Born on March 13, 1949, Eiichi Asada got his start at Toho Studios in the early 1970s as an assistant director, working on such movies as Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Submersion of Japan (1973), Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974), and Espy (1974). In later years, Mr. Asada served as SFX director on Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). In March 2021, Mr. Asada sat down with Brett Homenick and discussed his early life and early career at Toho as an assistant director. This interview was translated by Akane Saiki and Tetsuya Kato.
Brett Homenick: Please tell us when and where you were born.
Eiichi Asada: I was born in Hokkaido in a village called Uryu. Then, at the age of two, I moved to Asahikawa. I stayed there until I was 18 years old.
BH: When you were young, what kind of hobbies did you have? What did you like to do? What were you interested in?
EA: When I was little, I was already into movies. Actually, I liked watching Toei samurai movies. I would often go to the movies. Of course, I had no money, so sometimes I would actually take money from my mother’s purse. (laughs)
BH: So you would take the money out of her purse and buy the movie ticket?
EA: Yes. It wasn’t very often like once a week because I didn’t want my mother to find out, but I think she was quite aware of the fact that I was taking her money.
BH: Normally, how would you get money to buy a ticket? Was it an allowance?
EA: I don’t remember very well, but, to the best of my memory, at the beginning I would of course ask my parents to take me to the movies because the ticket was only around 100 yen, which was the price for a ticket for children, so it wasn’t really that expensive. But, when I went to the movie theater, I saw the trailer and really wanted to watch it. But I couldn’t ask my parents to take me to the theater again. So I would just take the money out of my mother’s purse.
BH: What other hobbies or interests did you have when you were young?
EA: Back then, of course I would play with toys that I made on my own instead of asking to buy toys, like rubber-band-powered airplanes. I also made plastic models. But I was a kid who got bored easily, so my hobbies didn’t really lasted very long.
BH: For people who don’t know, how would you describe growing up in Hokkaido during this time?
EA: Asahikawa was quite a big city in the countryside. Hokkaido itself is an area where a lot of settlers came from the mainland of Japan. I don’t know how to describe it.
BH: Would you say it was a comfortable life, or was it a difficult life? Did you feel that there was something missing?
EA: It was freezing cold in Asahikawa. One time, Asahikawa broke the record for the coldest temperature; it was minus 43 degrees. In the summer, it’s really hot because Asahikawa is surrounded by mountains due to the basin. Actually, it’s the second-biggest city in Hokkaido, so there were lots of movie theaters. Toho, Toei, Shochiku, Nikkatsu — oh, and Daiei, too! — and there were maybe two movie theaters that used to play foreign movies. Back then, movie theaters were only for people’s entertainment. Thus, it would show that Asahikawa was quite a big city.
BH: When you were young, did you see any foreign movies that you liked and remembered?
EA: It doesn’t necessarily mean that I liked it, but one movie I remember is The Sound of Music (1965).
BH: Did you like it or not like it? What did you think of it at the time?
EA: The reason I still remember this movie is because, when I grew up, I watched this movie again and again. So maybe that’s why I still remember this movie. It’s the story of a family that has to escape persecution, so it’s a very touching movie. That’s quite impressive to me.
BH: When you would see it again and again, was that in movie theaters, or on TV?
EA: I saw it both ways. The actress Julie Andrews made a big impression on me, so I still remember her, and she also played Mary Poppins [in the 1964 Disney film of the same name].
BH: What high school did you go to at the time?
EA: I went to a public high school in Hokkaido called Asahikawa Nishi High School. I belonged to the soccer club, so I used to play soccer in the first and second grade [of high school]. So I would be very busy playing soccer and didn’t have time to go see movies. During my third year of high school, I got sick, so I became the manager of the soccer club. [In Japan, the manager of a school club is a student who doesn’t play but takes care of club and its players.] Our soccer club wasn’t that strong, so, even in Asahikawa competitions, we couldn’t win the championship. But I really enjoyed playing soccer back then.
BH: What kind of sickness did you have that stopped you from playing soccer?
