THE ROAD TO M78! Bin Furuya on His Early Toho and Suit-Acting Roles!

Bin Furuya in July 2015. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Bin Furuya achieved stardom as Ultraman’s first suit actor in the groundbreaking series Ultraman (1966-67) from Tsuburaya Productions. However, years before finding success on television, Mr. Furuya got his acting start working as an extra in movies at Toho Studios.

Born on July 5, 1943, in Tokyo, Mr. Furuya was a member of Toho’s 15th New Face class (along with future Ultraman alumnus Masanari Nihei) in 1960. During this part of his career, Mr. Furuya appeared in minor roles in such genre classics as Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Monster Zero (1965), and The War of the Gargantuas (1966). In the mid-1960s, Mr. Furuya began donning monster suits for the hit TV series Ultra Q (1966), portraying Kemur in episode 19 and Ragon in episode 20. 

In July 2012, Brett Homenick interviewed Mr. Furuya about his history at Toho, as well as some of his early suit-acting roles. The interview was translated by Robert Field.

Brett Homenick: How did you get started at Toho Studios?

Bin Furuya: Before I entered Toho Studios, I entered a school to learn acting called Toho Geino School. I entered Toho and met my senior Akira Takarada in 1960 for the first time. He was an excellent star, so I was surprised. So in 1960, I entered Toho. I was given a chance to act in tokusatsu (movies) with Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, and many others.

BH: Is it also true that you were inspired to join Toho by watching Mr. Takarada in the movies?

BF: Of course. When I saw Mr. Takarada in the movies, I said, “I want to do something like that.”

I acted with Mr. Takarada in a movie. We were the same height. So the assistant director said, “You shouldn’t be standing next to him. Stand back!” (He said,) “Don’t stand next to him because then Mr. Takarada wouldn’t stand out.”

BH: Your first major monster movie was actually Mothra. What do you remember about working on this movie? Where do you appear in it?

KS: The natives in Mothra were dancing (almost) naked. They were dancing behind the Peanuts. It was that scene. That day was very cold. We were (almost) naked with bare feet. Everyone caught a cold. The next day, everyone had a headache.

BH: So you were one of the dancers on Infant Island in that film.

BF: Yes, and feel that I did something else like that, too.

BH: Around this same time, you also appeared in The Last War, starring Akira Takarada. Where do you appear in The Last War?

BF: It’s been a long time. It’s all spinning around in my head. I’ve been in a lot of movies, so I don’t remember what part I played, but I remember that I was in it.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Fair enough. Hopefully, you’ll have a little bit stronger memory about Gorath. What can you tell us about this film?

BF: I wonder if it was a newspaper reporter. I must have acted in that kind of role. In a single movie, I would play various roles. So they get mixed up.

BH: Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low (is next). Please tell us about working with Mr. Kurosawa on that film.

BF: In this movie, I played a train station employee and a man drinking at a bar.

BH: How was the set different? Certainly, Mr. Kurosawa has a reputation for being a very strong perfectionist. How was being on the set different from a typical Toho film?

BF: Mr. Kurosawa was scary. It doesn’t matter where you are; if you’re standing where he doesn’t think you should be, he’d say, “Get out of the way! Move over there!” Because he was a perfectionist, we rehearsed the scenes many, many times before they started filming.

So we practiced many times before the cameras started to roll. With Mr. (Toshiro) Mifune, they rehearsed about two or three times before filming. But Mr. Kurosawa could do many rehearsals before filming.

BH: Another one of your early Toho films is Atragon. If you remember anything about this film, please tell us.

BF: I don’t remember anything.

When I arrived on set, they would say, “We’ll have you do this today and this today, and you have to change your wardrobe.” I had to change clothes for all the parts that I did. Day to day, some of it was already decided what I would do. But when they needed someone to fill in, they would say, “Go find him clothing his size and put him in the scene.”

I got used to it after a while, so I basically tried to remember one way to play certain type of parts an adjust it to the particular movie. I had many parts to play, so I went from one set of clothing to the next.

BH: How about (Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster)?

BF: I was a researcher at a university and next to Mr. (Hiroshi) Koizumi. Mr. Koizumi was always a kind star. We acted together. He taught me acting, and he was a great person.

BH: Actually, during this time, who would Mr. Furuya approach most often for advice and tips on how to become a bigger star?

BF: I consulted my peers (fellow actors with whom I joined Toho at the same time) and studied how to act.

BH: I have read that you have four different roles in Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster.

BF: My memory about Ghidrah is, at the time of shooting, it was cold. I fell into the sea.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: The movie you’d like to talk about net because you have a lot to say about it is Monster Zero. You actually appear as an X-Seijin.

BF: The only bad thing is that while wearing the visors, it was like having a black line across your eyes, so no one can recognize you. After putting on the suit and helmet, it got very hot inside. The moment we put it on, we started sweating beads. We’d have to stay in it for a long time.

BH: Do you have any other memories from Monster Zero, perhaps working with Mr. Takarada and Nick Adams?

BF: I felt happy about this. I was able to shoot (standing) close to Mr. Takarada. It continued on for weeks. I was able to shoot with Nick Adams, too, and this is a great memory for me.

BH: Many people who’ve worked with Nick Adams have a Nick Adams story or two to tell. Do you have a Nick Adams memory you’d like to share?

BF: The suit was hot, and after the shooting, I quickly took a bath and drank beer (with) fellow X-Seijin members, like Mr. (Yoshio) Tsuchiya.

BH: Another smaller part was in Frankenstein Conquers the World. If you have any memories to share about this film, please share them.

