REMINISCENCES OF A SHOWA ACTOR! Chotaro Togin Remembers Acting During Japan’s Golden Age!

Chotaro Togin in May 2019. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Chotaro Togin is one of Toho’s most recognizable supporting actors from the 1960s. Born on November 28, 1941, in Tokyo, Mr. Togin joined Toho in the early 1960s and appeared in some of Toho’s best-known films under the guidance of some of the country’s greatest directors. Among his movie credits are: Ichino in Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966), Uchida in episode 6 of Ultra Q (1966) the meteorological observation plane radio operator in Son of Godzilla (1967), Okada in Destroy All Monsters (1968), the younger police detective in Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), and Yokoyama in Yog Monster from Space (1970). In May 2019, Mr. Togin answered Brett Homenick’s questions in an interview translated by Mari Hirose and Keiko Takemata.

Brett Homenick: Please talk about where you were born, and talk about your early life, such as your hobbies, and what you did as a child.

Chotaro Togin: I was born in Tokyo — Ogu, Arakawa Ward. I liked Tarzan. I swung from tree to tree like Tarzan.

BH: (laughs) Is that dangerous?

CT: Not at all. At that time, when I was a child, there were no indoor games. You had to go outside to play. I also spun beigoma (an old-fashioned Japanese top). It was made of metal. I also played marbles. I had a slingshot, too.

BH: What would you fire at?

CT: When I was a child, there was very little food. So I shot ducks in the river and shot chickens with slingshot elsewhere. I had to shoot to eat.

BH: What other movies did you watch as a boy?

CT: Tarzan. I also watched chambara movies and American Westerns. I watched monster movies before Godzilla. I watched One Million B.C. and The Invisible Man.  I watched movies very few times. If I had time, I went to the movie theater.

BH: Did you watch Frankenstein as a boy?

CT: Yes, I did.

BH: King Kong?

CT: Yes, it was fun.

BH: Did you see Godzilla in 1954?

CT: The first time I saw a Japanese monster movie was Godzilla in 1954.

BH: What was your reaction at the time?

CT: I was so surprised. I first saw King Kong. But after I saw Godzilla, I thought King Kong and Godzilla were quite different movies.

BH: What was it like to grow up in Japan after the war?

CT: Everybody was so poor. There was no money and no things. But I enjoyed it. Nowadays, we can choose anything we want, but at that time, we had no choice, so I couldn’t choose whatever I wanted. There was only one thing to do.

My father had a company. When I was in Tokyo, I didn’t have a problem living, but I was very poor when I was evacuated to Niigata. I had a hard time because there was little food in Niigata.

BH: How long were you in Niigata?

CT: After returning to Tokyo after the war, I often went to the American army camp (occupation forces) in Jujo, Kita Ward.

BH: “Give me chocolate”?

CT: I was invited into the American army camp. I got some chocolate, chewing gum, juice, sandwiches, and steaks. I was very surprised because the food was delicious and completely different from what Japanese ate.

BH: After the war, where did you go to school?

CT: I went to elementary, junior high school, and high school in Tokyo.

BH: And university?

CT: I didn’t go to university.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: During this time when you were in school, did you have any idea to become an actor?

CT: When I was in the fourth or fifth grade of elementary school, I wanted to become an actor because I saw Tarzan.

BH: I understand that you have a brother whose name is Chojiro. He was a Daiei actor?

CT: He’s my twin. He was a Daiei actor. He had a very similar face because he was my twin. So many times, someone would say to me, “Chojiro, Chojiro!”

BH: At Daiei, do you know any movies that he was in or anything about his career at Daiei?

CT: Chojiro was a very unique. He hated playing the typical roles that other actors would do. So he played good roles. Daiei went bankrupt earlier than other companies, but Toho still existed when I was there. When I was at Toho, Daiei, the studio where Chojiro was an actor, went bankrupt, so I thought the film industry was no longer good at that time.

I was scouted by Daiei when I was in my second year of high school. Then I appeared in a Daiei movie. That was my first movie appearance. However, I did not join Daiei. It was a youth movie called We Are Not Crazy (1958).

BH: Why did you change to Toho?

CT: When I appeared in the Daiei movie, I was still a high school student, so I couldn’t take the Toho New Face test. I tried the Toho New Face test about five years later, and I passed. The test had an age limit (over 18 years old).

