GAPPA ANGRY! Actor Masanori Machida Remembers Playing Saki in Nikkatsu’s Kaiju Classic!

Masanori Machida during the interview on his acting career. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on January 7, 1955, in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Masanori Machida was a child actor who began his career in the early 1960s. During his career as a child actor, Mr. Machida appeared in numerous movies during the 1960s, including (in order of production): Toho’s Aogeba Totoshi (1966), Daiei’s Zatoichi’s Vengeance (1966), Toei’s Abashiri Prison: Duel in the South (1966), and Nikkatsu’s Gappa the Triphibian Monster (a.k.a. Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, 1967), in which he played the island boy Saki.

In the 1970s, Mr. Machida continued acting as an adult and appeared in a trio of motorcycle gang movies directed by Teruo Ishii in the Bosozoku (a.k.a. Detonation) film series: Detonation: Violent Riders (1975), Detonation: Violent Games (1976), and Season of Violence (1976).

These days, Mr. Machida primarily works as a voice actor, lending his voice to the Japanese versions of American movies and TV programs. In October 2018, Mr. Machida spoke about his acting career with Brett Homenick in an interview translated by Makiko Nomoto.

Brett Homenick: Please discuss your early life before you became a child actor.

Masanori Machida: I started working as a child actor when I was three years old. When I was a kindergarten student, I joined a theatrical company. At first, I entered a theatrical company called Nihon Jido Gekidan (Japan Kids Theatrical Company). After that, I changed to Gekidan Himawari (Himawari Theatre Group), a famous theatrical company. There was a TV program called Shonen Jet. The star of Shonen Jet also belonged to Nihon Jido Gekidan. I appeared in a TV program called Kyofu no Miira (Fearful Mummy, 1961). I acted as a kindergarten student playing in a sandbox. It was my first TV appearance.

After Kyofu no Miira, I acted as a cricket in a stage play. Although I don’t remember it clearly, I have a picture of it that reminds me of the scene.

BH: As a child, what were your hobbies?

MM: Just playing. (laughs)

BH: Why did you become a child actor at such a young age?

MM: My parents entered me in the theatrical company to help me learn manners and a wide range of sensibilities.

BH: From the very beginning, all you remember is acting.

MM: (My first acting memory is) escaping from the mummy in Kyofu no Miira. (laughs)

BH: One of you early films roles was the Zatoichi film, Zatoichi’s Vengeance (1966). What do you remember about making this movie?

MM: Shintaro Katsu played with me a little in between takes. Because Mr. Katsu loved playing golf, he taught me how to play golf. I remember this because there is a picture in which Shintaro Katsu is playing with me.

BH: Do you remember anything else about the making of Zatoichi?

MM: I have a lot of memories. Mr. Katsu also showed me swordplay. It’s called nidan-giri (double cut), slashing the upper part of the body first and then the lower part. Usually, we hold the sword like this. But because Zatoichi is blind, he holds his sword in a different way. He taught me how Zatoichi uses his sword.

We used real swords for the close-ups. While performing, we used fake swords covered in aluminum foil. I only watched the swordfights (and didn’t participate in them). In the movie, I tried to take his sword because I was very interested in it, but Zatoichi took it away.

Mr. Katsu drank a lot. (laughs) When his character drank sake in a scene, he drank real sake.

It was fun. Performing was difficult. At that time, I didn’t have enough experience. I was about 10 years old.

BH: At Toho, you appeared in the comedy Aogeba Totoshi (1966). Do you have any memories of Mr. (Hisaya) Morishige?

MM: Near Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku, there are many small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Mr. Morishige came there from Tokyo on his own ship, which was big. He dressed like a captain. The local people and I were both surprised! Yuzo Kayama also had his own ship, like Mr. Morishige.

BH: Do you have any memories of acting with Mr. Morishige? What was he like in person?

MM: Mr. Morishige played an elementary school teacher, and I played a student of his. Isao Kimura also acted in the film. I played Mr. Kimura’s character as a child. There’s a famous song called “Flower.” I practiced this song many times because I couldn’t sing it very well for the movie.

