TOKUSATSU’S MAN OF LETTERS! Hiroyasu Yamaura on Scripting Godzilla and the Ultra-Series!

Hiroyasu Yamaura in August 2018. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Hiroyasu Yamaura is a prolific scriptwriter for both film and television, whose work has crossed many genres. His writing credits include such popular anime titles as Mazinger Z (1972-74), Lupin the Third: Part II (1977-80), and Galaxy Express 999 (1978-81). In the world of tokusatsu, Mr. Yamaura co-wrote the screenplays for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Tokyo Blackout (1987), as well as teleplays or Ultra Q (1966), The Space Giants (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), Mirrorman (1971-72), Jumborg Ace (1973), and Ultraman 80 (1980-81), among many others.

Born on January 28, 1938, Mr. Yamaura eventually pursued higher education at Waseda University. Around 1963, however, Mr. Yamaura dropped out of college. But, in 2005, he entered the Open University of Japan, graduating in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in development and education.

In August 2018, Mr. Yamaura answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his career in an interview translated by Manami Takagi and Keiko Takemata.

Brett Homenick: Let’s start at the very beginning. Where were you born? Tell us about your early life growing up.

Hiroyasu Yamaura: I was on born on January 28, 1938, in Tokyo.

BH: What part of Tokyo?

HY: I was born in Minato Ward, but at the time, it was called Azabu Ward. The place I was born was near what is now Roppongi Hills. It was very countryside at that time. (laughs) My father was a police officer. There was a dormitory for the police in that area, so that’s why I was born and grew up there.

BH: Did the family live there?

HY: When my father was single, he started living there. Even after he got married and had me, we still lived there. That’s where I grew up — in that area. When I was seven years old, my father was transferred to the police station in Kamata. So our family moved there. So I grew up there from the time I was seven years old. I lived there until I entered university.

BH: Which university?

HY: At first, I attended Nihon University and majored in film. Then I transferred to Waseda University, majoring in literature.

BH: Obviously, you were very young during World War II, but do you have any memories of the hardships during the war?

HY: When I was (about) eight years old, there were two bombings of the area in which we lived in Kamata. So there were two bombings. One was March 24, and the second one was April 19, (1945). My father was a policeman, so he was not with us at the time. My mother, my younger brother, and I all had to run away from the fire. My school was destroyed, but our house survived. The only thing I remember is that I ate an apple.

There were bombs on the ground that had not detonated. They were still there. There were holes in the ground, and the bombs were in the holes. But they were still there and had not exploded. I saw them, and I remember that. I still remember that the sky was all red, the town was burned out, and there were bombs in the holes. Those are my memories. I remember seeing the stars in the red sky. It was at night, but many things were burning. The light from the fires reflected in the stars in the sky. The night sky was all red.

BH: Were you at home when this attack happened?

HY: Yes, I was at home when the bombing happened. The siren sounded in the town, so we had to run away as soon as we heard the siren. We were trying to escape into Ikegami Honmonji, which is a temple. But it was full, so we could not enter. That’s why our lives were saved. A bomb was dropped on the temple, and all the people who were there died. It was said that about 2,000 people were killed. So that’s why we survived. I’m not sure if it’s the exact figure because I was still a child, but I think at least 500 people died.

Butsudan (small Buddhist altars) are like a symbol for families in Japanese culture. On the butsudan (a personal shrine), we usually put food on it for our ancestors. At that time, we didn’t have so many things to eat. There was only an apple on the butsudan, so I just took it and ran away. It’s a very strong memory I still have. I also remember seeing the school I attended burning. I saw it. My school was very near my house. Those are the things I remember from that day.

Let me jump to August 15th. This is the day that Japan surrendered, and many American soldiers came to town. After that day, American soldiers came to our town. We didn’t have so much food, but luckily my mother and father survived. Many other children were orphaned because they lost their mothers and fathers. American soldiers gave the children chocolate and chewing gum – many snacks. When I was a child, other children and I went to those American soldiers and said (in English), “Give me chocolate,” “Give me candy,” and “Give me chewing gum.” We all got those treats from them. That’s something I remember.

BH: When you were a child, what kind of hobbies did you have?

HY: I carved airplanes out of wood. For example, I made Japanese Zero fighters, German Messerschmitt (aircraft), English Spitfires, and American Grumman (aircraft). I also painted them. Back in that era, we didn’t have many toys available, so we had to make our own. I also liked railways and trains. When I was a child, I didn’t go to school so much, but I liked trains, so I got on Ikegami Line and Mekama Line trains without paying. The Mekama Line doesn’t exist anymore, but the Ikegami Line still runs. I still like trains.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: When you got on the trains, where would you go?

