RUMINATIONS ON DIRECTING HEROES FROM THE STARS! Eizo Yamagiwa Looks Back on a Varied Career That Took Him from Starman to Ultraman!

Eizo Yamagiwa in November 2020. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on July 22, 1932, Eizo Yamagiwa began his career in the film industry at Shintoho in the mid-1950s as an assistant director. During his time at the studio, he worked on the seventh entry in the Starman film series, Super Giant: The Space Mutant Appears (1958), which was one of the three Starman features that was eventually edited into the American release Evil Brain from Outer Space. Mr. Yamagiwa also worked as an assistant director under Teruo Ishii at Shintoho before launching his career as a director of film and television. At Tsuburaya Productions, Mr. Yamagiwa directed episodes 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 28, 29, 34, and 35 of Return of Ultraman (1971-72), episodes 3, 4, 9, 10, 15, 16, 21, 22, 28, 29, 38, and 39 of Ultraman Ace (1972-73), episodes 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 14, 20, 21, 24, 25, 39, 40, 47, 48 (as well as episode 28 as special effects director) of Ultraman Taro (1973-74), and episodes 50 and 51 of Ultraman Leo (1974-75). He also helmed episodes 3, 4, 14, and 15 of Silver Kamen (1971-72), episode 4 of Horror Theater Unbalance (1973), episodes 11 and 13 (as well as episode 11 as co-scriptwriter with Ei Ogawa) of Jekyll and Hyde (1973), and episodes 8, 9, 16, and 17 of the Submersion of Japan TV series (1974-75). In November 2020, Mr. Yamagiwa answered Brett Homenick’s questions in an interview translated by Maho Harada.

Brett Homenick: Please talk about the circumstances of your life growing up.

Eizo Yamagiwa: I was born in Kobe, so my family register says I was born in Kobe. But I just born in a hospital there. A few months later, I came to Tokyo with my family, so I was raised in Tokyo. I don’t remember anything about Kobe. I was only there for the first two or three months of my life. Through the war, I had a nondescript boyhood. There was nothing special about it.

BH: What were your hobbies during your childhood? What would you do for fun?

EY: I didn’t have any distinctive characteristics. I was an ordinary boy with no particular hobbies.

BH: Let’s talk about the war. What do you remember about the war and the hardships of the war at the time.

EY: The war started in 1940, and I was in the third or fourth grade at that time. The situation worsened, and Japan was nearly defeated. So, in 1944, I was sent to my relatives in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, where my grandfather was from. So everything changed. Until then, I had led a peaceful family life. But everything changed because I alone was sent to live with my relatives. So my peaceful family life had completely changed.

BH: Could you talk about how things changed and how life was different in this new area?

EY: In Tokyo, I was a typical, middle-class Japanese child. We lacked nothing. But, when I moved to Aizuwakamatsu, I was in the middle of the Japanese countryside, and a lot of old traditions were still very much alive. Everything was very strict, as well. I was put in an elementary school in Aizuwakamatsu, and, from the next year, the war started going quite badly. In the spring of 1945, I started junior high school in Aizuwakamatsu.

Junior high school was basically like the military. We trained as if we were in the military and had to wear puttees around our ankles. Junior high school students were basically considered part of the military. In town, if you passed a student who was older than you, you had to salute him. Otherwise, he would get angry at you.

BH: Did you think that there would be a chance that you would join the army during this time?

EY: I’m not exactly sure, but, in Japan at the time, if you were over 18, or maybe it was 20, you were automatically conscripted into the army unless you had a health condition. There were two schools, but, after two years of junior high school, I was going to apply to a military school that would train you to become an officer. So I was going to take the entrance exam, but that’s when World War II ended.

BH: Did you want to join this school, or did you feel compelled to join this school?

EY: Both.

BH: War changes people’s minds. How did you feel about the war at the time? Were you proud of Japan? Were you proud the war? What were your feelings back then?

EY: I was probably too young to have pride as a Japanese citizen. All the horrible things that Japan did in Asia and China during the war were kept secret, so it wasn’t communicated to us.

One strange thing happened. This happened before I moved to Aizuwakamatsu, so I was still in Tokyo. Everywhere in Japan, including Tokyo, temples were the center of the community, so everybody would get together at the temple. There was a soldier who had returned from China, and he was giving a report about his experiences.

I don’t remember if this soldier was referring to himself, or if he was talking about somebody else, but the soldier was taking about how he or somebody else had killed hundreds of Chinese with his katana [Japanese sword] and that he had gotten recognized for this action with a medal. He was almost bragging about this story. That was the first time that others and I had heard directly about somebody killing other people. It was just one single incident, but that was the first time I really felt the horrible effects of the war.

So, in my first year of junior high school, when I was preparing to take the entrance exam to join the military school to become an officer, I said to myself, “I have to become an officer and die. That’s the only choice I have, and it’s for the country.” It was a mindset that everybody had to adopt, so there was no hope or brightness in our life.

I only came back to Tokyo once during the time I stayed in Aizuwakamatsu. This was during New Year’s in 1945. There was an air raid while I was back. It was a B-29 air raid, and they were flying through the sky at night. I saw the B-29s dropping bombs, and there were a lot of fires. This incident made me feel as a child that my only option was to become a soldier and die for the country. Even as a child, I felt this, and I was exasperated. I had lost all hope.

March 10 was the day the eastern half of Tokyo was completely bombarded and was pretty much flattened. Luckily, my home was on the west side, so it wasn’t burned down, and we were spared. Afterward, I went back to Aizuwakamatsu, and, as I said, I knew that the only choice I had was to become a soldier and die, so I had lost all hope. So, going into junior high school, that’s what my mindset was. Then World War II ended in August 1945, and, when it did, I felt relieved.

BH: After the war ended, how did your life change, and how did your views change?

EY: I needed time to understand that the war had ended. So, in August, when the emperor announced on the radio the acknowledgement that Japan had lost the war, we all had to go to school. There was only one radio, so we gathered around the radio and listened to the message. But the vocabulary was very difficult to understand, the sound was really bad, and there was a lot of static. So I didn’t understand what the meaning was, but the teachers said that we had lost the war. But I didn’t feel that we had lost the war then. A few days later, I was walking. We had to wear puttees around our ankles. During World War I, in Europe, soldiers also wore puttees, which are long pieces of cloth about 10 centimeters wide, and they were black or brown. We had to wear these so the hems wouldn’t get in the way.