BH: How did you join (Toho)?

CT: About two years after Chojiro joined Daiei in 1958, I joined Toho in 1961. I joined with Toru Ibuki at the same time.

BH: Let’s talk about how you became an actor and what happened.

CT: I was very happy to be an actor. At that time, about 20,000 people applied for the New Face test. Only 20 people passed, and I was one of them. So I said, “Lucky me.” So many others wanted to become an actor or actress, too. Why did I pass? I was lucky enough to wonder.

BH: How was that process, being in the New Face program? What did you have to do in the New Face program?

CT: I attended a training program for new faces. All the people who participated were poor at acting. They couldn’t laugh, cry, or get angry. They lacked expressive power. They couldn’t express emotions through acting.

BH: So they were cut?

CT: Many people quit Toho. Instead, anyone could enter the Shingeki (Seinenza, Haiyuza, Mingei, and Bungakuza) even if their faces were not beautiful and their performances were not good. For example, Kirin Kiki entered Bungakuza.

Since entering Toho, I could play many kind of roles, so I got more work than my colleagues. Even after Toho, I had many supporting roles.

BH: Would you say that the New Face program was difficult? How many days a week was it? How hard was the training?

CT: I felt the program was very easy. It was every weekday, Monday through Friday.

BH: Who were some of the people who taught you? Were there any famous people who taught and trained you how to do things?

CT: Not especially, just people from Haiyuza.

BH: One of your first movies is Japan’s Number One Young Guy (1962). Do you have any memories of working on this movie?

CT: Yuzo Kayama (who played the role of the Young Guy) was a very good man, but he didn’t have good social skills. Mr. Kayama had a very nice yacht called Ko-shin-maru. He offered me to join him on his boat, and I enjoyed riding it. For about five years, I rode with Mr. Kayama on his boat. Mr. Kayama had a very popular song called “Kimi to Itsumademo.” During the time that that song was popular, I joined Mr. Kayama on his boat.

I felt that Mr. Kayama didn’t know how to interact with people. Everybody said Mr. Kayama was selfish, but I didn’t feel that way. So that’s why we had such a nice friendship at the time. Mr. (Yosuke) Natsuki had so many good friends. Mr. Natsuki was a different type of person from Mr. Kayama.

BH: I’ve heard a lot of people say Mr. Kayama is not such a good person. Is that just because they think he’s selfish, or is there another reason?

CT: He was a person who had no tolerance for others at that time. But if I met Mr. Kayama now, I think Mr. Kayama would probably hug me. In the film industry, Mr. Kayama was a special person (whose father, Ken Uehara, was a famous Toho star), but in the music industry, his father was irrelevant, so he could make many friends.

BH: Is that because he likes music better than acting?

CT: When Mr. Kayama was an actor, there were few people who made friends with him. Mr. Kayama joined Toho and soon became a star, so I think he couldn’t make friends. Also, Mr. Kayama grew up in a very easy environment, and I think he was not very good at making friends. In other words, he was not yet an adult.

I think he (seemed) selfish because he became a star too soon. However, I did not care whether he was a star or not. For example, Toshiro Mifune was the biggest leading man at Toho at that time. Most Toho people could not casually speak to Mr. Mifune, but I didn’t care about that, so I was able to greet him. Maybe I’m unusual.

BH: Do you have any Toshiro Mifune memories?

CT: Mr. Mifune liked riding horses. I was able to ride horses, too, so we often rode together in the suburbs of Tokyo. Actors have to rides horses when appearing in a samurai movie. In addition to riding on horses, actors needed to be able to drive cars and ride motorcycles. For example, if an American actor cannot ride a horse, he cannot appear in a Western movie.

I taught golf to Akira Kurosawa. One day, when I went to the driving range with Akira Kurosawa, Mr. Kurosawa was not good at golfing, so when I told him, “You’re no good!” he got angry. So Mr. Kurosawa said, “If you think my golf skills are bad, you should teach me golf.”

BH: So what was that like? Obviously, Mr. Kurosawa is a very strict director. What do you remember about that?

CT: Akira Kurosawa had very strong likes and dislikes. Mr. Kurosawa didn’t like sophisticated people. So he didn’t like people with good looks. But Tatsuya Nakadai was special. He’s sophisticated and good-looking. Mr. Kurosawa usually didn’t like that type, but Mr. Nakadai was the exception.

