DR. WILLEM SAYS “SAYONARA” TO JUPITER! Actress Rachel Huggett Remembers Her Toho Star Turn

Retired actress Rachel Huggett, as she appears today. Photo © Rachel Huggett.

Toho’s science fiction film Sayonara Jupiter (1984) was an ambitious attempt by the studio to create an international box-office success on the level of the Star Wars series. Directed by Koji (Godzilla 1985) Hashimoto, as well as author Sakyo Komatsu (often called the Arthur C. Clarke of Japan), the end result was a mixed bag. Koichi Kawakita’s special effects were truly awe-inspiring, but the film’s drama often fell short of expectations. Because the film was not a massive hit, it is often overlooked by Toho aficionados, both in Japan and the United States.

Rachel Huggett starred as part of the international cast in Sayonara Jupiter as space linguist Dr. Millicent Willem. While some of the film’s Western actors were not quite ready for the silver screen, Ms. Huggett brings the necessary gravitas to the role of a scientist enlisted to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Ms. Huggett had a bit part as a teenager in Otto Preminger’s Skidoo (1968), starring Jackie Gleason. Ms. Huggett spent a year modeling in Japan in 1976, which was followed by a brief modeling stint in England. She returned to Japan in 1981 where she resumed modeling but soon gave it up for acting. While in Japan, Ms. Huggett appeared in some of Shochiku Studios’ celebrated “Tora-san” movies, regularly appeared on the Oretachi Hyokin zoku TV comedy program (starring “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), and acted in the 1984 film Shanghai Rhapsody, directed by Kinji Fukasaku (The Green Slime, Message from Space). Ms. Huggett went on to play the mother of actress Bridgette Andersen in the Cannon Group-produced Too Much (1987) in Japan.

Following her career in Japan, Ms. Huggett graduated from the Academia of Fine Arts, Bologna, in 1998. Since 2004, she has worked as a sculptor, getting a series of commission work for public sculpture and installations. She recently spoke with Brett Homenick about her memories of making the sprawling sci-fi epic Sayonara Jupiter at Toho Studios.

Brett Homenick: Please tell me a little bit about your early life and your background before you came to Japan, just whatever you’d like to tell me about your background.

Rachel Huggett: Before I was in Japan, I was traveling around. I was exploring the world, and I went to a lot of different countries. I left Canada soon after I turned 19. I’d had a job up north in a fishing camp that summer so had the grand sum of £350 left after I’d bought my ticket to Europe. Once there, I took the hippie route by bus and train through Europe, then Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. After a few months in India, I headed for Thailand. I was hoping to get work there teaching English, but it didn’t work out, so I went on to Hong Kong and then on to Japan. I was almost out of money by this time. I was actually going to leave Japan as I didn’t think I’d find work there, and then strangely enough a friend of mine said, “By the way, there’s this woman upstairs who has this modeling agency, and she might be interested in giving you some work.” So I went upstairs and spoke with her, and she said she’d give me some trial work, and then she gave me some more work, and then some more work! (laughs) So I kind of got into modeling by accident, and from there I eventually went over to acting.

BH: Were you actually born in the U.K., and did you grow up there?

RH: No, I’m Canadian. I’m originally from the prairies, from Winnipeg, but I also lived in Toronto and Vancouver. I’ve been here (the U.K.) for over 10 years. I was living in Italy after Japan and decided to come to the U.K. as I’d graduated from art college and wasn’t allowed to work there. My dad’s side of the family was English, so I could get citizenship easily here.

Dr. Millicent Willem (Rachel Huggett) and Eiji Honda (Tomokazu Miura) investigate the mysterious Jupiter Ghosts. Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: What actually brought you to Japan?

RH: I was interested in zen meditation and the whole Japanese culture, really. I was also interested in sumie (Japanese ink painting) which I eventually went on to study there. To be honest, I really didn’t know much about Japan beforehand. I had met a couple of Japanese in Greece, so I thought I’d pop by and say hello, as Japan was the next logical place to visit after Hong Kong! But I was aware of the Japanese spiritual outlook to things, which I felt was really interesting, and that tantalizing touch of the exotic.