A few days after the emperor announced that Japan had lost the war, they said, “You don’t need to dress like soldiers anymore.” So we didn’t have to wear puttees anymore. So, when I walked, I could feel the wind coming in from under my pant legs, and I could hear the pant legs making sounds when I walked. That’s when I felt the war had ended and that my life had been saved. It was because I didn’t have to wear puttees anymore.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Was that also a sense of freedom?

EY: Yes, that’s right. From 1946 onward, there was also a lot of freedom at school, and the atmosphere was that of freedom. We were free to watch movies and have hobbies, and there were a lot of clubs that started — for example, studying literature. So there were a lot of things that I was able to do for the first time. It was the beginning of a peaceful era, so I really felt peace.

In Aizuwakamatsu, we had a large group of [Japanese] soldiers. First, you have small groups, then medium, then large, which have about 1,000 soldiers, which were housed in wooden buildings. Even in Aizuwakamatsu, there had been a large military presence, but they were disbanded after the war ended. In their place, the American military came, and they gave chocolates to kids. So all of us kids thought that America must be a great country. Also, compared to Japanese cars, the American jeeps were very efficient. We thought, “If they can build such efficient jeeps and cars, there was no way that Japan could have won the war.”

BH: Did you say to the soldiers, “Give me chocolate”?

EY: I didn’t need to say, “Give me chocolate,” because they said, “Come here, come here,” and gave out chocolates. Even in Aizuwakamatsu, in the center of the city, there were three or four movie theaters, and they all started playing American movies. This would have been about 1946, and, through these American movies, you could see how the American people were living — their lifestyles, how it was very wealthy, and how they had a lot of freedom. Through these movies, I really felt that America must be a wonderful country. I really felt this, and this was when I was in junior high school.

BH: Let’s talk about some foreign movies that you watched at the time that you liked. Could you share some of the titles of foreign movies and how they inspired your career?

EY: At the beginning, right after World War II ended, GHQ [American occupation forces] deliberately showed films. They purposely screened films that showed how amazing Americans were. I don’t remember the films that I saw during this time. They were all famous films, but I don’t remember them.

When I came back to Tokyo in 1947, there were small theaters that only showed foreign films, which Japan had banned during the war. So we were able to see all the films that had been made during or even before the war. In particular, I was moved by postwar Italian films like Paisan (1946), Germany, Year Zero (1948), and Bicycle Thieves (1948). Contrary to American films, which were very optimistic and more for entertainment, I was very moved by French films because they conveyed the hardships of life and that sort of thing.

After finally being able to see French films, I was very impressed that they were making these kinds of films before the war. In particular, I was deeply influenced by the film Pépé le Moko (1937), which was directed by Julien Duvivier and starred Jean Gabin. After coming back to Tokyo, I watched a lot of Italian and French films, and I thought, “I want to become a director and make these kinds of films.”

BH: Let’s talk about going to Keio University. Please talk about what you studied.

EY: I studied French literature.

BH: So how did you pursue your film interests when you were at Keio University?

EY: They didn’t teach anything about film at university. All I studied at university was French literature. I went to the theater and watched films. That’s how I studied film.   

BH: When you were at Keio University, had you decided to become a film director or something [else] with films, or did you think maybe you’d have to do something more related to French literature? What was your idea for your future at the time?

EY: After graduating following four years at Keio University, I wanted to work at a studio and become a director as soon as possible. At school, I studied French literature, and that was worthwhile, but I studied cinema by going to the theater. My friends and I started our own magazine. But I wanted to join a studio as soon as I graduated from university and become a director.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: This was a movie magazine?

EY: It was mostly about films. But we didn’t sell very many, so it would fold, and then we would start another magazine. I wrote a lot of essays in these magazines. I made a lot of magazines with my friends. [pulls out of a couple of magazines] They were these kinds of thin magazines.

My friends and I would form a club together, and the members would contribute articles. [The magazines are called Modern Cinema and The Art of Film]. The first issue of this one [Modern Cinema] was the only issue, and then it folded!

When I graduated from Keio University, it was 1955. At that time, in Japanese cinema, there were six film studios: Toho, Shochiku, Daiei, Toei, Nikkatsu, and Shintoho. Every week, all six studios were releasing two films. It might have been a feature film and a short film, or it could have been two feature films. But every week all six studios were releasing two films. So, in the 10 years after the war, Japan was producing a lot of films. But, in time, it became more volume than anything, and sometimes they made really ridiculous films. But, because they were making so many films, they needed people, and that’s how I was able to get a job. I worked at Shintoho, but it was the first studio to go down. It went bankrupt in 1961. I worked there for five or six years.

BH: You took a test to join Shintoho. Please talk about the test.

EY: At the time, Shochiku was the main studio. There two types of exams. One was to be a full-time staff member, and the other was for assistant directors. They had a special system for hiring assistant directors so that they could become directors after a few years. They did this to give preferential treatment for directors [as a fast-track system to train directors more quickly]. At Shintoho, one thousand applied to become assistant directors through this exam. I was one of the six who made it.

BH: What was your first film at Shintoho?

EY: As an assistant director? I don’t remember the name of the movie, but the director was Kunio Watanabe. None of us respected this director because he was someone who made films very quickly and very cheaply. I can’t remember the name of the film, but I was the assistant director. It was a really ridiculous film! (laughs)

The third movie I worked on was with Tomu Uchida. He was a famous director who had been making films since before the war. He joined Shintoho, and I worked on Twilight Saloon (1955) with him as the fourth assistant director.

BH: Please talk about Mr. Uchida. What was he like as a person and as a director?

EY: He was from the pre-war era when they had silent films. There was a production company called Makino Productions, which was founded by Shozo Makino, who was known as the father of Japanese cinema. This production company an independent production company and had the reputation of being very easy to work with for directors. Unlike Nikkatsu or Shochiku, it wasn’t a very big company. But it was at the height of Makino Productions. If they made a film, it was certain to be a hit and make a lot of money. At the time, Tomu Uchida was actually an actor. So he played a major part in the history of Japanese cinema.

During the war, he went to Manchuria, and he was part of Man-ei, which was a film company in Manchuria. But he didn’t make any films there; he was probably skipping work. He was a bit different. He didn’t come back to Japan when the war ended, but instead stayed in China for two or three years because he was teaching film to the Chinese. So apparently he was very well-liked there. When he finally came back to Japan, he was warmly received. He made films at Nikkatsu, Toei, and Shintoho, one of which was Twilight Saloon.

As a person, he was very warm and very admirable. As a director, he went through a lot, and I learned quite a lot from him.

