REIMAGINING GODZILLA FOR THE HEISEI ERA! Kazuki Omori on Updating Godzilla for a New Generation!

Kazuki Omori in May 2019. Photo © Brett Homenick.

As a writer-director, no one shaped the Heisei Godzilla series more than Kazuki Omori. Mr. Omori wrote and directed Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and wrote the screenplays for Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). In May 2019, Mr. Omori spoke to Brett Homenick about his work on his first two Godzilla films in an interview translated by Mari Hirose and Keiko Takemata. 

Brett Homenick: What was your first exposure to Godzilla as a character?

Kazuki Omori: When I was a young boy, I saw my first Godzilla movie, but I don’t remember it because I was too young. As far as I can remember, my first Godzilla movies were Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).

King Kong vs. Godzilla was a story in which King Kong was brought from a South Seas island to advertise products for a pharmaceutical company. I remember that the employee of the company was Mr. Takashima’s father, Tadao Takashima.

BH: How did you get hired to write and direct Godzilla vs. Biollante?

KO: For Godzilla vs. Biollante, there was a plot originally written by Shinichiro Kobayashi, and I wrote the script based on that plot.

Producer (Tomoyuki) Tanaka ordered me to write the script based on Mr. Kobayashi’s plot. It was the Biollante story that was chosen from about five scripts. I did not submit a story for this contest. The Biollante story was a draft written by Mr. Kobayashi. The idea of crossing Dr. Shiragami’s daughter Erika’s cells with those of plants was the first idea of Mr. Kobayashi.

BH: How did Mr. Tanaka approach you to write the script as one of the possible scriptwriters? Do you know why you were chosen to write the script?

KO: I believe Mr. Tanaka read my script for the movie Orange Road Express (1978). He was also familiar with me. Mr. Tanaka thought that the Godzilla movies of the past were too Japanese, so for the next one he wanted a Hollywood-style movie. Mr. Tanaka thought that I had a sense of fulfilling Mr. Tanaka’s vision, so I think that’s why I was chosen. In fact, I like the 007 movies. (laughs)

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Is it maybe the case that Mr. (Tanaka) always wanted (your script), but wanted to make it look like a contest — but always wanted your story to win?

KO: Writers were actually recruited for the story contest. I was not chosen to write it before the contest.

BH: Was it just a story, or was it a full script?

KO: Other script proposals included the idea that fighting between Japanese and American armies would spread Godzilla’s cells across the two countries. Another idea was Godzilla vs. the Robot Corps. I do not remember anything other than these ideas.

Mr. Tanaka recommended the Biollante story out of the five scripts, and I also thought Biollante was good, too. Three of the scripts used Godzilla’s cells as part of their stories, but the others did not. The other four script ideas were not included in my script. But a few thoughts about Godzilla cells may have been taken from other scripts.

BH: What was your working relationship with Tomoyuki Tanaka like?

KO: I rewrote it two or three times according to Mr. Tanaka’s suggestions.

BH: What didn’t he like?

KO: I forgot! (laughs)

BH: During filming, what was Mr. Tanaka like to work with as a producer?

KO: Mr. Tanaka had his ideal concept of a Godzilla movie, and I think that Biollante was been close to Mr. Tanaka’s ideal. The other stories were not good for his ideal. For example, I think Shin Godzilla would be the type of Godzilla movie that Tanaka would dislike the most.

Mr. Tanaka’s concept was that Godzilla lives in a fantasy world, not in the real world. Mr. Tanaka said he wanted to make a Godzilla movie like Aliens. I discussed it with Mr. Tanaka: “How could a Godzilla movie be more like Aliens?” Mr. Kobayashi’s original idea was about Biollante vs. Godzilla, but I fleshed out the script with the story of Godzilla vs. the Self-Defense Force. The story of Erika Shiragami and Miki Saegusa was also the idea of Mr. Kobayashi. The story about Gondo and Kuroki was my idea, and I developed it. I thought that doing so would be closer to the image of Aliens. That movie was about the aliens vs. the army.

To be honest, I was not interested in the Godzilla vs. Biollante confrontation. I was more interested in the idea of Godzilla vs. the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How did you development of the character of Dr. Shiragami? What ideas did you bring to the character?

KO: I thought that it was necessary for Godzilla films to have realistic mad scientists rather than the caricature (cartoon-like) mad scientists who appeared in many movies.

In other words, my idea was to have a genius scientist, a type of scientist like a modern version Dr. Serizawa, a scientist who is much too smart.

BH: Miki Saegusa — another Mr. Kobayashi character. But please talk about your ideas and what you did to create and develop this character.

