Born on March 10, 1949, Masaaki Daimon launched his acting career in 1971 with a brief appearance in episode 18 of Return of Ultraman (1971-72). Shortly thereafter, Mr. Daimon was cast as a lead in Yasuzo Masumura’s tragic drama Games (1971), which led to work in numerous Japanese films that have achieved international acclaim. Among his credits are Lady Snowblood (1973), An Ocean to Cross (1980), Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981), and Toshio Masuda’s World War II epic Zero (1984). His other tokusatsu parts include Kusakari in Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), Chief Ito in Ultraman 80 (1980-81), and ZAC Captain Oda in Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop (1988-89). Mr. Daimon’s best-known roles is that of Keisuke Shimizu in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). In April 2021, Mr. Daimon answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his acting career in an interview translated by Tetsuya Kato.
Brett Homenick: Let’s talk about your early life, growing up.
Masaaki Daimon: As you may know, my father was Taiwanese — Chinese, in others words. My mother was Japanese, and I was born to them. I was born in Kobe. Until I was 24 years old, my passport was registered as a foreigner. So I was a Chinese until the age of 24. Nowadays, we say Taiwanese instead of Chinese. Naturally, my relatives are Taiwanese. After I was born in Japan, I only lived in Japan.
When I was 19, I was just an ordinary student. I went to college at Waseda University, but I was just an ordinary student. But Waseda University was known for its theatrical plays. So I began to get into theatrical plays there. I’m still in that line of work, which means that for almost my whole life I’ve been involved in it. I started at 19, and I’m 72 years old now. So I’ve been doing it for 53 years, and I’m still doing plays.
Last year, I acted in plays, but, this year, due to the coronavirus, although some of my colleagues are still doing it, I don’t think it’s the right time to perform, in my opinion. So I’ve been declining the offers. But, before the coronavirus, the offers kept on coming, but this year alone I’m going to suspend all my activities, and I clearly told the same to my colleagues.
[talking about the person sitting next to him] You know him, of course. He’s my manager. He is doing management for movies and TV shows. But we have the most theaters for theatrical plays in Tokyo in the entire world. Typical actors would get together with their actor-friends to put on plays in small theaters. In some rare cases, a very, very small number, just a fraction, of actors do that in big theaters and make it their living as a business. That’s just a very, very small fraction.
Most of the actors, about 90 percent, perform in small, small places. Speaking of which, here in Kichijoji, as far as I know, [this area] has one, two, three, four, five such theaters — even in a town like this. In Mitaka, where I live, [there are] one, two, three [theaters]. So there are so many of them, and, likewise, there are just so many actors/actresses, as well. But making a living out of it is very difficult. So, back then, 99 out of 100 people supported themselves elsewhere. All the actors you know in general are the one out of 100 rare people, so it’s a very tiny fraction.
In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), the film you watched, only one out of 100 actors could make their living purely on acting. Even in a film as well-known as Godzilla, it’s one out of 100 actors or less who can make a living out of acting. The rest, the 99 out of 100, had to have a side job to support themselves. That is the reality of actors in Japan. There’s a thick book that lists all the actors. It’s an annual publication. Whatever page you open, it is filled with actors/actresses who never made it to films or TV. Of course, I’m in that book.
BH: Let’s go back to your childhood. As someone who is Taiwanese, was it difficult to live in Japan?
MD: Not at all. I was in spirit totally Japanese. We talk about discrimination against Asians in the States, but not once do I remember any such thing. I was never once discriminated against due to my Chinese lineage. But, if they heard my name, they would know instantly that I wasn’t Japanese. But still, not once.
BH: During your childhood, what kind of hobbies or interests did you have?
MD: Well, I was just an ordinary kid, I think. But, before getting into acting, I devoted myself to rugby. I lost myself in it; I was in love with it. In high school, I was one of the selected rugby players in the Tokyo Metropolis.
BH: What high school did you go to?
MD: It was attached to Waseda University; it was Waseda University Senior High School, so everyone could go on to Waseda University. It had the most difficult entrance exam among the private schools in Tokyo. But, before entering there, I studied a lot. But, once I was there, because we were all guaranteed to enter Waseda University, my friends and I only played rugby and did no studying at all. So I didn’t study at all.
BH: When did you come to Tokyo?
MD: It was when I was in elementary school, maybe around 12 or 13.
BH: Why did your family come to Tokyo?
MD: It was for my father’s work. He was working in Tokyo, so the entire family moved, too.
BH: What kind of business was it?
MD: Import-export with Taiwan.
BH: Before you went to university, did you have an idea of what you might do as a career?
MD: I grew up watching my father’s work, so I wouldn’t have become an office worker, but perhaps I was vaguely thinking I would have run my own business. When I entered Waseda University, I was able to choose my own field of study. So I chose the business department where I studied business. That’s what I specialized in at Waseda. Normally, they [business students] think of joining a big company, but not me. I wanted to establish my own company. That has stayed the same even today at my age. As I said, making a living from acting is extraordinarily difficult. So, even now, I run my own business, and I maintain it. But, thanks to this business, I can still continue to do the acting that I love.
BH: What kind of business do you run today?
MD: Publishing on economics. I publish a magazine about economics. This is corporate-based, so all my customers are companies, not individuals.
BH: How did you professionally become an actor?
MD: I lost myself in acting when I was at Waseda. We were all students. The only thing we had in our hearts was that we loved acting. We were not professionals. I entered an audition for a professional theater company. The name of it was Gekidan Kumo [Cloud Theater Company]. Back then, 1,200 people applied. But only 20 passed as interns — 10 women and 10 men. So it was 20 out of 1,200. The 20 of us were treated as interns. The internship lasted for three years.
