KAIJU MEET THEIR MAKER! Shinichi Wakasa on His Monster-Making Career!

Shinichi Wakasa at his creature shop in August 2011. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Shinichi Wakasa is arguably Japan’s leading kaiju suit builder. Having worked on a myriad of tokusatsu projects, ranging from Ultraman 80 (1980-81) to Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), Mr. Wakasa has always combined hard work with his incredible imagination to create some of the big screen’s greatest monsters. Brett Homenick was privileged to ask Mr. Wakasa questions in a 2006 interview about some of his most memorable kaiju creations in an interview translated by Jolyon Yates.

Brett Homenick: I’m very impressed with the kaiju suits on Ultraman 80 (1980-81). Please talk about your work as a kaiju creator on that show.

Shinichi Wakasa: At the time of Ultraman 80, I was 20 years old, and I’d been learning monster making for only two years. The most important thing to do was to faithfully follow the designs of art director Shu Yamaguchi. During production, one monster suit took an average of about 10 days to make, and I was unable to go to bed. There were very difficult times when the suit was still uncompleted. Although I was almost replaced several times during production, I was put in charge of the final episode’s monster. I would not be where I am today without this experience.

BH: Did you work with Noriaki Yuasa on Ultraman 80? If so, how was he to work with?

SW: I didn’t work with Mr. Yuasa on Ultraman 80. The truth is I was in charge of the SFX unit in the drama department, and we worked on a Tsuburaya production in 1984 called Anime-Chan. I was happy to listen to his stories of the Daiei Gamera times.

BH: Please describe how you created Rodan for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993).

SW: Mr. Kenji Suzuki, SFX unit assistant director of Ultraman 80, introduced me to this work. I felt a lot of pressure as it was my first time at Toho Co, Ltd., whose work has such a reputation.

The production period for Rodan was less than three weeks, and very difficult. Following Mr. (Koichi) Kawakita’s vision, the maquette was made and the final design improved. Mr. Kawakita liked the way it was made, and monster production final design from this to Mothra 2 (1997) followed the same method.

Rodan was not made as a human figure suit because of the request to design it as a puppet from the beginning. I supervised Mechagodzilla, too, because Cosmo Production, where I’d trained in monster making from 18 to 20 years old, had reached full capacity because of the production of Rodan.

BH: For Yamato Takeru (a.k.a. Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon, 1994), how did you create the Sea God?

SW: Because the sequence was set in water the Sea God was made with highly water resistant material. The frame of the body was made with fiberglass, and the moving parts used Scott Foam. Although its water resistance was good, the problem with Scott Foam was that it weakened the effect of the gunpowder. Gunpowder is standard use in the Toho SFX Unit.

BH: Do you remember your work on Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)?

SW: I was highly motivated as this was the last Godzilla production. The workshop became cramped since there were more than twenty assistants. Things went smoothly because of the well established methods at Toho, and the production period was forty days.

BH: Your kaiju suits in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) are excellent. Do you have any memories from that movie?

SW: Tokyo S.O.S. is a great favorite. The personality of the monster is very clear, and the wings of the Mothra imago are gorgeous, too. Also, the three color designs of Godzilla, Mothra and Mechagodzilla went well. I get teary during the scene where Godzilla is wrapped in the threads of Mothra, no matter how many times I see it. I think it is an excellent work which was made as the final curtain on the Godzilla series of the new century.

BH: Please talk about building all the kaiju suits for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).

SW: Mr. Kitamura’s greatest demand was to see monster battles like nothing seen before, but this was impossible with the previous Godzilla suit. The main problem was the Godzilla suit diverged from human proportions so much that the fight moves couldn’t be performed. This change in the figure decided the size of the face and the overall proportions, and the design was completed. This applied not only to Godzilla but also King Shisa (King Seesar), Rodan, Angilas, Gigan, and Monster X.

The concept for Kaiser Ghidorah was that his size overwhelmed Godzilla. We made a big suit designed for two actors. It is the summation of 12 years of my part in the work at Toho.

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