CELEBRATING THE “HAPPY” DAYS! Actor Yasuhiko Saijo Opens Up About Ultra Q and Toho!

Yasuhiko Saijo in September 2017. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Yasuhiko Saijo (born on February 20, 1939) is a Japanese actor who began his career at Toho Studios in 1957. A graduate of Seijo University, Mr. Saijo played a major role in changing Japanese television when he was cast as one of the three leads in the groundbreaking TV series Ultra Q (1966), which went on to spawn several generations of Ultra-heroes from Tsuburaya Productions. Mr. Saijo starred in Ultra Q as Ippei (a.k.a. Happy) Togawa alongside fellow actors Kenji Sahara and Hiroko Sakurai.

Although he was never the leading man in the movies, Mr. Saijo added charm and a bit of humor to all the films in which he appeared. Among his Toho SFX credits are: The Secret of the Telegian (1960), Gorath (1962), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), War of the Gargantuas (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967), and Destroy All Monsters (1968). He also can be seen briefly in episode 10 of Ultraman (1966-67) in which Jirass (Godzilla in disguise) squares off against Ultraman.

In September 2017, Yasuhiko Saijo sat down with Brett Homenick and reminisced about his acting career in a wide-ranging interview translated by Manami Takagi.

Brett Homenick: First, please tell me about your early life in Tokyo during the war. What memories do you have?

Yasuhiko Saijo: I was born in Kagurazaka in Shinjuku Ward. I was born in Showa 14, February 20. Now I am 78 years old. I am a sixth-generation resident of this area. My father was a dentist, and my grandfather was a doctor. There were also several professors in my family, and there were many educated people in my family. But, despite this circumstance, I decided to become an actor. When I turned 15 years old, I had a contract with Toho. I went to Seijo Gakuen, and as soon as you get off at the station on the Odakyu Line, there is a school on the right-hand side, and Toho Studios was located on the left side of the station. So, until I graduated from Seijo Gakuen, I had this kind of daily life. I would study during the day, and after that I went to the studio.

I was a high school student when I got my contract with Toho.

BH: Let’s go back even before that. I’d like to know about your growing up, especially during the war. It’s a very important historical point, and I’d like to know about your experiences during that time.

YS: When I was a young child, Japan was in a severe situation. It was at the time Japan went to war with the United States. So, in this area, many bombs were dropped, and there were no roads in this area. Everything was burned down. The houses were destroyed. These houses didn’t have regular roofs. They had poor tin roofs. There was an elementary school near here. There was no road, so I had to walk through the area, which was all destroyed and burned. The B-29 bombers dropped many bombs and destroyed the area.

BH: So you went to Shizuoka for a year?

YS: When I was five years old, I went to Shizuoka to escape from the war in Tokyo. Since my father and grandfather were doctors, they had to stay in Tokyo because they were needed there. My mother, my elder sister, and I went to Shizuoka. The three of us went there to escape. At first, we stayed at Nagaoka Onsen in Izu. Afterward, we moved to Numazu, but Numazu City was also attacked. The town was destroyed. So we had to move again, but as soon as we decided to move, the war ended. Then we returned to Tokyo, but during that time, everyone was so poor, and we didn’t have good clothes. The children there were not in good health. The area was not very clean, so the children got lice. My friends got lice, so the teacher had to apply some medication to kill the lice. It was called DDT, which was a white powder. The lice would sometimes fall onto the pages of a notebook, and you could see it moving, so you’d smash it with your hand.

After that, Japan developed quickly in such a short period of time, and I’m surprised at how developed Japan is.

BH: Let’s talk about Toho, how you joined the studio, how you got the contract, and that process.

YS: When I was in Seijo Gakuen Junior High School, there was no drama club. But the school used to have a drama club before that. Masayuki Mori was in that club. But the school didn’t have it anymore, so I created a new one. The son of Akira Kurosawa, the son of Hiroshi Inagaki, and the daughter of Ishiro Honda were all attending the same school at the time, so we knew each other. At the time I made the drama club, Toho was seeking child actors. There were professional child actors at the time, but the directors didn’t think it was good because they already knew how to act, so it was not natural. The directors wanted more natural child actors. So they came to Seijo Gakuen and started looking for new students who could act, through me. I was kind of like a window for the directors, so I was always testing the students.

