RECOLLECTIONS OF TOHO’S GOD OF CLOUDS! Fuchimu Shimakura on Painting the Studio’s Tokusatsu Backdrops!

Fuchimu Shimakura in January 2021. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on October 5, 1940, Fuchimu Shimakura began working at Toho in the late 1950s, creating or assisting in the creation of tokusatsu backdrops for the Showa era’s most notable special effects movies, including Battle in Outer Space (1959), Mothra (1961), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Monster Zero (1965), and Destroy All Monsters (1968), among countless others. He retired from Toho in 1981 and began working freelance through his own studio, Atelier Cloud, creating backdrops for movies, TV shows, and commercials. In this January 2021 interview, which was translated by Maho Harada, Mr. Shimakura spoke to Brett Homenick about his legendary tokusatsu career.

Fuchimu Shimakura: When I first came to Tokyo, I had no intention of working in the film industry. I was studying under a master of lithography, but I began to worry about being able to make a living doing this work. My older brother was working in the film industry at Dokuritsu [Eiga]. He said, “We’ve got so much work. Come to the studio, and maybe you can work in this industry.”

When I went to the studio, they hired me on the spot and said, “You can start tomorrow.” My work wasn’t painting backdrops; I worked in props because they didn’t have enough people. The first film I worked on was Stepbrothers (1957).

Brett Homenick: Before we continue, let’s go back to the very beginning. I can’t find a birthdate for you because there’s no birthdate listed here [on your Japanese Wikipedia page]. What’s your birthdate, for the record?

FS: It’s October 5, 1940.

BH: Let’s talk about your early life. Could you please talk about growing up in Niigata and maybe what your hobbies were and your background?

FS: When I was a child, I loved to draw. In elementary school, we would go on field trips to go sketch somewhere. Most children drew landscapes or buildings, but one day I just started drawing clouds. I would draw the movement of clouds, one cloud after another. Before I knew it, my drawing was full of clouds. There was nobody like me; all the other children only drew objects.

In elementary school, I spent a lot of time drawing. When I was in the ninth grade, my art teacher said, “I can introduce you to a local sign-painting company. You should work for them.” I didn’t have a mother or father, so I had to start working as soon as I graduated from junior high school.

BH: What happened to your mother and father?

FS: My mother passed away when I was four, so I don’t even remember what she looked like. My eldest sister took care of me.

BH: What about your father?

FS: My father passed away when I was 15. During the war, they gave out food rations. Sometimes, they gave out fish as part of these rations. Occasionally, they gave out blowfish, which is poisonous. We don’t know for sure, but that’s probably why my mother died. She died in her sleep with me in her arms. My father passed away when I was 15 of a stomach ulcer. He was 62.

My older sister told me that I had to start working right away. So my junior high school teacher arranged for me to work at this sign-painting company in Tokyo. He said, “You can paint for a living,” so I was happy to go.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What kind of signs did you paint?

FS: Signs always contain paintings and letters; my job was to paint these paintings and letters. I had a senior apprentice who taught me how to do my job. I worked for two years at this company, but then the president of the company died, so I had to quit. When I told my older brother this, he told me to come to Tokyo. So I came to Tokyo when I was 17, which was around 1960.

BH: Obviously, this was after the war. Do you have any memories of any hardships or difficulties due to the war? Also, do you have any direct memories of the war itself?

FS: I was born in 1940, which was five years before World War II ended. I don’t have any memories of the war. Niigata didn’t have major air raids like in Tokyo. But I do remember running into the bomb shelter when I was five or six.

BH: Because there was an air raid at the time?

FS: There were air raids in Niigata, but they weren’t as bad as the ones in Tokyo. Toward the end of the war, there were many B-29s flying overhead, so I remember running into the bomb shelter every time that happened.

BH: So, even though there may not have been bombings, there were B-29s in the air.

FS: In Niigata, they were targeting areas where there were many factories and bombing them. I lived in the mountains in Niigata Prefecture, about an hour away from Niigata City.

BH: What was the name of the city that you were living in?

FS: It was called Suibara-machi. It was in the mountains on the Fukushima side.

BH: Please talk about your move to Tokyo and what happened next.

FS: I came to Tokyo when I was 17. I was studying lithography under a master for about a month when my brother said, “You won’t be able to make a living with that. You should start working.” That’s why he took me to Dokuritsu [Eiga]. I was hired as a temporary worker, so I only went when there was work. I worked on the film Stepbrothers doing props because they didn’t have enough people.

Stepbrothers was my first film. From my second film, Angry Island (1958), I was transitioned to the team that painted backdrops.

BH: For the first film [Stepbrothers] where you were working with props, what exactly did you do?

FS: My job was to prepare the props and lay them out on the set. For this film, I was in charge of the personal props for Rentaro Mikuni, who is a legendary actor. Personal props are the objects that an actor carries with him. Mr. Mikuni played a military role in this film, so I was in charge of his Japanese tobacco pipe, Japanese sword, and hat. My job was to bring these items and hand them to him. I was designated to look after Mr. Mikuni’s props and lay them out on the set.

BH: How did the transition happen to where you were painting backdrops?

FS: From Angry Island on, I did the backdrops for many films. In two years, I worked on 10 films. I asked to be transferred [to the backdrop department]. I said to myself, “I didn’t come to Tokyo to work with props; I came here to paint.” So I went to the backdrop department where there were four painters. All of them had graduated from university, so I was able to learn a lot from them.

BH: Let’s talk about Angry Island and your work on it. This is your first time painting a backdrop, so talk about what you learned [and] any techniques that they taught you. What was it like to work on your first film painting backdrops?

FS: I was an errand boy. From Angry Island on, I worked on one film after another, and worked with directors like Tadashi Imai, Satsuo Yamamoto, and Heinosuke Gosho. I worked on the backdrops for all these directors’ films. They were among the top directors in the early days of Japanese cinema. On the set, they used paintings to show the view outside windows, like gardens, in order to make the set look bigger.

In Angry Island, the story is set on a small island in the ocean with clouds in the sky above the ocean. The senior apprentices [who were learning how to paint backdrops] would paint these clouds. At the time, I thought they were good, but, looking back on it, they weren’t very good at all! But, watching the senior apprentices, I was very impressed and thought one day I would also be able to contribute by painting backdrops.

Back then, Dokuritsu [Eiga] didn’t use airbrushes to paint clouds; they just used big brushes. Later on, when I went to work for Toho, I discovered that they used airbrushes with compressors to paint clouds. They also used a completely different technique.

