KAZUKI OMORI RECALLS THE HEISEI GODZILLA SERIES! Toho’s Writer-Director Shares His Memories of the King of the Monsters!

Writer-director Kazuki Omori in January 2017. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Kazuki Omori arguably revived the Godzilla franchise in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. As the director and screenwriter of the popular Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Mr. Omori helped revitalize the G-series, which had mostly stayed in hibernation since 1975, with bold new ideas and contemporary story lines. In July 2006, Mr. Omori, through the translation of Robert Field, spoke with Brett Homenick about his career as one of Godzilla’s most popular filmmakers. 

Brett Homenick: The first question for Mr. Omori is just to give us a little bit of his background, growing up, and if he watched kaiju movies growing up.

Kazuki Omori: The first movie I ever saw that had to do with Godzilla was when I was five years old, so I‘ve known Godzilla for a very long time. Growing up, I saw a lot of kaiju movies. At 15 years old, I found out that 007, James Bond, was a lot more fun, so I forgot about Godzilla for a while and went into that area. As I learned to like James Bond more, I liked Godzilla a lot, but I thought it was kind of childish. “I really shouldn’t be watching this kind of stuff.” So I went for James Bond, but I still liked it. As I had been hanging around James Bond, all those kinds of things, all of a sudden, I saw these Jaws-type movies and King Kong movies coming from Hollywood, and I said, “Wait a minute. We’ve got Godzilla in Japan. We can work with this.” And so in (1984), they remade Godzilla. And seeing the remake of Godzilla, I said, “I think I could do a better job than this.” (laughs) At the same time, the producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was thinking the same thing. (laughs) And because Mr. Tanaka and I thought the same thing, we hooked up, and we said, “We could make a better movie than this,” and that’s how (Godzilla vs.) Biollante came to exist.

It had really good results, as far as the movie went, and people really seemed to enjoy something very new with the Biollante movie. So we had a lot of good results with it. And after that, as we brought Godzilla back to living in that sense, we wanted to bring back Mothra as well. We thought about “Mothra vs. Bagan.” And so we were thinking about getting Mothra going again, but we thought he wasn’t as strong as he should be, so we went back to Godzilla again. So it was another year that went by before we decided to do it, but then we decided to do another Godzilla movie. I had written a script for this, “Godzilla vs. Bagan,” and also Godzilla vs. some of the other monsters. After that, we came up with the idea of doing Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah because King Ghidorah is a very big enemy of Godzilla and also very popular in Japan. It was also the 60th anniversary of Toho, the movie company, so we wanted to make the best movie we possibly could at that time.

As everyone knows here, there have been many, many Godzilla movies, and we wanted to make the best of the newest type of thing that we could, and we were very confused about exactly what we were going to do.  So we decided to use another direction. A lot of people really don’t know where Godzilla came from, or where King Ghidorah came from, so we wanted to talk a little bit in the movie about where these monsters had come from. And as we were watching Biollante, we were wondering why there were so many more people at Back to the Future (Part) II. We said it must be time slips or time warps, so we decided to work on the idea of finding the roots of Godzilla and King Ghidorah by taking time travel somewhere else, so that’s how the movie came to be. You may know that Mr. Tanaka, the producer, has done many different types of science fiction movies. He’s done a lot of science fiction movies, but the ones he’s most famous for are the time slip or time warp type of movies.

He probably himself thinks that time-warping and going to a different dimension are what these movies are all about. So up till then, he hadn’t had any of those things, but the next generation would happen. So Mr. Tanaka and I got together with the staff, we had a very young staff, and we told them this is what we’re going to do, the time slip, going to different dimensions and different times in the movie, and this will make it more popular, and the staff liked the idea as well. After the talking with the staff, and the producer’s ideas as well, I came up with the first draft of the script. In the first draft of the script, with the time travel, Godzilla doesn’t come out until the middle of the movie. “Isn’t there a big problem with that?” the producer said. So what we decided to do, since Godzilla wasn’t going to come out until the middle of the movie, we came up with the Godzillasaurus, the dinosaur who was on the island, and it was Godzillasaurus vs. the American army. At the beginning, the people who went to see the movie weren’t sure if it was a dinosaur or a kaiju, but Mr. Kawakita, the special effects director, we think he did a very good job in that he was able to make a dinosaur and then a kaiju film as a Godzilla film should be.

