LINDA HARDISTY CELEBRATED: Author Mike Worley Remembers the Beloved Ultra Seven Actress

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Mike Worley during his law-enforcement career. Photo courtesy of MIke Worley.

Mystery writer Mike Worley has enjoyed a multifaceted career that has run the gamut from serving as the chief of police in Meridian, Idaho, to teaching students as a university instructor. Mr. Worley was very close with Linda Hardisty, the late actress best remembered as Dorothy Anderson from episodes 14 and 15 of Tsuburaya Productions’ Ultra Seven (1967-68), for many years. Because Ms. Hardisty suddenly passed away in 1986, very little information about her life has been available to fans of the series. In Japan, Ms. Hardisty continues to be remembered by the show’s many fans, and with the 50th anniversary of the series rapidly approaching, interest in Linda Hardisty has only increased among Japanese fans. Vantage Point Interviews is proud to present this conversation with Mike Worley about the life and legacy of Linda Hardisty.

Brett Homenick: Please tell us about yourself and your background.

Mike Worley: I spent most of my career in law enforcement in the Boise, Idaho, area. I retired from that to teach at a university.

BH: How did you meet Linda Hardisty?

MW: Linda was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. My cousin was Linda’s good friend in junior high and high school. She introduced us when Linda came back to the U.S. because of a death in her family. My cousin felt that we were very similar in temperament and interests.

BH: How would you describe your relationship with her?

MW: We enjoyed a magical and special time together. As with many couples at that stage of life, we discussed our careers, our aspirations, our future, marriage, and children. Career pursuits separated us, but we stayed in touch, and I anticipated a day when we would be together again. But time and circumstances and a tragedy did not allow that.

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Author Mike Worley’s favorite pidture of Linda Hardisty. Photo courtesy of Mike Worley.

BH: What were her hobbies and interests?

MW: She loved nature and she enjoyed gardening. She also enjoyed interpretive dance.

BH: Why did she move to Japan?

MW: After she graduated from high school, she went to Japan to visit her sister. Her sister’s husband was stationed in Japan with the U.S. military.

BH: How did she feel about her experiences there?

MW: She loved Japan very much. It was always her goal to go back someday. Although she enjoyed her experiences as an actress, she was most happy teaching English to Japanese people, from children to adults. That was the thing she really wanted to continue doing.

BH: Did she talk about her acting and modeling jobs there?

MW: She had not aspired to be an actress but enjoyed the opportunity, the work, and the people she met there. We discussed some of her experiences, but it wasn’t something we talked about a lot.

BH: What did she do after she came back to the States? What kind of a career did she have?

MW: She graduated from Boise State College (now Boise State University) with a degree in English. She had previously attended Sophia University in Tokyo and was able to transfer most of her credits. She became an English teacher in the U.S.

BH: Unfortunately, Linda passed away at the young age of 39. How did you find out about her passing?

MW: I received a phone call on the morning following her death. It was a shock and very unexpected.

BH: What else would you like to us to know about Linda? How should we remember her?

MW: Linda was a beautiful spirit, extremely intelligent, and a loving and caring person. She had an endearing shyness about her but could put it aside when needed. She was most happy when she could share her knowledge with others, which made her a wonderful teacher.

To find out more about Mike Worley, and to order his mystery and suspense novels, please visit his official Web site.

LORD ZEDD SPEAKS! Voice Actor Robert Axelrod on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers!

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Voice actor Robert Axelrod.

Robert Axelrod, one of television’s most prolific voice actors, has seen an impressive career both on- and off-screen. His voice can be heard in such television programs as Digimon, Cowboy Bebop, Robotech, The Hallo Spencer Show, and many others. He has appeared in such films as Murphy’s Law (1986), The Blob (1988), and The Last Shot (2004). His best-known role, however, would be the voice of the evil Lord Zedd on the wildly successful TV show of the mid-1990s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Mr. Axelrod was kind enough to reminisce about his work on Power Rangers as well as some of his other genre roles with Brett Homenick. Note: This interview was originally published on Kaiju-Fan Online in 2005.