So there were many actors at my school. Keiichiro Akagi, Mickey Curtis, and others were in the same school. Mr. Akagi debuted the same year as I did, and he was like a Japanese James Dean. We were in the same school. Seijo Gakuen was permissive with student activities, so there were many students who did acting, and were actors and actresses. (Most of the private junior and high schools in Tokyo do not allow students to work, especially show biz work.)

BH: Because it was so close to Toho?

YS: Of course. At that time, Seijo Gakuen had many sons and daughters of actors and actresses, so sometimes Akira Kurosawa came to the school and had an interview session. Seijo Gakuen and Toho had such a strong connection, so a book about it was published by the school. Sometimes movies were filmed on the campus. There were many strong connections. Because I started the drama club, and Toho recruited new actors from it, Toho offered me the chance to become an actor. That’s how I got a contract with Toho. At that time, the monthly salary was about 10,000 yen if you had graduated from university. But at that time, I earned about 8,000 yen per month as a basic salary. So, even if you didn’t act in a film, you still earned 8,000 yen per month. But if you acted in movies, you could earn anywhere between 10,000 yen and 100,000 yen. That was the maximum during that time. So it was a great time to be in the film industry.

My salary was very high, so that’s how I became involved in the film industry. (laughs) The money attracted me. When I was in high school, I wanted to take a medical school entrance exam since my father was a dentist. So, on the date of the entrance exam, I left my home, and my mother made a lunchbox for me. When I arrived at the train station, I decided that if the train arrived on the left side of the station first, I would take the test because it went to the university. But if the train on the right side came first, I would go to Shinjuku and see a movie instead of taking the test. Guess what – the right train came! I went to Shinjuku. That was my turning point.

BH: Do you remember what movie it was?

YS: I totally forgot. I think it was a movie starring Errol Flynn.

BH: Let’s talk about the contracts at Toho during the years. Generally speaking, what were the negotiations like? Would it get easier or harder over time?

YS: At first, when I had a contract with Toho, I was a student, and my contract was a monthly guarantee of 10,000 yen. So, in total, 120,000 yen was my yearly guarantee. Plus, they paid me from 10,000 yen to 100,000 yen per movie. It was the golden age of movies, so I earned a lot more than regular salarymen (office workers) earned. Even a small role would earn at least 10,000 yen.

When I graduated from university, it was at the time that movies were starting to decline, little by little, because TV had started. I think the Japanese bubble economy was starting around that time, and movies were still in their golden age, but it was gradually starting to decrease. The Tokyo Olympics happened around the time we were shooting Ultra Q, and during that time, the bullet trains had been launched in Japan, and a lot of road construction was happening. Tokyo Station was being renovated at the time, and before it was completed, we filmed Ultra Q at the station, even though it wasn’t completed yet. The renovation was in its final stages, so they were still doing some tiling. TV had started, and in Showa 37, Hana no Salesman (1962-63) started, and I was on that show. It lasted two seasons, 26 episodes. The producer of that show was Mr. Takashi Kakoi, who was also a producer on Ultra Q. I lived in an interesting era. Now I am 78 years old.

What I want to tell you is that everyone has his or her own job. I am an actor, but I’d like to suggest that you do your job, even if it is very small. For example, I was never an extra, but I sometimes acted with just one word in a movie. I thought that, even though I had just one word of dialogue, I was the main character in that scene, like a panel in a comic strip. I mainly did comical roles, playing funny characters. If one audience member smiled or laughed because of me, then my job was successful, and I was satisfied. Even if I had a small part, it made the role seem much bigger. Some movie critics said that I interrupted the scene or was too loud. But they felt that if I were not in the movie, then something was missing.

BH: Let’s (talk about) The Secret of the Telegian (1960) with Jun Fukuda as the director. It’s a classic sci-fi movie. Please tell us what you remember about it.