I remember that in between filming this movie, the theatrical company’s manager took me to see a locomotive. Before that, I’d never seen a locomotive. At that time in Yokohama, we couldn’t see them anymore. But in Shikoku, there were still locomotives. The manager said to me, “This will be the only time you see a locomotive.” That’s why the manager took me to see it. We called it a “De-go-ichi.” Its proper name is D51, so we called it “De-go-ichi.” At that time, the bullet train had started operation, so I returned to Tokyo by bullet train.

BH: Did you get there by bullet train, too?

MM: I don’t remember.

When I had work in Tokyo, I went to Tokyo by myself from Yokohama. I put my salary from acting in my socks so that the money would not get stolen. At that time, I was not paid through the bank. I was paid in cash.

BH: When you went to Shikoku, was that just with the manager, or were your parents with you?

MM: I went to Shikoku with the members of the theatrical company who had just passed the audition and the theatrical company’s manager.

BH: So in this movie, for the students, they used just the other members of the same theatrical troupe?

MM:  Three child actors were chosen from my theatrical company. The rest were locals.

BH: You also acted in Abashiri Prison: Duel in the South (1966) with director Teruo Ishii and of course Ken Takakura. Please share your memories of working on this movie with the director, Mr. Ishii, and Mr. Takakura.

MM: After this movie, I worked with Mr. Ishii many times. There was the Bosozoku series, which were movies about motorcycle gangs. Mr. Ishii directed three of those movies, and I was in all three that Mr. Ishii directed.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Generally, what do you remember about Mr. Ishii as a director?

MM: He was kind. He taught me many things. I appeared in a movie called Moju vs. Issun-boshi (Blind Beast vs. Dwarf, 2001), which was directed by Mr. Ishii. This was Mr. Ishii’s last movie at Toei. I also acted as the second lead in Boryoku Senshi (Violent Warrior, 1979).

BH: When Mr. Ishii would direct you, how would he direct you in a scene? Would he give you special direction?

MM: Mr. Ishii would ask me, “What do you think?” Mr. Ishii made me think. So, if I couldn’t act well or answer the question, Mr. Ishii wouldn’t shoot me in the scene, or he would eliminate me from the scene. For example, if I asked a girl out on a date, Mr. Ishii would ask me, “How would you attract this girl to date her?” So I had to think about how to act in a dating scene.

I had to think about how to act in a certain scene by myself. How actors act in certain situations differs from person to person. Mr. Ishii wanted to see my unique way of acting. If I acted in my own unique way, Mr. Ishii would be satisfied. So Mr. Ishii asked me those questions to get me to think about my acting. Mr. Ishii taught me how to develop my characters by myself.

Mr. Ishii also taught me that while praise is good, it is also important to receive criticism. Thinking on my own is important to succeed as an actor. Mr. Ishii told us how the characters should look. For example, he told us that the hairstyle of the young motorcycle gang members should be like an afro, and they should have pierced ears. At that time, most men didn’t wear earrings. So 40 years ago, I was embarrassed to wear one.

BH: Did you get an ear piercing for that movie?

MM: Yes. My female friend pierced my ear for me. Females have the courage to pierce their ears, but males usually don’t have such courage. I wasn’t scared to get the piercing, but I was embarrassed to wear the earring. At that time, only a few men pierced their ears, so Mr. Ishii was ahead of his time. Mr. Ishii taught me to do things like this by myself. Thanks to Mr. Ishii, I think deeply about the characters I play.

BH: What about Mr. Takakura?

MM: In the movie Abashiri Prison, I don’t have any memories of working with Mr. Takakura. After that movie, I did another film with Mr. Takakura called Doran (a.k.a. Revolt, 1980). I played a soldier in this movie. Mr. Takakura played the commander of the soldiers.

In Poppoya (a.k.a. Railroad Man, 1999), I acted with Ken Shimura, who was a comedian, not an actor. We had a fight scene. But because Ken Shimura was a comedian and not an actor, Mr. Takakura advised me, “Don’t play the role seriously. Be careful not to get hurt.” Because Mr. Takakura didn’t say much, I don’t have many memories with him. (In this movie, I appeared as an ill-tempered miner in Hokkaido.)

