It’s sometimes said that getting a movie made is a miracle. Nobody knows that better than Roger Holden. For 15 years, Mr. Holden worked with Toho director Yoshimitsu Banno (Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, 1971) to get a variety of Godzilla projects launched in both Japan and the United States. One of the projects, “Godzilla 3D to the Max,” is well-known to fandom, but the others are not. None of these projects was ultimately produced, but the history behind them is truly fascinating. In this August 2020 interview with Brett Homenick, Roger Holden tells his Godzilla story for the first time.
Brett Homenick: Please tell us a bit about your background. For example where were you born and went to school?
Roger Holden: I was born in the region now known as West Hollywood, California, in 1952 and spent my first five years nearby in Van Nuys in the guest house of the American actress Selena Royle and actor Georges Renavent. My mother was their house caretaker. I then moved to my grandparents’ farm near the small town of Wellsville, Kansas, with my mom and sister. There, I attended school until high school graduation. Soon afterwards, I moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where I attended the University of Kansas. Lawrence is where I have lived since 1972.
BH: Growing up, what were your hobbies?
RH: Following my first hearings of The Beatles’ music at age 13, I simply had to get an electric guitar and learn how to play it. My mom bought me one for a Christmas present. I eventually became very good and now proudly at 68 years of age still continue the pursuit of playing edgy rock music.
My other two major hobby interests growing up were astronomy and the study of the UFO phenomenon. Regarding UFOs, I was interested in the sightings that could not be publicly explained by experts and government officials. The vast majority of the sightings are of course misinterpretations of natural phenomenon, but the remaining percentage of unidentified reports intrigued me greatly and do so to this day.
BH: Were you a Godzilla fan as a child?
RH: Yes, like millions of other kids, I became a big fan of monster and science fiction movies that were shown on local broadcast TV. I remember around 1958 at the age of six being absolutely amazed by a TV commercial promoting the movie Rodan the Flying Monster (1956). The images from that TV trailer stuck with me, and I became hooked from then on. However, I was living on the farm at that time, and the family income was quite low. Unfortunately, that made going to the movie theater something out of the question for most of my years growing up.
Fortunately, though, on every Sunday a regional TV station would broadcast a monster or sci-fi movie for viewers. These included outer space invasion movies, giant people and bug movies, teenage werewolf movies, and yes every two or three months, the king of them all, Godzilla. Until 1970, I was watching these on a black-and-white TV set. Without these great local Sunday regional TV broadcasts, I would have missed out completely of any Godzilla or for that matter most monster movies. I became a huge fan of these movies, as did so many other people of my generation through TV.
BH: How did you become involved in the entertainment business?
RH: My mom was the first inspiration for that. Selena Royle, the actress who employed her in Van Nuys, California, became aware that Mom had a noticeable talent for songwriting. Ms. Royle then introduced Mom to some of her Hollywood associates. Those included her sister, Josephine Royle, whom mom wrote many songs with. Mom then recorded some of these songs with orchestral backing by Hollywood arrangers. Unfortunately, at the same time, the so-called Red Scare was happening in Hollywood, and Selena Royle was falsely accused of being a communist. Even though she proved that she was not a communist, the accusation ruined her acting career. Selena and Georges moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, and Mom moved to my grandparents’ farm in Kansas when I was five. Mom’s early 1950s musical efforts always inspired me growing up.
Besides music and playing in bands, I developed an interest in digital video technology in the middle to late 1970s. The University of Kansas in Lawrence is where one of the world’s first, if not the first, digital video frame buffers based on RAM memory was developed. That frame buffer was developed under the supervision of Dr. Robert Nunley, professor of geography. It was called the MAPS system, and I was one of the few students allowed by Dr. Nunley to work with it. Over time, I enthusiastically studied SIGGRAPH computer graphics journals and watched the evolution of ray tracing with frame buffers occurring. Simultaneously, I loved the Star Wars movies and researched their motion control techniques for achieving special effects with models and cameras on film.
In the early ‘80s, I was offered an independent project opportunity by Centron Films of Lawrence to create a complex motion control algorithm to robotically control an animation stand and camera. This was done in exchange for the system’s design and publicity rights. Centron at the time was one of the U.S.’s top award-winning industrial and educational film studios. This system was primarily based on an Atari 800 assembly language algorithm that I created to control stepping motors. As it turns out, the system allowed Centron Films to submit successful bids to film the vast majority of feature books for the first five seasons of the beloved Emmy Award-winning children’s TV series Reading Rainbow.