BH: Let’s talk about [your] two names. [You are sometimes credited as] Jin Shimakura and Fuchimu Shimakura.

FS: My agent, who sold my paintings, decided that Jin sounded better because it rolled off the tongue better. He also thought that it would be easier for people to remember. So I didn’t choose this name; my agent did. (laughs)

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Around when was this?

FS: It was about 20 years ago.

BH: So, when you were working at Toho, for example, it was just under your real name.

FS: Yes, I was working under my real name.

BH: Do you have a preference for what people call you?

FS: I prefer Fuchimu Shimakura. Fuchimu means the number 2,600. I was born in 1940, which marked 2,600 years of imperial reign based on the theory of origin [in Japan]. There were major celebrations with lantern processions held all over Japan that year. I was told that that’s why my parents named me Fuchimu [a homonym in Japanese for 2,600]. The theory of origin dates back to the first year of the official [imperial] calendar in Japan. There’s even a beautiful song about celebrating 2,600 years of imperial reign.

Like Isoroku Yamamoto [an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy], you can attribute sounds to numbers in Japanese and use them to write a name. Isoroku means 56, which can also be pronounced “Isoroku.” My father was very inspired by this and wanted to give me a name based on numbers. Because the year I was born was a very important year for Japan, he chose the characters representing the number 2,600 and decided that they would be pronounced “Fuchimu.” That’s how I was named Fuchimu, which is my real name, whereas Jin was a name given to me by my agent.

BH: Another name that you have is the God of Clouds, so talk about the origin of the name God of Clouds.

FS: I’m not worthy of such a title. (laughs) I wouldn’t dare think of myself as a god. People have referred to Akira Kurosawa as Emperor, and Eiji Tsuburaya as the Old Man [Oyaji-san] because nobody is more important than your father. I have no idea who started calling me the God of Clouds.

One thing I can say, though, is that there were very few people who could paint clouds because it’s very difficult to do. Even among the people who painted backdrops, very few of them could paint clouds. I worked very hard to be able to paint clouds, so the people around me, including directors, recognized me for this. That’s why people started calling me by that name.

BH: When did this name start?

FS: It was a bit later. In addition to films, I also painted clouds for commercials and museums. The more I painted clouds, the more people started calling me by this name. When people like your work, you become conceited, even though my work wasn’t that great. People said, “If you want to have clouds painted, just ask Shimakura.” (laughs) But I don’t think I’m a god.

BH: Let’s talk about The Three Treasures (1959). Please talk about what you did or what you saw on the set.

FS: I didn’t do the backdrops or paint clouds. I worked on the animation for this film.

BH: Was that for the swan?

FS: That’s right. For the scene where the swan is flying, we had to draw every frame so that it looked like it was flying.

BH: I believe you worked with Sadao Iizuka. Talk about working with Mr. Iizuka on this movie.

FS: I was working under Mr. Iizuka. He’s still in great shape, even though he’s five or six years older than I am. He’s 86; I’m 80.

BH: What was it like to work with Mr. Iizuka on The Three Treasures?

FS: He’s very serious, but also short-tempered. He was always angry with me. Before Mr. Iizuka started doing animation, he also painted backdrops.

BH: How difficult was it to do the animation for each frame? How long did it take?

FS: We hardly slept because there just wasn’t enough time. We had to draw hundreds of frames. There were five or six of us, and the work was divided between us. Each frame was one sheet of paper, and the difference between a frame and the next frame was less than a centimeter, maybe only five or six millimeters. That’s how we depicted the swan’s flying away and disappearing into the distance.

It took less than a minute to draw each frame. We had to draw every frame for the swan to fly away. It seemed endless. You have to have perseverance and patience to do this work. You can’t be short-tempered.

BH: Overall, how long was The Three Treasures [for you]?

FS: About one month, maybe 40 days. We always worked until midnight. We would be sitting for hours on end, drawing the frames. After The Three Treasures was Battle in Outer Space (1959), but I didn’t want to work at a desk anymore. I wanted to work in a studio. I spoke to Masami Sueyasu, who was the chief of tokusatsu, and told him that I didn’t want to do animation anymore, that I wanted to do backdrops. So, from Battle in Outer Space on, I was able to do backdrops.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Going back a little bit, what was the actual process in terms of how you got hired to work on The Three Treasures in the first place?

FS: Meiho Okada of Dokuritsu [Eiga] was going to visit the set of The Three Treasures. He said, “Shima-chan, do you want to come with me?” So I went with him and saw these beautiful clouds on the set. I asked Mr. Okada, “That’s a photo, right? It’s not a painting, is it?” He replied, “No, that’s a hand-painted picture.” I said, “I didn’t know this kind of work existed! I’d love to do that as a job.” I asked Mr. Okada to speak to Mr. Sueyasu and ask if I could work on backdrops.

So I went to see Mr. Sueyasu and told him that I was interested in working on backdrops. He said, “Sure. But, right now, we don’t have enough animators for The Three Treasures.” So he asked me to help Mr. Iizuka for 30 to 40 days doing animation. But, from Battle in Outer Space on, I was able to work on backdrops.

Mr. Okada was the first person to do composite shots in the Japanese film industry.

BH: Let’s go on to talk about Battle in Outer Space. What work did you do? What did you paint?

FS: Backdrops. At Dokuritsu [Eiga], I painted backdrops. I didn’t paint the clouds for this film, but I helped with the preparations, like painting the undercoat layer or preparing paints. I worked for a long time under my master, Fukutaro Suzuki.

BH: Obviously, this is an outer space movie, so did you do any outer space painting?

FS: I also painted the space backdrops, like nebulas.

BH: What’s the difference between painting a backdrop of outer space and painting clouds? How would you paint outer space, and how was it different from clouds?

FS: You can see clouds from Earth. But, at the time, nobody had actually been to space. There weren’t any photos, and I remember there were very few references that we could use. So the only thing we could base it on was a sky full of stars, and the spaceships would fly through that.

BH: Was there also a technique? How did you do it?

FS: There are colors that we called “space colors,” which were darker colors. We had people paint the backdrop a dark color, and we would paint tons of stars and things like the Milky Way, and the rockets would fly through that.

They [the special effects team] made the rockets. Mr. [Yasuyuki] Inoue was the art designer, and Mr. [Takashi] Naganuma painted the spaceships, but he didn’t join [Toho] until much later.

BH: In terms of the stars, what color did you use?

FS: We used sequins. I would paint the stars, and then we would glue sequins onto them. But there were thousands and thousands of stars, so we used part-time student workers to glue on the sequins.