HY: They were very short trips! (laughs) They were about a few hours – short trips.

BH: So you’d sometimes skip school to do this.

HY: Yes.

BH: Did you ever get in trouble?

HY: One day, my friend caught me, and he told me father. My father was very upset, so I stopped doing it. My father was strict, but he never hit me. I didn’t go to school because I didn’t like the things we were studying. I didn’t like studying at school, so that’s why I didn’t go during that time. My father was very strict but generous, and he let my friends come over to my house, and they invited me to come back to school together. That’s why I returned to school.

BH: How did you get started working professionally as a writer?

HY: To begin, I’d like to tell you this. I really loved movies, especially when I was a child. I loved Disney movies, as well. I could say that my generation grew up with American movies. So that’s why at first I entered Nihon University and majored in film. In the 1950s, Japanese movies started to become less popular. It was the time in which television started to become popular. At first, I wanted to become a movie director. But at the same time, I liked scriptwriting. Afterward, I became interesting in writing stories. It was a tough time to break into Japanese movies.

BH: How did you get hired at Tsuburaya Pro to write scripts?

HY: When I was in university (in 1961), I won the Grand Prize of the 16th National Arts Festival for scripts. It was a writing contest sponsored by the Ministry of Education. I won the Grand Prize in this contest. When I won the prize, TBS offered me a job as a scriptwriter. That was the first job I got. My prize-winning script was filmed as a TV program (for Toshiba Sunday Theater). The script was called “Killing Bandits.” It was my debut work.

BH: What kind of story was it?

HY: It was based on the division of East and West Germany during the Cold War. I wrote a jidai geki story based on that conflict. The story takes place in a village. One day, the village was suddenly divided into two parts. A family was divided, a couple was divided, and I described the conflict that resulted from that. War broke out afterward, and many people died.

There was a monk and a thief who were talking about the tragedies that have happened in this village before. They said, “There is nothing here except these sad tragedies.” The monk and the thief were talking about the past. They talked about the violence of humanity and how peace was destroyed. This dialogue was based on my experiences in World War II. This was also the time of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA.

Naochika Ikuta was my scriptwriting teacher. Tetsuo Kinjo was his friend. Mr. Ikuta was a big teacher, but at that time, Mr. Kinjo had just started his career. So sometimes Mr. Kinjo went over to Mr. Ikuta’s place. I met Mr. Kinjo at Mr. Ikuta’s house. It was my first opportunity to go to Tsuburaya Productions. I was introduced to Eiji Tsuburaya through Mr. Kinjo. Mr. Tsuburaya had just started Tsuburaya Productions. At the time, Tsuburaya Pro was launching Woo Project.

I was invited to participate by Mr. Tsuburaya, who said, “I’m going to establish Tsuburaya Productions in the future. Would you like to help plan Woo Project together in this company?” The Japan SF Writers Association was supporting Tsuburaya Productions in creating  Woo Project. Famous Japanese novelists belonged to this association.

BH: What was Woo Project?

HY: Woo Project was to make science fiction stories for Japanese television. They wrote some scenarios, but they did not air. It was ultimately transformed into Ultra Q.

BH: Do you have any memories of Mr. Tsuburaya and what he was like?

HY: He was calm but had a strong will. He made special effects movies even during the war, so we were nervous in front of him. But he was such a friendly person. He was a hands-off type of person, so he let us do our work and didn’t control us. He didn’t give too many opinions. He let us do our work. He didn’t cut the budgets, so he wanted to spend money in order to make a good movie or TV program.

As I said, Mr. Tsuburaya didn’t say too much about how to do the work. He let the staff do their work. So I didn’t see him so often after that. Mr. Kinjo is the person I dealt with the most.

BH: What do you remember about Mr. Kinjo?

HY: Mr. Kinjo was such a delicate person. He liked to drink, and he could get drunk with a small amount of sake. (laughs) As soon as he got drunk, he liked to call people on the telephone. He would invite his friends to come over to his house. He was a very fun person, and I had a good time with him.

He was from Okinawa, and he experienced the war there. His mother was seriously injured during the war. But we never talked about the war together, even though we both experienced it when we were children. But we shared a dream.

