REVISITING JAPAN’S MASTER MONSTER MAKER! Keizo Murase Answers More Questions About Creating Kaiju!

Keizo Murase (with King Ghidorah) in April 2019. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on October 5, 1935, in Ikeda, Tokachi, Hokkaido (where his family home still is), Keizo Murase is a veteran kaiju suitmaker who began his career at Toho in 1958, leaving an indelible mark on the genre with his work on Varan the Unbelievable (1958). From there, Mr. Murase also worked on Mothra (1961), Gorath (1962), Matango (1963), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), Gamera (1965), the Daimajin series (1966), Yongary Monster from the Deep (1967), Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), The Mighty Peking Man (1977), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), creating many of the iconic monsters from not just Japan but from all over the world. In this September 2020 interview (translated by Maho Harada), Mr. Murase answers Brett Homenick’s questions in a second interview about his career in monster suit-making. Special thanks to Daisuke Sato.

Brett Homenick: Thank you very much for agreeing to a second interview. In our first interview, you mentioned creating Magma’s tusks out of FRP for Gorath (1962). I’d like to know if you could tell us more about the creation of the Magma suit.

Keizo Murase: For the body, I glued foam rubber onto a sponge base. I then coated it with latex and painted it. Mr. [Haruo] Nakajima had to crawl inside on all fours. The fastener was not on the back but on the stomach. That’s where the suit actor would enter.

BH: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) is a classic that is still remembered fondly by fans to this day. Please describe the process of making the King Kong suit.

KM: I made the base with wire netting. I glued hessian cloth on the outside of the base, then put undyed cloth on it, and then dyed goat hair. Mr. [Teizo] Toshimitsu made the clay model for the face.

BH: Matango (1963) is one of Toho’s most effective horror movies. What can you tell us about your involvement with the mushroom effects?

KM: I made the Matango suit and mushrooms. I also made the Matango suit for the scene where Hideyo Amamoto plays a Matango [creature] that is in the middle of transforming. I also made the mushrooms inside the boat.

BH: Did you work on Manda at all for Atragon (1963)?

KM: Mr. [Eizo] Kaimai and I made the body together. As we did for Yamata-no-Orochi and King Ghidorah, we made the core with urethane and then worked on it. Mr. Toshimitsu made the face.

BH: One of Toho’s most unique monsters is seen in Dogora the Space Monster (1964). What went into creating this kaiju?

KM: Dogora was based on the image of squid living at the bottom of the ocean, so we decided to use transparent material. Mr. Yagi made the model, and I did the rest. For the transparent material, I used transparent vinyl.

BH: Eventually, you began working on TV series. One of the first for your was Kaiju Booska (1966-67). What did you do on the show?

KM: CINQ-ART made the first model for Booska, and Ryosaku Takayama completed it. The first suit was fragile, so it was decided that I would make a sturdier suit.

BH: What memories do you have about working on Captain Ultra (1967)?

KM: I don’t remember.

BH: In the late 1960s, you also branched out and began working on foreign special effects films. One such film is Taiwan’s A Valiant Villain (1969). How did you get hired on this film? What did you contribute to this film?

KM: They asked me to get involved because I was working on a Taiwanese monster movie called [in Roman letters] “Wan Pao Son.” It was filmed at a state-owned studio [in Taiwan], but we did the model work in Japan and took it with us. I wore a tiger suit and acted in the movie. This also led to working in Hong Kong.   

BH: What did you contribute to the revolutionary TV series Kamen Rider (1971-73)?

KM: At first, I made Kamen Rider’s motorcycle, helmet, and costumes. Right after that, I got involved with the model work for Barom-1 (1972).

BH: How about Ultraman Ace (1972-73)? What do you recall about working on this series?

KM: We completed Vakishim in the workshop, but it was too big and didn’t fit through the door, so we had to break the wall to get it out. I wasn’t at the filming, so I don’t know what happened there.

BH: Kikader (1972-73) remains quite popular in Hawaii. Please tell us about your work on the show.

KM: They first went to Kaimai [Productions], but they eventually came to Ex Productions [Mr. Murase’s company]. I remember making a monster mole.

BH: Do you have any fun memories of Kure Kure Takora (1973-74)?

KM: I don’t have any fun memories, but it was challenging to create the smooth texture.

BH: Another foreign film you worked on was Hong Kong’s The Snake Prince (1976). Please describe what you did on this movie.

KM: I made all the the snake sculptures. I did everything except the painting.

BH: Many years later, you joined the production of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). Do you remember how you got hired to work on this film?

KM: I had made King Ghidorah before, so Toho requested me by name.

BH: That was followed up by Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). What do you recall about making Mothra for this movie?

KM: We used to make the wings with bamboo. But, for this movie, we used fishing rods to make the core of the wings, so it was easy to make them. I was also happy to work with my sons on this movie.

BH: What memories could you share about Eiji Tsuburaya?

KM: I was happy that he would come to the workshop and spend time there during his tea breaks. People were afraid of him when he got angry, but, normally, he was a nice, quiet person.

BH: How about the Yagi brothers [Kanju and Yasuei]? What were they like?

KM: They taught me everything I needed to know in a very attentive way. I also remember being taken out to meals quite often.

BH: Please describe a typical day of suit-making at Toho during the early 1960s.

KM: Tardiness was not tolerated, and we often had to work overtime. If we worked overtime, we could eat dinner for free and take baths at the studio, which I was grateful for. If we worked until midnight, they gave us eggs.

BH: How was working at Toho different from Daiei?

KM: When I worked for Daiei, I had started my own company, so things were a bit easier by then. We would start the day with a meeting in the morning, then prepare the suits for filming.

BH: Could you tell us why you decided to form your own company?

KM: I decided to create Ex Productions with other members who had quit working for Toho so I could decide which movies we would work on.

BH: Which work was most difficult for you?

KM: The Mighty Peking Man (1977).

BH: Which work are you most proud of?

KM: It’s the same answer.

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