BH: How big would the stars be?

FS: There were three types of stars. The biggest ones were about one centimeter; the others were five millimeters or eight millimeters. We had to glue sequins onto all of the stars.

BH: So you would paint on a canvas?

FS: Yes, we painted on a canvas. The backdrop, which is a curved wall on the studio, was made of canvas cloth, and we painted directly onto this canvas. If we were painting a sky, it would be the color of the sky. If we were painting outer space, it would be a space color.

BH: [Did] all the stars have sequins?

FS: I only painted the big stars to indicate where the sequins would go, so the part-timers would know where to glue the sequins. If I didn’t do this, all the stars would end up being the same shape. So I had to decide where the stars would go. Otherwise, the part-time student workers would paint the stars in the same pattern. They would do whatever they wanted and wreck the painting.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Generally, how long would it take to paint a regular sky, and how long would it take to paint outer space?

FS: After working at Toho for seven years, I was finally allowed to paint clouds. Until then, I worked under Mr. Suzuki. He would let me paint mountains, oceans, trees, and buildings, but he never let me paint clouds. I found out later that it was because Mr. Suzuki wanted to prove to Mr. Tsuburaya that he was the one who painted the clouds.

BH: When you did take over, how long would it take to paint the whole sky?

FS: It depends on the number and quality of the clouds. For example, if I were to paint clouds behind a plane, you don’t have to paint the clouds very precisely because the camera is panning across the sky. In that case, you just need clouds here and there, so it would only take a day or so to paint. But, if the camera is still, and a plane is flying toward the camera, the audience will be looking at the clouds, so that would take much longer, about four days.

[I remember a lot about] the war movies because there were always a lot of scenes with flying planes, which always involved clouds. [I Bombed Pearl Harbor (1960)] is about the war between the U.S. and Japan, with a lot of battle scenes between the Grumman and Zero fighter planes taking place against a backdrop with clouds. You never have a single cloud; you have to paint a lot of different clouds, which meant that we needed to make a lot of paintings with clouds.

BH: In terms of the size [of the paintings], how would they be different?

FS: The height was about 11 meters, and the width varied. The largest one was 92 meters, which was the same size as Toho’s Big Pool. We also made paintings for the sets with miniature planes, which were about one meter. So, depending on the size of the planes, the size of the painting varied quite a bit.

BH: What would be the smallest painting that you would do?

FS: The smallest panel was about three meters high and five meters wide. That was for a scene with a huge fleet of small planes flying toward the camera. In that case, the panel was very small, and I painted the sky in great detail. Depending on the scene, I painted the sky differently.

BH: Could you share your memories of Mr. Suzuki, working with him?

FS: Honestly, he was a very difficult person. He wasn’t a very good painter, either. The only thing he was good at was painting clouds. I heard that the only reason he was able to get a contract at Toho was because he could paint clouds. He was not a very good painter, and I questioned the quality of his paintings.

I shouldn’t say this, but the only reason I got recognized as a painter was because Mr. Suzuki had a family situation that prevented him from painting backdrops, so I was asked to fill in for him. While I was painting, Mr. Tsuburaya happened to see me and said, “Hey, you can paint! You’re ready to start painting.” From that moment on, I started painting clouds.

BH: What movie or what year was that?

FS: It was two or three years before Mr. Tsuburaya passed away. I think it was before Expo ‘70 in Osaka.

BH: The work on that probably started in ‘68 or ‘69 or something like that.

FS: Maybe it was before that, in ‘66 or ‘67, or maybe even before that. I think it was around Zero Fighter (1966) in‘66.

BH: What other personal memories do you have of Eiji Tsuburaya?

FS: I often had to massage his shoulders. He called me “Boy” and would call out to me like, “Boy, come here!” If I was on set, I was always massaging his shoulders, and he had very tense shoulders. I was used for things like that, too. I guess that meant that he took a real liking to me. He kept calling me, “Boy, Boy.”

He was also the one who recognized my talent, which helped boost my confidence. He often told me, “It doesn’t need to be Mr. Suzuki. Shima-chan, I want you to paint the clouds.” Mr. Suzuki started doing other work because he was getting less and less work from Toho.

Instead of working for Mr. Tsuburaya, he started working for Nihon Tokusatsu [Eiga], which had contracts with Shochiku, Daiei, and Nikkatsu. So it became difficult for Mr. Suzuki to come back to Toho, and Toho didn’t renew his contract after that.

BH: Did you ever work with Akira Watanabe? Please tell me about him.

FS: He was a designer who was part of the older generation. Mr. Inoue came after Mr. Watanabe. When Mr. Inoue started working, Mr. Watanabe was no longer in the picture. I don’t know if he had passed away, but he was no longer there.

I also worked with Mr. Watanabe on Battle in Outer Space. He wasn’t very talkative and was rather quiet. I also did I Bombed Pearl Harbor with Mr. Watanabe. The director of Osaka Castle Story (1961) was Mr. [Hiroshi] Inagaki, I think, and Mr. Watanabe did the scene where Osaka Castle is on fire.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you remember what you did for Osaka Castle Story?

FS: I helped Mr. Suzuki paint the backdrop for Osaka Castle when it was on fire, like painting the clouds.

BH: Do you remember working on Mothra (1961)?

FS: I designed Mothra’s wings. In a meeting with Mr. Tsuburaya and Mr. Watanabe, Mr. Tsuburaya asked me to come up with a design for Mothra’s wings. So I presented five or six designs, and Mr. Tsuburaya liked one of them and chose that one. I was very happy about that.

BH: Do you remember what the other designs were?

FS: I don’t remember. Because I had designed Mothra’s wings, I knew that I was going to paint them, as well. And I knew that I would have to paint the wings of the Mothra miniatures in three sizes: small, medium, and large. So I came up with a design that would be easy to paint for all three sizes, and that’s the one that was chosen.

BH: Did you also have any other inspiration, or was it just based on that [being easy to paint]?

FS: If I were to paint everything by hand, it would take too long. So my idea was to use patterns and airbrushes so I could paint it exactly the same every time. Otherwise, if I had hand-painted the wings, it would look different every time. And it wouldn’t have worked if the wings looked different.

BH: Did you also choose the colors for the wings?

FS: Yes, I chose the colors, too. I chose red on black because I thought it would look flashy. I thought it would be better if the wings looked flashy.

BH: Could you share any other memories about working on Mothra?

FS: Just before Mothra builds its cocoon, it climbs Tokyo Tower. I drew the clouds for that backdrop, and that scene was used a lot for the stills and posters. I thought the clouds that I painted for that scene were relatively well done.