BH: I see. Well, how did you actually get cast in Sayonara Jupiter?

RH: I’d been doing more acting because that was a lot more interesting than just modeling. Through my new manager, who had good connections to the acting industry, I got a lot of acting parts on TV programs and had a steady stream of small parts in films such as Tora-san and others. I still remember the day I was cast for Sayonara Jupiter. I went to Toho Studios with my manager and talked to (Koji) Hashimoto. I think (Sakyo) Komatsu was there too. It was very informal, and I’d already worked with Hashimoto before, and I also knew some of the other people there from previous acting work. It was just a chat, really, and then it was agreed I’d take the part – mind you there weren’t many Japanese-speaking foreigners around at that time, so that may have helped!

BH: Just backtracking a little bit, do you remember any of the acting jobs you did prior to Sayonara Jupiter?

RH: I remember I had a regular spot in the series Itsuka tasogare no machi de. I was the wife of the cook in the restaurant where many of the other characters would drop by. That ran for a couple of years, I think. There were quite a few, but I’ve forgotten most of them. Oh, there was a crazy movie I did about a robot. It was called Too Much (1987). A quite famous actress – Bridgette Andersen, I think she was about 10, maybe 11 – came from America to do this movie. I played the part of her mother. A dwarf played the robot – he actually went inside the machine. He was a wonderful character, a really fun guy. (My name doesn’t come up on that site – probably just as well, as the film was naff!)

BH: Well, getting back to Sayonara Jupiter, what do you remember about being cast and that whole process?

RH: I went to the studio, and I either worked with or knew the director, Hashimoto, before. I think I either worked with him or, like I say, I met him on other works. I think I worked with him on another movie. So I just went in and spoke with them. I also met Komatsu. It was just a chat, really. They didn’t ask me to do anything. As I sort of knew, they knew what I had been in, (and) they just sort of said, “Fine.” It was quite easy, actually. (laughs) I didn’t really have to do much. Like I said, I had worked with a lot of them before. I suppose that made things easier; I had some experience.

Dr. Willem arrives on Minerva Station in Sayonara Jupiter. Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: What were your initial impressions when you were cast, and you were getting familiar with the screenplay, and the ambitions that they had for the project? What were your initial thoughts of the whole movie?

RH: Compared to other films and TV programs I’d done, Sayonara Jupiter was especially enjoyable. It was quite relaxed. People seemed to get on very well. There was a good atmosphere. It was very different from the next film I did – Too Much – where there was a lot of tension and infighting. There were a few little hiccups but nothing serious. I think it really went smoothly, and in my opinion everybody got on really well together. It was fun because the sets were amazing. You could really enter into the spirit of things and feel that you were actually there. You couldn’t really ask for more from a film working on set.

BH: Do you remember anything from preproduction, such as getting fitted for costumes or visiting the sets? What do you remember?

RH: Yes, I do, especially the costumes. They just went all-out for the costumes. They spent lots of money and had a famous designer do the costumes. They were made in a material that’s fairly common today, but had just come out at the time. It was a type of mock-suede that hung very beautifully. They just made the most amazing costumes. I remember they even fitted me for boots, handmade to my foot size. I’d never experienced so much attention to wardrobe like that before! (laughs) You felt like you were being treated like a princess; it was just grand. It really was wonderful. So I have no complaints there.

BH: I’ve read conflicting accounts about who the “real” director was. Some have said that Koji Hashimoto was or Sakyo Komatsu, both of whom you mentioned earlier. Who directed you in your scenes?

RH: That was Hashimoto. I know that Hashimoto, the director, always wanted to do things a certain way. Perhaps Komatsu wanted to change things a little more than Hashimoto would have liked. Like I said, there wasn’t any overt tension, but I do remember some discussions I overheard about differences of opinion between Hashimoto and Komatsu, and there was a feeling among some of the staff that Komatsu was sitting in on the takes more than was necessary. I don’t think Hashimoto always got his way, but Komatsu wanted it maybe truer to the book and so had a lot of opinions about things.

