was very nice and smart. I’m sure that she got a credit as an interpreter because she was there, and she did work on the set, along with Henry Okawa.

BH: Do you have any other interesting stories from the set of the film?

LH: Let’s see. Well, I think I mentioned how we got the flu. We all got the Asian flu, and we were sick, and certainly Joseph Cotten mentions that when he talks about Latitude Zero in his autobiographical book. It was November and December, and it was cold in Tokyo. I had on this transparent vinyl jacket trimmed in gold, and we would go into the set (warm) and then outside (cold), and the whole jacket would fog up, so you couldn’t see through it. It was a little uncomfortable, the costume, because of how cold it was and because for a while we were pretty sick and worked anyway. The costume designers were so creative.

I didn’t get to see a lot of the special effects, but I did watch the battleship, and they had built a very large water pool on the set, and they had a miniature battleship, and it wasn’t so miniature because it was probably four or five feet long, and they were filming that. So it was kind of interesting to see how they did it. Everything was new to me about making movies. I didn’t get to see the monsters because it wasn’t as though I could just drop in on the set and watch, as Toho Studios was quite a distance from the hotel. I didn’t really work with any of the monsters that Pat Medina and Cesar Romero worked with.

linda_haynes_lz2smaller

That’s a wrap! The cast and crew of Latitude Zero pose for a group photo. Latitude Zero © 1969, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: My last question is, what did you think of the film when you saw it?

LH: The first time I saw it, I thought it was really ludicrous. I was not a fan of science fiction, and I thought it was hokey. In the theater in Santa Monica, the kids in the audience were laughing.  The tone was one of , “Oh, this is just ridiculous. Let‘s throw tomatoes at the screen.” That was how the kids were responding, lots of noise and kid stuff going on in the theater, and then I’m sure I was watching myself to see what kind of job I did, and no doubt (was) critical of myself. It certainly didn’t open at Grauman’s Chinese! (laughs) But it was fun. I liked what Richard Jaeckel said toward the end of the movie about being more concerned with outer space than the resources in our seas here on Earth. That was pretty profound!

I was really lucky to have been a part of this movie, and as time passes, I appreciate it more and more. Thanks for interviewing me, Brett, and thank you to the people who are interested enough to have read this interview.

RIGHT FOR COMMAND! Actor Robert Horton Remembers The Green Slime!

011

Robert Horton meets his Green Slime co-star Luciana Paluzzi again for the first time in over 40 years in 2009! Photo © Brett Homenick.

Robert Horton is a star of film and television whose credits include such popular TV programs as Wagon Train (as Flint McCullough), The Lone Ranger, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and A Man Called Shenandoah. His feature film credits include the titles Pony Soldier, Code Two, and Apache War Smoke, among many others. Fans of Japanese films will instantly recognize Mr. Horton as Commander Jack Rankin from the 1968 cult classic The Green Slime, a much-beloved Japanese sci-fi film with a loyal fan base that still endures to this day. In 2008, Mr. Horton shared his memories of The Green Slime with Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: The first question is, how’d you get cast in The Green Slime?

Robert Horton: (laughs) My agent called me one day and told me they’d offered me the role in the picture.

BH: Okay.

RH: Period.

BH: Okay, and let’s talk about preproduction. When you finally met with the director and the Japanese producers, just talk about …

RH: Well, we didn’t really have any. We met in Tokyo, and we went to a little supper that the director arranged, who spoke no English. And, of course, I do not speak Japanese. And we had a very pleasant evening, and I had different foods from Japan that I had never had before. And then we met on the set and started shooting.

BH: Okay, now while you were staying in Japan, what were your living arrangements, like where did you stay, and how were your arrangements done?

RH: Oh, well, I stayed at the Okura Hotel, which was all part of the work of my agent, who arranged where I stayed and what kind of per diem I had, etc., etc. The Okura is a beautiful hotel; it’s just across the street from the American embassy there. I mean, there’s nothing new about that; that’s the way things are done in the motion picture business.

BH: What sort of things would you do for fun while you were in Japan? Did you do anything interesting while you were staying over there?

RH: Well, we went to where the great big Buddha is. I don’t remember the name of that place; it’s almost 40 years. But I have a photograph somewhere of me standing in front of this Buddha, and I look like I’m three feet tall, and it’s a hundred feet tall.

BH: (laughs)

RH: It’s a very big statue. I just can’t think of the name of it right now. You know, if you work five or six days from eight in the morning until six, you’re kind of happy to have dinner and go to bed.

BH: (laughs) Absolutely. All right, well, let’s talk a little bit more about the production of the film itself. What were your impressions of Kinji Fukasaku, who was the director of the film? What did you think of him as a…  

RH: We got along very, very nicely. We never had a moment’s problems; we never had a communications problem of any kind. And once he asked me, through an interpreter, when I was going from one point in the spaceship to another or whatever, would I run, or would I … like the Japanese do, they run everywhere.

BH: (laughs)

RH: They do. They run. They take little short steps, and they run. Would I run, or would I stride? And he put it on the basis of, would an American run. I said, “No, he would not run from here to the desk. He would walk over there with as much desire to get there for whatever the reason if he needed, but he would not run over there.” I’m talking about 10 feet or whatever he said.

004

Robert Horton discusses The Green Slime as Luciana Paluzzi listens in. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Right. So he was very open to whatever changes and suggestions that you had to make.

RH: Well, I don’t know that we … it’s such a terrible script after you got into it. And then the monsters were so unbelievably ridiculous. Somewhere I have a photograph of me feeding one a cookie.

BH: Yes, I’ve seen that picture.

RH: You’ve seen that picture.

BH: Yes, it’s on your Web site.

RH: I mean, you know, most of the extras on the show were people out of an Army base that was there in Tokyo. The main thing about the picture is that, as you were going through it, you realized — in fact, I knew that before I got there. The man who wrote the picture told me that it was (about) the agony of command, and I was having cocktails with him and my agent in New York City. And I looked at this guy, and I said, “If you think that’s what this script is about, then I have nothing to say about it.”

BH: Oh, very interesting! That’s actually an interesting point that you made because legend has it that The Green Slime was actually supposed to be a metaphor for the Vietnam War. Was that explained to you, or did he just…

RH: I think that’s not true.

BH: Okay, that’s the rumor going around.

RH: But I don’t know. The name of The Green Slime, when we were in production, was The Battle Beyond the Stars, and that made it sound pretty good. When they changed it to The Green Slime, they did a publicity thing ’cause the picture’s new. I know that it’s a cult film, but it’s still a terrible picture. The way they dealt with that was that, all over Manhattan, when you walked from one block to the other, and you stopped for the signal and everything, on the pavement below you was just the name The Green Slime. And my wife came in one day or one evening, and she’d been looking at Variety, and she said, “I think they’ve changed the name of your picture to ’The Green Slim-ee.’”

006

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: (laughs)

RH: And I said, “Slim-ee?!” And I looked at it, and I said, “That’s ’Slime’!” She said, “For some reason, I’ve never it written out like that. I thought it was ‘Slim-ee.’” (laughs) Anyway, and then we went to see it, we went down on 34th Street, just off 5th Avenue, as I remember, and when I knew the film was coming to a close, I said, “Let’s get out of here! I don’t want to meet anybody!” (laughs)

BH: (laughs) What was it like to work with Richard Jaeckel, what your memories of him are?

RH: I hadn’t really known Richard Jaeckel, but I knew who Richard Jaeckel was. And we were both up for the same role in a film that he did called Come Back, Little Sheba. And he was a bodybuilder, and he was not a very tall man, but he had a wonderful physique, and he was covered with muscles. And he was very, very nice, and we got along fine.

BH: Okay, and what about your memories of working with Luciana Paluzzi on the film?

RH: I just thought she was adorable, and I had met her before socially, before, I think, she married Brett Halsey. By the time I met her, she’d either married him and divorced him, or she was going to marry him; I don’t really know that, either. But she was a very attractive girl.

010

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you have any memories of working with the local actors ’cause you mentioned that they were mostly hired from the local military bases, but do you have any stories or memories of working with any particular actors?

RH: Not of any negative or necessarily positive. We made friends with one fellow who was a Marine officer who was in World War II. I think he’s a pilot, but I’m not sure. And he was from a very affluent family in Connecticut, and after the war, he went back to Japan. And we became friends the way one does on the set with somebody that you enjoy talking to or whatever. He invited us over to his home for dinner one night, my wife and I, and we went. And he was an attractive fellow. And we expected him to be married to … about one out of a hundred Japanese girls is absolutely gorgeous. In general, Japanese women are not very attractive. And we assumed that he had met her at the Officers’ Club, and I assumed that she was just a knockout girl, and when we got there and met her, she turned out to be not only not attractive period, but she was so typical Japanese that she would not join us for dinner. She had her dinner by herself in the kitchen or with her children, and this fellow, and Marilynn and I, they had a table where, when you sat down, you put your feet in a hole in the ground. In other words, you didn’t sit on chairs; you sat on the ground, and you put your feet and legs beneath you in a thing that had been created with that in mind. So we had a typical Japanese dinner in a typical Japanese home with a typical Japanese lady (laughs) and this very nice and attractive ex-Marine pilot who had decided to stay in Japan. That’s all I know. Don’t ask me what his name was.

BH: Okay. Do you have any memories of any of the special effects scenes? Where there any, I suppose, any accidents going on?

RH: No, we didn’t have any accidents, but what I used to think was that the floor of the soundstage was covered with gravel, and there was a fellow on the set who was what you’d call a grip.

BH: Right.

RH: You know what that is?

BH: Yes.

RH: He was a very husky fellow, and he was walking around on the gravel, carrying a lamp almost as big as he was, and I just thought to myself, “In World War II, it’s a good thing the Japanese ran out of oil.”

BH: (laughs) Is it true that the aliens in the film were actually played by children wearing the monster suits?

RH: I haven’t the vaguest idea. The Japanese, you don’t have to be a child to be five-feet-two. I doubt that they were children.

007

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Okay. That’s what I’ve heard other people say, so I just wanted to clarify that. What was a typical day of shooting like on the film?

RH: Well, first you get to the studio, and you sing a song.

BH: You sing a song?

RH: Did you know that?

BH: I didn’t know that. What song would they have you sing?

RH: They would sing a song that was, in essence, an (homage) to the motion picture studio, which was the Toei Studio. And you would sing this song; everybody did before they went into the soundstage. In essence, it was like singing “God Bless America,” but it was designed for the Toei Studio, and that was kind of funny from our point of view, you know? (laughs) But it was all right. I don’t remember the melody, and God knows I didn’t know the lyrics, but you go, “La-da,” you know.

BH: (laughs) Wow! That’s very interesting. I have never heard that said by anyone else before, so that’s definitely good information.

RH: That’s not something that’s strange to the motion picture business. That’s something that I think is part of the Japanese culture, that you sing a song or you spend a few minutes and bless whatever company you’re working for, hoping they have a successful year or day or whatever.

008

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Now a lot of American actors, when they go over to Japan, they find that the Japanese have a very aggressive filming schedule, and I’ve talked to one actor who literally filmed 24 hours straight without stopping. How often would they have you film scenes, like how long consecutively?

RH: I made it clear that I’d come to work at eight, and it took about an hour to get to the studio from downtown Tokyo. But I said that’s long enough for me, from seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock in the evening to get back to the hotel for dinner. That’s it. So I said, “I’m going to quit at six o’clock.” And there was a little disturbed attitude about that, but that’s not uncommon in American film. Somebody says, “You can’t stay here for 15 hours or 17 hours,” unless you’re a day player or you’re on a weekly salary, but if you’re the lead in the show and everything, nobody’s expecting you to stay on the set 12 or 18 hours. That’s what started the Screen Actors Guild. They used to do that in the silent days and in the early days of talkies.

BH: Do you remember, specifically, the timeframe when your scenes were shot, like the months, because I believe your scenes were shot in 1968, but do you remember, generally, the months in which your scenes were filmed?

RH: Well, I think we were there from September until November, something like that. I don’t really recall. It was the fall of the year, the weather was very nice, but the cherry blossoms hadn’t bloomed yet. So I know it wasn’t spring.

BH: And it was 1968?

RH: Yeah, I think it was ‘68. It was either ‘67 or ‘68. One of the two, I’m not sure which exactly.

BH: Were all your scenes shot on the Toei Studio soundstage, or were any of them filmed anywhere else?

RH: No, I think everything was shot on a soundstage.

014

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Well, let’s talk a little bit about postproduction now. Did you dub your lines in Japan with William Ross’ company? Do you remember?

RH: I haven’t the vaguest idea. But dubbing was something that was very easy for me to do. That was something that was really easy for me because it all had a rhythm, and I just picked up the rhythm of the speech, and I usually dubbed it in one shot.

BH: Do you have any other interesting stories from the set or just any other memories from filming the movie that you’d like to share?

RH: Not a single one.

BH: (laughs) Okay.

RH: I told you everything I know.

BH: What did you think of the film once you first saw it? You’ve kind of talked a little about that, but did you have any other thoughts?

RH: I thought it was dreadful! I still think it’s dreadful. I have a copy of it hanging around my house somewhere, and I haven’t really looked at it in 35 years, but I have seen little pieces of it from time to time at a film festival, and I think, “Oh, my God. What a really terrible picture!”

Note: In November 2009, Robert Horton attended a screening of The Green Slime at an autograph show in Los Angeles and had a change of heart about the film. He specifically praised the first third of the movie as being particularly well done and generally softened his opinion of the film. I would like to thank Mr. Horton for all the kindness and generosity he showed me over the years.

GEORGE KENNEDY REMEMBERS JAPAN! The Legendary Actor Recalls Making the Disaster Movie Virus in the Far East!

George Kennedy is an actor who truly needs no introduction. Movie fans instantly recognize Mr. Kennedy for his Academy Award-winning performance as Dragline in the 1967 hit Cool Hand Luke, in which he starred opposite Paul Newman. However, Mr. Kennedy has seen and done it all in the acting world, having conquered the action genre in The Dirty Dozen (1967), disaster films with Earthquake (1974), and slapstick comedy with The Naked Gun films. In 1980, Mr. Kennedy was cast in Kinji Fukasaku’s disaster epic Virus (a.k.a. Fukkastu no hi), in which he played the part of Admiral Conway, one of the film’s most important characters. In a 2011 telephone interview, Mr. Kennedy graciously shared his memories of making Virus, as well as his love of Japan, with Brett Homenick.

george_kennedy

A head shot of Academy Award-winning actor George Kennedy.

Brett Homenick: How did you get cast in Virus?

George Kennedy: I can’t answer it exactly. It came from the Japanese company itself. When the thing first started, I think it was Glenn Ford … they had talked to him, and they had talked to me, and I said, as I have often said, “Yeah, I admire you. I would like to do it,” and what have you. As I recall, there were a lot of high hopes for Virus at the time we made it. The work was very professional. The Japanese are marvelous to work with and for, simply because that is the nature of the beast. They are industrious, and they are very kind and very methodical and very, very precise. But I don’t know; how did it play in Japan?

BH: It wasn’t as successful as hoped, either, but it is well regarded as a film. But it wasn’t very financially successful in Japan, either.

GK: And, you know, I regretted that because I remember — this is something I’ve never told anybody else — but when Virus was over, I was so impressed with them, and I wanted them to realize how much I appreciated what they had done with me and for me during the shooting, that I wrote a speech, and I asked one of the young-lady interpreters to help me translate it into Japanese, and then I took my language and the Japanese language, and I spoke it to them. And they sat in that chiseled, respectful silence — I know it wasn’t very good — but the Japanese were a great audience, and when I was done, they gave me — oh! — so much applause for having done it. It’s one of the humbling highlights of my life!

BH: Oh, excellent! Well, that’s great to hear! I’m very glad to hear that!

GK: And — oh, boy! — it’s a tough language! I still have a word here and a word there. The concept of the language is so different than anything — we don’t have any words that resemble what they have! The enunciations and the ends of sentences, but I tried my best, and they liked it.

BH: Well, that’s great; I’m very glad to hear that you have a very great memory associated with the movie. I’m very impressed to hear that.

GK: You know what I think about Virus: It was a time worldwide — I think mostly in America — of this sort of shock-’em-to-pieces, all of the big special effects, Earthquake sort of thing. And Virus was a little far down the line. It wasn’t that spectacularly different than any of the others – ships turning upside-down and sinking and what have you. There were a great many of them, until Titanic made them all look like they cost forty dollars to produce.

BH: I agree with you, absolutely. What was it like to work with the producer, Haruki Kadokawa?

GK: I can’t say enough good things. One of the things that people don’t understand about the Japanese is, their attitude, their consistency, their love for what they’re doing, is inborn. It isn’t something they put a face on in the morning and take it off when they get home. They are a very honest, industrious — my God, artistic people, and when you get used to going to work in the morning to that sort of excellence, you don’t want to mess it up! We had certain actors, and I’m not going to name who they are, on the picture, that they just were there for the money; they didn’t give a damn about anything. It is not my ethic to do that. And the more I was around the Japanese, and the more I was working with them and for them, the more respect I had for them. And for that reason alone I’m sorry Virus wasn’t more of a hit.

BH: And how about the director, Kinji Fukasaku? What was he like, and how did you work with him?

GK: You can’t not work with them because courtesy to the Japanese is like a prayer. They are always self-effacing. You are never wrong; they are wrong. Therefore, they must adjust by doing something. And I got to love that attitude so much that I would go out of my way to make sure that, whatever they asked for, I would try to do exactly the way they saw it. When it worked, I had a sense of completion that allowed me to then go off somewhere and sit thankfully quiet. It was a humbling honor, treasured still.

BH: Perfect, perfect! What do you recall about preproduction? How were you involved, if at all, with preproduction on the film?

GK: Not much, I don’t think. It was a matter of getting there. The costumes were meticulous. It was a little off-setting, I think, to be treated in such — I think the word is not correct, but it will come close enough — awe. In other words, I wasn’t John Wayne, however, they knew who I was that they were very affectionate, and respectful. Well, I’m a very simple fellow. We live very simply; we lived very simply then. And having somebody sort of hanging on your every whisper is scary. Suppose I had belched? I would have died right there.

BH: (laughs) Well, where were your scenes shot? Certainly I believe you did actually work in Japan for the film, but did you go to Antarctica at all for any of those scenes?

GK: We were in Japan for part of the time, we were in Canada for part of the time. I don’t remember the specific places. I’m trying to think of any spectacular … No. The locations were gorgeous. One of the things — this generalizes about movies for both Japanese and American — one of the great assets of being in the movies is that you get to be places and go places that you might never see in your lifetime under other circumstances. And Virus was one of them. I’ve always been in love with Japan, anyway, as I said earlier in the chat.

I served in Japan. I was the head of the Far East Network for a while, and I lived it there. That before any movie days. This was part of my military service near the end. It was a treat. When we talked a little while ago about learning the Japanese language, I tried!

BH: Wow, wow!

GK: That’s a difficult language to hold on to!

BH: It’s very difficult! I don’t think I’ll ever get around to mastering it; there’s just so much to it that I think I’ll just stick to a few phrases and words here and there, and that’s as far as I’ll ever go.

GK: It’s not just words. Their whole body is involved with their language that their movements: the bowing, the manners of speech, the making sure that they don’t do anything physically or verbally to offend you. It’s a remarkable nation. When the recent tsunami hit, I sat, as many millions of people did throughout the world, and just wondered at what was happening and agonizing that this lovely race of people was being swamped away by this big water puddle that just wouldn’t stop. It was dreadful.

BH: Yes, and that’s actually when I came to Japan, was two weeks after the tsunami hit, so it was also very high on my mind when it happened, as well.

GK: I’m not a fan of war, no matter who fights who. There’s got to be a better way, and that is my deep-rooted, soul-filled philosophy. But we went to war with Japan. Now forget about whose fault it was and this, that, and the other thing — “Those stinking Yankees,” or “Those dirty Japs.” I’m sorry, that is a concept that doesn’t fit well. It is very difficult to think back now. For example, when Clint Eastwood, who is one of the most brilliant and skilled artists I have known in my life, made (Letters from) Iwo Jima, I’ve seen that picture now three or four times. The devotion and humanity of the Japanese is all there. How did we ever end up at war with the people whose philosophy, whose love of country, is so much like our own? The answer is chronicled in history, I suppose, but I’ll never answer that if I live to be 550 years old!

BH: Wow, I agree with that absolutely. Also, just getting back to Virus, do you recall what the time frame was when you were shooting, like what year and what season it was at the time?

