SEVENTY YEARS AN ACTOR! Shigeo Kato on His Early Life and Acting Career!

Shigeo Kato in January 2019. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on June 16, 1925, in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Shigeo Kato joined Toho in the early 1950s. Early in his acting career, Mr. Kato appeared in brief roles in such cinema classics as Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954), as well as the original Godzilla (1954). Mr. Kato remained a Toho actor until the end of the contract system in the early 1970s, but he continues acting to this day. In 2018, Mr. Kato starred in his very first movie, the independently-produced Our Memories on the Beach. In January 2019, Mr. Kato discussed his early years and the beginning of his acting career with Brett Homenick in an interview translated by Manami Takagi and Makoto Wakamatsu.

Shigeo Kato: During graduation, all the students used to sing “Hotaru no Hikari.” But that song originally came from England. So they stopped singing that song during the war. Instead, they would sing “Gunkan March” during graduation. It was like that when I was young.

The Japanese school system has changed. Now junior high school lasts three years. But during my time, it was five years. Usually, elementary takes six years. But at that time, kids usually went to junior high school after they graduated from elementary school. But some kids could not go on to junior high school. Those kids stayed at elementary school for two more years. So they would spend a total of eight years at elementary school. After they graduated from elementary school, they would go to a special engineering school to learn a skill for work for four years. This school was called Yokohama Technical Senior High School. I went there for four years. During the day, I worked in a factory. At night, I studied at Yokohama Technical Senior High School. During the day, I worked at a place that manufactured aircraft and Zero fighters. I was in the department that manufactured engines for Zero fighters.

At the workplace, there was a music school where I learned to play the clarinet. The workplace school was specialized for soldiers. So actually, I went to two schools. During the day, I went to this music school, and at night I went to Yokohama Technical Senior High School. At the workplace, the Japanese government wanted to boost soldiers’ morale. That’s why they needed music and military marches, including “Gunkan March.” That’s why I studied the clarinet.

Brett Homenick: Please talk about your early life in Kamakura, growing up. What was that like? What hobbies did you have?

SK: I was born in the last year of the Taisho era (1925). During that time, Japan tended to go war with other countries. So there was a military atmosphere in the country. I was educated to believe that Japan was the number-one country. When I was a child, I would play soldier. It was just playing, but I pretended to be a soldier. I had that kind of education.

During Showa 15 (1940), I learned that it had been 2,600 years since Japan was founded as a country. All the children, including me, learned things like that. We were taught that Japan was a great country. It was during the war, so the Japanese government changed our education during that time. By the time I turned 15 years old, I became the perfect student for the Japanese government because I studied a lot, and I obeyed Japanese policies. I was perfect for the Japanese government.

I went to elementary school for eight years. When I graduated from elementary school, I received a special award from the Minister of Education, declaring that I was a good student for the Japanese government. It was very special. I think my school principal recommended me for the award. I still have it. The factory I was working for had a music school for military music. Because I received that award, I was assigned to be the leader of that music school. I sang military songs and taught other school kids. I was in the lead during the marches we did, and all the students followed me. I shouted orders at the students. I think that experience helped my acting. (laughs) It helped me learn how to speak loudly. Every day, I had to march with other kids. Nowadays, you can see the military marches in North Korea. I thus served as the leader for four years.

So receiving that award brought me to the next step. At the factory, I was like a leader. The government ordered factories to train strong soldiers, so they needed military songs. I was educated to be a good soldier along with the others. It was like that until I was 20 years old.

Shigeo Kato’s award from the Japanese Ministry of Education, dated February 11, 1940. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s go back a little bit to your childhood. Did you watch movies as a child?

SK: I watched peaceful (not war-themed) movies. I also watched chambara movies with Denjiro Okochi. I saw many chambara movies. Mr. Okochi was a famous actor, and he was well known for playing Sazen Tange. I saw movies with such actors a lot, too.

When I was a child, I saw Mickey Mouse cartoons. Before Mickey Mouse, I saw Tarzan. I saw it in Yokohama. I remember I saw (Harold) Lloyd movies when I was a child. When I was a child, there was a movie theater along the beach in Kamakura. I saw many movies at that theater — Popeye and (Charlie) Chaplin, too.

BH: What about King Kong?