I was thrilled of course by that accomplishment. Famous celebrities, such as the legendary actor James Earl Jones and the awesome comedian Gilda Radner, were the narrators of those feature book segments. Those segments were visually realized through the accomplished Centron animation staff talent using the advantages of my motion control software system. Eventually, in 1987, I formed an animation studio of my own called Magic Visions in partnership with University of Kansas professor of law, actor, and philanthropist Charles Oldfather.
BH: Please tell us how you met Yoshimitsu Banno for the first time.
RH: I was in a small, three-piece musical group called The Jolly Ranchers who played an interesting, specialized style of folk music we called electric campfire. The songwriter for the group Rick Frydman had a friend, Dr. Rao Gollapudi, who would attend a lot of our practices. Rao was one of the central developers of a procedure for Taxol acquisition from leaves, as opposed to Pacific yew tree bark, for the treatment of cancer. We became friends, and one day in 1991, Rao offered to fund a business promotion trip for me to fly to Tokyo. He had a plant cancer medicine pioneer colleague who lived there, where I could stay at, while I was conducting my business promotions. The person was Dr. Noboru Motohashi, professor of medicinal chemistry, Meiji College of Pharmacy.
I contacted the Kansas Department of Commerce for assistance. They put me in touch with Robert Hitchner, who was their Tokyo representative. Mr. Banno was an acquaintance of his. Mr. Hitchner’s office then set up the meeting between Mr. Banno and myself, for which I am forever grateful.
Dr. Motohashi and his wife, with whom I stayed, helped immensely to assure that I would meet all appointments during this visit and a followup visit, which occurred the next year. For this first meeting, I rode the train and a car to a restaurant near the Toho building where I met with Mr. Banno for a supper meeting. There, I learned of Mr. Banno’s extensive background at Toho. I also discussed my background and how I might be able to offer animation services or related equipment design.
After the meeting, Mr. Banno gave me a tour of the local night market and nightclub scene. We went inside a bar he liked and, over a few rounds of sake and Kirin beer, discussed fun things like music. His favorite was the music of jazz legend Charles Mingus.
As I left, Mr. Banno wished me a safe journey back to Lawrence, Kansas, and he said, “By the way, I co-produced and co-wrote the anime movie version of The Wizard of Oz.” I thought to myself what an incredible day.
BH: What were your initial impressions of Mr. Banno?
RH: First of all, I was very glad to see that he possessed a lot of practical English skills. I knew extremely little of the Japanese language, so this was fortunate for our ease of communication.
He first informed me of his devotion to warning people of the environmental catastrophe in the world through his smog monster kaiju movie Godzilla vs. Hedorah (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, 1971) and how this movie was inspired by his reading of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. I learned of his many great accomplishments while working for Toho. He worked as the assistant director for the legendary Akira Kurosawa. He established an underwater filming team for the studio and directed many underwater documentary films of sharks and giant sea mammals. He developed the Japanese large format film technology called JAPAX, which was similar to IMAX. He also developed a 3D version of that system which used two JAPAX projectors.
He directed and produced many film and television projects for Toho and eventually became the executive director of Toho’s Audiovisual Planning Department. He was extremely courteous and showed genuine interest in my background and the various projects I was undertaking. One of those that intrigued him being that my company Magic Visions had just received a research grant of about $12,000 from the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation to explore communicating imagery to sightless people through complex tactile vibrations to the skin.
During this first meeting with Mr. Banno, I was feeling very fortunate to have the opportunity of dialogue with such a dynamic creator in the Godzilla and audiovisual spectrum. I was an unknown person to him traveling from the USA, promoting my animation studio and talents. To me, it was as if somebody, relatively unknown, from another country came to Hollywood and was set up immediately to meet with a director of a classic Star Trek movie or similar. He encouraged me to stay in touch and that he was open to the possibility of future project exploration together.
BH: What projects did you and he work on at first?
RH: During the first year after the meeting, I pursued an idea I had for a Godzilla movie that Mr. Banno had encouraged me to develop further.
BH: I understand that you were able to pitch a Godzilla movie idea to Toho in 1992 through your contact with Mr. Banno. Your idea was called “Godzilla 2001” and it was about a “computer generated Godzilla terrorizing a future society.” Please tell us about this concept.