Only three people became formal members of the company, and those three are still acting to this day. We are all still acting on the stage. I don’t know if we are generally known, though. People would ask me as to how I managed to become one of the three out of 1,200. Well, one thing I could say is that I was lucky, and that’s really true. I believe that there were people much better than the three of us, but we were just lucky.
BH: Next, I believe your first acting appearance on television was Return of Ultraman (1971-72). Please talk about how you got cast and what you remember about making this.
MD: Well, I think you researched this very well because, in Return of Ultraman, my name is [credited] in Chinese. It’s in kanji [Chinese characters] that’s very difficult to write. I was still an intern when I became involved with Return of Ultraman. Some of the interns were sent to audition for entering this TV show, and I was one of the selected interns. All the Ultraman actors sent from our company were interns.
After that, there was an audition for a real movie. In the movie audition, I was chosen as the partner for the main character, not the main character itself. So that movie is, in general, considered to be my debut. But, technically, my real debut was Return of Ultraman with my Chinese name. That was my first credit.
On the film, I was still using my Chinese name. But the studio said that my Chinese name couldn’t be used. In those days, 50 years ago, maybe a Chinese name didn’t sound quite right to the public. So Masaaki Daimon was the name that the movie studio came up with through the director, and I’ve kept the name for 52 years. This is why the film came to be known as my debut work.
BH: Which director and, specifically, which company gave you the name?
MD: The director was Yasuzo Masumura. Yasuzo Masumura was at Daiei, and Akira Kurosawa was at Toho. They were the two big figures back then who were both very well-known. Yasuzo Masumura was the one who came up with the name. The studio, which is gone now, was Daiei. In kanji, it is written as “big screen.” The dai character in Daimon is the same as the dai in Daiei, meaning “big.”
BH: Was there any other explanation about the other characters? Was it just the dai, or were there other characters that had a story behind it?
MD: I don’t really know about the mon, but Masaaki is written as “correct” and “bright” [in Japanese kanji].
[writing his names on a piece of paper] This is my Chinese name, which is pronounced Ro Ya Fan [羅雅煌]. Ro means exquisite, high-quality cloth. The Japanese pronunciation is not Ro but Ra. Ya Fan, in Japanese, translates to masa and aki, so [my name became] Masaaki.
My real name is Masaaki Yagi, but my screen name Masaaki Daimon has become sort of well-known. So, when I was born, my family name was Ra. When I was 24, Japan recognized Taiwan as China. So China sort of pushed away the name Taiwan. Thus, the Japanese government said, “Are you going to become Chinese or Japanese? You decide.” I chose to become Japanese. Then my family name was changed to Yagi, which is my mother’s family name. So my name became Masaaki Yagi. Until then, for 24 years, my name was Ro Ya Fan. This means that my name has been Masaaki Yagi from the age of 25 through 72, which is my current age.
But Masaaki Daimon has been in use since the age of 20, for 52 years. The name on my bank account and the name on my mailbox at home all have the name Masaaki Daimon. So even the post office knows that I’m Daimon and Yagi at the same time. My college friends still call me Ra, and even my rugby buddies call me Ra today. People who came to know me after this period call me Daimon. Nobody calls me Yagi. People in general call me Daimon. But my official government registration is under the name Yagi. That is my story.
BH: Let’s go back to Return of Ultraman.
MD: It’s the only film where my old family name Ra was used.
BH: What do you remember about making this episode of [Return of] Ultraman?
MD: I lost myself the first time I was on camera for TV, so I remember nothing. I said something on some kind of space station, just one or two words. That was the nature of this task. I was acting under the name Ra, not as Yagi. I looked like a handsome little boy back then, as I was only 19. Well, you know, it was 53 years ago.
BH: When you finished acting in this episode, did you think that it was easy or that it was hard?
MD: I was a crew member of a space station. I only had one or two lines — maybe three at the most. Therefore, it wasn’t difficult at all. But my face filled the screen.
BH: Your first movie was Games (1971) with director Masumura. Please talk about getting cast in Games and what you remember about making this movie.
MD: That was my film debut. All the interns in Tokyo auditioned for this film. A young Daiei actress was the main character; she was well-known. The story was that a poor boy and a poor girl met by coincidence and then committed suicide together. There was naturally a bed scene shortly before the suicide. So we were both naked, that kind of thing.
The director chose three men from various companies, and I was one of them. In the end, it was the actress who chose the one from the three because she would have to be naked and hug him and all that. Even today, she’s still out there, still acting. She’s still a well-known actress named Keiko Sekine. After she got married, she became Keiko Takahashi. She’s still a famous actress.
Maybe it was two or three weeks ago — a magazine was working on a special article on her, and as part of that they came to interview me. I told them the same story, that in the end it was Ms. Sekine who chose me, who was only 19 years old, out of the three. I don’t know how many people auditioned, but only one was chosen, and I must say that I was lucky, as I said.
BH: Did Ms. Takahashi ever explain why she chose you?
MD: No, I never heard that. I talked to her like a friend, but I never heard that, not once.
BH: Let’s talk about director Masumura. What was his personality like, and how would he direct you?
MD: He was a big shot. For the first time in my life, I did a lot of acting with a lot of dialogue to remember. I was 19. Keiko Takahashi was 17. We were 17 and 19, so we just did whatever the director said. We just followed whatever he said. As for Games, even today, film study groups at universities are choosing this film for their studies. He has the same level of reputation as Kurosawa.
BH: Having worked with director Masumura, what do you think he had that other directors didn’t have?
MD: It was the first time I was faced with such tasks. Of course, I subsequently dealt with many other directors. But movies belong to the director, in my opinion. In other words, it’s not the actors but the director it belongs to. So, if you don’t follow him, you will get cut! (laughs) He cuts it, and he selects only what he likes. Therefore, it belongs to him, not us.