Brett Homenick: How did you get your start in acting?

Robert Axelrod: When I was in kindergarten, the teacher brought in an emptied-out television. Gutted. Our assignment? Climb in and do ten minutes. “Entertain us,” she said. I volunteered first. I climbed in, not knowing what I was going to do. I peered through the glass screen out to my awaiting audience. I was home!

Now I was a child of television and foreign films. No kidding about the latter. My parents used to take us to see foreign imports. I was reading subtitles by then, so I had a bit of sophistication mixed in with the TV I was so sucked into. TV was different then. There was live stuff like Playhouse 90 doing fine plays by the best writers, like Requiem for a Heavyweight by Paddy Chayefsky. The Twilight Zone was great! Serling wrote some episodes and got the best sci-fi writers to participate. Shows then had one producer calling the shots instead of ten nowadays. (My God, the opening credits move ten minutes into an hour show today!) A half-hour program had 28 minutes to tell the story, instead of 22 today. The camera stayed steady, stayed put, rather than this slick cinema verite some of the cop shows employ. Let the actor and writer tell the story. I watched and, even at five, had some kind of innate ability to imitate what I saw.

The Ed Sullivan Show was a staple at our house on a Sunday night, followed by Steve Allen. Ed often had a guest named Senor Wences, who would make little hand puppets using his own hand for the body of the puppet, painting the face on the inside of his hand. His thumb, moving up, down, and sideways against base of the index finger made for a talking mouth, Wences supplying the ventriloquized voice. He was the best! So I did what any self-respecting actor would do, I stole from him, threw in a little Jerry Lewis, a lot of Kukla, Fran and Ollie and let it rip. I was “in the zone” and had my fellow students cracking up. I suppose that planted the seed. I did a few local commercials when I was a kid, and theater every summer with a neighborhood rep group, plus school plays. Keep in mind, I also wanted to be a pro hockey player, a pro golfer, and a dozen other things. I was one scattered kid. Even into my 20s, I quit acting for music (self- and friends-taught electric bass) for eight years. I didn’t get fully centered on acting until my late twenties.

BH: What led to your involvement in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers? How did you get cast as Lord Zedd?

RA: I’d begun working for Saban Entertainment in 1984 when they were in small digs in Studio City. We did tons of cartoon work, mostly Japanese programs adapted into English, before Power Rangers hit. Highlights were Wowser which ran two or three years on The Family Channel, Little Women on HBO, and Hallo Spencer. Spencer was a gas. From Germany, it was way ahead of anything on the air in terms of sophistication, which may have been its downfall in terms of airtime. I think Spencer and Wowser are the two finest products we produced. Spencer ended up with a woeful 6 a.m. time slot on Channel 5 here in L.A. Ran about six months. I feel had Saban nurtured the series correctly in terms of distribution and targeting HBO, the show could have won a Cable ACE Award. The show did get some international distribution.

So I was part of the family, having voiced, written, and at times directed all these projects, when Saban finally sold Fox TV on Power Rangers. I was handed the role of Finster because the producers knew it was right up my alley. I think I did do one audition more as a formality. Lord Zedd didn’t come as easy. When I heard the character was entering, I nagged and nagged post-production producer Scott Page (my buddy for years) for an audition. I had actually developed the voice eight months prior for another character. The job went to another actor, but I swore I would use it one day. With some adjustments, I auditioned three times for Zedd, had to call the executive producer Eric Rollman and convince him that was actually my doing that husky, Marlboro-laden voice, which was all mine. Scott would electronically futz with it in the studio, but by the time it got through post-post-production and on the tube, the futz was gone. When Scott called me to tell me I had the part, I was flyin’. Between Finster, whom of course I continued to voice, and Zedd, I believe I did 220 episodes of the show. Plus the first movie and the live show. It was a good ride, the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame.

