In 1991, Anna Nakagawa (1965-2014) was a rising actress in Japan. That year, she was asked by Toho Co., Ltd., to star in the studio’s next G-film, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). Playing the part of Futurian Emmy Kano, Ms. Nakagawa became one of the most popular leading ladies in Western Godzilla fandom.
While she is known by Godzilla fans for her role in King Ghidorah, it may surprise many that she has extensive familial connections to the genre. She boasts Koreya Senda (The H-Man, Varan the Unbelievable, Battle in Outer Space) as her grandfather, and Jerry Ito (Mothra, The Manster, Mighty Jack) as another family member. (Jerry Ito is the son of Michio Ito, Koreya Senda’s brother). Furthermore, her father, Harunosuke Nakagawa, directed three episodes (numbers 6, 12, and 15) of Tsuburaya Productions’ Ultra Q (1966).
On February 11, 2012, Ms. Nakagawa sat down with Brett Homenick to discuss her memories of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah in Tokyo.
Brett Homenick: My first question is, how did you get started in the entertainment industry? How did you get started as an actress?
Anna Nakagawa: I auditioned for a film. It was based on a very famous Japanese novel by Yasushi Inoue titled Tonko (The Silk Road). Junya Sato was the director. That was a big, successful commercial film in 1989. It was my debut.
BH: Before Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, what were some of your other roles in movies and maybe television, as well?
AN: There is a very famous Okinawa singer, Marie Kyan (from the band Marie with Medusa). The movie based on her story is called A Sign of Days. It was made around 1990. Before that, Okinawa was given back to Japan as a territory. There was a kind of bar for American soldiers. She, Eri (the character in the film played by Ms. Nakagawa), started her career there.
BH: How did you get cast in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah?
AN: They asked me directly, Toho Company. So nobody asked me to audition, but they directly offered me the part.
BH: Did you have any interest in Godzilla? What was your reaction? What did you think when they offered the role in Godzilla to you?
AN: Do you know Ultra Q?
AN: My father directed the Kanegon episode. My father directed three episodes. When I was a child, I used to play with those monsters. My father brought me some miniature monsters from the program. My grandfather, Koreya Senda, used to be a kind of godfather of Japanese modern theater. He created the Haiyuza theater company during the War. My great-uncle, Mr. Michio Ito, worked with W. B. Yeats, the Irish-English poet.
Michio Ito worked in Hollywood as a choreographer. He used to be chairman of the Ernie Pyle Theater (Tokyo Takarazuka Theater). He was nominated as a general producer for the Japanese Olympic Games held in 1964, but died before seeing the games. So some people say it is a prominent family, but I don’t care.
BH: What is your father’s name?
AN: Harunosuke Nakagawa.
BH: So you had a connection with kaiju when they offered it.
AN: I used to dream a lot about Godzilla and the monsters! (laughs) Very exciting! (laughs)
BH: That’s great! When you were hired, what were your first impressions of Kazuki Omori?
AN: He’s a very energetic man and always leading the actors, standing in front of them, leading them.
BH: How would he direct you in a scene when you were filming? What was his directing style?
AN: He drew the storyboards himself on paper. There are lots of blue backgrounds for the monster scenes. So he didn’t need to explain to the actors how it works. He used his own storyboards.
BH: When preproduction was going on, when the movie was getting ready to be shot before shooting began, were you involved at all with preproduction, before the movie was actually filming?
BH: With the cast, what about Mr. Kosuke Toyohara? What was he like to work with?
AN: I was a bit reluctant or reserved because this was just after my debut as a film actress, but Mr. Toyohara knows films very well. He even tried to change some lines himself.
BH: Was that successful? Did he get to have the lines changed?
AN: Yes, he did. It worked.
BH: So he could change Mr. Omori’s mind about things?
AN: It’s not that much, but on scene by scene he improvised well. He studied and researched a lot about Hollywood films. He knew a lot about these kind of films. He knew a lot.
BH: What about Megumi Odaka? What were your memories of working with Ms. Odaka?
AN: She’s a Toho actor. Of course, I knew her very well as an actress from Toho Company and had worked for a lot of Godzilla films.
BH: How was her personality on the set?
AN: She’s got the power to concentrate into the filming and shooting.
BH: Also, there are the American actors: Robert Scott Field and Chuck Wilson, Richard Berger…
BH: What were impressions of the Americans in the movie?
AN: They struggled a lot to study by heart those lines in Japanese. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
BH: They had trouble saying the lines?
AN: (laughs) But they enjoyed it. Before shooting, they had to study a lot. No translators were involved because they had a basis in Japanese. But as a character, that was not so easy. They were such good, nice people. They were really serious people. They studied hard.
BH: Did you find Chuck Wilson to be, maybe, less friendly than some of the others?
AN: Not that much, but as a martial artist, he was macho. He was businesslike. He didn’t show his feelings. (laughs) He didn’t seem to be enjoying himself. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes.
