THE MAN WHO MADE GAMERA ROAR! Screenwriter Niisan Takahashi on Creating Japan’s Remarkable Flying Turtle!

Niisan Takahashi in April 2013. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Niisan Takahashi (February 3, 1926 – May 5, 2015) , whose real name was Yukito Takahashi, was born in Tamamuracho, Sawa District, Gunma Prefecture. As a screenwriter who joined Daiei in the 1950s, Mr. Takahashi would essentially create the character of Gamera through his screenplays for the Showa-era Gamera series, running from 1965 through 1980. On April 6, 2013, Mr. Takahashi was interviewed by Yasushi Okuyama and Brett Homenick about his lengthy career as a scriptwriter for both film and television. This interview was translated by Maho Harada.

VPI: So, you’ve written scripts for Daiei and Nikkatsu, and Shochiku, as well.

NT: I’ve done them all.

VPI: You’ve done them all. First of all, how long were you at Daiei? What led you to work at Daiei?

NT: That’s a very important point. In 1948, Shochiku Ofuna was recruiting script researchers [scriptwriting students]. They put an ad in the national paper and about 3,000 people applied, and 300 people were shortlisted based on their applications. Those 300 people came to Ofuna to take an exam, and 30 people were selected. The most famous of the 30 is Sukago Hashida.

VPI: Oh yes, you mentioned that.

NT: Every week, we had to write a story for a film. Each time we wrote one, it would be returned to us and distributed to the class. The teacher would say, “So-and-so, please read out loud the one you think is the best.” We had to do this in front of everyone.

Of the entire class, I was the only one who had to read his or hers out loud twice. Zenzo Matsuyama was one of the 30, as well.

Once you pass, you can remain in the group. But, among the 30 students, I didn’t make it. We had to write an original script, which was like a graduation thesis. This script was judged by Shochiku headquarters, which had the best people among all the film companies, and these people were the judges. For the original script I wrote, half the judges gave me an A ranking out of ABCD, and the other half gave me a C ranking, which was the worst. The result was that I didn’t get a B ranking, so I wasn’t able to stay in the group and was let go.

VPI: So it didn’t work out for you at Shochiku?

NT: No, it didn’t work out. At the time, I had a teacher who was a well-known, veteran screenwriter. His house was close to the studio, and I had the nerve to go visit him, saying, “Oh, this is where you live!” This teacher told me that half the judges had given me the highest ranking and the other half had given me the worst ranking, and since their average wasn’t a B, I didn’t make it. This teacher said he had given me the best grade. He said, “Would you be my son-in-law?” I didn’t know what to think.

He said, “There’s nothing I can do for you since Shochiku has already made its decision. But what I can do is introduce you to an old colleague. I’ll write an introduction letter for you.” That happened to be Shota Suda, who was the studio manager and Daiei executive. The studio manager! So he wrote me an introduction letter. And that’s how I joined Daiei.

VPI: That was in 1948?

NT: The latter half of 1948. So, in 1948, I went to [to have a meeting there], but at Daiei they told me to write more scripts or something to that effect, and it didn’t work out. Then, two years later in 1950, the Japan Writers Guild was recruiting through its first Newcomer Screenwriter Contest, which I somehow won. That was what got me in. So, at Daiei, they realized someone important had come knocking at their door. And that’s when I started working for them.

VPI: The first script you wrote was Laughter in Hell Paradise (1955)

NT: Yes, that was the first one at Daiei.

VPI: That was in the 1950s?

NT: 1955.

VPI: Right. Around that time, what was the most memorable moment for you?

NT: The fact that my script was made into a film for the first time. It was the first time for me.

VPI: That was Laughter in Hell Paradise?

NT: Yes.

VPI: Who was involved in that film? The original idea was by Tetsutaro Murano.

NT: Yes, Tetsutaro Murano.

VPI: And you wrote the script.

NT: [Eiji] Funakoshi played the lead role. His nickname was “ABC Ei-chan.” He was trained at the Daiei acting school but couldn’t land a decent role. When they tried to give him a role, the director looked at the script and gave him three options: option A, option B, and option C. But, when he tried, he couldn’t do any of them. So they decided to go back to option A and give him that role. That’s why they called him ABC Ei-chan. It was the first time he landed a lead role.

VPI: Oh, do you mean this film?

NT: It was also the first time I was given the opportunity to write a film. So it was a coincidence that both of us had our first breakthrough on the same film. You know, we’re talking about my entire life here, so it’s hard to simplify.

VPI: Yes, if we wanted to hear all your stories, one or two hours wouldn’t be enough.

NT: That’s why people say it would take two volumes if I wrote my autobiography. We’ve just talked about my work so far, not at all about my private life or my family. Which is even more incredible, in my case.

VPI: For today, let’s focus on your work.

NT: Sure.

VPI: This is later on [in your career], but how did you come to be part of the first Gamera movie [Gamera the Giant Monster, 1965]?

NT: Daiei President [Masaichi] Nagata went to the U.S. for a visit, and on the plane back, he looked out the window and saw something shaped like a turtle that was swimming. He thought, that’s strange, and looked out again but couldn’t see it anymore. He thought, maybe it was a cloud shaped like a turtle. At the time at Daiei, they were determined to make a kaiju eiga that could compete with Toho’s blockbuster Godzilla, no matter what it took.

At the monthly planning committee, when all producers and directors got together, he told them about his idea and said, “We have to make a kaiju eiga that can rival Godzilla! At next month’s meeting, you’d better come up with a proposal.”

Apparently, there were three ideas that were presented, including my Gamera. So they told me to do it. It was unusual to be at the planning committee. Usually, the producer doesn’t ask the screenwriter to write something. The screenwriter goes to the producer and says, I wrote this. But the producer was saying, this is what the company is saying, so please write something like this. There were three [ideas], but none of them was good. The one they decided to go with was the first proposal.

