MEMORIES OF MECHAGODZILLA! SFX Director Teruyoshi Nakano Reflects on 35 Years of ‘Terror of Mechagodzilla’!

Teruyoshi Nakano in December 2015. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Teruyoshi Nakano is one of Japan’s masters of special effects. Born in what is now Dandong, China, on October 9, 1935, Mr. Nakano joined Toho in 1959 and quickly moved up the ranks in special effects, becoming chief assistant director under Eiji Tsuburaya by 1963. In 1969, Mr. Nakano would serve as special effects director on his first film, The Crazy Cats’ Big Explosion. Mr. Nakano would direct the special effects on every Godzilla film between Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and Godzilla 1985 (1984). In October 2009, with the 35th anniversary of Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) on the horizon, Mr. Nakano answered Brett Homenick’s questions about the film in a telephone interview conducted and translated by totorom.

[On the background of the film’s production]

Teruyoshi Nakano: If I remember correctly, we did not have a major reason that we featured Mechagodzilla again in Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) following the previous movie, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974).

Before the production of Terror of Mechagodzilla, there was a talk within Toho that we should take a break and suspend the Godzilla series after that.

I think we had a lot of discussions to see what kind of movie we should produce as the last Godzilla movie and then came up with the idea of Terror of Mechagodzilla.

We were also carefully thinking about the future course of the Godzilla series. We discussed which future direction we should take for the Godzilla series.

Then we decided we should try a movie with a sci-fi flavor. Terror of Mechagodzilla was a big hit in the U.S. at that time, although it was not so popular in Japan. I thought, because it had a sci-fi taste, it became popular in the U.S.

When I attended [a Chicago-area Godzilla convention] a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Titanosaurus was so popular in the U.S. We had traditionally designed kaiju in Godzilla movies based on dinosaurs.

But we had never designed a Plesiosaur, so we tried it with Titanosaurus. We used a bright color, a reddish color, for Titanosaurus in contrast to Godzilla. I think that is one of the reasons that Titanosaurus is so popular in the U.S.

Brett Homenick: How big was the SFX budget compared with other Godzilla films of the 1970s?

TN: It was the same budget as the other Godzilla movies in ‘70s. I knew what the budget was from the beginning. It was a small budget, but I did not want to trade quality for price. I tried to overcome the limitations of the budget with wisdom and an efficient way of shooting.

We have an expression in Japan [about] “indulging in one particular luxurious item.” Although the budget was always limited for the Godzilla movies of the ‘70s, I spent a certain portion of the budget for a particularly important scene in every movie.

For Terror of Mechagodzilla, I spent a major portion of the budget for the scene where Mechagodzilla destroys the city. We could not make a low-quality movie because of the limitations of the budget. For the audience who paid to see the movie, we made every effort to make exciting SFX scenes.

[On his collaboration with director Ishiro Honda]

TN: For SFX movies produced by Toho, we had a two-director system. This means we had two directors — one for the drama side and another for the tokusatsu side of a movie. It was a really unique system, which no other movie studio in the world adopted.

The two directors worked very closely together to make one movie. When I met Steven Spielberg in Japan, I told him about Toho’s two-director system. He said he envied us for having such a system, and he wanted to try it in the U.S. too.

Mr. Honda and I discussed a lot from the very beginning of the production and script-planning for Terror of Mechagodzilla. So I should say this movie was made according to the intentions of both Mr. Honda and me.

BH: Do you know how Titanosaurus’ and Mechagodzilla’s roars were created?

TN: The roars of those kaiju were created with the mixture of sounds from musical instruments and electronic sounds. We used some beautiful sounds from violins. For Titanosaurus, we used the most high-pitched sound that was audible.

BH: Why was a different Godzilla suit used during the ending when Godzilla is in the water?

TN: We used a water-proof Godzilla suit for the ending. For this movie, as well as the other Godzilla movies, we used a different, water-proof suit for the water scenes.

BH: How would you rank your work in Terror of Mechagodzilla?

TN: I think we successfully introduced a sci-fi flavor to Terror of Mechagodzilla, which we had not done with other Godzilla movies before. So I was happy I could do something new for this movie.

Traditionally, sci-fi stories are not accepted very well by Japanese people. A movie with a sci-fi flavor is welcome in the U.S. or Europe, but it is not so in Japan. So we did not introduce a sci-fi taste to Godzilla movies until Terror of Mechagodzilla. We were producing Terror of Mechagodzilla as the last movie of the Godzilla series, so we dared to try a sci-fi story.

BH: Do you think it should have been the last Godzilla film until 1984?

TN: After Terror of Mechagodzilla, I personally wanted to make another Godzilla movie. Actually, within Toho, we had many discussions on the restart of the Godzilla series. We had a lot of trial and error in those nine years to restart the series. We devoted all of our energy to finding the new direction for the Godzilla series. We needed nine years for that.

BH: What is your reaction to the film’s enduring popularity?

TN: To think about a new direction for the series, we needed a break, and we made Terror of Mechagodzilla as the last movie of the series at that time. So I was very anxious to learn how this movie would be accepted. There was an idea at Toho that, if this movie is not accepted very well, we should give up on all future efforts for the Godzilla series. It was a matter of life and death for the Godzilla series.

So I was very happy to hear that it was a big hit in the U.S. at that time. Thanks to the success in the U.S., we could say, “Let’s make another Godzilla movie,” and that led to Godzilla [in] 1984.

I am now even happier as I hear that Terror of Mechagodzilla is still so popular even after these 35 years [in 2009].

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