GK: No, because it’s just too long ago, and I’m too old. But I spent a great deal of my service — my time in service was all in Europe, and by the time the European war was over, I was deep, deep in Germany, near Berlin somewhere. And they said, “We’re going to ship you back to the United States, and then you’re going to go on into the Pacific,” which never happened because the time element just collapsed.

BH: On the movie, what were your living arrangements like at the time? Do you remember what hotel you stayed in? And what you did with your free time when you weren’t working on the movie?

GK: I recall everything as being as good as it could be. You know, it’s peculiar, but many times, you have to watch yourself with the Japanese because they are so considerate and so on top of everything that it’s like the old expression, “Your wish is my command.” They tried to take that to a degree that I’ve never seen before. And, as a consequence, after a very short period of time, you learn not to just simply, casually say, “Oh, God, I’m thirsty.” Because, all of a sudden, you’ll have a spring from New Hampshire right next to your chair!

BH: (laughs)

GK: They really are in tune with excellence. They are in tune with other human beings. They are a very human race of people, and I love them dearly; I could never say it any other way.

BH: What about some of your fellow cast members? What do you recall, working withsuch people as Bo Svenson, Edward James Olmos, Chuck Connors, and Olivia Hussey?

GK: Chuck was fine. Chuck went to dinner with my wife and I in Toronto to a restaurant that the three of us agreed was the best fish restaurant we’ve ever been to in our lives.

Eddie Olmos was in the dressing room next to mine; he had a fold-up piano, a very early version of the electronic pianos that they have now. I loved listening. Eddie and I were pals. He became quite famous, and something other than he was in real life. I recall him as a pleasant, convivial, polite, musical, interested, alive, generous guy. And when he achieved all of his success in movies, in films, it was as a leader, a progressive, a firebrand, all of the things that a gentle dreamer really wasn’t.

BH: Wow, that’s very interesting! What about Bo Svenson? What was he like?

GK: Bo was into Bo. He was always on, playing an actor to the hilt night and day, when nobody around really cared very much. He held the company up more than once while he “shot some pictures for National Georgraphic.” I called him on it one day in an elevator, and he admitted he didn’t actually film for the magazine, but he was planning to. He was not an easily-warm-up-to person, and I found myself uncomfortable talking to an artifact. When you’re talking about Eddie Olmos, there’s a warm human being he’s modeled after, who showed up because they wanted to make something as good as it could be, each time, every time.

BH: The Japanese lead in the film was Masao Kusakari. What was it like to work with Mr. Kusakari?

GK: He was very pleasant. We had a difficulty because his English was limited and my Japanese was limited, and it wasn’t easy for us to have the conversation that you and I are having now. He was affable, very capable, very physical, and I enjoyed working with him. It was just, we would stand there sometimes and just look at each other and smile because we enjoyed each other’s company, but we couldn’t say any words.

BH: (laughs) All right, very good! Well, one story I did hear about the film is that you had organized a poker game with many people, and I heard that folks from other films flew to Canada to take part in this poker game. Is that something that actually did happen?

GK: Not really. I found that … that didn’t surprise me, somehow. The poker game was an illusion; it was a made-up thing. There were other ways that we entertained ourselves and what have you, but I remember the poker game, but now as not a very important part of things. That’s just the way it is.

BH: Okay. Another thing I heard … it’s actually kind of a famous story about Virus is that there was the accident on the ship on the way to Antarctica. What do you remember hearing about that at the time, about the ship that had an accident and almost sank?

GK: No, I really don’t. Coincidences like that, though, are … sometimes movies are

blamed for making them happen. Not that the Antarctica thing didn’t happen, but it’s like a publicist for a movie will, if he had his way, would go out and sink a ship just so he could get the publicity for the film!

BH: Do you have any other memories from the set of Virus?

GK: No, it wasn’t a big hit here. I remember seeing it and thinking it was okay … better than that, and technically far better than that. But I think a little while ago I said to you, it was at the end of a long line of these spectacular earthquake and tornado movies, and it didn’t really catch. I think part of it may have been the title, Virus. There’s something about the word “tsunami,” which in itself is frightening. You hear “tsunami,” and your bones jangle. A virus could be a runny nose; a virus could also kill you. It doesn’t leave the impression that the word “earthquake” or “tsunami” does. It could be as simple as that.

BH: That’s very true, and I certainly never thought of it that way, but maybe people weren’t too impressed with the title, and maybe that’s why it wasn’t a hit. That’s very true. Did you attend the premiere in Japan of Virus?

GK: I went to a premiere in Japan, and again I tried speaking from the stage, by having somebody write it out phonetically, and it was very well appreciated. I think it was Proof of the Man. Again, even today though I might be billed as the oldest American being there and the working with the Japanese would be a look-forward-to treat. They’re a remarkable race of people. Everybody really tries, and the beauty of … I especially love the orange and black paintings that they have. They may be like paintings on velvet here, but the use of those two colors (and shadows) in Japan is incredible. So I admired them very much, and I would wish there were more, but there’s no more time. However, having been in those movies, I was very pleased, and they were all happy memories for it.

BH: All right, excellent! Well, my last question is, what can you tell us about your new book Trust Me?

GK: Trust Me is just out. I’ve gotten indications from everywhere that it’s fine, and I’ll believe it when I see it. I wrote about everything. I wrote about Eastwood, I wrote about everything else. I think it should be longer, oddly enough. We just got a call this morning, saying, “You finished a chapter, and then you took it back. Can we have it back again?” Apparently, there are indications that it’s going to do well, and I pray to God that it does. Thank you, Brett.

Please be sure to purchase your copy of Trust Me: A Memoir by George Kennedy. This fascinating memoir by one of Hollywood’s most popular stars is currently available at amazon.com. Published by Applause, its 256 pages contain some of the most intriguing anecdotes you’re likely to read about the movie business! ISBN-10: 1557837821. Current amazon.com list price: $21.05.

NATSUKI ON NATSUKI! Actor Yosuke Natsuki Opens Up About His Remarkable Career in Show Business!

CIMG0067

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Yosuke Natsuki is one of Toho Studios’ most recognizable actors, having appeared in the films of a myriad of directors, from Ishiro Honda to Akira Kurosawa. Born on February 27, 1936, Mr. Natsuki joined Toho in the late 1950s and quickly found himself in demand as a leading man and, along with his contemporary Makoto Sato, helped change the face of youth films at the studio.

 Although Mr. Natsuki has starred in numerous dramas, historical pieces, and action films, he has appeared in relatively few kaiju movies. But, as the star of Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Dogora the Space Monster (1964), and Godzilla 1985 (1984), Mr. Natsuki remains a popular actor with fans in the U.S. and Japan.

This interview covers much of Mr. Natsuki’s acting career and his memories of fellow actors and directors at Toho. While he does not remember much about his monster movies, Mr. Natsuki’s memories about his war films and historical dramas are certain to fascinate any fan of Showa-era Toho Studios. This wide-ranging interview, conducted by Brett Homenick and translated by Asako Kato, took place in Mr. Natsuki’s office in February 2013.

Brett Homenick: First, please tell me about your early life, growing up in Japan.

Yosuke Natsuki: When World War II ended, I was in the third grade. There was no food and very little clothing, so Japan as a nation was a very poor country. Of course, there was no TV, and there was no entertainment for children.

When I was in the sixth grade, it became possible for children to go see movies. Many French movies came in first, followed by American movies, so I really enjoyed watching pirate movies and Western movies. Movies were the only entertainment we could enjoy in those days. But still I didn’t have any intention to become an actor at that time. Actually, I wanted to be a pilot of a fighter plane.

BH: Growing up, what were some of your hobbies?

YN: There were neither games nor TV shows at that time! War destroyed houses and everything, but God saved me one bicycle. I was really into that bicycle, which was probably my only hobby when I was a child. That was all I had. Every Sunday, I went fishing together with my father, or enjoyed painting. My interest in bicycles developed into motorcycles, which I could go farther on, and then into cars.

CIMG0056

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Please talk about your parents. What did they do for a living? Do you have any memories of your parents?

YN: My father was the owner of Hachioji Gas Company. Hachioji is located in the suburbs of Tokyo, one hour from central Tokyo. At that time, there were 30,000 people there, and there was a gas company called Hachioji Gas, of which he was the owner. That’s how he made a living.

My mother was a typical Japanese housewife who tried to raise kids and make her home very nice. So I was loved by my parents a lot.

BH: You talked about this a little bit, but how did you discover that you wanted to act and that you also could act and act successfully and be a movie star?

YN: There is a very famous artist named Jun-ichi Nakahara. He’s a painter, a very famous painter. He happened to be taken care of by my high school classmate’s grandmother when he was young. I was lucky enough to get to know Mr. Nakahara, who was very famous in those days. He introduced me to the producer of Toho, Mr. Yuhko (a.k.a. Tomoyuki) Tanaka. But, at that time, I was not very interested in becoming an actor.

Just before I graduated from college, I had a chance to see and ask Mr. Tanaka, “What’s good about being an actor?” He answered by saying, “Even if you enter a big, gigantic company, for instance, say, the company employs 10,000 people, you’re always just one out of those 10,000. But, when it comes to the movies, you can be one of the few people who produce a movie. If you’re starring, it’s you who makes the movie.” So that’s how I got interested. I thought it sounded interesting, and that I should do it for five or six years.

My high school classmate, Hoki Tokuda, became a professional singer. After she graduated from a school in Canada, she lived in L.A. and got married to (the famous writer) Henry Miller.

What is good about the movie industry, I think, is that I could share inspiration, emotion, courage, and pleasure with many people, and 50 years later, I can see my movies now, and see my works when I was young, and throughout different times in my life. So it’s fun to be in this industry. On top of that, I was lucky to get to know many different people, thanks to this industry.

I appeared in Mr. (Ishiro) Honda’s movie The H-Man (1958), which was my first movie, where I was supposed to be “surprised.” That was the only cut I appeared in this movie 

BH: You talked about how you weren’t thinking about becoming an actor originally. Where did you think your career would go?

YN: Shortly before I graduated from college — my major was actually management — I wanted to move on to another college called Boei Daigakko, which is a college of defense, so that I would be a pilot. But, after I talked to Mr. Yuhko Tanaka about the movie industry, which sounded fun to me, and then showed up in the one cut in Mr. Honda’s movie, that one drop of the Nile River was becoming a large river after all.

BH: Please talk about how you formally got started at Toho Studios.

YN: After I appeared in Mr. Honda’s movie, I was recruited for a new movie, Mikkoku-sha wa dare ka (1958), where I was starring. And I got attention from the industry, and, one after another, I got offered roles, and I appeared in approximately 100 films.

BH: How did Mr. Honda choose you to have the small part in (The H-Man)? How did it come about that he cast you in that very small part?

YN: Probably because he used me as a film test at the request of Yuhko Tanaka, the producer at Toho, who introduced me to The H-Man. Mr. Tanaka is the one who chose me for a series of Toho films after that, not Mr. Honda.

BH: Were you involved in being trained as a professional actor at Toho, or was it something that they just started casting you once they saw that you could actually act? So did you need to train at all at Toho?

YN: There was an institute of acting within Toho; it’s an acting school. The members of the inaugural class included famous actors like Toshiro Mifune, and my class was the 10th year of that institute. It was a class of six people, four men and two women. But there was some time conflict because I had to pass my college exam. So I only attended three sessions! (laughs) I didn’t have a chance to train as an actor, to be honest. I think, however, in those days I had a momentum that is unique to young people.

Unlike stage performances, in movies, a starring actor isn’t supposed to act too much, and he or she should act their part naturally. Supporting actors can get inside a character and even act effusively in some cases, as they are all really professional. When some really important scene comes up, the face of a starring actor will be close-up. So I didn’t act much! I recently realized that starring actors shouldn’t act much.

My idea is that if an actor prepares well for the role before the shooting starts, then there is no need to act too much. A starring actor who overacts is usually not very successful. Even though natural acting is necessary, you have to interpret the role well enough so that you are full of that role. But you’re not supposed to act too much. That’s what I found out recently.

CIMG0064

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: I’m fascinated by the contract system at Toho. If you could, please talk about how much power the studio had in negotiating the contracts. Also, please explain the contract system at Toho and what a contract would say.

YN: When I started, the film industry was in its golden age. So I was blessed with that. When it comes to the monthly salary, usually the college graduates got, at that time, 8,000 yen per month. My initial contract with Toho Studios was 50,000 yen. I was driving an MG, a British sports car, and a motorcycle which my father gave to me. I drove to the studio every day. But, six months later, I wanted to negotiate to get another car. So I asked Toho Studios to give me a higher salary. “Shall we give you double?” Of course, yes! So I got 100,000 yen.

After that, the number of films I was starring in was on the increase, and at the same time directors required much more of the roles I was playing in their films. But I was getting paid accordingly, and my salary got higher and higher every year. My interest in cars was changing from the MG to more expensive cars, including Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Thunderbird, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, and the like. But I was happy that I was able to afford those luxury cars.

In my same age group, there’s an actor named Tatsuyoshi Ehara. He was a child star who grew up into a real star. Toho Studios thought that Mr. Ehara, Akira Takarada, and Akira Kubo were the actors who represented the nature of Toho movies, which is of high quality, entertaining, and family-oriented. But when Makoto Sato, who is Japan’s Richard Widmark — he’s a character — came in, the atmosphere of Toho movies started to change. I recently learned that when Makoto Sato and then I, Yosuke Natsuki, a sprightly young motorbike rider, joined Toho, everybody at the studio started to worry about the future course of Toho’s youth-oriented movies!

But after we started to appear in many different movies, the number of action movies was increasing versus salaryman stories or classical movies by (Toshiro) Mifune, which were traditional Toho movies. So we are the ones who created a new generation of action movies.

BH: That’s very interesting because I was going to ask you about Ankokugai no kaoyaku (a.k.a. The Big Boss, 1959). Please talk about working with (Kihachi) Okamoto as the director, and Mifune, (Yumi) Shirakawa, and (Akira) Takarada in this film.

YN: This particular movie, I don’t remember much! (laughs) Are you familiar with Kihachi Okamoto?

BH: Yes, I am.

YN: He actually clicked with Makoto Sato. So they worked together a lot. But, for some reason, the chemistry between Mr. Okamoto and me was not very good! (laughs)

BH: Really? Why not?

YN: (in English) I don’t know! (laughs) Mr. Okamoto was very good at action. When Kihachi Okamoto was an assistant director, he was very good at action. So he tried to show how to act to Makoto Sato, and Mr. Sato actually emulated exactly what he wanted. So I believe he liked him a lot. But I didn’t want to simply copy things Mr. Okamoto directed. That’s why I believe he didn’t like me much.

BH: So what was the relationship really with Sato and Okamoto? Would they socialize off-camera? How close were they?

YN: I believe they were very close, as they lived near one another. I heard they would drink together often.

I haven’t worked with Mr. Sato in a long time. Last October 14 (2012), in the city of Kitakyushu, which is a neighboring city of Saga Prefecture where Mr. Sato is from, I was invited to a film festival which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bridge there, Wakato Ohashi Bridge. After I came back, I tried to get a hold of Mr. Sato. But I couldn’t. After that, I finally got a hold of his son, and his son said that he had been hospitalized. Then I got a call from his son on January 7, saying that he passed away on December 6. The funeral was held only by his family. So I proposed doing a commemorative gathering for him, talking to the Toho alumni, and we decided we’re going to have a party for him on March 9 (2013).

BH: How about Hawaii Midway Daikaikusen: Taiheiyo no Arashi (a.k.a. I Bombed Pearl Harbor, 1960). You worked with (Shue) Matsubayashi, the director. Please talk about what you remember filming this and working with Matsubayashi.

YN: This movie was a troublesome shoot. In Taiheiyo no Arashi, which was one film before Taiheiyo no Tsubasa (a.k.a. Attack Squadron!, 1963), all the stars of Toho appeared in this movie. The story is about World War II, triggered by Pearl Harbor. They actually built a huge aircraft carrier in the Chiba area, and 20 aircraft flew out of that ship. Mr. Mifune was the commander of that.

In order to be real, they decided to have the aircraft fly from the carrier at the time when the actual fleet flew out of Japan to Pearl Harbor. But there was one aircraft which had engine trouble. So the mechanic tried to repair it, but because of some accident, he lost his finger. So all shooting was suspended. They tried to do the same thing again and again, but because of the continuous bad weather, they couldn’t shoot this scene. But, after all, we did it. During that time, I had to go to one island in Izu for location shooting. We went there, but because of the typhoon, we had to come back by ship. So we had lots of trouble during the shooting. It took well over three months.

Mr. Matsubayashi used to be a Navy officer during the war, so he wanted to warn people, the audience, that war shouldn’t be done. He always puts in a scene, a very important scene, to prohibit war. In the case of Taiheiyo no Arashi, he put in a scene at the very end, where within the sinking aircraft carrier, the commander played by Mr. Mifune and the captain of the fleet played by Mr. Jun Tazaki, were talking to each other, saying that we should never start a war like this again. That scene made this film very deep.

Of course, you know that Mr. Matsubayashi passed away, but one year before he passed away, he asked me to go see Taiheiyo no Arashi together, which was shown at a small theater in Asagaya. And we did. It was several decades after the movie was produced. But I was impressed by the movie. I am a big fan of Mr. Mifune. Mr. Mifune was still very, very impressive in that movie. When he says important lines, the camera shoots him diagonally from the back, which is usually shot from the front. So that scene was very nicely shot, and I really liked that scene. Mr. Matsubayashi said, “I know how Mr. Mifune is attractive in what camera angles.” So I think Mr. Matsubayashi loved Mr. Mifune’s acting and studied how to photograph him and which angles he should take.

Even now, my scenes are also very good. I myself was impressed by those scenes simply because I think Mr. Matsubayashi tried to get the most of me.

CIMG0087

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: My next movie is Dokuritsu Gurentai (a.k.a. Outlaw Outpost, 1959). This was a very early Okamoto movie. Please talk about what you remember filming this. Also, what were your initial impressions of Okamoto when you met him and his directing style. It was very different from most directors.

YN: My first impression of Mr. Okamoto was that he was a strange guy! (laughs) A weirdo! He was always wearing something black: black sunglasses, black clothing, black pants. Later on, I found out his coffee cups at home were all black.

Actually, his directing style was not for me. Mr. Okamoto’s movies are composed of fragmented cuts of about three seconds from “Action” to “Cut.” It takes six seconds in total from the start of shooting with the sound of a clapperboard through the finish of the scene, and a cut of three seconds from a six-second scene is used for the final product, which does not give an actor enough time to act.

I would prefer a long single shot like five minutes or even ten minutes, where the performance of actors involved in the scene could get more realistic and more intense.

BH: Who do you think was the most actor-friendly director? Whose directing style was best suited for actors?

YN: Hiroshi Inagaki and Yasuki Chiba. Let me talk about Mr. Chiba first. His direction was all written in the final script, which meticulously depicts every single cut. For instance, this cut should be a close-up, upper torso, or whole body shot, with some direction like the use of a crane or some other vehicle. There was absolutely no change on the set, and shooting went entirely as written. Therefore Mr. Chiba’s directing style was very favorable to new actors who were not accustomed to how shooting goes.

Mr. Inagaki, on the other hand, had a contrasting directing style. He would sit in the director’s chair placed far away from the camera, wearing a pair of black sunglasses. We couldn’t figure out how Mr. Inagaki responded to our acting at all. Which cut of a scene would be shot, when a dress rehearsal would be done, and when to get on to real shooting would be all cued in by a chief assistant director. Whether a scene is good or not was decided by him. So actors were always curious about knowing how Mr. Inagaki and his chief assistant director communicated to each other as to what decision to make. But we could never know how after all these years.

BH: My next question was about Osaka-jo Monogatari (a.k.a. Osaka Castle Story, 1961), with Inagaki, the director. Inagaki is famous for doing very big movies, and you worked with Mifune (Kyoko) Kagawa, and (Yuriko) Hoshi, many big stars. So please talk about Osaka-jo Monogatari or Inagaki in general.

YN: When it comes to Osaka-jo Monogatari, I’d like to talk a little bit about Mr. Mifune. As you know, Toshiro Mifune was the number-one star at Toho and a superstar in Japan. Nevertheless, he had never been late for shooting. He had never brought any scripts to the studio. He memorized all the lines. Despite his position, he didn’t have a chauffeur or an assistant. He would drive an old car called MG-TD 1953 model by himself every morning, sometimes with a lunch box prepared by his wife. His style penetrated into the whole studio, and all Toho actors emulated what Mr. Mifune was doing. They were never late for shooting, never brought scripts with them. This never happens in other studios.