BH: Why were you able to do the clouds this time? Obviously, Mr. Suzuki liked to do them himself, so how could you [have done] that?

FS: Yes, Mr. Suzuki normally wouldn’t allow me to paint the clouds, but I painted the clouds for that scene. I don’t know why, but he let me do that part. When my work is recognized like that, I feel a real sense of satisfaction.

BH: Do you have any other Mothra stories or memories?

FS: At the time, I was still working under Mr. Suzuki. What I remember about Mothra is that I was able to paint the clouds behind Tokyo Tower in that scene, and that I designed Mothra’s wings. And there were a lot of mountains that we had to paint.

In particular, there were many paintings of Mount Fuji. I painted all the Mount Fuji paintings, and Mr. Suzuki painted the clouds next to Mount Fuji. I also painted all the [other] mountains.

BH: It sounds like a lot of work. How long did you work on Mothra?

FS: I think it took about 50 days just for the tokusatsu scenes. I was just involved in the tokusatsu [side], and there was also the drama side with the actors. For the tokusatsu work in the studio, it took about 50 days. Following Godzilla (1954), Mothra was probably the biggest production for Toho tokusatsu films. So Toho put a lot of effort and money into it. There were about 100 staff members.

BH: Did you have any part in designing other kaiju or other mecha?

FS: No, I only designed Mothra’s wings.

BH: I think the next movie [you worked on] is The Last War (1961).

FS: I mostly worked on the backdrop paintings. Because it was a war movie, there were a lot of action scenes with planes and ships. There were a lot of battles between ships, and ships trying to escape the enemy, so there were a lot of backdrops of the sea and clouds.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How about Gorath (1962)? There was a huge Antarctica set; it may be the biggest miniature set in Toho history. So please talk about Gorath.

FS: The film is about Gorath’s colliding with Earth, and trying to move Earth out of the way by blowing a lot of gas into the atmosphere. So we created about 10 miniature pillars of fire that were firing gas [flames]. I remember thinking how dynamic tokusatsu was. That was the first time I saw how tokusatsu contraptions worked and thought, “Wow, tokusatsu shoots are really unique.” It was quite different from painting. My memories about this film aren’t so much about the paintings I did, but more about how it was filmed, especially how they shot the scene with Antarctica and moving Earth with these pillars of flame. I was very impressed.

BH: Even if you weren’t involved, do you remember how they did it, or do you remember any special techniques about that?

FS: It was so dynamic. In the film, the pillars of flame appear to be about 100 meters, because they needed enough energy to move the planet. In reality, the pillars of flame were probably only about three meters high, but it was still very impressive to see. I was worried that the studio was going to burn down!

BH: Could you describe the scene?

FS: There were about 10 pillars which were firing incredible amounts of flame. It was really amazing to see. I was watching from outside because we were told to stay far back due to the danger. The pillars were firing gas [flames]; not kerosine or gasoline, but gas [flames]. They used propane cylinders with gas [flames] firing out of them. The flames were blue, almost purple in color. It wasn’t red, but a bluish color. It was so dynamic.

BH: Was that the most dangerous tokusatsu effect that you saw at Toho?

FS: Yes, it was very dangerous. I was impressed with Mr. Tsuburaya — how he came up with these ideas and how he got the staff to make it happen. I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Tsuburaya and his ability to come up with such ideas.

BH: Did Mr. Tsuburaya have a lot of freedom to experiment? That [scene was] a dangerous thing. Did the studio ever really object to him doing things like that?

FS: No, the studio never said no. Toho Studios is in Seijo Gakuen, and there were many fire trucks from the Seijo Gakuen area on standby. They were very prepared. It says a lot about Toho to be able to pull this off, but it says even more about how amazing Mr. Tsuburaya was to make the shoots happen.

BH: They would notify the fire department ahead of time?

FS: Yes. About one month in advance, they would contact the fire department and say, “We’re going to do this kind of shoot.”

BH: Did Toho ever get in trouble with the local government?

FS: No. But a few years later, maybe around 1980, there was a real fire at Toho’s Stage 7. It almost burned down during a tokusatsu shoot. [The film in question is The Last Days of Planet Earth, a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974).]

BH: [Another film you worked on is Zero Pilot, a.k.a. Samurai of the Sky (1976)]. Please talk about this film.

FS: Mr. [Koichi] Kawakita was a very difficult director to work for. He would demand something, making it sound like it would be easy to do, but it wouldn’t be easy to do. He always demanded a lot of difficult things, and expected that they could be done very easily.

The backdrop wasn’t just for one or two planes. There were many, many planes that were heading toward the battleground. The planes were suspended to give a sense of depth and were of all different sizes.

[pointing to a picture in a book] As you can see, the sky [the backdrop] was about 12 meters high. The set was about 30 meters [wide], and the planes would come from the left and fly toward the right. I had to paint many clouds all over the backdrop. So the scale was very big. Maybe it [the backdrop] was 35 or 40 meters [wide]. War movies like Zero Pilot are all about the sky and planes, so we were very busy.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Could you share more memories about working with director Kawakita?

FS: I only have bad memories. Mr. Kawakita and I didn’t get along. He was very selfish. He would say, “Paint a cloud here, paint a cloud there,” as if it could be done very easily. I would paint something and ask if it was all right, and he would say, “Well, I guess it’s OK.” So I got very angry and said, “I’m never going to work with you again!” That happened several times. But, after we finished one film, he would ask me to work on the next film, saying “Shima-chan, can you work with me again?” as if nothing had happened. He was like a bad friend, but I know that he did good work.

BH: What did you do on King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)?

FS: I didn’t paint clouds for that film; I mostly painted Mount Fuji. I painted Mount Fuji for the scene where [Godzilla] is fighting King Kong. Mount Fuji was four to five meters tall, so it was quite big.

BH: How long would it take you to paint Mount Fuji, especially for King Kong vs. Godzilla?

FS: About three days. I think Mr. Suzuki was still there. Mr. Suzuki painted the clouds, and I painted Mount Fuji with help from students who were part-time workers.

BH: How about Attack Squadron! (1963), another war movie? Please talk about your work on it.

FS: I mostly painted clouds for this film. This is probably the film for which I painted the most clouds. We used two studios, [Stage] 8 and [Stage] 10, to paint different clouds.

BH: Why was it done that way?

FS: It was because there were two different locations. One studio was for the kind of sky that we typically see in Japan where the planes would take off. The other studio was for the South Seas where the climate is warmer, so the color of the sky was different from the sky in Japan. The sky in the South Seas is a deeper color, whereas in Japan the color is lighter. And, of course, there are differences in the clouds.