SK: Yes, I saw it.

BH: What do you remember about the big King Kong statue in Kamakura?

SK: In one hand, it was holding a girl. In the other hand, it was holding an airplane. I think it was when I was seven or eight years old. For me, it was maybe the first time to see an American movie. The way they made King Kong in America and the way we made Godzilla movies in Japan was totally different. They used stop-motion animation to make King Kong, as opposed to Godzilla, for which suit-acting was used. It took time and money and to do.

In the movie The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942), there is a scene in which an airplane flies to Pearl Harbor. When I saw the movie, I thought the airplane was actually flying in between the rocks on its way to Pearl Harbor. But actually, Mr. Tsuburaya made that scene. The aircraft was pulled by a wire, smoke was used, and it was just a special effect. But it looked totally real. It was really Mr. Tsuburaya’s idea. So I thought that was great. Mr. Tsuburaya was like a god.

BH: Going back to the King Kong statue, how long was it in Kamakura?

SK: Just for the summer, maybe two months. It was just an advertisement for the movie.

BH: What would you say was the impact of King Kong on Japanese society at the time?

SK: King Kong was such an incredible movie for Japanese people. What Japanese people usually saw in movies was real life. But King Kong showed us a totally different world. King Kong lived in the jungle, and everything was totally different. So it had a big impact on Japan. King Kong was so popular in Japan that for about a year, people were talking about the movie. There were some black people in the movie, too. They ran away from or prayed to King Kong. At that time, it was unusual for many Japanese to see black people. It caused quite a sensation. At that time, of course we knew there were black people. But it was unusual to see them.

Also, many Japanese were wondering, “Is this real?” They were wondering if King Kong and this kind of world really existed or not. (laughs) It was so unusual.

Later on, we created Godzilla. But I think King Kong was always on our minds. So that’s maybe why we created Godzilla. In the Japanese mind, there was always such a big monster like King Kong, which is a gorilla.  Another big creature is a whale in the ocean. So they combined two big things together and created “Gojira.”

BH: Kazui Nihonmatsu went on to become a director at Shochiku. (Mr. Nihonmatsu directed such cult classics as The X from Outer Space and Genocide.) But I believe you knew Mr. Nihonmatsu (before that time).

SK: After I became an actor, I had communication with Mr. Nihonmatsu. Then we had spent a lot of time together. He was an assistant director at Shochiku, and I was an actor at Toho. We saw each other at the beach, and we rode on a yacht together. We had the common topic of movies to talk about. Mr. Nihonmatsu was sent to the U.S. to study filmmaking there. I think he got the funds to do that from the Japanese government. Before he went to the United States, he went to see Mr. (Akira) Kurosawa because at one time, Mr. Nihonmatsu was an assistant director on one of Mr. Kurosawa’s movies (The Idiot, 1951). Setsuko Hara was the main actress, and it was a Shochiku movie.

Mr. Nihonmatsu was born in California, and he went to elementary school there. That’s why he spoke fluent English. Mr. Nihonmatsu was an assistant director on this Kurosawa movie, so that’s why Mr. Nihinmatsu went to see Mr. Kurosawa before he went to the United States.

Mr. Nihonmatsu’s ancestors were from Fukushima Prefecture, and in that prefecture there is a city called Nihonmatsu. One of Mr. Nihonmatsu’s ancestors was the feudal lord of Nihonmatsu. Mr. Nihonmatsu’s second home was in Kamakura. Kamakura is a famous place for wealthy people to buy their second homes, like Karuizawa. Mr. Nihonmatsu was one of them.

BH: When did you first meet Mr. Nihonmatsu?

SK: It was after the war. In Kamakura, there were many writers. But during the war, they founded Kamakura Bunko, which was a bookshop to which all the writers in Kamakura brought books and then lent them. The building was a normal house, but it worked like a library. At that time, Mr. Nihonmatsu was an officer (group leader). He was very sophisticated, so he came to Kamakura Bunko and borrowed some books. After the war, Mr. Nihonmatsu became something like a local leader because he was so sophisticated. He knew movies, culture, and literature. He also knew about the United States and democracy.