YS: I was about 20 years old, and I was still in school. I don’t think I was in that movie so much. I remember it was fun.

BH: Specifically about director Fukuda, what do you remember about him on other films or away from the set, his personality or his directing style?

YS: I knew him since he was an assistant director. I used to call him Fuku-chan. After he became a director, I decided to call him “Director.” When I was still in school, he came to look for students who could act, and that’s how we met. Since then, we’d gotten along and were good friends. Sometimes I went to his house and visited his family. He had two daughters, and sometimes his wife made supper for me.

He made some gangster movies. I acted in movies like Counterstroke (1962) and the “Ankokugai” series. Bin Furuya (the original Ultraman suit actor) was in Counterstroke, and he played Yuriko Hoshi’s partner in that movie, so it was a good role for him. He told me he didn’t have a copy of that movie, so I made him a copy and gave it to him. At Toho Studios, Mr. Furuya was my junior. He’s a good man.

BH: Let’s talk about Songoku: The Road to the West (1959). Kajiro Yamamoto was the director. Please talk about this movie.

YS: Songoku was a very fun movie. It was an entertaining movie. The director, Mr. Yamamoto, was very famous for comedy movies. Norihei Miki was also very famous as the number-one comic actor at Toho at that time. Being in director Yamamoto’s film was a big honor, and it gave status to an actor like me, who often played funny roles. I wish you could have seen Mr. Miki’s theatrical shows, not just his movies. They were a lot more fun. His theatrical shows were great. Mr. Miki was always in commercials. His most famous one is Momoya, which produces Japanese food. He died many years ago, but his face is still used on Momoya products. His character is still alive.

BH: Let’s continue. Let’s talk about Seniors, Juniors, Co-Workers (1959). Please tell us about this movie and director Honda.

YS: I worked with Mr. Honda on monster movies and salaryman comedies. Mr. Honda used to live in the Seijo area where I went to school. For New Year’s, I sometimes visited Mr. Honda’s home. His son and daughter were my juniors at Seijo Gakuen. His son is named Ryuji, but I sometimes called him Ryu-chan or Ryu-bo. His daughter was nicknamed Fu-chan, but I don’t remember her real name! His wife, Kimi, was also wonderful. She sometimes made us dinner.

In this movie, Akira Kubo and I had a job interview at a company. In the interview, I was asked, “What is your hobby?” The Japanese word for “hobby” is “shumi.” It sounds similar to the Japanese word for “spot,” which is “shimi.” They are very similar-sounding words in Japanese. So, when I was asked, “What is your hobby?” my character thought he was asked, “What is that stain?” (laughs) Mr. Kubo was right next to me in the scene, and his character said, “No, no, you’re wrong. He’s not asking about a stain. He’s asking about your hobby!” I played that kind of character. It was just about two or three scenes, but in the movie theater, many people laughed at that scene. It was the typical Saijo character.

In another film, I was working for a shoe store. One day, an insurance salesperson came to the shoe store. She was trying to sell insurance, but I ended up selling her some shoes! So I won! (laughs)

BH: Another Honda movie I’d like to ask about is Gorath (1962). It’s another small part, but what do you remember about working on this movie with Mr. Honda.

YS: I still remember that song (“We Are Space Pilots”). It was a fun movie. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember the song. Many years later, there was a fan event, and some of the fans asked me to sing that song, so I remember it.

BH: Let’s talk about another great director, Mikio Naruse. So, for example, you worked with Mr. Naruse on Poignant Story (1961), Yearning (1964), and movies like that. Please talk about working with Mr. Naruse on these various movies.

YS: Mikio Naruse is a famous Japanese director. He’s like Yasujiro Ozu, and they were the two of the top directors in Japan. He was very quiet. He never got angry or upset. He never showed his emotions. He was always calm. I still don’t know why he used me! He knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. He was never at a loss about what to do; he always knew how to do it. Sometimes young directors use a lot of style in their scenes, but Mr. Naruse can shoot a scene with a man talking to a woman at a table for 10 minutes, just talking. Yasujiro Ozu could do the same thing. Mr. Ozu and Mr. Naruse were the only two directors who could make movies like that without boring the audience.