EA: I had an issue with my stomach, so it was gastritis. My family wasn’t very happy with my soccer club activities. But I really into playing soccer, so I had to convince my family so that I could stay in the club for the entire third year. One soccer team is usually made up of 11 players, but, in our soccer club, there were only 11 students or a maximum of 13. So I really couldn’t quit my soccer club.
One soccer team needs 11 players, so, if I couldn’t play, then the rest of the team wouldn’t have been able to play. So that’s why I played soccer until the second year, and then became a manager in the third year. But then we got some new first-year students, so we could handle the problem. I have three kids who are now 30 years old, 32 years old, and 34 years old. Because I really love soccer, my three kids also played soccer in junior high school and in high school.
BH: Did you go to college?
EA: I at least sort of went to university. I went to Asia University. At first, I tried to apply to [a different] university, but I wasn’t accepted. I told my teacher I didn’t want to wait another year, so my teacher told me there was a university in the Kanto area that was still accepting applications.
In 1967, I came to Tokyo for university. Back then, there were a lot of political movements. For example, in 1960, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan was signed. In 1970, there was supposed to be a second U.S.-Japan security treaty, but a lot of students opposed it. So there were a lot of students who were fighting for what they believed in, or who had a strong sense of justice.
My university, Asia University, was a right-wing university. At the beginning, I didn’t really care about politics, so I was non-political. When I was a high school student, I got very good grades and was a remarkable student. But, when I came to Tokyo, I was just another student because the students around me were just as good as I was. I was quite lonely, so I started to get together with my friends from my hometown in Hokkaido. Those friends were participating in the student movement because they were students of Tokyo University, Waseda University, or Meiji University.
Whenever we got together, they were always talking about campus protests or the student movement. So they invited me to participate in the protests, as well. So, little by little, I started to participate in the student movement. Until the first semester of my second year, I was studying very seriously. Then, in the second semester of my second year, I started not going to university very much because I was too busy participating in the student movement.
I don’t believe I graduated from university. But my parents didn’t receive any notice of withdrawal from the university, so I’m not sure. Of course, I remember that I called my parents to ask them to stop paying my tuition, but I’m not really sure. So maybe that’s why there’s no information about my graduation status on my Wikipedia page.
BH: I see. So you’re not sure if you really graduated or not.
EA: I didn’t graduate; that’s for sure. I didn’t get enough credits to graduate, so I’m sure I didn’t graduate.
BH: What was your major in college?
EA: Management and law. Maybe this [major] doesn’t exist in the U.S. It was one department that taught both business management and law. So I had a Roppo Zensho [“Complete of the Six Codes”] when I was a student. At one time, I was a very serious student.
BH: How did you join Toho Studios?
EA: Kaiju shows were a part-time job in which somebody wore kaiju suits to try to sell products to customers in department stores or supermarkets. These were called kaiju shows. Beginning in 1971, I started doing kaiju shows as a part-time job when I was 21 years old. I was working with four or five of my friends from the student movement.
BH: What kaiju did you play in the kaiju show?
EA: What I still remember are Angilas and Ultraman. I was Ultraman with shorter legs! I did kaiju shows not only in Tokyo but also in Gunma [Prefecture] and other areas in Kanto. When I was 21 or 22 years old, my co-workers and I opened a new kaiju-show company. In Fukuoka, Kyushu, [the newspaper] Nishinippon Shimbun organized an exhibition. I don’t know why, but this newspaper company offered our company the chance to put on a kaiju show. Back then, the boss of our company, who was also my age, said to me, “Well, Asa, I know you like acting, so why don’t you direct the show?” So I accepted the offer. I wrote a short script on my own and directed the show. We did this kaiju show for several weeks, but, even before this kaiju show exhibition in Fukuoka, I had already been interested in directing.
BH: Did you work with Toho, or was this something you did on your own without Toho’s permission? How did you do that?
EA: I don’t remember what kaiju we used for the exhibition. At Toho, there was a small production company called Toho Eizo. We had already built a good relationship with Toho Eizo. So the Toho production company rented us all the props, like pistols and other things. So there was no problem.
BH: What was the next step in terms of joining Toho, working on the films? After all of this, how did that happen?