RH: In a followup letter to our first meeting, I suggested that idea. The idea first occurred to me on the plane ride back from Japan. I was thinking of post-meeting ideas that I could present to Mr. Banno after I returned to the U.S. Almost immediately, this futuristic idea came to mind, so I thought why not suggest it? After all, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
It was the year 1991, so I thought 10 years from now is 2001, the year of the Arthur C. Clarke story. Thus, a perfect title would be the name “Godzilla 2001.” Immediately what came to mind was a computer-generated Godzilla terrorizing a future society. I was not thinking just CGI effects. I was meaning that somehow Godzilla would be transformed into a stomping digital wireframe creature wreaking death and destruction. That’s where the movie idea started.
After arriving home in the U.S., I wrote a letter of thanks to Mr. Banno for meeting with me and expressed wishes for us to explore possible audiovisual ideas together in the future. In that letter, I proposed “Godzilla 2001” as one of those ideas. Mr. Banno’s response to this followup letter included the quote, “beautiful ideas and stories for the next God[z]illa picture are being sought now. Your idea ‘Godzilla 2001[,]’ computer-generated Godzilla terrorizing a future society, is quite interesting. If you could extend your idea into a story, please send it to me.”
Needless to say, I was thrilled after reading his response, so I called him up to discuss the idea further. During the call, he said that if I decided to visit Tokyo again, I could present this idea to Toho in person as a potential movie project, but of course he could not promise that it would ever be made. I decided to take him up on that offer. Accordingly, I spent a good part of the year in preparation so as to make the best possible case for the realization of this Godzilla movie project idea sometime in the future.
I immediately tried to expand on the idea and what developed was a written synopsis of Godzilla fighting a gigantic morphing, virtual-reality monster. This monster is created from the misuse of a virtual reality system that has been combined with technology from a crashed UFO. Next, I started to seek the support of many professionally talented people for the project so that I could develop a well-thought-out and achievable proposal to bring to Toho. I started by asking a local music producer and Godzilla fan, Bill Rich, to assist me in writing an initial movie treatment of my synopsis.
Through my contacts, I was soon thrilled to acquire the support of rock music legend Todd Rundgren’s state-of-the-art digital video production studio NUtopia. NUtopia offered to provide the creation of digital special effects for the proposed project. They were using a large setup of NewTek’s Lightwave 3D ray-tracing and “Video Toaster” technology for special effects production. At the time, other studios were using NewTek’s Lightwave 3D ray-tracing technology to produce special effects for movies and science fiction TV series, such as Babylon 5. NUtopia founding member John Sanborn would oversee any potential involvement in ”Godzilla 2001.” Mr. Sanborn was well known as a world leader in cutting edge artistic effect video production.
Pat Irwin, keyboardist for The B-52s on their classic album Cosmic Thing, founding member of The Raybeats, and music composer for nationally broadcast television series offered his support for musical involvement in “Godzilla 2001.” I proposed that this movie should have the best of two worlds. Toho’s traditional kaiju techniques should be used in many scenes while computer graphics should be used in others, as called for in the script. This approach sought a goal of traditional and new technological innovation working together to achieve the movie at traditional costs.
As mentioned, “Godzilla 2001” is a proposed story of Godzilla fighting a morphing virtual-reality monster that was created by the abuse of virtual reality and crashed UFO technology. The monster escapes into the real world to wreak havoc. Here are more of the specifics of the synopsis. At a secret lab, scientists have discovered that whenever there is video imagery from a virtual-reality system inputted to the UFO technology, it outputs a real world physical version of the images from the video input. For example, the video input could be that of a treasure chest of gold and silver coins, and the outputs are remarkably accurate creations of gold and silver coins that are indistinguishable from real ones.
One day, the lab is empty of people, and an unauthorized person sneaks in. That person does not know about the captured UFO technology, but he does know of the advanced virtual-reality system in the lab. He has been waiting for the day when no one is around so that he can watch his favorite monster movies on the advanced virtual reality system in the lab. He inputs to the system his collection of horror and giant monster movies and selects a morphing option to combine them all into one thrilling virtual-reality image.
This of course results in the captured UFO technology creating a real physical version of the morphing monster virtual-reality images. The monster kills the person and all the scientists who are elsewhere in the building. The horrible monster escapes into the outside world and grows gigantic to wreak havoc. The world unites to use Godzilla somehow to destroy it.
BH: What do you remember about the meeting at Toho?
RH: It was a partially rainy day in July 1992. Mr. Banno first gave me a personal tour of the indoor and outdoor Godzilla movie sets for the current film being undertaken, Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). He noted that the indoor miniature sets can take months to organize and set up but of course can also be destroyed by the Godzilla actor in a very short amount of time, so everything must be done right. As expected, they were amazingly crafted models of buildings and landscapes.