BH: What were some of the things that you learned from Mr. Uchida?

EY: Mr. Uchida taught me what a director actually does. A director doesn’t just say, “Action!” There’s much more to directing than that. It’s the accumulation of all the scenes, about forming the awareness of the audience. His vocabulary was very different from other directors, and he made me realize why we make films. It’s about the awareness of the audience, of somebody who’s watching the film. He taught me that, as a director, you actually direct the audience’s awareness. So I was very impressed.

BH: Also, on Twilight Saloon, there are some famous actors like Ken Utsui and Daisuke Kato. Do you have any memories of working with these gentlemen? What were they like?

EY: As the fourth assistant director, I wasn’t able to interact with the actors. I just went about doing my work. Usually, there were three assistant directors. The chief assistant director looked after the overall production, the second assistant director looked after the actors, and the third assistant director looked after the props. So the fourth assistant director was basically the newcomer and would just do what he was told. He never got to interact with the actors.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Kind of like a production assistant?

EY: No, it was different from production assistants in the U.S. It was a bit different from the system in the States. It’s completely different from the American system, especially compared to the system in Hollywood.

BH: Sometimes the [Japanese] studios, like Shochiku, Nikkatsu, etc., are compared to the [American] studios of the ‘30s and ‘40s, like MGM or Paramount. How would you say they were actually different?

EY: Paramount and MGM produced films, but they also owned theaters, and they would also do the distribution. The theaters also have their own funding, and they would get a percentage of the sales. So there may have been a time when the system in Japan was similar because the Japanese imitated the American system. But things changed quite a bit in the ‘70s and continued to evolve into the system that we have today.

BH: Let’s talk about Teruo Ishii. Obviously, he was like a mentor to you, so please talk about your relationship with Mr. Ishii.

EY: When I joined Shintoho in 1955, Mr. Ishii was still a chief assistant director. At the time, famous directors like Tomu Uchida, Mikio Naruse, and Hiroshi Shimizu, who had been directors since before the war, had joined Shintoho. Famous directors like them didn’t belong to one studio; they worked for several studios. This was especially the case at Shintoho because they didn’t have enough directors. Mr. Ishii was a chief assistant director and was in charge of these outside directors. So, at Shintoho, he was the most respected chief assistant director. In 1957, Mr. Ishii became a director. He was a little bit older than we were, and we all really liked working with Mr. Ishii. So everybody enjoyed working on his films.

I often worked as the third assistant director for Mr. Ishii. When I worked on his films, I worked very hard. But, if I worked for a director I didn’t like, then I did my best to do as little work as possible.

BH: Did you work on [the Starman, a.k.a. Super Giant, series] at all?

EY: The Starman movies weren’t feature films; they were just over an hour. So they were considered short films. Out of the [nine Starman] films, the first [six] were directed by Mr. Ishii. I wasn’t an assistant director on these films. [One of the other Starman movies was] directed by Akira Miwa, who was the same age as Mr. Ishii.

There was tokusatsu in these films, like the scenes when Ken Utsui flies in the sky. For [the Starman film that I worked on], I became the third assistant director, and was suddenly in charge of tokusatsu. So I found myself calling, “Action!” The Starman movies were made starting in 1957 [the same year Mr. Ishii became a director] and continued until 195[9]. But the one I worked on with Akira Miwa was made in 1958.

BH: Specifically, could you tell me the name of the Starman movie that you worked on?

EY: I can’t remember. [looks it up in a reference book] It was Super Giant: The Space Mutant Appears. It was released in April 1958. I was in charge of the tokusatsu for this film.

BH: There were usually two parts for each Starman story.

EY: That’s right. There was the first half and the second half.

BH: So [you were] the tokusatsu director for [this film]?

EY: Yes. With Mr. Miwa, [I think] it was the divided into two parts, but I did the tokusatsu for both. In the theater, it was released as two separate parts, but in my [movie reference] book, it’s listed as one movie [not divided into two parts]. Perhaps it was treated as a single movie after it was released in theaters.

BH: Do you have any memories as the tokusatsu director? What do you remember about working on Starman?

EY: To make matte shots in Hollywood, they had a very big, semi-transparent screen that was blue. They would do the shoot in a very big studio with light coming through the blue screen, and the actors would stand in front of the screen. Then you’d replace the blue with another image. It worked very well and looked very real. But, in Japan, we didn’t have such big screens. We just painted one of the studio walls blue and shined a light on the wall instead of having the light come through the wall.

So, the way we did it in Japan, we couldn’t get a perfectly superimposed image. It didn’t look very real, and it didn’t look very nice. For a scene where Ken Utsui is flying in the sky, it was acceptable if you only showed two-thirds of his body without his feet. We had a scaffold where Ken Utsui would lie on his stomach in front of the blue wall pretending to fly, and we would superimpose the sky with clouds flying by. That kind of shot worked well. But it wasn’t interesting for him just to be flying in the sky. I wanted him to be flying over landmarks in Tokyo, like buildings or bridges over the Sumida River.

To do that, you need a very big backdrop because the landscape has to take up most of the screen, and Ken Utsui has to be very small. But then we needed a very big screen, and it was very difficult to shine light on this big screen, so we used up a lot of electricity. But the result was not very effective. It was just a landscape of Tokyo with a very tiny Ken Utsui flying through it, which wasn’t very interesting.

So that’s what I was trying to do, but I was told, “No, this doesn’t work. You need to get the camera closer to him,” and I realized that they were right. So I made mistakes, and it often didn’t go the way I wanted.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you have any other Starman memories?

EY: It’s a story by Edogawa Rampo, which has been around for a long time. The Starman stories, especially the ones directed by Mr. Miwa, were based on mystery novels written by Edogawa Rampo, who is very famous in Japan. Many movies were based on Edogawa Rampo stories, like Mr. Ishii’s [Horrors of] Malformed Men (1969), which was made at Toei. Mr. Miwa also liked these stories, whose main character is a person with a deformity who does bad things and gets found out by children. The story is somewhat interesting. It was part of an Edogawa Rampo series about boy detectives.

A lot of people did their best to help create what I had envisioned, but there were a lot of difficulties in terms of the technical things to accomplish what I wanted, so a lot of it ended up in failure because what I had envisioned took an enormous amount of time to do. For example, we had to use all the lights that were available in the entire studio to light up this big wall. It took a lot of time just to gather all the lights in the studio.

