NATSUKI ON NATSUKI! Actor Yosuke Natsuki Opens Up About His Remarkable Career in Show Business!


Photo © Brett Homenick.

Yosuke Natsuki is one of Toho Studios’ most recognizable actors, having appeared in the films of a myriad of directors, from Ishiro Honda to Akira Kurosawa. Born on February 27, 1936, Mr. Natsuki joined Toho in the late 1950s and quickly found himself in demand as a leading man and, along with his contemporary Makoto Sato, helped change the face of youth films at the studio.

 Although Mr. Natsuki has starred in numerous dramas, historical pieces, and action films, he has appeared in relatively few kaiju movies. But, as the star of Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Dogora the Space Monster (1964), and Godzilla 1985 (1984), Mr. Natsuki remains a popular actor with fans in the U.S. and Japan.

This interview covers much of Mr. Natsuki’s acting career and his memories of fellow actors and directors at Toho. While he does not remember much about his monster movies, Mr. Natsuki’s memories about his war films and historical dramas are certain to fascinate any fan of Showa-era Toho Studios. This wide-ranging interview, conducted by Brett Homenick and translated by Asako Kato, took place in Mr. Natsuki’s office in February 2013.

Brett Homenick: First, please tell me about your early life, growing up in Japan.

Yosuke Natsuki: When World War II ended, I was in the third grade. There was no food and very little clothing, so Japan as a nation was a very poor country. Of course, there was no TV, and there was no entertainment for children.

When I was in the sixth grade, it became possible for children to go see movies. Many French movies came in first, followed by American movies, so I really enjoyed watching pirate movies and Western movies. Movies were the only entertainment we could enjoy in those days. But still I didn’t have any intention to become an actor at that time. Actually, I wanted to be a pilot of a fighter plane.

BH: Growing up, what were some of your hobbies?

YN: There were neither games nor TV shows at that time! War destroyed houses and everything, but God saved me one bicycle. I was really into that bicycle, which was probably my only hobby when I was a child. That was all I had. Every Sunday, I went fishing together with my father, or enjoyed painting. My interest in bicycles developed into motorcycles, which I could go farther on, and then into cars.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Please talk about your parents. What did they do for a living? Do you have any memories of your parents?

YN: My father was the owner of Hachioji Gas Company. Hachioji is located in the suburbs of Tokyo, one hour from central Tokyo. At that time, there were 30,000 people there, and there was a gas company called Hachioji Gas, of which he was the owner. That’s how he made a living.

My mother was a typical Japanese housewife who tried to raise kids and make her home very nice. So I was loved by my parents a lot.

BH: You talked about this a little bit, but how did you discover that you wanted to act and that you also could act and act successfully and be a movie star?

YN: There is a very famous artist named Jun-ichi Nakahara. He’s a painter, a very famous painter. He happened to be taken care of by my high school classmate’s grandmother when he was young. I was lucky enough to get to know Mr. Nakahara, who was very famous in those days. He introduced me to the producer of Toho, Mr. Yuhko (a.k.a. Tomoyuki) Tanaka. But, at that time, I was not very interested in becoming an actor.

Just before I graduated from college, I had a chance to see and ask Mr. Tanaka, “What’s good about being an actor?” He answered by saying, “Even if you enter a big, gigantic company, for instance, say, the company employs 10,000 people, you’re always just one out of those 10,000. But, when it comes to the movies, you can be one of the few people who produce a movie. If you’re starring, it’s you who makes the movie.” So that’s how I got interested. I thought it sounded interesting, and that I should do it for five or six years.

My high school classmate, Hoki Tokuda, became a professional singer. After she graduated from a school in Canada, she lived in L.A. and got married to (the famous writer) Henry Miller.

What is good about the movie industry, I think, is that I could share inspiration, emotion, courage, and pleasure with many people, and 50 years later, I can see my movies now, and see my works when I was young, and throughout different times in my life. So it’s fun to be in this industry. On top of that, I was lucky to get to know many different people, thanks to this industry.

I appeared in Mr. (Ishiro) Honda’s movie The H-Man (1958), which was my first movie, where I was supposed to be “surprised.” That was the only cut I appeared in this movie 

BH: You talked about how you weren’t thinking about becoming an actor originally. Where did you think your career would go?

YN: Shortly before I graduated from college — my major was actually management — I wanted to move on to another college called Boei Daigakko, which is a college of defense, so that I would be a pilot. But, after I talked to Mr. Yuhko Tanaka about the movie industry, which sounded fun to me, and then showed up in the one cut in Mr. Honda’s movie, that one drop of the Nile River was becoming a large river after all.

BH: Please talk about how you formally got started at Toho Studios.

YN: After I appeared in Mr. Honda’s movie, I was recruited for a new movie, Mikkoku-sha wa dare ka (1958), where I was starring. And I got attention from the industry, and, one after another, I got offered roles, and I appeared in approximately 100 films.

BH: How did Mr. Honda choose you to have the small part in (The H-Man)? How did it come about that he cast you in that very small part?

YN: Probably because he used me as a film test at the request of Yuhko Tanaka, the producer at Toho, who introduced me to The H-Man. Mr. Tanaka is the one who chose me for a series of Toho films after that, not Mr. Honda.

BH: Were you involved in being trained as a professional actor at Toho, or was it something that they just started casting you once they saw that you could actually act? So did you need to train at all at Toho?