Akira Kurosawa quit Toho and had his own independent production company. I didn’t think that was very good for Mr. Kurosawa.

Mr. Kurosawa started using color film, but I thought that was no good for him. It was better for his films to be black and white. He was a painter. Because he was a painter, he wanted to use many colors.

The performance fee was high, but I refused (to appear in his movies) because it took a long time to make a Kurosawa movie (and I couldn’t do other movies in the meantime). I thought Mr. Kurosawa was crazy on the set. I didn’t like Mr. Kurosawa very much.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: You did many movies with the Crazy Cats, so do you have any memories of working with them?

CT: Hitoshi Ueki, Hajime Hana, Kei Tani, Eitaro Ishibashi, Shin Yasuda… Did they die? Is Senri Sakurai alive now? (Senri Sakurai died in 2012.) Only Hiroshi Inuzuka is still alive.

When I went on location to film a movie, Mr. Ueki would say, “Why don’t you come up to my room and play poker or mahjong with me and Mr. Hana? I thought the Crazy Cats were lonely. They didn’t have good friends to play mahjong with. They had many hangers-on but few real friends.

BH: Let’s talk about Tiger Flight (1964).

CT: We had a big poster for the movie. Everybody on it has passed away. Only Wakako Sakai and I are left. I went to Mr. (Tatsuya) Mihashi’s house many times. His wife was Kyoko Anzai. She was a very famous actress at Shochiku (Opera Company). She was very beautiful.

BH: How was Kengo Furusawa as a director?

CT: He was a strange person. He experienced the war. His voice was military-like. We thought his heart was tender, but his voice was so loud and like that of the military. He was a tender person.

BH: How would Mr. Furusawa direct scenes? What would he say to the actors?

CT: Mr. Furusawa used a commanding tone, but there was little guidance on acting. Actors were able to perform relatively freely.

I remember the scene in which Yuriko Hoshi, Yosuke Natsuki, and I had a love triangle. My character was worried that Ms. Hoshi liked Mr. Natsuki more than she liked me. So I performed this complicated feeling, but director Furusawa rejected it and gave me instructions on my acting. We did the scene in two or three takes. When I saw the finished movie, I thought it was a good performance, so his direction was correct.

BH: What about general memories of Yosuke Natsuki?

CT: Mr. Natsuki and I often dated women in the downtown area together. When one woman was wondering whether to date Mr. Natsuki or me, she realized that she would hate to be caught in a public scandal with Mr. Natsuki because Mr. Natsuki was very famous. So she decided to date me instead.

BH: Another movie is Sensation Seekers (1963), with director Jun Fukuda.

CT: Mr. Fukuda liked me very much. Mr. Fukuda also directed Japan’s Number One Young Guy.

BH: I noticed you worked with Mr. Fukuda many times, so what was he like?

CT: Mr. Fukuda was a very stoic person. He was the type of person who lets dissatisfaction build up inside and then takes it out on the young people (actors, actresses, and staff members). He did not get mad at the big stars, but he often got mad the younger ones (like me). I was a newcomer.

BH: What would he say to you when he was angry? What did he point out?

CT: For example, when we were shooting on location, it was cold outside, so I went to a warm place. But Mr. Fukuda said, “Come back to the shooting location!” It was easy to say that to a newcomer. But even if the director got angry at me, I would not have been afraid. I would have been cheeky.

BH: Do you remember Dogora the Space Monster (1964)? You were a truck driver.

CT: I needed a special driver’s license to drive a big truck. So I got that license through Toho.

BH: You had to do training for that?

CT: I went to a driving school.

BH: That movie was directed by Ishiro Honda. Do you have any memories of Ishiro Honda?

CT: I was in so many of his movies. He was a gentleman. He had a very nice friendship with Mr. Kurosawa. He was a very kind director. Mr. Honda was liked by many Toho people.

BH: Did you ever talk to Mr. Honda about anything? Did you ever have a conversation, or not?

CT: We talked about golf. I was his golf teacher. Mr. Honda was there when I told Mr. Kurosawa that his golf skills were no good. But we were good friends and went practicing golf many times. I often taught Mr. Honda golf at the driving range. I practiced golf with Mr. Honda and Mr. Kurosawa at a driving range.

BH: Did you ever go actually play golf with anyone from Toho on a golf course?

