THE HEISEI GODZILLA SERIES REVISITED! A Conversation with Actor Andrew Smith!

 

Andrew Smith and Masahiro Takashima in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II © 1993, Toho Co., Ltd.

Andrew Smith is an American-born actor in Japan who appeared in several Godzilla films during the 1990s. His acting credits include parts in: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), and Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994). Not only has he acted in Godzilla films, but Mr. Smith also wrote the English scripts for Godzilla vs. Mothra and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Moreover, Mr. Smith translated the correspondence between Toho and Hollywood during negotiations for the American Godzilla film. Mr. Smith answered questions posed by Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: How did you come to Japan?

Andy Smith: I came to Japan in 1970 with my parents, who were missionaries. At the time, I was only 20 months old, so frankly I do not remember much of the trip. In 1970, travel to Japan was not as simple as it is now. Air travel, while it existed, was very expensive, and many people, along with my parents, (came) to Japan by ship.

BH: How did you get started in the movie business?

AS: My first experience in the Japanese film industry was as an extra for a then-popular Japanese TV drama Sukeban Deka in 1984. In the following years, I went through a wide variety of roles in television, made-for-video films, commercials, corporate training and PR videos, as well as movies. I have also worked as a voice actor in a variety of productions. Being fluent in Japanese, I have also worked as a translator for foreign talent in Japan, as well as the translation of Japanese script into English, as well as the other way around.

BH: What led to your being cast in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah?

AS: Actually, I was cast as an extra in the film. My agency (the Inagawa Motoko Office) was the main agency for the foreign extras in the film.

BH: What part did you have in the movie?

AS: I was one of the WWII U.S. servicemen who was attacked by the mutated Godzilla after it was transformed by the U.S. military’s atomic testing.

BH: Whom did you act with?

AS: As stated in my previous answer, I was an extra along with 3 or 4 other non-Japanese extras.

Andrew Smith, Masahiro Takashima, and Ryoko Sano in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. © 1993, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: What was filming like?

AS: It actually was very interesting. Our part involved the close encounter with Godzilla, and running from it. At this time, digital blue screen mapping was in its infancy, and so the filming was done with a special screen, with a separate close-up of Godzilla was projected from behind, and we had to run through jungle-like foliage in front of the screen towards the camera. Due to the nature of the screen, we could only see a faint image of Godzilla, but when we looked at the playback, it really looked like it was right behind us.

BH: Do you know who wrote the English script?

AS: Sadly, I was not involved with the English script of this film.

BH: Did you work with the director, Kazuki Omori, at all during filming?

AS: I did have the pleasure of working with him during the filming, but only for a day.

BH: How did you become involved in Godzilla vs. Mothra?

AS: My past experience with the former film, as well as my Japanese ability, mandated my presence on the set when they filmed with non-Japanese speaking extras. Growing up in Japan, I had a strong working knowledge of the Godzilla series, and I guess that my ability to relay the director’s thoughts directly to those who did not speak Japanese proved to be helpful.

Andrew Smith (far right) in Godzilla vs. Mothra. Godzilla vs. Mothra © 1992, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: What role did you play?

AS: My part in this film was that of a NASA space observatory officer, who is one of the first people who notices the approach of Mothra from outer space.

BH: What happened during shooting?

AS: I remember being placed in an office room with several computers and monitors, and huddling around the supposed radar images on a very hot summer day. Of course, they had to turn off the air-conditioning during the filming, so the room got very hot.

BH: Not only did you act in the film, but you also wrote the English script for it. What was involved in that process?

AS: In the Japanese video/film industry, there are two different types of English script translation. The first is just a simple translation of English lines. The other is the full translation of the script into English, as this case, so that the entire script can be understood by non-Japanese people. The biggest trouble in the translation of Japanese scripts into English is in the difference between cultural nuances. For example, there are several non-gender specific phrases that cannot be translated unless you know the gender of the person as well as their age in some instances. The biggest problem is many times this “person” is an extra, and has not been cast yet, thus making it very hard to choose the proper wording, and thus means several on-site updates of the script.

Another major problem that often plagues many English translations is the lack of knowledge on occupational-specific lines. For example, while a simple sentence like “Get me those papers!” may be a correct translation from the Japanese, it would not be proper for a private to say to a general.

BH: Please discuss how you became involved in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

AS: After my past experience in the former two Godzilla films, I was asked to help out the upcoming Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II film.

BH: You also wrote the English script for this movie. Since there was a lot of English dialogue, did you get much free rein in writing it?

