Sayonara Jupiter was an ambitious, bid-budget special effects extravaganza that Toho released in 1984 in the months leading up to the studio’s 30th anniversary relaunch of its Godzilla series. With amazing SFX directed by Koichi Kawakita, and a production overseen by legendary science fiction novelist Sakyo Komatsu (of Submersion of Japan fame), the film seemed like a surefire hit. However, the movie became a commercial and critical disappointment, and it is largely forgotten today. One of the most notable aspects of the film is its inclusion of several Western actors in prominent roles, which certainly sets it apart from most other Toho tokusatsu productions.
One of these Western actors is Ron Irwin, who enthusiastically portrayed Captain K. Kinn in the film. In March 2019, Mr. Irwin answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his involvement in Sayonara Jupiter, as well as his general memories of Japan.
Brett Homenick: To begin, please talk about your early life. Where did you grow up and go to school?
Ron Irwin: I grew up near Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles, California. Local high school, Pierce College, UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara).
BH: What were your hobbies?
RI: Swimming and diving. I was a professionally trained diver preparing for the U.S. Olympic team. Luckily, one of my friends in junior high school had a father from Hawaii that taught us surfing at 12 years old. He would take us to Malibu where there were only three or four others out there in those days, pre-Beach Boys.
BH: When did you become interested in Japan?
RI: While living in Hawaii, I took a one-year trip throughout Asia and the Pacific. Last stop was Japan, and I had a friend there who grew up mostly in Yokohama.
BH: What led you to move to Japan?
RI: I got job offers for modeling and some very good contracts from the Japanese. So I moved over and got an agency.
BH: How well did you adjust to life there?
RI: It was pretty easy for me after living in Hawaii many years. Plus, I had friends there that helped out and made it all fun. We were that age of partying, and Japan somehow let us be a bit more wild.
BH: How did you get cast in Sayonara Jupiter?
RI: I changed my modeling agent to a talent agent that got the auditions. I think because I had many high-profile campaigns as a model for Suntory beer, Suntory whisky, Take Q, Nissan and others that I was a recognized face.
BH: Do you know how your dialogue was handled? Was it simply translated from the script?
RI: I do not know how it was handled, as I was given an English script. They had hoped to make it on the international circuit, so planned to use subtitles for the Japanese.
BH: Could you change your lines or ad lib in any way?
RI: There was a little room to ad lib, especially in the joking or fight scenes.
BH: What do you remember about working with Akihiko Hirata, who was one of the stars of the original Godzilla?
RI: He was a quiet man, very polite, more kept to himself than others maybe because he didn’t speak English, but I am not sure. I think he may have already known about his sickness.
BH: Over the years, there have been conflicting accounts of who “really” directed Sayonara Jupiter: Koji Hashimoto or Sakyo Komatsu. Who directed your scenes?
RI: Well, Koji Hashimoto was a very warm and comforting man that made you want to do your best for him. Sakyo Komatsu was always on his side, and I think he did have his own vision of what he wanted it to look and sound like. I don’t know if there was any tension or not, but Sakyo Komatsu was a very strong presence on set. But it was the director that brought me in (with) his warmth that I listened to.
BH: What kind of direction were you given?
RI: A run-through with dialog and of course a mapped-out area to move in. I was not a major part of the movie, so I think there was not that much concern about my direction.
BH: In the film, your character has an interesting friendship with actor Tomokazu Miura. In fact, you two even have a fight scene together. What do you remember about Mr. Miura and the fight scene?
RI: The fight scene was just supposed to be two very good friends pretending to fight. It wasn’t serious as a way to interact physically; it was to show some bond between us so his sadness at my being lost had meaning. Which is why in the end we just laughed about it.
BH: Let’s talk about the sets. The movie featured several detailed sets, including the one on which you and Mr. Hirata underwent cryogenic sleep. Any memories of these sets?
RI: The big doors had people on the other side moving them manually. The sleep capsules were very tight and a little claustrophobic. As you know, setting (up) lighting and cameras takes a lot of time. My biggest memory is the scene where I go into the black hole and am crushed. They had worked hard to have my capsule fly forward on rails as the camera went overhead. Inside my capsule between my feet was some electronic device that was supposed to make sparks and smoke for effect.
When they finally got the scene as they wanted I think on the first take, they were excited and congratulating each other. Meanwhile, the device had started a fire inside my capsule, and no one noticed until I started banging on it. They had to manually open it. There was a very kind man I remember most that did lighting and worked on my personal special effects, and he coached me as to movement and always brought me water or a snack. I remember his face running to open the box and get me out. We all had a good laugh about that.
BH: One of the other Western cast members was Rachel Huggett. Do you have any memories of her?
RI: I do remember her. She was very serious, and I think she did a fairly good job. I think she was the only one more nervous than me.
BH: What about some of the other Westerners? Did you have any interactions with the others?
RI: No, I did not do the Okinawa hippie scenes, so only a few that had parts on the spaceship talked a little, but most of our scenes were shot separately.
BH: Were there any challenges making the movie?
RI: I didn’t know enough about shooting a film or the vision that they had for the finished product so it was day-to-day for me.
BH: How long was shooting each day?
RI: Not bad, I think they have a union, so the days normally would be eight hours, although on special effects scenes it could take more.
BH: Do you remember when your scenes were filmed?
RI: No, I do not.
BH: Were you able to watch the filming of any special effects scenes?
RI: Only the one I was in. The scene of Miura and the girl floating in love was a closed set.
BH: Toho had high hopes for the movie. Did you go to any film premiere or special event promoting it?
RI: No I think I wasn’t big enough, so I wasn’t notified of any. I did see my photo and name on the posters at theaters, though.
BH: What did you think of the film?
RI: Way too much for one film. It tried too hard to have so many topics covered, from space to dolphins, to hippie cults, black holes, and love scenes, of course.
BH: What other film or TV projects did you do in Japan?
RI: I worked with Chieko Baesho and Daini Okada on a TV film called Hello Okun and (an NHK) Doyo Drama (suspense).
BH: Overall, how would you describe your time in Japan?
RI: I loved all my years in Japan, made great friends who are still close. I was just developing, and it was a time when Japanese fashion was exploding. I was lucky to live across the street from Yohji Yamamoto’s studio, so we met up and challenged each other over Pac-Man. (Those glass tables…) He was better. Also, I had a friend named Yusuke Suga who introduced me to many other designers and Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. In time, I became very close with Izumi Yukimura and her daughter Maria Asahina, so with those friends I had an exceptional inside to so many things.
BH: What have you been involved with since then?
RI: I started a men’s line of clothing while still in Japan but only had it in a few department stores. When I returned, I worked for other companies until I established my own business, Indige Design. It is still going fine, and I love that I get to work with small communities that hand-weave my fabrics, do batik and hand-painting of other fabrics and my own workshop in Solo, Indonesia, where we manufacture everything.