KO: At the time this film was made, psychics were popular in Japan. Uri Geller was famous. I adopted a character like in the movie Carrie. What would happen if a psychic fought Godzilla — (something like the recent) XMen movies. But Mr. Tanaka didn’t like psychics.

BH: How did Mr. Tanaka react to the Miki Saegusa character?

KO: Mr. Tanaka told me, “You can use the psychic as an element, but it is wrong to defeat Godzilla with a psychic.” Mr. Tanaka did not like it because a psychic is neither science fiction nor scientific. I can understand Mr. Tanaka’s way of thinking. Time travel is not scientific, but Tanaka used it for King Ghidorah. I did not understand the reason for using it because Mr. Tanaka did not think that he would use it, either. I think Mr. Tanaka made a compromise (on this idea).

BH: Why did Mr. Tanaka finally change his mind?

KO: Back to the Future Part II was playing in the theater next to Biollante. But Back to the Future Part II had a long line with so many people. That’s why Mr. Tanaka changed his mind.

Mr. Tanaka thought that Biollante was the best of all the Godzilla movies, so perhaps he was not so attached to the following films.

The last movie Mr. Tanaka put his heart into was Biollante because he was quite aged at the time. Back then, I think only Mr. Tanaka understood how good a movie Biollante was. Even after about 30 years, there are many who rate Biollante as the best.

When it was voted as the best Godzilla movie in a recent popularity contest, only Mr. Tanaka was convinced that Biollante was the best among the staff who made it.

So he thought that Biollante was a movie that a much bigger audience would see. As a result, Mr. Tanaka was disappointed that the audience was not very large. But it was a good movie, I think.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How much casting did you do for Biollante?

KO: About 30 years ago, actors were not so eager to appear in Godzilla movies. Therefore, I did not get my first choices for the casting of Biollante. For example, I wanted to cast Tatsuya Nakadai in the role of Dr. Shiragami, but he was said, “It’s better not to appear in Godzilla movies.” Koji Takahashi was the best among the actors who said, “I accept.”

BH: Did you cast Megumi Odaka (as Miki Saegusa)?

KO: Her appearance had already been decided because she had won the Toho Cinderella Contest. Gondo and Kuroki were not the casting that I initially wanted.

BH: Did you cast Mr. Takashima because of Tadao Takashima?

KO: Toho recommended Mr. Takashima. I really wanted Mr. Tsuchiya to appear in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Toho said, “Please do not cast such an old actor.” Mr. Tsuchiya was my favorite casting.

BH: Do you have any interesting episodes from Biollante, during the shooting?

KO: Mr. Tanaka wanted to make a monster movie in which the shape of the monster transforms. The transformation of the monster in Shin Gozilla would have been something Mr. Tanaka wanted to make. Mr. Tanaka also wanted to show the transformation of Biollante from a flower monster to a real monster, but he couldn’t. It would have been possible if we had CG technology at that time.

BH: Let’s talk about “Mothra vs. Bagan.” Why was that the decision? Why not continue with Godzilla?

KO: Mr. Tanaka thought that Godzilla vs. Biollante was the best Godzilla movie, so he did not think that he would make another Godzilla movie. So perhaps that’s why he wanted to make the next movie was “Mothra vs. Bagan.”

Mr. Tanaka wanted to make a great Godzilla movie, and Godzilla itself was not so important to him. That’s because he was a movie producer. But Toho wanted to produce and sell Godzilla around the world.

Mothra was not yet a character that could make a lot of money abroad. That is to say, Toho thought it was premature. Toho treated Godzilla as a character that would have succeeded in overseas markets.

Since King Ghidorah was also a monster that Mr. Tanaka created, (perhaps in order to have Mr. Tanaka make another Godzilla movie), King Ghidorah was selected. Perhaps this idea was planned by Mr. Kawakita, not Mr. Tanaka, during the planning stage. He might have thought, “If King Ghidorah appears, Mr. Tanaka might think it’s OK to make another Godzilla movie.”

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about the writing process and developing the time travel story of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. Did the story change much over time?

KO: The question was, how could we make King Ghidorah appear? So there was an idea for Mecha-King Ghidorah, which was Mr. Kawakita’s idea. Mr. Kawakita likes robot monsters and mecha – Mechagodzilla, Mecha-King Ghidorah, and Mogera. So how do you make Mecha-King Ghidorah appear? We came up with the idea of time travel. Mecha-King Ghidorah could be created in the future and brought back to the present day.

BH: So it was Mr. Kawakita’s idea to use time travel?

KO: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah was an Omori-Kawakita collaboration.

BH: What about Back to the Future Part II? Did that have any influence on the time travel?

KO: The idea of coming back from the future was taken from The Terminator.

BH: How long did it take you to develop that story, and did it change over time?