BH: Did you enjoy your role as the voice of Lord Zedd?

RA: Of course I enjoyed voicing Zedd. As I mentioned earlier, it was something of a coup to win the role, and the opportunity to display more range led to more work within Saban, on lesser-known projects like the 26-episode Journey to the Heart of the World. I voiced one of the lead crewmen aboard an 18th-century sailing vessel, carrying the heroes to a new adventure on the high seas in each episode.

BH: What did you like about the character?

RA: What I loved about Zedd was that the character had the majority of the show’s dialogue, and I like to work! Zedd had integrity, a word whose dictionary definition is “wholeness.” He was wholly evil, intent on destroying “The Power Twerps” and taking over the world … or at least Angel City. I liked the stately quality of the character, similar to Darth Vader. He wasn’t stupid and always bounced back for more. Power Rangers became the most popular show on TV in the past 20 years in its prime, surpassing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in ratings, toy demand, and whatever else is used to rate the popularity of a show. I’m proud to have been part of that.

BH: What didn’t you like?

RA: What I didn’t like was when Zedd and Rita got married. I was glad to see Rita come back, but as a couple, both characters began to be comic relief rather than threats. The show had the freedom to do anything with them, as they hired a girl from L.A. to play Rita so they could shoot totally original footage. (Barbara Goodson continued to do the voice, thank goodness.) I would have preferred to see an uneasy alliance between the two, with some good old double-crossing, rather than her drugging Zedd with a love potion. Would have created more tension.

Another tough thing to work with was the stuntman that actually wore the Zedd costume and was filmed. His body language was quite acceptable, but he spoke the lines way too rapidly. I wanted to keep the character stately, slow in pace and impinging in tone, but he made that difficult. He was no actor. I asked several times if I could be on the set to work with him, on my own time, but the opportunity never materialized. I let it go after a while. We spent a good deal of time rewriting lines, which turned out fine, as I was sure to get Zedd’s proper phrasing in. I have to admit that a good deal of Zedd’s dialogue was to explain the plot, so that stuff had to be done rapidly and economically. I never got paid anything extra for participating in rewrites. Scott Page, David Walsh, the engineer, and I just put our heads together and came up with the stuff on the spot.

Oh, I would have liked to see Zedd actually land on Earth more often, perhaps having the power to take human form and “go undercover.” That would have been a gas. Of course, “all of me” would play the human-form part!

BH: Is it true that the role of Lord Zedd had to be rewritten well into the show because children found the character to be too scary?

RA: I heard that Saban got a considerable amount of mail from irate mothers complaining that Zedd was too evil. The show was attacked in the press for being too violent. It was mostly robots clashing, really! The evening news is more violent. I had two protesting letters published in major L.A. papers supporting the character and show, plus one in TV Guide.

BH: How else, if at all, were you involved with the production of Power Rangers? For example, did you voice any other characters? Did you ever have an on-camera role? Did you write any scripts?

RA: Yeah. Besides rewrites in the studio, I wrote some adapted dialogue (that’s dialogue for the Japanese footage used in the show) the first year. This consisted of fights between the various monsters and the Rangers, plus time-coding so the stuff could be done in the studio. I recall doing at least three “guest-star” monsters, especially when I was just voicing Finster. I remember one time I’d just finished voicing a couple of episodes as the Putty Monster-Maker when Scott showed me the guest “ogre” and said he hadn’t cast it yet. I gave it a whack for a couple of lines, and we were a go. I forgot the dude’s monster name, but he turned out to come back a couple of times, even when Zedd appeared, so I kept voicing him. Turned into some extra work, which I always appreciated. The not-so-fun part of it is when I voiced the guy, I had to accept working at a lower rate than when I voiced Zedd and Finster. The politics of money. Long after Zedd, Rita, and Company said their goodbyes, I was awarded a small on-camera role on the show. I was treated with a lot of respect, which was pretty cool.

BH: Were you surprised by the overwhelming popularity of the series?