Back to the Future was quicker with the time travel than we were, but we were faster than Jurassic Park! (laughs)  Mr. Tanaka’s philosophy was that if you have an hour-and-a-half movie, you should have a big fight between kaiju at least every 30 minutes in the movie. So in the first 30 minutes, you see the Godzillasaurus taking on the American army, the next 30 minutes is Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, and so in the last 30 minutes you have Godzilla vs. Mecha-King Ghidorah. So it was as perfectly matched to the producer’s thinking process as we could possibly make any movie, so I think it went very well. The one thing we forgot about was M11. I’m not sure if it was earlier than “Terminator 1,” but it was earlier than Terminator 2! (laughs)

It was the 60th anniversary, and I think we were able to pull in the kaiju movie and a war-type of movie, and we were able to get a lot of the different types of genres into this movie, so we think it was a success. All of these different genres were in this movie, so it was a well balanced movie, I thought. So for the 60th anniversary, it was a very worthy movie, the producer and everyone thought. So we had a very (good) balance with the movie itself, and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah which we hadn’t done in a long time, having this really strong enemy, and looking at the results, it’s, among the movies I’ve done and of the Godzilla movies I’ve seen, it’s my favorite movie. Does that answer the question?

BH: That answers the question and then some! Just to backtrack a little bit, talk about becoming involved in Toho Studios and getting involved in directing Godzilla films.

KO: The producer, Mr. Tanaka, has since passed away, and so I don’t really know exactly why he took a liking to me, myself, except there was a big group of fans in Osaka as well, and so I’d known about that. He had a lot of friends in this big group of fans in Osaka, and so there was probably a connection there somewhere. And so I think, when we had a big event to bring Godzilla back to life basically for the new movies, we had this big event in Osaka, and some of my friends from that fan club had a little bit of power, and when Mr. Tanaka came to Osaka, they said, “There‘s nobody else except Omori who could do this next movie for you.” I think they pushed him a little bit. And so the first movie we did, Biollante, was in Osaka. Thanks to them giving me my job, we used Osaka as the main place to hold the fight.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: One question (I have) about Godzilla vs. Biollante concerns the script. Now as I understand it, the story was actually submitted by a dentist who had won a contest, a story contest. So talk about incorporating that idea into your own screenplay.

KO: After the remake of the (1984) Godzilla, Toho sent out word that they wanted new ideas for Godzilla movies, and because there were a lot of fans, they got tons and tons of different ideas that had come to Toho from many people. And among all those entries that they had sent in, they had five left over that they were thinking about using. And one of them was they were going to use the cells of Godzilla and reproduce them to make Godzillas all over the world or something like that. And the other was there was going to be a plant monster. And among the five left over, producer Tanaka liked these two, the one that had to do with the Godzilla cells and using them for something and the plant monster. And so the dentist who brought in the idea of this plant monster, this was the one they decided to use. His name is Mr. Kobayashi, the dentist. He’s probably the most well-versed dentist in the world when it comes to Godzilla! (laughs) And being a dentist, he was the one who came up with how to put Godzilla’s teeth in the movie! (laughs)

BH: One of the themes in the movie is that of bio(technology), so what was your inspiration to incorporate that kind of theme into this movie?

KO: A lot of this idea came from the producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka. Godzilla himself had come from radioactivity, the nuclear type of stuff, so what is the next generation? It has to be something dealing with biotechnology. So we had Biollante in that era because it is the next generation that people would understand a lot easier. I think one other reason Mr. Tanaka wanted me to do this movie is that I’m a licensed doctor, so it was a good match for me to do this movie.

BH: One aspect of Japanese movies that I always find fascinating is the inclusion of Western actors. There are several Western actors in this movie, so just talk a little bit about working with them.

KO: At the very beginning (of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah), when you see Emmy and the older gentleman inside the submarine, looking for King Ghidorah’s remains, the producer asked him to be in the movie. I don’t know if he was born and raised in Japan, but he’s of Russian descent, but his Japanese is flawless, so I’m thinking he was born and raised in Japan, but the producer wanted him in the movie as well, so that was the first shot of having the foreigner in this movie.

We wanted to use a lot of people who had name recognition, (but) they would cost too much money, and we didn’t have any money, so we decided to use some “other” actors.

BH: I was asking specifically about Biollante, the ones from there … We’ll come to King Ghidorah a bit later.