To shoot Ken Utsui flying, we used thin wire to suspend him from the ceiling. The wires wouldn’t show if we were taking a close-up of him, but, if we were shooting him from far away, the wires would be visible. We attached bolts to attach the wires to Mr. Utsui, but the bolts would protrude from his costume. So we had to paint the wires and the bolts the same blue as the blue backdrop so you couldn’t see them. But we could only paint them once Mr. Utsui had been suspended. He had to be suspended for hours, so he’d say, “I can’t stand this anymore! Let me down.” So we had to bring him down. Then we would suspend him again.

This went on and on, just so we could paint the wires and the bolts so they wouldn’t be visible when we were shooting Ken Utsui from far away. Finally, everything had been painted, so we started the shoot. I thought it was good, but, once we watched the scene, I got scolded very harshly by Mr. Miwa because Ken Utsui’s fingers were bent downward [in his flying position]. His fingers should have been straight, but I hadn’t noticed that they were bent downward. Mr. Miwa said, “As the director, you have to tell the actor to straighten his fingers! We can’t use this shot!” But I hadn’t noticed that his fingers were bent. I assumed that, as an actor, he would straighten his fingers. Through this experience, Mr. Miwa taught me that, no matter how famous the actor is, you can’t trust him!

Mr. Miwa was very strict about these things. On Twilight Saloon, he was the chief assistant director. It was a good group, but he got very angry at me. He said, “Yamagiwa, this is why you’re useless! You’re too nice to the actors!” He lectured me for over an hour, and I couldn’t say anything back. (laughs)

BH: In the shot when Ken Utsui’s hands are like this [bent downward], was that actually in the movie, or did you have to re-shoot it?

EY: It was cut. We only used the part where he turns because you can’t see his hands very much. So we got away with that. (laughs)

BH: So you salvaged whatever you could from that.

EY: That’s right. It was only two or three seconds. (laughs)

Mr. Ishii and Mr. Miwa were very close. I learned a lot from both of them. When Mr. Ishii was young, he went to Asakusa all the time to watch films. He was actually kicked out of his house because he was watching too many movies. That’s the kind of adolescence he had, so he was very, very knowledgeable about cinema.

Mr. Miwa studied postwar literature and writers like Rinzo Shiina and Hiroshi Noma, who were the first generation after the war. He was well-versed in their work. I learned a lot from these two and got scolded a lot by them as well.    

BH: Do you have any other anecdotes from Starman?

EY: That’s all.

BH: How long did you work on Starman?

EY: I didn’t work on the ones with Mr. Ishii, just the one with Mr. Miwa. I would say about one to two months. But, if you include the time from when all the assistant directors got together and proposed ideas for the script, then maybe two months in total. The final film was an hour and 20 minutes.

BH: What was your favorite project at Shintoho? What are you most proud of?

EY: If I had to choose one, I would choose one directed by Teruo Ishii called Black Line (a.k.a. Invisible Black Hands, 1960). I was involved in all the steps, starting with the scriptwriting. I have a lot of memories from it, and I learned a lot from this experience.

BH: Let’s talk about the end of Shintoho. What was it like at the time that Shintoho was going bankrupt? Please talk about what you remember about Shintoho’s bankruptcy.

EY: There were a lot of things that went on at the time. Around 1957, when Mr. Ishii became a director, Korakuen, the baseball stadium, withdrew its capital from Shintoho. In its place, Mitsugi Okura invested capital in Shintoho. Mitsugi Okura was a benshi [a live narrator for silent films] during the silent film era. He started a chain of five or six movie theaters called Okura Eiga and made a lot of money from that business.

He invested capital in Shintoho, which allowed it to survive a few more years. That’s when Mr. Ishii appeared [Mr. Ishii became a director]. About five or six kilometers from Shintoho’s main studio, there was a second studio that was dedicated to tokusatsu. There was a huge studio for tokusatsu and a pool where they could float miniature boats.

At the time, the property and buildings of Shintoho’s second studio were reported to be 300 million yen. Mitsugi Okura had personally lent money to Shintoho’s president, and, in exchange, the second studio was given to Mr. Okura as collateral for 100 million yen. So he claimed that the property was his personal property. There were about 1,200 members in Shintoho’s union who disputed Mr. Okura’s actions and held two 24-hour strikes in 1960 and 1961. So Mr. Okura decided to pull out. Shintoho was able to survive another five to six months after that with the staff that remained, but it eventually went bankrupt in the summer of 1961.

My first film that I directed [The End of Love] came out in the fall of 1961, after Shintoho went bankrupt. In the six months after Mr. Okura pulled out, there were some very unusual films that came out. Directors like Akira Miwa, Teruo Ishii, and Yusuke Watanabe made films that were somewhat unusual during this unique period after Mr. Okura pulled out.

BH: Is that because they didn’t have to answer to a funder, so they could have total creative freedom?

EY: Yes, exactly. For example, [Michiyoshi] Doi’s The Horizon Glitters (1961) was one of the movies that came out after Mr. Okura pulled out.

My first film came out after Shintoho went bankrupt. But it was because the distribution department of Shintoho became a separate entity called Daiho. It distributed about six films, including The End of Love, but it also went bankrupt. After that, it changed its name to Kokusai Hoei. So Shintoho didn’t disappear completely, but it was reorganized by decreasing its capital and things like that. It was able to reorganize under the Corporate Reorganization Law and became Kokusai Hoei, which still exists today. In the end, Kokusai Hoei came under Toho’s capital. It originally split from Toho because of a dispute, but ended up being under its capital again.

BH: Let’s talk about your first film [The End of Love]. Please talk about the circumstances of how you got to make it and what you can tell us about making your first film.

EY: At the time, there was a producer at Shintoho who worked both with Mr. Ishii and Mr. Miwa. His name was [Akira] Sagawa. Because he was working with Mr. Ishii and Mr. Miwa, he was part of the group, and all of us were very close. After Shintoho went bankrupt, Daiho, which had been Shintoho’s distribution department, wanted us to make a new movie. So Mr. Sagawa created a company called Sagawa Productions and decided to make a new movie, which Daiho would fund. Mr. Ishii had already gone to Toei, so Mr. Sagawa said, “Yamagiwa, you be the director.” So, finally, I had the chance to be a director. I was able to work very freely. Ken [Takeshi] Yamada, who had also been an assistant director, and I wrote the script together, and I directed it. It came out in the fall of 1961, and Daiho was in charge of the distribution. But, as I said before, there were a lot of films coming out at the time because every studio had two movies coming out every week.

