MAKING MINIATURES IN JAPANESE SFX FILMS! Atsushi Hagiwara on Creating Tokusatsu Models in the 1980s and Beyond!

Atsushi Hagiwara during the making of Sayonara Jupiter. Photo © Atsushi Hagiwara.

Atsushi Hagiwara got his start as a tokusatsu modelmaker working on the ambitious Toho production Sayonara Jupiter (1984), which features some of the best special effects in Japanese film history. That experience led to a variety of other film and television projects on which he built miniatures, including Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2 (1996), Gamera 3 (1999), GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), among many other titles. In August 2022, Mr. Hagiwara answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his career in tokusatsu in this interview translated by Maho Harada.

Brett Homenick: Please tell us when and where you were born.

Atsushi Hagiwara: I was born on July 16, 1958, in Ogikubo, Suginami City, Tokyo. When I was five years old, we moved to Kokubunji, Tokyo.

BH: What hobbies did you have growing up?

AH: I liked making plastic models from the time I was in elementary school. I made cars and Thunderbirds [models].

BH: Did you like tokusatsu as a kid?

AH: Yes, I did. Ultra Q (1966) started when I was in elementary school. I watched Ultraman (1966-67) after that every week. That may have had an influence on why I chose this work.

BH: What were your favorite tokusatsu movies and TV shows as a child?

AH: For movies, I liked Godzilla and Gamera. The first kaiju movies I saw were Gamera the Giant Monster (1965) and Daimajin (1966). For TV, I watched Ultraman, Kamen Rider (1971-73), and almost all the tokusatsu shows that were on at that time.

BH: How did you join the Ogawa Modeling Group?

AH: At the first company I worked for, I met Hiroshi Takayama, who was an acquaintance of Mr. [Masaharu] Ogawa. Mr. Takayama was helping to make models for [SayonaraJupiter (1984) after finishing work and on our days off. He told me that they didn’t have enough people and asked me if I wanted to join them.

After a while, my younger brother [Akira] also joined. I only went at night and on my days off, but my younger brother went on a regular basis and started going to Toho Studios to help with models for the shoots.

BH: How did the Ogawa Modeling Group get hired to work on Sayonara Jupiter?

AH: Mr. Ogawa was close with Mr. [Shoji] Kawamori from Studio Nue, who thought he was good at making models.

Many Sayonara Jupiter crew members enjoy the wrap party along with the film’s star Tomokazu Miura, who is seated in the front row. Mr. Hagiwara, who is also seated, can be seen in the center of the photo. Tokusatsu cameraman Keiichi Sakurai can be seen in the top row on the left-hand side. Photo © Atsushi Hagiwara.

BH: Please talk about making [the space station] Minerva. How was it made?

AH: We used a long iron pipe for the core and aluminum for the interior structure. We attached a short pipe to the middle of the long pipe to make a cross shape and made the basic shape with acrylic resin and ABS plastic sheet. The surface details were made by cutting detailed patterns into plastic sheet and attaching them [to the surface].

Intricate mold items were made by first making several patterns based on plastic model parts, then duplicating them with urethane resin and attaching the urethane resin duplicates. For some areas, we directly attached the plastic model parts. However, the plastic would deform under the heat of the lights in the studio, so they weren’t popular among the camera crew.

BH: What about the Lifeboat [a.k.a. Escape Pod]?

AH: We mainly used an acrylic dome and plastic sheet, which had no strength, so it was very difficult to handle.

BH: How was Communication Ship made?

AH: The first five who were the original members of Ogawa Modeling made the Communication Ship. Sakyo Komatsu really liked the completed model. We used plywood for the base and covered the surface with plastic sheet, and the details were made with plastic model parts.

BH: Please tell us about Muse-12.

AH: The round, disc-shaped part was made by covering the aluminum structure with ABS plastic. The shape of the cockpit at the tip was made applying polyester putty to a skull made by Revell. The details for the rod part which connected it to the main body were made by attaching plastic details to an aluminum pipe.