KO: One of the things we tried to get a lot of foreign actors to come to Biollante, but they wanted more money, and we didn’t have that kind of money, to bring a lot of these famous actors. I think everyone who’s seen the movies would understand that most of the money goes into the making of the special effects, so there’s not a lot of money put into the casting. So trying to find the perfect person, especially when we want to use foreigners for these movies, we always had to a lot of drama trying to find the perfect person, people to fill the different roles. One other thing is that, because this is a Japanese movie, and most of the people who watch it are not just adults but younger people as well, that there’s too much English in it, they’re not going to understand the whole process, and we need foreigners who can speak some Japanese if not a lot of Japanese. When it came to Biollante, some of the foreigners we used in that, them being able to speak Japanese, again, is a good thing, but a lot of them have a very bad accent, so it’s very hard to understand their Japanese sometimes. So when it came to Biollante, we had a hard time to find the right people to fit the roles.

So we realized from Biollante that we had all these problems, so when it came to King Ghidorah, we went out of our way to find foreign actors who could speak Japanese that was understood by the Japanese people. (turns to Robert Field) So he was M11! (laughs)

BH: In Godzilla vs. Biollante, you created the character Miki Saegusa, the psychic. Just talk a little bit about why you decided to create that character, and did you have any intention that she would become a recurring character throughout the series?

KO: Mr. Tanaka was the one who created Godzilla, but I created Miki. It’s a concept sort of like Beauty and the Beast; you have this really big kaiju, and you have this really cute girl who are actually kind of fighting each other, and she understands what his next move is going to be. So I thought it was a good conflict. Mr. Tanaka himself thought it was a bad idea at the beginning. He thought, “No, (it must be) kaiju vs. kaiju. You’re not supposed to have this young girl in this movie.” You may remember from Biollante that they were on top of the ocean, and she was actually kind of fighting with Godzilla. In my first script, she actually uses her power to raise Godzilla out of the ocean. If you’ve seen the movie, you can see that scene isn’t in the movie because Mr. Tanaka got upset, thinking this little girl could take on Godzilla and float him out of the water.

At the beginning, I had no idea that she would be in other movies, but as Biollante went so well, and she got some popularity, she came to be in some of the other movies. “Mothra vs. Bagan,” even though it did not become a movie, she was scheduled to be in that movie as well. There’s a movie called Carrie, and it was kind of an image like that. I thought of this Carrie character and brought in Miki. The image of that type of movie brought her in.

BH: Well, the composer for Godzilla vs. Biollante is Koichi Sugiyama, and this is the only Godzilla movie that he scored. So just talk a little bit about working with Mr. Sugiyama and composing the score with him and working with him.

KO: I think he’s a great composer, and at the time he was doing a lot of composing for different software games. So with his knowledge and experience in the game area, he could bring in a new flavor of fantastic type of music that would probably go well with the Godzilla genre, I thought. As you see in the James Bond films, the theme (music) is basically the same, but the music changes in every movie, and it was my thought of doing that as well. Besides Mr. Ifukube, he’s the one who always did the Godzilla movies, I think if there was anyone who could take his place … you can’t really take his place, but if there was anyone else good at it, it was Mr. Sugiyama. Mr. Tanaka also wanted to make Godzilla more of a Hollywood-type where maybe Americans or some other countries would like it as well, and the music up to then had been very Japanese, and so bringing in this new type of music would probably make it easier for the Americans and other foreign countries to like Godzilla and the movie itself.

BH: All right, well, let’s switch gears for a little bit and talk about Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Now you’ve already spoken a little bit about it, but just talk a little bit more in detail about writing the script and incorporating the ideas Mr. Tanaka wanted.

KO: I pretty much said everything about the process about that. (pause) I think in the movie, one of the newest concepts was Mecha-King Ghidorah. As with King Kong, there was a Mechanikong, and so our thinking was that if there was a King Ghidorah, there could be a Mecha-King Ghidorah as well, and it could work, and it seemed to have worked. But the whole process was a lot of fun and very interesting, I think.

BH: All right, well, as with Biollante, there was also a sizable gaijin cast. I’m always very interested to learn how it is to work with a foreign cast, so I’d like (you) to talk a little bit about working with those gaijin.

KO: Working with the foreigners in this movie was a lot of fun and very easy in the sense that all of the foreigners in the movie were also Godzilla fans. So it was easy for me to explain what I wanted them to do, and they were excited about being in it.

BH: One of the veterans that you worked with was Yoshio Tsuchiya, and he’s a legendary actor. And just say a little bit about working with him.