KO: I think that the idea of the appearance of the Futurians was in the original story. I thought of the entire story for this movie. Mr. Tanaka was old, so he didn’t talk much about this. He was really burned out after Biollante.

BH: Was it easy to write the script for King Ghidorah, or was it challenging?

KO: The idea of a time-slip story is easy. Most recent movies are resolved with a time-slip story. Mr. Tanaka usually did not choose a time-slip story, which I think was wise. Mr. Tanaka thought they were too easy. Perhaps Mr. Tanaka decided, “I’ll accept this type of story only one time.”

BH: To this day, there’s still a lot of speculation about what you meant to say with the Futurians in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah being Westerners (the characters Wilson and Grenchiko). Were you trying to make a political message, or was it just a story?

KO: Wilson was American, Grenchiko was a Russian, and (Emmy) was a Japanese. It was important that Japanese people, especially women, were included in the group of the Futurians (Western people). It means that Japanese people have become world-class. It was a world federation, meaning that the world has become one.

BH: Was it your decision to hire Ifukube for the movie? If it was your decision, why did you decide you decide to hire Ifukube?

KO: Mr. Tanaka didn’t like Mr. Ifukube’s music so much. Since Mr. Ifukube’s music style was that of traditional Japanese music, he thought that Mr. Ifukube would not compose Hollywood-style music. Mr. Tanaka wanted to use music like John Williams. Koichi Sugiyama was writing music like John Williams, so maybe that’s why he hired him (for Biollante).

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: But it was you who hired Ifukube.

KO: I asked Mr. Ifukube to compose the music for Biollante, but Mr. Ifukube said, “I have no energy (physically) for this, so it’s impossible.” So I used only Godzilla’s theme music that he had composed in the past. After that, Mr. Ifukube who saw the finished movie was dissatisfied with how his music was used in Biollante. So he said, “I will be in charge of all the music for King Ghidorah.” In fact, I was wondering if he would refuse to work on King Ghidorah, too.

For King Ghidorah, Mr. Ifukube didn’t work too aggressively. However, when I used the music of Mr. Ifukube for King Ghidorah, I thought, “It fits perfectly.” I was satisfied.

BH: Did Ifukube speak much about his approach or techniques when scoring this film or kaiju films in general?

KO: I don’t think Mr. Ifukube wrote a new score for King Ghidorah. Because Mr. Ifukube newly arranged his old Godzilla music for King Ghidorah, it felt more like Ifukube’s type of music.

BH: How much input did you have when consulting with Ifukube?

KO: None! (laughs) When watching the rushes of the scene of the air battle between the Self-Defense Force and King Ghidorah, I thought Mr. Ifukube’s music did not fit. But I could not say that to Mr. Ifukube. But then Mr. Ifukube himself said, “It’s no good.”

He was a bit nervous, but his assistant suggested that Rodan’s music (for the flight scene) would fit. When Mr. Ifukube asked, “Could you prepare it now?” the assistant immediately prepared the sheet music, and Mr. Ifukube said, “It’s OK.” There was a screening of Godzilla (1954) a few years ago with an orchestra playing live music. Mr. Ifukube’s assistant was the conductor of that orchestra.

BH: Could you talk about the process of recreating the origins for Godzilla and King Ghidorah? For example, the Dorats.

KO: The Dorats had a bad reputation. The original King Ghidorah was a space monster. It was a monster that came from Venus. I was the one who changed King Ghidorah’s origin to the (hydrogen) bomb. That might have been the cause of their bad reputation.

BH: Why did you want to change him to nuclear?

KO: That was Mr. Tanaka’s thought. It means that monsters should be created by nuclear power. I followed this idea with King Gidorah. Biollante is a biotech monster, and Godzilla is a nuclear monster. Biollante vs. Godzilla is a biotechnology vs. nuclear confrontation. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah is a confrontation between a nuclear monster and a nuclear monster. “How was the monster created?” Mr. Tanaka thought this (theme) was very important.

BH: How many drafts of the script were written?

KO: There were no big changes. I wrote the script very smoothly.

BH: But there were little changes?

KO: Yes, there were.

BH: How long did it take to write the script?

KO: Ten weeks.

BH: Let’s talk about Mr. Tsuchiya. What do you remember about working with him?

KO: Mr. Tsuchiya was in good mood during shooting. Perhaps Mr. Tsuchiya thought, “I am the only one who can play this role.” He was the best actor in any of my movies. Mr. Tsuchiya was an actor who represented the history of Japanese monster films.

BH: Let’s talk about Anna Nakagawa. What was she like?

KO: She looked like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.

BH: Was that your inspiration for this character?

KO: Of course.

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