As for theatrical plays, no matter how much fighting you do, once you’re onstage, you can do whatever you please. Therefore, it belongs to the actors. But movies belong to the director. I was lucky. After working with Mr. Masumura, I did several films with Mr. [Toshiya] Fujita, [whose nickname was] Binpachi. He is from a different generation. He’s also well-known in movie study groups at universities. Mr. Masumura and Mr. Fujita were remarkably different.
After Mr. Fujita, I worked with Shinji Somai who shot Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981). This director, too, was entirely different from both Mr. Masumura and Mr. Fujita. The way he shot things was entirely, entirely different. All three of them were big names. Oh, and one more — Kei Kumai. He, too, was shooting in China for a year on An Ocean to Cross (1980). He was another big shot. All four of them were entirely different from one another. Movies belong to the directors.
BH: How would you describe the differences between Mr. Masumura and Mr. Fujita?
MD: They are from different generations, so their works were also very different. Mr. Masumura — I knew this only in later days, though — studied at Tokyo University majoring in two, not one, subjects at different departments. He studied alongside Yukio Mishima. Compared to our generation, he was about two generations older. Unlike today’s directors, he was the elite of the elite. Even in society, he was regarded as such. But he was also somewhat of a dictator — someone who was high above [us]. I was only 19, and he was maybe about 60-something. So he was high above the ground. Mr. Masumura was such a figure.
Mr. Fujita, [for] whom I acted in Did the Red Bird Escape? (1973) along with Kaori Momoi and Yoshio Harada — all three [of us] being the main characters — was sort of a new leader, in contrast to the legendary Mr. Kurosawa. He was a new leader in a new era, and that’s the kind of film he made. Did the Red Bird Escape? borrowed its plot from a French movie called The Last Adventure (a.k.a. Les Aventuriers, 1967) with Jean Gabin and Alain Delon. I forgot the name of the actress [in the French film].
Jean Gabin’s role in the French film was played by [Yoshio] Harada, and the Alain Delon role was played by me. Kaori Momoi was playing the [French] actress’ part. It was a Japanese version of a French film, so to speak. But it was a lot of fun shooting this film.
Mr. Masumura was very rigid. Everything was well-calculated. But, as for Binpachi [Toshiya Fujita], he said during a shoot, “Oh, the sunset is very beautiful, so let’s have someone peeing against this beautiful sunset backdrop.” So he did whatever that came to his mind. Binpachi Fujita is still very popular among the film study groups in colleges.
But the third director, Shinji Somai, was the one who invited me to join Sailor Suit and Machine Gun. Shinji Somai is also very different from the other two. One scene, one cut [shot]. Therefore, the rehearsal was three or four days. Then he would film the whole thing, which was three or four minutes long, in one single take.
Let’s talk about Kei Kumai. At Nikkatsu, he was the biggest shot. I went to China with him to shoot on location for seven or eight months, and I can say I was fortunate in my acting career. Oh, I should add that I starred in Godzilla, as well. That too also made me a lucky person. Godzilla was one of the films where he chose me. Thanks to Godzilla, we are here today talking to each other.
BH: Before we continue, do you have any other memories of Games?
MD: Well, it was 53 years ago. Let me see. I can remember things, but I’m not sure how clearly I can do so. The director, the actress, and I created the universe by ourselves. This was right before the bankruptcy of Daiei. So the director, actress, and I were very serious. But the other people were worried about the bankruptcy. As for Games, that’s what I remember.
To tell you something about Games, it was based on a literary piece called Double Suicide Island Bentenjima by Akiyuki Nosaka. This was all 50 years ago. We were allowed to speak with the original author, Mr. Nosaka, so we had a chance to chat. As for the author of the original novel for An Ocean to Cross, Yasushi Inoue, he was a very well-known writer, and he came along with us to China to do the shooting. We would dine with him, too. I was most fortunate because he was extremely well-known.
BH: Is it because Daiei went bankrupt that you changed to Toho?
MD: I never belonged to any movie studio. I always belonged to the theater company [Gekidan Kumo]. The company would dispatch me, for example, to Toho. Did the Red Bird Escape? was a Toho film, but An Ocean to Cross was a Nikkatsu film. Also, Games was for Daiei. However, I was never an official part of any movie studio.
BH: One of your next films was Kokosei Burai Hikae: [Tsuki no Muramasa] (1973).
MD: A Toho film.
BH: Yuriko Hishimi is your co-star. In particular, do you remember working with Ms. Hishimi as a co-star?
MD: She is a wonderful lady, and we are still friends. I live in Mitaka, and she lives nearby in Chofu — not too far away. On [this film], I was the main character. There were several actresses on that film. The actresses were guests, so to speak. This is about a traveling man and making relationships with women along the way — that kind of story. I played a high school teacher or something. She [Ms. Hishimi] was beautiful then. She had back then, and even now, core fans who stick with her and continue to admire her. She belonged to Toho.
BH: Generally, how would you describe Ms. Hishimi’s personality and acting with her?
MD: She is rather straightforward. She doesn’t hold back much. She was very happy all the time and very sharp up here [gestures toward his head]. That’s what defines her.
BH: Could you talk about any other memories of Tsuki no Muramasa?
MD: That’s how I got to know her. That is my biggest memory.
BH: You made many movies at Toho in the 1970s. In a general sense, what was it like working at Toho at that time?
MD: I was an average guy who belonged to the theater company in a regular way, and then Toho would give me offers in a regular way. All in a regular way, nothing special. I guess that the agents I was dealing with back then were on good terms with Toho. So it was quite ordinary. TV and radio jobs came alongside the ones for movies. That was 10 years out of my 50-year career.