BH: At this time, were you getting noticed, your clouds versus Mr. Suzuki’s clouds? Did anyone notice the difference at this time?

FS: Yes, people said that my painting skills were better. Even the cinematographer said, “Mr. Suzuki’s clouds don’t look right; they have a strange shape. But, Shima-chan, your clouds have the right shape.”

BH: How long was the work on this [movie]? Since it involved two studios, was it longer than usual?

FS: About five days for each set.

BH: Was the work on this kind of typical, or was it more difficult than usual?

FS: It was more difficult than usual. Because the sky for the South Seas required a darker color, it took more time.

BH: Did you have to do any research about the color of the skies?

FS: We met with Mr. Inoue quite often. We often had meetings with him, and he would tell us, “It should be this kind of color, this kind of sky.”

BH: You would look at books or pictures?

FS: Yes, pictures.

BH: What was it like to work with Mr. Inoue, and what kind of relationship did you have with him at Toho?

FS: We had a good relationship. Mr. Suzuki, my master, and Mr. Inoue didn’t get along. So Mr. Inoue would come to me to talk about things.

BH: Why was there trouble between them?

FS: Both of them had been to war. I don’t know if it was about the war, but they were always arguing. One day, Mr. Suzuki was painting clouds, so he had some paint in his hand. Mr. Inoue came and wanted to talk [to Mr. Suzuki] about something. But Mr. Suzuki said, “There’s no way I can do that!” He had an airbrush with white paint, and he sprayed Mr. Inoue in the face with it, so his face was all white. That was one of the episodes. They really didn’t get along. Sometimes, I had to get in between them to stop them. That’s why Mr. Inoue was very kind to me.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Who was your best friend at Toho?

FS: I had many friends back then at Toho. There was nobody below me, only students who worked part-time. It was just Mr. Suzuki, me, and four or five students who were part-timers. I got along very well with Mr. Inoue. Later on, many, many young people joined the tokusatsu art team. Mr. Naganuma was one of them, and there were other art assistants. Later, I became one of the more senior and older staff members. A lot of people in their 20s joined the tokusatsu art team.

BH: Let’s move forward with Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). What can you tell us about this film?

FS: I’ve done so many films, it’s hard to remember! What was the story about? I think there were more mountains than clouds. Does Godzilla come out of the sea? When you work on so many films that are very similar, it gets confusing.

BH: How about Dogora the Space Monster (1964)? Any special memories of this one?

FS: [looking at a picture of Dogora’s animated tentacles’ wrapping around a bridge] I don’t think it was a miniature set. Yes, it was animation. I think it was mostly Mr. Iizuka’s work.

BH: Did you work on this [scene] at all?

FS: I don’t remember.

BH: Do you have any memories of Dogora the Space Monster?

FS: I’ve forgotten.

BH: How about Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964)? This is King Ghidorah’s first movie. Godzilla comes out of the sea, and King Ghidorah is first born in this movie. So what could you tell us about Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster?

FS: King Ghidorah was born in the mountains, wasn’t he?

BH: Yes, near Kurobe Dam.

FS: You know these movies so well. Yes, Kurobe Dam, in the mountains. I painted the backdrop. I remember painting a lot of mountains for this film. Normally, I paint clouds, but, for this film, I painted a lot of mountains.

BH: How about Retreat from Kiska (1965)? It’s another war movie. (laughs)

FS: I don’t remember what I painted, but I remember that it was a war movie. Was there a scene with a lot of water, like a tsunami?

BH: I don’t remember a tsunami. I think there are scenes with ships, but I don’t remember a tsunami.

FS: The tsunami was a different movie then.

BH: What do you remember about the tsunami?

FS: In the studio, they built a contraption that would cause a tsunami. They filled a pool with a lot of water, about 80 centimeters, and caused a big tsunami. They had a vertical board that was pulled by a truck, which caused the water to move. When they did the test…

[referring to a drawing he made to show how the water contraption worked on the set] This is the water, and this is the pool on the set. They built this pool.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: This is not the Big Pool?

FS: No. They built a pool in the studio, which was about one meter high, and they filled the pool with water up to about 80 centimeters. There was a vehicle outside the pool, and it pulled a board with wire rope. When the board moved [during the test], one of the walls of the pool came off, so the set was flooded with water. They were able to shoot up until the part where there were about three meters left, but the wall came off. So the camera, the staff, and everything was washed away! It was a real tsunami!

BH: Was it powerful, or was it just wet?

FS: The impact was very strong because of the force of water. The water looked like this. [draws a picture]

BH: This was a war movie?

FS: I’m pretty sure it was a war movie. I don’t think it was Kiska. Maybe it was a different movie. But it was very memorable. Kiska was filmed on location in the mountains, wasn’t it? Was there a train [in the film’s climax]?

Fuchimu Shimakura’s sketch of a scene in Siege of Fort Bismarck. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Is Siege of Fort Bismarck (1963) the movie you’re thinking of?

FS: Yes, it was Siege of Fort Bismarck. I forgot what I painted, but I remember the scene with the water. You really know these movies so well. You’re like a professor of tokusatsu. You remember every detail!

BH: How about Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)? What did you do on this film?

FS: Frankenstein was a big monster. I remember painting big mountains for the scene where they [Frankenstein and Baragon] fight.

BH: When you [paint] mountains for many movies, how would you do them differently so that they wouldn’t all look the same?

FS: For example, for the scene where they’re fighting, there’s a raised stage that’s connected to the backdrop. So I had to paint a big area to give it a sense of scale.

[The mountains] wouldn’t look the same because the art director would create the set, and the backdrop would be an extension of the set. The backdrop had to fit the set, which was a lot of work. That’s why it would never be identical [to a backdrop in another movie].

Fuchimu Shimakura’s sketch of a Toho tokusatsu set with a backdrop. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: When you paint it, would you paint the same way?

FS: [draws a picture] For example, this is the set. They’ve created the mountain here as part of the set, and this is the backdrop. In this example, this part of the backdrop would be an extension of the mountains, which are actually in the set, like a continuation of the set. In the distance, there are other mountains to give it a sense of scale and depth. For example, I would paint the foot of Mount Fuji at the bottom of the backdrop.

The mountains would never be the same because they would depend on the set. That was my job, to paint the landscape that appears in the distance of the set.