EA: One day, the boss of our kaiju show company simply said to me, “Hey, Asa, there’s a movie being made, and they’re looking for an assistant director. So why don’t you try it?” So I said, “Yeah, why not?” So that’s how I started to go to Toho and started working on Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).
BH: Did you have to apply at all, or did you just show up, and they gave you work? Was there an interview? How did that happen, exactly?
EA: I think the main reason was that Toho Pictures was running out of assistant directors. Back then, at Toho, there was a [production] company called Toho Pictures. Toho Pictures had an assistant directors association. So all official employees of Toho Pictures belonged to this assistant directors association. They were very serious, and they looked down on tokusatsu movies because those films were for kids. Usually, they preferred Akira Kurosawa movies or other sophisticated ones. So Toho Pictures was looking for a young workforce that would do any task.
I was hired as a fourth assistant director. The fourth assistant director was a dirty job. You had to do really tough and hard work. From a certain age, senior assistant directors didn’t want to do those dirty jobs anymore, so that’s why I was hired.
BH: Please talk about Megalon, and please talk about what specifically you did on Godzilla vs. Megalon, and what you remember about this production.
EA: The most memorable episode was a one-day shoot at Lake Motosu. It was a scene in which a kid was on a boat that could be pedaled. It was freezing cold, but the child actor was wearing shorts. I don’t remember very well if he was wearing long or short sleeves. But it was windy, and of course when the kid pedaled the boat, he got wet. So it was a really bad situation.
When this happened, I was on land, and the third assistant director was in the other boat. The cameraman noticed that the child actor wasn’t having fun, so the director told the third assistant director to make him smile. It wasn’t human! I really found the director to be a devil. Poor kid. The director and the main crew were on the land and had some warmth, so they were comfortable.
I don’t really remember the name of this child actor [Hiroyuki Kawase]. But he didn’t become an actor later on; he became a pilot. After he grew up, he was invited to an event, and it was about Megalon. He told the interviewer that the most memorable day was this same day. Then I thought, “I knew you would say that.”
BH: What was your job, actually, on that day at the lake? What was your job as fourth assistant director?
EA: The main job of the fourth assistant director was using the clapperboard. In the States, maybe the movement of the clapperboard doesn’t need to be so quick, and maybe they can use it more slowly. But, in Japan, I was required to do it very quickly; otherwise, it would waste film. So I had to do it very quickly.
BH: So you were not a tokusatsu assistant director; you were a drama assistant director on Megalon.
EA: The drama side shoots the actors, and the tokusatsu side shoots the kaiju. Of course, there is a director for the drama, and another director for tokusatsu. But, for the technical crew, like sound and lighting, they did both the drama and tokusatsu sides. Usually, they would shoot the drama, and after that they would shoot the tokusatsu.
The drama director was Jun Fukuda, and the tokusatsu director was Teruyoshi Nakano. So there were two directors, but they used the same crew.
BH: What else could you tell me about your work on Godzilla vs. Megalon?
EA: Well, there are many stories to tell. When director Nakano shot a scene where Godzilla had a [telephone pole for a] toothpick. He was trying to imitate Kogarashi Monjiro, a samurai from [a 1972-73 TV series of the same name]. Godzilla was also holding a big tree, which was supposed to be like the Japanese sword of Zatoichi. Because Mr. Nakano and Mr. Fukuda found it very funny, director Nakano shot this scene. But [Tomoyuki] Tanaka, who was a big producer [at Toho], found it too much to make fun of those characters and thought it wasn’t right for Godzilla. So Mr. Tanaka told Mr. Nakano to reshoot the scene.
But Mr. Fukuda and Mr. Nakano always discussed everything together. They had many meetings, and they had already discussed this funny scene. Mr. Fukuda usually didn’t visit the set during tokusatsu filming, but that day when Mr. Nakano was doing the reshoots, he came to the studio and said, “I’m also responsible for this reshoot.” In order to do the reshoots, the whole crew had to reassemble, and a lot of work was involved. It’s not easy to say, “I’m sorry for this reshoot, and I’m responsible for it.” I just admired Mr. Fukuda’s attitude; it was very admirable.