During those 10 years, I wasn’t acting in theatrical plays, as I was occupied with work related to those movies, TV, and radio shows. But I still belonged to the company. But, because I was so popular, I didn’t have time to act for the company.
BH: Comparing Toho with Nikkatsu and Daiei, what are the differences between these studios?
MD: I can only say that the difference is in the directors. Clearly, each company had its own personality.
BH: For example, did you notice that Toho might have been a richer studio, with a commissary?
MD: Yes, there was one. But Nikkatsu had a commissary, too. But the food was awful! It was like that at both studios. It wasn’t bad; it was awful. There’s a difference between the two. It was worse than bad.
BH: What kind of food was it?
MD: It was teishoku [a set meal]. There was rice, miso soup, pickles, and one other item.
BH: Another movie you did is Hatachi no Genten (1973) with [director] Kenjiro Omori. Please talk about this film and director Omori.
MD: I don’t remember much. I’m sorry.
BH: Of course, one of your most famous movies is Lady Snowblood (1973). Please talk about this film and director Fujita.
MD: If you were to watch this film, you’d say, “Where is Mr. Daimon? I can’t see him in this film.” Only serious fans can spot me. Before the birth of Lady Snowblood, her father was murdered. I played the father who was murdered, and this is the character I played. So I was murdered in the prologue. Because I was already starring in other films, the director said that it was unacceptable to have Daimon act in just one scene. He said, “Disguise him so that people won’t spot Daimon.” He was then comfortable that I was in just one scene. Anyway, nobody could recognize me. The director said, “I’ll give you some small money so you do this little performance for this one scene.” I received the money — although it was a lot, in fact. In this scene, I just got killed; there was no line for me to utter.
BH: Were you wearing makeup?
MD: It’s set in ancient times. There was this hat and a mustache and all sorts of things.
BH: What was it like to have all these makeup appliances — to get all that on?
MD: It was all done by a professional. I belonged to Binpachi Fujita’s group. In other words, it was the group of people he cherished like his own children. I was there, so I would drink with him on a regular basis. And he said, “By the way, who is going to play the main character’s father? There are no lines for the part he plays, so you go for it!”
I was not looking into a mirror, so I don’t know how I looked. Anyway, I made sure that the camera could not catch my face, so I was moving rapidly so that no one could recognize me. The director, Meiko Kaji who played Lady Snowblood, and everyone else were all young people. I don’t know how it is now because I’ve been away from filming for some time.
But, in the days when I was an actor, we were all buddies. It was like a family. So, after the shooting, we would all go straight to the bar. Then we would go straight to the director’s house where we slept. Then, in the morning, our faces were still dirty, but we went straight to the studio. So, in my days, it was like that. Maybe it was just my kind of films. I don’t know what’s going on now. It may be different.
BH: Talking about director Fujita, you spent a lot of time with him away from the set. What was he like as a person?
MD: His living style was just abnormal — crazy, without order. I cannot live like that. He was married many times. He named one of the children Ashura, which means “demon” in Sanskrit. This is all very abnormal. He would drink and drink and drink every day. He was living with a female movie critic, and then a child was born. Its name was Ashura. I don’t think they were officially married. This is not something I could possibly do myself. I think Ashura is the Hindu statue with many arms.
BH: When you would sleep over at director Fujita’s house, what was that like?
MD: Everyone was drunk. But we would not drink until the [early] morning because we had to start shooting [later] in the morning. Let me tell you about one incident. We were drinking as usual at night. It was in Shinjuku-sanchome. The chief [assistant] director, an actress, the female critic, and I were there. The actress was Kaori Momoi, by the way.
Then the chief [assistant] director, the star, and I — the three of us — started physically fighting against some 10 or so guys we did not know. We got hit and hit many times, but, at some point, it was just the chief [assistant] director and I fighting; the director and the actress just ran away. Because our faces were all swollen, we couldn’t do any shooting the next morning.
Our life was like that in those days. It was the director who caused the fighting. He started quarreling with their side, whoever they were, and the main actor and I tried to stop him. But the main actor and I found out at some point that only the two of us were fighting against some 10 men, but the director, who actually started the fight, ran away. This was a good memory. I was young, and the director was young, too, I believe.
BH: How about the actress Meiko Kaji? What can you tell us about working with her?
MD: She was the main character, but I also think I acted with her on an NHK drama series about a love story. It was called Kaze no Bon (1981). It took place in some rural town in Ishikawa during Obon. Someone was playing the shamisen in the streets. I was partnered with her in some kind of love story. I wonder what she’s doing now. I don’t see her now. But at the time she was the main character even in NHK dramas. Where and what, I only wonder.
BH: Personality-wise, what was Ms. Kaji like?
MD: She was manly. I believe she’s still not married.
BH: How about Toshio Kurosawa?
MD: None, not much to tell about him. (laughs) I’m still working with him. Maybe it’s just me, but, in the entertainment world, you have to get along with the other person you’re working with. Because you are acting together, you are obliged to be on good terms with the other person. This becomes a matter of theatrical doctrine, but acting is about playing catchball of the soul. So you are obliged to be on friendly terms with the other person, but then you’ll be doing the same with another actor on your next film. So, one after another, you are swapping friends.
So you make very few real friends in the process. I have more close friends from the entertainment world, not the film world, because the people are different with each job. You make friends when you are acting with another actor, but then you make friends with other actors on other films. What I said applies to both movies and theatrical plays. So I felt lonely. Rarely do we make true friends in the movie world. In my life, I have friendship circles outside of the movie world. To be honest with you, I have more real friends in those outside circles. It’s something I don’t want to talk about too much, but such is life.
BH: About Lady Snowblood, how long did it take to make this movie?