AS: This film differed from past films in that, for the first time, the G-Force (a military organization created to respond to Godzilla attacks) was a multi-national task force. In the past, all non-Japanese military personnel were usually from the U.S. or U.N. military generals. G-Force members were elite military officers from across the globe, who had come to defend the world from Godzilla. Therefore the entire script had to be translated into English. I also made the English practice tapes for the main Japanese actors, who were not able to speak English on their own. This gave me a fairly free rein on the script, though there was some adjustment of the proper terminology by military officers, with help from an ex-military officer.

BH: Did you work with Leo Meneghetti on this film?

AS: Yes. Much of Leo’s part did not involve shots with the G-Force personnel, but I was on set with the scripter, checking the English script, as they filmed.

BH: In this film, you played the part of Garuda pilot Andrew Johnson. Please talk about what you remember about filming your role.

AS: Andrew Johnson was the main pilot for G-Force’s Garuda, a flying power pack for Mechagodzilla used as air support as well as a major firepower supplement when attached to the back of Mechagodzilla. In the film, Andrew Johnson is ordered to go and support Mechagodzilla against Godzilla, which has just shown up outside of Makuhari in Chiba Prefecture, only to be knocked out by Kazuma Aoki (played by Masahiro Takashima) who decided to take things into his own hands when he hears that the girl he loves has been attacked by the bird-like Radon (Rodan).

In the original script, Andrew Johnson is attacked by Miki Saegusa, who sympathizes with Kazuma, and is tied up in the hangar as Kazuma gets into Johnson’s gear and takes Garuda, but the final film only include(s) the shot of Johnson standing, ready with his flight gear, in front of Garuda, and Kazuma walking up to him. In the next shot, Kazuma is in Garuda with Johnson’s helmet, and there is not more word about Johnson’s fate.

Here is a bit of trivia about Andrew Johnson. The name Andrew Johnson (comes) from my full name John Andrew Smith, with Andrew coming first, and John becoming Johnson.

Andrew Smith (far right) in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II © 1993, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: How were you cast in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla?

AS: This movie came as a surprise to many people. As you might know, (TriStar) was supposed to start work on the filming of a Hollywood version of Godzilla after the production of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Part of Toho’s contract with Hollywood stipulated that Toho would not be able to create a Godzilla film during this period, and when the filming was delayed, Toho was granted (the) right to make another Godzilla (movie), to fill the gap. As you may know, this film was a follow-up to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II in that there was the same G-Force. Sadly for me, I played the part of a deep space pilot whose ship is destroyed by Space Godzilla, heading for Earth. Though I am not quite sure, I am guessing that I was sent on that mission for letting Kazuma, in the last movie, knock me out and not doing my duty as pilot of Garuda. (laughs)

BH: Do you know who wrote the English script?

AS: Actually, I do. The English script for this film was done by the translating firm run by Natsuko Toda, a famous translator of many U.S. films shown in Japan. She is also the main translator for ultra-popular U.S. stars like Will Smith and Tom Cruise, when they are promoting their films in Japan. This came about from the fact that Toho had enough cash to use a well-known translator for the film, (who) is well-known in Japan as well as the U.S. film industry. The problem was, however, that the English script was a piece of junk, to put it nicely. Grammatically the script may have been okay, but there were obvious problems relating to lines between military personnel, which in real life might have ended in a court-martial. It got to the point where many of the English speaking actors voiced their opinions that the English script was “not English,” and I ended up having to re-translate a large portion of the script. And if that was not bad enough, her name was left in the credits for the English script.

BH: What do you remember about filming your scenes?

AS: Well, my scene involved the spotting of a fast-moving object on radar, and then being sucked out into space when that object swipes the spaceship and makes a hole, sucking me and my colleague out into space. Due to the nature of this happening in space, the two of us were hung by wire in front of a super large blue screen (ah, the advance of technology), and (we) were spun and bounced around to simulate the lack of gravity. The camera was placed in a special vertical loop track, so that it could make a full 360-degree rotation, to give the appearance that we were spinning around inside the spaceship, as we were sucked out into space.

Wire stunts are quite fun, I admit, but at the same time, they can be deadly. As I am sure any guy who has done skydiving can attest to, one wrong slip in the harness can mean instant soprano for him.

BH: Who were some of the actors you worked with, and what do you remember about them?

AS: Some of the most memorable actors that I had the pleasure to work with were Masahiro Takashima, Daijiro Harada, and Ryu Hariken, and poor Akira Nakao. Masahiro Takashima played the lead part Kazuma (in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II), and one of his jobs was the engineer for Johnson’s Garuda. This, along with his English training and knowing his younger brother Masanobu from another drama which I wrote the English script for, helped force a good friendship during the shoot.