VPI: At the planning committee, did the producer Yonejiro Saito ask you to include a turtle?

NT: No.

VPI: Oh, he didn’t?

NT: No, but he did tell me Masaichi Nagata’s story about a turtle flying into a plane. So . . .

VPI: How did you hear about that?

NT: Masaichi Nagata personally told this to everyone at the planning committee.

VPI: Were you actually at the planning committee?

NT: I wasn’t actually there, but they told me to include that in the first Gamera movie, and Yonejiro Saito was at the meeting. And Yonejiro Saito later came to my house and told me about it.

So it was a all a bit strange. He called me and said, “This is what happened. It’s really urgent, really urgent. We have to come up with an original story.” He told me to come up with an idea before the next meeting. He said, “What will we do for the next year?” The meeting ended around 3:00 p.m., and he came to my house around 4:00 p.m., and we talked. He asked, “Mr. Takahashi, have you thought of something?” I told him that I had something. I already had the first draft by the time he came to my house.

VPI: In the form of a proposal?

NT: Yes. I’m calling it a proposal, but it essentially had the entire story, from the first scene of the film to the last scene.

VPI: It wasn’t a script, was it?

NT: You could call it the story or the script.

VPI: A simple outline of the story.

NT: Exactly. I had written the story in a way that movie professionals could understand what the first scene was, what the last scene was, and how the story would end. At the next meeting, the others were no good. This was the only good one, so they decided to go with it.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: So there were three proposals, of which yours was selected?

NT: Yonejiro called and told me what the Daiei president had said. He told me to come up with an idea, and that he would drop by my place on his way home. When he arrived, I already had the first story perfected. I had written it out exactly how I wanted it, and this became the first movie. That’s how the first movie came to be.

When we [my daughter and I] looked up my name [on the Internet], things like “The Man Who Roared at Masaichi Nagata” came up. So, if you look me up on this, you’ll find a lot of details about me.

VPI: Going back to your story Gamera, was the idea original?

NT: It’s 100% original.

VPI: Where did you get the idea? Did you base it on something?

NT: Nothing at all. I just said on the phone, “I understand.”

VPI: On the phone, you heard the story from Yonejiro Saito?

NT: No, no. He told me on the phone, “I’ll drop by on my way home. Think of something by then.” I thought, what is it going to be? But it wasn’t just an idea; I had created an entire story. And I didn’t base that story on anything or anything like that at all. It was 100% original.

It was typed up as is and presented at the next meeting. They decided to use it exactly as it was. Until then, I had presented proposals to outline a story, but it was the first time that a proposal was made into a film without changing a word.

VPI: That’s amazing.

NT: Because I loved these things. I used to love sci-fi movies and sci-fi novels when I was a child.

VPI: Like Ray Bradbury?

NT: Yes.

VPI: And Jules Verne?

NT: Yes.

VPI: Had you seen Toho’s Godzilla and other films?

NT: Sometimes. For Gamera, I think I had seen the first Godzilla movie. I thought, huh, that’s the kind of film they’re making now.

VPI: There wasn’t anything that served as an inspiration?

NT: No.

VPI: You just watched it?

NT: Yes.

VPI: Was Gamera the first film you worked on with [Noriaki] Yuasa? Was there something before Gamera, or was it the first time?

NT: Maybe. It might have been the first time.

VPI: He was just starting out as a director then, wasn’t he?

NT: Yes, he was a rookie. It might sound like I’m bragging, but I’m the one who turned [Noriaki] Yuasa into a full-fledged director. And I also turned Yonejiro Saito into a full-fledged producer. Because when I told them to do something a certain way, they would do it, and it would be successful.

VPI: What was your impression of Mr. Yuasa then? Did you have to teach him a lot?

NT: What became clear was that he was a man of many talents. That may sound abstract, but he had many talents. He was able to work within the budgeted time and money given by the company. He respected the financial aspect of filmmaking. That’s what I saw in him.

Daiei is a company, right? You have to work hard and stick to the number of days, not use up all the money. When he worked, he worked really hard. I was right about him.

VPI: He was punctual.

NT: Yes, and he stuck to the budget.

VPI: So you recognized his talent as a director, that he had what it took?

NT: Yes. Not so much his talent as a director, but more the financial side. I wasn’t enamored with his ideas or philosophy.

VPI: It was more about how he worked.

NT: Yes, exactly. In the early years, in the beginning [of my career], I did a lot of movies at Daiei.

Also, no matter what they asked, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. No matter what they asked, I would do it. I could do it and maintain a certain standard. It may be strange for me to say this myself, but I have that kind of talent.

VPI: You also made a lot of series, didn’t you?

NT: Yes.

VPI: In the second Gamera movie, [Gamera vs.] Barugon (1966), the content seems geared more toward adults. It also seems like there was a bigger budget.

NT: Yes. They saw that what we did amounted to something and would be useful, and the abacus would calculate itself [an expression meaning that it would be a moneymaker].

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: Did Daiei ask you to make this shift?

NT: Not at all. The same goes for my life outside of movies, but everything I’ve ever [written], I’ve written it the way I wanted. Neither the company nor the director ever limited what I wrote.

VPI: The company didn’t make any requests, seeing that it would bring in money? They gave you a budget and told you to write whatever you wanted?

NT: They just said, “We’ll leave it up to you.” I guess it was their way of trusting me. They knew that if they let me do it, I would respect the conditions and create something of a certain standard. They knew that I would produce results and make a good film.

But that’s not to say that the company had high expectations. As long as the numbers weren’t negative, and they didn’t end up in the red, they were fine. They knew I would fulfill their expectations. In a sense, they were using me, but I didn’t mind.

VPI: For Barugon, Mr. Yuasa did the tokusatsu, and Shigeo Tanaka was the director. What was the difference between Mr. Yuasa directing the the first film, and Mr. Tanaka directing the second?

