As a child, Fred Bercovitch, the son of film producer and screenwriter Reuben Bercovitch, always loved to draw, even though neither of his parents could draw a stick figure. Cartoons and animation were his favorite pastime at that age. He learned to draw The Flintstones by watching them on TV, went on a tour of the Disney animation studio, and made two amateur animation videos. But his real passion are animals and nature. He became a wildlife biologist, studying animals in Africa and Australia. From 2010 until 2017, Mr. Bercovitch lived in Japan, working as a professor at Kyoto University. Sanda and Gaira from Toho’s The War of the Gargantuas (1966) were the result of his combining his love of wildlife and drawing, but in a cartoon fashion, at a young age. In this May 2021 interview with Brett Homenick, Mr. Bercovitch discusses his contribution to the Japanese sci-fi classic The War of the Gargantuas.
Brett Homenick: When you were young, what did you usually like drawing?
Fred Bercovitch: Cartoons. Some were famous, like Fred Flintstone and Mickey Mouse; others I just made up. My college notebooks are filled with sketches and doodles; some pages have more drawings than notes from lectures. Oftentimes, it was more interesting to sit in class and doodle/draw than to listen to some professor lecture, but some classes were required for graduation. I did take one summer art class, but mostly I was self-taught and just practiced a lot.
BH: When your father [screenwriter Reuben Bercovitch] asked you to draw the monster [that eventually became the Gargantuas in 1966’s The War of the Gargantuas], did he describe the monster at all, or could you draw whatever you wanted?
FB: I don’t remember, but my guess is he simply asked me and probably told me about the story.
BH: How old were you at the time?
FB: Probably around 12, but am not sure.
BH: Did you draw just one monster, or did you create a design for both?
FB: Don’t remember.
BH: How many sketches did you make?
FB: Don’t remember.
BH: Were you inspired by anything in your design?
FB: I wanted Gargantua to not look like Godzilla — too imaginary — or King Kong — a big gorilla — so an ape-like human made sense.
BH: What did you expect would happen after you drew it?
FB: That Dad would show it to some film folks who would then either say, “Great idea,” and change it completely or toss it into the garbage and say, “Not exactly what we had in mind.” I do remember being amazed that anything became of it because, to me, it was simply doing something for fun that my dad wanted, and I had no idea that it would actually turn out to be made into a movie monster. At the time, I was probably drawing and sketching cartoons almost every day in my spare time, so this wasn’t something special — just doing another drawing.
BH: What was your father’s reaction to your drawing?
FB: Don’t remember, but he obviously liked it.
BH: How close would you say the Gargantuas in the movie are to your original drawing?
FB: From what I remember, they aren’t much different.
BH: What did you think of The War of the Gargantuas as a movie?
FB: I haven’t seen it in decades.
BH: Could you share any other insight about the making of the film, for example, what your father thought about the experience, or anything he told you about writing the script?
FB: Not the film, but he did share a lot about his trips to Japan, and ended up buying a dog in Japan. We had one of the first Akitas in the USA, named it Saki [named after the Japanese alcoholic beverage sake] because we figured that my dad must have had too much when he bought the dog. The dog came from Japan, but there was a mix-up in the shipping. Dad was supposed to be in the USA when the dog arrived, but he was still in Japan. We got a call from Pan Am Airways that there was a dog to pick up and had no idea what was going on. My mom and me went to LAX, got the dog, and brought it home. Saki was a champion dog, and there was some reluctance to send him away from Japan, but Toshiro Mifune pulled enough strings, so we got the dog.
BH: Could you tell us how you joked about this with your father years later?
FB: After Brad Pitt mentioned that War of the Gargantuas was his favorite movie, we told Dad he should get in touch with Pitt. That was when I mentioned that I should have been paid some royalties for the drawings, and we wondered what ever happened to the drawings. He didn’t remember, either. We have a gazillion boxes stored in the garage, so it’s always possible that one of them has something about Gargantua and the drawing.
BH: Generally speaking, what are some of your favorite memories of your father?
FB: He seemed to have a way to always be around when we needed him, and he trusted us. We weren’t the best-behaved boys, and when we got in trouble at school, he would sometimes take our side, and not punish us.
BH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of this interview?
FB: Dad was a devout believer in the concept that all men are created equal and brought us up to treat a garbage collector the same way that we would treat the President of the USA. Everyone deserved respect.