He was one of the first young people with a sense of democracy, whom the youth in the area saw with admiration and respect. He was very smart, good-looking, and popular with girls. He was always surrounded by girls. That’s why many men looked up to him. He was very popular, and he was a good dancer. When he was at the beach under a parasol, many young girls would go right to him. He was very Americanized. I think he was very different from most Japanese men at that time.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Usually, when you would visit with Mr. Nihonmatsu, what kind of activities did you do together?

SK: In Kamakura, I had a friend who was a cameraman and a writer. His name was Ippei Yamamura. He took photos for Kaizo, which was a magazine published during the war. He also did the writing that came with his photos. He took pictures of American GIs, mainly black soldiers, in Isezakicho, then he developed the photos at his place in Kamakura. When they enlarged the photos, they had to paint them a little bit because movies at the time were in black and white. They colorized them with paint. So they painted black people a little bit whitish, and they would look a little lighter. That was his idea and his work, and it became popular among black people. They liked the photos because their skin looked lighter. So his work became popular among black people.

He developed photos at his house in Kamakura. Mr. Nihonmatsu was a friend of Mr. Yamamura. So Mr. Nihonmatsu often visited Mr. Yamamura in Kamakura. That’s actually the place (Mr. Yamamura’s home) where I met Mr. Nihonmatsu. Mr. Yamamura was a photographer, but he had many friends who were writers. Yasunari Kawabata was one of his friends. He won a Nobel Prize (in Literature in 1968). So he knew many writers. Many people always came to see Mr. Yamamura. They would play mahjong or dance — they did many things there. Mr. Yamamura was the person who suggested to me that I go to Kamakura Academia (a.k.a. Kamakura Academy). That’s how I met Mr. Nihonmatsu.

I never watched a movie with Mr. Nihonmatsu. I remember one thing. There was a dance party in front of the station, and we went there. We hung out with him for fun, not for work. We went on yachts, and we went to the beach. Our friendship was like that. We had fun together.

BH: What ever happened to Mr. Nihonmatsu?

SK: He passed away a long time ago. His son has also passed away. Some other people live in his house now. Mr. Nihonmatsu passed away maybe more than 10 years ago. His son passed away three years ago. His son made earthenware/pottery. He lived with his mother in the house until she passed away. Then he lived in the house by himself. But now everybody is gone.

BH: Let’s go back to World War II. Let’s talk about how the war changed your life at the time.

SK: Like I said, I was a very military-minded boy. Until I became 20 years old, my main purpose was to become a good soldier. Shortly after I turned 20 years old, I entered the military on August 1. Fifteen days later, the war ended. So my main purpose in life was destroyed. The sense of loss was strong. Everything changed after the war ended, and I lost my purpose. So I didn’t know what to do.

At that time, I knew Mr. Yamamura, and I went to his house. I heard about Kamakura Academia (which was called Kamakura Daigaku at the time) there. There were some teachers there who were against the war. Some of them were arrested. Those teachers gave public speeches, and I was interested in what they had to say. So I went to listen. When World War II ended on August 15, 1945, it was a major turning point for me.

As I said, my main goal was to become a good soldier, but after the war, my dream was destroyed. I was so disappointed, and I didn’t know what do. So Mr. Yamamura suggested that I go to Kamakura Academia. He said it was such a great place because many good people teach there. Also, the location was good for me. If that school had been in Tokyo, maybe I wouldn’t have gone there. But Kamakura Academia was very close. I didn’t even have to take the train there. I just brought a notebook and a pencil; that’s it. So I decided to join Kamakura Academia. In particular, I decided to join the theater (theatrical performance) department. I joined that department because many students there were previously soldiers or had belonged to the military.

Looking back, Japan’s loss in the war changed my life for the better. During the war, some of the members were acting, but their plays were stopped suddenly by the Japanese military, and they were arrested. During the war, the government controlled everything. The government decided what to do. So some actors and producers, who were engaged in anti-war plays, were not able to continue their theatrical work, and they had to go to jail. Those people who went to Kamakura Academia went independent later and became very active.

So they were like shining stars for me because at that time, I had lost my purpose to live. At that school, other people like me came there. They were trained to become good soldiers, but they also lost their purpose after the war. Many other students were like me. So we had sympathy for each other because we were in the same situation at that time. My classmates became successful after they studied at Kamakura Academia.