BH: So Mr. Fukuda was not a devil after all.
EA: (laughs) He was a devil toward the child actor, but actually he was a very good person. Mr. Fukuda really liked coffee. When Mr. Fukuda came to the studio every morning, the very first thing he did was drink coffee because he really enjoyed it. As the fourth assistant director, it was my role to prepare coffee for Mr. Fukuda. There was a small kitchen, and one morning I was boiling water there as usual. When I grabbed the handle of the kettle, the handle broke.
So I dropped the kettle, and I got scalded on my ankle. Mr. Fukuda found out about it and said, “You may have to go to the medical office.” Then he took the kettle and stomped on it because he was so mad at it. Of course, the kettle was just an object, so it didn’t have any bad intentions. Mr. Fukuda cared a lot about the staff and was very attentive to the staff. It wasn’t a very serious burn.
BH: Do you have other stories? Not much is known about Megalon in America.
EA: I don’t remember what scene it was, but we were shooting Jet Jaguar on a plain where there was nothing. In those days, there were no cell phones or smartphones. It was a simple scene in which Jet Jaguar was walking straight ahead. The third assistant director was hiding on the other side [far away] because the suit actor couldn’t see very well through the suit. So the third assistant director was waiting for him to tell him where to stop. I went to help pick up suit actor and third assistant director when “cut” was called.
When the three of us went back to rejoin the crew, nobody was there. Then we saw the location bus driving away! This was my first movie, so I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t believe it. But the third assistant director said, “Don’t worry because they won’t be able to do anything without us.” He was very confident. Later on, the location bus returned to pick us up, but it was a pretty big incident.
BH: I know the Red Arone name. Where did that come from? Do you know?
EA: I don’t know. Shinichi Sekizawa was the scriptwriter, and Red Arone was written in his script.
BH: Speaking of Jet Jaguar, there’s been some talk about the name and what does it mean. [The Japanese word] jagga usually means a big cat, and Jet Jaguar the character doesn’t have an animal theme. Does jagga mean [“jaguar”], or does it just mean nothing? Do you know anything about the name?
EA: I don’t know, but I believe the initial name Red Arone comes from the suit color, which was red. I guess the robot was designed based on it.
The suit was quite metallic. His face was made of very hard plastic. If you paint on that plastic, it looks very metallic. But the rest of the body was not made of plastic; it was made of rubber. So it didn’t really look metallic, and didn’t look like a robot. I found it quite weird.
This was when I was 23 years old. Back then, my generation was quite cheeky; we were rebellious against authority. So, even though I was the fourth assistant director, I was wondering if they couldn’t do something better. When the suit actor moved, the suit would wrinkle [in the joints]. I understand that those parts should be flexible, but I felt they could have done something [to improve it]. Apart from Jet Jaguar, all kaiju were like living things. For example, Megalon is an insect, a beetle, so I understand it. But Jet Jaguar is a robot, so it’s different from the other kaiju. I found it really weird. I felt that Jet Jaguar should have been more metallic.
Maybe it’s not that obvious in the movie when you watch it, but I was on set at the studio, so I saw it in person. I saw it directly in the field, so it looked weird, and I always wondered why they couldn’t have done something about it. I understood it needed to be flexible, but I still believe they could have improved it.
BH: Do you have any other memories about Megalon from the shoot? Anything else to share?
EA: There are lots of things to tell. There’s the scene in which Megalon suddenly bursts through the dam. I couldn’t imagine how we were going to shoot this scene. The crew prepared a really big steel tank filled with water, and it was positioned at some height. It was the torrential force of the water — away from the camera — that destroys the dam. However, because the figure of Megalon, which was made to be heavy in weight, was placed near the dam and would also be pushed by this flow of water, it would look as if Megalon destroyed and burst through the dam. It was called “the water drop.”
To shoot the water drop, we first positioned a water-filled tank fixed on a pivot at some height. There were pins that prevented the tank — which was held at a near-tipping position — from rotating around the pivot. When shooting began, we removed these pins, but the tank was kept from rotating by about four staff members holding a rope attached to the back side of the tank. When we started shooting, they let go of the rope to let the tank to tip [rotate] and release its water downward. The water falling down then hit a sloped [at an angle of 30 to 40 degrees] wooden board that created a torrential water flow directed toward Megalon and the dam in front of it. As a result, the Megalon figure, which was deliberately made heavy, broke through the dam. It was all behind the scenes, so you can’t see any of that on camera. It was so analog!