KO: The most important scene probably in the movie is where a tear comes to Godzilla’s eyes when he’s facing this human. And I think there’s very few who could play the role opposite a tearing Godzilla, and Tsuchiya’s one of them who could do it. In the previous movies, some of the famous actors or actresses would have a chance to be in this as well, but they were not around to do this. Akihiko Hirata is the name of one of the famous actors, and before Biollante, we wanted to work together, but he passed away before Biollante was in the process of being made, so we weren’t able to work with him. In Biollante, there’s a big role that I wanted him to play, and I wanted to ask him to do that role. But because he passed away, I found someone of equal quality to play that part. Yoshiko Kuga is the name of the actress in the movie. But Mr. Tanaka said having a woman do that kind of a role is not good, so I had to change it again. So I changed it to a man.

And because he passed away, we thought who could be the opposite of a tearing Godzilla, and Mr. Tsuchiya’s the only one we could think of worthy of that role. If you know of Mr. Tsuchiya’s background, he’s only been in Mr. Kurosawa’s movies or in kaiju movies, so everybody knows him from these two genres. And so Mr. Tsuchiya, when we brought this to him and said, “We’d like you to do this role,” he says, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this role.”  So I personally think we found the right actor, and we have Godzilla crying in the face of this human being, and I think of all the movies in the Godzilla series, this has to be the best scene, in my personal opinion. But Mr. Tanaka said, “Why is Godzilla crying?!” (laughs)

BH: Another legendary person who worked on the film is Akira Ifukube, the composer. You talked about working with Mr. Sugiyama, but now say a little bit about working with Mr. Ifukube on this film.

KO:  He passed away this last year, but working with him, he is the main sensei when it comes to kaiju movies. It was very easy to work with him and a pleasure to work with him. He came many, many times to see the movie in the process of being made. The first time I saw him, I thought he was very a diligent person because he would always come to see what was going on, and as the days went by, and he kept coming to watch, I think it’s just because he likes Godzilla. One thing about the music, he doesn’t just make the music, but he tells exactly the reason for each note or whatever else to us in detail. He tells us, “This is why I’m doing this; this is why I’m doing that.” So he goes into a lot of detail about what he’s doing with his music. One of the things I remember most about him is not for the music, but as you edit the scenes, you start to cut out pieces, and it has nothing to do with the music, but I remember this one part in the movie where it says you can’t have the same person in the same time zone at the same time, or one of them will disappear, and I had cut that scene out originally, and Mr. Ifukube came up to me and said, “Why did you cut that out? It’s perfect with it in it. You need to put it back in.” So he became an editor! It was the first experience I’ve ever had of a composer telling me to put something back in!

He’s a very diligent composer, and the first thing he usually does is get together this whole group of musicians and starts doing his thing. He brought all these musicians to Toho Studios to do this, and it’s apparently been many, many years since they’ve had a whole orchestra there at Toho. So everybody on the set and everybody else could hear the music wanted to come and see this, so lots of people came to watch them making the music. So they got all the instruments together, and he was standing at the podium ready to go, and he says, “Let’s practice a little bit and see if we can get the right sound.” These are all different musicians, and they may have done some kaiju music before, but they were there for the same reason, but none of them had ever done it before. Without any practice at all, they said, “Let’s try it,” and they started in (with the Godzilla theme music). I was very surprised because I realized they didn’t practice anything yet, but they went into the Godzilla theme. I can’t forget the expression on Mr. Ifukube’s face at that time when he saw the people start to play it at the very beginning. These are the people you’ve got to work with! They know what they’re doing!

Being the composer, once you’ve got the music all set up and ready to go, you don’t have to come anymore, but he came every day. We would start filming every day at about 10:00 am, and he would always come exactly at 1:00 and stay until the end. So he’d come every day at 1:00, and we were always starting at 10:00, but he’d be coming every day, so we started filming at 1:00 then, to keep pace with him. (laughs) He seemed every time we saw him, seeing his music involved with the kaiju movies, it seemed like he was having such a good time, seeing his music in these movies. So maybe that’s one reason he came every day. He had such a satisfied face every time we saw him. I think without a doubt, all over the world, anyone who knows Godzilla movies will know the music. He’s got to be in the top three as far as composers go when it comes to that genre.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: One last question about King Ghidorah, of course this movie made waves in the West as being anti-American. So I just wanted you to address the real situation behind that, just to put to rest all the rumors.