After that, we proceeded to the outdoor marina set where I observed the preparation for a scene involving the ocean. This filming was being supervised by the legendary special effects director Koichi Kawakita. It then started raining enough for Mr. Kawakita to take a short break in a nearby film and tool tent that was set up for the filming. Therein, Mr. Banno introduced me to Mr. Kawakita who would later, in an hour or so, meet with us for my formal presentation of the “Godzilla 2001” film proposal.
Mr. Banno suggested that we move nearby to Koichi Kowakita’s office and wait for him to finish the scene being filmed. After Mr. Kawakita arrived, I proceeded for about a half an hour to present the story and plan of “Godzilla 2001.” I was very fortunate to have with me a translator, Professor Kora Kato of Kanagawa University from Lawrence’s sister city Hiratsuka, who kindly volunteered to do so.
Mr. Kawakita found the presentation interesting but very politely informed me they would not be able to fund the movie and that many stories are submitted to them on an ongoing basis. So I then asked Mr. Banno about the possibility of continuing efforts in the future with “Godzilla 2001” if I could find funding for it. His response was that he was open to some discussion at a later time. Indeed, I did try a few years later unsuccessfully to revive the “Godzilla 2001” project.
Anyway, the multi-million-dollar deal between TriStar Pictures and Toho was very soon underway in full force. I am proud and honored that Mr. Banno was impressed with me enough to arrange this formal presentation at Toho. Although the meeting went the direction that it did go, I knew that I was very privileged to have been in the presence of these legendary filmmakers in the inner sanctum of Godzilla, Toho Studios, and being allowed to present a movie project for consideration. Though it did not work out to be realized, the undertaking of this project kickstarted my adventuresome path for future project explorations with Mr. Banno.
BH: After the Toho meeting in 1992 and prior to “Godzilla 3D to the Max,” did you and Mr. Banno discuss any other projects?
RH: Yes, very much so. Mr. Banno retired from Toho in the spring of 1994 and then started the promotion of his independent film projects. During that time period, there were very many ideas and projects discussed and promoted ranging from underwater epics with whales to the paintings and poetic words of Akira Kurosawa brought to full life in an IMAX format. Out of these many media attempts, one stands out as the very most important to me, as you will soon hear, so I want to present a lot of detail. To present you that media attempt in its fullest context, let me start off by sharing quotes from two email messages sent to me more than 10 years later from Mr. Banno, one from October 2012 and the other from June 2014.
In the 2012 message, he says, “I succeeded to realize ‘Godzilla’ cooperating Mr. Thomas Tull, chairman of Legendary Pictures Production, LLC. I am attaching the articles of its press preview. It took almost twenty years from your first idea to promote the ‘Godzilla’ project. I appreciate greatly your kind help in the beginning time.”
In the second email message from 2014, he says, “‘Godzilla’ is making a tremendous record of mega-hit in the world. It started this plan eighteen years ago by your idea to make a TV series of ‘Godzilla vs. Hedora.’ I appreciate greatly your earnest help of promotion in the beginning stage.”
After sharing those two dramatic quotes with you, I feel it is a good time in this interview to emphatically express that I have no legal claims to any Godzilla or Toho intellectual property. The Toho Company is always the final word on all such matters. In this interview, what I am doing is simply clarifying some little-known but important Godzilla-related media history that has occurred during my life because of my association with Mr. Banno.
This idea of mine, a Godzilla vs. Hedorah TV series, which he refers to as the beginning stage that eventually led to his realization of the 2014 Legendary Pictures Godzilla movie, was one of a few ideas that I presented to him around 1996. Another one of those ideas I suggested at that time was to explore the making of a live-action TV series of Godzilla battling a variety of kaiju inspired by Toho traditions. Though many of the Godzilla intellectual property rights were obviously tied up at the time with the TriStar Godzilla movie production, the ideas that I suggested were ones I thought we might possibly be able to explore. I of course had no way of knowing if any of those ideas could be considered by Toho, and I would defer to Mr. Banno to find out. I never heard back from Mr. Banno on those two particular ideas until May of 1998.
He wrote me then that Toho had already licensed a U.S. company the remake rights for a TV animation series, but a live-action series for TV remained available at this time. He further mentioned he hoped I would be successful in making this TV project materialize and that I should make an offer in regard to the basic terms to a person that he recommended in Toho management. I followed Mr. Banno’s advice and wrote to this person that I would like to promote the making of a live-action TV series titled “GODZILLA: BEYOND 2001.” The goal of the series would be to share the great Toho tradition of Godzilla in a fun and entertaining weekly TV series. I also suggested the basic terms for the proposed series.