There weren’t any theaters waiting for a movie from Sagawa Productions. The old Shintoho theaters were quickly grabbed up by other companies. Shintoho, Shochiku, Toho and Toei — they each owned their own theaters, which would of course show their own movies. But Shintoho only had one or two theaters that they owned directly, so most of their movies were shown in independent theaters. During the period when Mr. Okura pulled out, all the [independent] theaters were quickly grabbed up by the other companies.

So, when my film was released, it was only shown in one or two theaters. It was a very difficult situation. Even if people wanted to see it in Tokyo, they couldn’t. It was a shame because we went to the trouble of making it, but not many people were able to see it.

BH: What’s the story [of the movie]?

EY: It was about Japanese society as a whole after the war. After the war, there was a gap that was created between the wealthy and the laborers. The film was about the beginning of this gap as the wealthy class became more established. It was around the time that Tokyo Tower was built, and shortly thereafter the [1964] Tokyo Olympics took place. The film depicted the youth of this new wealthy class in a very critical way.

It’s actually similar to Tokyo nowadays. The gap between the wealthy and the poor became very extreme, and the Olympics were used to cover up that gap. So the social context at the time and the social context today are similar. The film had actually been lost for many years, but in 2010 they discovered it in the National Film Archive of Japan in Kyobashi. So now the negative and a film print are at the National Film Archive. The film is being reevaluated and recognized today.

BH: Let’s talk about Black and Red Petals (1962). Please talk about what you remember about working on this film.

EY: This was also made by Sagawa Productions. I was the assistant director, and Kichitaro Shibata was the director, who had also been an assistant director at Shintoho. This was the first film he directed. He was my senior, but he made his first film after I had made my first film. At the time, Sagawa Productions was about to go bankrupt, and they had no money at all, so the circumstances were very difficult to make the film. Because I was the assistant director, Mr. Sagawa gave me cash, which I put in my pocket. I handed this to everyone for taxi fare to go to Ginza where we were going to shoot. There was one taxi for the film crew, one taxi for the lighting crew, and one for the actors. We took about five or six taxis in total. I’ve never known such a poor film. It was terrible.

BH: Next, let’s go to Comet-san (a.k.a Princess Comet, 1967-68). This is very popular in Mexico, actually. Please talk about how you got involved in Cometo-san and what you remember about working on it.   

EY: This was after the whole bankruptcy fiasco of Shintoho, after it became Kokusai Hoei, and everything was calm again. This was the beginning of TV shows, and TV shows then were mostly about families. TV stations would build a set in a studio, and they would film with three cameras. So it was difficult to shoot action like the police chasing a criminal. Period pieces were also very hard to do, so they had to go to Kyoto to build a set. I wasn’t interested in action shows because they were just about the police chasing a criminal, and that was it.

At the time, shows were shot in one take, so if somebody forgot his line or made a mistake, they would have to start all over again from the beginning. For that reason, it was also difficult to make shows about children. Thus, shows about children, criminals, and period pieces were made by external production companies. These production companies would sell complete shows to the TV stations, who would then broadcast the show. Kokusai Hoei started making a lot of these kinds of [TV programs], one of which was Comet-san. It was about children, so that’s how I got involved because that was my specialty.

BH: Do you have anything you’d like to add about Comet-san?

EY: At the time, the show had many enthusiastic fans, and even now the DVDs continue to sell well. So there are still many people who support the series. But what I learned from it is also similar to what I learned from Starman; I learned a lot of tricks. They were sort of like tokusatsu, but very easy to do. For example, you would be shooting somebody, then you stop the camera, the person leaves, the camera starts rolling again, and it looks like the person has disappeared. I also learned about suspending actors with wires. These are very basic, fundamental tricks, but you can trick people in film. I learned many techniques that I was able to use later on in the Ultra-series.

People don’t really know the fundamentals of film, which has 24 frames per second. Nowadays, with video, it’s 30 frames per second. Most people think that the picture and sound are recorded together, but they are not. The camera records the picture, and the microphone records the sound. When you do tokusatsu, you understand how all this works, and you can use very simple tricks to make things interesting. This is something I learned on Comet-san. There were camera tricks that we imitated from [the American TV series] Bewitched. All this was very interesting.

BH: How did you get hired by Tsuburaya Productions? Please talk about your dealings with Tsuburaya Productions in the very beginning.

EY: Shinichi Ichikawa, who wrote scripts for Comet-san, had worked at Tsuburaya Productions. He was the one who introduced me to Tsuburaya Productions. That’s how I started working with them.

BH: What was your first work with Tsuburaya Productions?

EY: My first work was not part of the Ultra-series. It was part of a series called Horror Theater Unbalance (1973). There were 13 one-hour episodes. It was a very unusual series in that there was a different director for each episode. The one I did [episode 4] was called “Graveyard of the Mask.” The main actor was Juro Kara, a theater actor who was quite unusual. He did something called tent theater, which was an open-air theater in a shrine. He had worked in theater for a long time and even started his own theater troupe. He played the main role, and Shinichi Ichikawa wrote the script. This episode was the first work that I did for Tsuburaya Productions. After that, I did Return of Ultraman (1971-72) and the other Ultra-series.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Why was Unbalance not shown until 1973?

EY: It’s because they couldn’t find any sponsors because it contained very hard language and sexual themes. It was for Fuji TV, but the sponsors wanted to stay away from it. It was made between 1969 and ‘70, but it took three years before it was broadcast.

BH: Do you have any other memories of shooting Unbalance, the actual making of the episode? How long did it take?

EY: It was a very busy shoot. We shot it in about 10 to 12 days. That sounds luxurious compared to nowadays where they have to shoot a one-hour show in two or three days. But, in those days, 10 days was very tight. My episode was not very erotic; it didn’t have much blood or gore. No heads were chopped off or anything like that. It was quite ordinary. But there was a dead body that appeared as a skeleton.

The series was made by Tsuburaya Productions, but a very talented Fuji TV producer named Hideo Gosha came up with the idea. He was the mastermind behind this series. He had this ambitious idea of having 13 directors each making an episode. So everybody was very motivated and took a lot of liberties to do whatever they wanted. Some directors made their episodes very erotic, which is why they had trouble finding sponsors.

BH: How did you get involved with Return of Ultraman?

EY: Ken Kumagai, who was a producer for Unbalance, was also a producer at Tsuburaya Productions. He asked me to do Return of Ultraman, which is how I got involved. As a director, it’s important to work with a producer whom you get along with. In my case, I got along with Mr. Kumagai very well. That’s how you get to make movies.