KO: Myself, just to put you at ease, I am not anti-American. (laughs) I love American movies, and I’ve always watched American movies. Most American movies are, in the same sense,  made the way I made my movie. I just wanted to make a movie with American army people in it, and to put the rumors to rest, I am not anti-American. I love American war movies, but looking at all the ones I’ve watched over the years, Americans never lose. And so I thought they should lose at least once! (to the audience) Why don’t the Americans ever lose?! (laughs)

BH: Just to talk about Godzilla vs. Mothra, the screenplay that you wrote, just talk about what led to that movie and talk about writing the screenplay.

KO: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah did very well at the box office in Japan and became very popular quickly. Up to then, it had been every two years they were making a new Godzilla movie, and because it had done so well, they wanted to make another movie the next year, and because I was personally very busy with other projects I was doing at the time, there was no way I could be the director of the movie, and that’s why they asked me to write the script. One good thing that I mentioned before was the “Mothra vs. Bagan,” the movie that never came to be, but I still had a lot of the information from what I had written before about it, and I thought that would be a shortcut to help me write the script fast enough, even though I was busy with these other projects. I started to do that, but as I got into it, I thought, I’m never going to finish this! I’m too busy! So it wasn’t actually a shortcut after all. It took me almost two years to do the Godzilla vs. Biollante script, to put the whole thing together, and it took about a year for the Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah script, but for Mothra, it took three months! (laughs) But that’s because it took me a year to get the “Mothra vs. Bagan” script together, so that probably helped. (laughs)   

BH: Now after Godzilla vs. Mothra came out, (you) took a little bit of a hiatus, and (you weren’t) involved in the next two films. Can you talk about why that was?

KO: One thing I thought myself was that Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah was the perfect movie, and so after we’d done Mothra, I thought it was a little bit less than what I’d done in King Ghidorah, and so I just wanted to back away from it for a little while.

BH: Now when it comes to Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, I’ve read that you only agreed to do that (because) your home was destroyed in the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Is there truth to that?

KO: The timing’s a little bit different. In 1994, around December, they brought the idea of Destoroyah to me. At the time, they didn’t have any real ideas for Destoroyah or anything else. They just wanted to make a new movie. Another producer named Tomiyama, he brought the idea of bringing something in like a Godzilla Predator that could disappear, Ghost Godzilla. So even though they brought that idea to me, I had no idea what they were talking about! After Ghost Godzilla, the next idea they brought to me was that Godzilla would die. So in December 1994, they brought the idea to me. I thought it was quite an interesting idea and a challenge to kill Godzilla and thinking how to do it. So it was more that idea than anything having to do with the earthquake.

In the next year in the middle of January was when we had the last meeting before the making of Destoroyah. So it had nothing to do with the earthquake, why I decided to do this film, but after we decided to do it, we had the last meeting before it in Tokyo, and on my way back home which is in in Kobe is when the earthquake happened. So it was after we decided when to do it and after I got back that the earthquake came. We decided on the name Destoroyah on the day before the earthquake, so maybe that had something to do with the earthquake! It was the Destoroyah, then Kobe disappeared!

BH: One thing I wanted to ask about was, I read an interesting review of Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, and it talked about the theme of infanticide, about Miki sending Baby Godzilla, Godzilla Junior, off to die, and that was sort of a theme of the film. I just wanted to ask you about that and to say a little bit about that.

KO: I haven’t read that article myself, but during the middle of production, we thought about doing something like that, but it never ended up happening because we thought it would be too sad, specifically for the young people watching the movie. So it would be too sad to have Junior die. On the other hand, because this was the last movie Miki was in, we were thinking about having her die. We were thinking about having her killed off, but Tanaka said, “Well, maybe we’ll bring her back sometime, so maybe we better not kill her off,” so we didn’t.

BH: Well, my final question would be concerning working with the director Takao Okawara, and in the same review, you were reportedly upset by the changes that were made to the script onsite by Mr. Kawakita and Mr. Okawara. Whether or not that’s true, talk a little about your working relationship with Mr. Okawara.

KO: I don’t remember exactly what it was, but there was one line in the script that I had written that they apparently took out, but that’s the only thing I remember being upset about. It was only one point. It was something to the effect of: This is era (where) there has to be a Destoroyah, and because it’s this era, Godzilla is also going to die in this era. There was some kind of line like that, but I thought it was a very important line to have in the movie, but apparently the director did not. That’s the only thing I remember being mad about. There are probably a lot of people who could get mad like that because their scripts were changed, but I’ve been a director myself, so it’s no big thing. It’s not worth getting that mad over, so I never really got mad over anything too much. On the other hand, it might be fun to see the guy who writes the script and the director fight with each other! (laughs)

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