RA: No, I wasn’t surprised. After many years of show biz, I knew what comprised a hit show: Strong charismatic characters, simple formulaic plots, lots of action (destroy property, threaten the world, good guys win in the end but the bad guys always regrouping for yet another strike next episode), and a united production team with a benevolent dictator at the helm; in this case the two bosses, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, calling the shots. “My way or the highway.” Nowadays, you read the opening credits on many shows, and there are, like, ten producers! It’s amazing anything gets up on the screen with all those chiefs putting in their two cents, rationalizing their seven-figure salaries. Casting for the actors has become a nightmare because you’ve got to get those ten nodding wooden dolls to nod “yes.”

BH: What are some of your favorite anecdotes from the cast and crew that you remember from your work on the show?

RA: My favorite story comes not from any work situation (that was all fun), but from the premiere of the first Power Rangers movie. After the screening, which took up two theaters in Westwood (near UCLA) to hold all the invitees, Saban threw a big party. Food, games, small rides, tons of toy giveaways, the works. Now the on-camera cast got seats in the A-theater. We lowly voice people were relegated to the B-theater along with the second cousins, once removed, of the TV crew. No news coverage. As I said earlier, Saban, and most other companies in the genre, keep the voice people on low profile to maintain the illusion that the characters we voice are real.

We dragged over to the party, schmoozed, ate, generally just hung out. We saw the kids who played the Rangers, and the rest of the regulars just sort of hanging there, feeling a little lost. There was a D.J. on a big stage, spinning some kind of lousy music. He was also yakking about something or other, and every time he got on the microphone, he flopped. No one was listening. So Barbara Goodson (Rita), Kerry Casey (Goldar), Dave Mallow (Baboo), Mike Sorich (Squatt), and I (Zedd and Finster), wandered over to the stage. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but one of us got on the mike and began emceeing Power Rangers trivia. At first, the parents and kids didn’t know who the hell we were … until we began speaking in character voice.

Within three minutes, we were swamped with kids and adults! We must have signed autographs for an hour and a half while playing trivia and improv(ising) on the mike. I’d like to think we made that bash happen. Never got a thank-you from the suits, but seeking praise was not on our agenda anyway. The point is, we were there for the kids.

BH: How would you rate Power Rangers as a TV program?

RA: How would I rate Power Rangers as a TV program? I’d rate it wildly successful beyond anyone’s expectations! The story behind the show coming over from Japan is right out of a film script. Haim Saban made regular trips to Japan to search for product to bring over and dub it into English. He shopped Power Rangers around for eight years before the president of Fox Kids finally took a chance on the show. I don’t remember her name, but it’s said she stated something like, “Either I’m going to get fired for this, or it’s going to be a runaway success.” Saban cast the kids, who all had their individual appeal, then the voices right out of the pool of nutcases including me, who’d been working for him for years, and everyone went to work. Well, the formula caught on. The toy craze was a natural, with Saban going into partnership with Bandai toys, and the rest is history. Look, I’m prejudiced, of course. I did 220 episodes, so how could I help being a fan? It was not a show that appealed to the intellect like Spencer. It was a wall of sight and sound, with touches of comic relief. So I give it a solid nine out of ten.

BH: You also provided the voice of Lord Zedd in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995). How did the movie version of the series come about?

RA: The first Power Rangers movie in 1995 was arranged and produced by 20th Century Fox, the company that owns Fox TV, which is the station that aired the show on TV.

BH: What was it like being involved with the movie? How was it different from working on the TV series?

RA: I don’t remember who wrote the script. Fox hired some dingy broad named Susan to produce the thing, and let me tell you, she was a grade-A bastard. Her whole scene was to save Fox a nickel here, a dime there. American kids were supporting the show, yet she brought the production to Australia to shoot. When it came to doing the voices, the work was to be done here in L.A. She wanted to replace us with cheaper talent. Friends of mine actually auditioned for Lord Zedd. It was only via the intervention of Haim Saban that we were finally hired. We had to work non-union. It was not pleasant. Even the work was unpleasant as I recall. Though we made decent money, I felt we were still dreadfully underpaid because there were no residuals involved.