NT: The company knew that they it would amount to something and make money. So, instead of using a rookie, they decided to go with Shigeo Tanaka, someone of quality and experience. I felt bad for Mr. Yuasa because that slowed down his career somewhat. I wasn’t indebted to Shigeo Tanaka to the point that I wouldn’t sleep with my feet pointing in his direction [a Japanese expression referring to how much you respect someone], but a lot of others were indebted to him.

Like I said before, I chose to go with Mr. Yuasa because I found him useful for getting things done. I would say that he was used. I feel bad for him, but it was mutual. [The studio used Mr. Yuasa, but Mr. Yuasa also used the studio.] As for me, I was able to make one film after another after that.

VPI: So you mean to say that Daiei thought that by choosing Shigeo Tanaka as the director, the quality of the film would be even better?

NT: I think so, yes. Shigeo Tanaka’s films until then weren’t second-rate, but he had only made the latest [trendy] films. But he also had a certain standard as well as experience, so they felt that they could trust him with the job. In reality, he got the job done and didn’t do anything wrong. But, as a director, he never had any ideas at all.

VPI: In that sense, I guess the older you get, the fewer ideas you have.

NT: No, it’s not about age. You either have it from a young age, or you don’t. I’m not being respectful, talking about someone much older and much more experienced than me like this, but . .

VPI: You thought that Mr. Yuasa was better?

NT: Yes, and he was easier to use [to get the movies made the way I wanted].

VPI: Was Mr. Tanaka older than you?

NT: In age? He was much older, by 20 years or so.

VPI: On average, how long does it take you to write a script?

NT: One week.

VPI: One week?

NT: Yes, I’m the fastest in all of Japan. The fastest one I wrote was in two days.

VPI: Right, you had mentioned two days. How do you usually write? Do you have a certain method or order?

NT: No. First, I think of the story. As I think of the story, it’s already done. And when the story is done, the script is already done. Afterwards, I just need to divide the script into more detailed sections.

VPI: Mr. Yuasa’s book was also titled The Man Who Created Gamera.

NT: Mr. Yuasa had an article in Reader’s Digest or something, a long time ago. He wrote an autobiography, too.

VPI: That’s right. He wrote about you getting angry at him. You got mad at him, and he brought you whiskey or something. It was something about saying your script was outdated or something.

NT: I don’t know.

VPI: He wrote about it.

NT: Really? It must have been his imagination. I don’t remember his saying anything like that or seeing anything about it.

VPI: He wrote that you got mad at him. He felt bad, and people from Daiei told him to go apologize, so he brought you a bottle of whiskey. But you said, “I don’t drink alcohol.”

NT: Yes, I remember. I remember clearly that he brought a bottle of whiskey. I didn’t understand why he did it [at the time], but I guess that’s why.

VPI: Yes, that’s what was written in his autobiography. Anyway, your scripts didn’t get re-written or corrected much, did they?

NT: No. Whenever I finished a script, I brought it to the studio. Once everyone had gotten together, I would read it out loud, and people would say what they thought about it. There were small things, like my not remembering details, but the script was never turned upside down, and no one ever rejected the first draft of my scripts.

VPI: So there were very few re-writes?

NT: Yes. There were a few small corrections, but that was it.

VPI: Compared to Barugon, [Gamera vs.] Gyaos (1967) was geared more for children.

NT: Yes.

VPI: And, from that point onward, it seems like the films were more and geared more toward children.

NT: Yes, that was the case.

VPI: I’m not sure if we can call it a change, but was there a reason that the films were geared more toward children from Barugon onward?

NT: The company requested to include children. There was an American girl or something, and they said, “Use her, use her.” They told me it would be easier. I might be changing the subject, but I’ve always liked children. So it was right up my alley.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: It might have been from [Gamera vs.] Viras (1968).

NT: Yes.

VPI: Viras was a bit different, wasn’t it? There was a smaller budget for that film.

NT: That had the biggest impact. I was affected, and the company, Daiei, was dwindling. There wasn’t a lot of money anymore.

Oh, and the other thing was that the tokusatsu scenes were costly, so they told me to only include three scenes instead of four, or even limit it to two scenes. They imposed these kinds of limitations.

VPI: Because of the cost?

NT: Yes. There was no point in asking for more, so I just said OK. It was my job to deal with what I was given.

VPI: Also, it became geared more toward children. There were more children in the films, weren’t there? Was that also because of requests from Daiei?

NT: Yes, because Daiei fundamentally believed that kaiju movies were for children. Their minds were made up about it, regrettably.

VPI: Personally, I liked the balance in Gyaos. I think it’s the most balanced – it’s interesting for children while still being interesting for adults, too. It’s very well balanced. Barugon doesn’t have any children in it. I think the story is very interesting for adults, but it may be boring in parts for children.

NT: Many of the Barugon scenes are like yakuza movies for adults.

VPI: Going back a bit, did you create all the kaiju yourself?

NT: Yes.

VPI: Barugon, Gyaos, Guiron, Jiger – you created all of them.

NT: Yes, all of them.

VPI: What did you base them on? For example, did you base Gyaos on an animal?

NT: Nothing at all. This goes for all of them, but there’s nothing I used as a reference [or inspiration]. They were all my original ideas; I just wanted to do something that had never been done before.

VPI: Taking Gyaos, for example, he flies, drinks blood from human beings, and can’t stand daylight. When you decide their personalities, does one thing lead to the next, like a chain reaction?

NT: No. All I think about is how I can make the story more interesting. For example, if a kaiju breathes fire, I decide where it’s going to breathe fire from. If it catches a moving car, the car explodes and splits in two. I saw a car split in two at a car show and thought, that’s good, I can use that. That kind of thing did happen but very rarely.

In that sense, I’ve been very lucky. All my ideas have been made into films. I might sound like I’m bragging, but for Gamera, I usually wrote the scenes in seven or eight minutes. In story 2 or 3, if they ran out of ideas and were looking for something else, it could take 30 minutes to come up with something. But I myself could write everything out in eight or so minutes. That’s the only thing I’m proud of, and what I’m most proud of.