Later, in May of 1998, I received a reply from Mr. Banno’s contact at Toho that the Godzilla animated TV series was scheduled to be broadcast in the U.S. that fall and that they would first like to see how it would be received. Therefore, they would not enter negotiations with me [at] this time. I then discussed with Mr. Banno the response I received back from Toho. Mr. Banno told me he was informed in discussions with that person that if we want to talk with them about producing a Godzilla live-action TV series, then we must partner ourselves with a major TV network or company who would spend a substantial amount on the series.
Two months later, in August 1998, I wrote to Mr. Banno that I had some ideas on how to revive our efforts with the proposed live-action Godzilla TV series and that I might contact an American network called the Sci-Fi Channel in a month or two and explore possible interest in the project. I was simply planning to call them up and proceed from there, as I had no previous contact with the network.
A little while later, I asked my friend Gil Bavel if he wanted to help with these efforts to create and promote an American live-action Godzilla TV series. He enthusiastically responded yes. I was first introduced to Gil a few years earlier by Bill Rich. Bill was the music producer who assisted me in writing the fuller proposed movie treatment of my synopsis, “Godzilla 2001.” As I got to know Gil through musical collaborations, I found out that he was extremely well-versed in science fiction literature, science fiction movies, and kaiju monster movie culture. He also was an accomplished science fiction writer. Some of his science fiction appeared in the Simon & Schuster book, Revelation X: The ‘Bob’ Apocryphon. Gil won a laureate from Iliad Press in 1990 and appeared in their anthology Images.
Gil started his efforts immediately on the proposed live-action TV project and to my great surprise established a central contact with the Sci-Fi Channel in just two weeks’ time. How that happened was that he was attending a University of Kansas basketball game and noticed in the crowd the host of a popular Sci-Fi Channel series called Sci-Fi Buzz. Mike Jerrick, the host of Sci-Fi Buzz, was at the game because his daughter attended the University of Kansas. Gil then invited Mr. Jerrick to discuss the proposed Godzilla live-action TV series project. A meeting was set up for the near future.
At this point, I contacted my friend Oliver Hall to become involved. I originally met Oliver a few years after I met Gil. He visited my office one day to introduce himself and to tell me of his background. Oliver was a filmmaker developing a children’s TV series named Tungston Turtle. He had succeeded in having some episodes of Tungston Turtle broadcast in South Africa. I soon noticed that Oliver was very talented in networking with people and companies from around the globe. He also was well-versed in popular kaiju media culture, so when the moment came in spring 1997 that Mr. Banno asked me to recommend someone to be his North American agent, I recommended Oliver. Oliver then became Mr. Banno’s North American agent.
I informed Mr. Banno of all the developments and the upcoming meeting with the Sci-Fi Channel’s Mike Jerrick. He responded enthusiastically and presented some ideas to me for the proposed series. Those suggestions advocated for a push of the proposed series to be centered around the other idea I had mentioned to him years before, that of a Godzilla vs. Hedorah live-action TV series. After discussing those suggestions here in Lawrence, it was determined that the proposed series would start off with a first episode comprising an action-packed script wherein Godzilla battles Hedorah. The first season would also end with an extraordinary episode of Godzilla battling Hedorah, leaving the audience with a cliffhanger climax. Great anticipation would then build for the second season’s first episode, which would be Hedorah-oriented.
The title of the proposed series became “Godzilla: Defender of Earth.” In the series, Godzilla would encounter a variety of evil villains, monsters, and weird science. Mr. Banno let me know by fax [that] he had informed his contact in management at Toho that this project proposal was developing. The person responded and reaffirmed that Toho would welcome an agreement with a powerful company, such as one of the big three U.S. networks because they can afford large budgets. However, that person [felt] that the right conditions with the Sci-Fi Channel would be a good first step. In the same fax to me, Mr. Banno went on to say that he was looking forward [to] realizing this TV series. So we all then set out to create the right conditions to achieve this good first step, towards the goal of being allowed to conduct negotiations with Toho.
I was the project creator, and Gil Bavel was the project coordinator. Mr. Banno offered to write, direct, and produce for the proposed series. Oliver Hall, as Mr. Banno’s North American agent, would be representing Mr. Banno’s interests in regard to negotiations with the Sci-Fi Channel when they would occur. As project coordinator, Gil wrote the proposal that we submitted for the series, as well as some suggested episodic treatments. Oliver also established promotional contact with the Pepsi company.