BH: What was your thought about how the Americans all got along?
AN: They seem “alien” as characters, and in real life, as well, for me. I was impressed.
BH: The movie made news in America at the time because some people said that it was anti-American with the American soldiers getting killed. At the time, what did you think about the controversy?
AN: I didn’t see any intention of the actors or producers. Mr. Omori might not have had that kind of intention.
BH: With the time-travel story, many fans have tried to figure it out. They think a lot about that. What did you think of the time-travel story?
AN: (laughs) During shooting, I didn’t think anything about it! (laughs)
BH: When was filming? What was the filming schedule, from when to when? How long were you on the set?
AN: I spent one month for shooting.
BH: Was it during the summer?
AN: It was July.
BH: Where were your scenes shot? You were on location a few times. Where did you shoot some of the scenes?
AN: When the spaceship arrives, it was at the Self-Defense army forces base in Fuji. Around Mt. Fuji, there are lots of American bases, Japanese Self-Defense Force bases. The other locations involved were all in the Kanto(-Tokai) area.
BH: What was it like to be in the (Mecha-King Ghidorah) set, because as I recall, you were bouncing around. What was that like?
AN: (laughs) Enjoy! (laughs) It was a small dome. It was like a ship with oars. Outside, you could see some oars. The technical staff moved the set with the oars, to shake it. “Right! Left!” (laughs) The set was completely sealed, so I was not really able to listen to the outside. So the speaker system told me the directions from the director. “Now you’re being attacked! Do this, do that!”
Those details in the cockpit were made from kitchen utensils and lots of things. (laughs) So I tried to pretend to pilot it by pushing whatever switches I wanted to push. (laughs) It was like I was playing as a child! (laughs)
BH: Were there any other interesting memories or stories from the set that you have?
AN: I visited the studio, the specialists making up the sets, without sleeping. I was impressed that such detail was made for only one take. When Godzilla attacked, it was all gone.
BH: So, the crew was working 24 hours a day to get the sets ready?
AN: They slept in the studio. The duration of filming was limited, and especially in the Japanese film industry, time is limited. One month is normal for actors, but maybe the staff spent more time for preparation.
BH: When the movie wrapped, did you go to a premiere of the film? If so, what did you think of the movie when you first saw it?
AN: Once I saw it for the first time, I was fighting with Godzilla! (laughs) It was such a fantastic experience. It really looked like I was fighting Godzilla! (laughs)
BH: How were the Dorats? How did they operate, like puppets?
AN: I manipulated one of them myself, with one hand.
BH: Really? (laughs)
AN: (Ms. Nakagawa pantomimes how she manipulated the Dorat.) The others were manipulated by other specialists. (looks at a picture of Dorats) Cute! (laughs) That was not really popular with the audience. But I liked it.
BH: Do you remember the scene with Robert Scott Field when he’s running with the car, and he stops it and lifts it up? How was that scene done?
AN: He was just pretending to run on the wooden board. (laughs) He was being rolled on the board. It might look cheap compared to Hollywood. (laughs) We did it without stunt men or women. I enjoyed it. When I was doing the flying scene, I was harnessed by a wire. But it really didn’t work well! I mistakenly touched down at the wrong place.
BH: So it was at an angle when you landed. It was not straight down; it was to the side.
AN: It depended on my movement. I needed to adjust myself where to land.
BH: How big was the UFO set? It looks very big in the movie, but was it as big as it looked?
AN: It was a technically mixed scene. It was a set in Toho Studio. It was a life-size structure. The scene of the lift for the UFO was shot in a museum in Atami. There is a very famous, huge museum in Atami. Atami is in Shizuoka Prefecture. So you might find it.
BH: What kind of a museum was it? What did they use?
AN: A modern art museum. It’s a huge museum. (It was the MOA Museum of Art in Atami.)
BH: Who was the person you were talking to in the submarine?
AN: He was actually Japanese. He’s a famous stage actor, Mr. Ginnosuke Azuma. He used to be an army pilot both in the Japanese Imperial Army and the JASDF. If you check the name of the theater company Sanjumaru, he used to be a member of the theater company. He died about 10 years ago.
BH: Do you have any other memories that you would like to share or any other thoughts about Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah?
AN: Yoshio Tsuchiya, who worked with Akira Kurosawa on many films, taught me a lot. I like the scene where Mr. Tsuchiya makes eye contact with Godzilla.
BH: Overall, did you like the movie?
AN: I don’t really check the films that I’ve worked on myself. But it was released on Blu-ray. So I watched it again, and I recognized it’s not so bad. It was quite good. I used to think it was a bit cheap. But now I think that’s the charm of the film, its hand-made quality. You can enjoy it from lots of different angles and in different ways. This was before the real development of special digital effects. In hindsight, I really appreciate what they did. They did it well.