VPI: Going back to what we were talking about before, after Viras, there were more children and Westerners. In the scripts, did you have any special considerations for the Westerners?

NT: No. It was just a request from Daiei. They wanted to have Americans in the films because they wanted to export the films to the U.S. So I said, “I understand.” That’s all.

There’s a part of me that hates to lose [that’s competitive]. I could never bring myself to say, “I can’t do that; it’s impossible,” nor did I ever think that way. I always thought, there’s nothing I can’t do. That’s my personality. That’s how I’ve been all my life. I think Daiei went bankrupt at a good time.

VPI: That’s true. It doesn’t seem like you gave the Westerners any special treatment. Of course, there are Westerners in the film, but it’s not like it was necessary for Westerners to be in the film, right?

NT: No. I think it was from story 4 onward that we had Westerners. From then on, there were always Westerners. That actually helped the film to be more successful in the U.S. So they asked to use Westerners again in subsequent films.

VPI: Regarding Viras, for the last film, did Daiei say that it was going to be the last one? Did you hear anything about that at the time?

NT: No, I didn’t.

VPI: Mr. Yuasa wrote in his book that he thought this might be the last one.

NT: That probably wasn’t just for Gamera. It was because Daiei itself was going down.

VPI: So it was because of Daiei, not just Gamera?

NT: In a sense, Mr. Yuasa was used by Daiei. I guess it was fine because he made a living from it. But he was gone with Daiei, like Gone with the Wind. When Daiei went down, so did Mr. Yuasa. They were like joined at the hip. In a way, I feel bad for him.

He was younger than me. So, if that weren’t the case, he might still be alive and working. But his reputation on set was really bad, for some reason. I guess it was his personality, although I feel bad to say that.

VPI: It said in his book that he was from a wealthy family.

NT: His father was an actor at Daiei. [Mr. Yuasa’s father was actor Hikaru Hoshi.]

VPI: So it seems he got into Daiei through family connections.

NT: Maybe. [Otherwise, he might not have even gotten into Daiei.]

VPI: In that sense, did Viras save the company because it made a lot of money?

NT: Yes. The Gamera films were beneficial for both Daiei and myself. It was an interdependent [or mutually beneficial] relationship.

VPI: After that was [Gamera vs.] Guiron (1969). Like Viras, it was geared more toward children. And there were lots of Westerners in it.

NT: Yes, the same thing was repeated.

VPI: Did you write any special efforts in your scripts to make things different?

NT: Yes, you have to come up with new kaiju and give them some kind of character. At Toho, they couldn’t come up with new kaiju for Godzilla and ran out of ideas after three films. I, on the other hand, came up with seven or eight films on my own, so I thought to myself that I was better.

That’s because Godzilla became so famous that you couldn’t just kill it. So you end up with the same kind of story.

VPI: The scene in Guiron when Gyaos gets cut up, it’s quite brutal in the end, but you wrote that scene, didn’t you?

NT: Well, I may have, but I can’t really remember. But if you want to make a new hero, you have to get rid of the old hero. Otherwise, a new hero can’t be born. It’s like making the transition to the new generation.

VPI: So you cut Gyaos up intentionally?

NT: Yes, I think so. But if you want to show that a character is the strongest one, the only thing you can do is keep Gamera alive. So all of Gamera’s enemies eventually get killed.

VPI: Moving forward a bit, your next story, [Gamera vs.] Jiger (1970), is set in Osaka. Did you do that to include [Expo ‘70]?

NT: There was a film about the Expo, and they tried with two writers, but neither of them worked out. I was the third or fourth one they approached, and they asked me to help them. The director was Taniguchi something.

VPI: Senkichi? Oh, [he directed the official documentary of Expo ‘70].

NT: Yes.

VPI: They asked you to write the script for that film?

NT: Yes.

VPI: I didn’t know that.

NT: It didn’t amount to anything, though. The whole film was really disorganized. It was the first time I worked with Senkichi, but he was quite irresponsible.

VPI: Is that so? Kaoru Yachigusa is Mr. Taniguchi’s wife, isn’t she?

NT: Yes.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: I didn’t know that you were involved in that film.

NT: Yes. At the time, I was working on films in both Osaka and Kyoto and was going back and forth. Back then, the bullet train hadn’t been completed yet, and the fastest train was the limited express, which took seven hours or so. But I went to all of them.

Anyway, for the Expo documentary, they shot 52 films in one year, which meant four per month. So I would write two films and come for back for a meeting here, then I had to go again to make two more films. So I was going twice a month.

VPI: The film we were talking about earlier, I’m Five Years Old (1970), was also shot around then, wasn’t it?

NT: Yes. It was after that, though. I didn’t want to get Gamera involved in the Expo, nor did I have any intention to get him involved. Because if he did, the Expo would have been a mess.

VPI: Oh, right. You can’t have any scenes where he’s destroying the place, of course.

NT: No, you can’t. You can’t, for the sake of both the Expo and Gamera.

VPI: Is there a possibility that the Expo paid money to have Gamera filmed there?

NT: To have Gamera filmed there? No.

VPI: Even though they used the place?

NT: I don’t think so.

VPI: I thought they might have because it was good advertising. They could have paid some money.

NT: No, if I think about it from a completely different angle, it would be harmful for both parties. If Gamera went to the Expo and destroyed everything, the Expo would go under. You can’t do that sort of thing. If you did, Japanese citizens would point to Gamera and say, “That’s the monster that destroyed the Expo,” and come to resent him. That’s why I didn’t want to do it. So I was against having Gamera appear in the Expo from the beginning. My answer was no.

VPI: You wrote this [the scene in which Gyaos gets cut up in Guiron], I think. By any chance?

NT: I’m not sure. I don’t remember anymore. But it was because we had to get rid of one of them in order to push the story forward.