One time, Mr. Kinjo, Mr. Ikuta, and I wrote a script together for a TBS drama. It was called “You Will See” (1964). Eiji Tsuburaya’s son, Hajime, was a director at TBS, and he directed that drama. That was when all three of us both wrote a script together. After that drama, we started working on Ultra Q.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Please talk about the beginning of Ultra Q and what you remember about working on Ultra Q.

HY: On Ultra Q, there were several scripts that Mr. Iijima wrote. Mr. Iijima’s scriptwriting pen name was Kitao Senzoku. Mr. Iijima and I wrote the scripts together. At first, I was not good at writing scripts for monster programs. Also, I was very busy with other work. On Ultra Q, I wrote three scripts. The first one was “The Underground Super Express Goes West” (episode 10), the second one was “The Undersea Humanoid Ragon” (episode 20), and the third one was “The Disappearance of Flight 206” (episode 27). For Ultra Seven, I wrote two scripts. The first one was “The Human Farm” (episode 22), and the second one was “The 0.1 Second Kill” (episode 36).

BH: Is there a reason that you didn’t write a script for Ultraman?

HY: I think during Ultraman, I was busy with other works. Also, Mr. Kinjo didn’t think I was good at writing monster scripts. (laughs)

BH: So how did you get hired to do Ultra Seven? Is it because your schedule opened up?

HY: Ultra Seven was a little bit different from Ultra Q and Ultraman. Ultraman was more like a family drama. But Ultra Seven’s taste was more adult. Ultra Seven was not only a military drama, but it had the atmosphere of an American science fiction TV program. So it fit my style. That’s why I wrote for Ultra Seven.

BH: Let’s go back to Ultra Q for a bit. Let’s talk about collaborating with Mr. Iijima, specifically. How was that collaboration? Who wrote the majority of the scripts?

HY: I wrote the first draft of the story. Then Mr. Iijima added the perspective of a child. For example, he added the character of a boy who shines shoes. He also added some other characters. He gave it a comedic taste. He made the story more for children. That was Mr. Iijima’s contribution. I collaborated with Mr. Iijima and Mr. Kinjo on all three Ultra Q scripts.

BH: What about Mr. Kinjo?

HY: He added the monsters to the scripts. I was not good at monsters! (laughs)

BH: Do you have any other memories of Ultra Q – maybe ideas that were not used?

HY: I wrote two plots that were not made. The first story was about a giant rat in the subway system. (laughs) It was about three meters in diameter. It was just the size of the tunnel in the subway. That giant rat was moving around the subway system. The second one was an adaptation of King Kong. It was about a monster that had a crush on a girl. The setting was Egypt, and the monster was a mummy. It was a love story between a monster and a girl.

BH: Why were these plots rejected?

HY: I don’t know. (laughs) I think it was because these stories were not for kids. One of them was a love story.

BH: In this story, would the woman have loved the mummy?

HY: In King Kong, the woman is scared of King Kong. Afterward, she started to accept his heart. So in my story, at first, the monster had a crush on her, but she rejected him. But after a while, she accepted him. I think the story was something like that.

BH: Do you have any memories about working on Ultra Seven – maybe ideas that weren’t used?

HY: I don’t think any of my plots were rejected for Ultra Seven. At that time, I had some other TV work, like The Guardman (1965-71), a famous detective series. I also worked on Toei animated shows. Considering my style, I don’t think I have natural ideas for science fiction. Maybe some other writers were better at science fiction.

As for Ultra Seven, I wrote my scripts by myself. I did not collaborate with any other writers. So I don’t have as many memories of it as I do Ultra Q. I wrote it as usual, and it was aired.

BH: Around how long would it take to write a script?

HY: The first draft would usually take one week.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How many drafts would there usually be?

HY: Usually the third draft would be the final one. When I finished the first draft, I’d usually talk with the director. If the director said it was OK with some minor changes, then we would use that. But sometimes the director would ask for many changes, which would take time. So it depends.

On the Ultra-series, usually the directors were excellent. They were very talented as directors. So they would ask me to make many changes. It was tough. Ultra Seven was not so difficult for me, but on Ultra Q, I had a tough time!

BH: What about The Space Giants? This was an early work of yours for a different studio, P Productions. What do you remember about The Space Giants? How was different from the Ultra-series?

