GAMERA’S FIRST FRIEND! Former Child Actor Yoshiro Uchida Remembers Working with Daiei’s Remarkable Flying Turtle!

Yoshiro Uchida in March 2022. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Born on December 14, 1953, Yoshiro Uchida appears in Gamera the Giant Monster (1965), released in the U.S. as Gammera the Invincible (1966), as the young boy Toshio Sakurai who befriends the giant turtle in the first film of Daiei’s long-running Gamera series. Mr. Uchida also appears in Toho’s romantic comedy Pomegranate Time (1967), starring Yuriko Hoshi and Toshio Kurosawa, as Rokusuke Kuwata; the Daiei drama The House of Wooden Blocks (1968), directed by Yasuzo Masumura, as Ichiro Sasabayashi; Toho’s horror-oriented period piece Portrait of Hell (1969), starring Tatsuya Nakadai, as the apprentice Kaneshige; the Shochiku-produced remake of Stray Dog (1973), starring Tetsuya Watari, as Jun Shinzato; and in the feature-length tokusatsu flick Moonlight Mask (1981) as Shimpei Ogata. On television, he also appears in episode 39 of Tsuburaya Productions’ Kaiju Booska (1966-67) as one of Mecha Taro’s followers. In March 2022, Mr. Uchida met Brett Homenick for the following interview, which was translated by Eri Hibino.

Brett Homenick: Where were you born?

Yoshiro Uchida: I was born in the city of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture.  

BH: When you were young, what were your hobbies?

YU: My hobby when I was young was to watch movies.

BH: How did you get started as a child actor?

YU: I started as a child actor by way of a referral from someone.

BH: What do you remember about your training to be a child actor at the theater group [Himawari Theater Company]?

YU: I did not have any specific training to be a child actor.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How did you get cast in Gamera the Giant Monster (1965)?

YU: I took an audition to get cast in Gamera the Giant Monster.

BH: How did you approach playing the character Toshio in the movie?

YU: I was told to just be myself.  

BH: How did director Noriaki Yuasa direct you?

YU: Director Yuasa told me that I could act just any way I wanted to act.

BH: What was Mr. Yuasa’s personality like?

YU: Mr. Yuasa was a big man, just like Gamera in his appearance. His face was very much like Gamera’s, too. He was such a gentle and kind director.

BH: Was the family home a movie set, or was it a real house?

YU: The family home was a movie set.

BH: Where were the scenes near the lighthouse filmed?

YU: I think perhaps it was filmed in the Miura Peninsula.

BH: How were you told to look at Gamera?

YU: Chibi-chan, a little turtle that the young boy had as a pet, suddenly became gigantic one day. So I was looking at Gamera as if it had been my pet.

[It was] just like any pet animal, like a cat or a dog. My eyes were expressing affection as if I were looking at something adorable.

BH: What do you remember about hanging from the lighthouse?

YU: That scene was a composite with [another shot]. Even though the handrail of the lighthouse was shown in the film, I myself was on a movie set in the studio for that scene. I was on a board that stuck out from the roof. The roof was used to create height so that the space below the handrail could be composited.

To explain again, there was a set in the studio. A board was sticking out like this, I was right on the edge here, stretching out my hands like this. My hands were not shown in the film. What was shown was from here — my face and the ground below. And my father and older sister stood right there.

When I cried out, “Help,” I was filmed from that angle.  

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How about the scene where you fall into Gamera’s hand?

YU: The scene where I fell into the hand of Gamera was shoot in the studio. From three meters high, I fell to the ground where a cushion was prepared. The background was covered by a black curtain.

I think they made the hand of Gamera. So the scene where I fell into the hand was produced separately.

BH: What do you remember about Eiji Funakoshi?

YU: Not much. We did not film together, so I do not remember much.

BH: What about Michiko Sugata?

YU: Ms. Sugata was very nice to me.  

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you remember any other cast members?

YU: Do you know Sei Hiraizumi, the actor? He played a Self-Defense Force member in the movie. At that time, Mr. Hiraizumi was a New Face at Daiei, so I remember him.

BH: There’s a scene where you fall down, and a car almost hits you. Was that really you or a stuntman?

YU: It was really me, I think.

BH: Do you remember the other child actor who threw away the turtle’s rocks?

YU: Well, who was that? I cannot recall the name. My apologies.

BH: Where was the scene where you rode on the train filmed?

YU: It was filmed at a switchyard in Kawasaki. I wonder if it is still there. Kawasaki Petrochemical Complex — when driving toward Yokohama on the highway, you can see lots of industrial complexes on the left-hand side. The scene was filmed where the railways were in that area.

BH: Were the scenes on Oshima really filmed there?

YU: It was probably filmed in Tokyo because the farthest location I went was the Miura Peninsula.

BH: During filming, how many takes were there?

YU: If this question means how many outtakes I had, I didn’t have so many of them, even though it was my first movie.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: How long was the shoot for Gamera?

YU: Was it during the summer break, the entire month of August? Or perhaps it was for two months during September and October.

BH: Do you have any other memories from Gamera?

YU: After Gamera, there was another production by Daiei called Daimajin (1966). I was told later by the director [whom Mr. Uchida said was probably Yoshiyuki Kuroda during the filming of a TV program] that these two titles enabled Daiei to “welcome the New Year,” which I suppose meant they were able to make money.