VPI: [showing Mr. Takahashi the scene] See? They cut his neck off

NT: Oh, you’re right. This isn’t something they did spontaneously [while they were filming]. It’s written in the script; that’s why they filmed it. Which is always the case

VPI: Well, yes. This is a tokusatsu scene and costs a lot of money.

NT: Yes.

VPI: It’s not something you do just because you want to try it out.

NT: No, it’s not. It’s not something they did spontaneously.

VPI: They cut him into slices here.

NT: I see. That’s awful. I don’t remember writing such a scene.

VPI: You don’t? Is there a possibility that the tokusatsu team did it?

NT: Yes.

VPI: But I think they were going along these lines to begin with. He’s like, it’s too stinky; I can’t eat this.

NT: I see. But I don’t think this was my idea, cutting him two or three times, not being able to eat it because it stinks too much.

VPI: Maybe there was already a scene where he gets cut up and it made sense as a scene.

NT: And he thought of it and decided to do it. Or the tokusatsu team thought it was interesting, so they decided to keep going. That’s possible.

VPI: Maybe tokusatsu-wise, it looked good.

NT: Because it wasn’t possible for me to write on the spot.

VPI: They probably just went ahead and did it.

NT: Yes.

VPI: I see.

NT: That brought back a lot of memories. There was a film called High School Boss: Midnight Broadcasting (1970). It was right before Daiei went bankrupt. There were a lot of young rising stars. I actually wrote a theme song for that film.

I wrote it in a way so that the company [Daiei] wouldn’t be able to say no; I made it part of the story. One memory I have from that time is that I wrote rock music.

Everyone realized afterward that I had written the song. I never studied music, so I couldn’t read scores, let alone write one.

VPI: But you were able to write it in your head?

NT: No, not exactly. For some reason, when the score was written, an expert looked at it and said, “This is a triplet,” or, “This is a waltz.” I said, “Really? I wrote a waltz and didn’t even know it.” It was all backwards

So that’s how it happened. I was really into writing this rock song and took it to the vice president of Daiei, Hidemasa Nagata. I told him, “This is what I’ve come up with. I didn’t just write a theme song; I wrote a story that has to have this song in it, so please back me up.” He said, “Sure. Please wait a minute.

At the time, Daiei had a five-story building called the Daiei Building on a corner in Kyobashi. Hidemasa Nagata’s office was on the second floor, I think, and he called the head of the Japanese music department [at the studio] and asked him to come over. The head of Japanese music department came and asked, “What can I do for you?” Hidemasa Nagata said, “Mr. Takahashi wrote this music, and I want you to use it. Here’s the score.

The score for the song had been written, but I wasn’t the one who had written it. It was because there were two people in my life who could write music. My wife, who comes from a family of music graduates, and my daughter, who graduated from the vocal music department at her music college. Did you know that instead of writing a graduation thesis, voice students do theater? For her thesis, my daughter was in Madame Butterfly and played the role of Madame Butterfly.

Continuing on with my story, Hidemasa Nagata called the head of Japanese music and asked him to read the score. And, being audacious as usual, I started singing the song.

VPI: Does that mean that you sang and someone wrote down the score?

NT: Yes. And it went like this

In the darkness of the night, in the darkness of the night

What is the devil going to do?

Oh, how thrilling

La la la la la

There’s only suffering in this world

Why don’t we hurry up and go on to the other world

Midnight rock

Midnight rock

After I finished singing, I asked the head of Japanese music, “What do you think?” With his back all rigid, the first thing he said was, “That wasn’t rock.” I nearly fell out of my seat.

VPI: You wanted him to turn it into rock.

NT: Yes. But they ended up using it exactly as it was. Many things like that happened in my life, where I was always falling out of my own seat. That’s why I told you earlier that if I wrote an autobiography, it would be at least two volumes.

VPI: This is similar to what we were talking about earlier, but in [Gamera vs.] Zigra (1971), the story was set at Kamogawa Sea World. Was there some sort of tie-in there as well?

NT: Yes.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: Was there money involved?

NT: I’m not sure how it was back then. I just know that they asked us to use the location.

VPI: Did Daiei make the request?

NT: Basically, Daiei told me to use Sea World, so I went all the way there. It makes me laugh when I think back, but that also led to me using Kamogawa Sea World in [the TV series] Run! K100 (1973-74)

I took the train and went all the way to Kamogawa. I used the location again in K100.

VPI: What do you remember most about when Daiei ended up going bankrupt? The episode about charging into Mr. Nagata’s hospital? There were a lot of people who hadn’t been paid, but you went as a representative of the union or something, right?

NT: No. I went on my own and broke open the door to his room.

VPI: Does that mean he was running from everyone and trying to hide?

NT: No, not at all. I went on my own. Out of all the Daiei employees, they owed me the most money, which at the time was about 3 million [yen]. Three million at the time was a lot of money. For one script, I was paid about 400,000, I think. And they owed me 3 million. I’d never asked that they pay more or that they pay me right away. Out of all the dedicated screenwriters, I was the only one who didn’t talk about money

When I went to Masaichi Nagata’s hospital room, he was lying in bed. He took my hand and said, “Please believe me. Even if they give me a death sentence, I promise to pay everyone.” So, when I left the hospital, I told the employee union what Masaichi Nagata had said. The employee union then demanded that they be paid using me as a witness to what Masaichi Nagata had said. So Masaichi Nagata had no choice but to pay everyone. After that, the employee union treated me like I was a god.

VPI: But, when you went to see Masaichi Nagata, you went as an individual, didn’t you

NT: Yes.

VPI: And you asked him to hurry up and pay you.

NT: Yes, that’s right.

VPI: So you broke down his hospital door and then told your colleagues at the employee union what Masaichi Nagata had said.

NT: Yes, that’s right.

VPI: And that’s how everyone got paid.