I’m very happy and honored that I was in his films. It’s a big honor for me. In Yearning, I acted with Hideko Takamine and Yuzo Kayama. It is kind of a dark story, but it is a very good movie. I think this is the best movie I’ve ever done. For me, it’s a big honor that my name is included in his films. Have you seen The Blue Beast (1960)? Hiromichi Horikawa was the director. He was Akira Kurosawa’s chief assistant director.

I was in Ultra Q, but I appeared in many movies. The Blue Beast was a very good movie, and Tatsuya Nakadai was the star. In this movie, when Tatsuya Nakadai’s character was a college student, he took part in the student movement. (In the 1960s, Japanese college students demonstrated against their government.) But he betrayed and used his friends and got a job at a big publishing company. One of his friends was working part-time as a tutor for a child. He was having an affair with the child’s mother, and she was the wife of the president of the publishing company. That was how he got the job in the company. He became successful in the company by taking advantage of someone else’s position.

In the end, his character gets killed. I played the role of a student, and my character was Mr. Nakadai’s junior at school in this movie. I said nice things to Mr. Nakadai in order to get a good job. But, in the end, when Mr. Nakadai was killed, I said he was foolish. As soon as I say that, the movie ends. So I was in the last scene.

Have you seen Me and I (1962)? The Peanuts and the Crazy Cats are in it.

BH: Do you have any memories of The Peanuts? Did you ever get to talk to them?

YS: We stayed in Karuizawa for about one month, shooting. This was an entertainment movie, and they were in it. In the story, they were sisters, but they became separated from their parents. So they were adopted by different families. One was adopted by a bus driver, and the father was played by Ichiro Arishima. The other sister was adopted by Keiko Awaji who in the movie lived in Karuizawa. The bus driver’s family lived somewhere else. I was a student, living in Tokyo, but for the summer break, I went to Karuizawa. Akira Takarada was also in the movie, and he sings songs. Some of the Crazy Cats were also in some of the musical scenes. These sisters were found to be very good singers. So they discovered these two ladies, and they became stars. That’s what the movie is about.

During the shooting in Karuizawa, sometimes I had tea with The Peanuts after we finished shooting. At the Nichigeki Theater, there was a live variety show with songs and comedy skits with The Peanuts. So at that time, during the day, the movie Me and I was shown on the screen, and at night there was a live show with The Peanuts at the same theater. I visited The Peanuts backstage and spoke with them.

It was the golden age of films, so many people were waiting in line for the movie. So, in front of the theater, there was a long line of people waiting to get in. At the end of the line, there was a person holding a placard that announced this was the end of the line!

In Me and I, I was almost the main character. In The Blue Beast, I was almost the main character, too. I was in the movie I Bombed Pearl Harbor (1960). In the movie, I was a very big fan of Koji Tsuruta, so when I acted with him, I couldn’t make direct eye contact. I was too shy. I was not able to look into his eyes, so I looked at his ear instead! In the scene, I only said things like, “Yes, I understand.” In that time, for releases during New Year’s, Toho produced all-star films. If an actor can get a role in one of these films, it’s a very good thing. If an actor doesn’t get cast in an all-star film, he or she may continue with Toho, but the contract could be cancelled. So it’s a very important kind of movie.

In this movie, I had a good role. In one airplane, Koji Tsuruta was the main pilot, and Yosuke Natsuki and I (playing the character Tanikawa) were also there. Mr. Natsuki was talking with Mr. Tsuruta in a scene and said, “I’m thinking about getting married. What do you think?” Mr. Tsuruta replied, “Yes, of course. It will be a long war, so you’d better get married.” Mr. Natsuki answered, “Yes, sir.” Then he asked, “How about you, Tanikawa?” I answered, “No, sir. I’m not ready for love. I just want to attack anpan!” My response showed how young and immature my character was.

In that movie, I played a very young soldier. The movie wanted to show that boys like me at the time went to war and died. They were so pure and knew nothing about the world. Even they had to go to war. So it was a good role.