I worked with Mr. Inagaki on many different movies. When it comes to historical films, we would go on location for a month or two for shooting. We would start shooting early in the morning and finish at five in the afternoon. After work, we went back to the hotel to drink, have dinner, and then play mahjong, which was a typical day. Since alcohol doesn’t agree with me, Mr. Inagaki might have thought that I’m not good at releasing stress and kindly suggested I bring three of my friends to play mahjong every time we had a long location shoot.

Thanks to Mr. Inagaki’s permission, I would play mahjong every night, but after this situation continued for ten days, twenty days, I started to worry about what was going on, because I was not called to play my part while other actors and staff members left for shooting every day. So one day I went to see what’s happening, and found that someone else wearing my costume was playing my part together with my scene partner. So, I asked Mr. Inagaki, “That’s my role, isn’t it? Why is this other actor playing it?” Then he replied, “A film is a magic, Yosuke. After location shooting, we will shoot close-up scenes at the studio and edit them together. So just relax and hang out with your friends.” After all, during this long location period, I spent only two days shooting my scenes, where I rode a horse and ran.

After we came back from locations, we started to shoot the close-up scenes at Toho Studios. There were scenes where Koshiro Matsumoto, who used to be known as Somegoro Ichikawa (he assumed his father’s name), and I were supposed to fight. Mr. Inagaki told me to put on Ichikawa’s costume, and the other way around. They filmed from a distance, so the audience wouldn’t know who they were. Only in the close-up scenes did we wear our own costumes. Then they edited them into the movie, and Mr. Inagaki asked me in a playful voice, “Can you tell which is you?” I couldn’t! That’s one of the fun things he did during the shooting. Mr. Inagaki was a fun director. During long shoots, he did that kind of mischievous thing a lot.

I appeared in Mr. Inagaki’s movies a lot. Every time I went somewhere in Japan outside of Tokyo, I was asked to bring three of my good friends.

CIMG0092

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: And Toho would pay for them?

YN: (in English) Yes, yes! (laughs) Everything!

BH: My next movie is kind of interesting because, in America at least, many people compare Inagaki to (Akira) Kurosawa. You were in Yojimbo (1961). So please talk about Yojimbo and working with Kurosawa.

YN: Mr. Inagaki’s works and Mr. Kurosawa’s works are both masterpieces. But the sets are as different as paradise and hell! Mr. Kurosawa is always in an angry mood. Only when he looks at Mr. Mifune does he smile. Other than that, he’s always angry. Mr. Kurosawa requires all the actors to be dressed up and made up and do dress rehearsals every single day with lighting and everything, but he doesn’t shoot. But every single day he repeated it. I was young, and I was kind of green, so I asked Mr. Kurosawa, “Why don’t you shoot? We are all ready.” He didn’t answer!

There’s a scene in Yojimbo when Mr. Mifune is entering a deserted town where he comes across yakuza mobsters, and the wind is blowing very heavily, and fallen leaves are blowing all over. Everybody was ready for shooting, but Mr. Kurosawa said, “Stop.” He picked up one leaf, and said, “This leaf didn’t match the others.” So Mr. Kurosawa went away, and everything was canceled. These leaves didn’t come from that tree. So a staff member went all the way to Nagano, located north of Tokyo, to find the right leaves for that tree in the studio!

A very old actor, Ikio Sawamura, was striking the bell all day long. The bell was hung in a very high place, so he had to climb up there, and every time we had a rehearsal, he had to go up there and strike the bell. Mr. Kurosawa repeatedly tested those scenes. One day Mr. Sawamura asked Mr. Kurosawa, “How many times should I hit the bell?” Then the director replied, “You have to keep hitting the bell until I say cut.” He rang the bell all day long until the bar got broken! If you closely watch that scene, after he hits it three times, it pans out. That’s how we perceived Mr. Kurosawa.

BH: My next question is about (Salaryman) Chushingura (1960). It’s another big film with many, many stars. So what do you remember about (it)?

YN: They usually put two films for one show, a costly feature film and an all-star movie like (Hisaya) Morishige’s comedies, especially for New Year’s Day and Obon, to draw a bigger audience.

I personally enjoyed every single day because I appeared in both the big movies and the salaryman movies at the same time. Mr. Inagaki, Mr. Kurosawa, and Mr. Honda were making movies in a very serious manner, but Mr. Matsubayashi is kind of a funny guy. Many comedians appeared in his salaryman series, like Keiju Kobayashi, Frankie Sakai, Norihei Miki, and Daisuke Kato. They can do whatever they want, so it’s very funny.

The director, Mr. Matsubayashi, persuaded the staff members never to laugh. So they have to try not to laugh until the director says cut. But he hardly says cut! So the comedians were doing whatever they wanted, and naturally it was so funny, and everyone wanted to burst into laughter, but they couldn’t. That lasted and lasted, and at the very end, Mr. Matsubayashi said cut, and everybody started to laugh, and it lasted about 30 minutes! (in English) So, every day, we enjoyed (it) so much!

BH: Which is your favorite Inagaki film? Would it be Osaka-jo Monogatari or another one?

YN: Yato kaze no naka o hashiru (a.k.a. Bandits on the Wind, 1961) and Gen to fudomyo-o (a.k.a. Gen and Acala, 1961).

BH: Did you work with Setsuko Hara?

YN: (in English) Yes.

BH: What was she like? She’s a very, very big star, so what was your impression?

YN: Very attractive. I had little chance to talk to her, but she was an elegant lady.

BH: Another war film with Mr. Matsubayashi is Taiheiyo no Tsubasa (a.k.a. Attack Squadron!). Once again, you worked with Mr. Matsubayashi on another war film. So please talk about what you remember from making this film.

YN: I watched the DVD a couple of days ago. This movie also rejects war. I was impressed by the scene where Makoto Sato got shot and couldn’t see. His subordinate, played by Kiyoshi Atsumi, guided him to land safely. That scene with Makoto Sato is very, very impressive. But there’s one funny scene, which I didn’t really appreciate, where Yuzo Kayama flew his fighter despite his boss’ objection. His fighter was a cutting-edge combat fighter after a Zero fighter, and he was aimed at by an American aircraft. At the very last moment, a Japanese fighter came to help him, but the pilot was Mr. Mifune, for some reason. Mr. Mifune was supposed to be the top of the top-ranking officials. Why was he flying the fighter at this point in time? I didn’t really like that scene.

CIMG0129

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What was Kayama like? What was he personally like away from the set?

YN: He is one year younger. I worked with Mr. Kayama, but I didn’t have a chance to talk with him closely.

BH: Another war film you worked on, Chintao yosai bakugeki meirei (a.k.a. Siege of Fort Bismarck, 1963), with Kengo Furusawa (as director). So please talk about working with Furusawa and working on another war film with him.

YN: I made my debut in Mikkoku-sha wa dare ka. Because it was my debut film, I had no idea what was happening on the set. All I could do was show up at 9:00 sharp at Toho Studios by motorbike. I commuted by motorbike. I was guided to go to the costume department and then makeup and then the studio. I was instructed by the director, “When you enter from that door, Ms. Yumi Shirakawa, your older sister, will be here and will say a line to you. When you hear her, you have to say this line. And then go out of the door this way.” That’s the direction given by the director, but the assistant director, Kengo Furusawa, said, “No, no, no. That’s not the way. You have to come out this way.” He would always say something opposite or different.

So there were often some conflicting things, and I didn’t know what to do and asked the director what I should do. Then the director said I should follow his instruction. As a result, Mr. Furusawa, the chief assistant director, didn’t show up the next day because of the conflict. During the day, he was there in the studio, but he was in the prop room, striking something with hammers. (laughs) Everybody was wondering, saying, “Why didn’t you come?” “Because I don’t agree with the director.” He didn’t come after all. But, in every scene in every film, he’d say something opposite.

But Kengo Furusawa’s way of directing is more real than the director. For instance, when I played a criminal who killed a policeman, I had to escape, and we used a Toho building. I had to climb the staircase to the roof of the building. There’s an elevator machine room on top of that. So I had to climb over there. I rehearsed the scene five times from the beginning, so I was exhausted by the time they did the shoot. But that’s what Mr. Furusawa wanted. When I was hiding in the trunk of a car, when I was confined in there, nobody can see me in there. So usually I would be let out of the trunk first, and then they shoot the car escaping and driving away. But Mr. Furusawa wanted me in the trunk during that scene. After I got out, I was exhausted. He wanted that type of realism.

BH: Which film was that, when you were in the trunk?

YN: It was Mikkoku-sha wa dare ka, my debut movie. As I mentioned before, Kihachi Okamoto, the director, dressed all in black all the time. On the other hand, Kengo Furusawa was always in all white all the time! Originally I thought he was a little weird, but when I was starring in my debut movie, there was a chase scene. I was chased by police, and I had to jump into the river, which runs through Toho Studios. There was a dirty river and drainage there. Before they shot this scene, Kengo Furusawa was instructed by the director to do the test scene. He was always in white clothing, so he was hesitant, but he actually did it. After that, I believed in him, and we became very close.

I appeared in many of Mr. Furusawa’s movies. He made lots of Crazy Cats (a comedy group) films. I very often worked together with Makoto Sato in his films. Every time I did NG (no-good) scenes, Mr. Furusawa scolded Makoto Sato instead of me. I would volunteer by saying that it was my fault, but Mr. Furusawa would say, “No, it was Mr. Sato’s fault. Because his acting is no good, you can’t respond to him properly. It is definitely his fault.”

Pale-san was his nickname. Mr. Furusawa used to be in the army, and he was a parachute trooper. There was a very famous incident in Palembang (a city in Indonesia), which was a battlefield. The Japanese army landed in Palembang by parachute. He was one of those troopers. The Japanese occupied (Indonesia) during World War II, so Palembang is the name of the city there. He proudly talked about it all the time, so everyone started to call him Pale-san. Later on, however, everybody learned that Mr. Furusawa didn’t actually land in Palembang by parachute. All the staff members of Toho would say, “Pale-san didn’t land in Palembang!” That’s why he’s called Pale-san.

BH: How did he actually get there? Was he actually there?

YN: (in English) Maybe! Not sure! (laughs) He’s an enthusiast for making movies, so he requires all the actors to be into it with real spirit and soul. If there’s soul in it, you can do anything. That’s the way he thought.

CIMG0098

Photo © Brett Homenick.

There are many intriguing stories about Mr. Furusawa. One episode is like this. One day he handed over a cut segmentation and a storyboard he printed out to all the actors and staff members one by one, saying, “Today I will shoot exactly as directed. So please follow them.” But I found some of the directions were not very natural and said to Mr. Furusawa, “This scene is a little difficult to act if I follow the direction. How about doing this way?” Then he said flatly, “No! Do as the direction says!” But I still had a hard time acting that scene, so I did it the way I thought natural and asked him if he liked my scene after shooting. Then he responded in a very soft voice, “Yeah, that is better, although it went well last night when I asked my wife to act.” This disclosed to everybody that he did his homework last night when he was storyboarding every single scene while his wife was trying to act for him to see if it was good. The whole studio was full of laughter!

BH: I also wanted to backtrack a little bit and ask you if, when you first joined Toho, if there was a sempai or someone who advised you and took you under his wing. Was there someone — an actor, maybe a director, or producer who was a mentor to you?

YN: Actually, in Toho culture, there’s no seniority system like in typical Japanese companies. All staff members, all actors, old and young, are all gentlemen. But the interesting thing is that there were two big stars: Ryo Ikebe and Toshiro Mifune. They were very opposite from each other in the sense that Mr. Mifune, as I mentioned before, would never be late, memorized all the lines, would never bring any scripts.  Ryo Ikebe, on the other hand, would say he would show up at 9:00, but would usually show up in the afternoon. He never memorized anything. They were two big stars. In other words, the young actors loved Mr. Mifune. He was the mentor and the ultimate goal for young actors. All the young actors came to see the filming of his scenes.

Well before I became an actor, there’s a famous story. In the film titled Ginrei no Hate (1947), which is a story about climbers, there were two leading actors in the film. During the shooting, all the staff members, the actors and everybody, carried very heavy equipment while climbing up the mountains. Mr. Mifune was the head honcho, and he was carrying the heaviest things by himself, and walking at the front of the group. In this movie, both Mr. Mifune and Ryo Ikebe starred in the film. Mr. Ikebe didn’t carry anything. So Mr. Mifune said, “Why don’t you carry something like the rest of us?” Mr. Ikebe said, “While you were in the war, you were just one of the soldiers. I was a high-ranking official.” So that’s why.

BH: Another film that you worked on is Chi to Diamonds (a.k.a. Blood and Diamonds, 1964). Jun Fukuda was the director. Do you remember Fukuda?

YN: In Mr. Fukuda’s debut film, I starred. But I can’t remember the title! (laughs) When a chief assistant director was promoted to director, I (usually) starred in his debut movie. (looks over his filmography for Chi to Diamonds) I don’t remember (this film)! (laughs)

BH: In general, what do you recall about Fukuda?

YN: He was a nervous type. He lost his temper very easily. I worked with him a lot. Jun Fukuda, Kengo Furusawa, and Eizo Sugawa were the chief assistant directors I promoted to director! (laughs) They wanted to use me because there was some potential for something new, I think.

CIMG0136

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about Uchu Daikaiju Dogora (a.k.a. Dogora the Space Monster, 1964). You worked with Honda on this, and you co-starred with Dan Yuma (or Robert Dunham). So what do you remember about Dogora, particularly Honda and Dan Yuma?

YN: (in English) Gentleman. (Mr. Honda) never shouts. He was always a gentleman, unlike others. I was never instructed to do this or that by Mr. Honda. Robert Dunham was not an actor. He was a car person. He was a racer and would drive a Hino Contessa in car races. Due to the contract with Toho, I was prohibited from doing any car races on motorbikes. I had just bought a Porsche 356C when I worked with Dan Yuma. We went to Shimoda, Izu, for location shooting. I just bought the Porsche 356C, so after dinner, I drove the Porsche on highways. And Dan Yuma drove a Hino Contessa. So both of us actually raced along the highways, the Porsche against the race car. As an actor, I thought he was an amateur. But he understood some Japanese. There were very few foreigners at that time, so the director probably didn’t require much.

BH: You also starred with (Hiroshi) Koizumi and (Akihiko) Hirata and Yoko Fujiyama. So please talk about working with Koizumi, Fujiyama, and some of the other co-stars.

YN: (Mr. Koizumi’s) role was always that of a gentleman, and his nature is that of a gentleman. Mr. Hirata is elite. Mr. Hirata is a gentleman, too, and his background is unique. He went to the Japanese version of West Point. After he was released, he entered the University of Tokyo. After graduation, he went to either Mitsui & Co. or Mitsubishi Corporation, both blue-chip general trading houses. I don’t remember which one, but he was an elite salaryman. He was smart and very good-looking and a gentleman as well.

After movies, I made my TV debut in Seishun Towa Nanda (a.k.a. Is This Youth?, 1965), which was one of the biggest hits on TV. My co-star was Yoko Fujiyama, but I didn’t remember we played together in the film! (laughs) So I said, “How do you do?” Then she went, “I co-starred with you in some movies in the past.” It was kind of embarrassing! (laughs)

I didn’t realize that I played the role intended for Mr. Hirata, Professor Hayashida, in Godzilla (1984). Only when the Godzilla fans came to Japan (for G-TOUR 2011) did I find out. If I had known that, I probably couldn’t have done that role. There could have been a lot of pressure on me because of Mr. Hirata, but I didn’t know that, so I was lucky to play that role.

I watched Godzilla (1984) the day before yesterday for this meeting. I enjoyed it. In 1985, I started to go to Africa for the Paris-Dakar Rally. I did that for eight years. I didn’t work during that time. I was racing in the desert. At that time, the movie industry in Japan was declining. On the other hand, TV was going up. But I didn’t realize it because I was in the rough!

BH: One of your biggest kaiju movies was San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen (a.k.a. Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, 1964). You were Detective Shindo in that (film). So please talk about what you remember about working on (Ghidrah), which is a very popular kaiju movie.

YN: (searches his filmography, doesn’t remember the movie) I appeared in seven movies in 1964!

BH: From that movie, two actors who are very well known are (Akiko) Wakabayashi and (Takashi) Shimura…

YN: Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Shimura are always in the kaiju movies. The Peanuts! I now remember! (laughs) I remember Dogora more.

Mr. Shimura was an old, well-seasoned actor, and he was always in Mr. Kurosawa’s movies. That’s the impression I have. But, looking back, he must have been younger than I am now. He didn’t talk much, but he was a nice older man. Toho wanted Akiko Wakabayashi to be a real star until she appeared in the 007 movie (You Only Live Twice, 1967). She was talented, but she was not a huge star. There were not many actresses at Toho at that time: Reiko Dan, Yuriko Hoshi…

BH: Kumi Mizuno, Mie Hama, Yumi Shirakawa…

YN: Yumi Shirakawa and Yoko Tsukasa are good stars, very good actresses. Actors and actresses didn’t have a chance to chat with each other because everything was divided into male and female sections. So, when we’d go somewhere else, we’d reserve different planes, different trains. Then we’d just meet each other at the site.

There was an agreement among the five film studios (Toho, Toei, Nikkatsu, Daiei, and Shochiku) that they wouldn’t lend their actors and actresses to other studios. We didn’t have a chance to get to know the actresses, unfortunately. But, every year, there was a baseball game. Only in this annual baseball game would we actually see in person other actresses from other studios. In reality, we didn’t have a chance to meet and talk with the actresses.

BH: So there’d be a baseball game that was played by all the studios?

YN: Yes.

BH: Every year?

YN: Yes. It was fun.

BH: When the contract system ended at Toho in 1970, I believe, please talk about when you left Toho and when your contract ended, and please talk about the end of your being contracted at Toho.

YN: The film industry had been declining at that time, so nobody wanted to enter into a contract. But, before the system ended, I went to Mifune Productions.

BH: I see. What year?

YN: (searches filmography)

BH: When I talked to Kumi Mizuno, she left Toho in, I think, 1966. I noticed that you left Toho, too. Is there a reason that some of the stars left Toho? Were they not satisfied with the roles, or did they want more freedom?

YN: I probably left around the same time. After the five-company agreement ended, everybody was kind of free, but still everybody thinks that the grass is greener on the other side. Many actors were not satisfied with their contracts, so they left. If the industry were improving, there would be room for negotiation, so they could have stayed. But, at that time, there was no improvement in the industry, so people left. I probably left in 1966.

CIMG0083

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Why did you decide to join Mifune Productions?

YN: I had an actor-friend named Shinsuke Achiha. (Shinsuke Achiha is best known in America as Ultra Garrison member Soga from Ultra Seven, 1967-68.) He was not a major star, but when I was asked to take care of this young actor, I was starring in Seishun Towa Nanda, one of the biggest hits on TV. So Mr. Achiha was cast as the captain of a baseball team at the school. This was a high school story. But, every three months, they replaced all the students to keep it fresh. So he had to graduate from the role in three months, but he wanted to be there. He asked the director to have him drop out, but the offer was declined! He was actually out, and he was not placed with any roles after that. He attributed that to his management company, and he kept saying that because he was not blessed with good managers, he was a struggling actor.

So he wanted to be a manager after all. He asked Raita Ryu and me to be our manager. At that time, I came across Mr. Mifune, who suggested I join Mifune Productions and work together with them. Then I talked to Mr. Ryu and Mr. Achiha about Mr. Mifune’s offer, and the three of us decided to go to Mifune Productions. I really respected Mr. Mifune.

In those days, Alain Delon, a French actor who was very popular in Japan, was represented in Japan by Mifune Productions. But, while I was with Mifune Productions, there were many problems! Mr. Achiha, Junichi Tanaka, and maybe Mr. Ryu, too, wanted to make another production company for actors. Apparently, there was a conflict of interest between the production department and the actors department. I kind of agreed to their idea, and the next day I went to Mr. Mifune and asked his opinion because he’s an actor as well as CEO of Mifune Productions. He said he never heard that plan, and he was shocked to hear it.

So Mr. Achiha, Mr. Tanaka, and Mr. Ryu wanted to make their own production company, separate from Mifune Productions, because Mifune Productions had just arranged for Alain Delon to appear in a clothing commercial for D’Urban which made a big profit. So, I think with that money, they wanted to make another production company. And they did after all. But a new young actress, Keiko Takeshita, who is very famous now, stayed together with me at Mifune Productions. The new company was called Actors Promotion. They enjoyed (success for) some period but ultimately disappeared, and Mr. Achiha committed suicide (in 2007).