So because Japan lost the war, my life changed dramatically. Otherwise, I would have done something else. I would not have become an actor. Because we lost World War II, I went to Kamakura Academia, and that’s why I became an actor. I’m still an actor. So it changed a lot.

At that time, the kamikaze were like heroes for Japanese boys, and I was one of them. Every year, the military wanted new applicants, and when I was 18 years old, I wanted to become a kamikaze as soon as possible. Eventually, I would become a soldier at the age of 20, but I wanted to become a soldier sooner than that. So when I was 18, I applied (to become a soldier). Then I went to take the test. I thought I passed the test, but they also had a physical exam. Afterward, they called and told me, “You passed the exam, and there was no problem with your body. The only problem is that you don’t weigh enough to become a good soldier. So go back home, and instead of becoming a soldier, manufacture the engines.” So that’s why I didn’t become a kamikaze.

Before people could join the military, they had to undergo a physical exam. They would evaluate each candidate’s body by placing it in one of several categories, like category 1, category 2, etc. I was placed in a very low category when I was 19. But the war was almost over, and Japan wanted more soldiers. So even though I was placed in a low category, I was accepted. Then I became a soldier. As I said, when I joined the military, it was 15 days before the end of the war.

In 1940, I received a special award from the Ministry of Education. I think that had I not received this award, I wouldn’t have been so determined to join the military. I was more or less a normal boy, but I think that award changed my thinking.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How did you join Toho?

SK: Sakae Hirosawa was the key person. At that time, he was an assistant director at Toho. But there was a strike at Toho. Then Mr. Hirosawa came to Kamakura Academia. So he was my classmate at the school during the strike. One day, I told him, “I don’t know anything about movies or the theater, so please tell me about them because you are a professional.” So he said OK. Later on, the strike ended, and he went back to Toho. Meanwhile, I continued to study at Kamakura Academia. After I graduated, I received a telegram from him. In the telegram, Mr. Hirosawa said, “We will film in Yokohama, so please come.” Mr. Hirosawa recommended me for Akira Kurosawa’s movies, so he introduced me to Mr. Kurosawa. That’s how I got cast in Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954). Since then, I always had work in Mr. Kurosawa’s movies.

BH: Was Ikiru your first movie?

SK: I think Ikiru was the first movie in which I had a speaking role. There was an audition, and I passed. That’s how I got the role.

BH: Where was the scene shot?

SK: It was on a set at Toho. I was sitting in the studio and said my lines. My scene is among several wipe transitions. I say my lines, then there’s a wipe to the next person.

BH: Do you remember how many takes there were?

SK: It was a very short time. “OK, next!” It was like that.

BH: Generally, what are your memories of Mr. Kurosawa?

SK: Usually, Mr. Kurosawa did not speak a lot, but one time when Richard Gere was the main character (in Rhapsody in August, 1991), Mr. Kurosawa called me a member of the group. So I thought I had become a member of Mr. Kurosawa’s team.

When Mr. Kurosawa was shooting Madadayo (1993), I played the stationmaster. There was a scene in which I was with the main character. At that time, Mr. Kurosawa came up to me and said, “I’m already 83 years old, but I think I can make one more movie.” It was a very personal conversation. So I worked with Mr. Kurosawa for about (40) years. The first time I worked with him was when I was 28. When I appeared in Madadayo, I was about (70). It was at that time that we had that conversation. I thought Mr. Kurosawa was like a big, worldwide star, but he was not like that. I think he was a modest person. I’m not a famous actor, but Mr. Kurosawa came to talk to me. He was that kind of person.

When Mr. Kurosawa came up to me to talk, the people around me didn’t know much about me. So when the people around me saw that, they were so surprised. They brought me a chair, saying, “Would you like to have a chair?” They didn’t think I was the type of actor whom Mr. Kurosawa would come to speak with personally. During those (40) years, many staff members came and went. But I worked with him during that time. However, nobody knew it.

Usually, that didn’t happen. Mr. Kurosawa didn’t talk to actors personally. So it was very unusual. My career with Mr. Kurosawa was very long. It (Ikiru) was the only (Kurosawa) movie in which I had a speaking role. Maybe I had speaking roles in some other movies. But I usually didn’t have speaking roles in Kurosawa movies. However, I was in Kurosawa movies for (40) years.