BH: Now let’s talk about Ultra Q (1966). First, how did you get cast?

YS: It was the first work of Tsuburaya Productions. Half of Tsuburaya Productions’ stockholders was Toho. That’s why Toho supported Tsuburaya Productions, and that’s how Tsuburaya Productions started. For the first work, Tsuburaya Productions had to use Toho stars. It was in the contract. That’s why Kenji Sahara was cast as the lead. Also, Hana no Salesman’s producer, Mr. Kakoi, was a producer on Ultra Q, and I think that’s why he suggested me for Ultra Q. Mr. Kakoi was the only person familiar with my acting among the Ultra Q staff. He understood my acting. I worked with him on Hana no Salesman for 26 episodes, so that’s why he knew my acting so well. I think he recommended me for the role of Ippei.

For Ultra Q, there were two directors from Toho – Koji Kajita and Samaji Nonagase. They were from Toho. Toshihiro Iijima was a director from TBS. Hajime Tsuburaya was an employee of TBS. Kazuho Mitsuta was also an employee of TBS. He was an assistant director.

BH: When you were offered Ultra Q, what did you think? You did a lot of movies, so did you think it was a good opportunity, or did you not want to do TV?

YS: Of course, I knew sci-fi movies, so when I was offered Ultra Q, I thought it was interesting. But I’m so surprised by Ultra Q’s influence on my life because I still get offers for interviews or fan events about Ultra Q.

One of the episodes is called “Challenge from the Year 2020” (episode 19). Now we only have three years until the year 2020! So it will have been about 55 years since we made that episode. I’m so surprised that it’s lasted so long. More than 50 years have passed, and it’s gone from monochrome to color. I never expected that to happen. Ultra Q is the only Japanese TV program to have changed from monochrome to color. Some other series had an episode change from monochrome to color, but Ultra Q is the only series to have all the episodes colorized. Also, Ultra Q had an English-language version produced. In that version, my character is named Happy. It’s amazing; I can’t believe it! I never expected it to happen.

Speaking of that, you worked with Mr. Sahara and Ms. Sakurai. Please share some of your memories of working with them on Ultra Q.

YS: Mr. Sahara and Ms. Sakurai were also from Toho. We’d worked at Toho together. So we got along very well. Mr. Sahara is a very serious man. Sometimes he was too serious and not fun. (laughs) But we got along, so it was good. Ms. Sakurai was my junior. She was cute, but she was not that sexy. She was only about 16 or 17 years old. At that time, I was only about 23 years old.

Ms. Sakurai was late on the first day of shooting, and she was new. So I tried to protect her. I made many excuses for her.   

Photo © Brett Homenick.

What was the reaction from the staff? What did they do?

YS: In the episode “Mammoth Flower” (episode 4), we shot at the moat around the Imperial Palace. Shooting was supposed to start at 9:00 in the morning. By 10:00, Ms. Sakurai still hadn’t shown up. She was new! Mr. Sahara is a very serious man, so he said to me, “We were supposed to start at 9:00, but it’s already 10:00. What’s happening? Why don’t you ask what’s going on?” I said OK, and I asked the staff. That’s when I found out that Ms. Sakurai was late and that she hadn’t shown up! But I figured that I couldn’t tell the truth to Mr. Sahara, so I told him a lie. So I went to Mr. Sahara and told him, “There was a problem with the camera. I’m not sure what it is, but something is wrong with the camera. So please wait a moment.”

After a while, Ms. Sakurai showed up. She was panting heavily. So I said to her, “Come here. You can’t tell the truth. I told Mr. Sahara that something was wrong with the camera, and that’s why shooting was delayed. So don’t tell him what really happened.” She said, “OK, thank you!”

BH: Did she ever say why she was late?

YS: At that time, I didn’t ask her why she was late. Afterward, she said, “Last night, I had a date. It went very late.” So I said to her, “Don’t be so silly!” Maybe it was true, but I didn’t want to say something like, “Oh, I see.” I wanted to make a joke. I was kidding with her.