NT: They demanded to see Masaichi Nagata, saying, “Masaichi Nagata saw Takahashi; why can’t he see us?” and they were able to meet with him after that. So I became a living god to the employee union.

VPI: They never asked you to go on their behalf, to negotiate with Masaichi Nagata on their behalf?

NT: Not at all. I’d never even spoken a word to anyone in the employee union before that.

VPI: I see. So that’s the most memorable episode about Daiei’s bankruptcy?

NT: Yes.

VPI: Which hospital was he in?

NT: Keio Hospital. Yes, I think it was Keio Hospital.

VPI: Did that story appear in an article in a sports newspaper or something?

NT: Yes. I think I still have the article at my house.

VPI: Yes, you showed me a copy of the article before. It might even have been the original.

NT: Yes, I still have it. It’s changed color.

VPI: It was 1970 or somewhere around there, wasn’t it?

NT: Oh, that’s why. After 60 years, it’s no wonder it’s turned yellow.

VPI: Was that before Daiei went completely bankrupt, or was it after?

NT: After.

VPI: Oh, after? But if it was 3 million . . .

NT: I don’t remember if it was 3 million, but anyway, that’s the kind of money they owed me. Of all Daiei’s debts, of all the people whom they owed money, no one else was owed as much as I was. For debts, you just hired a manager or something who would create the documents for you. Then you would get paid.

VPI: Does that mean that the others got paid?

NT: Yes. I didn’t mention money; I couldn’t mention money. They said, “Don’t worry about him,” and just thought of me as a soft-witted guy who wasn’t going to get paid until the end.

VPI: I see. So they decided to pay those who were making noise and left the ones who didn’t make any noise until the end.

NT: Yes, that’s right. I didn’t make any noise, but I beat them in the end. I had my pride. I had to show them that I was a vagabond of sorts. Can I say something? I mentioned earlier about “The Man Who Roared at Masaichi Nagata” coming up on the [computer] screen, but this is not the same incident.

VPI: I know. That was in 1985, right? When you went to a party, and you [confronted him], right?

NT: Yes.

VPI: I remember. We’ll get to that later.

NT: I was quite a straightforward guy, wasn’t I?

VPI: After Daiei went bankrupt, you didn’t get the rights to Gamera’s character, did you?

NT: No, not at all. No one was kind enough to offer anything like that.

VPI: So, in the end, you didn’t get the rights?

NT: No, I didn’t. However, if something is aired on TV or used in a commercial, I still get paid a royalty.

VPI: Does that mean that Daiei acknowledges that you have the rights

NT: Maybe. They have to acknowledge the reality. With the sequence of events, it was necessary.

VPI: So, finally, we would like to ask you to tell us the other story about Masaichi Nagata. As a producer, as a person, he had quite the reputation, like “Nagata Horn.” And he was known to have complete ownership and to be an autocratic president. There are also many stories of how daring he was. From your perspective, what kind of person was he

NT: An egoist, a small-minded egoist.

VPI: Terrible?

NT: Yes, terrible. I would say that he wasn’t anything special. It is impressive, though, how successful he became, considering that he started off as a guide in Uzumasa in Kyoto or someplace like that.

VPI: His job as a guide wasn’t related to film?

NT: It was. He was a guide at a film studio. I think he was involved with the yakuza and was a chimpira [a low-ranking yakuza] or something. It’s impressive how he made it all the way to becoming the president from there. He must have worked really hard.

VPI: But, from your point of view, he was a terrible guy.

NT: He wasn’t anything special. But those kinds of people function on power relationships [authority]. They think, with this person, I’ll be this way, and with that person, I’ll be that way. I thought he was boring and had no power [authority]. Old-school people were afraid of obeying orders from that kind of person and called [him and] his authority “Nagata Horn.”

I can’t remember who – maybe it was Ichiro Kono – and people said that if Ichiro Kono became prime minister, Masaichi Nagata would become the culture minister. And they weren’t joking.

VPI: When Daiei went bankrupt, Garasharp, the two-headed monster – the film that was going to be made after Zigra – “Gamera vs. Garasharp.” The two-headed monster with two snake heads.

NT: It was really unclear then. I didn’t think anyone would say a word about it ever again.

Someone did it without my permission [or my knowing about it]. I wasn’t that involved.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: Is that right? But, afterward, you told me the basic plot. You didn’t write it?

NT: No, I didn’t.

VPI: I see. This is the story, more or less. According to the LaserDisc, Garasharp’s island gets contaminated because of a nuclear or chemical explosion, so Garasharp gets angry and attacks Japan. Gamera fights him, and there are children involved. But because the reason Garasharp attacked Japan was because of humans who caused a nuclear or chemical explosion, Gamera doesn’t kill Garasharp and just breaks off his fangs. He just breaks off his fangs and sends him back to his island. That was the general plot, I think.

NT: That’s the first time I heard this story.

VPI: Is that so?

NT: Well, someone wrote it. Someone like Mr. Yuasa may have thought of the story. He was still alive then, I think.

VPI: But you didn’t write the story?

NT: No, not at all.

VPI: Did you create Garasharp’s character?

NT: No, I didn’t. You said it had two heads?

VPI: Like a snake; that’s why it’s called Garasharp.

NT: I’ve never heard of it. And it wasn’t I who created this character.

VPI: I was sure you had written the story because the title had already been decided and everything.

NT: No, not at all.

VPI: I see. That’s it for Gamera. Do you remember Thunder Mask (1972-73), which had tokusatsu in it?

NT: I don’t remember, but sometimes, recently, I’ve been contacted about being paid royalties because they’re airing an old show of mine in Poland or Switzerland or something.

VPI: Poland? Switzerland?

NT: Recently, Poland and Switzerland. Poland and Switzerland, and there was another country in Northern Europe somewhere.

VPI: Is that directly? Via Daiei?