HY: Originally, my friend from Nihon University and I were majoring in film. My friend became a producer on The Space Giants. His name is (Tomoaki) Setoguchi. That’s how I got the job. That show was shot on 35mm film, so that’s why it cost a lot of money. The character of Ambassador Magma (a.k.a. Goldar) did not move a lot. So it was different from Ultraman and Ultra Seven. But The Space Giants became very popular, too. I don’t remember how many scripts I wrote for it.

BH: Throughout the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s, you wrote for Mighty Jack, Mirrorman, Jumborg Ace – many of these programs. I guess it was all getting to be kind of typical, but does anything stand out about working on these Tsuburaya Productions shows?

HY: Toyoaki Dan was a producer at Tsuburaya Productions. He was a friend of mine when we were at Waseda University together. That’s how I got hired to work on Mirrorman and Jumborg Ace. As for Mighty Jack, I think Mr. Kinjo offered me the job.

I was the main writer for Mirrorman and Jumborg Ace. So I had many meetings with producer Dan. I remember that there weren’t so many changes made to my scripts. The process was pretty smooth. However, the atmosphere of Mirrorman was dark. It didn’t become so popular at the time. It was in contrast to Mr. Kinjo’s work, which was very light. Mr. Kinjo had ideas that were beyond most normal people. I didn’t have those kinds of ideas. Producer Dan and I were both very realistic.

BH: When it comes to Mirrorman, as the main writer, what did you bring to these shows? How much could you develop in terms of characters and stories?

HY: I brought the way young people live to the shows. I also added a love story to them.

BH: What did you bring to Jumborg Ace?

HY: The main character was Naoki. I described how he developed in his relationships with others. I don’t remember the details. I described the development of his maturity. Naoki became mature through conflict and fights. He transformed into Jumborg Ace and fought monsters.

BH: How did you get hired to write the screenplay for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)?

HY: I was asked by director Jun Fukuda. He said, “I have the basic story. So please write a script based on the story.”

BH: What was in the story that Mr. Fukuda wrote?

HY: The setting was Okinawa. It was not a war story; it was about Okinawan tradition and history.

BH: What did you bring to the script?

HY: I developed the relationship of the three monsters: Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, and King Caesar. For example, the spacemen who control Mechagodzilla had their base in Okinawa. Those kinds of ideas are what I brought to the script.

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

HY: It took me about one week.

BH: How many drafts were there?

HY: There were two drafts.

BH: Was there ever any input from Jun Fukuda or producer (Tomoyuki) Tanaka?

HY: It was low-budget, so the main concern was how they could realize what I wrote in the script on a tight budget. That was the main concern. So that’s why director Fukuda checked the final script. As the screenwriter, my ideas might be too big, so Mr. Fukuda had to check whether or not it was actually possible to do them. Producer Tanaka was in charge of the budget. It was an 80-minute story.

BH: Both you and Mr. Fukuda are credited as co-writers. Other than writing the initial story, did Mr. Fukuda really have any input, or is it really your script?

HY: I didn’t collaborate on this script. I wrote it by myself.

BH: What approach did you take to the material? Was it any different from writing a TV program for Tsuburaya?

HY: There is a certain pattern for the Tsuburaya TV programs. For example, the hero transforms into Ultraman about 2/3 of the way into the show. But a movie is much longer than a TV episode – maybe about three times longer. So it has to have several climaxes. Of course, the final climax will be at the end, but before that, I have to create smaller climaxes.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: When it comes to writing for the monsters, were you specific with writing monsters?

HY: Of course, a screenwriter creates the story, so I would write in the script when a monster would smash a building or use its beam. But at the beginning, the monster designer created the monster and suggested the rough shapes and specifications for the monsters. I explained the monsters that I needed. In the script, I would write that the monster destroys a building or emits its rays. Not all the monsters could be completed with just a one-sided opinion. There was a meeting with the monster designer.

I never met or talked to the designer (of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla’s monsters) directly. Usually, the screenwriter would talk to the producer and director. So I never met with the designer directly. Usually, I talked to the producer, and he told me about the details of the monsters. So I communicated with the monster designer through the producer. Now I wish I could have met and talked with the designer.

BH: Do you have any favorite things that you wrote into the screenplay?

HY: My favorite themes are love stories and the way people live. If I only think about writing the story, it wouldn’t be so deep. The work depends on the theme of the story. The characters are also important in making the theme.

For example, in the Ultra Seven episode “The 0.1 Second Kill,” there was a competition between two men: One was elite and very highly educated, and the other was not. But there was a very big competition between them. Putting in those details makes the story more interesting. I enjoy the process of writing those stories.