I contacted Raybeats and B-52s musician Pat Irwin again and obtained his interest for musical involvement in the proposed project. I should mention that Pat Irwin, over his award-winning career, has scored hundreds of cartoons, including SpongeBob SquarePants and Rocko’s Modern Life. I also contacted University of Kansas graduate Stephen R. Johnson, whom I met about a decade before. Stephen was the original director of the beloved Pee-wee’s Playhouse TV series and Peter Gabriel’s classic “Sledgehammer” clay-animation music video. He expressed interest in offering his artistic and directing talents to the series. A Lawrence company, Forcade & Associates, also offered studio space for any filming that might occur locally.
It seemed like adequate momentum was building for achieving a good first step with this proposed project when disappointing news came from Mr. Banno. He had just learned that while the rights to a live-action series were available under proper conditions, the rights to merchandising products, such as figurines for the proposed series, were not. Those rights had already been granted to another company. That news led to the abrupt ending of our live-action TV series effort. Merchandising was a central factor in such an endeavor so as to attract both advertisers and sponsorship. With the rights to merchandising being unavailable to us, the efforts for the live-action television series could not be continued.
Although the project ended in a disappointing way for all of us, Mr. Banno saw the momentum of this project as an opportunity and inspiration for him to revive Godzilla battling Hedorah for a huge new audience. Thus, he could continue a message to the world, through film metaphors, of impending world environmental catastrophe if we do not change our ways. This undertaking of the proposed Godzilla live-action TV series project kindled a new fire and stage of motivation in his life to continue forward with the quest that he had started decades before. That quest continued in his subsequent efforts to promote a variety of Godzilla and associated environmental kaiju film projects. Those future efforts would eventually lead to the realization of the Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Godzilla films, of which he became executive producer.
I am thankful to the many talented people who expressed interest and support for this proposed project. I especially want to point out the dedication of my talented friends, Gil Bavel and Oliver Hall. They along with myself put a lot of time and effort in this project to [ensure] that it was a viable possibility. Without the involvement of Gil and Oliver, the project might have remained an idea not as vigorously undertaken and thus not inspiring Mr. Banno to pursue the great path he later pursued. I am so proud that this first idea became the beginning time for his realization of the great things which followed.
BH: Please talk about the genesis of “Godzilla 3D to the Max.”
RH: In December of 2003, Mr. Banno sent me his first plan of a proposed thirty-to-forty-minute-long IMAX film “Godzilla vs. Deathla to the Max,” along with the story synopsis for the film. He was in the process of obtaining the license from Toho that would grant him the permission to do so. Around the time of this proposed project, I had formed Whitecat Productions, LLC, to represent my personal media involvement with Mr. Banno’s projects. His projects were under the umbrella of the company that he founded, Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc.
As I mentioned before, Mr. Banno was a pioneer of large format film production in Japan. In 1985, he developed the 70mm JAPAX system which was similar to IMAX and over time produced 15 large format movies for various expositions and theme parks, some of which also used his 3D cubic system-based on the JAPAX large format film technology.
The proposed “Godzilla 3D to the Max” film was dedicated to Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, the book that warned of world environmental catastrophe through the overuse of pesticides. The same book, as I previously mentioned, was a major inspiration for Mr. Banno’s creation of the kaiju Hedorah. With this film project using a new Hedorah character, Yoshimitsu Banno was wanting to point out the environmental problems to which we must take urgent measures to reverse. In the plan, he describes Deathla as the new name of the Smog Monster. Deathla comes from outer space and is set up as a species of alien that eats chlorophyll, bringing about death and destruction worldwide. Godzilla fights with Deathla to protect the beautiful, green Earth.
At this stage of the project, Mr. Banno designated that he was producer/director, and I be co-producer. Mr. Banno also asked Gil Bavel to assist him to develop the scenario further.
This first plan was followed in March and April of 2004 with an updated plan and synopsis revisions written by Mr. Banno. He made a proposal for Gil to be story consultant for the film. Mr. Eiichi Asada, who was the special effects director for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), was designated to be the special effects director of this film. The director of photography was to be Kitaro Kanematsu. Kenji Okuhira, who wrote for national publications and who was a long time friend of Mr. Banno, was assigned to be line producer for the film. Kenji Okuhira visited Lawrence around this time. I found him to be very helpful and practical.