If I were angry with her, she would have felt bad. If she felt bad, it probably would have affected her performance because her character was supposed to be very charming. So I didn’t want to hurt the mood of her character for the scene. Ms. Sakurai still says to me, “Because of you, I was saved.” That’s how we got along with each other during the shooting.

So I think I was the buffer between the three of us during the shooting. If something happened to Mr. Sahara, I supported him. If something happened to Ms. Sakurai, I supported her. But nobody would have supported me! (laughs)

BH: How about the directors? You mentioned Mr. Iijima and Mr. Tsuburaya. There were many directors. Do you have any memories of working with some of the directors on Ultra Q?

YS: At that time, we were so busy, so we never had drinks or meals with the directors. I’d wear the same costume during shooting, so I’d go home with it on because we were too busy. After shooting wrapped, we went out for drinks and socialized, but not during the shooting.

There were many directors, but Mr. Iijima made very good episodes. My favorite director on Ultra Q was Mr. Iijima. He was the most real. I think he can make any type of film. Mr. Nakagawa was kind of out of control and a little difficult. From Toho, Mr. Nonagase and Mr. Kajita had worked as assistant directors for 30 years – such a long period. When Mr. Kajita was directing “Mammoth Flower,” it was the first scene of day one. When we were shooting on location in front of the Imperial Palace, Mr. Kajita said, “Ready, start!” I looked at Mr. Kajita’s face, and he had a very nice smile. I was impressed.

There were three directors from TBS and two from Toho. I had so much experience with Toho that I made a lot effort when working with the directors from Toho.

BH: What is your favorite episode of Ultra Q?

YS: “Baron Spider” (episode 9).

BH: Why is that your favorite?

YS: The reason I like this episode is because the story was real. Also, the set was very well done. They invested a lot of money in it. When the set is good, actors are motivated to do their best. There is a scene where I slip into some mud. It was very cold. The scene was shot around February, so it was very cold, in the morning, the surface was frozen. I had to stay in the cold water for a while. At first, I was told it would only be one take. For some reason, it ended up being eight takes!

There was another actor who was also in the water. But it was too cold for him. He was not able to do scene. His face became very white, so he was not able to do it. They let him out of doing the scene. So I asked the staff to get me a wetsuit; otherwise I couldn’t do it anymore. A staff member asked me to come over to him because he set up a hot bath for me. I said, “OK, great!” and put my feet in the tub. But only the bottom was hot! The rest of the tub was not. I asked him what happened, and he said that he put the hot water in the mud. I said, “Are you crazy? You put the hot water in the mud?!” So I asked the staff to call Toho Studios, which was very close by. I asked the staff to get Toho to prepare a hot bath for me. They prepared it for me. It was only four or five minutes away by car.

My favorite Ultra Q monster is Pegila. There also an episode in which there was no monster called “The 1/8 Project” (episode 17). I also liked that episode. In the episode “Challenge from the Year 2020,” Ippei suddenly becomes smart. It was funny. That episode had a certain tempo, and that tempo was good for my acting. Akiji Kobayashi was the featured guest in the episode. I enjoyed acting with him.

BH: Who was your favorite guest star on Ultra Q? There were many guest stars, but who was your favorite?

YS: Akiji Kobayashi is one. I can’t remember his name, but (in the episode “Challenge from the Year 2020”) his character suddenly disappears in the last scene. In that scene, there was a puddle, and he put his foot in it and disappeared. (The actor is Kan Yanagiya.) I like the actor and that scene. The first scene of that episode is in the Akasaka Prince Hotel, and there is a diving board on the pool. Somebody tried to jump into the pool, but he disappeared during the jump. It was that episode. There were many good guest stars.

BH: Let’s talk about the work schedule of Ultra Q. What was it like, and from when to when would you work? How many months did you work on the series?

YS: At first, it took very long. In the beginning, they didn’t know when it would air on TV. The airdate was not fixed. After the entire series was filmed, it was broadcast on TV. So we had time at first.