MD: Very short. A little over one month. The same goes for Sailor Suit and Machine Gun with [actress] Hiroko Yakushimaru — very fast. She was a high school student, so we did it during her summer vacation. About a month or so.
BH: Do you have any other memories or episodes about Lady Snowblood?
MD: No, I’m sorry.
BH: One of your next movies is Wild Cop (1973). You worked with director [Tsugunobu] Kotani and Mr. [Tetsuya] Watari.
MD: I have lots of memories. As you can see in the film, it was shot in Kashima, a littoral industrial area in Ibaraki Prefecture. So everyone moved there. There are lots of backstories.
It was a Toho film but was contracted to Ishihara [Promotion], which was [in later years] run by Mr. Watari. So the whole team moved to the countryside in Ibaraki. We all ate and slept together under the same roof. So, in the evenings, Mr. [Masahiko] Kobayashi from Ishihara [Promotion] — the vice president and a producer – would come and say, “Hey, you guys, I’ll give you some money, why don’t you have some fun with this?” When he said, “Have fun with this,” he meant to do something with professional ladies. Things were so wild like this.
I was just married then. Mariko Kaga was an actress on the film, and she’s still quite famous. Ms. Kaga would call our home at midnight just to tease me, but, as I just said, I was recently married. She did it just to play with us. We were there for two months in Ibaraki, and we were all together like a family. After returning from the two months there, she would call us and, while my wife was listening in, say things like, “My dear, we lived together for two months. Don’t you remember that?” So my wife was furious. Ms. Kaga had a sense of humor like that. She would have fun with people in that way.
Mr. Watari was also young, and he was like an alpha male. He was cool. He took the same manly acting style in Wild Cop to the Seibu Keisatsu [Western Police, 1979-84] TV series. He invited me to join as a regular, but I had other duties, and I couldn’t accept it. The series lasted for three years, but he didn’t think it would last that long.
As I said, I took other jobs, but, in the meantime, Mr. Watari named himself Detective Daimon in Seibu Keisatsu. He said, “You are not joining, so I am going to call myself Daimon in the show.” Yusaku Matsuda said yes in the beginning, but somehow it didn’t work out. So there’s also a detective named Matsuda. So, in Seibu Keisatsu, there’s a Detective Daimon and Detective Matsuda.
It was only meant to last six months, but it lasted three years. If I had starred in this series, Mr. Watari’s character name would not have been Daimon. Mr. Watari is no longer living, Mr. [Yujiro] Ishihara from Ishihara [Promotion] is also deceased, and Mr. Kobayashi, who was handing out the money, is gone, too. Ishihara [Promotion] itself is also gone, so everything from the past is gone.
BH: Working with director Kotani, what do you remember about him?
MD: He was fun to work with. He was the director of Wild Cop. During shooting, we would see him and Mr. Kobayashi from Ishihara [Promotion] playing poker. Mr. Kobayashi and Mr. Kotani played poker all the time. Because he was losing all the time, all his salary as a director went to Mr. Kobayashi, so he was working for free. These people were all — all of them — indulging in poker, mahjong, etc., every night. If not that, then drinking — one of the two every single night.
BH: As a director, how would you describe Mr. Kotani?
MD: He was an interesting guy. He was young. He was very good at making ad hoc decisions, such as, “if this doesn’t work, let’s try this” sort of thing. But, unlike Mr. Masumura, the big shot, and, in the case of Wild Cop, the actors were much stronger in character, such as Mr. Watari, who was a very strong person.
For example, if Mr. Watari said, “I’m going to do it this way,” Mr. Kotani would say, “Yes, let’s do it that way.” So the power balance was very different. The actors were winning over the director – thus getting whatever they asked for — unlike in the case with big directors. Mr. Masumura was high up, and the same goes for Kei Kumai. As for Shinji Somai and Binpachi, they were different. For example, Shinji Somai would create the film jointly [with the other participants] as equals.
BH: Do you prefer a director where it’s more equal?
MD: It depends on the work. In this case, because their films are still highly regarded, maybe it was the right way after all, historically speaking. Their works are monuments now. Personally, it’s fun working in this kind of equal environment.
BH: You’ve talked about living in Ibaraki for about two months. What was that like, more specifically? Could you talk about the living conditions?
MD: Poker, mahjong, drinking, and the professional ladies, along with the money given to us for that, every day.
BH: Was that the most fun that you’ve had on a movie?
MD: I didn’t consider that to be fun, but everyone was having fun. So I had to pretend to be having fun. I couldn’t just say, “I can’t have fun with professional ladies like you guys are doing.”
I was 30 by the time I acted in An Ocean to Cross in China, so it took a year and maybe a couple of months to complete. It was a monumental piece of work. When I was 30, that was the only work I took — nothing else. So my memory is still intense. China, 40 years ago, had nothing. When I say nothing, I mean nothing. There were no professional ladies, either.
BH: Do you think that that situation was more the influence of Ishihara Pro[motion]? Why was that going on?
MD: Yes, it was Ishihara [Promotion]’s culture. They have this culture that says, when you are shooting, you are to cook and eat together and play with the professional ladies. That was the corporate culture of Ishihara [Promotion]. It was such that I couldn’t say that I don’t want to go with the flow, so I played along.
BH: Do you think Toho would approve of that? Did they know about it, or was it secret?
MD: Of course they knew. Toho was not producing this; it was Ishihara [Promotion]. Toho purchased the delivered work and released it. “How you make the film is up to you,” was their stance. “As you like it,” in other words.
BH: Next, let’s talk about Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Do you remember how you got cast in this film?
MD: People ask me this kind of question. It’s the agent who got the job, not me. Back then, I was receiving offers to play main characters on a regular basis, and I belonged to a company that kept on bringing these offers. So it was only a matter of hearing, “This time, it is for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla,” from the company one day.