BH: In your opinion, and as far as you remember, who do you think was really in charge? Would it have been Komatsu or maybe the producer, Mr. Tanaka? Would anyone settle disputes? Who do you think got the last word when there was a conflict from a creative standpoint?

RH: Hashimoto was the one in charge, although, unofficially, Komatsu was in charge, too. People seemed afraid of offending Komatsu. I think the two of them just sort of worked it out. I can’t say who got the last word. I would think sometimes Hashimoto would have gotten the last word, and sometimes Komatsu had the last word. In the long run, perhaps Komatsu, with his book, had a little bit more sway. It could be like that.

Rachel Huggett, as she appears in Kinji Fukasaku’s Shanghai Rhapsody (1984).

BH: I see. Just talking about Hashimoto a little bit in more detail, please describe him both on a personal level and how he would direct you in scene. So his personality as well as his directing style.

RH: Oh, Hashimoto was a wonderful guy. I liked him a lot. He was very kind. He took a personal interest in everyone. I remember one time my manager and I went to a set of a film I was involved in at Toho for some reason, and he was there. We got talking about Godzilla, and he took the trouble of taking me to the set (of Godzilla 1985) to see the Godzilla monster. So he actually took time out of his day to show me things because he thought I’d be interested.

Also, as a director, he was kind. He explained things. He was patient with you. But when he needed to be, he was a more direct. He was very good at explaining how you should do things. I don’t come from an acting background so I didn’t always get things right. So sometimes he’d say, “Don’t do it this way. Do it like that.” He’d take the time to explain things in a way that you could relate to. On a personal level as well as on a professional level, I really respected him.

BH: You hinted earlier at the massive special effects sets, such as the Moon and Minerva Station and the various spaceships that you’re on throughout the movie. Please talk about all the sets and what it was like to walk on the Moon and Minerva Base and all these other various places.

RH: I can especially remember the Moon set. We had these enormous spacesuits on, and they had taken tremendous care and effort and expense in getting the costumes right yet again. They were very realistic, like you were wearing the real thing. But they were also incredibly hot, and you had the studio lights on you, so got incredibly hot. Here we are on the Moon with these spacesuits, and they kept fogging up! (laughs) There’s steam inside! So they’d have to stop and open the visors and wipe them down from the inside. There were three of us in the scene, and we were absolutely boiling – dripping with perspiration. I actually thought I’d pass out at one point. Then they’d give me something to drink, and you’d go back, and we’d steam up again. It was really quite funny! (laughs) All part of the adventure!

On the impressive Moon set in Sayonara Jupiter. Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Well, what about when you’re visiting Jupiter with (Tomokazu) Miura, you’re piloting this other mini-spaceship. Do you recall anything from that particular set?

RH: Yes, I remember being on the spaceship with Miura. That was one of the first scenes I was in. It was very realistic, and I was impressed by the inside of the ship – the instrument panel particularly. They captured the sense of movement of the ship well, I thought. It was all extremely well built. You could actually believe that you were there, as the detail was so complete. Miura was great, and it was a good day filming.

BH: Do you remember the main Minerva Station? How big was it? Certainly, when you watch the movie, it looks like it’s a massive set. Was it as big as it looks, or was that just through camera tricks and so forth?

RH: It was enormous, actually. It was this gigantic room filled with people, work stations, massive screens and equipment. It was very detailed, as I remember.

BH: Moving on, your co-star is Tomokazu Miura, and he of course is the leading man. What do you recall about working with him on the movie?

RH: He was about my age, maybe a bit older. Very pleasant, very professional. He took his acting seriously, and he was good at it. He was rather an inspiration to be around because a lot of the foreigners on the set didn’t have that much acting experience, and you would see how to do things properly by watching him.