Soon thereafter in May, I received a brand-new plan from Mr. Banno titled “Godzilla to the Max/3D.” This new plan was the first one to involve 3D production and included many of the plot ideas Mr. Banno had written for “Godzilla vs Deathla to the Max.” In this first stage of the 3D project, Mr. Banno was to be the general producer and director. I was designated to be producer. Eiichi Asada was designated to be special effects director. Kenji Okuhira was assigned to be associate producer. The screenplay was designated to be written by Mr. Banno and other writers.
The monster design was to be undertaken by the acclaimed concept artist Syd Mead, who had done similar work for the movies Blade Runner, Tron, and Aliens. Kenji Okuhira at this time had also been able to recruit Peter Anderson as visual effects director for this new 3D project. Mr. Anderson was also designated to be cinematographer alongside Kitaro Kanematsu. Mr. Anderson previously was the director of 3D photography and visual effects supervisor for such popular tourist attractions as Shrek 4-D, T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, Pirates: 3D Show, and Michael Jackson’s Captain EO. The executive adviser was Aki Yamamoto, who was the former president of IMAX Japan. I could now see that this 3D project of Mr. Banno’s had achieved an astounding level of merit.
A little while later, Brian Rogers, who was a producer of the T2 3-D Universal Studios attraction and other attractions, joined the project. The project then transformed into “Godzilla 3D to the Max” wherein Mr. Banno was the general producer. I, Kenji, and Brian were the co-producers. Peter Anderson was to be director of photography/supervisor of visual effects, and Eiichi Asada as the special effects director. The screenplay was designated to be written by Mr. Banno and other writers. Mr. Banno also was to be director of the film, and Keith Melton, whose credits included Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man, was to be co-director.
BH: What were your contributions to the project?
RH: I was definitely working a lot with Mr. Banno and Kenji Okuhira on the financial analysis of the business plan. Most importantly, though, for this project, it was my assigned task to achieve American funding for the film. Unfortunately, I was not being successful at that task after two years of attempts. As a result, I had learned that some of the newer professionals recruited for this project were wondering about my ability and commitment to achieve financial backing for the film. I had to agree with their concerns. In reality, this project of Mr. Banno’s was a part-time effort for myself. My full-time pursuit was the company which I was then president of, 21st Century Sound and Vision, Inc. The designing and promotion of a holographic display that I co-invented with Lawrence resident Robert Babcock were my full-time tasks for the company.
In 2005, we had just succeeded in having our patented holographic display featured in an episode of the Discovery Channel’s special series, Science of Star Wars. The Discovery Channel’s inclusion of our holographic display in the series was due to the promotional efforts in Las Vegas of [my] business associate Jerry Griggs. In that episode, the incredible C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels presented our technology to the general public. It had taken us over a decade of committed efforts to achieve the realization of this holographic display technology. As a quick side note, I have in recent years patented a new holographic display. It’s trademarked as the Holodock, and I intend to pursue its commercialization through my business, Holodock LLC. The website is www.theholodock.com.
So the reality was that for me to find an opportunity of securing funding for the Godzilla film, I would have to devote a lot more time than I was currently doing, and I just could not do that. I was committed to devoting my full time to the holographic display promotion and really wanted to do so. It would not have been fair to Mr. Banno and the others on the team for me to insist on continuing my co-producing role only on a part-time basis. If I did insist on part-time participation, it probably would have resulted in others backing out of the project and the project coming to an end.
Going forward, I did not want to lessen the devotion of the other, very accomplished filmmakers in the project by insisting on a part-time commitment for myself. I called up fellow co-producer Brian Rogers — I think it was during the spring 2006 — to discuss this and told him of my full-time commitment to my holographic display co-invention. I offered to leave the Godzilla project so that others in the project would not be overly concerned. I then wished Brian and the rest of the project participants the best of luck. Brian wished me and my holographic display efforts the best of luck, too. Thus, at that moment my participation in this wonderful film project came to an end. Likewise, Whitecat Productions and myself having any legal claims as to what would happen with the project going forward also came to an end. Around this time, the project was updated, and the name was changed to “Godzilla 3D.”
BH: In retrospect, what chances do you think “Godzilla 3D to the Max” realistically had of being produced?