In the beginning, we were supposed to shoot four episodes per month. A certain amount of money was guaranteed because we were scheduled to shoot four episodes per month. But we ended up shooting only two episodes per month, so the budget for each subsequent episode went down. So I said to them before the beginning of the second season, “If we cannot shoot four episodes per month, I will not do it.” Then they started shooting four episodes per month.

In the beginning, it was very slow. Sometimes the script wasn’t even finished. Production moved slowly because it would be broadcast only after the series was completed. Also, Tsuburaya Productions was a new company at the time. The lunches were very poor – only three onigiri with pickles. So we had a bit of a hard time, especially the main cast, Mr. Sahara, Ms. Sakurai, and I, had a hard time.

If Ultra Q were not successful, Tsuburaya Productions would have been out of business. They would not have been able to make Ultraman (1966-67) or Ultra Seven (1967-68) afterward. Sandayu Dokumamushi is one of the main characters in Ultra Seven. Because Ultra Q was a success, Mr. Dokumamushi was able to appear in the Ultra-series, so he cannot complain! Mr. Dokumamushi’s real name is Iyoshi Ishii, and he was a good friend of mine. He was not a Toho actor. I know Mr. Dokumamushi very well. He is not actually a rakugo master. Mr. Dokumamushi only brings a cushion on rakugo TV shows. Danshi Tatekawa, a rakugo master, gave him the name Sandayu Dokumamushi. Before that, he was only known as Iyoshi Ishii. Maybe about two years before Ultraman began, Mr. Tatekawa gave him that name. These days, many people say that Mr. Dokumamushi is a rakugo master, but he is not.

Ultra Q’s television debut was finally decided to be just after New Year’s Day, January 2, 7:00 p.m. It’s called Golden Time for TV. Everybody said that January 2 wouldn’t be a good time, so we should broadcast it the second week of January. But Mr. Kakoi decided that January 2 would be the best time. When it debuted on TV, it was a big hit. After that, Mr. Kakoi walked around TBS very proudly! I think Mr. Kakoi had a lot of courage because I never expected Ultra Q to be broadcast on TV on January 2 during Golden Time, competing against many other popular programs. Ultra Q had the highest rating of any show on that day at that time.

No matter what the parents said, all the children were so excited about it. Perhaps Mr. Kakoi realized that. At that time, they were not able to see such a program unless they went to a movie theater. But now they could see such a program at home on TV. It was the first time they could do that. During that period, 70% of households didn’t have color TVs. The main characters were popular among children. Sometimes the children would say, “I want to have an older brother like Ippei!” It made me very happy. At that time, when I went out, I’d sometimes hear something behind me, and I’d turn around and see children following me! (laughs)

BH: After Ultra Q was a success, how did your career change after that?

YS: After Ultra Q, perhaps my career did improve, but I would say it didn’t change very much. Some, but not very much.

When the English was released, I was invited on a TV show in the U.S., so I went there. I was asked, “How many pools do you have in your house, Mr. Saijo?” In the States, if a famous actor is a regular on a TV series, they can have a big house with a pool. I was very surprised. When I was asked that question, I turned to my friend who was from Tsuburaya Productions, and who came with me over to the States. I said, “OK, let’s go home!”

BH: Do you remember the TV show’s name?

YS: I don’t remember. I forgot.

BH: But this was in the 1960s?

YS: Yes, I think so. I want to ask you: In the States, if an actor is a regular on a TV show, is he or she able to afford a big house with a pool?

BH: Yes, it’s possible.

YS: It made me upset! (laughs)

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about Son of Godzilla (1967). I know that part of it was filmed in Guam. I don’t know if you went there for some of the filming. In that movie, you get attacked by Kumonga. There are many Toho regulars, so please talk about Son of Godzilla.

YS: I never went to Guam. It was a set.

Akihiko Hirata graduated from Tokyo University. When I was in the studio studying when I was a high school student, Mr. Hirata came to me and asked me, “What are you doing?” I said, “Oh, I have an exam tomorrow. I’m studying for it.” So he said, “Let me see.” Mr. Hirata taught me math. I admired him. He helped me study at Toho Studios. I thought Tokyo University was very different from other universities. I’m very proud I was taught by Mr. Hirata. Perhaps I’m the only one who was taught by him.