BH: This is a broad question, but what kind of episodes can you tell us about making Return of Ultraman, such as working with the cast?

EY: In terms of casting, the producers selected the main characters and the regular cast. For my episodes, Mr. Kumagai and I selected the guest cast. In the beginning of the ‘70s, the directors still had a lot of freedom in the casting. But, from 1980 onward, the TV stations became more controlling, and the directors had less and less freedom to decide.

Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Ultraman Taro (1973-74), and Ultraman Leo (1974-75) were considered by Tsuburaya Productions as the second stage [of the Ultra-series]. The first stage was Ultraman (1966-67) and Ultra Seven (1967-68). For the first and second stages, the scriptwriters and directors still had a lot of freedom, so I was able to enjoy the work. Return of Ultraman became more adult-oriented, so they said, “We have to be more concerned about our ratings, so we have to make it more for children.” For Return of Ultraman and Ultraman Taro, they lowered the target age group. Taro actually targeted kindergartners.

I think it’s interesting that, for most TV series, the directors, scriptwriters, and producers usually ran out of ideas after a year or so. So, if the scriptwriter presents an idea, and everybody says, “We’ve already done that,” nobody knows what to do anymore. But you have to maintain the ratings; otherwise the TV station will cancel the series. So we were always looking for new ideas to maintain the ratings, but it was very hard to come up with new ideas. It seems like a year is a good length for a series because it’s difficult to continue after a year. Actually, if it continues for more than a year, it will probably suffer in quality. So TV is difficult because it’s highly competitive.

BH: On Return of Ultraman, Ishiro Honda was another director. Did you talk to Mr. Honda at all? Do you have any memories that you can share of Mr. Honda?

EY: No, I never had the opportunity to speak to him. He’s the one who did the Godzilla series at Toho, and he treated Ultraman as an extension of Godzilla. So our ways of thinking were quite different. Actually, they decided that the big-time directors who had done Godzilla weren’t able to do anything interesting for TV. That’s why they asked me and the other directors to direct, because they wanted us to do something different, something more interesting than Mr. Honda. They asked me to direct 13 episodes. So that’s why I never spoke to Mr. Honda.

BH: You directed the Leogon episode [episode 34 of Return of Ultraman]. There’s a song called “Flowers, Sun, and Rain” by PYG. Was that your choice? How did that song end up in the episode?

EY: Yes. At the time, there was a group called PYG, whose members were well-known. The song was written by one of the members, Takayuki Inoue. I asked him if I could use this song for this episode with Leogon.      

BH: Why did you think it would be appropriate? How did that happen?

EY: For [TV programs], we would first record all the music. There would be music for sad scenes, music for happy scenes, music for scenes where someone was running, music for scenes where someone was walking, and that sort of thing. We recorded many songs and had temporary titles for them. When we were editing, we would choose a song from the ones we had recorded. But this started to become repetitive and boring, so sometimes I chose different music for a change. I had this kind of freedom at the time [as a director]. Of course, if we used other music, we had to pay royalties, but it wasn’t very expensive. I thought this song was appropriate for the last scene and decided to use it. We only used 30 seconds or so in the end, but it was perfect for the last scene and very effective.

BH: Before we continue, do you have any other general memories or interesting memories from Return of Ultraman that you’d like to share?

EY: In the second stage of the Ultra-series, Taro was made in the third year. In that series, there’s an episode called “The Blood-Sucking Flower Is a Young Girl’s Spirit” [episode 11]. It was about a beautiful girl who was actually a vampire. At the time, there was a social phenomenon called “coin locker babies.” The train staff would check the coin lockers because they heard the cry of a baby. They’d open the coin lockers and find a baby inside. The mother didn’t know what to do about the baby, so she abandoned it. This happened often, and they were lucky to find the baby before it died in the locker.

This was the beginning of this sort of social phenomenon. Nowadays, we hear about parents who kill their children and bury them in the park and horrible things like that. So, in this episode, there’s a graveyard of kids who have been killed or who have died from an illness, and there are monsters that appear in this graveyard. It’s a very intense story, but it’s also very interesting. At TBS, they said, “Oh, Mr. Yamagiwa, if you made it, then I guess we have to show it.” It was a very unique show. For Return of Ultraman, there were some episodes that I really wanted to do. In particular, in Taro, this was an episode I felt compelled to make.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: For Return of Ultraman, what did you want to do that you couldn’t do?

EY: The first episode I did for Return of Ultraman was episode 15 with Eledortus, the monster that eats electricity. It’s a story about a child who has many different feelings about monsters, including fear. They found that, in toy stores, kaiju figures were selling better than Ultraman figures. We wondered why that was the case. Even today, there are children who are attracted to insects, snakes, and other slimy creatures that are scary, that adults don’t like. So we wanted to explore why children like monsters. This episode with Eledortus became a deep psychological exploration. The scriptwriter and I had a very difficult time coming up with the story. In the end, it was barely watchable as an episode because it was really about child psychology.

The main character who becomes Ultraman was [Hideki] Go [played by Jiro Dan]. He asks the child, “Do you like monsters?” and he says, “Yes.” Then he asks, “Which one do you like?” He says, “Eledortus.” “I thought you hated Eledortus.” He says, “I do hate Eledortus.” So the episode explored the ambivalence a child feels between love and hate and treated this theme very seriously. We got away with it, but looking back on it, it was very philosophical and difficult to understand. But whether it’s the Ultra-series or horror or science fiction, they’re fundamentally very difficult subjects to deal with. They only become interesting if they’re made by someone who’s very talented.  

[pointing to a reference book] This is Leogon. He looks like an enormous turtle. He’s a monster that’s half-animal, half-plant. Leogon represents something that’s been going on since time immemorial. In the UK, there are also crazy [mad] scientists like Jekyll and Hyde. They pursue science so much that they become almost devil-like. They have many of these stories in the UK. So this scientist combined plant with animal and created this monster. It’s something that’s unforgivable.

BH: Let’s talk about the collaboration of writers, directors, and producers at Tsuburaya Productions. How would that creative process go?

EY: At TBS, there was a producer named Yoji Hashimoto, and he was the main person. Then there was Ken Kumagai, a producer from Tsuburaya Productions. I was the director, and there were scriptwriters like Shinichi Ichikawa and [Shigemitsu] Taguchi. The four of us — two producers, one director, and one scriptwriter — discussed everything thoroughly.