BH: I understand you didn’t work on the sequel, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997). Why was that?

RA: I imagine that Zedd was cut form early drafts of the sequel simply to save money.

BH: You were also involved in the American version of Zeiram (1991) as a voice actor. How did you get involved with that project?

RA: I got Zeiram simply by knowing the producer-director of the English version, Carl Macek. He knew the role was right up my alley and hired me without audition. I forget the name of the character, but he was one of the two male leads, the “comic relief,” so to speak. The role was done by one of the leading Japanese comedians, the Japanese Jim Carrey at the time.

BH: What kind of work do you perform on the movie? Did you only work as a voice actor?

RA: Voicing that role was my sole involvement in the picture.

BH: The Zeiram series has a cult following in America. What are your thoughts on that film?

RA: Remember, it’s a Japanese film and already had a following there. I’m very pleased that the English version got a cult following here in the U.S. I think it’s an excellent, quite stylized sci-fi picture. Made before the days of computerized special effects, it depended more on the audience’s imagination than in-your-face crash-bang-boom like, say, Terminator 2, which got awfully boring after the first 20 minutes for me. I lean toward sci-fi that still lays much of the movie’s “oomph” in the actors’ hands, like Alien.

BH: I understand you recently finished production on a movie titled The Last Shot with Matthew Broderick. Mr. Broderick is best-known to Godzilla fans for his role in TriStar’s Godzilla (1998). What was Mr. Broderick like to work with?

RA: Regarding The Last Shot, I didn’t work with Broderick at all, so I can’t answer what he was like. I worked with Alec Baldwin. He was busy on his cell phone between takes. We were shooting very simple stuff, right out on Hollywood Boulevard, so there was a lot of hustle and bustle, no real chance to sit and chat. He was sitting in his “star” chair, and I was relaxing in a little courtyard a few doors down with an actress who was shooting a clip with Baldwin just before me. In fact, I was done by 10:30 a.m.

Matthew did send me a gift, a beautiful beach towel, with a tie-dyed beach scene and “THAT’S A WRAP” printed on it. Funny story: The package was delivered regular post office, so the postman just dropped it off. The return address read “MB” with a New York City address number. Now this was the time when we had that anthrax scare, so I was afraid to open the package. “Who the hell is MB from New York?” I wondered. I wasn’t expecting anything, and I didn’t make the connection. For all I knew, I’d open it, and a terrorist bomb would blow me to smithereens. Well, I live life in the fast lane, so I went ahead and opened the darn thing anyway. I had an open umbrella just in case a puff of some vile substance wafted out of the open box. I also had my next-door neighbor, who’s a good friend and my landlady, on the porch with me to call 911 immediately if so much as a fly emerged.

When I saw “Providence,” which was the working title for The Last Shot, on the towel when I pulled it out, I made half a connection. It was my landlady who reminded me that I had mentioned I was doing a film that starred Matthew Broderick. Then the whole thing dawned on me. Guess he sent the whole cast a gift, even the actors and actresses he didn’t directly work with. Wasn’t that nice of him? My big question is, “Where’s my gift from Alec Baldwin?!”

BH: Have you worked on any other sci-fi or fantasy films of Asian origin?

RA: Well, you know I’ve worked on tons of Asian sci-fi and fantasy. One particular one comes to mind: a full-length live-action sci-fi rock musical! I wrote the English script, cast, and directed the dubbing, and voiced one of the supporting characters. It’s called Metropole 1999. Ring a bell? It’s some of the best work I’ve done in the dubbing field as I wrote, directed, and acted in it. We even had a big screening in Santa Monica. Don’t ask me the plot because I don’t recall, but the original was meant to showcase a rising Japanese rock star. We got the lead singer from rock group Quiet Riot to do his singing. The guy was great. I was able to hire lots of dubbing friends, all of whom were and still are tops in the field. What became of the film I know not. I regret never getting a cassette copy of the thing. That’s definitely a highlight. If you can track this one down, my hat’s off to you. I’ve lost contact with the producer. We did it in the late ’80s, and it led to a lot of work for me.