A look at the back of Muse-12 and its engine nozzles. Photo © Atsushi Hagiwara.

The large engine nozzles in the back were duplicated [after one was molded with silicone rubber] by pouring urethane resin into a plastic bucket to make a lump, then using a lathe to carve them out. The square parts at the base of the nozzles were made by cutting a Takara Crusher Joe Galleon plastic model, which had just come out, and attaching them.

BH: How about Jade-3?

AH: Jade-3 was entirely outsourced. I think they first made a wooden model, then vacuum-formed it with ABS plastic sheet. The paint finish was done at Ogawa.

BH: Could you tell us about making Tokyo-3?

AH: Tokyo-3 was basically made the same way as Minerva.

BH: Whom did you work with on Sayonara Jupiter?

AH: Other than Mr. Ogawa, [there were] Hiroshi Takayama, Toshio Komiya, Haruya Morikuni, and Toru Naganuma. They were the original members when I joined in May 1982. Half a year later, new members joined, including my younger brother Akira Hagiwara, Tetsuya Koike, Masaaki Igarashi, and Mitsuo Numasaki. I think the most members we had was about 30.

BH: Please tell me about working with Masaharu Ogawa.

AH: I think he had studied to be an accountant, so he was a very efficient and serious person. He was still a university student but was responsible for a project worth almost 100 million yen, so he was an amazing person.

BH: How did you meet actress Miyuki Ono? What was she like?

AH: The only time I met Ms. Ono was when I took a picture with her at the wrap party.

Sayonara Jupiter actress Miyuki Ono meets some of the special effects crew, including Mr. Hagiwara (who is seated in the foreground on the right-hand side). Photo © Atsushi Hagiwara.

BH: I understand that Tomokazu Miura was at a Sayonara Jupiter party. Please tell me about him and the party.

AH: I [also] only met him when I took a picture with him at the wrap party.

BH: What did you think about Sayonara Jupiter as a movie?

AH: I didn’t think the story was that interesting, but it was an important project for me personally.

BH: [Did you] work on Godzilla 1985 (1984)?

AH: My younger brother worked part-time at Toho Studios, doing tokusatsu artwork for the ‘84 Godzilla, working under [tokusatsu art director] Yasuyuki Inoue. I just went to visit him at the studio sometimes.

My younger brother made the small and large models of the High-Power Laser [Beam] Cars [a.k.a. N1-00s] with plastic models of trailers. More precisely, there was one large model for the High-Power Laser [Beam] Car — approximately 1/24 scale — for which they used parts from two plastic models of trailers. There were also two small models — approximately 1/50 scale — which they made with used tires and balsa wood that they had at the studio.

This model was made in the [tokusatsu] art department at Toho Studios. The plastic models they used were purchased at a model shop near the studio. Here is a photo of the product they used.

The plastic model parts of which were used in the making of the large model for the High-Power Laser Beam Car for Godzilla 1985 (1984). Photo © Atsushi Hagiwara.

He also made quite a number of military vehicles that would be destroyed by Godzilla around Tokyo Bay. He apparently used Styrofoam to make the Super X that was going to be destroyed when it was crushed by a building that Godzilla knocked over.

BH: How did you get hired to work on Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)?

AH: After Sayonara Jupiter, my younger brother Akira was working part-time at Toho, so that’s how I got the job.

BH: What work did you do on Biollante?

AH: Mainly making small and large [models of] Super X2, a 1/15-scale [model] of a Type 90 tank, [and] an Osaka water bus.

BH: Please talk about your work on making the Super X2.

AH: I made a 1/50-scale version model made with FRP for the distant view, which was mainly used for the scenes where Super X2 is flying, as well as a 1/50-scale, 60-centimeter model made with Styrofoam to be destroyed for the crash scene after it’s lit on fire. I also made a 1/35-scale, 90-centimeter model made with FRP for the close-up in the scene in the factory where the Super X2 is launched from the catapult.