Reiko Tajima, who was also a main character, was one of the three out of the 1,200 who got admitted to the company. We were from the same year, and we all belonged to the same company. So Reiko Tajima, Akira Otani, and I — the three of us met here. Reiko Tajima is still acting.
So Toho and my company joined efforts, and the main characters, both male and female, were supplied by my company. But, of course, the real main character is Godzilla. But the main human characters, both the male and female, were from Kumo. So I didn’t get cast by myself, but, somewhere outside of my knowledge, Kumo and Toho were having talks about my casting. The company said one day, “This is the offer. What do you think?”
BH: Were there any rehearsals for Mechagodzilla, or was it shot without rehearsals?
MD: Straight to the real shooting. No audition. We got the scripts, and I said, “Oh, this time I’m the main character.”
BH: Do you remember the first scene that was shot?
MD: (laughs) I’m sorry! All I remember was that it was in Okinawa. We took the ferry boat called the Sunflower. It took three or four days. So it wasn’t by airplane. We did some shooting on the ship, as well.
BH: First, did you shoot in Tokyo and then go to Okinawa?
MD: Yes, we did the shooting in Tokyo and then Okinawa, and then back to Tokyo for more shooting. However, in the case of Sailor Suit and Machine Gun and some others, it was only a little over a month, but, in this case, it was more than double that — meaning more than three months. That’s because Toho had a higher budget for Mechagodzilla than other films did.
Today, we have digital tokusatsu, but, back then, we had analog tokusatsu, so it was an awful lot of work. For example, the transformation of the spacemen — that alone was three days. So we did the shooting piece by piece. But we don’t do those kinds of things today. It’s all done digitally.
BH: What can you tell us about filming that and also [working] with Beru-Bera Lin?
MD: She was pretty. She couldn’t speak a word of Japanese when she first arrived.
At first, she was just singing. She was acting in Japanese, but she wasn’t actually able to speak Japanese.
BH: In the Japanese version, is a Japanese actress [her] voice? Is she dubbed?
MD: No, she actually was speaking Japanese herself, not dubbed.
BH: Did you two talk to each other, because you both have Taiwanese [backgrounds]? Did you talk to her on the set?
MD: But I cannot speak Taiwanese [Mandarin], so there was no communication.
BH: Also, there are many scenes where you’re driving around in a Jeep. Was that easy for you, or did you have to get trained to drive a Jeep?
MD: None at all. I could just do it naturally, no training.
BH: Were those scenes shot in Tokyo or in Okinawa, or both?
MD: It was in Okinawa. It was prepared for us.
BH: There’s the quarry that leads into the cave. Where was that location?
MD: The cave was a set at Toho. The entrance to the cave with the stalagmites was real. But the interior of the cave was a set. The two were merged very cleverly.
BH: Where was scene with the entrance filmed?
MD: It was in Okinawa.
BH: Let’s talk a little bit more about Reiko Tajima. You know her very well from the company.
MD: We were from the same year. She is strict. I haven’t seen her lately, but she’s my age. She’s 72 now. She’s acting quite actively now, so she’s on television more than I am. She will look at me and say, “Why are you so fat? It’s because you are not alert. That’s why you are fat.” Because she’s my friend from the same year, she’s very strict.
Last autumn, I acted with Akira Otani, one of three who joined in the same year along with Ms. Tajima and me. I was the main character, and he was the producer. It has been 53 years since we first met, and the three of us are all from the same year. Both of them are still acting.
Last Saturday, at Bungakuza [a theater company], there was an actress who was 89 years old, and the actor was in his 50s. This was her last stage performance at the age of 89. I was there to see this. But I thought it was not good to do such a thing in the time of the coronavirus. I was sorry that she had to have her last performance in the time of the coronavirus. It was announced that she was 89 years old, and that struck home with me. Knowing that it would be her very last stage performance, my eyes were watering a bit.
BH: On Mechagodzilla, because you knew Ms. Tajima, what was that like to work with her?
MD: As I said, oh, boy, she was so tough on me! We were acting together every day at the company, so we simply took that everyday thing outside the company, which was at Toho. So she would throw words at me like, “Do it properly!” She would throw words at me like this. When you are with a person who joined the company the same year, we put aside being a man or a woman and were just outright strict with each other in terms of the business of acting. So she was very strict back then, but she got even stricter and tougher on me as time went on. Now she’s a crooked old woman! We all say that. She became even more difficult these days.
If you were to ask her about Mechagodzilla, she would say, “I don’t remember a thing!” We are the “three out of 1,200” friends, so to speak. I don’t see her so often these days, but I feel closer to her than to other actresses.
BH: Also, you worked with Kazuya Aoyama. What was he like as a person, and what do you remember about him?
MD: I had sake with him a couple of times after that, but, after that, I have not seen him at all. He probably left the business. Back then, I think he was singing, as well. His girlfriend was supporting him, thinking he would become famous one day. But I wonder whether she became his wife. That I don’t know. Rarely do people stick with one wife, as in my case.
BH: One of the most interesting actors is Shin Kishida, a very interesting actor. What can you tell us about him?
MD: I met my wife through him. He was an alcoholic. He kept a bottle of whisky handy at his workplace. So, while practicing his lines [between takes], he was drinking straight from the bottle. He was sort of shaking. I don’t know whether you know this, but there was an actress named Kirin Kiki, a very famous actress. He was her ex-husband.
She was called Chiho Yuki back then, but they were getting along well in those days. Both he and Chiho Yuki were from the Bungakuza theater company. She was unsuccessful in the beginning. But then he would say, “Until she starts earning, I will support her.” Indeed, that is what he was saying, and he did put himself into that effort.