We usually got together in Akasaka in a meeting room at TBS around 6:00 p.m. and said, “OK, what is the next story going to be?” Then we would freely discuss it until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Once we had decided what the story would be, the scriptwriter would have to write the script. We would then go out to Akasaka and eat something good, then go home by taxi. This went on pretty much every day. The scriptwriter had to write the script by the next day, so he basically got no sleep.

Two or three days later, the script was done. We didn’t have typewriters or word processors, so it was written in pencil by hand on manuscript paper, which has 200 characters per page. If the scriptwriter had written 80 pages, we would tell him, “That’s not enough. Eighty pages is what we want to end up with. You have to come up with 100 pages so we can cut it down to 80 pages.” We needed 80 pages to make a 25-minute episode of Ultraman.

You asked me about “collaboration,” but this was a very tough process for the scriptwriter. For the scriptwriter, there were three people going through the script that he had spent hours writing. If we found something that we didn’t like, we would fold the corner of the page. So the scriptwriter was very nervous whenever someone folded the corner of a page, afraid of what they were going to say about it.

So we spent hours and hours discussing the story. This wasn’t done at other TV stations. They would just have a coffee or two at a cafe, and that would be it. But, with Mr. Hashimoto, we would have thorough discussions until the producers, the director, and scriptwriter were all satisfied. In a way, it was a very trying process.

BH: Let’s talk about Ultraman Ace. What did you bring to this series? Please talk about your memories specifically of Ultraman Ace.  

EY: In the Ultra-series, we had a different series each year. In Ultraman Ace, there were five or six members on the team whose mission was to defend Earth. Ace was about each member’s personal story. But [UltraSeven, the [second] story of the Ultra-series, was about outer space, so the scale was much larger. It was science fiction in which they would go to the end of the universe in their spaceships and things like that.

But, in Ace, the story was about each of the members, about their getting married or their romantic partners, so the scale was very small. It’s not that those things weren’t interesting, but it wasn’t about space anymore. So they said, “Our ratings are going to drop. We need to do something else. The scale is too small. It’s not about space anymore.” Return of Ultraman was about outer space, then Ace was about the members’ personal stories, and Taro was about children. So there was quite a lot of fluctuation within the series. But our job was to try to make it all work somehow.

BH: What did you think about the two [characters] who became Ultraman Ace? This time, there were two people who transform into Ultraman Ace. Did that make things difficult? Of course, it was dropped before the end of the show. Why was it dropped?

EY: It was very difficult because, in order to fight the kaiju, both the male and female team members had to be in danger at the same time to combine and become Ultraman. The scriptwriters had a hard time coming up with a situation where both members would be in danger at the same time. The two members wouldn’t be able to combine if only one of them was in danger. So we decided partway through to drop this idea and return the female member to the Moon where she came from. That’s how we got away with this. But, because one of the heroes in Ace was a female member, girls started watching the show, which hadn’t been the case for the previous series. So that was a good trend, but it was just too difficult to come up with the stories. So we decided to return her to the Moon. (laughs)

BH: About Ace, do you remember what ideas you brought to the story? What were some of your additions to Ultraman Ace as a director and as someone who maybe suggested stories?

EY: In order to have a good script, you have to maximize the talent of the scriptwriter. So I was constantly suggesting ideas, but I never forced any of them on the scriptwriter because I wanted the scriptwriter to have the freedom to decide the story for himself.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Generally, what do you remember about Shigemitsu Taguchi? He was a scriptwriter. What was it like to work with Mr. Taguchi?

EY: He was a scriptwriter who was trained by producer Hashimoto. He was a very straightforward person who had a lot of experience being in that meeting room for hours and hours with people giving all sorts of orders. Throughout the Ultra-series, Mr. Hashimoto and I wanted to place importance on children — we wanted to place importance on the psychology of children and on the experience that children go through. That’s what we wanted to be at the core of these episodes. Ken Kumagai would base most of his stories on traditional Japanese stories. Mr. Taguchi would base his stories on what he himself experienced as a child. So you could see through his stories what kind of childhood he had and what kind of child he had been. So, when we worked with Mr. Taguchi on Ace, that’s how we worked. It was based on his childhood experience.

BH: Generally, on the whole Ultra-series, who was the writer that you enjoyed working with the most?

EY: I would say Mr. Taguchi. I enjoyed working with him, although I think we gave him a tough time. In particular, I think episode 29 [of Return of Ultraman] “Jiro-kun Rides a Monster” was a masterwork of his. When a spaceship from another planet crashes into Earth, a triangular piece of the spaceship falls in the mountains in the suburbs of Tokyo. Jiro-kun happens to pass by and says, “What is that? It looks like a spaceship. Where did it come from?” He sees that the door is open and goes inside. The wind suddenly blows the door closed, so that he can’t get out. Mr. Taguchi was able to draw upon his own experiences as a child, and I think that he wrote this in a very interesting way. I think it’s one of the best stories that he wrote.

BH: Let’s talk about Ultraman Taro next. Please talk about the differences. Obviously, this one is more geared toward kindergarten children. So please talk about your work on Ultraman Taro.

EY: Taro was made for younger kids — from kindergarten up to the first or second grade. Because it targeted very young kids, we tried to make episodes that would appeal to this age. We decided to base it on Baron Munchausen — I think it was European — an old fairy tale about a baron who was always boasting. His stories were interesting, but you could never be sure if they were true. So the scriptwriters came up with stories that were strange, but at the same time you weren’t sure if they were true. We wanted to leave the viewer thinking that maybe it was true. But the question was, how could we do this? So that’s what we worked on. I think “The Blood-Sucking Flower Is a Young Girl’s Spirit” was a good example of combining the psychology of children with monsters. That wasn’t with Mr. Taguchi; it was another writer [Kiyohide Ohara]. But I think it was a successful example.

BH: Do you have any memories from the set, working with the cast or the actors, of Ultraman Taro that you could share?

EY: I couldn’t care less about the sets! (laughs) They were painted very wildly in primary colors, so I was surprised. But I had nothing to do with it; it was just the people who were in charge of the art.

For the main members, Ken Kumagai and I decided who we were going to cast. We knew many of the actors very well. So it was very easy to work with the actors.

BH: Generally, what could you tell us about working on Ultraman Leo?

EY: I was working with producer Hashimoto on a different show. Out of the 50 episodes of Leo, I only did the last two. I hadn’t been involved for most of it, so it was difficult for me to work in that environment. I suggested some ideas and directed the last two episodes, but I wouldn’t call it one of my main works.