It was a good set, but the son of Godzilla’s face was very round, and it was too cute. It wasn’t so impressive. It should have looked more like Godzilla. The eyes should have been sharper; they were too round.

Now, there are no more science fiction movies because they make everything with computer graphics. So the genre of science fiction has ended. With CG, the movements of Godzilla are totally different. So science fiction and computer graphics are totally different. Godzilla’s movements in CG are not interesting. Haruo Nakajima is the only Godzilla.

BH: How about Destroy All Monsters (1968)? Do you have any memories of this that you’d like to share?

YS: We had a good team in this film. We sang songs, and we were young. When I look back, I realize we were so young then. About six months ago, I met Mr. Kubo. He got old, and so did I! (laughs) I wish I could go back to that age.

After Destroy All Monsters, when I was at an event with other cast members from the film, I was asked to sing. So we sang a song together.

BH: In 1970, Toho’s contract system ended. Please talk about the end of the contract system at Toho.

YS: In the 1970s, Toho decided not to have any actors under contract, not even Toshiro Mifune. I didn’t want to be fired, so before I was fired, I quit. So I did some freelance work after that at Toho.

BH: Who were your closest friends at Toho during this time?

YS: Yosuke Natsuki was a good friend at Toho. Also, Masanari Nihei was a good friend. We played mahjong together.

So after I quit Toho, I was already married with two kids, a boy and a girl. I had the responsibility of raising my kids. Because of that, I opened a bar in Aoyama. My senior from school owned the building, and I opened a bar there. In Shinjuku, I opened a members’ club. Sometimes a trio band played in the club. There was also a piano player, who was named Juichi Sase. He composed a song called “Taiyaki-kun,” which was a big hit in the 1970s. During those days, I worked from early in the morning until late at night and worked very hard because I had to support my family.

After my kids graduated from university, I felt very relieved. I didn’t have enough energy to continue, so I closed those establishments. Now my wife and I can do whatever we’d like.

BH: I’ll name some names from Toho, and please give me your response. It could be one word, one sentence, or a quick story.

The first one is Seiji Maruyama.

YS: He is the director of First Love Story (1957), which was my first movie. He and assistant director Jun Fukuda were the reason I became an actor.

BH: Yoko Tsukasa.

YS: Cute senior.

BH: Yumi Shirakawa.

YS: When she was drunk, she didn’t know what she was doing! (laughs)

BH: Kumi Mizuno.

YS: My favorite actress. I think she was the most beautiful Toho actress. Thirty years later, I told her, “You were the most beautiful actress at Toho, and I really liked you.” And she said, “Why didn’t you tell me thirty years ago?!”

BH: Yoshifumi Tajima.

YS: He played my boss in Ultra Q and even other programs. On Hana no Salesman, he also played my boss. He was always my boss.

BH: Shinobu Hashimoto.

YS: Difficult director.

BH: Hideko Takamine.

YS: Beautiful senior.

BH: Senkichi Taniguchi.

YS: He married a beautiful woman, so he must have been happy!

BH: Kihachi Okamoto.

YS: He was an innovator. He changed the movie world.

BH: Kengo Furusawa.

YS: He was able to make movies quickly. He was a shokunin.         

BH: Yoshio Tsuchiya.

YS: Good senior.

BH: Yuzo Kayama.

YS: I worked with Mr. Kayama over a long period of time. The last movie I did with him in the Young Guy series. In the movie, I played his rival. I remember that I played a chef at Tanokyu, the sukiyaki restaurant owned by his parents.

BH: Ren Yamamoto.

YS: He loved acting.

BH: Tatsuya Mihashi.

YS: Cool senior.

BH: Akira Takarada.

YS: He was a traditional, good-looking actor in the Showa period.

BH: Yosuke Natsuki.

YS: Mr. Natsuki was mischievous, and I liked him. I got along well with him. He is crazy about cars.

BH: Haruya Kato.

YS: He’s a funny man!


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