BH: Certainly G-Men ’75 was a big hit. Talk about the impact that G-Men ’75 had on television at the time.

YN: At first, Toho wanted to produce Taiyo ni Hoero! for TV, and they wanted to use Yujiro Ishihara (a popular leading actor from Nikkatsu Studios) as the new star. I was starring in Tokyo Bypass Directive (1968-70). Taiyo ni Hoero! was a police drama based on the Tokyo Bypass story, although the title was different, and the producer probably thought that if he would use me as the lead role in the new series, it would make no difference.

At that time, there was an offer for G-Men ’75 at Toei to me, but I never appeared in anything other than the films and TV programs of Toho and Mifune Productions. So I was wondering what to do. Toei said that a series of shows they had produced were not very successful, so this time they wanted to make G-Men ’75 a big hit with me. I accepted this offer because Mr. Yu Fujiki, whom I’ve known for a long time, would also appear in this show. I wanted to co-star with him.  

Toei had been using Mr. Fujiki because his color was different from Toei’s. He was more like a Toho type. He wasn’t a leading actor; he was more of a supporting actor. But I was comfortable with him being there, and I liked the concept of the show, and the producer’s enthusiasm made me accept G-Men ’75.

BH: The next thing (I’d like) to talk about is Godzilla ’84. Of course, it’s a big feature film, and directed by (Koji) Hashimoto. Please talk about working with Mr. Hashimoto and what you remember filming Godzilla ’84.

YN: I didn’t know that Mr. Hashimoto was a director. If I remember correctly, he was in the production department. He was a serious man. I watched Godzilla, and I thought it was good. But I think if Mr. Honda would have directed it, it could have been a totally different film, an interesting one. Mr. Hashimoto made this movie only, but I wanted him to make more movies.

And then I went to Africa for rally racing, so I don’t really know what was happening around that time.

BH: What about Ken Tanaka, Shin Takuma, and Yasuko Sawaguchi?

YN: Ken Tanaka and Shin Takuma had been actors at that time, so they were good actors. But this was Yasuko Sawaguchi’s second film. So she was a new actress, not as good as she is now.

BH: Do you have any other memories, anything that stands out during the filming?

YN: All the actors at Toho are so serious and diligent, so there are no funny stories. They are very well educated and very well behaved and gentlemen. So it’s not worth mentioning. It’s been over 50 years since I’ve entered the movie industry. I’ve seen many different people. I’m very happy to be an actor because I’ve been doing this all my life.

CIMG0160

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: One of your more recent films was Guilala (a.k.a. Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit, 2008), with (Minoru) Kawasaki.

YN: (laughs) All of a sudden, he showed up at my office, asking me to appear in the film. I asked him what the story was about, and he said, “It’s called Guilala.” I declined the offer. Then we had a year-end party, and he showed up. (laughs) He was seated next to me. “Please, please!” He said that Susumu Kurobe and Bin Furuya miss me, and I read the script. “No, thank you.” He came here every single day. So I did it after all.

In the movie, prime ministers from all over the world discuss how to battle Guilala. It’s a summit. There were a lot of foreign actors. Those actors live in Japan. They are amateur actors. It caused some problems after all. There’s a big conference room in Gotemba. It’s a beautiful conference hall. The foreign actors looked like the actual heads of state! They were lookalike actors. I presumed that it would take time, probably, because they were amateur actors. However, I found them very good; they had quality techniques I’ve never seen before. The person who played Mitterand was an Iranian who doesn’t speak French at all. As a French voice actor was speaking for Mitterand, the Iranian actor was lip-synching to him. This technique was new to me and very impressive. I really enjoyed being part of this movie since I did my very best, although the level of the movie is kind of low and naturally ended up an okay movie! There was neither SFX nor computer graphics because it was low-budget.

BH: Takeshi Kitano did the voice of Take-Majin.

YN: (laughs) When Toho makes a movie, they can employ all the Self-Defense Forces equipment, like submarines and helicopters and aircraft. But, with a low-budget movie, it’s hard, so you can tell.

BH: In conclusion, would you have any final comments for your fans? Would you like to say what you’re working on now?

YN: I feel that there’s something wrong with the entertainment industry in Japan. Only comedians who look like amateurs become very popular for some reason. They sing a song and appear in big-budget movies and TV shows. I feel there is something wrong, so my friends and I want to correct the orbit of the entertainment business to a deeper, more serious one. I feel it’s a mission I have.

A few years ago, I was offered to appear in a Korean film, Seducing Mr. Robin (a.k.a. Seducing Mr. Perfect, 2006), and I went to South Korea. I was so impressed by the high level of the crew. The cameramen and lighting crew all learned in Hollywood how to make films. Their quality is much higher than the Japanese, and there’s no comparison.

As far as the movie industry is concerned, we used to do this level of work in Japan, too, but in Korea the Confucius thought is still there. So the seniority system is still there. I was one of the oldest actors. My role was the Japanese automobile company president, and I was standing so that the suit I was wearing wouldn’t get any wrinkles. So I was standing all the time while waiting for my scenes. When I stood, all the other crew members stood, too. I asked them, “Why don’t you sit?” They answered, “Because you’re standing.” Once I had a seat, everybody sat down! I also asked them, “Why don’t you guys smoke?” They answered, “Because you’re not smoking.” So when I smoked, everybody did, too. All the Japanese studios used to have that kind of tradition, but there are no such manners anymore. So I was impressed by the fact that they still abide by those rules, and also the quality of techniques learned in Hollywood by the young cameramen and lighting people. I was impressed by the Korean film industry.

I was invited to appear in two Filipino movies. I’ve heard of how a movie star was treated in the good old days, but a similar custom still remains in Philippines, and I was treated like an old-time star, e.g., at the same time the director says “Cut,” a chair, a table, an ashtray, a parasol, coffee, and sometimes a masseur come to me. When shooting is ready, an assistant director comes to pick me up and drive to the location. Soon after I arrive there, the director says “Now we’ll be shooting,” without any rehearsal. I learned a stand-in for my role already rehearsed before my arrival. So I asked my stand-in to perform my role for my reference and then acted before the camera. It was an unusual system, but I enjoyed shooting in the Philippines in their way. I highly recommend that young actors go abroad like I did, including Hollywood.

FROM ULTRA SEVEN TO THE OLYMPICS! Terry Farnsworth on His Acting Career in Japan and Beyond!

IMG_2237

The cast and crew of Ultra Seven is all smiles in Kobe! From left to right: Sandayu Dokumamushi, Pointer driver Mr. Koyama, Linda Hardisty, Koji Moritsugu, Bin Furuya, Yuriko Hishimi, Terry Farnsworth, and Shoji Nakayama. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

Fans of the superhero series Ultra Seven (1967-68) from Tsuburaya Productions should know the name Melvin Webb. In episodes 14 and 15 of the series, Melvin Webb is a Secret Service agent sent to Kobe, Japan, to help keep the Earth safe from King Joe and his evil alien forces.

In this interview, we will get to know the man behind Melvin Webb: Terry Farnsworth.

Terry Farnsworth was born on August 27, 1942. After graduating high school and attending a couple of years of a pre-college program in Canada, he left for Japan at age 20. Originally, Mr. Farnsworth went to Tokyo for three months but eventually stayed for six years.

After earning his black belt in Montreal (and after getting cold feet about at engagement at 19 years old), he came to Tokyo to pursue judo. After leaving Japan, he returned to the family textile business, which at the time was experiencing some problems. In order to turn things around, Mr. Farnsworth transformed into a leather-skin importing business, and as a result traveled all over the world importing leather skins. Ultimately, it became the third-largest leather importing business in Canada. Eventually, Mr. Farnsworth began liquidating the business and invested in a start-up company in Montreal, which provided him with a hefty windfall. For the last 25 years, most of his income has come from trading in the stock market.

Aside from his work in Ultra Seven, Mr. Farnsworth appeared as an extra in The Green Slime (1968), battled onscreen with the legendary Japanese star Ken Takakura in The Drifting Avenger (1968), and had a small part in Cary Grant’s last movie, Walk Don’t Run (1966). In his first interview about his entertainment career in Japan, Mr. Farnsworth spoke to Brett Homenick for Vantage Point Interviews.

Brett Homenick: Please take me back to the events that led up to your coming to Japan.

Terry Farnsworth: Basically, I wasn’t happy being in the family business. I was a bit of a rebel. I became engaged to get married, and I came to the realization that I was too young. I’d just gotten my black belt in judo, so I thought a great place to go would be Tokyo and pursue my judo, which I did, and never looked back.

IMG_2292

Terry Farnsworth poses as a gunslinger in the Ken Takakura vehicle The Drifting Avenger (1968). Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Drifting Avenger © 1968, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: So how did you know where to go?

TF: Well, in the judo circles at that time, Kodokan (Judo Institute) was like the Mecca, and foreigners came from all over the world to practice there. So we knew where to go. I was fortunate that I had a girlfriend at that time, a sort-of girlfriend, that happened to be on the same boat as me. I took a boat from Vancouver to Yokohama. She happened to be on it, a total coincidence, and she was third-generation sansei Japanese but could speak the language. So she and I lived together for a while, and of course she was able to find the place to live, and she could speak Japanese, so it was quite easy for me at that time.

When I was over there, I enrolled in Naganuma School of Japanese. I was going to school three hours a day every day studying, so I picked up the language fairly rapidly. I was also immersed in a total Japanese atmosphere. I was the only foreigner to train in judo at Chuo University. Nobody spoke English. So we had the guy talk, my girlfriend with the feminine talk, and at school you got the basics. So I picked it up fairly fast.

IMG_2248

Terry Farnsworth and Robert Horton pal around on the set of The Green Slime (1968). Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Green Slime © 1968, Toei Co., Ltd.

BH: While you were in Japan in the beginning, you were practicing judo, you were going to school. What other activities were you doing at that time?

TF: Judo, karate, teaching English, and then I got discovered in a bathhouse (laughs) in Kasumicho, just off of Roppongi where I was living and became a movie actor.

BH: Well, tell me about that meeting. Who discovered you, and what did they say to you?

TF: So here we are, sitting in the ofuro, and as you know, it’s women on one side, and men on the other side. Then there’s a row of buckets that all the guys would sit on. We’d shave, rinse ourselves off, and wash ourselves before going into the hot tub.  As I was sitting there shaving, this fellow (Eddie Arab) with a beard came behind me. I could see him through the mirror. He said, “Oh, you very handsome. Are you American?” That’s with his thing dangling three inches from my ear! I said, “No, actually, I’m Canadian.” “Oh, you very handsome. You should be movie star!” I said, “Yes, thank you. Everybody tells me that.” So he tells me he’s a movie agent, and I go, “Yeah, yeah, okay, that’s nice.”

IMG_2239

Terry Farnsworth, Linda Hardisty, Shoji Nakayama, and Yoshio Tsuchiya react to Ultra Seven’s heroics. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

A day later, I see him outside my apartment with his wife and his brand-new baby, strolling in a carriage. It turns out he is a movie agent and legitimate! So I go up to his apartment, and we have a discussion. Three weeks later, I’m the star of a movie called Lala in Fog. Now Lala in Fog was considered to be a blue movie in those times. Not sex, but blue. Lala was the name of the actress, and there’s only two of us in the movie – her and I – and it was a narrated film. Lala was a half-white, half-Japanese stripper at the Nichigeki Theater, I think. Gorgeous body, by the way! Didn’t speak a word of English. We went up to Bandaisan (Mount Bandai) with the movie crew for three weeks on location. First time I had ever shot a movie. It was a great, great experience – really nice people. She was naked on the beautiful white stallion, which was a white farm horse that the farmer rented to the movie people. But I always held the reins, so they had to cut the reins part out of the production.

IMG_2297

An alluring scene from Lala in Fog, Terry’s first movie. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth.

That was that! We shot that movie in three weeks. Great fun. This movie was so stupid that it was actually hysterical. I was catching butterflies in my little shorts in the forest when she appeared as an apparition out of the ocean or out of the river, and I fell down a 120-foot cliff, which I by the way for $7 a day I think I was getting paid at that time, refused to fall down 120-foot cliff, and we compromised on a seven-foot hill. And then she nursed me back to health. That was that movie.

I took my friends who came from Canada just as the movie was being shown. I took them to see it. Took a taxi to Shinjuku, took about a half an hour to find the movie theater. Even though my billboard was there – I actually had a billboard with my picture on it – I paid the fee. There was another movie on before. By the way, you had to go through a kitchen downstairs, and there was a movie theater that sat about 200 people. After the first movie, out of 200 people, there were maybe 50 people left. When my movie finished, I thought I should walk out with my coat over my head so nobody should recognize me! That’s how good it was! So that was my first foray into movies.

Then I found a different agent called Johnny Yusuf. I did a lot of TV work. I did Attchan, which was a kids’ show, in Kamakura. I did some gangster movies. I forget who was in that, but all quite famous Japanese actors. I had a small part in Walk Don’t Run (1966) with Cary Grant and Samantha Eggar, which I kind of talked my way into. I was an Olympic walker in that one. The best movie was from Toho. (The Drifting Avenger was) a cowboy movie starring Ken Takakura, who’s died now. He was a great, great guy. I had to get interviewed at Toho, and they said, “Can you ride a horse?” I said, “Excuse me, have you ever been to Montreal? It’s all ranches. I grew up on horses!” So I got the part! They took five foreigners out, and they used stunt men for the other four. They wanted to use one for me, but I actually could ride a horse, so I had a great time. That was a great movie. Again, we spent about three weeks on location in a town called Tamworth (Australia). That was a real movie. It had stagecoaches. I got killed in a shootout with Ken Takakura. A stunt man was falling off a 60-foot water tower into cardboard boxes when he got shot. We just had a great time.

IMG_2291

Behind the scenes of The Drifting Avenger, filmed on location in Australia. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Drifting Avenger © 1968, Toho Co., Ltd.

I almost got killed there because we were driving from Tamworth to Sydney, and a 17-year-old stunt driver who was Australian hit an oil slick in the road. The car almost ran into a 40-foot van, but he managed to miss that. We went down an embankment. The car turned over twice. It was the first year they came out with seat belts with shoulder straps, so I put it on as a giggle because I’d never had a shoulder-strap seat belt on, which saved my life because we ended up upside-down in the car. I opened my eyes, and Johnny’s sitting there upside-down moaning, and I said to him, “Johnny, Johnny, are you okay?” He said, “Ooohhhh…” I said, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” “Oooooh, it’s a brand-new car, and when my parents find out, they’re going to kill me!” Then we walked out, crawled out the back window. We were okay, got a little banged up, but made it back, finished the movie. That was it. There were a few other small parts. Usually, I was the bad guy or a soldier in the army. But that was basically the career. Then I got married in Tokyo. My first wife was a fashion model, Japanese. Then we spent a two-month honeymoon back to Montreal.

IMG_2255

Terry’s first wife, fashion model Toshiko “Tina” Sato. Photo © Terry Farnsworth.

BH: Let’s go back to Ken Takakura. Did you get to spend much time around him, and if so, what do you recall about being around him?

TF: We spent a lot of time together. We were all in this hotel. Ken Takakura was hysterical. He spoke perfect because he’d lived in London for a while – or England. He had put – I don’t know if I should even tell you this one! – but he had bugged the director’s room, and the bug came on to the radio in his room. (The Drifting Avenger was directed by Junya Sato.) So he could turn on the radio and hear what they were talking about. We all sat around and listened because he said, “This is important for my career! I must know what’s happening.” (laughs) So he was secretly bugging the conversations so he’d know what was going on, but he was a great guy and an excellent, great actor, also. A lot of fun and a wonderful human being. He only got upset with me because the makeup girl was from Hong Kong, and somehow I ended up with her when he was trying everything to get her. One day, we sat there, and he said, “I don’t understand how you get this girl. I’m famous actor, and I try to catch her, but you get her. How you do this?” I didn’t really have an answer for him. I did, but I didn’t want to tell him! (laughs) And that was it.

IMG_2290

Another behind-the-scenes look at The Drifting Avenger. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Drifting Avenger © 1968, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: This is really fascinating. Do you have any other stories about Mr. Takakura and what he was like?

TF: Not really. I used to meet him at the gym sometimes.  He went to Clark Hatch’s gym in Roppongi for a while. I remember a couple of years later I ran into him. The only thing I could tell you is, the first day I met him to the end, he was a complete gentleman, very confident in himself and his abilities. For instance, in the movie with Cary Grant, Cary Grant was a complete snob. If you got caught taking a picture of him, you’d be fired off the set immediately. Ken Takakura was completely the opposite. He was accessible, he was a gentleman, he was nice to talk to, he was fun if you’d eat supper together. Very nice man. I have absolutely nothing bad to think about him or say about him.

BH: Do you remember the director on this Western film you made in Australia?

TF: No, not a bit. I’m going back 50 years, don’t forget! I really don’t remember.

BH: Let’s go back even further. Johnny Yusuf, talk about him and your relationship with him. What was he like to do business with, and what he was like away from business?

TF: Johnny, I think, was Turkish if I’m not mistaken. A big guy. He was like a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He was a legitimate. He’d arrange an interview, I’d go for it, and I’d either get the job or not. And I would get paid. I forget if the money came through him or directly from whoever I was working for at the time. I knew him quite well. I think we had supper a couple of times. Nothing special to say either way. He seemed like a nice guy. He was connected in the movie trade. Based on that, he got me jobs, and I had a good time.

BH: You also worked with Eddie Arab. Is that correct?

TF: Yeah. Eddie was a different kind of guy. (laughs) He looked like an Arab; he had a big, long beard. He was married to a Japanese. He was my next-door neighbor. He also had a modeling agency. Very nice guy. Like I say, my neighbor; we’d talk a lot. Didn’t socialize particularly, but again, one of the guys who helped me. Even when I came back to Japan, I went to his office and met him. We remembered each other, and we chatted, and that was about it.

BH: Let’s talk about Ultra Seven now, which of course is your best-known credit around the world. If you remember how you got cast in that, please tell us.

TF: I really don’t. It was probably through Yusuf. Honestly, I don’t remember how I got cast. I only remember going to Kobe, I guess, and being impressed with the car, which that ultra-modern kind of car at the time. But I don’t remember how I was chosen, only there was two of us – the young American girl and myself.

IMG_2259

The cast and crew of Ultra Seven, on location in Kobe. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

I did see it briefly on TV. The crew was great. The cast – I forget the actors’ names – they were famous, I know that. Great guys, really fun guys. We’d go out and party after, go out for supper, drinks. Nice people to be around. I was very impressed with all the Japanese actors, especially the more famous ones, because they didn’t have that stuck-up or that I’m-better-than-everybody philosophy that many of the American actors had.

FullSizeRender

Ultra Garrison springs into action whenever danger arises! Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

Then again, I met some of the American actors in the top echelon that I did small parts, such as Richard Jaeckel or such as Robert Horton, who were great, fun guys, also. So it was individuals; some people would be nice and some not. A lot of the parts I had weren’t big, but they were decent. For me, it was all fun. I appreciated it wasn’t that hard to become an actor in Japan because they needed white people. It was like doing judo; the more movies I did, the better I got at it! I didn’t take it that seriously. I took it as total enjoyment and had a great deal of fun. Once you’re in that environment, you get swept up into it. My daughter’s doing the same thing right now. She just finished a movie in Malaysia. She was a month on location.

IMG_2241

Actress Yuriko Hishimi (Anne Yuri) enjoys a break on the set of Ultra Seven. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: Do you have any particular memories about shooting in Kobe during that time?

TF: Yeah, just generally. I remember the crew was very cool. The one funny thing I remember is, I forget which actor it was, but he was one of the famous ones, and he decided we should all go out for supper, and we went to catch a taxi. It was the busy hour, and the taxis don’t stop unless you hold up two fingers like paying them double, so he got pissed off and started throwing rocks at the taxis when they wouldn’t stop! (laughs) Nothing major, it was a fun time, good shoot. I never realized that this TV series was anything that special. I knew it was popular, but that 50 years later we’re talking about it surprises me! (laughs)

IMG_2242

Actress Linda Hardisty (Dorothy Anderson) enjoys a bento lunch in Kobe. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: There was a story that while filming in Kobe, a lot of the cast and perhaps some of the crew were out late at night, going to dinner, having a party, and at the hotel there was a curfew, so when they all tried to return to the hotel, they actually couldn’t go inside and were locked out for the night.

