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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BH: Do you remember that teacher’s name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

BH: In what way was he different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BH: Who are your favorite actors in general?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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