After the Toho strike, Mr. Kurosawa started working at Toho again. Before that, he was working at Shochiku and Daiei. So Ikiru was his first work back at Toho.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about Seven Samurai.

SK: Mr. Hirosawa was the third assistant director on Seven Samurai. He recommended me to play a farmer in the movie. The farmer was in the movie from the beginning until the end. So the shooting period took a little less than one year. It started in the summer of 1953 and ended the following February. It took maybe eight months. As the farmer, I had to wear very light fabric every day, and I had to put mud on my face and all over my body. Every day, I had to make myself up like that. I wore the same clothes and makeup. Wearing thin clothes and mud in the cold was not easy. Also, I had to stand by and repeat many things. But perseverance is  required for acting, and Mr. Kurosawa gave me this lesson. I appreciate him.

An assistant director would bring the bucket of mud and would smear or throw it on the actors, but I didn’t like that, so I applied it myself. The actresses would also put mud on themselves. They didn’t want the staff to do it. Mr. Kurosawa was very strict when it came to his movies. The mud had to be everywhere: behind the ears, on the neck, etc. If there wasn’t enough mud on the actors, Mr. Kurosawa would get upset. He was very strict. Everybody had to look the same as he or she did the day before. Every day, I had to be made up, and every day I had to do the same things. It was kind of tough, but I didn’t run away from it. I succeeded, which made me feel good because that’s important for actors. Patience is very important. Some people quit, but I didn’t, and I achieved the goal.

BH: Was it seven days a week?

SK: It was seven days a week. Sometimes there would be no shooting, but we’d always have to be ready, even with makeup. We just had to wait.

Mr. Kurosawa was exceptional. Maybe when Mr. Kurosawa suddenly came up with a new idea, he would need actors and actresses for the scene. So we always had to be there. With other directors, it was different. But Mr. Kurosawa was the exception.

BH: Did the studio pay you more money for that?

SK: We had a contract that gave us 600 yen per day at the studio. So we were paid 18,000 yen per month. At the end of Seven Samurai, there is a big fight scene. That scene was shot in the winter, so it was a very cold time. But we still had to wear half-sleeve shirts and be covered in mud. So we were very cold. Every day, we had to wear that kind of costume. Some actors and actresses wanted to quit, so Toho paid more money in order to keep the actors from quitting. Usually, we would get paid 600 yen per day, but they doubled the pay to 1,200 yen per day during that cold season.

That was December, but the next year, they established a good system. They still wanted to keep the actors and actresses, so they established an exclusive contract system with a basic salary. If actors or actresses quit in the middle of shooting, Mr. Kurosawa would get upset and angry at the company. The company didn’t want that problem, so they created a new system for Mr. Kurosawa. That system continued until Showa 47 (1972). It lasted 20 years. It was because of Mr. Kurosawa.

BH: Could you please talk about that big fight scene at the end of Seven Samurai?

SK: In the last scene of Seven Samurai, when the battle was over, (as part of the scene) everybody heaved a sigh of relief and was exhausted, and we had lost our energy. Everybody just sat there. The shooting location was originally a farm. But for the movie, they made the ground muddy around the farm. It was raining in the last scene, and it rained so much that the ground was almost like a lake. So it was very muddy and full of water. But Mr. Kurosawa told us to sit in the water. It was very cold, too.

In fact, it was actually hailing at the time, and the water was kind of frozen. Because we were sitting in this cold water, it made us shiver. But Mr. Kurosawa would shout, “Don’t move!” So we had to be patient and just sit where we were. Then, finally, the shooting ended. But sitting in that cold water gave me and five other actors hemorrhoids. The actresses never talked about it, but perhaps they had the same problem, too. But it was good training for actors.

Right after that scene, Mr. Kurosawa took off his hat and bowed. So I thought Mr. Kurosawa felt sorry for the actors and actresses in that scene. But what was surprising for me was that it was the first time I saw Mr. Kurosawa’s hair. He never took off his hat. So it was a rare thing for him to take off his hat. I think Mr. Kurosawa was 38 years old — younger than 40. But he was already losing his hair. Everybody was surprised to see that. On other movies, Mr. Kurosawa never took off his hat.