RH: I feel that the high quality production standards Mr. Banno proposed for “Godzilla 3D to the Max” would have resulted in it being received with great enthusiasm by IMAX audiences. It would have been an enjoyable film event that was prescient on environmental issues in metaphorical ways. It would have been a breakthrough 3D film, especially with the involvement of people from Mr. Banno’s team, like Peter Anderson, Brian Rogers, and Eiichi Asada. So what I am trying to convey here is that if “Godzilla 3D to the Max” was fortunate enough to have been
funded, it would have been successful. My earlier financial analysis indicated that this thirty-to-forty-minute IMAX film would have paid for itself and profited over time. However, as I mentioned, the part-time efforts I undertook to secure funding for the movie were not working out. I had little chance of raising the budget unless I was devoting my full time to the efforts. Such full-time efforts were something I could not undertake.
So Whitecat Productions and myself were now out of the project loop. I did not hear again from Mr. Banno until October of 2012. From internet searches, my best understanding as to what happened thereafter was the following: Around 2007, Mr. Banno’s Advanced Audiovisual Productions team approached the Kerner Optical company. As a result, Kerner Optical expressed serious interest in working on the film. Kerner Optical was originally founded as the physical effects unit of George Lucas’ special effects company, Industrial Light & Magic.
During this period, the Godzilla project team decided to change the IMAX large format 3D short film approach to a full feature-length 3D movie approach. That required the Banno team to renegotiate the large format film license with Toho into a full 3D feature film license. This was done in the hope of increasing chances for securing investment. Toho did grant the new license.
As it turned out, the efforts with Kerner Optical came to an end, as Kerner was having financial problems of their own. Next, all the efforts of Mr. Banno’s Advanced Audiovisual Productions team went into putting to best use the new license they had acquired from Toho. They approached Legendary Pictures with the project, and this time an epic deal was successfully brokered. In this deal, Mr. Banno agreed to return the rights to Toho.
Toho could then make a new contract with Legendary Pictures. The new contract allowed Legendary Pictures to reboot the Godzilla project and change the storyline with Toho’s approval. Legendary Pictures then made Mr. Banno and Kenji Okuhira executive producers of the Godzilla films and Brian Rogers as a producer of those films. The 2014 Godzilla movie was produced in association with Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc. Importantly, Mr. Banno was extremely happy to see that environmental themes were included in the Legendary Pictures Godzilla.
BH: Are there any misconceptions or false rumors about “Godzilla 3D” that you’d like to correct for the record?
RH: This interview has been a great avenue for me to present the relevant information I feel should be known about how I got involved with Mr. Banno and what I was doing, so I am very happy with that.
BH: Overall, how would you describe your relationship with Yoshimitsu Banno?
RH: I am a very fortunate person to have met and collaborated with him. It was a great honor to have earned his friendship and trust to the level that I could examine and promote his film ideas. As I have mentioned, he showed respect, encouragement, and involvement with some of my ideas, as well. One of those ideas inspiring him to pursue the path that eventually led to the Legendary Pictures Godzilla films.
After he became an executive producer for the Legendary Pictures Godzilla films, Mr. Banno allowed me to continue in the promotion of his new independent film projects. He was giving me the kindness of opportunity to assist with his further motion picture quests. To see all this unfold, from that TV ad for Rodan the Flying Monster I watched at six years of age to what eventually happened later in my life, I say kampai!
BH: Do you have any other anecdotes or memories from your association with Godzilla and/or Mr. Banno that you’d like to share?
RH: One last memory, for sure. In May of 2017, less than a week before his death, Mr. Banno sent me what turned out to be his last creative endeavor and wish regarding his great kaiju creation and Toho property, Hedorah the Smog Monster. His wish was for me to forward a letter and movie plan to the great filmmaker Tim Burton. In the letter, he asks Mr. Burton to direct and participate in the realization of this last film proposal, “Hedorah vs. Midora.” The film would speak to today’s environmental catastrophes of climate change and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in the tradition of a kaiju battle. In Mr. Banno’s words, “‘Midora’ means ‘Green’ in Japanese language symbolizing the abundant woods and agriculture … ‘Midora’ fights with ‘New Hedora’ in order to protect the Great Nature.”
At the time, I did make some efforts to contact Mr. Burton, but those were based on general Internet searches for contact information. Those efforts were unsuccessful. It would be wonderful if somehow Mr. Burton is made aware of Mr. Banno’s last wishes because of this interview. I would most gladly forward those files to him. I personally think such a film could be made affordably using the new immersive media techniques and involvement of new independent audiovisual creators.
BH: Do you have any closing comments?
RH: I especially want to thank you for this opportunity to present my story of collaborating with the great Yoshimitsu Banno. I have wished to share this story publicly for a long time. As it is brand-new information to most Godzilla fans and media participants, I felt the responsibility to present considerable detail in most of the interview to provide a fuller context. Again, many thanks, Brett.