IMG_2240

Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

TF: No, I don’t recall anything about that. Maybe I wasn’t with them that night. I remember staying someplace where they had a curfew. That was very common in ryokans, business hotels.

IMG_2261

The fate of the world hangs in the balance in this sequence from Ultra Seven. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: Do you remember working with the fishing pole?

TF: Now that you mention it, I was a Secret Service agent, and I was spying on something. In the script, I was supposed to look innocuous and be fishing while I was actually checking out whatever. I haven’t even thought of that in 50 years until you brought it up. Vaguely I remember something about that.

BH: Any memories of director Mr. (Kazuho) Mitsuda on Ultra Seven?

TF: None.

BH: Do you have any general memories of any of the studios you worked at, for example, Toho, Daiei, Toei, Tsuburaya Productions?

TF: Well, the only one I recall is Toho. I don’t have any real memories; I just remember being interviewed by about five or six Japanese, sitting around talking to them, probably in English because they didn’t think foreigners could really speak Japanese in those days. Nothing really comes to mind. I was impressed with the studio, Toho. That was the first major studio that I’d gotten a part in a movie for. I’d never been interviewed for any major studios, per se. So no real recollections of it.

BH: Why did you end up leaving Japan?

TF: My father’s business took a major bankruptcy, and my father was old and retired, basically. My mother was running it. One, they asked me to come back, so I did. Two, I was working for a real estate company in Japan, and in ’67 I was making about $4,000 a month commissions, which was huge money in those days. I was a Canadian working from the third floor of a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo, selling Florida real estate to American GIs during the time of the Vietnam War.  I was the pitchman as well as the salesperson. So I was making pretty good money, and then the company closed up. They went bankrupt. There was nothing I could really do in Tokyo to make that kind of money anymore, so I went home and got back into the business and changed it into a leather-skin business. Through my connections, I started importing leather from Japan. I would take my customers’ products to Japan and sell them. So that’s how I was able to maintain my contacts in Japan.

IMG_2249

On the set of The Green Slime. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Green Slime © 1968, Toei Co., Ltd.

The main reason I left was, I was then fifth-degree judo, and I wanted to compete. In order to compete, I had to go back to Canada, obviously. So I ended up being in the Olympics and world championships and competed internationally for five years. That was also one of the main reasons I went back because I’d been studying judo for all these years; now I wanted to see what I could do with it back in Canada.

BH: You were there in ’72 (at the Olympics in Munich during the hostage crisis).

TF: Yeah, I was 50 feet away. I saw that famous picture, the Arab with the mask, standing on the balcony. I saw the guy. I mean, we had to run underneath where the Israelis were, and one of my buddies had an Israeli friend, went to visit him, and he came back at 1:30 in the morning, and the terrorists came in at about 3:00. So he was an hour and a half away from being dead himself. That was horrible. We were 50 feet away from the whole thing.

IMG_2247

Terry and Richard Jaeckel have a good time on the set of The Green Slime. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Green Slime © 1968, Toei Co., Ltd.

One interesting story was, separating us was the Korean housing, and when it first happened, I walked down to the Korean apartments, and I saw the door open in one apartment. I see a Korean guy sitting in the window with his rifle, facing the Arabs or where the Israelis were held. He told me he was an ex-American Marine, but he was a Korean citizen. He was on the rifle team. He said, “I’m going to get one of those f*cking Arabs!” (laughs) But they came and took his rifle away! (laughs) I was there for the whole thing and saw everything.

That’s it! I’ve had quite some events.

 

MEMORIES FROM THE BLACK HOLE! Goro Mutsumi Opens Up About His Acting Career!

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

The Showa-era Mechagodzilla films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), are two of the most popular entries in the Godzilla franchise. One of the main reasons for their widespread popularity is the performance of Mr. Goro Mutsumi, who portrays the alien leader from the third planet in the Black Hole in both movies. However, there is much more to Mr. Mutsumi than Mechagodzilla.

Born on September 11, 1934, Mr. Mutsumi grew up in wartime Japan. Although his early life was difficult, he eventually found success as an actor, working for the major studios of Japan, such as Toho and Daiei. In the 1960s, Mr. Mutsumi was a prolific voice actor and provides the voice of Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) in the Japanese release of War of the Gargantuas (1966). Onscreen, Mr. Mutsumi appears in such films as Kihachi Okamoto’s The Battle of Okinawa (1971), Espy (1974), The War in Space (1977). He also was a regular on Tsuburaya Productions’ TV series Fireman (1973).

Mr. Mutsumi is amazed to hear that his acting roles are celebrated by Godzilla fans in North America, so he was excited to share his stories with his American fans. Mr. Mutsumi spoke with Brett Homenick about his life and career. The translation was provided by Asako Kato.

Brett Homenick: Please describe your early life, growing up. What memories do you have from your early days?

Goro Mutsumi: When I was a child, Japan was in a very hard time. There was nothing to play with, nothing to eat, nothing. So every day I went to school, we didn’t study; we trained like in a boot camp, army training. So my classmates and I were beaten up by the teachers with a shinai, a bamboo sword for martial arts. There are no good memories from that life. I was one of those military-like kids.

BH: How old were you during this time when the boot camp situation was occurring? At what age were they preparing you for military and army life?

GM: As soon as we entered elementary school, which now would be six years old to 12 years old. At that time, the calculation of age was a little different. It would probably be about from eight to 11. But, watching the kids nowadays, they are so young and little and naive, but at that time, I was already in boot camp for the army.

BH: Well, certainly it sounds like a very rough time, but during those days, was there anything that you enjoyed doing, a hobby or anything of that sort? Any games, or did you have friends?

GM: You may know the word sokai, or evacuation, which is, during the war, many families and schools were forced to move to the countryside, outside of Tokyo. But we had a house, and the house was held by the father and usually the mother. The first son and the father stayed at home after they decided to go to sokai, or evacuation home. I was the second son, so my siblings, mother, and I moved to Yonago, Tottori Prefecture. But all we did, my mother and I, from the morning till the evening, was look for food, walking eight kilometers one way every single day. We tried to get potatoes; there was no rice available at that time. Rice is a staple food, but it was not available, so usually we got some vegetables, mainly potatoes. So all we could think of was food, how to secure food for my family. So there was no dream whatsoever.

You could call it one of my hobbies, but in order to get protein, I started fishing. I took the train for 30 minutes to go to a very famous fisherman’s village, Sakaiminato, Port of Sakai. I started to fish because fish are available all the time. I was very happy at that time. I was so into fishing then because when I was waiting and fishing, I was so into it and happy that I couldn’t think about other things. So maybe that was my hobby at that time.

BH: During this time, did you think you would end up with a military career? What were you thinking, realistically, would be your profession?

GM: Every single day we were forced to work for the military and the country of Japan. So one day we went to a pine tree forest and then cut the tree to get the sap with a can underneath the tree. We did this in order to supply it to the army. It was kind of a ridiculous thing to do, but all those things were stipulated in the curriculum in my elementary school days. So there was no choice, no room for thinking about the future. I was always thinking about how to live through today.

Japan was a very poor country, but still they started the war. The citizens of Japan in general were very poor, but the kids of that time thought it was the natural way of things. We were born in that environment. Still, we always had to find food all the time. So even after World War II ended in 1945, 10 years after that Japan had been very poor. That is because Tokyo was burned down by the war. All the cities (in Tokyo) were burned down due to the U.S. air raids. So we had to organize things together first from completely burnt ruins. There was no food, no textbooks, no buildings. So, sitting on the ground with no textbooks, we started junior high school. During the first grade of junior high school (which is the seventh grade), I came back to Tokyo. But, up until about 1955, 10 years after the war ended, we were very poor and always starved. There was nothing to play with.

BH: How did you discover acting as a possible profession?

GM: At that time, when I came back from sokai, one thing that everybody was happy about was that there was no more compulsory labor. So we children did not have to work anymore, from morning till night. But everything was still in ashes. There were no textbooks or toys or anything.

The teachers at that time were superb and excellent. One of the teachers was trying to teach drama, how to act, in order to give students a dream. At that time, children never dreamt of anything since they were born. It was very stimulating to the kids. I was lucky to be in that group because we were always asked by other groups, “Why are you guys so delightful?” It was thanks to that teacher. That’s how I got interested in drama.

BH: Do you remember that teacher’s name?

GM: (laughs) I’m trying to remember. I’m 80 years old, and I’ve mixed up all the names! (laughs)

BH: I understand. What sort of acting did you do before you joined Toho?

GM: Actually, I was not an employee of Toho. I never joined them. But I was so into acting that I decided to join a very small theatrical troupe well before the Godzilla movies. I didn’t know how to make a living at that. But I decided that now I could do anything I wanted to do. So I decided to join that theatrical troupe. The leader of the troupe was an outstanding person named Juro Miyoshi, who went down in history as one of the great playwrights in Japan, and he stimulated me a lot.

BH: Before you (worked with) Toho, I know you worked with other studios, such as Daiei. Please talk about working with some of the other studios. For instance, you worked on the film Ken Ki (a.k.a. Sword Devil, 1965), directed by Kenji Misumi. Please talk about, for instance, that experience, working with Misumi as a director.

GM: (laughs) How come you named Mr. Misumi? Why are you interested?

BH: For American fans, he’s a little well known. He directed one of the Daimajin movies, which is a special effects movie.

GM: He’s a maestro. I worked with him a lot at Daiei. He was such a nice person, but his face was like a devil! Everybody believed that he was scary. If you were a bad actor, he shouted and screamed. But he was very nice to me. There was a big star named Raizo Ichikawa. He was a very good-looking superstar at that time for Daiei. But their films were mainly historical dramas, jidai geki. I was not interested in jidai geki; I’d never done that. I didn’t I believe I could do it. I didn’t know anything about such things. Also, I was busy with TV.

I was called to come and see Mr. Misumi at one time for a movie, but I declined the offer. Then he insisted, “Why don’t we meet anyway?” So I went to see Mr. Misumi and told him I was busy and that I didn’t think I could do a historical drama. Mr. Misumi convinced me, “You can do it. You can do whatever you want.” I agreed, so I accepted it. But once the shooting started, Mr. Misumi every single day for every single act instructed me to do this and that, and I really didn’t like that. So I said, “That’s why I declined the offer!”

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

One time, the shooting stopped because of that, and again there was an argument between Maestro Misumi and myself. So the director of the production department actually jumped in to see what was going on. Mr. Misumi instructed me on playing the role of a small-time crook, and this crook should do something with a tenugui, a Japanese cotton towel. More specifically, I was supposed to bang a table with this towel, trying to show off. But that’s merely a formality for historical dramas, and I hated it, because I was always pursuing some reality. So I actually told the maestro, “I don’t want to do that.” (laughs)

That’s how we met, and that’s how we had a fight! (laughs) We really had a bad relationship, but I didn’t care. About six months later, I came across Mr. Misumi at Toei Studios. At that time, he was smiling a lot and trying to talk to me. “There were many different things happening, but I’m not a bad director!” That’s how he approached me. That’s how we got close and liked each other. I found out that he was an earnest and kind and very nice person. Usually, the other actors were so scared of him because he acted like an intimidating director at the studios, but in his nature he was a very nice person. (laughs) That’s how I found out, six months later.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What other roles did you have for Daiei Studios? Did you work for Shochiku?

GM: Maybe just one (for Shochiku). The title was Oitsumeru (a.k.a. Chase That Man, 1972). It starred Jiro Tamiya. Before the film version, there was a TV series called Oitsumeru, which means to try to corner someone after a long chase. I was with Tatsuya Mihashi in the TV series. Mr. Mihashi was a cop, and I was the villain. But, in the movie, there were a lot of yakuza people, so film-wise it’s on a magnificent scale, and I really liked it. In the movie, the cop was played by Jiro Tamiya, and I was the boss of the yakuza.

BH: Actually, that brings up a question I’m very interested in. Throughout (your) career, you’ve played many villains. Certainly in the Godzilla series you played alien leaders. Why is that? Why so many bad-guy roles? Why do you think that is?

GM: I had never done a villain role until I was 40. When I was young, melodramas on TV were played by good-looking men and good-looking women only. But I was the first one who was not good-looking! That drama was a big hit, so I was involved in melodramas for five years. But I got sick and tired of it, and I wanted to do something more active and stimulating. Because of that, I sought out a bad-guy role. Once I decided to do a bad-guy role, all the roles I was offered were all villains.

BH: Not just on-camera, but you also worked as a voice actor, particularly with Sanda tai Gaira (a.k.a. War of the Gargantuas, 1966). You voiced Russ Tamblyn’s character in Sanda tai Gaira. Please talk about (this), if you remember this film at all, but also how you got involved as a voice actor as well.

GM: (laughs) I think voice-over actors and stage/TV/narration actors — those are all actor jobs. So I think those jobs should be paid at a fair price. But, for some reason, voice-over actors are treated very poorly, especially at that time. When I was involved in dubbing (David Janssen’s character in the American TV series) The Fugitive (for Japanese TV), there was no lunchtime. From morning till late afternoon, I had to work. I was famous for other TV shows, but other voice actors had to go for some other jobs after that. So there was no lunch. That was the rule for voice-acting jobs. I really didn’t like it, so The Fugitive was the only I got involved in, and after I was done with The Fugitive, I decided not to go for voice-acting jobs anymore. For me, all the acting jobs should be paid equally. The voice-acting job was a hard job, and I didn’t really appreciate it.

I think you asked me how I got involved in The Fugitive and voice-acting. Looking back, before The Fugitive, I was doing narration for an American documentary (TV series) called Battle Line (1963). It was a very moving, magnificent documentary for TV. I actually experienced wartime hardships, so I could share the feelings of those sad stories and miserable feelings. So my narration, the quality of my voice, was embedded with that kind of sadness. I still think I have that kind of quality in my voice because I was born and raised in that miserable situation. So when the casting director was looking for someone who could (play) David Janssen’s role, he thought that maybe I was the one because of the quality of my voice. That’s how I was selected. At that time, most of the TV shows were from America, so there were lots of voice-acting jobs.

BH: In front of the camera, one of your roles is Yaju no Fukkatsu (1969). Michio Yamamoto (directed it, and) Toshio Kurosawa and (Tatsuya) Mihashi (apppear as the) actors. What do you recall about this film, as well as Yamamoto as director, and maybe Kurosawa and Mihashi as co-stars in this film?

GM: When I was offered Yaju no Fukkatsu, Mr. Mihashi was already cast in this film. Mr. Mihashi and I had worked on the Oitsumeru TV series for a long time, so without any condition I accepted this offer. The story is very, very interesting. It’s a story about the yakuza, Japanese gangsters. Mr. Mihashi plays a person who used to be a gangster, but he is no longer a gangster. Still, other gangsters came and invited him somewhere to do something bad. In the world of the yakuza gangs, Mr. Kurosawa plays the younger brother of Mr. Mihashi, and I play a person who respects Mr. Mihashi’s character. One day, Mr. Mihashi’s character says to me, “You have to throw away all the pistols, guns, swords, and everything because we are no longer gangsters.” But, after that, a huge group of gangsters came to murder Mr. Kurosawa’s character. Because we decided not to be gangsters anymore, my character decides to fight against those gangsters not with weapons but with a fruit knife, which is not a weapon by his definition. That was a very impressive scene, and the audience cried a lot.

The interesting thing is that Mr. Mihashi’s character said that we have to get rid of all the pistols and guns, but he was actually hiding them in the attic. After Mr. Mihashi’s character came back home, he found that Mr. Kurosawa and I are both dead, with no weapons. The whole house was destroyed, and he can see some guns and weapons in the attic. So I think he was moved by seeing those weapons hidden in the attic. In other words, my character didn’t use those weapons because we were no longer gangsters. Then my character got so furious with those guns that he went back to murder everybody. Yaju no Fukkatsu means “resurrection of the beast.”

BH: What are your memories of (Mr.) Yamamoto as a director?

GM: Excellent director. But I also had a fight with him! In this movie, my role was a Korean. Because Koreans were suppressed in Japan back in those days, the way I tackled the role was to be very quiet, not saying anything loud, and being very obedient to my boss. This character’s personality was a little different from the regular yakuza’s. I was doing a good-quality Korean character. But director Yamamoto was afraid of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (a.k.a. Chosen Soren). They were very active and assertive at that time. With negative portrayals in TV shows or movies or any performances, they claim something. That was probably his risk management, but I didn’t really like that idea because I was playing a very good part of a Korean yakuza.

In the very last scene after my and Mr. Kurosawa’s characters are dead, Mr. Mihashi’s character went to a bar where we used to go together, and the bar hostess played by Yoshiko Mita, started to cry a lot and never stopped. The audience thinks that there should be something in there. Mr. Mihashi was supposed to say, “Did you know that he was a Korean?” But Ms. Mita never stopped crying, which meant that she knew. That was a very important line, but Mr. Yamamoto cut it out of the movie without talking to me at all. I got angry because that was the trick of the film. That was why I acted unlike a regular yakuza gangster. I was suppressed, silent, obedient, and very loyal.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Because this very, very important line was cut, the way I approached this role has no meaning. I got so angry that I went to Mr. Yamamoto’s house! Mr. Yamamoto’s wife was Toho’s number-one scriptwriter. She understood instantly what I was saying, so she tried to convince her husband to apologize to me, but he never did. Since that time, I never saw Mr. Yamamoto again. He has since passed on.

BH: Very interesting! Another film you did, sort of yakuza-style but a little different, (was) Nippon Ichi no Yakuza Otoko (1970), with Kengo Furusawa (as) director and the Crazy Cats (as stars). (Was) Mr. Furusawa a very strange director? A lot of people have said that Mr. Furusawa is kind of a crazy man himself.

GM: To be honest with you, I was so busy at that time for some reason that I didn’t stay at the studios for a long time. So I didn’t have a chance to talk to Mr. Furusawa in person, so I don’t know him very well.

I was overwhelmed by those comedians (the Crazy Cats)! (laughs) It was so hard for me to get involved. Those actors were so talented and so versatile. As performers, they were really, really good, so I was overwhelmed. Each one of the members of the Crazy Cats was so talented and versatile. For instance, Senri Sakurai, he looked so tiny and tried to look untalented, but when he played the piano, he was a wonderful pianist. Kei Tani was a great trombone player. Hajime Hana played drums magnificently. Hitoshi Ueki was a very good singer as well.

During the film shooting, they didn’t play pianos or drums, but I could sense that they were great as performers. They were of top caliber. They had pride and confidence, very solid confidence. Just by their acting, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do anything in front of them!

Actually, when I was offered this part, I declined it! “I can’t do it! I can’t get involved because you guys are so multi-talented!” But they were such wonderful people; it’s a group of very nice and kind people at the same time. So I thought, “Well, I may want to.” That’s how I got involved.

BH: Another film is Akage (a.k.a. Red Lion, 1969), with Mr. (Kihachi) Okamoto directing and Toshiro Mifune as the star. So it’s a big film, and Mr. Okamoto is a very talented director. So please talk about working with Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Mifune as the star.

GM: Shin Kishida was in it, too. Almost all actors respect Mr. Mifune. I accepted this role instantly because Mr. Mifune was there. Mr. Mifune was a wonderful star and representative of Japan, and he’s well known around the world. But off-camera he’s such a nice, nice person, well behaved, well disciplined. Everybody respected him. Even though my role was very small in the film, because Mr. Mifune was starring, I accepted it instantly.

Mr. Okamoto was a very quiet type. He was very, very emotionally stable and never shouted. On almost every occasion he let actors do whatever they wanted, and if he doesn’t like some acting, he just tells them very quietly. In other words, after actors appear in his films, those actors get better and better. He was a person everybody could get along with very well.

BH: You also worked with (Mr.) Okamoto on Gekido no Showashi: Okinawa Kessen (a.k.a. Battle of Okinawa, 1971). Many Toho stars…

GM: An all-star cast! Mr. Okamoto was a very nice person, and usually very emotionally stable and never got furious. But, on this film, one time he got so emotional all by himself; he never shouted at anybody. He got emotional because he wanted concentration from the actors. He never shouted or said anything. But he himself got emotional; his eyes changed a lot. And then everybody looked at him because he was different from usual, so everyone got very attentive, and the scenes went very well.