BH: What’s your favorite genre to work on?

RA: Believe it or not, my favorite genre is stage comedy. But in reality, my fave is the one that’s paying me. I really sink my teeth into anything I’m doing, be it voice-over work, on-camera or onstage work, or directing and writing.

BH: How have you enjoyed voice-acting as a profession?

RA: I love doing voice-overs because there’s no make-up, lights, or camera angles. It’s just the genre and the voices.

WHEN ULTRA WAS NOT ENOUGH! Actor Nick Curror on Space Warriors 2000!

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Nick Curror (right) plays the young boy Nicholas in Space Warriors 2000.

Space Warriors 2000 (1985) was an illegitimate Ultraman movie produced by Thai director Sompote Saengduenchai (a.k.a. Sompote Sands) and Dick Randall, a low-budget film producer responsible for a great number of Z-grade horror and exploitation movies. The film itself was made up from footage taken from Sands’ The 6 Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army (1974) as well as the Japanese compilation films Ultraman Zoffy (1984) and Ultraman Story (1984) and featured English dubbing as well as newly shot scenes of actors that introduced the film. Space Warriors 2000 only aired on American TV a few times in 1985 before Tsuburaya Productions, the producers of the Ultraman series, threatened Randall and Sands with legal action, resulting in its not being shown ever again.

The story of Space Warriors 2000 centers around a young boy named Nicholas, whose life changes when he is given an Ultraman toy that proves to be more than what it seems. Nicholas was played by Nick Curror, who currently lives in Thailand, making his living as a musician. While his memories of the shoot are few, this interview does shed some interesting light on the making of this cult classic.
— Connor Anderson and Brett Homenick

Vantage Point Interviews: What was your background before you got cast in Space Warriors 2000?

Nick Curror: No acting experience.

VPI: How were you hired to work on the film?

NC: A family friend.

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“Hey, Gomora, don’t you know who I am?” asks the red and silver superhero from M78.

VPI: How was the concept of the movie explained to you? For example, was any mention of Ultraman made to you at the time?

NC: Brief outline of the plot was explained.

VPI: Where were your scenes filmed?

NC: Belgravia, London.

VPI: Is there any particular reason your real name was used for your character’s name?

NC: I think it helped me receive directions easier, using my real name.

VPI: Who played your parents? I’d imagine they were your real ones.

NC: They were not my real parents. I don’t know who they are!

VPI: Was that your real voice we hear in the film?

NC: No.

VPI: What was the time frame of filming? How many days did filming take? What time of day were your scenes filmed? What were the dates, as best as you can remember?

NC: Two days filming, filmed in daytime – 1984, I think.

VPI: Do you have any memories of Marc Smith, the director? (Was that even his real name?)

NC: No memories, sorry.

VPI: Were there any retakes of your scenes? Were you given much direction?

NC: Sorry, no memories.

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VPI: Does anything stick out about the crew you worked with? Did they seem to know what they were doing?

NC: It didn’t feel like a real film set!

VPI: Did you meet producer Sompote Sands?

NC: No.

VPI: Did you get to keep your Ultraman toys?

NC: No.

VPI: How do you feel about the film?

NC: It’s pretty bad!

VPI: What’s your fondest memory of working on the flick?

NC: £75 fee! A lot of money to a 10-year-old in 1984.

VPI: Did you happen to act in any other projects?

NC: I’ve written music for films, as I am now a trained musician I’ve acted in amateur plays onstage.

VPI: What are your current activities these days?

NC: Musician living in Bangkok, Thailand.

The interview was conducted with questions by Brett Homenick, Connor Anderson, and Maxwell Bresee.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.’”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.