In Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), American actress Beth Blatt delivers the first words the audience hears in the movie. Ms. Blatt plays television reporter Susan Horn, who describes the devastation Tokyo faces in the wake of Godzilla’s rampage. In this November 2020 interview with Brett Homenick, Ms. Blatt shares her memories of filming Biollante as well as her acting career in Japan.
Brett Homenick: Please talk a bit about your background and early life. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and what were your hobbies?
Beth Blatt: I was born outside of Chicago and grew up in Wilmette, part of the North Shore of Lake Michigan. I took ballet, piano, [and] sang. I went to a large public high school, New Trier East – 4,000 students – that had a very strong theater department with high standards. They flew judges in from New York so auditions would be impartial. Many famous actors went there – Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Ann-Margret, Bruce Dern, Rainn Wilson [from The Office].
BH: Did you go to college? What did you study?
BB: I went to Dartmouth College. I did no theater there, but did sing in an a cappella group – a la Pitch Perfect. I was a comparative literature major with French and German. I studied/worked abroad twice during college, where I caught the travel bug.
BH: What eventually brought you to Japan?
BB: After I graduated, I worked in business – advertising/Ogilvy & Mather in NYC – until I decided I wanted to try acting. So I quit and started auditioning for musicals. I worked steadily – three shows were supposed to go to Broadway! – then was offered a job doing a new musical in Tokyo. I went for six weeks – and ended up staying three years.
BH: What were some of your jobs and pursuits there?
BB: The musical was called Sessue, about the life of actor Sessue Hayakawa [of Bridge on the River Kwai fame]. It starred Masatoshi Nakamura, who was a big star at that point. He had two TV shows filming/running while he was doing the show – one of which we appeared on with a number from the show. The show involved very high-profile Japanese people – none of whom we knew, of course. It ran at the Theatre Apple in Shinjuku. We rehearsed out by the [Ryogoku] Sumo [Hall] – it was a hike from our hotel!
While doing the show, an agent came and offered to send people out for work. I went on one audition and got the job – a weekly radio show for NHK. So I stayed. Kinda scary; I didn’t know anyone after the cast left. But the three main people from the show – the director, the composer, and Masatoshi – had a meeting about who was going to take care of me, and it was decided the composer, Masao Yagi, would do that. So he took me out, gave me work, etc. He was lovely.
So I had the weekly NHK gig. I also started doing TV for them. Both were English language instruction-based. Then I had a regular spot on the kids’ show Hirake! Ponkikki. Our co-star was a large dog. I made commercials – Zeitaku Nori comes to mind. I became the pop music columnist for The Japan Times, wrote features for Time Out Tokyo, started writing lyrics for [Mr.] Yagi’s music. Tons of other stuff, but all in that vein. I was one of the few “real” American actresses in Tokyo back then.
Since NHK couldn’t sponsor me for a visa, I got it through language school – which, being a comp lit major, I adored. My Japanese became pretty decent.
BH: Speaking of Masao Yagi, he’s a well-known composer in Japan with many film credits [including 1977’s Legend of the Dinosaurs]. What other memories could you share of him?
BB: He learned to love jazz during the war, that’s the kind of music the American G.I.s played. I can’t remember if he played for them or listened there.
He loved, loved, loved New York. After he passed, his daughter brought his ashes, and a group of us met to scatter them off the Staten Island Ferry. Shh, that’s illegal.
When he was writing orchestrations for his work, he wouldn’t use the piano. He’d lay huge pieces of staff paper with lines for all the instruments on his desk, and he’d write them in as he heard them in his head. I started writing musicals/lyrics because of him. He asked me to write words for a song of his, and we went on to write a couple of commercials, a couple that were recorded by artists. He really took me under his wing; he was my sempai.
BH: How did you get cast in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)?
BB: From that agent I met when I first got there. I’m not even sure I auditioned. Her name was Motoko [Inagawa]! Where the heck did I pull that name from?
BH: Where did you shoot your scene?
BB: It was at a landfill somewhere – late at night. Yokohama?
BH: Did you get to rewrite or improvise your lines, or was it all done as scripted?
BB: It was scripted. It was much longer than they used for the film.
BH: I know it’s unlikely, but would you happen to remember anything else about your lines that got cut out of the movie?
BB: I don’t remember what lines were cut.
BH: Would you happen to know where the name of your character, Susan Horn, came from?
BB: No idea. I didn’t even remember that was her name until someone googled me recently and started calling me Susan!
BH: [Do] you remember if the film’s director Kazuki Omori direct your scenes, or did someone else direct you?
BB: I was so far away from the camera/the director, I have no idea!
BH: How long did filming your scene last?
BB: Not long. But it took a long time to set up, with all the soldiers and cars, etc.
BH: About how many takes were there?
BB: OK, this is super embarrassing. It was my first film – ever. Someone called out, “Rolling,” so I started doing my lines. I didn’t know you waited for “Action.” When people heard me talking, the action started – setting the cars on fire, fire hoses going, people running back and forth. And then they’re frantically calling, “Cut, cut, cut!” And then they had to reset everything.
BH: To the best of your memory, about how long did it take them to set up the scene and put all the extras in place?
BB: They did the initial one before I came out of to the “set.” The re-set – maybe 20 minutes? Honestly, no recollection.
BH: Do you remember working or socializing with anyone else during the shoot?
BB: Nope. In and out, I think.
BH: Do you have any other memories from the shoot that you could share with us?
BB: I just shared the big one! I did have to go into a recording studio and loop my lines because there was too much wind or some such at the landfill, so the sound wasn’t usable. I didn’t need to go to all the trouble to memorize my lines! You could barely see my lips, so it wasn’t really even really syncing.
BH: Did you see the film at the time it was released?
BB: No. Oops.
BH: What did you think of the movie?
BB: I’m embarrassed to say I never watched the whole thing.
BH: What other acting roles did you have in Japan?
BB: I mentioned lots of them earlier. I was in a made for TV movie with some big American martial arts star [Chuck Wilson]. I played his ex-wife. I was in another musical. I wrote lyrics for some commercials.
BH: When did you leave Japan?
BB: I moved to Hong Kong with my boyfriend in 1991. Moved back to New York six months after that. It was time.
BH: What are some of the things you’ve done since leaving Japan?
BB: I acted in musicals for a bit, then realized I preferred writing. So I applied to a very prestigious – and free! – musical theater training program run by BMI and was accepted. I got a job producing financial news for TV Tokyo to pay the bills. More about my writing here. I’ve won a bunch of awards, had my work performed in the U.S. and abroad. I’m currently working on a commission of a musical about Catherine the Great. I write words – books/music.
I also started a music business called Hope Sings. We create original songs inspired by success stories from charities – usually ones that help women – to raise awareness and funds for those charities. One of our projects was the theme song for UN Women, the first-ever such song for a UN entity. “One Woman” features 25+ artists from all over the world, including Anoushka Shankar, Angelique Kidjo, Bebel Gilberto – but no one from Japan, sadly. There are Arabic, Chinese, and karaoke versions – the last one I’ve never heard. But I just discovered they did the song again this past March at the UN.