CT: No, I didn’t. The schedule back then was so busy.

BH: How about the movie Samurai (1965), directed by Kihachi Okamoto?

CT: Mr. Okamoto gave me a nice character to play in this movie. Mr. Okamoto also didn’t like a handsome actors; he liked actors with a face like a farmer (rugged faces).

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What did Mr. Okamoto see in you?

CT: I received so many offers from Mr. Okamoto. But I was very, very busy, and I wasn’t allowed to shoot two movies at the same time. I was very young and still a newcomer, but every director wanted me to act in his movies. Mr. Okamoto would have noticed me because my daily behavior was unique (conspicuous).

Finally, when Mr. Okamoto made an offer, I was able to join his movies — Samurai and Oh, My Bomb! (1964). I was in five or six movies made by Mr. Okamoto. Mr. Okamoto could get big budgets for his movies because he was very popular. Mr. Okamoto made a film (twice a year). He was very popular and (one of the) biggest name(s) among the Toho directors.

I could play a variety of roles, for example, a peasant or a samurai. Mr. (Susumu) Kurobe was my junior, but he was a very cool guy when he was young. I think he was part Russian.

BH: Do you have any other Mr. Okamoto stories to tell?

CT: He was a silent director. He usually didn’t let the actors do whatever they wanted. But with me, he allowed me to act however I wanted. For other actors and actresses, he gave them very detailed instructions. But he didn’t do that with me because I was a supporting actor. He would tell the other actors, “That’s a little bit different.” Mr. Okamoto didn’t reject my acting because I was able to achieve the instructions he was looking for before he said anything. I could read between the lines.

There are various types of directors. Since new actors can’t perform well, the director gives them a lot of guidance. However, when I was a newcomer, I was performing better than the others. So I was acting freely without much instruction from the director.

BH: How about Retreat from Kisuka (1965), directed by Seiji Maruyama?

CT: He was a director who was active in the old days. I acted in one or two scenes. Mr. Maruyama was a company director (not an artistic director). Kisuka is a nostalgic memory for me. We went to a very cold shooting location in Gotemba.

BH: Generally, about Mr. Maruyama, do you have any memories of working with him?

CT: I was told by Mr. Maruyama, “Your voice is low!” when shooting a battle scene in Kisuka. That was the only instruction from Mr. Maruyama to me. The director did not give me many instructions because I was adaptable. Many directors thought I was an actor who could play anything, so I was able to play many roles smoothly. I am a universal actor.

Mr. Maruyama told me, “Make a sadder expression,” when filming Kisuka. I also worked with director Tomu Uchida. I also acted when he directed Swords of Death (1971), starring Kinnosuke Nakamura. I didn’t do any extra performance and performed silently. My role was that of a subordinate to Rentaro Mikuni, and my character’s nickname was “Teppo-mata.” Mr. Uchida was a very famous director. He didn’t give me any instructions, either.

BH: And the movie Ironfinger (1965)…

CT: Akira Takarada starred, and Mr. Fukuda was the director. It was a very enjoyable movie. I was the acting substitute for Kunie Tanaka. Because Mr. Tanaka left, I acted in his place. I had a very enjoyable role in the showdown with Mr. Takarada.

BH: How about Ultra Q (1966)? You were in (episode 6) of Ultra Q.

CT: This was by Tsuburaya Productions. I said to them, “I need a higher payment. Without extra money, I don’t want to do it.” So they paid me more. I’m the type of person who is honest and direct with everybody. I’m a free spirit.

BH: Let’s talk about Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966).

CT: There was another casting change. Toyozo Yamamoto was originally cast, but it was changed. Mr. Yamamoto must have been unfit for the role, probably because Toyozo Yamamoto was a little too quiet. So director Fukuda called me and asked, “Why don’t you play this part?” Kumi Mizuno also replaced another actress. Noriko Takahashi was the first actress cast. She was Minori Terada’s wife. She was not such a good actress because she was still a newcomer, so it was changed to Kumi Mizuno.

BH: I have a question about Toru Watanabe. He was one of the stars of this movie, but he was not a Toho actor. Nobody knew where he came from. Do you remember Toru Watanabe?

CT: He was not on the poster because he was not a Toho contract player. The actors on the poster are only actors with a famous name — not all the actors appear. He belonged to some agency; I think he belonged to a children’s theater company. He was still about 15 or 16 years old.