BF: I have no memories of it.

BH: I believe you have a speaking part in the sequel film, War of the Gargantuas.

BF: I have slight memories of it, but I knew that anything having to do with Godzilla  would be big hits. But with this movie, while it seemed like a fun movie, I wasn’t sure it would be a big hit. It was just the feeling of being an actor and being involved in it.

BH: Please share your memories of about becoming involved with the TV series Ultra Q.

BF: I acted in Toho movies for about six years. At the time, TV started coming up. Ultra Q on TV started under the supervision of Mr. Tsuburaya. At that time, they were looking for talent who would be inside the kaijin. Because Eiji (Tsuburaya) supervised it, it became very popular. Toho Studios was looking for a suit actor to play Kemur. They were looking for a tall and skinny actor.

Because I was an actor at Toho, they eagerly asked me to come, but I said no to being a suit actor. I was told to do it by a higher-up at Toho. It was decided for me, although I was very reluctant to do it. So I played Kemur. After I did Kemur, I was told to get into Ragon, as well. I was ordered again to get into the suit.

BH: Well, what about the production? Certainly, as Ragon, you actually work with Kenji Sahara in that episode. So what was it like to get into the suit and also work alongside such a legendary Toho actor as Mr. Sahara?

BF: Mr. Sahara is a peer (member of the same class) of Mr. Takarada. Because Mr. Takarada was a great star, Mr. Sahara felt that he might have no choice but to appear on TV because the movies were going down.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What was it like to work on Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit? Please talk about working with director Minoru Kawasaki.

BF: Yosuke Natsuki, who was a star at Toho, and Susumu Kurobe, who was the hero of Ultraman, (were cast in this movie). In order to act with these two, director Minoru Kawasaki asked me to act in the movie, and I did.

The location shooting was was at the foot of Mount Fuji. During the shooting, explosions were made by using gunpowder. They used too much gunpowder, so rocks started flying toward us. That’s something I strongly remember.

BH: Well, that’s all the questions I have. Let’s open it up to the audience.

Q: Do you find that working on TV is a much easier atmosphere than working on a film?

BF: Working on TV is a lot better. The biggest reason is that there are a lot of scary people in movies. But the TV staff are usually much more fun and organized to work with.

Q: I’m curious to know a little but more about Tsuburaya — what he’s like to work with. What was his work ethic? I picture this perfectionist. Was he as terrifying to work with as Kurosawa?

BF: Mr. Tsuburaya was kind — very kind. But he was a perfectionist, too.

Q: Is there a book in the works regarding your history of acting?

BF: There is a book called The Man Who Became Ultraman. But there is a book out about my life story. But there is no English version of it.

Q: Is there any way that we can communicate to Tsuburaya or any people in Japan that English people do want more Ultraman and would love to see those shows?

BF: Offhand, I can’t think of it.

Q: What was the first role you ever played?

BF: It was in a movie melodrama. It was the movie where I was told I was standing too close to Mr. Takarada. The first role I did for TV was in Ultra Q (episode 4) where I looked up and said, “There’s a green monster!” Kemur was also one of my first TV roles.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Q: You’d mentioned that the suits that you guys would wear were quite hot. Did you actually have really creative ways to keep cool, or did you have to suffer through it?

BF: No. Some suits have gotten lighter in terms of the material, but they’re still very, very hot. It hasn’t changed during all the time we’ve been doing it. It’s pretty much the same, so we just have to take it.

Q: Do you have time now to do more acting or theater? What kind of work are you doing now?

BF: I appear at many Ultraman Q&A and autograph events all over Japan.

Q: When you’re a suit actor, do they consider it as a real acting role? Did they treat it as a real acting role, or just someone in a suit?

BF: As they go from year to year, they try to find somebody new to play Ultraman in the suit. They’ve used me as an adviser for whoever was picked to be the next Ultraman, so I usually talk to them about how to play the role. So it would probably not come to me to do it so that the next generation could take over the role.

Q: What’s your best memory of Mr. Tsuburaya?

BF: When Ultra Seven was finished, in order to show his appreciation, Mr. Tsuburaya personally gave me the uniform, helmet, belt, and Ultra-gun. I also got the Ultraman mask personally from him, as well.

Q: Did you ever get to meet Ishiro Honda on the set of the Godzilla movies? If you did, what was he like?

BF: I’ve met him many times. He was a very good gentleman. He was like Ojii-chama (“grandfather”). He was always gentle.

Q: About Ultraman, the show was 39 episodes long. So how long did it take to film the entire series, from episode 1 to episode 39?

BF: It took one year to film the series. No matter what, I was in every episode.

Q: What was the hardest movie or show to work on?

BF: It doesn’t matter if it’s movies or TV, the scariest ones or the hardest ones to do are the ones that have a lot of explosions in them. Even if everything is planned out, if you step in the wrong place, you could get hit with an explosion. Also, working with water in Ultraman because if it got inside the mask, it wouldn’t come out. So that was the scariest thing. It didn’t matter if it was movies or TV, that was the scariest thing.

Q: There used to be an industry bias here in America against actors who worked in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. They were kind of looked down on as not as the same caliber as big-budget, dramatic actors. Was this also true in Japan? If so, did this ever prevent you from getting a role or roles that you were trying to get?

BF: It’s exactly the same. There is a similar type of prejudice as in America, but in my case, I realized that. Because I was a suit actor, I was able to get a lot of suit-acting jobs. So I was able to find a lot of work, and I didn’t have much of a problem myself. But I’m sure if I tried to do something else, it would have been harder to get those roles.

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