BH: What was the atmosphere like at Tsuburaya Productions or with the TV side? This was the end of the Ultra-series for that time, and there was the [1973] “oil shock,” so the economy was not in good shape. It seems like a down period, so what was the atmosphere like at the time with Tsuburaya Productions?

EY: The Ultra-series was stopped for about a year or two. In general, tokusatsu costs a lot of money, so TBS no longer had the budget to do tokusatsu shows. So, for Leo, the atmosphere at Tsuburaya Productions was such that everyone felt that it was the end. Everyone at Tsuburaya Productions thought that it wouldn’t be worth it to make an episode because it wasn’t going to make enough money to recover the costs. So they were in a very difficult place. In that sense, the conditions were completely unfavorable for Leo.  

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How did you get involved with Silver Kamen?

EY: It was made by another company, not Tsuburaya Productions. Director Akio Jissoji directed it first, then I directed it after him. When a company other than Tsuburaya Productions made a show, the ratings were never good. For this show, the ratings were terrible, so they decided to stop making it. They somehow managed to extend the show a little bit, but I quit partway through to work on something else. In the beginning, there were a few interesting stories because Shinichi Ichikawa wrote the scripts, but I wouldn’t say it was successful as a series.

BH: Did you have any interactions with director Jissoji during Silver Kamen?

EY: We worked together, and we actually got along very well. He wasn’t successful in making this show work, either, so both of us were in a very difficult situation.

BH: Personally, how would you describe director Jissoji?

EY: He didn’t come from a studio background. He started with TBS TV programs, but he eventually left TBS and became a film director. He was very ambitious. He made a lot of ATG films — Art [Theater] Guild, which was a Toho company. Their films were very artistic and weren’t shown in ordinary theaters. Mr. Jissoji made a lot of these films. He was a trendsetter and a very innovative director. I put in a lot of thought and care into my work and spent a lot of time on the directing, the acting, and the script. But he was different. He was a kind of genius. Well, maybe not a genius.

BH: How was Senkosha, which is the studio behind Silver Kamen? How was working with Senkosha on Silver Kamen different from working with Tsuburaya on the Ultra-series?

EY: Senkosha had become very successful with its [TV series] Moonlight Mask (1958-59), which was very famous. But, by the time I was making Silver Kamen, the company had shrunk. It was trying to recover, but it was never actually able to recover.

BH: Do you remember making the TV series Jekyll and Hyde (1973)? What can you tell us about that?

EY: This wasn’t with TBS; it was with Fuji TV. The producer was Hideo Gosha, who also oversaw Unbalance. He supervised the entire series. It was also a very interesting series. There were also many directors who directed this series. I only directed the last two episodes [11 and 13]. I thought that Mr. Gosha’s character setting [how Gosha came up the characters and made them come to life] was brilliant. The story was about Jekyll and Hyde, like the original story, but I thought that the setting in Japan was very convincing, thanks to the nuance added by Mr. Gosha. The story wasn’t just about a crazy [mad] scientist; it was a realistic, believable story that took place in Japan. I found that it was very worthwhile to work on this. But, because there were some very cruel scenes of people being killed, Mr. Gosha had trouble finding sponsors again. [The show was completed in 1969.]

BH: How did you get hired to work on Submersion of Japan (1974-75) at Toho Studios?

EY: For Submersion of Japan, out of [26] episodes, I think I did four. I worked with producer Yoji Hashimoto again for this show, and it was filmed at Toho. We had a big budget, so we were able to do things that we wouldn’t have been able to do at Tsuburaya Productions.     

BH: What were some of the things that you brought to Submersion of Japan? Did you have any ideas? [Do you have any] other general memories of making this show?

EY: Who wrote the original story?

BH: Sakyo Komatsu.

EY: Yes, that’s right. The original story, written by Sakyo Komatsu, was about more and more earthquakes happening in Japan until the country finally sinks into the ocean. It was also made into a film by Toho, which was directed by Shiro Moritani. But the main character in the film version by Toho was the prime minister, played by Tetsuro Tamba. I found the story very boring because he just negotiates diplomatically with Australia, China, and other countries to decide how many Japanese people he can save. The story isn’t realistic because that kind of political negotiation would never work out, no matter how bad the crisis was going to be in Japan. Even as science fiction, it doesn’t make sense for the prime ministers of Japan and Australia to negotiate this kind of thing. Toho’s Submersion of Japan directed by Mr. Moritani may have been a well-made movie, but it’s not very interesting. Who cares how many Japanese people survive?

In contrast, the TV series was suggested by Mr. Hashimoto, and it centers on the main character played by Keiju Kobayashi, who is an earthquake scientist. Nobody believes that earthquakes can be predicted, but Keiju Kobayashi warns that an earthquake is going to happen. So everybody, including the prime minister, makes fun of him, saying that he’s an embarrassment to Japan, and he’s severely criticized. But then more and more earthquakes start happening, and half of Kyushu sinks into the ocean.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

I directed four episodes, including the one where the northern half of Kyushu sinks. It was very interesting depicting an island in Kyushu where everybody is evacuating, but there’s an old lady who says, “I’m staying here,” and decides that she’s not going to leave.

Another episode took place in Kagoshima where there used to be an ethnicity called the Satsuma Hayato people, which was a totally different ethnicity from the Yamato people in Nara [Japan’s former capital city]. Because of the earthquakes, many old artifacts reappeared, so the people were happy because they found these artifacts from their ancestors. It was a very unusual story, and I actually really enjoyed working on this TV show.

The tokusatsu for these episodes was very difficult, but we had people who had worked on the Toho Godzilla movies, and they did a very good job. All in all, it was a very successful show and got good ratings. But there were only [26] episodes, and it only ran for one season. So it only lasted three months.

BH: Do you have any memories of Keiju Kobayashi, working with him as an actor?

EY: He was trained at Toho. He was very well-mannered and was well-respected by everybody. He also had a sense of humor. I would go so far as to say that the TV version of Submersion of Japan would not have been the same without him. That’s how brilliant an actor he was. Unlike Tatsuya Nakadai who had a long career in theater, Mr. Kobayashi was in theater for a very short time at the beginning of his career, but most of his training was at Toho. So, he was very solid film actor and very well-respected.  

BH: Throughout your career, what would you say was your best or favorite work that you did?

EY: My first movie The End of Love, Unbalance [episode 4 “Graveyard of the Mask”] with Tsuburaya Productions, and the Ultraman Taro episode “The Blood-Sucking Flower Is a Young Girl’s Spirit.” I have other ones that I like, but I find that these are representative of my work.

Special thanks to Connor Anderson.


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