NT: There’s an organization called the Writers Guild of Japan, which takes care of everything like [administrative work] and creating documents. I wasn’t a member of the Writers Guild, but they kept asking me to become a member. I told them that I wasn’t interested. When I said, “You ask me to become a member, but what about the membership fee?” they said, “You won’t have to pay the membership fee, but will you let us manage your royalties and things like that?” I said, “Oh, in that case, yes.” So, I’m not even a member, but I have free membership, and they collect money for me.

VPI: So you’re like an honorary member.

NT: Yes. They take care of everything for me. The same goes for the rights. There was a dispute, so I said, “I’m not interested anymore.” Then they told me, “You won’t have to pay the membership fee, but we will give you the same rights as a member.” It’s so shameless of me.

VPI: But you don’t remember much about Thunder Mask, do you? It was a long time ago.

NT: No, I don’t remember. I just wrote one or two episodes, so I don’t really remember.

VPI: The rights to this show seem complicated right now. The companies were fighting over the rights, so they can’t make DVDs or anything like that. The companies were fighting over the rights, so it’s not clear who owns them.

NT: When I worked on a TV show, I would either take on an entire year’s worth and work on my own, or do two or three episodes if someone asked me to help. For Thunder Mask, I only did two or three episodes after someone asked me to help.

VPI: Is it because they aired an old episode of Thunder Mask?

NT: Yes, that’s right. More precisely, they send money to the Writers Guild of Japan, who then transfers the sum to me.

VPI: [How about the anime] Maya the Bee (1975-76)?

NT: I’ve also seen that recently. I wrote a lot of episodes. Most of the episodes in the middle, well, not in the middle. I wrote most of the episodes, so I’ve seen royalties for that show recently, as well.

VPI: Around three years ago, it was the 35th anniversary or something, so there were a lot of DVDs.

NT: I’ve also been paid recently for Maya the Bee because it was shown in Switzerland or something. It was not a significant amount, around 150,000 yen or so.

This was also based on a book, an original work, but I stopped using that part way through and created an original story.

VPI: Did you write the script for this program for a long time?

NT: Yes, I did.

VPI: You were also responsible for the series structure.

NT: Maybe.

VPI: Do you remember what you did in terms of series structure?

NT: I don’t remember the details. For series structure, the most difficult part is knowing when to end the story, which is hard to decide. But, if you can pull it to the end, the next person can continue on with it.

VPI: I see. Do you remember Denjin Zaborger (1974-75)? Do you have any memories?

NT: No, I don’t. I think it was also one of those programs where I only did one or two episodes. But I’ve also received money for that recently.

[I’ve received money from] Switzerland and Portugal or Poland. One of the two, I’m not sure which. It’s surprising that something I wrote so many decades ago is still bringing in money.

I never imagined this would be possible. Back then, I didn’t think about anything like this. I never could have imagined that this would be possible in the future.

VPI: Going back a bit, did you ever draw any designs of kaiju?

NT: No.

VPI: You left that to the experts?

NT: Yes, I left it to them.

VPI: And the personality of the characters?

NT: I didn’t draw any of them

VPI: So, for Maya the Bee, someone else drew the designs?

NT: Yes.

VPI: I’d like to go back to Gamera again. The last one was Gamera Super Monster in 1980.

NT: This was also with Mr. Yuasa. It’s not a completely original story. It’s patchwork made by sticking together a lot of old scenes.

VPI: How did you get involved? Was it a request from Daiei?

NT: I think so, because the new characters were played by new Daiei actresses and actors.

VPI: Oh, that’s right. It was made by the new Daiei, right?

NT: Yes, that’s right. This is the only one that was not made by the old Daiei. It says, Daiei Distribution, doesn’t it?

VPI: Yes, it says Distribution. So, if it’s Distribution, I wonder if that means that Daiei didn’t make it itself. Who made it, then? Was it Daiei Tokuma?

NT: Perhaps. Tokuma probably owns it. None of the others say Daiei Distribution.

VPI: Why was it made this way? Was it because they didn’t have enough money?

NT: Yes. From the beginning, they never even considered filming anything new.

VPI: A few scenes were filmed. It’s not like there were no new scenes at all.

NT: It’s coming back to me, but there were three young actresses from the [Daiei] studio in Chofu in the movie, right?

VPI: Yes. One of them wasn’t an actress but a female pro wrestler named Mach Fumiake, who played the main role.

NT: Oh, I remember now.

VPI: Yes, so Daiei probably did tell you to use the old films and somehow make a story out of it.

NT: Yes, that’s right. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have come to me. They probably did. They probably told me to make the story from a patchwork of old scenes, to do this and that. Because I know everything about the old movies. They probably told me to structure this way and that. And they might have even paid me for a full film.

VPI: I see. Because a lot of planning might have been required. When this film was being made, do you remember anything that was difficult or challenging?

NT: I might have written the plot for the script, but not much more other than that. Because when this film was being made, the Daiei studio in Chofu was closed, I think.

VPI: The old studio? It’s still there today. So, when Daiei became Tokuma, I think they did a renewal [of the studio].

NT: Yes.

VPI: And the Gamera book. After that, there was Phoenix, Gamera vs. Phoenix. This was an original book, I think. There weren’t any other novels aside from Phoenix, were there?

NT: I don’t remember.

VPI: But there was the “Song of the Rainbow,” or something. You also wrote a song for this. After you, there were the Heisei Gamera movies, which were directed by Shusuke Kaneko.

NT: Yes. There were three of them, I think.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

VPI: Yes. Why didn’t you like these films?

NT: They came to me and told me, “We’re going to do this.” I guess they just wanted to establish contact. At first, I thought they were going to ask me to write the script, but they didn’t. Then I thought they were going to ask me to be the adviser, but they didn’t. All they did was come and bow their heads [meaning they just went through the motions]. So I told them to go to hell.

VPI: I see. They were quite impolite, then.

NT: Yes, that’s right. Also, when they brought the first script, I read it, but it was awful. So I said, “I don’t want to be involved in this mess,” and told them to go to hell.