And then he would say to me, “Oh, I’ve got a superb whisky called Berry’s All Malt. It’s wonderful.” But he also said you couldn’t buy it in Japan. Then, when I met my current wife, she was a stewardess on international flights. So he asked me to ask her to bring some Berry’s All Malt. If she bought it, then she would have to see me again. So that’s how our relationship started, and now she’s my wife.
BH: That’s how you met.
MD: When I first met her, I asked myself, “How could I see her again?” So I asked her, “Please bring back this Berry’s All Malt whisky.” For her, that meant she would have to see me once she buys it. Then, for the first time, she gave me her phone number so that we could arrange the meeting. In those days, 50 years ago, it was a task to get a girl’s phone number.
BH: Another actor that you worked with [was] Goro Mutsumi. What can you tell us about him?
MD: He was an actor, but actors in general have other side jobs to support themselves. So he was a part-timer at my father’s company. When we saw each other at the company, of course he was my senior, but he would [shake hands] and say things like, “I was really helped by your father, and I’m still so grateful. In my younger days, I was part-timing at your father’s company,” and so on. I think he is still alive.
So you know the name Goro Mutsumi. You see, in Japan, actors often change their names. But, before that, he was called Seiji Nakanishi; and it was during the time he was part-timing at my father’s company. My name has not changed for over 50 years. But, generally, actors in Japan change their names all the time.
BH: You also had some scenes with Akihiko Hirata, a very senior actor. So what can you tell us about Mr. Hirata?
MD: He was always in Godzilla films. He joined before me, so there was a generational difference. I don’t think I talked to him much. Maybe he was playing my father or uncle in the film.
BH: [That was] Hiroshi Koizumi.
MD: You are very attentive. You are watching the details more than I am. I think you have watched more movies than I have. Of course, I do have Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla on video at home, but I just don’t really watch it at all.
BH: How about Hiroshi Koizumi? What can you tell us about him?
MD: I don’t know. I didn’t talk to him much because there was a generational difference.
BH: One of the big scenes is the fist fight scene with Daigo Kusano. The first one is at the house with Mr. Koizumi. Could you talk about the fight scene?
MD: We were young then, and we took the fighting seriously. To tell you the truth, maybe you haven’t seen this one, but, in An Ocean to Cross, when we shot on location in China, this story was about four monks. Daigo was one of the four, and I was acting with him in China. He suffered a stroke at his workplace and died. He was doing dubbing, adding his voice to a film in the studio, and suffered a stroke. His brain just snapped. Daigo was only four or five years older than I was. He was still young back then. So he died at work.
BH: When it came to the fight, did you and Mr. Kusano do the choreography, or how was that done?
MD: There was a choreographer who specialized in fight scenes, so we were following his instructions.
BH: Was there anything difficult about making those fight scenes?
MD: No, nothing difficult. We were able to manage it naturally because I had played rugby and practiced karate, which helped — well, in my younger days, I mean. Japanese actors would also go through samurai sword training, and I was far better than others at using a samurai sword. In our case, we went through the fighting and samurai sword training, horseback riding. Everybody did that as part of his standard training. When you act outside the company, you need to be endowed with such skills, to say the least.
BH: After the first fight scene, you run outside, and you’re looking around. Do you remember where that location was?
MD: I don’t remember. It was somewhere nearby, I guess.
BH: There’s also the scene where you drive up, and there’s all this debris in the road.
MD: I don’t remember where that was, but all those objects were fake. The telephone poles and everything else looked heavy, but they were all lightweight. I was trying to lift a telephone pole and make it look heavy, but it really wasn’t.
BH: There’s the oil refinery scene where you’re watching Godzilla. Do you remember where that was?
MD: Some were at Toho Studios but also in Okinawa. The assistant director said, while holding something in his hands, “Pretend that this is Godzilla.” The camera was here, and we were there. We call it the eye line, but your eyes should be looking in this direction.
The assistant director was holding something up, any kind of object. The other actors pretended that this was Godzilla. Our eyes should be looking at it. The camera was filming the actors as they looked at Godzilla.
BH: In this specific case, there was an oil refinery.
MD: That was at the studio. It was at Toho Studios. There were two separate scenes. One was with Godzilla at the oil refinery set, so it was not a real oil refinery. The other was our reacting to Godzilla with our eyes fixed toward where Godzilla was supposed to be. Then the two were combined. I think it’s fun to watch these kinds of things taking place at the studio.
BH: There’s also a big explosion. It looks like maybe there’s wind coming at you.
MD: They would flash lights or maybe short-circuit something electrical to create a spark. Our scene was separate from the oil refinery scene. The oil refinery is like what they did in Ultraman. It’s tokusatsu in which the oil refinery is a set.
BH: What kind of lights would they use?
MD: Big lights with a shutter in some cases that would pulsate or emit electrical sparks. This was behind the camera. The camera was aiming at me, and I would react to the sparks by saying things like, “Ah!” It’s fun to watch these things.
BH: Let’s also talk about the ship where you’re going to Okinawa.
MD: During the day, we shot the night scenes in the film. We call it tsubushi [to crush], but we would lower the exposure to make it look like a night scene. Anything we shot we had to dubbed over later at the studio because there was music and the singing of, “Sunflower, Sunflower!” nonstop on the ship. The recording engineer gave up, so, after we got back to the studio, we dubbed those scenes.
BH: How about fighting on the Sunflower? Obviously, there were lots of people around.
MD: There were bystanders, but we asked them not to come near us. Of course, we didn’t want them to be in the scene. In the film, there are both nighttime and daytime scenes, but everything was shot during the day. But, by adjusting the exposure, they could make it look dark.
BH: So there were lots of people watching the fight scene.
MD: Yes, exactly.