The art department was in charge of the mountains [for the dam scene]. The set-building team was in charge of big sets, and the decoration staff members made this dam. Back then, it was very analog. There was a great set-builder who said, “We should be very careful, or else it could ruin the whole set. Let’s make sure everything will work.” Maybe it was Submersion of Japan (1973) or Sayonara Jupiter (1984). Since then, the water drop became more digital, so this master developed an automated system with buttons. But, before that, it was a very analog work done by hand. But maybe this electronic system was analog, as well.
Mr. [Nobuyuki] Yasumaru was working in molding room because he was a [suit-making] technician. At least once day, I used to go to that room check how things were going because we had a shooting schedule. Mr. Yasumaru had to finish the molding process according to the schedule. When I went to see him, I saw that the work was not quite complete. When I asked him how things were going, he would always reply, “It’s all right, no problem!” Actually, I noticed that he was hiding a cheap whisky bottle under the desk, and I could smell alcohol in the room!
Back then, it was quite normal for the molding technicians to drink alcohol in the afternoon. They would always finish their work right before the deadline. Those people were unique and very different from ordinary people.
BH: How long did production last on Megalon? How long was the shoot?
EA: It was actually quite short. First, we shot the drama and then the tokusatsu. Overall, I can’t be exactly sure, but I estimate it was about two months, but no more than three months.
BH: Let’s continue and talk about Submersion of Japan. I believe that’s your next film. Please talk about your work on Submersion of Japan and tell us what you can about this shoot.
EA: It’s a really great movie. Every day, I was covered in dust and smoke. I was shooting with blackened nostrils and earholes every day. The shooting styles in Hollywood and Japan are very different. In Hollywood, they prepare the set, and it is reusable, so you can do retakes many times with the same set. But, in Japan, once you destroy the set, you can’t reuse it again. So it’s different. For example, once plaster buildings are destroyed, you’d have to rebuild them.
Usually, Mr. Nakano liked to shoot Godzilla in a town that has already been destroyed in the evening or at night, so there were a lot of evening scenes. So, when you have to create evening scenes, there is less light than during the daytime scenes. So it was already darker, but Mr. Nakano was still wearing sunglasses, and the lenses were really dark. So I always wondered whether he could really see the smoke. Every day, there was black smoke from the explosions of gunpowder.
In the Akira Kurosawa movie Yojimbo (1961), there’s a scene where an actor arrives at an inn on a horse, and there is a lot of dust. In other Kurosawa movies like Kagemusha (1980) when there’s a horse running, there’s a lot of dust blowing in the wind. Fly ash [cement powder] was used to create this atmosphere.
So, every day in this small studio, we used fly ash and lots of smoke. Then we had to work overtime. Usually, we had to finish at 5:00, but it was not possible at all, so we used to work till 10:00 and then get dinner. But, in the restaurant, the staff was blamed by the restaurant because we would make the tables and chairs dirty. It was also quite damaging to our health, as well.
BH: Do you have other stories to tell about Submersion of Japan, like other specific situations with Mr. Nakano or making special effects?
EA: Mr. Nakano was an obsessive director, especially about the [Big] Pool. It’s Godzilla in the ocean, but we used the Big Pool to make that scene. The waves should look like ocean waves. Mr. [Koichi] Kawakita also used lots of waves. There was a wave-making apparatus for bigger waves and smaller ones. For bigger waves, we used two [water-filled] rectangular tanks and moved them up and down to make waves. In order to make smaller waves, we used two boards and moved them back and forth to create them. Another method was using a big electric fan with Cessna engine propeller. It was so hard!