At one time, at the very end, I was actually killed with lots of bullets. So I had to wear a tin plate with ammunition squibs. I got shocked a lot. I think I did very good acting, but there were lots of physical shocks. If the actor were a timid type, he could have had a heart attack. After the shooting, Mr. Okamoto ran to me and asked, “Are you okay?” He was such a nice person. Physically, I got shocked after each of the squibs went off, so they actually got a very good scene because of that, but as an actor, it was a real shock! These days there are shock absorbers used for those scenes.

BH: I know you were good friends with Shin Kishida, so please talk about your friendship with Mr. Kishida.

GM: He was such a wonderful person, so I was very sad when he died. He died when he was young. I really regretted his death because I don’t think he had used most of his talent yet. In other words, he was a very good actor, but he could have gotten even better than that when he grew older. His concentration power was unbelievable. I can’t emulate it. So his acting is really, really serious. It was very close to reality. But he was also very funny.

We used to have a TV show. It was an anniversary TV show for Tsuburaya Productions called Fireman. I was a leader, and Shin Kishida was a co-leader. When we were working on Fireman, Mr. Kishida was a world-famous collector of butterflies. He wanted to get a very unusual, rare butterfly in Taiwan. He wanted to go to Taiwan to get it together with me. So he teamed up with me and called the scriptwriter and threatened him to make the shooting days shorter! We wanted to shoot the six or so episodes in about one day and get rid of all the location shooting in favor of studio shooting, so that we could save some days to travel to Taiwan together. Mr. Kishida was the type of person who wanted me to go wherever he went. So we went to Taiwan. But the surprising thing is that, when he’s wearing the costume he uses to chase butterflies, he looks like a primitive man! He had a strange hat, strange boots, a strange suit, and everything. It was a typical costume for him! (laughs) It was his uniform for catching butterflies. But it’s very strange and primitive-looking to regular people.

One day he didn’t say anything, but he left the hotel very early. But he never came back. I found out he was arrested because of the strange costume. I had an acquaintance in Taiwan, so I asked this acquaintance to find him. We found out he was detained in a prison or detention house. So I went there to pick him up. After we came back to Japan, he came with a box with butterflies, and he appreciated my efforts and assistance, so this was a token of his gratitude. It was a very rare butterfly. This butterfly has wings but no legs. I knew that these butterflies don’t have legs, but it was his idea of a joke. For me, it was funny, and it showed Mr. Kishida’s style of mischief. He was that type of person. You have to cherish it; this butterfly is unusual! It’s very rare because it has no legs. So he was that kind of a funny guy.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

I used to live close to the studios, so Mr. Kishida came to my house when I was there and even when I wasn’t there. He went to my house to have lunch or have a drink. Mr. Kishida would tell my wife not to tell me that he was there! That was a typical thing for him, so I knew that. He was like a family member.

Did you know that Mr. Kishida could not eat beef? Every time Mr. Kishida got married, he asked his new wife to sign a prenuptial agreement, saying never to serve steak at home because he couldn’t eat it. One day, Mr. Kishida came home, and his new wife was having a sukiyaki party with her friends. He got furious, so they got divorced. Not only beef, but he also could not eat meat. He got married three times, but maybe even more than that! Every time he got divorced, the reason was always meat!

BH: You did talk about Fireman a little bit, but please talk about what you recall about filming the series Fireman for Tsuburaya Productions.

GM: Naoya Makoto was the hero of this series. At that time, Tsuburaya had very big budgets for TV productions. So the production was very, very good for all the actors. In this series, Naoya Makoto made his debut as the hero. But he has a very strong accent. He’s from Saga Prefecture in Kyushu. He couldn’t easily correct his accent. So everybody was teasing him. He’s a good actor, but he was prone to being very emotional, and he easily fought with others. He couldn’t talk very well, and everybody teased him about his accent. So he didn’t talk; he just fought. He had many problems during the course of shooting with the staff members.

But Mr. Kishida was so nice and kind, and he trained him and tried to correct his accent every day. But he thought that Mr. Kishida was bullying him, rather than helping him. So when Mr. Kishida died, I asked him if he would go to the funeral. He said, “No, no, I don’t want to go.” I was surprised. I said, “You were one of the people who was trained and taught and helped by Mr. Kishida.” He thought, “I was bullied by him.” I said, “No, no, no.” I explained the details of how Mr. Kishida felt at the time, his feelings toward Mr. Makoto. Then he realized that for the first time. He always thought he was being bullied by Mr. Kishida. He changed his mind, and he came to the funeral with big flowers. In that way, he apologized to him.

BH: Your most famous movie role in America is Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). Of course, you play Kuronuma, the alien leader. So please talk about working on this film and if you recall how you were cast and working with Mr. (Jun) Fukuda as the director.

GM: (laughs) I don’t really know exactly how I was cast as Kuronuma, the alien leader. But I suspect that Mr. Fukuda was looking for someone who could do the hard-boiled type of acting. I created the role of the alien leader by doing no facial expressions. That’s how I created the alien leader, and Mr. Fukuda really liked my idea for some reason. We didn’t talk much, but he was always smiling, and he was always nice to me.

BH: With Kuronuma, the character, there was a black spot near your eye. Was that your acting choice, or was that maybe Mr. Fukuda’s choice? If you know, why was that chosen, the little spot?

GM: I don’t know why the black spot was near my eye, but that might have been to make me appear to be a strange creature. I presume that Mr. Fukuda created that spot.

BH: In the film, you worked with Akihiko Hirata. Please talk about Mr. Hirata, working with him.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

GM: He was an unusually earnest, gentleman type of actor. He behaved very well; he wasn’t arrogant at all. He was earnest and kind, and a very, very gentleman type.

BH: I understand that you have a story about Masaaki Daimon, involving a Chinese restaurant. Please talk about Masaaki Daimon.

GM: His parents are from China. I know his father. We are old friends. Masaaki Daimon’s father is my old friend, and he’s from China, and he operated a huge cabaret in Kobe. But it went bankrupt, and they moved to Tokyo. I met him at a bar, and he has some atmosphere, very quiet and a little bit sad. I made him talk to me, so we started talking. We were the same age. One day I was invited to Mr. Daimon’s family’s house, so I went. A small child was there, and that was Masaaki Daimon. He remembers that. The father was a very, very attractive person. I expected Masaaki Daimon to be very similar to his father, but he wasn’t! (laughs)

BH: In what way was he different?

GM: He was totally different — very realistic and materialistic. Unlike his father, unfortunately, he wasn’t that good.

BH: How about memories of Espy (1974)? Mr. Fukuda (was) the director, and Mr. (Hiroshi) Fujioka (was) the star.

GM: There’s a funny story. Tomisaburo Wakayama is in Espy (as the main villain). I was the one who invited him to join this movie! (laughs) I invited him because he was in a very difficult situation at that time. He fought with his brother, Shintaro Katsu, so he had no job. He had a fight with Toei, too, so he had no work there. He was the kind of person who wanted to be a star, so he stayed at expensive hotels, but he couldn’t pay. So I wanted to help him. So I asked Tomoyuki Tanaka to create a character for him, and he did. Mr. Wakayama was a Toei actor, so within the studios the actors’ guarantee was usually reasonable, not very expensive. At that time, it was like two million yen per film. But when you are seconded to other studios, you would get more. This was a Toho movie, so I asked Mr. Tanaka to give Mr. Wakayama a fee amount that could pay the hotel in three days. Mr. Tanaka agreed and paid him five million yen in three days.

Mr. Wakayama really liked this deal, and after this film, for some reason Mr. Tanaka didn’t go to me but directly went to Mr. Wakayama and asked him to appear in another film. He agreed instantly, but he asked for a much higher fee because Mr. Wakayama’s personality was that of a gangster! He went to Toho’s managing director’s room, put his legs on the table, and said, “I’m worth 10 million yen.” At that time, Mr. Mifune was the highest-paid actor in Japan, which was 10 million yen. He was told, “No, no, you can’t, because at Toho Mr. Mifune is the highest-paid, so you can’t get it.” He got furious! Then they compromised to about eight million, but that made my position very bad. Mr. Tanaka asked me, “Why did you introduce me to this kind of person? You should have known better!” By then, I knew that Mr. Wakayama was half-gangster. But the problem was that Mr. Tanaka should have gone through me so that I could make some adjustments for both of them. But he went directly to Mr. Wakayama; that’s how everything went bad. After that, my relationship with Toho was not that good.

This is why I felt I had to introduce Mr. Wakayama to Mr. Tanaka. Shintaro Katsu (best known as the actor who portrayed the blind swordsman Zatoichi in the long-running movie series), Raizo Ichikawa, and I had worked on a film, so we knew each other. At a later time, Mr. Katsu got a regular TV show in Osaka with ABC TV (Asahi Broadcasting Corporation), and I was there. So the people who lived in Tokyo had to fly to Osaka for filming every day. And everybody was so busy, so we had to fly back or come back by train to Tokyo that night. But, every single day, Mr. Katsu never showed up until late afternoon. The shooting starts from morning and is supposed to be done by late afternoon. He was a star, so nobody could say, “Oh, he was late.” We had to wait. That lasted a couple of days, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had a regular show in Tokyo; I had to fly back that day. So I decided to tell the staff members that, if the star doesn’t show up, I’m no longer interested in being here. I’ll quit. Then the staff members tried to stop me. “We need you. He’s a big star, so we can’t tell him, ‘Don’t be late.’”

So I decided to go directly to Mr. Katsu and said, “If you can’t show up until late afternoon, I won’t be here anymore.” Then I left that day. Everybody knew that I had quit. But, from the next day on, Mr. Katsu showed up in the morning. I didn’t know that until Mr. Wakayama asked me to join his film in Shikoku. Shooting was supposed to take place in a very small island in Shikoku. I think that because I didn’t know that Mr. Katsu changed his attitude that day, I had simply thought that his brother (Mr. Wakayama) wanted to punch me or something. So I declined his offer to go to Shikoku. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want any more trouble. But Mr. Wakayama was so persistent and asked me, “Why are you declining my offer?” I said it was because of a schedule conflict. He said, “In that case, use my helicopter!” So I felt kind of forced to go to the island in Shikoku, so I went there. Usually, I’m followed by my manager, but since I felt that there was going to be a big fight there, I didn’t want my manager to see it. So I decided to go there by myself and prepared to be punched.

Then, like in a movie, he stared at me from the top of my head to my toes three times, and then he said, “Please come to the back of the Japanese inn.” We went to the back of the inn, and then he started to thank me. He said that Mr. Katsu started being very punctual thanks to my remark, and all the staff members were so appreciative. “Thank you very much.” There was no punch or fighting! That’s how we got close. Then I understood the situation of Mr. Wakayama. He had a fight with Mr. Katsu, and he had a fight with Toei, so he couldn’t work anymore as an actor. He asked me if there was any other way to work as an actor, and I said, “Of course there is a way.” That’s how I introduced him to Mr. Tanaka.

BH: Another film you appeared in (was) Mekagojira no Gyakushu (a.k.a. Terror of Mechagodzilla, 1975). You worked with Ishiro Honda, the director. Please talk about (Mr.) Honda as a director.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

GM: Mr. Honda was a Toho director, but I had never worked with him before, and at that point in time for some reason I was extremely busy, and tied up with many different things at the same time. When my portion was shot, I left. So there was no time or chance to talk with him privately. So there’s nothing to say, to be honest with you.

BH: I understand that (Mr.) Honda let the actors do what they wanted to do and didn’t give much direction. Is that (your) memory?

GM: That’s true. But I think that only when it’s not what he really wanted, he speaks up. But that’s it.

BH: You worked with such actors as Toru Ibuki, (Katsuhiko) Sasaki, and Tomoko Ai. What do you recall about working with your co-stars?

GM: As far as Mr. Ibuki is concerned, he is a Toho actor, and I didn’t have a close relationship with him. But Katsuhiko Sasaki is much younger than I am, and his father is a very famous actor (Minoru Chiaki). For some reason, he followed us whenever we went drinking or to hang out. So we were very close in that sense. He came to see us for drinking occasions. I found him to be a very nice guy. He’s a very serious and well-mannered type of person because his father is very famous.

At that time, we didn’t have much chance to get to know actresses. Actors and actresses were separate. We lived in the world of men, and women lived in their world. So I don’t know much about the actresses.

BH: What do you recall about some of the locations in Mekagojira no Gyakushu. I believe they were in Kanagawa Prefecture, but do you have any memories of the location shots?

GM: (laughs) No memories! I was an alien, so my scenes were shot in the studio rather than outside. So I have no memory.

BH: Your last tokusatsu film was Wakusei Daisenso (a.k.a. The War in Space, 1977), in which you played another alien character. Please talk about your memories of this film. In the film, you wear heavy makeup. Your face is covered in (green makeup), and Ryo Ikebe, a famous actor, was the star of the film. What can you tell us about your memories of Wakusei Daisenso?

GM: As you may know, all Toho stars are very well-mannered gentlemen. There is no arrogance whatsoever. So, of course, Mr. Ikebe was a very nice gentleman, well-mannered. That was part of the reason I didn’t particularly like Toho because I had to behave like other people at Toho. At that time, Mr. Ikebe was one of the top stars; he was a very good-looking, typical Japanese star people admired. I saw his movies, almost everything, and I respected and admired him as a fan.

BH: So (you) went to see Mr. Ikebe’s films throughout the years.

GM: Yes, I paid to get in! (laughs) He’s one of my favorite actors.

BH: Who are your favorite actors in general?

GM: Too many to mention. I saw every single famous American film at that time, so I knew those people, and I really admired them. Japanese actors are overwhelmed by American actors. America is probably the best in terms of filmmaking.

BH: Please tell your fans in the West about some of your favorite American movies, and if you could name any actors, that would be great, too. People would like to know.

GM: I like hard-boiled movies. Of course, I like Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift. Every movie I saw at that time was superb, so I was very impressed and influenced by American movies.

BH: What are some of the things you do now, whether as a career or as hobbies?

GM: To be honest with you, I can’t move my body very well. When I was 60, I went to a physical checkup for the first time in my life because I’ve been very healthy, but I was a very heavy drinker. But I had no problems physically or in terms of health. Because I turned 60, I decided to have a physical checkup, and the doctor said that I was healthy and that there was nothing wrong with my body, except for cholesterol. So he strongly advised me to take medicine to dissolve the cholesterol. So I did.

I started to take that medication and took it for seven years. On the seventh year, I started suffering side effects; my muscles were gone, and I couldn’t put energy into my body. So once I would sit down, I couldn’t stand up by myself. I was so worried, and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to separate from this doctor and the medication and decided not to take such strong medicine. This medicine was very famous, actually. The pharmaceutical company made a fortune out of it. But some people were killed by this medicine. I found out about this after doing some research.

Ten years after I suffered from these side effects, I decided to try to recover all by myself through diet and some exercises and so forth. During this time, I had to do some TV shows and stage shows per year, but it was a big hardship for me at the time. I suffered from tremendous pain, but I couldn’t reveal it as a professional actor, so nobody noticed. Still, it was very, very hard. So I had to choose roles which didn’t require much movement. But every acting role needs some movements, so I couldn’t do them as well as I wanted to. In that sense, I didn’t do as much as I wanted in the past decades. But now I can walk, and nobody notices that I have that problem. But, after I walk a lot, I can’t breathe, I can’t think, and my body almost collapses. So I still have to watch out all the time.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What do you think of the legacy of the Mechagodzilla movies? Certainly they’re still very popular, and they’re seen still all over the world. What do you think about the popularity of your Mechagodzilla films?

GM: A couple of years ago, a fan club was created for Mechagodzilla and Godzilla fans. So, even in Japan, there are still fan festivals. I was invited, but actually I didn’t remember anything about the Mechagodzilla movies! (laughs) I had to watch all the DVDs, and now I remember what I did at that time, so I can talk about it. But everybody was laughing; every time I was asked something related to my roles, I couldn’t remember at all!

BH: Those are really all the questions I have. If you have a message for your American fans, or if you have any information that you would like me to include, please let me know.

GM: America is much more advanced in terms of filmmaking. But that audience says that it loves Godzilla. So that makes us a little bit embarrassed sometimes! In that sense, I’m very honored to be part of it, and the fans – American fans, especially – encourage me to continue to be in this kind of film, and of course Japanese fans encourage me to continue as an actor. So I’m very, very happy that there are so many fans in America.

In terms of dollars and scale, American movies are much bigger, so I wonder how come Americans love Godzilla movies?! They’re low-budget.

I forgot to mention that, after I took that medication, as an actor I’m not blessed with active roles, but I’m not retired yet. So once I got my mobility back, I can still do some roles. In order to do that, I’m training a lot more than when I was young. I’ve been doing voice-training and interpretation of the playwrights and so forth, much better than before. Also, I’ve been invited to many different places to deliver speeches and lectures, which I do. Still, I’m almost 80, so I couldn’t move as much as I wanted. Now, I’ve been invited to teach at an acting school in Tokyo, so I’m a teacher there. So it’s worth (doing) for me.

SUSAN WATSON SPEAKS! Actress Linda Miller Remembers King Kong Escapes!

Actress and model Linda Miller, just after finishing her work on King Kong Escapes. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Actress and model Linda Miller, just after finishing her work on King Kong Escapes. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Linda Miller is a name that fans of Japanese monster movies have known for years, but any information about her beyond her name has been frustratingly elusive. Born on December 26, 1947, Ms. Miller eventually moved to Japan where her modeling and acting career took off like a rocket. She achieved her greatest fame as Lt. Susan Watson in Ishiro Honda’s popular kaiju eiga romp King Kong Escapes (1967), starring alongside Akira Takarada and Rhodes Reason. The following year, she appeared as a background extra in the cult classic The Green Slime (1968), filmed at Toei Studios. During her time in Japan, she developed a relationship with Toho star Yosuke Natsuki (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, Dogora the Space Monster, Godzilla 1985), about whom she has many fond recollections.  

Under the stage name Leslie Michaels, Ms. Miller also pursued acting in the United States before deciding to move on to new careers. For the first time ever, in this exclusive interview with Brett Homenick, Linda Miller shares her memories of Japan, acting, and King Kong Escapes.    

Brett Homenick: Please talk about your background, growing up. What were the circumstances? Please talk about your background.

Linda Miller: Both of my parents are from Northwest Pennsylvania. My dad was a POW in World War II in Germany for three years, and a few years after my parents married he went back into the service when I was about four years old. From the time I was four, I have lived everywhere! I’ve lived all over the United States – seven different states. I’ve lived in France, and traveled as a child throughout Europe as a sightseer, then back to the United States, onto Japan, and finally returning back to the USA.

Ms. Miller (nine months old) with her grandfather at his farm in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller (nine months old) with her grandfather at his farm in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

The military put my dad through school; he got his bachelor’s and his master’s degree in meteorology. When I was in tenth grade, we were stationed in Oklahoma so Dad could go to the University of Oklahoma in Norman. At that time, I wanted to be a Spanish interpreter at the U.N. We knew his next assignment would be for overseas duty, so Dad put in for Spain so I could go to the University of Madrid. Believing he would be stationed in Span, that summer I took summer classes so I could skip my junior year and be a senior the next year. My goal was that once we went overseas, I could go straight to college. Well, the military and life are noted for (laughs) not doing what you planned, so they sent us to Japan instead. And I was really upset at the time. So that’s the story of how we wound up in Japan; it’s because my dad was in the service.

Unfortunately I didn’t even get to go to my high school graduation because the military had us on a plane to Japan the day of my graduation. So Mom and I had to get from Oklahoma to San Francisco to catch the plane to come to Japan. I have no brothers or sisters; it’s always been just me, myself, and I!

BH: Talking a little bit more about your father and his military service, what was his name? Talk about his military service and what he did in Japan.

LM: His name was Merle D. Miller. He was stationed at Tachikawa and then at Fuchu Air Force Base. He was a weatherman. It was during the Vietnam War, so he was involved in weather forecasting and weather patterns for the Far East. In fact, they sent him to the Philippines to specifically study tropical weather patterns, like typhoons and things like that. Any- and everything to do with weather.

Ms. Miller (five years old) poses with her father. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller (five years old) poses with her father. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Going back to your childhood, what hobbies did you have? I know you mentioned (wanting to be an) interpreter, but what possible aspirations did you have? Please let us know about your childhood and what was going on during that time.

LM: That’s a very interesting question! (laughs) At one time, I was interested in journalism. I was always interested in a lot of different things. I was a cheerleader in school, and I played great basketball. I was really short; I’ve always been short, but I played guard, and for some reason I just did that really well. I was an active kid, and I’ve always been a pretty happy kid, too.