BH: In one of the scenes, you’re actually wearing the alien uniform after you go into the alien base. What kind of material was it?
MD: Just some cheap plastic. It was really cheap-looking, but on camera is was not that bad. After that, we started using better materials, but not in those days. It was cheap stuff.
BH: In the heat room where the aliens are torturing the good guys by having the high temperature, talk about how they did that.
MD: It was not hot at all. We acted hot, but it actually wasn’t. The room was all made of thin plywood. So it was not hot at all.
BH: There’s also the scene where the car blows up, and you and the other characters watch it blow up. Do you have any memories of how they blew up the car or how they did that scene?
MD: I don’t remember, but at least it was safe, as the explosion scenes were handled by experts. I don’t remember much.
BH: There’s also the scene where you’re running along, and then the aliens fire a gun at you.
MD: Yes, I remember. In Japan, everything was done so safely. The bullet impacts were actually small explosions created by embedded explosives. In Hollywood, they really shoot, in other words, for example, they really shoot that wall. But, in Japan, we embed small explosives in the wall. So I believe it’s safer than it is in Hollywood.
BH: So there was no problem making that scene.
MD: When we were running, there were markings to show where we should be running.
BH: Typically, making this film, how many takes were there?
MD: Director [Jun] Fukuda was not very fond of third takes, so sometimes there was just one take. But, as for An Ocean to Cross, the director would go up to take 10, take 20. So it really depends on the person.
BH: There’s another scene where the light flashes, and Godzilla appears.
MD: We and Godzilla were shot separately, as I explained earlier. So, during shooting, we had no feeling or image whatsoever of Godzilla. Somebody would say, “Godzilla has arrived!” But, of course, that was it. It was only when we watched the finished product that we actually saw Godzilla, and only at that time would we realize that Godzilla was standing there, doing this or that.
BH: Could you talk more about Jun Fukuda, the director? What was he like as a person and as a director?
MD: He was a big shot, and he continued shooting Godzilla movies for many years. He was very friendly to the actors. He wasn’t eccentric. There were many eccentric directors who would yell at you. Yasuzo Masumura was eccentric. When I first debuted, he would yell and throw words at you. But not Mr. Fukuda; he was gentle. Mr. Kurosawa was eccentric, but not Mr. Fukuda.
BH: What were your arrangements like in Okinawa? Where would you stay? Did you have to bring a passport to Okinawa?
MD: It was right after the return [of Okinawa to Japan], so the towns were like American towns, as it was right after the return. All the entertainment places were still American-style. But it was as if we were not on Japanese soil. The culture was not an ordinary Japanese one, either.
BH: Next, let’s talk about Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975).
MD: Did I star in that? I don’t remember.
BH: It’s a very small [part].
MD: I don’t remember.
BH: Do you remember director [Ishiro] Honda?
MD: It was not director Fukuda, right?
BH: No, not him.
MD: I think this was a guest situation where somebody must have asked, “Could you please join us for just a little bit?”
BH: No memories.
MD: None whatsoever.
BH: Let’s talk about Ultraman 80 (1980-81). How did you get cast in Ultraman 80? Please talk about what you remember.
MD: I joined somewhere in the middle, not from the beginning, although as a regular. The circumstance they were having was that they wanted to “empower” Ultraman 80, but I did not understand what they meant by “empower” — possibly sort of improving it, but again I did not understand.
I was playing Chief Ito, but not the captain — a role in between the soldiers and the captain. I joined after “one cool” [one season], so there were three cools remaining for me. They were saying that they brought me in for the purpose of “empowerment,” but again I had no idea what that meant. But regardless I was happy to accept the job, and I had a lot of fun, as well.
BH: One of the directors is Noriaki Yuasa for Ultraman 80.
MD: I don’t remember. There was a multitude of directors. So many. I can’t remember anything.
BH: Do you remember anything about the actors that you worked with on Ultraman 80?
MD: Hatsunori [Hasegawa] stoically practiced to make himself look like a bodybuilder. He trained seriously.
BH: Do you remember Zero (1984) with director [Toshio] Masuda?
MD: I shot several films with him. He was a well-established, big-shot Nikkatsu director. It was a very small role. I played the designer of the Zero fighter. The real designer was still alive at the time. By then he was at the top of Mitsubishi. Toho allowed me and the director to meet him. With director Masuda, I only played a small part. However, he cast me in a promotion film for Soka Gakkai, a religious organization in Japan, as the main character.
He offered me the role by saying, “Why don’t you just do it?” And I said yes. At the time, I was just married. He then said, “Get your wife in the film, too.” I replied, “She’s not a professional and not capable of handling scripts, etc.” Then he said, “Well, then why not have her just appear in one of the scenes?” So, in one scene, her face filled the screen. His earnings are the highest in Japan.
BH: What else could you tell us about your working with Mr. Masuda? How would he direct you?
MD: Well, I could only say, “Yes, yes, yes! I shall follow your orders to the letter.”
BH: One other director you worked with is Kazuki Omori on Sukanpin Walk (1984).
MD: I don’t remember too much. I’m sorry.
BH: [The last question is about Dennou Keisatsu] Cybercop (1988-89).
MD: I was the captain. I thought it was going to be a big hit, but it was released all too early. Had it been made a year later, I think it would have been a tremendous hit. That [show] was a very expensive one, the kind of [show] for which digital technology would be used today. But, back then, we had to pour in a lot of money.
Despite the money spent, it did not gain enough popularity, and only continued for six months. Nonetheless, that was a good role, as I was playing the captain. I have lots and lots of pictures at home, but I am always in the middle, and it puts a smile on my face when I look at them. The heroine of Cybercop went to either Hong Kong or Taiwan, and became a star there. Her name was [Mika] Chiba.