BH: Of course, that leads to the next few questions. There were many foreigners in the film, and the first one I’ll mention is, I believe his name is William H. Tapier. He plays your father, Commander Webb, in the film. What do you recall about him? He was the heavyset man with the beard.

RH: I remember doing the Moon scene with him and some scenes in the space station. I don’t have very strong memories of him.

With Commander Webb (William H. Tapier). Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Do you remember Diane Dangely? In the film, she has a thick accent. I don’t know if it’s French. Do you happen to remember where she was from?

RH: Yes, she was French.

BH: Any other memories of her at all?

RH: My main memory was that people were quite upset because, when they’d hired her in France, apparently she had long, lovely hair, and then when she arrived for the film her hair was much shorter and somewhat damaged. That quite disturbed them because they had wanted the hair to be a certain length – probably so they could create some good effects from it when she was in weightless space. (laughs) They were wondering what they were going to do.

But once she started on set everything seemed to go fine, and it wasn’t mentioned again. She was a bit more aloof than the rest of the cast. She spoke English with a very heavy accent, so I suspect she didn’t feel entirely comfortable speaking English. She didn’t mix with the rest of us foreigners much. She was the only one who was especially flown over from another country, so she was looked after differently from the rest of us actors who were already living in Japan. They put her up in a hotel or similar. Film staff were looking after her during her stay and making sure she was happy and getting to the set on time.

BH: You mentioned that Ron (Irwin, who played Captain Kinn) was the person you probably knew the best. Do you remember any details about him, where he was from, or anything like that?

RH: I think I may have worked with him before. We may have been at the same agency. We enjoyed chatting together between takes. I think Ron was American. He was a good laugh.

Eiji Honda and Captain Kinn (Ron Irwin) discuss things less important than the fate of the universe with Dr. Willem. Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Well, there are also two other famous Japanese actors who appear in the film in smaller roles. One you had some interaction with, and the other I’m not so sure. One is Masumi Okada. You have a little, brief interaction with him. Do you remember him at all and his personality?

RH: Is he the one with the mustache?

BH: Yes, that’s him.

Rachel Huggett fondly remembers working with veteran actor Masumi Okada. Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

RH: In my opinion, a good actor. Professional. He had been in a lot of films in Japan and was well known. I remember my manager had a very high opinion of him. He was respected by everyone on the set. He was an earnest kind of person, and I remember having a number of pleasant conversations with him.

BH: I don’t think you shared any screen time with him, but would you happen to recall Hisaya Morishige? He played the President of the Earth.

RH: I don’t really remember much of him at all, to be honest.

BH: Did you watch any of the special effects sequences being shot that you weren’t necessarily involved in? Did you happen to go on the special effects set and watch what they were doing?

RH: Yes, we definitely enjoyed watching the scenes with special effects in them if we were in the studio for the day – though most scenes had special effects!

One thing in particular that I thought was wonderful was the shootout scene, which I was in as well, the one that took place in a vast circular steel space with a massive cylinder in the center. We were fighting it out with laser guns. Miura and a lot of the others in the cast were there. I think that is where Diane got shot. That was an astounding set! It was absolutely overpowering; hard to believe that you weren’t actually living it. Those were the special effects that most impressed me, I think.

BH: Do you remember when you were required to be on set? Were the hours, say, nine to five, or do you remember at all?

RH: They varied. It depended how many scenes you had and where your scenes were being shot. So you would spend a lot of the day sort of hanging around because you might have something in the morning. Meanwhile, other scenes that you weren’t in got shot, and perhaps you wouldn’t have something until later on, maybe not until the evening. Sometimes, you’d go in, and you’d just have a single scene. Sometimes you’d have work that required you to be on set all day.

BH: And when you weren’t required to be on set at that particular moment, would you read a book or just talk to the other Westerners? Usually what would you do to kill the time?

RH: Oh, we’d usually socialize. It depends who you were with. I don’t remember much book-reading going on! There was quite a buzz around the whole thing. So there was a lot of excitement, and it was certainly a wonderful spirit of fun. But I suppose it was mainly socializing.