BH: Do you have any other Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster memories?

CT: At first, the filming location was going to be in the Philippines. But there was no money to film there. So we went Izu instead.

We Will Remember (1965) was directed by Zenzo Matsuyama. It’s another example of overseas shooting in which I participated. Kiyoshi Kodama, Mr. Kayama, Mr. (Masanori) Nihei, and I were in it. I learned how to play the trumpet, trombone, drums, and piccolo. I can still play those instruments.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Another movie is Son of Godzilla (1967). You have a very small role.

CT: I don’t have special memories of it.

BH: How about Destroy All Monsters (1968)?

CT: There was another casting change. At first, my role was supposed to be played by (Ryo) Tamura. He was a stage actor. My character was Mr. Okada, the second-in-command (of the Moonlight SY-3).

BH: Were there any special locations for Destroy All Monsters?

CT: One was Izu Oshima. Another was Manazuru. We filmed along the seaside. Our helmets would fog up. We would have to spray it with water to clean it up. I acted in so many movies, so I have many memories.

BH: How about Battle of the Japan Sea (1969)?

CT: I had a small part in this movie. Mr. Maruyama did nice work for me. My role was very small, but it was featured in such a way that the audience could notice me in the movie. I had a closeup.

BH: How about Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) with director Honda? You played a policeman with Yoshifumi Tajima and Hideyo Amamoto.

CT: Mr. Amamoto and Mr. Okamoto had a nice relationship. Mr. Amamoto liked loneliness. It was a very unique existence, like a yokai. Mr. Amamoto appeared in almost all of Okamoto’s movies, regardless of the size of the role.

Toho had several factions that were like families. For example, there was the Okamoto family, Kurosawa family, Fukuda family, and the Honda family. They were like teams. I was a member of all the families. Every family loved me. So many directors needed me.

BH: What was Yoshifumi Tajima like?

CT: Mr. Tajima signed up with Toho after joining the Haiyuza. Originally, he was an actor performing onstage. Ichiro Nakatani also came to Toho from Haiyuza.

BH: Mr. Natsuki once said that Mr. Tajima was a very nervous actor.

CT: He was a very nervous person. He was not very brave. He wanted to act perfectly. He needed perfection. Not everybody liked him. He would sometimes offer comments on the acting of other actors, like a director would. That’s why some actors didn’t like him.

I never had any comments about my performance from Mr. Tajima. If the director commented on my performance, I would follow, the instruction but I wouldn’t have followed his comments. I have never gotten comments on my performance from an actor. I knew (what I wanted) as an actor. I always followed my own idea. I think I was an oddball.

BH: About Yog Monster from Space (1970), this was (filmed) on Hachiojijima.

CT: It was snowing on Hachiojijima during filming. My memory was that it was very cold. I played a very interesting character.

(During this time,) I thought movies were over. The movie actors have changed now. Comedians and idols are stars now, and it was not the same during my era.

BH: Let’s talk about the end of Toho. The contract system ended. What do you remember about that change when Toho ended the contracts?

CT: Toho did not need all the actors. The movie actors became freelance. However, I’m not sure if the actors who appeared on the stage became freelance, too. The exclusive actor had a basic salary, but since the contract was canceled, we couldn’t receive a regular salary.

BH: What was your favorite movie to work on at Toho?

CT: Godzilla (vs. the Sea Monster) and We Will Remember. Directors at other studios wanted me to act in their movies. They also had auditions. I passed most auditions.

BH: Who was your favorite director?

CT: Zenzo Matsuyama, Masanori Kakehi, Mr. Fukuda, and Mr. Honda. There were many. I appeared in many films directed by Mr. Fukuda. I think I appeared the most in Mr. Fukuda’s film.

BH: Who was your favorite actor to work with?

CT: Hiroyuki Nagato. His wife was Yoko Minamida. Mr. Nagato has since passed away. He was a nice person and had a lot of acting talent.

BH: Do you have any final comments?

CT: These days, I teach acting to young people. Nowadays, young people don’t show their emotions, so I teach young actors how to show their moods. But they don’t speak so much. They have a smaller vocabulary. They don’t have any expressive power. They just look at their smartphones and receive information; they don’t express themselves or speak. It is very sad that there are few people with special personalities. Everyone has a similar personality. It’s because of the times.

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