Fuchimu Shimakura’s sketch of the Jupiter backdrop in Monster Zero. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: My next question is [about] Monster Zero (1965). This one also has some outer space scenes. For example, I believe you can see Jupiter in some of the scenes, especially in the backdrop. What do you remember about Monster Zero?

FS: I remember painting Mount Fuji for Monster Zero, as well. All the monsters congregated at the foot of Mount Fuji.

BH: Was painting Jupiter any different from your usual work of painting mountains?

FS: It was very difficult. It’s easy to paint something if it’s small, but, when you have to paint a panel that’s 12 or 13 meters high, it’s hard to paint the shape of a circle correctly.

[drawing a picture] This is the backdrop, the canvas. This is Jupiter. The backdrop is curved, so it’s hard to make the circle appear circular. Normally, I would just attach a rope to a point and use the rope to paint a circle. But, because the backdrop is curved, it’s not a flat surface, so I couldn’t use this technique using a rope.

It was very hard to paint the shape of the planets correctly. It’s very easy if you’re painting on a small panel. But this panel was 12 to 13 meters high, so painting planets onto these curved backdrops was difficult. People often asked me, “How did you do it? It must be so difficult to paint on this panel.” It was very hard to do these paintings.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How did you do it?

FS: I had to move the rope higher or move it around so that I could paint a circular shape. Then I would adjust the curve manually afterward.

BH: How long did it take you to do that?

FS: About four or five days.

BH: Was there ever a time where you were painting something on a big backdrop, and then maybe there was a mistake, and you had to start over?

FS: No, not for these big ones.

BH: Is that because you could always fix it?

FS: No, it was because I was able to sketch out the proper shape. I didn’t have to make any corrections. Sometimes, a young designer would ask me to do something similar to this but with Earth. It wasn’t for Toho, but for [Toei’s] Message from Space (1978). For Monster Zero, it was Jupiter, but, for Message from Space, they wanted me to paint Earth.

BH: On Message from Space, was the work easier to do Earth? By this time, you’d done Jupiter already, so was it easier?

FS: Yes, of course, because I was used to it.

BH: On Message from Space, how long did it take you to do Earth?

FS: Two whole days without sleeping at all. I had work to do for Toho, so I had to leave early. Message from Space was for Toei, which was in Uzumasa in Kyoto. I had to go back to Toho [in Tokyo], so I didn’t sleep at all, and it took me two entire days.

BH: Why did you agree to do it if it was so difficult?

FS: Because I thought I was the only one who was able to do it, so I had to do it.

BH: Did the people from Toei approach you like, “We need you”? How was the approach done?

FS: Toei’s Tokusatsu Kenkyujo [a company founded in 1965 by Nobuo Yajima that does special effects for movies and TV] asked me to work on this film, and I agreed to do it. Then I got additional work from Toho. It wasn’t to paint outer space; it was to paint clouds. That’s why I had to rush back.

BH: Do you remember what you were working on at Toho at the time?

FS: I forgot. [shows a photo of the Earth backdrop used in Message from Space]

BH: It’s huge. How big was it?

FS: This actually extends on both sides. [Earth] was about 10 meters wide, and the height was 12 to 13 meters. The backdrop itself was even bigger.

BH: Did you also do the backdrop or just Earth?

FS: I also did the stars. I painted them so that they looked like they were shining.

BH: So [was it] the same process as before?

FS: No, we didn’t use sequins. At Toei, they used electric lights with tiny light bulbs.

BH: Which do you think is better?

FS: The tiny light bulbs are better because you can adjust the intensity of the lights using a dimmer.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Did Toho ever use this process?

FS: Never. At Toho, they always used sequins. We bent the sequins, which are round, to one side. [draws a picture] That way, some part of the sequin would reflect light, regardless of which direction the light came from. We glued these bent sequins [onto the backdrop] so that, wherever the light came from, it would hit the sequins, and they would reflect light.

If you wanted to have a higher concentration of sequins, you would glue more sequins on that side [of the backdrop]. If you just glued the sequins flat [onto the backdrop without bending them], they wouldn’t reflect as much light. But, by bending them, they reflect light better because there’s more surface area for the light to reflect. There were thousands of these sequins [on a backdrop].

BH: How long would it take to decorate outer space?

FS: This took about two days. When we painted planets at Toho, it took about four days. Because I had already done this at Toho, I could work more efficiently. And I didn’t sleep at all. I slept on the bullet train on the way back!

BH: This may seem like a silly question, but, for the black of [outer space], would you actually paint it black, or would you just find a black background?

FS: There were painters at the studio who would paint the undercoat layer, so I didn’t have to do it.

BH: Would there have to be a special technique for the black [background] in terms of lighting or reflection, or was it just simply painted black?

FS: The painters used a roller. There was a little bit of dark blue that was mixed in with the black. We did that because outer space has a hint of blue, and we wanted to give a sense of that faint blue.

BH: Let’s talk about Zero Fighter. This may be your first movie where you took over from Mr. Suzuki. What can you tell us about Zero Fighter?

FS: I only remember it vaguely. I vaguely remember it as a war movie with Mr. [Yuzo] Kayama in a fighter jet. I only remember some battle scenes with the Zeros’ fighting the Grummans, and Mr. Kayama was one of the kamikaze pilots. Back then, tokusatsu [movies] liked to do battles between fighter jets. There was a very large studio at Toho, and I think they used Stage 10.

BH: Let’s talk about The War of the Gargantuas (1966), kind of a sequel to Frankenstein [Conquers the World]. What can you tell us about War of the Gargantuas?

FS: Sanda is special; he’s not a kaiju. I think I painted the foot of Mount Fuji, like I mentioned before. I painted a lot of mountains, like I often did. I didn’t paint any flat land, only steep mountains. Many battles took place on the set, which is why I painted a lot of mountains.

BH: Next is Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966). Maybe for the first time, a Godzilla movie is totally on an island setting. What do you remember about Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster?

FS: It takes place on an island in the South Seas, and Mothra is from Infant Island. Because it takes place in the South Seas, I painted many thunderheads — voluminous, swelling clouds.

BH: For this movie, did you [paint] these large [storm] clouds?

FS: Yes, I painted a lot of these clouds because it takes place on an island in the South Seas.

BH: When it would come to these types of decisions, did you have the ability to choose what to do, or did anyone give you directions?

FS: There was a designer, and we would have meetings to discuss what kind of clouds the designer wanted. I would ask if they wanted South Seas clouds or dark, overcast clouds. We had meetings to discuss these kinds of details.

BH: Who would be the designer?

FS: The art director who was in charge of the art for the tokusatsu side. There was a different art director for the drama side.