BH: In general, what do you remember about going to work at Toho Studios? … Is there anything that you recall about the general hustle and bustle of the studio at the time?

RH: There was a lot of hustle and bustle, definitely. I think there were other films going on at the same time but in other buildings. Like I said, I remember the Godzilla paraphernalia was around in all its glory. That was in another studio, and they still had a lot of the sets up for that. It might have been that they just filmed that before (or) that they were still filming bits of it. So, yes, there was definitely, I would think, other projects going on. There was a buzz throughout the whole place, really.

BH: When the film came out, your character speaks Japanese, and having watched the film, it definitely sounds like a native Japanese speaker. It doesn’t sound like your voice. So were you dubbed? In the finished film, I don’t suppose that’s actually you speaking Japanese.

RH: Well, actually, that was a big disappointment because I did speak Japanese fairly well, and I read all the scripts in Japanese. When we were rehearsing, I always read from the script in Japanese. I thought that it was good enough. I guess there were a few words or some phrases where they probably thought that it would be easier to understand if they dubbed me. I was actually speaking Japanese, so they dubbed me speaking Japanese!

BH: Actually, that does lead into another question. Was there a translator on set, maybe not necessarily for you, but for maybe some of the other actors who weren’t so proficient in Japanese?

RH: Yes, for the other actors, yes. As I say, I did speak Japanese fairly fluently, so I was all right. Certainly there would have been a translator for the French woman, though I don’t remember her translator. I think that a lot of the foreigners had lived there for a while, so (they) did speak some Japanese, but there was always someone on set who could translate if necessary. I don’t remember any specific translators, but yes, definitely, somebody would have been there for sure.

BH: Do you recall how the English lines in the film were handled? If anything wasn’t natural or didn’t sound right, could you or some of the other cast members say, “Can we rewrite it to say this because no English speaker would really say the line that way”? Is that something that could be done?

RH: Yeah, (we) used to do that all the time. Obviously they don’t always get it right, and they were usually quite appreciative of the intervention if it was something in our own language.

(After I discussed some of the background players in the movie, Ms. Huggett offered these memories.)

RH: Maybe you remember the scene when I first get to the space station. I have a suitcase or two beside me. I start walking, and the suitcases follow on behind. Do you remember that? It was simple, but I liked that special effect. I thought that was quite a nice touch.

BH: Do you remember how that was done?

RH: I think they were pulling it with fishing line or just a light wire. I remember it took a few takes because it was tricky to get the timing right. It didn’t initially move in the way it was supposed to move, so we did about three or four takes on that one to get the suitcases following me properly.

BH: (Was) there a sense on the set that they have great expectations for this film?

RH: You could understand that just from the money that they spent on the clothes, on the sets, on creating the whole atmosphere. They just threw everything at it they could to make it big, to make it glossy, to make it exciting. I remember Hashimoto and others mentioning that they were going to show the film in the West. That seemed to be a big deal for a Japanese film, especially at that time.

Sayonara Jupiter © 1984, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Did you have any interactions with the producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, at all?

RH: Yeah, I spoke to him. A couple of times, when Hashimoto was directing, Komatsu would say, “Oh, no, let’s do it this way,” or, “Let’s do it that way,” and then we’d try it that way. So they’d be almost directing together as such. There was interaction, but never anything unpleasant that I remember. Perhaps a bit of tension between the two of them, but nothing too bad, if you know what I mean.

BH: Oh, yes, but there was also the third man, the actual producer, Mr. Tanaka – not Sakyo Komatsu, but a different individual altogether. I take it, though, you don’t really have any memories of him.

RH: I don’t ever remember meeting the producer, except perhaps at the initial casting.

BH: But Komatsu, going back to him, he would also, when Hashimoto was busy directing other scenes, he would also come to you and give you advice and that sort of a thing.

RH: Yeah, they’d both be sitting there together quite often and doing it together.

BH: So, in some ways, it was a very collaborative process.

RH: Oh, yes, very much so.