In Hotaru (a.k.a. The Firefly, 2001), actor Nenji Kobayashi was the attendant for Mr. Takakura. I was the attendant for Mr. Kobayashi. So that’s why we were in the same room together. I acted as a fisherman in this movie. It was a Korean-Japanese co-production. The scene in which I acted particularly well was cut from the movie. The president of Toei praised me, “You did a good job.” But the scene was cut. It was too bad. As a token of apology, an assistant director gave me a picture of the scene in which Mr. Takakura and I appear together.

In Hotaru, I told a joke, and Mr. Takakura pretended to get angry. Because Mr. Takakura seemed to get angry, we were all surprised. But he was just joking with us. In the end, everybody laughed. In the movie, a fisherman was involved in running an illegal business. So I joked, “We should do that, too, to make a lot of money.” Then Mr. Takakura pretended to get angry, but he really wasn’t, and everybody laughed.

In Poppoya, when actress Tomoko Naraoka tried to break up our fight, she was originally supposed to hit me on the head with a beer bottle. But it was too dangerous. Instead, she poured water on me.

BH: Next, let’s talk about Gappa (1967). How did you get cast in Gappa?

MM: I auditioned three or four times.

BH: Do you know how many other children were auditioned?

MM: Many! (laughs)

BH: What did you have to do in the audition?

MM: I wanted to play Baby Gappa in the suit. But I failed the audition for Baby Gappa. So I became Saki. (In the audition,) I had to move like Baby Gappa. For Saki, maybe I read from the script, but I don’t remember the details.

I auditioned three or four times altogether for both roles.

BH: What do you remember about director Haruyasu Noguchi? How would he direct you in a scene?

MM: He was strict. My feet hurt because I walked around in bare feet. So I couldn’t run because of the pain. But Mr. Noguchi told me, “Run, run!” If I were an adult, I could have endured the pain. But because I was a child, I couldn’t. He was kind personally, but when it came to directing, he was strict.

BH: Did you develop the character yourself, or did Mr. Noguchi say, “This is what the character is”?

MM: Mr. Noguchi gave me the direction for the character. Saki was the son of the leader of Obelisk Island, so he must not speak Japanese so fluently. The director told me to speak like that.

The Obelisk Island scenes were shot (in Maizuru) in Kyoto Prefecture. It wasn’t an island, but it was near the Sea of Japan. The rest of the island scenes were shot on a set at Nikkatsu.

BH: Do you remember how long they were in Maizuru?

MM: It was a couple of days. I think Maizuru has a small mountain. The cave scene was a set. There was a mountain in the location scene. If the scene were filmed in Kanto, the audience would recognize the location. That’s why they shot the scene in Kyoto.

BH: Do you remember how you got there? Was it a bus?

MM: By bus. But I think the stars took a train.

BH: What was it like to work with Tamio Kawachi and Yoko Yamamoto?

MM: They were kind. I thought Tatsuya Fuji was very cool. Kokan Katsura was a rakugo performer. I thought he was interesting. In rakugo, they sometimes pretend to eat soba during their performances. In between takes, Mr. Katsura would pretend to eat soba. I thought it was funny. Everyone was very kind.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Shortly after the movie came out, Mr. Noguchi passed away.

MM: When he didn’t feel well, an assistant director or a special effects director would sometimes help Mr. Noguchi and sometimes direct the drama scenes. I knew Mr. Noguchi was sick because he sometimes didn’t come to work. I wasn’t sure who the assistant directors were.

BH: Would it always be the same person who filled in for Mr. Noguchi, or was it different people who were the substitutes?

MM: I don’t remember.

BH: We mentioned the Kyoto location. Were there other locations, like Lake Kawaguchi?

MM: Lake Kawaguchi was one. The water was very cold.

BH: Around what time of year was it?

MM: We wore long sleeves, so it was in autumn or winter. It was cold. We also shot at Haneda Airport. The submarine scene was a set.

BH: Do you have any other memories of working on these locations during Gappa?