I was one of those girls that did not dream of growing up, getting married, and having children – as that being my goal. I always dreamed in terms of, “When I grow up, I’m going to do this or be that.” There was a fleeting moment I thought acting would be a fun thing to do, but I never really pursued it.

In 9th grade I discovered languages, especially Spanish. I found out I have an aptitude for languages. So that’s pretty much what I was focused on at the time, was languages.

BH: What schools did you attend? What subjects particularly interested you – I suppose aside from languages and so forth?

LM: Well, I only went to school 11 years because I skipped a grade so I could go to Madrid University! (laughs) In 11 years I went to seven different schools throughout the United States and the world. I was in Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, France, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma. I never was anywhere longer than about two and a half years. (That) was pretty much my duration of wherever I lived. So I went to a lot of different schools. I also loved math, and I loved history – those two in addition to Spanish.

Linda at home with her mother and father in 1965. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller at home with her mother and father in 1965. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Please talk a little bit more about the move to Japan and what the transition was like, adjusting to life there.

LM: (laughs) Well, when I first was told we were going to Japan instead of Spain, I had a bad attitude. I was so disappointed. But my experience throughout childhood was to adapt – because we moved so much, and I had no choice but to adapt. I used to play a game with myself when I knew we were leaving one place and moving to another. I would substitute the sadness of leaving and begin to imagine the new adventure I was going to experience.  It helped me to adapt better.

Unfortunately I didn’t really feel too excited about going to Japan. When I got on the plane to go I was not happy. I was thinking, “We should be going to Spain!” I remember the flight was very crowded, and it was long and not very comfortable because it was a military flight, which are normally crowded.

However, when we get off the plane and were taken by bus to Tachikawa (I think), much to my amazement, I had a real sense of familiarity. It felt very comfortable immediately. I don’t want to say I felt like I was coming home, but it was akin to, “I kind of belong here.” Everything about Japan was completely different than what I had experienced in my life, yet I felt so at peace. My transition was really easy, and completely opposite of what I thought it would be.

We got there in June of ’65, and it rained almost every single day that month. (laughs) I wasn’t used to that. I found it interesting that my clothes always felt like they were kind of damp, and I remember potato chips were soggy. (laughs) “How do these people eat potato chips here?!”  The weather was something that kind of threw me… and the humidity – I wasn’t used to the humidity.

A cover of Josei Seven magazine, featuring Ms. Miller and another model. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

A cover of Josei Seven magazine, featuring Ms. Miller and another model. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

We had just been here a few days, and my dad told me that a family we used to live next door to when I was a little girl in France was stationed there at the same time, too. They had a girl my age, and she was graduating and having a graduation party, and she invited me. I didn’t get to have my graduation party because I had to leave, so I went to her party. It was just kind of surreal to have somebody from your past just pop up into your present. When you’re a military kid you don’t have people from your past in your current life. There’s always just now and tomorrow when it comes to friends.

At the party, I met a girl who was a little shorter than I was. I’m only 5’1, so by American standards I am short. She was kind of bragging about how she was earning school money and clothes money by modeling, and how she was doing this assignment and that assignment. I just looked at her, and in my spirit I just said, “Gosh, if she can do it, I can do it.” I had this sense that I could do it. She told me she was going to Patricia Charm modeling school, and I pursued it immediately. I don’t know if she’s still around, but Patricia (Salmon) had a modeling school in Harajuku for foreign talent.

So I went there to take charm lessons, learn how to put on makeup, walk, and all that kind of stuff. Almost immediately I started to work. I got jobs – lots of jobs. I never finished the modeling course because I was working. And it was wonderful. Japanese people treated me so great. When I look back on it now, I was somewhat of a novelty. I wasn’t six-foot-tall, blond, and blue-eyed where I’d stick out like a sore thumb. But I was Japanese height. I had brown eyes and light brown hair. I was still American-looking, but I wasn’t so different that it was shocking. I just worked all the time. I did magazines, fashion lay-outs, and magazine covers – all kinds of newspapers ads for products, from appliances and toothpaste.  Once I even did the cover of a magazine for accordion lovers! I was the Noritake China “girl” for the Far East and appeared in magazines all over Asia.

During the 1960s, Ms. Miller worked as a model for Noritake China in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

During the 1960s, Ms. Miller worked as a model for Noritake China in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

One of my favorites was a contract with a magazine called Josei Seven. I don’t know if it’s still around; it’s a girls’ magazine or a young women’s magazine with fashion and gossip and all sorts of articles. Every week I was on the cover of the magazine, and those are some of my favorite photos. I also did some TV commercials and radio. So I worked a lot. All of my contemporaries were either in high school or going to college. Even though I tried to go to college in the beginning (I went to Sophia University for a couple of semesters), I was just too busy working. At Sophia I studied Spanish and Japanese, but the Japanese I learned basically came by working with the Japanese people. I had interpreters each time I went on a modeling assignment, and then eventually I didn’t need an interpreter. I mean, I wasn’t fluent, but I could hold my own.

Everybody treated me nice – the photographers, hair dressers, make-up people, the crew.  I was protected; I was never exposed to anything sleazy or anything uncomfortable. I was just really protected and well taken care of, and that’s why I have such a warm spot in my heart for that time, because it was fantastic! (laughs) It was just great. It was like you woke up one day, and you felt like you were a princess. That’s kind of how it felt for me.

BH: At Sophia University, what did you study? Was it simply the case that you were working too much and decided not to graduate?

LM: I was studying Japanese and Spanish because those are the two languages I gravitate towards. I can’t remember what other classes I took. I just remember those two because I made a couple of friends. Like I say, it was just a couple of semesters, and I would miss class because I was on assignments. My interest just kind of went away because I was working so much, and I did not have time really for school.

BH: How about acting? How did you get started with that?

LM: I had no plans for acting. I was busy doing my modeling and TV commercials and some radio, and then one day I got a call. I don’t remember the specifics, but I wound up meeting with a man, Arthur Rankin, who said he had seen my picture on a magazine or had seen my commercials in Japan. He traveled back and forth between Tokyo and New York quite a bit. He said he had been trying to find me because “I think you would be great in this movie I’m producing.” I was quite surprised. I said, “I have never acted a day in my life.” He didn’t care. It wasn’t a big-budget movie; we weren’t going for Oscars. I just happened to look like what he envisioned for this particular role of Susan Watson.

Linda Miller clowns with Osman Yusuf on the set of King Kong Escapes. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller clowns with Osman Yusuf on the set of King Kong Escapes. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

So I met with him, and we talked, and … boom! I was in a movie! It was all very fast and unplanned, and it just happened.

BH: What were your initial impressions of Arthur Rankin when you met him? What was going through your mind as he was proposing all this to you?

LM: I was a little intimidated by him. At the time I was 18, I think, and Arthur appeared very sophisticated and worldly, and I was not. So there was a part of me that was being very cautious about who this man is. But he was always very nice to me. He was always very decent.

But at first I was concerned: Here’s this guy coming in from Hollywood, New York, in the big bad world, and I’m just this 18-year-old, inexperienced girl, and what does he really want? That was what was in my mind. But when I met him, he took me to a fancy restaurant. I’d never been to a fancy restaurant before. So it was all pretty heady stuff, but he was very nice, and he was businesslike. So I got the feeling that he was legit. He had – I don’t know if it was a friend or girlfriend or what her role was – but he had, I think, a Eurasian model-friend of his that was no longer modeling, but she was really beautiful, who took me under her wing. He wanted me to be blond, so she took me to her beauty parlor, and they bleached my hair blond, which I was never happy with. (laughs) It just didn’t look like me.  So she kind of took me under her wing for that purpose, because Arthur was always flying in and out of town.

I got the script, and I just had no idea what I was doing. I was very nervous, especially when I met Rhodes (Reason) and (Akira) Takarada-san, because they were both really tall and very imposing. I mean, they were colorful men, and I was in awe of just the two of them, because they were experienced, they were seasoned, they looked great, they had a presence and an aura about them. I used to think, “What am I doing here?!” (laughs) “Why me?!” I know now it was because I was probably one of the very few people available that lived in Japan and could do the part. It wasn’t any special thing that I was so great; it was just the opportunity – right time, right place. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a door of opportunity to open up for you.

Linda Miller mugs for the audience while a man in a gorilla suit menaces her during a skit for a King Kong Escapes party at the Hilton. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller mugs for the audience while a man in a gorilla suit menaces her during a skit for a King Kong Escapes party at the Hilton. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: When it came to payment – I don’t know if this is something you would rather not discuss, and if not, that’s okay – but what were the negotiations like? Did he just make an offer to you for a certain amount, and you accepted?

LM: I don’t want to talk about the amount. I did not negotiate. I am not – at least at that time I was not – a negotiator. My mother negotiated. She scared me to death. They made the offer, and she said, “No, no, that’s not enough.” And I said, “Mom!” I don’t know how many times, but there were several offers that went back and forth, to the point where she said, “No, she’s not going to do it unless you give me this amount. There’s no more negotiation.” My mom’s very tough! She’s the youngest of eight children, so she’s negotiated all her life! (laughs)

So she did the negotiation, and I got what she asked for. I would have been happy with whatever they gave me just to do a movie, and Mom knew that, so she stepped in and took over that.

BH: Do you remember around what time all this was going on? Was it early 1967? What was the timeframe?

LM: Yes, it was early 1967, because we started the film, I think, in May or June of ‘67. It was either late spring or early summer, because I met (Yosuke) Natsuki during that time, so I believe that’s about what it was – maybe April.

BH: What do you remember about preproduction, such as getting fitted for your costume and meeting with (Ishiro) Honda-san, the director, and that sort of thing?

LM: I remember makeup and hair more than anything. I know there were a couple of dresses – in fact, I think I had only one or two dresses in the whole movie – that I was fitted for. But I remember the makeup and the hair more than anything. Suzuki-san was the makeup guy because Rhodes used to always yell, “Suzuki-san!” (laughs) The way he said it was just hysterical. I can’t remember the woman’s name that did my hair. So that’s what I remember: going in for testing for hair styles and the clothing, but not a lot of it.

I remember meeting the director, Honda-san, but then there was a guy named Henry Okawa. He was a trip! He was the interpreter, and he was hysterical. Gosh, back then, he must have been in his 60s. But I just adored him. I don’t remember any of the stories he told; I just remember that he was a lot of fun to listen to, and he helped me a lot. He really did, because I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t understand what Honda-san was asking for. He bridged the gap a lot, because I guess he’d been in the (United) States or something. His English was great. He was quite a character.

BH: Please talk about Honda-san a little bit more. How would he direct you in a scene? How would you describe his directing style?

An unidentified Toho executive poses with Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Arthur Rankin at a dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

An unidentified Toho executive poses with Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Arthur Rankin at a dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

LM: He was very gentle. Even when I felt I disappointed him, I could tell it’s not what he wanted – of course it’s somewhat the Japanese way – but he was very gentle and not threatening. I almost felt like he understood I was out of my comfort zone because I didn’t know what I was doing. So he was quiet, and he was gentle – at least with me. I got closer to Henry than I did to Honda-san because of the language. I felt safer with Henry because Honda-san was the director. But he was really, really a nice man.

BH: It’s been said by many others that Honda-san would essentially let the actors do what they wanted, and he would mostly approve and sometimes say, “Do it this way.” Is that your experience? Would he just basically let you do what you wanted?

LM: Yes. Henry and I would talk about it, and he’d let me do what I thought he wanted me to do. There wasn’t a lot of correction. He didn’t say, “Oh, man, you missed it. You need to do it this way.” There wasn’t a lot of correction. You’re right. That’s an accurate assessment of him.

BH: Well, let’s talk about some of your costars. What do you remember throughout the production of Rhodes Reason?

LM: Rhodes was hysterical! (laughs) He was tall, he was handsome, he was like a movie star. So I was in awe when I met him, and I was intimidated. But then as I got to know him, he was a little bit goofy. (laughs) He had a goofy sense of humor. I used to love to watch him and Takarada-san banter back and forth. They would try to one-up one another – in a friendly way. These were two macho movie stars.

Rhodes was very helpful to me. Because I had no experience, I had nothing to draw on. I was thrown in a river to swim or drown. He helped me a lot with things I didn’t know how to do. He kind of coached me. So he was very generous that way. I wasn’t a threat, but he didn’t view me as a threat, like I was going to take time away from him. He was very generous and very nice. He was nice to my family. He became a family friend, and when we came back to the States, we got in touch with him again, and he became part of our extended family.

He has this famous line, which makes me chuckle. When he’s getting ready to leave, he’ll say in his most professional actor’s voice, “It’s always a pleasure to say goodbye to you.” (laughs)

BH: (laughs)

LM: Every once in a while I’ll look at my mom and say, “It’s always a pleasure to say goodbye to you!” (laughs) In fact, his son is a cameraman, and I’ve seen him on a lot of the different shows. When the credits come on, we’ll see Brian’s name on there. But Rhodes was fun; he had stories. I just really enjoyed working with him.

Clinging to a tree -- just another day at the office in Japan! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Clinging to a tree — just another day at the office in Japan! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Excellent! How about Takarada-san? What do you remember about him?

LM: Very tall. He was also very handsome and a very strong personality. He was very sweet to me, too. I just got the impression that he really knew what he was doing. I did with Rhodes, too, but I could tell because he was speaking Japanese with the rest of the Japanese. He was very commanding. I just knew that this man knew what he was doing. You knew you were in the presence of a movie star.

He also was very nice to me, and we had several scenes together. We would talk in between takes. He just seemed sweet. Everybody was so sweet to me! I enjoyed working with him. I had no interaction after the film because I wasn’t around long after the film came out, but while we were together, he was helpful and was a lot of fun.

BH: How about the female costar, Mie Hama?

LM: She was kind of aloof. I didn’t get warm and fuzzy feelings from her. She was decent to me. But we had no real interaction.  We had a couple of scenes together, but we really didn’t interact that much together. I really don’t have much to say – other than she’s really beautiful and a good actress.

 BH: Understood. Well, I’ve heard some interesting stories about the next person, Hideyo Amamoto, who played Dr. Who. Some people have said he’s a really strange individual. Is that something that you found on the set?

LM: Yeah! (laughs) He looked the part! (laughs) He was very strange in a really endearing way. Take into account my Japanese was good,  but it wasn’t that good that I could understand all the nuances  of what people were saying, and a lot of things went over my head. There were several in his crew that kind of followed him around, because he was Dr. Who, and (they were) all his little soldiers. They were like a whole little group to themselves, and he looked like the mad scientist, and the way he smiled that crooked smile that he had. And his wild hair. (laughs) In fact, after the filming was over, he was in a play, The Fantasticks, and he invited me to come see him. He was quite a sight in his tights. I thought, “Oh, my God, his legs are so skinny!” (laughs) So my mom and I went and saw him in the play; I think that really pleased him.

Yeah, he was a little odd, but it worked well for the part, and he was an interesting character and a very endearing person.

BH: Do you have any other stories or recollections about any of the other cast members, whether they were American or Japanese? Do any names stand out?

LM: Yes. During that time, it must have been in June, because it was the Six-Day War, and we had a bunch of Israelis on the set. Their talent agent was some foreigner who was from the Middle East, I think, and they were with him. So I remember them being on the set, and being a pretty jovial bunch of guys. There was maybe five or six of them. The Six-Day War ended, and I didn’t even know there was a war at the time. I was so wrapped up in what I was doing. (I remember) how elated they were and how just so happy for their country. I remember that about them.

After the production, one of the crew members – and I can see his face; I don’t know his name – he drowned when he was swimming. I think it was before we had the premiere of the movie in Tokyo that he drowned. That always made me feel really sad because I can see his face in the photograph. I have a picture of him somewhere.

BH: Did he drown at Toho or just on his own time?

LM: On his own time. He went to the ocean on vacation and drowned in the ocean.

BH: Please talk about some of the locations. I know you shot in Oshima Island…

LM: That was my favorite. I loved Oshima Island. However, I didn’t enjoy the boat ride over there. I’m not real good on the sea, and I got a little queasy. The hotel room was all Japanese  –  tatami in our rooms, sleeping on the futon. It was the real Japanese deal. One of the highlights was, at night, when we’d all get together for dinner in the room, we had tempura. It was the best tempura I’ve ever had because it was all fresh. Everything was fresh from the island. So I remember the food more than anything on that set!

I guess we did a lot of outside locations there. I can’t remember. But I remember going there, but I don’t remember what we did, other than all getting together and eating dinner.

BH: Do you have any memories of the crowd scenes, such as the U.N. or near Tokyo Tower, when you were surrounded by all the crowds?

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

LM: I remember Tokyo Tower. That was towards the end of filming, and I was just beginning to feel a little bit more comfortable doing what I was doing. There were lots of people there, and it was, like, 3:00 a.m. It was really early in the morning.

(laughs) This is so silly. In the scene, I’m supposed to be upset, and I actually cried. I remember Rhodes telling me how proud he was of me that I cried on cue! (laughs). That whole scene was hard because it was late at night, there’s a lot of sitting around, and then you do a couple of minutes, and then you sit around, and you do a couple of minutes. And lots and lots of people around.

Let me digress here a moment. Before I did the film, when I first got to Japan, within a month, a friend approached me and said, “I’m doing a TV show. I can’t do it anymore. Can you go and audition?” So I went in and auditioned. It was called Hyakuman-Nin no Eigo (English for Millions). It was James Harris. It was an English program that was televised into the schools. So, when I would go out, and there’d be a bunch of school kids, they would recognize me, and I’d have to sign autographs. So I got somewhat accustomed to my face being recognized – not everybody, but from time to time.

So, when we were there at Tokyo Tower, I got a sense of that, of being recognized. That’s about all I can really remember about that.

Another time that was really hard – we weren’t on the ocean, but we were on shore, and there was a body of water; I don’t know where it was. It was outside, and they used the reflector to light you, and that was awful because it just killed my eyes. I couldn’t look where I was supposed to look because I had very sensitive eyes. That was a hard time. I remember getting really upset because we were outside, and I did not want to get a tan because I by then had been convinced, I guess, and agreed that you shouldn’t expose your skin to the sun a lot; it’s not good for your skin. So I remember being outside and thinking, “I need to get out; it’s too much sun! I’m going to get a tan!” (laughs)

BH: One of the things that happens throughout the movie is, you are in a big prop hand, whether it’s King Kong’s hand or Mechanikong’s hand. So please talk about being on that big prop.

LM: (laughs) Oh, that was so much fun! Before the film, I was trying to imagine, “How are they going to do this? How am I going to be sitting in King Kong’s hand?” I could not, for the life of me, figure it out. So, when I got to the set and saw this big hand, it just made me chuckle inside.

It was a little uncomfortable because I had to sit in his hand, and I was somewhat elevated off the floor, and behind was a blue screen or green screen, something like that. I had to pretend that I was in his hand, and I was talking to him. That was kind of hard to do! (laughs) I had to really use my imagination. So Rhodes helped me a lot there. He gave me some hints on what to do. I spent a lot of time sitting in his hand. It just felt kind of strange at the time. And then, when I saw it in the movie, I went, “Oh, that’s how they did it.” It was quite a revelation. I was up there all by myself. There were a number of scenes where I was by myself, and those were the scariest. I’m afraid of heights, and they had a scaffold in the studio, and I was supposed to be climbing Tokyo Tower. So I had to get up on that scaffold, and I was frightened because I’m afraid of heights. So I was hanging on for dear life.

When I was in Mechanikong’s hand, I was up high, too. It was a little frightening because, like I say, I have a problem with heights.

BH: Some people have had a little fun with some of the lines you had in the film, such as when you’re talking to Kong, and you’re saying, “Don’t … shake … the … ship,” and things like that. Obviously you were doing what the script called for, but what was the approach to things like that? Was that something that Rhodes helped you with?

LM: He helped me, but it is so obvious I don’t know how to act when you look at that scene in particular. At least at the time I did not know how to act. I just did the best that I could possibly do. He helped me, so it would have been worse if he hadn’t helped me. I remember that one and one other one where I was mortified. When I see the film, I go, “Oh, my God.” In the beginning, when I’m supposed to walk through the ship, saying “Good morning” or “Hello” to everybody, I was like a robot. They kept trying to get me to loosen up, and I was doing my very best.  But, holy cow, that was bad.