BH: Interesting. So they’d literally be sitting right next to each other and in some ways co-directing.

RH: That’s right, yes. I don’t remember how much they did that, if it was for every shot or not, but I definitely remember them both being there and both saying things to me more than once, so it must have been a couple of times at least, if not on a regular basis.

BH: Do you happen to remember the special effects director named Mr. (Koichi) Kawakita?

RH: No, I’m afraid I don’t.  

BH: Certainly, no problem. Do you have any other memories from the set that stand out in your mind?

RH: Yes, I remember a scene in the control room. I had on a black-and-white dress, I think. I had on high-heeled, knee-high, black-leather boots. I had to run across the room, and that was excruciatingly painful because, the week before, I’d broken a bone in my ankle and twisted my other foot (laughs). That was when I was on a trip with some friends about a week before.

There was this amazing, famous doctor who lived near my manager. The studio hired him to be there so I could do my scenes. He’d strap up my foot with yards and yards of white gauze, and then say, “Go off and do it.”

BH: When the filming was wrapped, was there a premiere of some kind in Tokyo?

RH: Yes, I remember going to a premiere. It was quite a glitzy affair with lots of press and well-connected people. It was in a hotel, I think – quite posh. I’d never experienced anything on that scale before. They must have spent an amazing amount of money on everything.

BH: What did you think of the film once you saw it?

RH: I was very impressed by the special effects and the scale of everything, but I remember thinking some of the scenes were really corny! The hippie scenes shot in Okinawa, with the cult leader playing his guitar, were as if they had been plucked from a low-budget film. I’d known hippies, and they weren’t anything like that! I just thought that was a bit cringe-making. Also the scene on the (space station) where the revolutionaries cause an uproar – I thought their costumes were ridiculous, not to mention how they portrayed revolutionaries! I thought that was totally out of kilter with the rest of the film.

Actually, I think if they had removed those scenes, the whole film would have been of a different caliber. I don’t know if it would have become a hit, but the whole timbre of the film would have gone up a couple of notches, I’d say.

BH: What did you do after the film? In general, what did you do?

RH: I did feel a sense of emptiness. Life on set had been so hyper real and exciting that it was a shame that it all had to end. And jobs didn’t necessarily fall one after another. I remember there being a bit of a gap before the next job. But it was a great experience, and I took that with me. I was also paid well, which was nice.

huggett_Shanghai_Rhapsody

Rachel Huggett in costume for Shanghai Rhapsody.

BH: What sort of career path did you take?

RH: After Sayonara Jupiter, I continued doing films because that was what I really liked doing. I had television work, film work, and I also did some voice narration. Four or five years after Sayonara Jupiter came out, the economy started to take a nosedive, and there were many fewer jobs than before. I was starting to struggle financially. By that point I’d been in Japan for 10 years, and I thought there was no point in staying if I couldn’t get enough work. Also, I’d done all the things that I wanted to do there.

I was very interested in art, so I did a year foundation course in sculpture in Tokyo. After that, I decided to go to Bologna in Italy to do a degree course in art. I felt I was a bit Japanized after living there so long, and I needed to find my own feet again in a Western culture.

After seven years in Italy, I came to England, and I’ve been here ever since.

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One thought on “DR. WILLEM SAYS “SAYONARA” TO JUPITER! Actress Rachel Huggett Remembers Her Toho Star Turn

  1. I’m an American who lived in Tokyo from 1982 through 2000 and was in both SAYONARA JUPITER and TOO MUCH with Rachel Huggett.

    In JUPITER, I played the space pilot who, among other things, eats a hamburger in the cockpit.

    IN TOO MUCH, I was the villain, Dr. Finkel.

    I also did a ton of TV commercials, print modeling, and voice-overs. In the latter category, I was the original English-language voice of Sigma, the villain, in the CapCom video game, MegaMan X4. All of it was great fun.

    Since Jupiter is very much in the news today, I began reminiscing about the great big sci-fi film I’d done 30+ years ago.

    Like

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