MM: I talked with Tatsuya Fuji more than Tamio Kawachi. Mr. Fuji and I are both from Yokohama. Mr. Fuji wore penny loafers. There was a coin in his loafers, and I tried to take the coin from his shoes. Mr. Fuji showed me the coin. Maybe the shoes weren’t his. They could have been part of his costume.

BH: Did you wear any makeup or a wig?

MM: I wore dark brown cream. It took about an hour to paint my whole body. The makeup staff applied the makeup. I also wore a wig. If I changed my hair into an afro, I would have been bullied at school. That’s why I wore a wig.

BH: When would you work? You have to go to school.

MM: When I worked, I was absent from school. When I didn’t have work, I went to school. The movie Abashiri Prison was filmed during my summer vacation. Zatoichi was filmed during my spring vacation. I also worked on weekends.

BH: How long did you work every day?

MM: It depended on the day. When I worked late, my mother or father went with me. When I worked during the day, I went to work by myself.

BH: How long did shooting last?

MM: It was about one month. Most movies took about one movie to shoot. After shooting, we would have to go back and re-record some of our lines.

BH: Did you watch any of the special effects scenes being filmed?

MM: The Baby Gappa suit actor was my friend, and I asked him to let me wear the suit. So I was able to put it on in between takes. I was very happy! (laughs) I was not scolded by the staff after wearing it.

BH: Who was the person in the suit?

MM: I don’t remember his name.

I remember watching the military attack the monsters on the Atami miniature set. It was interesting. I wanted to touch the miniatures!

I’m also in The Green Slime in an alien costume.

BH: Were (the aliens) mostly child actors in The Green Slime?

MM: There were child actors. We had fireworks at the end of their tentacles. (laughs) My dream to wear a monster costume finally came true.

BH: Do you have any other memories of Gappa that you’d like to share?

MM: When the other actors who played the island natives and I took baths during filming, the water turned pitch black.

BH: Did it come off easily?

MM: It didn’t come off easily. We used the studio’s bath. When we were on location, I took baths in the hotel. When my character was in Japan and fully clothed, I only had to have my face and hands painted, so it was easy to wash off. So I took a bath at the hotel. If there were no shower, I would use cold cream to remove the paint.

BH: What do you think of Gappa today?

MM: I want to see it again. (laughs)

BH: How did you get the part in The Green Slime?

MM: I asked an assistant director or the director to play a role. Because I appeared in Abashiri Prison and other movies, I knew many staff members at Toei.

BH: What can you tell us about acting in the alien costume with the tentacles?

MM: One time, I fell down, so I couldn’t get back up. There was a battery in the costume, and it leaked acid on my clothes. I wasn’t burned; only my clothes were damaged.

BH: Why was the battery there?

MM: It was to light up the eye.

BH: How long did you work on this movie?

MM: It was about one month. For long periods of time, I didn’t have anything to do. I waited on the set. When I had days off, I started work in the morning. But during the week, I started work in the evening. Sometimes I go to work after lunch and not return to school.

BH: Around when was it shot?

MM: I don’t remember.

BH: Anything else about The Green Slime?

MM: The adult aliens had no suit actors and were operated like puppets. The child aliens had adult suit actors. But the baby aliens had child suit actors. (I played a baby alien.)

BH: Were you the only child actor in the suit, or was there another child actor?

MM: There were three baby aliens. They were my friends. There were three baby alien costumes and three child actors, including me.

Mr. Machida shows a picture of one of his recent acting roles. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Next, we’ll talk about Ultra Seven. How did you get cast in Ultra Seven?

MM: I don’t remember, but probably an audition.

BH: What do you remember about shooting Ultra Seven?

MM: When Dan Moroboshi changed into Ultra Seven, his nose looked like a pig’s nose because of the low angle of the camera, so it was funny to me. (laughs)

I acted (in Ultraman Tiga) as the human form of monster called Charija. (Among the monsters in the Ultra-series), only Charija was able to meet (the creators of the original Ultraman).  Charija could turn into a human. I wore the monster suit and acted outside the suit as the human form. Both his human and monster forms were the same size.

When I was a child, I appeared in the TV series Kaiju Booska, and I also appeared in the new version of the show (Booska! Booska!!, 1999-2000). I’m the only person to appear on both series.

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