I told them not to use my name. In the end, they decided to buy my rights, the rights to the original. It’s funny, but when I was at Daiei, I was paid 400,000 yen per script. But, for the three Heisei Gamera movies, they paid [me] 800,000 yen per script, so twice the price. I thought, well, that’s easy money. So I told them to do whatever they pleased.

VPI: That doesn’t mean that it has twice the value compared to old times, right?

NT: Exactly.

VPI: But twice the price, I see. But you actually received the money as a royalty.

NT: Yes, for using the name Gamera, not for the story.

VPI: To use the character.

NT: Yes, a royalty for using the character. Anyway, I’ve said this two or three times already, but no one can deny that I’m the one who created the Gamera character. After Masaichi Nagata called and told everyone at the meeting, Yonejiro Saito, who came to my place often, called and told me, and by the time he came to my place at 3:00 p.m., I already had a complete film prepared. It was perfect [complete and unchanged], a 100% original story.

VPI: Your rights should be properly acknowledged. If someone wants to use the character, they should have to check with you first.

NT: Yes. Everyone involved with Daiei back then knew that, but . . .

VPI: You had a relationship with Toho Godzilla director Ishiro Honda. Did that happen after Gyaos?

NT: I don’t remember when it was, but I can tell you how it happened. One year, I received a New Year’s card from him. I had never met him before. It was one of those printed New Year’s cards that everyone sends out. In the column, he had handwritten, “I hope we can work together sometime.” He sent it to me [out of the blue]. And when I replied, I told him what I was working on at the time, which was an original Gamera story.

I wrote, “This is what I’m working on now.” He wrote me back, saying “These things are very important; you should hang on to them.” That story ended up being published two or three years later as a paperback novel by Shogakukan called Gamera vs. Phoenix.

VPI: Was it supposed to be a new script or story for a film? Was Gamera vs. Phoenix intended to be a film?

NT: No, it wasn’t for a film.

VPI: You had just written it as a story?

NT: That’s right. Shogakukan came to me and said, “We want to publish a paperback novel [that would become part of the Shogakukan collection] about a Gamera kaiju, one that’s been in a film and novelize it. If you were to write it, which one would you choose?” They asked me to novelize it myself.

VPI: They didn’t mind if it was one that had already been in a film; they wanted you to novelize it?

NT: Yes. I told them, “If I’m going to novelize something, I have a new idea. This is it.” They were really eager about the idea and said, “OK, let’s make it a new story.” That’s how it became part of the Shogakukan collection.

VPI: Was it originally intended to be a novel?

NT: Yes.

VPI: OK, I understand. This was the same idea you had sent to Mr. Honda.

NT: Yes.

VPI: But he told you to hang on to it and sent it back to you.

NT: I sent the message that Mr. Honda had sent back to me to my contact at Shogakukan. He said, “This is much better than something from the past. Please write a novel based on this.” That’s how it became a paperback novel.

VPI: When you first wrote Phoenix, was it before they asked to write a novel or after? You already had it and ended up using it for Shogakukan?

NT: Yes. It was after.

VPI: So, you didn’t create something new when Shogakukan asked you. It was something you already had and you proposed to use it?

NT: That’s right. When they approached me to publish a paperback novel about an old story from the Gamera series, they said, “Mr. Takahashi, please choose whichever one you like. Pick the one you like best and novelize it.” I thought it would be boring to use an old character, so I said, “I have an original one that I haven’t written yet,” and sent them what Mr. Honda had sent back to me. Mr. Honda had a lot of foresight. He told me, “Hang on to it because it will be useful one day.”

VPI: And that became the novel.

NT: Yes. From that perspective, I never met Ishiro Honda, but we did have some exchanges, for which I’m grateful. Someone I did meet was, when I went to the Osaka Expo, they were planning to make a film about the Expo. They had already asked two or three writers, but it didn’t work out. I was the third one they asked after [Hiroaki] Fujii, a talented Daiei producer said, “Mr. Takahashi, please go and help them out.” I went and met Senkichi Taniguchi for the first time, but I couldn’t help them in the end. Mr. Taniguchi was a good person, but as a writer, I can’t say this very loudly, but I didn’t think much of his work.

VPI: That’s true. He’s more of a craftsman than someone who creates something new.

NT: Yes. Kajiro Yamamoto was a Showa director who was the main leader of the craftsman-type directors. He had about five apprentices, and he [Taniguchi] was one of them.

VPI: That’s right.

NT: The best was Mr. [Akira] Kurosawa.

VPI: Mr. Kurosawa — and Mr. Honda was one of them, too.

NT: Yes, that’s right.

VPI: This will be the last question. Which story do you like the best out of all the Gamera movies

NT: Definitely the first one. It was the most memorable, and it opened up many opportunities for me. In that sense, I would choose the first movie. Also, what I’m proud of is that when [the producer] called and said, “I’m on my way now, so please just think of an idea.” I thought, “How rude. If you’re going to ask me, don’t just ask me for an idea. I’m going to show them what I’m made of and write an entire script.” I wrote it up in 30 minutes or so, then wrote 70 or 80 pages of hand-written manuscript in one go. Not one single character or phrase was changed, and it became the first movie without anyone making any corrections to it. That’s what I’m proud of.

VPI: This interview will be published in English. In the U.S., there are also many books about your Gamera. Do you have any comments or anything you’d like to say to readers? The article will be in English, which means that not only Americans will read it, but people in many countries outside of Japan will read it, too. Do you have anything you would like to say to your fans?

NT: This may be cliché, but the only thing I have to say is, “Gamera is immortal.” Gamera is not dead. If we want to bring him back and create a new story, we can. He’s immortal. [Shigeo] Nagashima said, “The [Yomiuri] Giants are immortal.” But I want to say, “Gamera is immortal.”

Gamera is really forever. That’s all I have to say. I’m grateful for being inspired to create such a great character.

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