When Mr. Nakano shot scenes with waves, we first made the waves. The waves would reach the end of the pool and then would start to come back. A lot of staff members thought that was enough. But Mr. Nakano didn’t say “action” or “start.” It was very long process to make him say “action.” On the other hand, Mr. Kawakita was very easy. When the waves were created, he would say “action.” But Mr. Nakano was very concerned about the details, especially with the waves. I thought his commitment was incredible when it came to creating waves. Mr. Kawakita not that particular about the waves.
First, when we used the wave-makers, the waves would reach the end of the pool and come back. This process would repeat and repeat. We would wait to turn on the propeller, but Mr. Nakano wouldn’t say anything. So we just waited a long time. We thought it was enough, but Mr. Nakano persisted. He’s very persistent. Finally, Mr. Nakano said, “Turn on the fan!” The wind from the fan would break the crests of the waves. We kept moving as we waited for his signal. It was just a really long time, whereas Mr. Kawakita was quick to start shooting. Nobody could understand Mr. Nakano’s commitment. Mr. Nakano has also talked about his passion for making waves in some interviews.
BH: Generally, water of course can look very small in a pool, especially if you have Godzilla who’s supposed to be very big. Was it just about making waves, or did you have other techniques to make the waves not look too big compared to the monsters or the battleship?
EA: We wouldn’t set the camera from above. We would usually set he camera from the height of the pool so that the camera could capture the subtle wave movements. Another reason not to film from above is that you could see the gap between the edge of the pool and the backdrop. You would be able to see that they were not really connected. In order to hide the gap and to make it look more natural, we would position the camera from a lower angle. It was also a good angle to hide the gap. So that was another technique we used.
BH: Let’s continue [to talk] about Submersion of Japan. Do you have other memories or other things you’d like to share about the film?
EA: There is a scene in which Mount Fuji erupts. In the script, it was written that some people were in a laboratory, and they suddenly hear a loud noise. Then they go outside and see Mount Fuji erupting with a lot of smoke. That’s how it was written in the storyboards. All the staff members understood that we were going to shoot the scene the way it was storyboarded. But [director] Shiro Moritani, who studied under Akira Kurosawa [as an assistant director], pointed out, “Nakano-chan, we can’t see the first eruption. If you see the smoke from the eruption, that means it has already happened.” But Mr. Moritani said we don’t have the scene of the first eruption.
We made a set especially for this scene. This was the middle-sized stage. There were various sizes of studios for filming, and Mount Fuji was only on the middle-sized stage. After we finished using the middle-sized stage, we had to move on to the next stage, and we had a schedule for that. So, on this day, we were ready to destroy the whole set to clean up. But Mr. Moritani said, “No, we should have the first eruption.” In the script, the laboratory staff first hears a loud noise, and then they see the smoke from the first eruption, maybe followed by the second eruption. But the first eruption happens [off-camera]. So everyone thought that we didn’t need [to show] the first eruption. But Mr. Moritani insisted that we needed it.
This is the camera position [far away from the studio outside], and the studio has very big, heavy doors. But we opened up the doors, and these are blackout curtains [outside the studio, next to the open doors]. This is Mount Fuji [in the very back of the studio], and this is the street. We thought one eruption would be enough. You know, there’s Mount Fuji. Smoke was already coming from it, but he made it erupt one more time. In the script, Mount Fuji was supposed to have erupted already, so we created that kind of atmosphere. But he said it’s not what he wanted; he wanted the first eruption, so we had to reshoot it. When I saw the movie, it was actually better to have the first eruption scene. However, Mr. Moritani said no to the staff members who were ready to move on to the next scene. It was tough.
[On Godzilla vs. Megalon,] Mr. Fukuda came to the studio and apologized to the whole staff for the reshoots, while Mr. Moritani said nothing. (laughs) I didn’t work with Mr. Moritani directly because the drama staff worked separately from the tokusatsu staff. But I didn’t have a very good impression of Mr. Moritani.
BH: How long did you work on Submersion of Japan?
EA: I was once asked this question, so I checked. I remember that the tokusatsu shooting took about three months. If you include pre-production and post-production, it took eight months on the tokusatsu side. But the shooting itself was three months. When it comes to Hollywood movies, CG and digital effects take way too long.
BH: What specifically did you do on Submersion of Japan? What was your duty?