BH: Please talk about Kaiju Booska (1966-67) episode 39. What do you remember?

YU: I do not remember anything about Kaiju Booska. I am sorry.

BH: Another movie you appeared in was Pomegranate Time (1967) with Yuriko Hoshi and Toshio Kurosawa.

YU: I do not recall any anecdotes at all. It was right after I entered junior high school. I do remember that I wore my own school uniform during the shooting.

Pomegranate Time was a movie that starred a lot of very famous, talented, and big stars. So I remember I always felt nervous, but no one was upset with me. I took part just like any other work in which I was involved.

BH: You also acted in The House of Wooden Blocks (1968), directed by Yasuzo Masumura.

YU: I passed the audition for The House of Wooden Blocks, directed by Yasuzo Masumura. I had heard that director Masumura would get upset often and tended to go off when things did not work out as he wanted. But somehow he seemed to be fond of me. He told me that I could act any way I wanted, so he never became angry with me. I had very good experience.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What do you remember about filming Portrait of Hell (1969)?

YU: I did not appear in so many scenes. As my role was a painter, I took lessons for two weeks on Japanese sumi paintings. I learned how to hold a paint brush and so on.

There was a scene in which I was attacked by snakes. Over 40 or [maybe] even nearly 60 real snakes were coming so close to me. They were only 10 centimeters away from me. It was really a scary experience.

BH: How long did you work on this movie?

YU: I think it was about 10 days. There were not so many scenes in which I appeared.

BH: What do you remember about High School Affair (1970)?

YU: Well, Keiko Sekine [who was later known as Keiko Takahashi after getting married] had to be seen as a star in this movie. She was still a New Face. So I was asked to teach her how to act.

Keiko was 15 years old and had to be nude, exposing her breasts, so I did not want to burden or bully her but tried to be friendly during shooting.

BH: What do you remember about director Michihiko Obimori?

YU: He was very nice to work with.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: This movie starred Keiko Takahashi, Saburo Shinoda, and Eiko Yanami. What do you remember about them?

YU: I was friends with all of them. We used to get together all the time to eat out and so on.

BH: How were Toho and Daiei different?

YU: This one [Toho] was a rich studio, and the other one [Daiei] was a poor studio. The quality of sets were totally different. This one [Daiei] made sets from thin plywood while Toho used proper timber, for example. The amount of money spent was very different.

BH: Could you discuss Daiei’s change to Dainichi?

YU: After High School Affair, Keiko Takahashi filmed about four other movies. But movie theaters had already closed during that time, as the industry was receding. Since standalone titles could not attract enough moviegoers, Daiei and Nikkatsu combined and showed movies together. In the end, that did not work, either. There had been a rumor in the industry that said that Daiei would be gone.

I was not originally from Daiei but belonged to an agency, so I shifted to TV afterward.

BH: Do you remember Daiei’s bankruptcy?

YU: No, I do not remember. But, every time I went to their studios, I would find their spaces getting smaller and smaller.

At first, there was a huge lawn with a swimming pool and such. But, gradually, the open sets were gone, the studios were gone, and the big park with the lawn was gone. Then the dining area for the Daiei people disappeared, too. That made me feel very sad.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: School Festival Night: A Sweet Experience (1970) was directed by Hiromichi Horikawa. Please talk about this movie and director Horikawa.

YU: Mr. Horikawa had worked with director [Akira] Kurosawa, which means he was such an orthodox and rigid director. Recently, I saw this movie on Sky PerfecTV or somewhere after [some] decades. When I was actually acting in the movie, I thought it was a silly piece of work. But, in retrospect, as I watch it now, I can see that this is actually an interesting movie that makes good sense.

There is nothing I really remember about director Horikawa. However, there was another actor my age named Naoki Tachibana. And I remember that the director did not decide until the last minute which of the two roles would be played by Naoki and me.

BH: You were also in the Stray Dog (1973) remake, starring Tetsuya Watari, Kunie Tanaka, and Tadao Nakamaru. Please talk about working with these actors and this movie.

YU: I did not work with any of them, really. With Mr. Watari, there was only one scene we had together. For the rest, I only worked with the actors who played the juvenile delinquents from Okinawa.

The scene where my character committed suicide in the bustling area of Shinjuku Koma left me with a strong impression. I ran nonstop from the location where Shinjuku Alta building stands today all the way to the Shinjuku Koma entrance again and again. It was very hard.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Toshio Shiba starred [with you] in The Legend of Love & Sincerity: Conclusion (1976). Please tell us about it.

YU: I played Iwashimizu in this movie, but somehow I do not have much of an impression of it. I did not make any particular effort to play my role. After the director saw me in the Stray Dog, maybe he selected me for this movie. This was also a Shochiku movie. So, simply, a good offer came, and I took it. Well, I guess I had fun.

BH: Moonlight Mask (1981) was another of your movies. Please tell us what you remember about it.

YU: I do not remember why I worked on this movie. Maybe it was because the director [Yukihiro Sawada] used to be an assistant director when I was a child actor. It was not an audition, I guess. I think Mr. Sawada was from Nikkatsu.

I appeared in several Nikkatsu movies as a child actor. So I guess he invited me because he remembered me from those times. I somewhat remember that my role in Moonlight Mask was not absolutely needed for the movie, but I do not know. I forgot about this.


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