Daijiro Harada, who played the main pilot of Mechagodzilla, was a very interesting person with very good English skills. The only problem was that he was a bit talkative. He was also talking between takes (often about himself), even though many of the other actors were tired out from a long 20-hour shoot, and on many occasions was told to give it a rest by the other actors. I must admit, though, even with his constant chattering, he was hard to dislike with his constant praise of other people acting on the set.

Ryu Hariken (a.k.a. Hurricane Ryu) was inside Baby Godzilla and at times filled in for Mechagodzilla and Godzilla when needed. You would see him constantly talking with Kenpachiro Satsuma (the person inside Godzilla) about the “proper” standing and movement of Godzilla during lunch.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. © 1993, Toho Co., Ltd.

And last but not least is Akira Nakao. Akira Nakao is an excellent actor with skills that surpass a majority of famous actors in the U.S. A very nice person to work with, he was plagued by a small yet major problem regarding the name of his character, General Aso. As you might have guessed, every time he was addressed in English, English speakers in the room had to try their best not to burst out laughing. And the sad thing was that by the time this problem was noticed, they had already filmed a large portion of the film

BH: Did you work much with director Kensho Yamashita?

AS: Due to my limited part in the film, I did not have much chance to work with him.

BH: What was your involvement in the film Mechanical Violator Hakaider?

AS: To give a simple background on Hakaider, this was a film shot in 1994 by Toei and directed by Keita Amemiya who is known for his work in films like Zeiram, Mitsurugi, and the VFX for many of the popular “live superhero” shows released by Toei.

The story is loosely based on the arch-villain Hakaider, from Shotaro Ishinomori’s Kikaider series. In Amemiya’s film, Hakaider is a sort of “anti-hero” cyborg hero, which was created to fight against the oppressive government. Many years have passed, and in the name of preserving the peace, the city governor has laid out martial law and wipes the minds of those who dare go against him. Not content with the totalitarian rule, a small guerrilla force led by Kaoru terrorizes and attacks military shipments. Meanwhile, far away in a secret military base, Hakaider has awakened, and heads to the city to bring justice to the governor. Kaoru and her guerrilla friends get involved in the clash between Hakaider and the military and end up helping the badly injured Hakaider.

I was cast as the part of “Andy” (how original), the “boyfriend” of Kaoru (only to get dumped for Hakaider). I was cast for this part because the director had met me on the Toei set while I was reminiscing about old Toei superhero shows with some of the original filming crew. I had been talking about how much I like the VFX in the new shows, and Amemiya (I did not know that he was the director for VFX then) happened to be in the staff room. A side note: Hakaider was an interesting filming experience. I was shot and killed on the first day of the set, and I did not know that my part’s name was “Andy” until the last day of the shooting (Kaoru was the only guerrilla whose name was in the script).

BH: Please describe your involvement with the American Godzilla negotiations.

AS: As much as I would like to take credit for the negotiations, my only part was in the translation of correspondence from Toho to Hollywood, which sadly I am not at liberty to divulge. Later I found out that my English scripts had been sent along with the Godzilla films as reference of recent Godzilla projects.

BH: Do you remember any of the specifics of the negotiations?

AS: The only specifics that I remember, and do not come under my NDA, is that under the agreement that Toho had made, Toho was to forfeit the right to create new films for the Godzilla franchise, until the end of the contract. This is why Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was marketed as the final Godzilla (movie). There had even been talk about not only one Godzilla film but a whole series of films.

BH: Why didn’t negotiations with (Hollywood) work out in the end?

AS: Sadly, I was not directly involved with the fine points, but I do remember hearing talks about (the Hollywood side) having trouble drumming up the cash, and that this ended up postponing the production of the film in the U.S. This meant that either Toho be allowed to continue making the Godzilla series or be compensated for the loss in ticket sales.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. © 1993, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Do you have any final comments?

AS: Hello, Godzilla fans everywhere! Godzilla is a very interesting film, in regard to the advancement of filmmaking in Japan. Thus all of the staff at Toho work until they can’t even stand up, to make a film that can not only entertain its viewers but awe them at the same time. Whether it be the music staff creating the ultimate soundtrack to the film, the film crew getting an average of 3 hours sleep a day during the 3-month filming period, or the SFX people determined to create kick-ass scenes to rival CG productions like Jurassic Park. I may have only been a small part in this legacy, yet I feel that I must thank you for your loyalty to the Godzilla series.

Special thanks to Wayne Doster.

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