EA: My duties were the same. It was right after Megalon, so I was the fourth assistant director. So I did the clapperboard and some other small things. When we used a lot of special effects, which means the use of gunpowder and practical effects with wires, the special effects team sometimes sought instructions from the director, but also sometimes from assistant directors. So I sometimes explained things to the team. But I was at the bottom of the hierarchy, so I suppose I wasn’t much help.
BH: Before we continue, do you have anything else about Submersion of Japan?
EA: There’s only one more thing. When we shot outside, the lighting was very difficult because we used sunlight. So, if the sun was covered by clouds, it would change everything. So that’s why the staff would be annoyed if the director didn’t say “action”; the lighting would change all the time. So it was really difficult, but we had to wait a long time. That was another difficult aspect.
BH: I think next you worked on Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). What can you tell us about working on Mechagodzilla?
EA: It’s not specifically about tokusatsu, but the same technical team worked on both the drama and tokusatsu side. There was a drama director and a tokusatsu director, but the shooting system was first the drama and then the tokusatsu.
Back then, was Okinawa a part of Japan? Maybe that’s why they decided to film in Okinawa. I didn’t bring my passport with me. We left Tokyo from Harumi to Kochi Prefecture. Then we changed ships. From the Port of Kochi, we arrived in Okinawa. It was really cold. The reason we traveled on the ship is because we needed to shoot on the ship, as well.
BH: Was that the fight scene? Do you remember that?
EA: I remember that we shot on the ship, but I don’t really remember it very well. The reason I remember we shot on the boat is because it was so freezing, and the production supplied one small bottle [of whisky] for every two staff members. Of course, I had to share the bottle of whisky with another person, but I could drink while shooting. Back then, I thought, “Wow, it’s wonderful to be able to drink while I’m working!”
We had to shoot the transformation scene of a normal hand into a hairy one, so we needed a hand. The president of Yamada Katsura [Yamada Wigs], a wig company, agreed to help. I was selected to have my hand used in order to reduce the budget. The president of Yamada Katsura said to me, “The shape of your hands is very good. People with such hands usually lack dexterity.” I found it a little rude, but indeed I lack dexterity!
It was done as a time lapse, so hair was added to my hand in each shot. The shooting took hours and hours. I wasn’t able to move, so my hand had to stay very still. We actually used nails to stabilize my hand. Multiple nails were made to penetrate a thin wooden board, and my hand was placed on the bed of nails sticking out from the other side of the board. I put my hands on the nails so that I could feel if my hand was moving. So that was my hand [in the scene].
BH: [Was it] painful?
EA: After a while, your hand gets numb to it, and you don’t feel it. Occasionally, I worried about my hand because I didn’t feel anything, so I wasn’t sure if my hand was staying in the same position. So sometimes I pushed the top of my finger into the nails a bit to check if everything was all right.
BH: Do you have any other memories to share about Mechagodzilla?
EA: I can’t immediately remember what else happened. [Masao] Imafuku was an actor who played a local old man in Okinawa. A Taiwanese girl played the role of his granddaughter. She was kind of like a local Okinawan princess. She sang a song on a beach, but this girl didn’t actually sing. Because the beach was a very noisy environment with lots of wind and other things, they recorded the song beforehand. During shooting, we played the recorded song, and the girl lip-synced to it. Maybe it was a common method in the States, but for me it was the first time I had seen this method. So, when I discovered it, I was very impressed and quite surprised.
BH: Let’s continue with Espy (1974). What can you tell me about Espy?
EA: I think the theme of the movie is good, and it’s very interesting. But it’s really Japanese. I think it’s a science fiction movie, and it’s based on a book by [Sakyo] Komatsu. Mr. Komatsu’s story was very detailed and well-structured, but in a movie it’s not possible to include all those details. So you just take the highlights and tell the story that way. It was not as good as I thought it could have been.
That was the first time Tomisaburo Wakayama came to Toho. When it was announced that it would be Mr. Wakayama, the staff got terrified. For his costume-fitting, the staff went to the hotel to see him. Mr. Wakayama was living in Kyoto, so he came to Tokyo especially for this fitting. I was the fourth assistant director, but I already had some experience by then. I was there with some props staff members to check out the props the director had in mind. I was at the end of the room, watching the director, Jun Fukuda, the costume staff, and Mr. Wakayama, and wondered, “Is he really that scary?”