BH: Would that be Akira Watanabe?

FS: Akira Watanabe was there in the beginning, until Mothra. Then Mr. Inoue took over. I think it was Mr. Inoue [who worked on this movie].

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you have any other memories of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster?

FS: I remember having a hard time. I was about 26 at the time, when I was committed to establishing my career. I had just been promoted to paint clouds.

BH: After you were promoted to doing clouds, how did your workload change?

FS: I had a lot more work, to the point where I didn’t have enough time to sleep. It was also physically demanding. I wasn’t just doing films; I was also doing commercials.

BH: Even at this time at Toho?

FS: Yes, from about this time. From the latter half at my time at Toho, I was doing more and more commercials. Especially from about the year 2000, there was a lot of work painting backdrops.

BH: With Godzilla becoming more friendly, and TV becoming more popular, did you sense a change at Toho in the late ‘60s?

FS: After Mr. Tsuburaya passed away, many young directors came onto the scene, like Mr. Kawakita and Mr. [Teruyoshi] Nakano, so there was a lot of tokusatsu work. Suddenly, many young tokusatsu directors appeared one after the other, like Mr. [Eiichi] Asada, Mr. Nakano, and Mr. Kawakita.

BH: How do you think they compared to Mr. Tsuburaya?

FS: I found their work to be just as good as Mr. Tsuburaya’s, although there were some self-centered people like Mr. Kawakita, as I mentioned before. As for me, I had a lot of work because I was the only one who could paint clouds.

BH: Let’s talk about King Kong Escapes (1967). Please describe your work on this film.

FS: At the time, I thought, “What a fascinating film they’ve made!” I think Mr. Suzuki was still active during this time. I wasn’t able to do much, so I just painted mountains and buildings.

BH: When it came to painting buildings, what kind of process [was there]? Please talk about actually painting buildings.

FS: There were miniature buildings. The setting was in Japan, of course, so the buildings were very Japanese, with thatched roofs and things like that. We had to paint the backdrop as a continuation of the miniature set. Of course, in Japan, there are many mountains, so I painted mountains. I painted the mountains around Tokyo, Hakone, and Mount Fuji. So I painted a lot of mountains.

When I first saw King Kong [Escapes], I was surprised by how different it was compared to the American King Kong (1933). I remember Mechanikong because it had such an interesting shape, as well as the scene where they’re climbing Tokyo Tower and fighting at the top of the tower. I don’t remember what I painted, though. (laughs)

BH: What can you share about Son of Godzilla (1967)?

FS: Mini Godzilla [Minya] was cute. He would blow donut-shaped smoke rings, trying to imitate his father.

Fuchimu Shimakura’s sketch of the backdrop for the climactic scene in Destroy All Monsters. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How about Destroy All Monsters (1968)? You did a very big backdrop with Mount Fuji, and 10 monsters [were] fighting in front of it. Please tell us about this.

FS: [draws a picture] There was a poster that looked like this, with King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Godzilla. On that poster, you could see Mount Fuji like this in its entirety, not just the foot.

BH: Was painting Mount Fuji this time much different from before, or was it [just] a much bigger Mount Fuji?

FS: I knew that it was going to be used for the poster, so I put a lot of effort into it. I wanted to paint Mount Fuji very carefully.

BH: How long did it take to paint?

FS: Four or five days.

BH: How big was it?

FS: About 20 meters.

BH: Was that the biggest Mount Fuji you’ve ever painted?

FS: Yes, it was.

BH: For something like this, [did] they approach you and [say], “We’re going to make Mount Fuji a centerpiece, so please put in a lot of effort”? Did they approach you like that?

FS: It wasn’t a top executive, but it was one of the tokusatsu art directors – maybe Mr. Inoue? – who approached me. He told me that this set was very important because it was going to be used for the stills, so I put in more effort than usual.

BH: How else was it different from before?

FS: The set was bigger, so I painted Mount Fuji so it would appear very big. I think I did a good job. It wasn’t a long shot of Mount Fuji; you could see Mount Fuji up very close. There’s a forest called Aokigahara here [points to his drawing of the tokusatsu set] in front of Mount Fuji, which is very green. I painted this forest as a continuation of the set, which also had trees. I was told that this was where all the monsters would get together, and that they wanted to give the impression that it was a very spacious area.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: In Destroy All Monsters, there’s a lot of outer space scenes. Do you remember anything else about Destroy All Monsters?

FS: Yes, I remember painting outer space. It was similar to what I described before with Jupiter. I think I painted Mars for this film; I painted one side of Mars.

BH: So this time maybe it went more smoothly because you’d learned from the previous film with Jupiter.

FS: Yes, it did. I knew the tricks because I had done it before. Of course, it’s always easier the second time around compared to the first time.

BH: Do you have any other comments about Destroy All Monsters?

FS: I just remember the scene with Mount Fuji very well.

BH: Let’s move on to Admiral Yamamoto (1968). It’s a big war movie. What can you tell us about Admiral Yamamoto?

FS: Isoroku Yamamoto and Pearl Harbor. He’s on his way to — what’s the name of the island where the plane is attacked by enemy planes? Isoroku Yamamoto’s plane is attacked by the enemy, and he gets shot. I just remember that scene. I don’t remember what I painted. (laughs) That’s because I was painting clouds, day in and day out. I don’t remember what kind of clouds I painted for this film.

BH: How about Latitude Zero (1969)? Maybe it was Mr. Tsuburaya’s last [tokusatsu] film.

FS: Yes, it was Mr. Tsuburaya’s last film. He seemed unwell at the time. I remember him resting in between takes. He was seeing a doctor.

BH: On this film, there was a situation where [it] was an American co-production. Then that money [from the American company] fell through, so Toho had to pay for everything, and they didn’t have the budget for it. Do you remember anything about that?

FS: I don’t know what was going on. Like all the other staff members who worked on the set, we weren’t told anything about that.

BH: Do you remember what you painted on the set of Latitude Zero?

FS: I don’t remember that, either. I’m sorry.

BH: How about [Battle of the Sea of Japan (1969)]? Do you remember working on this film?

FS: I remember that they used the Big Pool.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you remember what you painted?

FS: It was probably the same kind of clouds. They built [a miniature of] the sea in the studio. They built a pool, which was less than 10 centimeters high, and filled it with agar. They sprinkled agar into the pool and crushed it. They pulled ships through the agar, for example, in a zigzag manner. The ships were about 50 centimeters.

There were also battleships that were bigger than the ships, and smaller battleships, as well. [refers to a drawing] This is the sea of agar where the ships would try to escape from enemy planes.