Modeling for Honda at the Tokyo Auto Show. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Modeling for Honda at the Tokyo Auto Show. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

That was one of the first scenes that they shot. Prior to that, I was model. It was, “Stand here,” “Look here,” “Do that,” “Don’t move.” So I wasn’t used to using my body in movement. I came back to my dressing room after that opening scene, and I said to my mom, “They’re going to fire me.” (laughs) I said, “I did such a terrible job, and it’s not like I wish I could do it again because I don’t have a clue what I would do differently.” I was mortified; I was embarrassed. I knew I did terrible, and I didn’t know what to do about it. That was, I think, one of the first scenes, and then Rhodes kind of took me under his wing to try and help me because I was very stiff. As an actress, you have to believe what you’re doing. Now I could put myself in that situation, and pull it off, but then I couldn’t because I just didn’t know what I was doing.

BH: For your scenes, were there any changes or ad libs on the set, whether to accommodate your acting ability at the time? Were there any changes from the script that were going on for your scenes?

LM: Not that I recall for me. However, there was a line in the script. They were talking about the ship and saying something about “the water-sucking valve” wasn’t operating. All the English-speaking people, we were careful not to laugh, but we were just, “The water-sucking valve?!” I think Rhodes changed that line because it wasn’t “the water-sucking valve” anymore. But I don’t think really there was a whole lot of adlibbing going on because you have the Japanese actors speaking Japanese, you have the English-speaking actors speaking English. It’s all going to be dubbed in later, so we had to be pretty true so that the Japanese are reacting to what they think we’re saying. So I don’t think it allowed for much adlibbing or rewriting or anything like that. If there was rewriting going on, I wasn’t aware of it, or I don’t remember it.

BH: There were also other sets, such as the hovercraft set, the submarine set, of course, and you talked about the Tokyo Tower set, as well. What do you remember from the other sets, the hovercraft, the submarine, and so forth?

LM: What I remember from the submarine is, Takarada-san and I standing up in the tower, just chit-chatting about his family and everything. I remember that. It wasn’t, obviously, a real submarine, but there was a little tower that we were both in and talking, and I guess we must have had some scenes in it – yeah, we did. I just remember him and I having a conversation about life and his family, and my family and my background. That was one of the times we actually were able to talk one-on-one as friends.

In the hovercraft, I remember it. I don’t remember anything specific about it, except that both of the guys were there. I always liked it when they were both there. I don’t know why, but I always felt really comfortable when they were both there because I knew I was safe in the sense that if I was making a fool of myself, they would help me.  So it was always great when the three of us had scenes together. I enjoyed that.

I remember the prison scene. It was cold. They had made it cold, or it was supposed to be cold – I can’t remember which. I just remember it being really dark and feeling like I was in prison. All of that was towards the end of the film when I was starting to understand better what I was doing.

BH: Yes, that was the scene where they were trying to freeze you and Takarada-san to death. Did they actually (refrigerate the set)?

LM: I don’t recall. In my mind, they did. But I don’t know if that’s because it looked that way, and we had to act that way, or if it’s because it really was. I don’t remember that. He might remember; I don’t specifically remember.

BH: What were the typical hours? When would you go to the studio, and when would you go home? How many days a week were you filming?

LM: I remember having to be there early, like six or seven, for makeup and hair. We did a full day – until 5:00 or 6:00, something like that. There weren’t very many night shoots. I don’t recall times when we were there all day and all night. But it was a full schedule. I don’t remember if it was five days or six days, but to me my memory is that it was a full schedule, and we went to work every morning really early, especially Rhodes, Takarada-san, and I were always doing something almost every day. In fact, one weekend, one Sunday night – I used to go to bed at eight o’clock because I had to get up at five, and then get a taxi, and go to the studio – so one night I stayed out late with my friends. I think it was a Sunday night. I was really tired the next day, and I said, “I will never do that again!” So I think we pretty much had a full schedule.

BH: Do you remember how long filming lasted?

LM: I think it was probably about a month. Maybe it was two months. My mom might remember more. But I don’t believe it was over two months. It was so long ago I can’t recall for certain.

BH: How long was your commute to the studio?

LM: I think, at that time in the morning, it was only about an hour. I was living in Grant Heights in Narimasu. So I think it was maybe 45 minutes or an hour. At one point, my mom, before filming started, we actually went to the area around the studio to see about renting a place, so I wouldn’t have as long a commute. Then we just decided we would just take a taxi every day, and I could sleep in my own bed and get rest. So it wasn’t that bad. Of course, in Japan, everything takes time because of the traffic.

BH: Off the set, what did you do during filming? Did you socialize with Rhodes very much or just your circle of friends?

LM: We went out to dinner with Rhodes sometimes. Most of the time, though, during filming, I went home from the studio and stayed with my family and went to bed and got up and repeated it. At that particular time, I did not have very many American friends. I had one American friend because, from almost the time I arrived, I was always working downtown in Tokyo, Osaka, and places like that. So I wasn’t around American kids my age. I only had one real friend. I had a couple of Japanese friends, but again I was working so much I didn’t socialize a lot until filming was over and then things changed for me. I really didn’t do a lot because I was so busy.

BH: Did you watch any of the special effects scenes being shot?

LM: Yes, I did! The guy in the Kong outfit, and I watched as the little miniature helicopters went flying over the miniature jungle. It was really kind of cool! (laughs) I was fascinated in how the miniatures were so intricate and so true to life. It was low-budget, but I think they did an awesome job.

It was a real experience. I just loved the whole thing. I just thought making a movie was like a dream come true. It was just so interesting and fascinating, and everything was different. What I loved about making that movie was, every day was different. I would go to work, and every scene was different, every situation was different. In fact, this made it really hard for me, once I came back to the States and got in the real world, to have a job where you had to be there every day, and pretty much your day was the same. I had a real hard time adjusting to that. And that’s what I loved about acting and modeling and that whole creative process – every day was different. It wasn’t like work; it was like play. Even though, when I was making the film, I was intimidated at the beginning, and I was scared, I knew I wasn’t good. So that was embarrassing. Even though, it was a wonderful experience, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it.

Ms. Miller writes in English for her weekly radio program. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller writes in English for her weekly radio program. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: What were your memories, in general, of Toho Studios when you went there?

LM: I thought, “It’s so small,” because I’m thinking Hollywood. “It’s so small!” But everything seemed to fit and work exactly the way it was supposed to. I loved coming through the gates. It made me feel really special. (laughs) Going through the gates, “Oh, I get to make a movie!” Everybody had a purpose, and there were so many people that were required to make this film and any film come together.

Oh, and the commissary! One day, I was sitting there, and (Toshiro) Mifune walked in. I knew who he was.  He walked in, and he looked like a god. He looked as powerful in person as he did on film. I just looked and just marveled. It was one of the highlights of being there, being able to see him in person. I saw other actors that I recognized, but he was an international star. Everybody knew him all over the world. You felt it when he walked in the room; that’s how strong he was.

I remember going into the commissary in the beginning by myself. I’m an only child, so everywhere I was by myself. So it didn’t seem unusual to me. So I go into the commissary, and the first couple of times people are looking around like, “What is she doing here?” I could tell they were watching me, but as an American in Japan you’re somewhat familiar with that stare. I just went about my business. After a while, nobody paid me any attention when I was in the commissary. The novelty had worn off, I guess.

BH: When you were making the movie, what were your impressions of the film in general and how it was progressing at the time? So what were you thinking when it was all going on?

LM: That’s a really good question. I didn’t know that they shot things out of sequence. I thought we were going to start at the beginning, and then we were going to end. So that was a revelation when we started sometimes in the middle, and then we did the beginning, and then we did the end. So I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to flow together. That was a surprise to me when it was not being shot in sequence, which is normal. I know that now, but I didn’t at the time. What Rhodes and I talked about was how to adapt: when you just shot the end of something, how to go back and shoot the beginning, keeping the end in mind of what you were doing, say, in that particular situation. So that was interesting. I just trusted Honda-san, I trusted everybody there that I knew that they knew what they were doing. I just trusted that it would be the movie that they wanted to make. I don’t think I really thought more than that about it.

BH: Was there a premiere of the film? What did you think of the film when you saw it?

LM: There was a premiere in Tokyo. I don’t know if Rhodes was here or not. I can’t remember. I remember my mom and I went. My mom went with me everywhere. I was her little girl. After the film was made, all the English-speaking actors were dubbed into Japanese. I was looking at the movie, and at parts I wanted to crawl under the chair because I knew how bad I had done. When I heard myself speaking Japanese with somebody else’s voice, I always thought, “They picked a really good person for my voice.” I felt they picked someone appropriate. But it couldn’t sound like my voice coming out of that person on the screen. It was embarrassing, it was exciting; I was proud and embarrassed at the same time. I really loved it. I really loved it. I thought it was great.

BH: What are your thoughts on the dubbed version in America where, obviously, another actress does your voice?

LM: Completely opposite. They picked someone, I don’t know who she was, but it was not the right person. As bad at acting as I (was) with my voice, she just accentuated it. I was very not happy. I thought I was going to be dubbing it because Rhodes was back in the States, dubbing his voice. I thought I was, too, but I did not have a Screen Actors Guild contract. So they didn’t have to use me. Probably I wouldn’t have acted that much better than what I did originally, but I was very disappointed in the voice that they picked. I thought it made it really cheesy, my part. I was very much unhappy with it.

I wasn’t happy with Arthur about that. I’ve never seen or talked to Arthur since then, but I was not happy with what he did (with) that. I would have done it for free. He could have flown me back to the States and just flown me back to Japan. But it’s all water under the bridge.

BH: I think that does it for King Kong Escapes. So let’s move on to a movie in which you had a much smaller role, The Green Slime. How did you get cast in The Green Slime?

LM: I had an agent at the time, a Japanese lady. I can’t remember her name. She said that they had asked for me, but she did not want me to do it because it was too small of a part. I guess it wasn’t the wisest move. If I had planned on a career, a long-term career, I would not have done it. But I said, “Oh, I want to work!” So I did it, anyway, because I just wanted to work and be on a movie set. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t the lead or even the fifth lead! (laughs) I was background. I just enjoyed being on the set.

Linda Miller takes singing lessons on the advice of a radio program who tried to turn her into a pop star. The singing coach, however, wasn't impressed! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Linda Miller takes singing lessons on the advice of a radio program who tried to turn her into a pop star. The singing coach, however, wasn’t impressed! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Harry the Arab, I think, was the name of the agent (from earlier in the discussion). Something the Arab! He had a lot of foreign talent that did bit parts and stuff like that.

Anyway, that’s how I got it. Somebody contacted my agent or my agent knew somebody.

BH: Do you have any memories of the director, Kinji Fukasaku?

LM: Not at all, to be honest with you. The memories I have is that the female lead and the male lead – I can’t remember their names – she’s an Italian, and he used to play in Westerns.

BH: Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Horton.

LM: Exactly. I remember them.

BH: How about Richard Jaeckel?

LM: Oh, yeah, I remember him! I thought he was nice. I thought he was more interesting. The others were more standoffish, but he was approachable. I don’t recall any specific conversations, but I just remember him being kind of a regular guy, and the other two being more unapproachable. I don’t know if it’s because I was background – I don’t know why. But he was approachable, and I wasn’t there but just a couple of days, and he just seemed like he was soaking in everything and enjoying his time that he was there.

BH: So he looked like he was actually having a good time, making the film.

LM: Yeah, I got the impression he was having a good time. I didn’t get that so much from the other two. But I was only there for a couple of days, and I had just finished filming with Rhodes who totally enjoyed his time in Japan. He was just having a great time, and I didn’t get the joy from those two that I did from Rhodes and from Richard.

BH: How was Toei Studios? What do you remember about being on the sets there?

LM: I remember thinking I like Toho better. Toei was closer to my house; it was not that far. To me, once you’re inside a set, they all look alike. I don’t remember walking to the set, I don’t remember what the studio grounds were like; I don’t remember any of that. But I remember being inside, and they all look alike. Even in Toho, they all look alike. But I do recall feeling like Toho was the Cadillac of the studios. They had more prestige, I think, than the others.

BH: Do you recall any of the other background actors, the other nurses, or anyone like that?

LM: Not specifically. Sorry. I was only there for a couple of days.

BH: Certainly. I understand. How about any of the alien creatures that were walking around?

LM: (laughs) Oh, yeah, I recall those! (laughs) I just thought they were not very believable. That’s what I thought.

BH: I’ve heard conflicting stories. I don’t know if you would remember. I heard that they actually hired children to play in the costumes, and I heard others say that that was not the case. Do you remember who was actually in the costumes – was it children or adults, maybe?

LM: You know, I don’t specifically remember. But, when you said “children,” that rang a bell. But I don’t know why. I can’t say either way.

BH: What was the timeframe of the shoot on The Green Slime? Every day how much time were you required to be on the set?

LM: I think I was there three to five days, is all. I don’t think they were full days. But I had to be there in the morning, if I remember correctly.

BH: What did you think of The Green Slime? Was there any sort of premiere for it, or did you just happen to see it later?

LM: I saw it on TV for the first time when I was back in the States.  I was not involved in or knew about any premiere. The first time I saw it was on late-night TV.

On the set of English for Millions with James Harris, a weekly broadcast on NHK. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

On the set of English for Millions with James Harris, a weekly broadcast on NHK. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Next I’d like to ask you about your relationship with Yosuke Natsuki.

LM: I was still making King Kong Escapes, and I saw him in the commissary. I thought, “Wow! Who’s that?” Then somebody told me he wanted to talk to me. I was smitten almost immediately. Then, once I got to know him, we went out on a date. I remember he had a little green MG. Of course, I never drove in Tokyo. I would not even consider driving in Tokyo. But he would drive all over the place, go all over downtown and stuff. I don’t remember where our first date was, but I remember I really had a good time. I liked him; he was fun to be with. He just was down-to-earth and very fun to be with. With my Japanese and his English, we communicated pretty good. There wasn’t a major language gap. I just fell in love! (laughs) I thought and still do think he’s the best of the best. We did a lot of things together. It was really, really hard to leave.

He took me to the first fancy restaurant I’ve ever been to where you had finger bowls to wash your hands. I didn’t know what they were! (laughs) He taught me. I remember at that place – it was really fancy – they served me bread instead of rice. I so much wanted the rice instead of the bread.

He met my mom. My mom adored him. My mom thought he was really great. He treated her with a lot of respect. He treated me with a lot of respect. I’m serious, he was the best of the best.

Before I left, there were talks of me doing some kind of a TV show that I could stay in Japan. Nothing was firmed up; it was just talking. I didn’t pursue it because I was 20 years old, and I knew I was too young to stay in Japan without my parents and no other family, just to be there on my own. I wasn’t mature enough. So I came back to the States, and he and I continued to communicate. In fact, I went to meet with his friend in L.A. who used to be married to the guy who wrote The Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller). Natsuki somehow got the two of us together, and I met her at a hotel, I think. So my connection with him was strong the whole time. I was back in the States for about, maybe, four to six months, and we wrote, and we called. I missed him terribly.

Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

In July, I told him I was coming back to Tokyo. I thought I was coming back to get married. I don’t think he knew I was coming back to get married! (laughs) We spent about two weeks together, and then he said, “I can’t marry you.” Boy, that was really rough. I understand now that it probably was a good thing he didn’t. I was way too young to get married in the first place, and then he had his career. This is just my opinion – I don’t know this for a fact – but I’ve often wondered if him marrying a foreigner, how it would affect his career. He was at the height of his career at the time. Even though he was great, and we got along, he still was very Japanese. I wasn’t very American, but I was American enough that there would have been some clashes, I think. So, anyway, that’s all philosophical stuff; I don’t even know if it’s true.

I remember him saying to me, “You need to go back to the States, and you need to marry a Texan.” I thought, “Where’d that come from?!” (laughs) “A Texan?!” So I came back to the States. It took me a long, long time to get over him. I remember, I think in ’71 or ’72, out of the blue he sent me a letter. He asked me to meet him in Hawaii. I wanted to go with all my heart, and I never answered his letter. I never went. I wish I would have answered it now; I feel really bad now I didn’t answer it. But at the time I didn’t answer it because I was hurting so bad that I didn’t want to have to go see him and then part again. I just didn’t think I could deal with it emotionally. Instead of writing him and telling him that, I just didn’t answer. Then, years later, I lost his phone number, I lost his address, I didn’t know how to reach him. I’ve always just wanted to tell him what a great experience it was being with him and how much he meant to me. I just think when somebody is so highly thought of, they need to be told. And I wanted to tell him that. The memory is very precious, and I just wanted him to know that he really was something special to someone in this world.

My family left (Japan) and returned to the States probably about eight months after I met him.   Everything that I had experienced in Japan in the business was not what I experienced when I came back. I went to acting school. I did a couple of TV shows, but it wasn’t the same experience. Number one, I wasn’t a novelty. I was like everybody else. But the business didn’t have the heart that it did for me in Japan. I don’t think I so much wanted to be an actress here in the States as I wanted to have that experience that I had in Japan. So I left acting. I didn’t have any regrets. I knew that I was not mature enough to deal with the sleazy side that’s definitely prevalent. I was not mature enough to deal with that, know how to cope with that, and I knew that for my spiritual well-being I needed to close that door. So I closed that door on acting, but I still, when I have an opportunity to do something in church or somewhere else, I’ll take the opportunity because it’s fun, and I love it.

BH: What TV shows did you act in, in the States?

LM: I did one My Three Sons (“The Other Woman,” Season 9, Episode 20). It was the guest-starring role, and I played “the other woman.” It was all a misunderstanding; it was not the other woman. Anyway, I did one My Three Sons at CBS. Then I did a couple of Bill Cosby specials. I did some skits on that. Right when I left to go see Natsuki, I was up for a pilot, but I left to be with him. Of course, I didn’t get the pilot; I don’t know if I would have, even if I had stayed. But I was up for a pilot. So it was just, maybe, about a two- to three-year period where I was studying, and I was pursuing it. But I was not committed. I like acting; I did not like the business of acting. So I didn’t pursue it.

Linda Miller and King Kong became fast friends. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller and King Kong became fast friends on the Toho lot. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Well, after acting, what career did you find yourself in?

LM: I was always one heck of a typist, from the fourth grade. My mom went to typing school, and after school, we would go to her class together. I would sit in the background, and I learned how to type. So, in school, I won all kinds of typing awards. So I thought, “Well, I’ll be a secretary.” And that’s when I discovered how I didn’t like nine-to-five and every day being the same! So that was a hard adjustment. I worked for a big CPA firm. One of the partners was Japanese, and all of his clients were Japanese, so that’s why I was hired, because I knew enough Japanese to be cute. (laughs) Then, when I left him, I went to work for the president of one of the Japanese banks. I was bored out of my mind; I had nothing to do. I was there, I think, as a novelty. He has an American girl who speaks Japanese as his secretary. So I left that, and then I got back into the entertainment business. I worked at A&M Records in the international division, doing advertising. Then I worked for Billy Jack Productions in the promotion department. But now I was on the other side of the business.

Then my mom got sick. While she was recuperating, I quit my job at A&M Records and went to run her business. Then I got into the business side of life. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for DirecTV, and then I got involved in mortgages. I became a mortgage broker, and I was broker in California from ’77 to ’94. I had my own company, had loan offices, and did really well. Then, in ’92, I got divorced, and then I got restless. I just wanted to move; I’d been in California for 26 years, and I just wanted to move. A friend of mine had a house in Oklahoma and said, “Just go live there for a year until you figure out what you want to do.” So my mom and I moved to Oklahoma, and I hated it. Luckily in 1995 I got a job opportunity to do mortgages in Virginia, so I moved to Virginia to see how I liked it, and then my mom moved about a year later. I did mortgages until 2000.

After I left the mortgage business I went into the home-building business.  I have a partner, and he does the hard part; I do the fun part. I’m in the model center, and I design the houses, draw up the plans, help the customers pick out all the pretty things, and do all the ordering. So I do that part, and he does the physical part of it. In 2008, when the economy here really started to tank, our business went way down. We still have it open, but we’re not doing the volume we used to do. In the meantime, someone approached me who needed someone to run their business.  So I worked out a deal where I could stay where I’m at right now (home-building model center). So I have two businesses: one I own and one I run. I’m really busy! (laughs)

BH: In closing, what would you like to tell the readers of this interview?

LM:  Very rarely, maybe never, does someone have the opportunity to revisit and relive the best experiences in their lives. I am very grateful that I have been given this gift. I loved Japan and a part of my heart will always remain there – partly because of Natsuki but mostly because of the Japanese people themselves.  It says in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has a plan for each of us – a plan to give us hope and a future. I’m still alive, so I know I still have a plan waiting to unfold for me.  I’m looking forward with expectation to what’s in store for me now. Thank you again, Brett.