BH: Do you have any memories from the set of Biollante?

AH: When my younger brother was watching the Biollante shoot, they suddenly decided to shoot a scene they hadn’t planned on doing in which they moved Biollante, so my brother was told to hold the rope for the tentacles and run with it.

BH: Please tell us about Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).

AH: I made seven models of F-15 fighters at 1/32 scale, and 1/50-scale telephone poles, street lights, traffic lights, street signs, etc., to decorate the city. We continually added onto these in other projects.

BH: How about Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)?

AH: [I made] 1/12-scale Type 74 tanks and 1/50-scale buildings made with plaster for destruction.

BH: What do you recall about Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1993)?

AH: [I made] the maintenance arm for the Mechagodzilla dock.

BH: Please discuss your work on Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994). How about Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)?

AH: For both, I did the street lights, water tanks for buildings, and signboards.

BH: What do you remember about special effects director Koichi Kawakita?

AH: There were unplanned shoots, so it was difficult for the staff. We hadn’t planned on destroying the tanks in Biollante. (laughs) And the director wasn’t happy with the direction of the nozzles [on the main injection tip in the back] of the Super X2, so we tried to fix the direction [they were facing]. But the information wasn’t relayed properly to us, so the director got really angry at us, asking, “Why isn’t it fixed?”

Left: The Super X2 design before the Koichi Kawakita’s requested changes. Right: The Super X2 design after the changes. Photos © Atsushi Hagiwara.

BH: How did you join the production of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)?

AH: I had worked with many of the people for Godzilla, so I think they asked me to do the props.

BH: What did you do on Gamera?

AH:The ceiling of the Fukuoka Dome that Gamera destroys, as well as the small and large models of the Chuo Line that Gyaos picks up.

BH: What work did you do on Gamera 2 (1996)?

AH: The 1/10-scale municipal subway that’s attacked by the Legion Soldiers, the 1/6-scale military jeep that’s almost destroyed by the grass-style [Legion Plant] root, the telephone booth destroyed by the rumbling caused by Gamera[’s stomping on the ground], the Kirin Beer signboard destroyed by Gamera, the many tanks destroyed by Giant Legion, antennas, signboards, etc.

BH: How about Gamera 3 (1999)?

AH: The Yamanote Line and station premises that are destroyed in Shibuya Station. [I also worked on] the Toei buses destroyed in Shibuya and other vehicles.

BH: What could you tell us about working with special effects director Shinji Higuchi?

AH: I knew him from the ‘84 Godzilla, so I didn’t get too many complaints from him. (laughs)

Photo © Atsushi Hagiwara.

BH: What work did you do on GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)?

AH: Small and large models of the missile launcher Taiho, both of which get destroyed in the end, as well as other JSDF trucks and armored vehicles that get destroyed. [I also worked on] the fishing boat when Godzilla appears.

BH: What about Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002)? Please tell us about your work on this film.

AH: [I worked on the] Kiryu Transport Aircraft Shirasagi [a.k.a. AC-3 White Heron] — larger than one meter — two aircraft. The Type 73 Light [Truck] that gets destroyed by Godzilla in the opening — 1/12 scale. The 9mm Machine Pistol held by the Self-Defense Forces personnel — 1/1 scale.

BH: Did you work on Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)? Please talk about it.

AH: The Earth Defense Force Dogfighter — 60 centimeters — various vehicles destroyed by kaiju, [and] jungle trees.

BH: Which kaiju film was the best experience for you? 

AH: Godzilla vs. Biollante. The story wasn’t that great, and a lot happened, but I was really moved when I saw the mecha that we had made on the big screen.

BH: Which is the best tokusatsu film you worked on?

AH: Out of all the films I worked on, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is my favorite. During the rushes, I was really moved because this was exactly the kind of kaiju film I wanted to make.


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