BH: I guess the last film that you did of this era was Yog, Monster from Space (1970).

FS: I think I just painted the same kind of thing. I don’t remember anything in particular. If it was like Destroy All Monsters where there was something that stands out like Mount Fuji, then I would remember. But I really don’t remember what I painted for this film. I’m sorry.

BH: In the 1970s, according to this [a list of your credits], you didn’t work on any Godzilla or tokusatsu films at Toho during this time. Is there a reason for that?

FS: I quit working for Toho for about two years because I had other work. I was doing [stop-motion] animation with figures for a company called Ningyo Eigasha [“Doll Film Company”]. During these two years when I worked for this other company, Toho was having a difficult time [because of my absence].

The Toho subsection chief and the section chief came to my house and begged me to come back to Toho. These were people in high positions. They told me that the shoots were taking longer because the paintings weren’t being done. So I had to return to Toho unexpectedly.

BH: Was the situation better after you returned? Did you like it better?

FS: Yes, it was better. They changed my one-year contract to a three-year contract because they didn’t want me to leave again. Then the three-year contract turned into a five-year contract. The pay was a little bit better, as well.

BH: So, during the 1960s, you were on a year-by-year contract?

FS: Yes, my contract was renewed every year. In the ‘70s — maybe in ‘72 or ’73 — it became a three-year contract. After the three-year contract, they asked me to sign a five-year contract. So it became harder for me to quit Toho.

BH: Let’s talk about Sayonara Jupiter (1984). This was also with director Kawakita, and it was a very expensive movie — very elaborate special effects. So please talk about Sayonara Jupiter.

FS: I painted space a lot and a very big Jupiter. Because I had painted Jupiter several times already in different places, I was no longer daunted by this task. Back then, I was still in good shape and could climb ladders and reach high places. But, nowadays, it’s become more difficult because of my age.

BH: How was director Kawakita during Sayonara Jupiter? Was he better this time?

FS: By then, Mr. Kawakita had become very conceited and arrogant. Looking back on it, I worked on a lot of different things [in my career].

BH: Did you do anything else on Sayonara Jupiter, or just paint Jupiter?

FS: I painted something else, but I don’t remember what it was. With Mr. Kawakita, I worked on other movies like Zero Pilot and a few war movies. I think I painted backdrops for a few other tokusatsu movies, as well [with Mr. Kawakita], but I don’t remember.

BH: Next, let’s talk about Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (1988). What did you do, and did you work with director [Akio] Jissoji?

FS: I painted a very big backdrop with very dark clouds that appear after a fire.

BH: How was that different from [painting] regular clouds?

FS: Very different. I was told that they wanted to express the silence after a major incident through the sky with eerie clouds. They told me this before I started painting, so it took me a while to paint [this backdrop].

BH: How long?

FS: About three days.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you remember director Jissoji? Did you work with him at all?

FS: I had worked with Mr. Jissoji prior to this film on Ultraman (1966-67). I remember speaking to him inside the studio. We didn’t talk about anything in particular. We just greeted each other.

BH: When you worked on Ultraman, do you have memories of that?

FS: There were so many episodes for Ultraman, I can’t remember what happened in each episode. Things were changing all the time, from episode to episode. I painted the backdrops from the beginning. I was involved with Ultraman, Ultraman Taro (1973-74), and Ultra Seven (1967-68).

[shows a picture of Mount Fuji from Ultraman Ace (1972-73)] It’s similar to what I painted for Godzilla. There was a very large set where the fight would take place.

[shows a picture of the backdrop in which the sun is setting behind Ultra Seven and Alien Metron from episode 8 of Ultra Seven] They made a hole in the backdrop and had light shining through it, using two layers of filters. The reflection was actually a real reflection.

BH: Was that your idea?

FS: It was the art director’s idea, Mr. [Noriyoshi] Ikeya. It’s amazing that they were able to build this kind of thing.

BH: [The next movie I’d like to ask about is] Gamera 2 (1996).

FS: This was with Daiei. I think I did the backdrop, and Mr. [Toshio] Miike did the art. They asked me to create something that could compete with Godzilla from Toho, but they didn’t give me any specific requests. They just told me to paint nice clouds, but they didn’t tell me specifically what kind of clouds they wanted. That was Daiei.

In tokusatsu right now, Mr. [Shinji] Higuchi and Mr. [Hideaki] Anno are very popular, and [Katsuro] Onoue is very famous now for his CG.

BH: The last work I’ll ask about is Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).

FS: Mr. Asada was the [tokusatsu] director. I painted the mountains around Hakone – mountains, mountains, and more mountains! Unlike the Godzilla movies in the early days, the set was much smaller. Mr. Asada struggled with this a lot. They didn’t have as high a budget as the Godzilla movies in the early days.

BH: How long did you work on Final Wars?

FS: Maybe 20 days in total. It was relatively long. There were a lot of things to paint.

BH: What did you think about Final Wars as a movie? Did you like it, or did you not like it?

FS: The art was good. Mr. Miike[’s work] was good. He was very meticulous. Because there was very little budget, he would, for example, use the same paintings of mountains over and over again. There was less and less budget, so that was the only way to make it possible. There wasn’t much of a budget anymore to make new films. (laughs)

BH: In terms of all the things that we talked about, which would you say was your most difficult work?

FS: They were all very difficult! The films in the beginning of my career were difficult, the ones before I was allowed to paint clouds, like Battle in Outer Space, in the early days when I was a newbie at Toho. In the latter half, when I was painting clouds, it became easier because I could do what I wanted to do.

BH: Which work are you proudest of?

FS: Hm. Maybe Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis. I think it was one of the better ones. I’m happy with the work I did for that movie. And [Tokyo Blackout (1987)] where the Japanese archipelago is covered by clouds. I painted Tokyo as seen from the Hakone area.

BH: Do you remember how big the painting was?

FS: [looks at the backdrop he painted for Tokyo Blackout] About 7.2 by 3.6 meters.

BH: How long did it take to paint it?

FS: Two days. There were a lot of adjustments, talking to the designer and cinematographer, and making sure that everything matched up. It probably took about two days before they could start shooting.

BH: And that’s one of the things you’re most proud of in your career?

FS: The entire Kanto region was completely covered by clouds, so I was asked to paint Tokyo completely engulfed by clouds. It was very challenging. It’s difficult to do even if someone asks you to do it, and you do your best. But I think I did a good job. There was nothing I could use as a reference, and no one had ever seen such a thing, so all I could use was my imagination to paint this.


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