But, the next day, Mr. Wakayama showed up with some daifuku [a type of Japanese dessert]. So he bought daifuku for every staff member. Because Mr. Wakayama didn’t drink alcohol, he loved sweets. This daifuku was made in a very famous shop in Kyoto. It’s very close to Toei Studios. Last year, I had a chance to go to Toei Studios for Evangelion, and I found a daifuku shop. I wondered if it was the same shop. I asked the staff, and the staff confirmed that Mr. Wakayama used to go there to buy daifuku. So, actually, Mr. Wakayama was a very kind and gentle person. He went out of his way to buy daifuku especially for the whole staff.
But he was a very scary person, too. One day, we had shooting in Aso in Kyushu. He played a character named Sarutahiko [in 1978’s Firebird: Daybreak Chapter]. It was not possible to do his makeup in the field, so, before his departure, he had already finished his special makeup, and then he got on the bus. He was supposed to act at noon, but the morning shooting was behind schedule, so he was waiting a long time for his turn. It was really late, and then another assistant director who knew Mr. Wakayama very well said, “I have to go to explain to Mr. Wakayama that he can’t act today.” But he was so scared to tell him that.
When we arrived at the hotel, Mr. Wakayama was waiting for us on the stairs. His posture was like this [arms crossed, which is an angry pose in Japan]. I can’t mention his name, but Mr. Wakayama was angry at this other assistant director. However, it was quite reasonable because nobody explained to him why they canceled his day’s work, and he was just waiting without being told anything. If it had been explained to him, he wouldn’t have gotten so angry, but, because he wasn’t given an explanation, he was very angry. It was very rare that an actor would get so angry.
In Espy, Mr. Wakayama[’s character] was literally on fire. Of course, it was not actually Mr. Wakayama in that scene. It was a stuntman. But, at first, we really struggled to find out how to do that scene because we needed a man to be literally on fire. So we decided to use the same uniform that Formula One racers use. We also prepared a fire-resistant face mask, and the stuntman also put on some fire-resistant chemicals. So the shooting was ready, but beforehand we informed the stuntman that he could fall down if he felt he was in danger. That’s because the crew could not tell from a distance if he was in danger or not. So we told him that falling down would be the signal to stop. During shooting, the stuntman got numb, and he couldn’t judge on his own if he was in danger or not.
Other staff members and I were ready with a wet blanket to cover him. But, if the director didn’t say “cut,” we couldn’t just go to rescue him. So it was quite frustrating for us. In the end, the stuntman was fine, but he was really nervous, and it was a difficult scene to shoot.
On Espy, the tokusatsu part was very small. So, in terms of tokusatsu, I don’t remember much else.
BH: Do you have any other drama side memories of working with the actors, or things like that?
EA: There was a scene where Kaoru Yumi had her clothes ripped by a villain. The camera was very close to the actress, but I had to use the clapperboard. However, I couldn’t really get it in between them. So what I had to do was put myself in lower position and held it up [to get the clapperboard between the camera and the actress]. There was no space for me to stand. Of course, I couldn’t move, so, after her clothes were ripped down [in the scene], everyone was jealous of me.
BH: So her clothes actually touched you?
EA: No, the villain was holding her clothes. But I could see it. She was very beautiful.
In the States, maybe it was different, but I used chalk to write on the clapperboard. So, when I would clap the board, some chalk would fly up. I had to deal with that. Usually, people would just wipe the clapperboard on their jeans to stop the chalk from flying up. But one day I discovered a new technique on my own, so I invented this method. If you blow a little bit on the board, the chalk gets a little wet, so it doesn’t fly up. I’ve never shared this method with anyone.
If you clap the board, and the chalk rises, you could see it in the scene, and it would ruin the shot. So the fourth assistant director had to prevent the chalk from rising for this reason.
BH: Can I put that story in the article?
EA: It’s OK. I’m not sure if they still use chalk.