BH: Do you have any other memories or stories about Seven Samurai?

SK: I remember one story. There was a scene where three samurai had passed away, and Toshiro Mifune climbed on a hill, stuck his sword in it, and cried. Mr. Kurosawa wanted thunderclouds in the background of the scene, but he had an exact image of what he wanted. So every day, he waited for the clouds he wanted. So all the actors had to wait, too, even though Mr. Mifune was the only actor in the shot.

One day, perhaps Mr. Kurosawa got an idea. Instead of having Mr. Mifune do the scene, have other actors do it while we were waiting for ominous clouds. So one day, I went up the hill and put the sword in it. The next day, another actor did it. Maybe Mr. Kurosawa gave us the chance to practice acting. My impression is that Mr. Kurosawa was such a great person because he waited until the right cloud appeared for the scene. He waited as long as he needed for the perfect cloud.

BH: Do you have any memories of Toshiro Mifune in general?

SK: I think Mr. Mifune was trying to work so hard. I think his costume was the coldest because he had to reveal so much of his body. He was in a tough situation, but he tried so hard, trying to look perfect for his role. Everybody said that Mifune worked hardest among all the stars and crew. With a strong sense of this movie being theirs, Mr. Kurosawa was working hard, and so was Mifune. That is why, I think, he was trying his best.

All the cast members of Seven Samurai said the same thing: “I could never do that role again.” That shows just how difficult it was to make that movie. On that movie, every single person tried very hard. One Seven Samurai cast member wasn’t doing very well, so Mr. Kurosawa said, “Go out, sing a military song (war song), run, and come back.” That was for inspiration. Everybody had to endure, be patient, concentrate, and do it.

During the filming of Seven Samurai, Mr. Mifune had to endure many hardships and be patient in the daytime. But at night, he went drinking, and his emotions came out. Both Mr. Mifune and Mr. Kurosawa lived in Seijo at the time. So Mr. Mifune drove up to Mr. Kurosawa’s house in his jeep and shouted, “Kurosawa, you idiot!” At that time, the laws (on drunk driving) were not so strict, so he was drinking. He let everybody sit in the car, and they went out to eat ramen. At that time, not so many people had cars, unlike today.  Everybody had frustrations, and they needed to blow off steam. So Mr. Mifune was drinking and driving, and he drove by Mr. Kurosawa’s house and shouted at him.

Automobiles became available around 1955. Many movie stars owned them when movies became popular and stars made money. I did not own one because I was scared. We used to drive, for example, to a cabaret in Shinjuku. They drove in a wild manner, but it did not cause trouble as there were so few cars.

In one of Mr. Kurosawa’s movies called I Live in Fear (1955), I played a mailman, and I was riding a scooter. I was supposed to ride the scooter and stop in front of Mr. Mifune, hand him a telegram, and say, “Here is your telegram.” That was my role. But I was not able to stop the scooter! For some reason, I didn’t apply the brakes; I stepped on the gas pedal. So my scooter ran onto a pile of coal and flipped over. Mr. Mifune turned pale, and so did Mr. Kurosawa and the cinematographer. Everybody asked me, “Are you OK?!” It was a rehearsal scene. Since then, I figured I was not good at driving. Every other actor bought a car, but I didn’t.

Mr. Kurosawa asked me, “Are you OK?” But that was all. Maybe another director would have said, “This actor is not good,” and replaced me. But Mr. Kurosawa didn’t replace me and gave me another chance. I learned to ride the scooter just on the previous day. Mr. Kurosawa knew that and expressed his concern for me. So I think Mr. Kurosawa was great. I think that’s why Mr. Kurosawa was familiar with me. (Forty) years later, we had a personal conversation. So I think Mr. Kurosawa remembered me.

In Rhapsody in August, there is a scene in which Richard Gere is praying, and there are many people surrounding him, and I was one of them. In the movie, he and I made eye contact and bowed to each other. Mr. Kurosawa shot the scene in a close-up of me. So I think it was an indication that Mr. Kurosawa remembered me. I think Mr. Kurosawa recognized me as one of his team members.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Next, let’s talk about Eagle of the Pacific (1953). Do you remember anything about being in Eagle of the Pacific?