BH: Before we continue, is there anything else you’d like to share about the screenplay for Mechagodzilla?

HY: At that time, the director lived in an apartment in Gotokuji, Setagaya Ward. I went there, and we talked a lot about the production. I remember that we talked a lot in his apartment. We discussed many ideas at his apartment, but I wrote the screenplay at my home. Of course, that was for the first draft. After I wrote the first draft, I brought it to Toho Studios, and then we discussed it with some other staff members.

BH: Do you remember what you had to change for the second draft?

HY: I don’t remember well, but I think the comments were about how the monsters fought and how to use King Caesar effectively. The director’s perspective is different from the screenwriter’s, so we had to discuss it. I don’t remember specifically what I had to change.

BH: Overall, what did you think about the final film?

HY: Since it was low-budget, and considering the original Godzilla, the crowd scenes were not so dynamic. It was low-budget. (laughs)

BH: The next Godzilla movie was a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla called Terror of Mechagodzilla. A different writer was chosen. Would you know why you weren’t chosen to write that script?

HY: I don’t know the reason. (laughs)

BH: Her name was Yukiko Takayama. Did she ever contact you to ask you questions?

HY: (in English) Nothing. (laughs)

BH: After this, you did Ultraman 80 and Izenborg.

HY: I don’t remember those well. (laughs)

BH: What did you think of Izenborg? Izenborg combines anime and tokusatsu.

HY: It was difficult to connect animation and tokusatsu. I think later they did just all animation. The quality of animation was not so good because they asked subcontractors to do the animation, and the subcontractor hired another subcontractor to do it. So the quality became worse.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: My last topic is Tokyo Blackout (1987). Please talk about how you got hired on this and working with Mr. (Toshio) Masuda.

HY: I don’t remember the name of the producer, but that producer from Daiei offered me this job. But before me, there were six screenwriters who wrote screenplays for it. It was based on the novel by Sakyo Komatsu. Six screenwriters wrote screenplay drafts, but the Kansai TV people and director Masuda didn’t like them. So I was offered the job, and I wrote a draft, which they liked. So I was hired.

After I wrote the screenplay, Mr. Masuda added some things to the script, which is why he was credited as co-screenwriter.

BH: So you didn’t directly collaborate with each other.

HY: My draft was totally accepted by Kansai TV, but afterward, Mr. Masuda rewrote it to his own style. But I don’t think it was a major rewrite.

BH: Do you know what he changed?

HY: I think director Masuda was from Toei. The way Toei characters would speak was a little bit different. The style of my script was that of Daiei. Toei has its own style, and Daiei has its own style. So it’s a little different. Director Masuda changed the dialogue a little bit more to the Toei style.

BH: Why is it that you got it right, and these six other writers got it wrong? What did you do differently?

HY: I added something that was not in the original novel, and Sakyo Komatsu liked it. What I did was, I added a band of young people. They played music for the people who were trapped in the cloud. They gave them music. That was my idea, and Mr. Komatsu liked it.

BH: Do you have any other memories of Mr. Masuda or Mr. Komatsu?

HY: When the film was completed, Mr. Komatsu liked and admired it. I love his work, especially Submersion of Japan. His scale is very big. If Mr. Komatsu wrote Shin Godzilla, it would have been very different.

BH: How would it have been different?

HY: In Shin Godzilla, government offices were the main setting. But I think the perspective of Mr. Komatsu would be more anarchic.

BH: What did you think of Shin Godzilla?

HY: (laughs) It was not my favorite. For those who experienced the Ultra series, everything was strangely too political, and there was no human touch. The politics was the main story, and I thought the last scene was not natural. So I felt everything was judged by politicians and the military.

Also, there was no emotional communication between Godzilla and humans. The previous Godzilla movies had the background that Japan experienced the atomic bomb twice, but there was no such emotional part. There was no Godzilla series romanticism. The whole movie was not moving.

When I watch a movie, and there are many scenes of destruction, I expect to feel an emotional reaction, but I didn’t have one here. Shin Godzilla was probably angry at human civilization, but it was not enough. There should be some reason that Shin Godzilla destroyed that much of the city, but the last scene in Shin Godzilla did not explain anything. Godzilla’s anger against humanity was lacking.

Also, there was no emotional connection between Godzilla and the humans. There was some sort emotional communication between Godzilla and humans (in previous films), but in Shin Godzilla, there wasn’t. Nothing was described.

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