SK: In Eagle of the Pacific, there is the role of Admiral Yamamoto. The actor who played Admiral Yamamoto was Denjiro Okochi. Mr. Okochi was my childhood hero, and he played Sazen Tange in the movies. It was before Ikiru. My childhood hero was right in front of me, so it was very shocking. In addition, it was a scene in which Okochi’s role was the highest-ranking naval officer and me, of the lowest rank. I played a soldier who took care of aircraft. I was so impressed. I was supposed to say, “All the airplanes are ready,” to Admiral Yamamoto — that was all. It was the assistant director who gave me the line. He was kind to me for a long time.

The scene was the one in which Mr. Okochi played Yamamoto for the first time. It seems that his scene with me made the actor, well known for samurai movies, look like Yamamoto, a military officer. Mr. Okochi gave some words of gratitude to the assistant director, and the assistant director thought it was thanks to me. After that, he always recommended me for other movies. In this business, you never know who or what brings you new roles and work. I did not ask for anything, but somebody was watching me, and saw some talent in me. It really was a series of unexpected chances. Mr. Okochi was like a god, so I was very nervous from head to toe. My being nervous, in front of my hero, fit the movie’s scene perfectly.

BH: Do you have any memories of Mr. (Ishiro) Honda?

SK: First of all, I was in Mr. Honda’s movie about female divers (The Blue Pearl, 1951). In the movie, I was one of the workers to maintain a lighthouse, and Ryo Ikebe played my boss. In my role, I was supposed to see my boss very often, and the workers’ greeting did not have to be exaggerated. Mr. Ikebe was such a big star for me. In the morning, when I saw Mr. Ikebe, I bowed very deeply to him. It should have been more casual. I was so embarrassed, but I was such a beginner at the time.

The second movie was about whalers (The Man Who Came to Port, 1952). One day, after the shooting, Mr. Honda said, “Everybody, let’s have a talk.” He asked us, “Does anybody have any questions?” So I raised my hand. I asked him, “I was very nervous during filming, so what should I do about it?” He answered, “Maybe you should do a workout or some exercises until you get used to it.” He gave me some suggestions. I was the only one who raised his hand and asked him a question. Since then, he always cast me in his movies – Godzilla and many other movies. I think I made an impression on him and that he understood that I was trying to get used to my work. He took very good care of me.

BH: Let’s talk about the first Godzilla movie and your memories of working on the first Godzilla.

SK: When Godzilla started shooting, I was still working on Seven Samurai. I still had some voice-recording work left to do. In Godzilla, I was in several scenes. When Godzilla appears in Ginza, I was a Japan Self-Defense Force member. In that scene, with a light directed at Godzilla, I shouted, “Fire!” In another scene, I was in Shinagawa when Godzilla first appeared. I was to lead the crowd that was running away from Godzilla. Of course, there was no Godzilla there during filming. It was added afterward. The cinematographer put up a mark for me to look at. So I had to imagine that Godzilla was right there and that I was looking at it and ran away. In another scene, I was in Gotemba with Self-Defense Force members. So I was in several scenes in Godzilla.

At Toho, there was a dressing room, next to a locker room, for actors and actresses. I shared the same (dressing) room with Haruo Nakajima, who was the Godzilla suit actor. So we often met each other. The suit was so heavy, so he got very tired. So after work, he was always lying down. Every day, I saw Mr. Nakajima at that time.

BH: Any other Godzilla memories?

SK: When Godzilla started shooting, the first location was in Mie Prefecture. About five actors went to Mie Prefecture, but I wasn’t able to go because I still had some dubbing work to finish for Seven Samurai. I heard that when one of the actors came back from Mie Prefecture, something happened to him, and he had an injured arm. (This phenomenon) is called kamaitachi (a Japanese superstition). All of a sudden, the skin splits off. There is a belief that the wind causes it to happen.

Godzilla’s shooting began with such an occurrence, and I thought it was quite extraordinary. Mr. Tsuburaya made a Godzilla suit, which drew attention among the staff, along with the rumor of kamaitachi, and everybody began to say that Mr. Tsuburaya was making something amazing. He was taking care of the special effects, miniature models, and directing actors/extras. I kept playing tiny roles. Then before I knew it, the shooting was over. I don’t remember anything particular worth mentioning.


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