YN: There was an institute of acting within Toho; it’s an acting school. The members of the inaugural class included famous actors like Toshiro Mifune, and my class was the 10th year of that institute. It was a class of six people, four men and two women. But there was some time conflict because I had to pass my college exam. So I only attended three sessions! (laughs) I didn’t have a chance to train as an actor, to be honest. I think, however, in those days I had a momentum that is unique to young people.

Unlike stage performances, in movies, a starring actor isn’t supposed to act too much, and he or she should act their part naturally. Supporting actors can get inside a character and even act effusively in some cases, as they are all really professional. When some really important scene comes up, the face of a starring actor will be close-up. So I didn’t act much! I recently realized that starring actors shouldn’t act much.

My idea is that if an actor prepares well for the role before the shooting starts, then there is no need to act too much. A starring actor who overacts is usually not very successful. Even though natural acting is necessary, you have to interpret the role well enough so that you are full of that role. But you’re not supposed to act too much. That’s what I found out recently.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: I’m fascinated by the contract system at Toho. If you could, please talk about how much power the studio had in negotiating the contracts. Also, please explain the contract system at Toho and what a contract would say.

YN: When I started, the film industry was in its golden age. So I was blessed with that. When it comes to the monthly salary, usually the college graduates got, at that time, 8,000 yen per month. My initial contract with Toho Studios was 50,000 yen. I was driving an MG, a British sports car, and a motorcycle which my father gave to me. I drove to the studio every day. But, six months later, I wanted to negotiate to get another car. So I asked Toho Studios to give me a higher salary. “Shall we give you double?” Of course, yes! So I got 100,000 yen.

After that, the number of films I was starring in was on the increase, and at the same time directors required much more of the roles I was playing in their films. But I was getting paid accordingly, and my salary got higher and higher every year. My interest in cars was changing from the MG to more expensive cars, including Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Thunderbird, Mercedes, Rolls Royce, and the like. But I was happy that I was able to afford those luxury cars.

In my same age group, there’s an actor named Tatsuyoshi Ehara. He was a child star who grew up into a real star. Toho Studios thought that Mr. Ehara, Akira Takarada, and Akira Kubo were the actors who represented the nature of Toho movies, which is of high quality, entertaining, and family-oriented. But when Makoto Sato, who is Japan’s Richard Widmark — he’s a character — came in, the atmosphere of Toho movies started to change. I recently learned that when Makoto Sato and then I, Yosuke Natsuki, a sprightly young motorbike rider, joined Toho, everybody at the studio started to worry about the future course of Toho’s youth-oriented movies!

But after we started to appear in many different movies, the number of action movies was increasing versus salaryman stories or classical movies by (Toshiro) Mifune, which were traditional Toho movies. So we are the ones who created a new generation of action movies.

BH: That’s very interesting because I was going to ask you about Ankokugai no kaoyaku (a.k.a. The Big Boss, 1959). Please talk about working with (Kihachi) Okamoto as the director, and Mifune, (Yumi) Shirakawa, and (Akira) Takarada in this film.

YN: This particular movie, I don’t remember much! (laughs) Are you familiar with Kihachi Okamoto?

BH: Yes, I am.

YN: He actually clicked with Makoto Sato. So they worked together a lot. But, for some reason, the chemistry between Mr. Okamoto and me was not very good! (laughs)

BH: Really? Why not?

YN: (in English) I don’t know! (laughs) Mr. Okamoto was very good at action. When Kihachi Okamoto was an assistant director, he was very good at action. So he tried to show how to act to Makoto Sato, and Mr. Sato actually emulated exactly what he wanted. So I believe he liked him a lot. But I didn’t want to simply copy things Mr. Okamoto directed. That’s why I believe he didn’t like me much.

BH: So what was the relationship really with Sato and Okamoto? Would they socialize off-camera? How close were they?

YN: I believe they were very close, as they lived near one another. I heard they would drink together often.

I haven’t worked with Mr. Sato in a long time. Last October 14 (2012), in the city of Kitakyushu, which is a neighboring city of Saga Prefecture where Mr. Sato is from, I was invited to a film festival which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bridge there, Wakato Ohashi Bridge. After I came back, I tried to get a hold of Mr. Sato. But I couldn’t. After that, I finally got a hold of his son, and his son said that he had been hospitalized. Then I got a call from his son on January 7, saying that he passed away on December 6. The funeral was held only by his family. So I proposed doing a commemorative gathering for him, talking to the Toho alumni, and we decided we’re going to have a party for him on March 9 (2013).

BH: How about Hawaii Midway Daikaikusen: Taiheiyo no Arashi (a.k.a. I Bombed Pearl Harbor, 1960). You worked with (Shue) Matsubayashi, the director. Please talk about what you remember filming this and working with Matsubayashi.

YN: This movie was a troublesome shoot. In Taiheiyo no Arashi, which was one film before Taiheiyo no Tsubasa (a.k.a. Attack Squadron!, 1963), all the stars of Toho appeared in this movie. The story is about World War II, triggered by Pearl Harbor. They actually built a huge aircraft carrier in the Chiba area, and 20 aircraft flew out of that ship. Mr. Mifune was the commander of that.

In order to be real, they decided to have the aircraft fly from the carrier at the time when the actual fleet flew out of Japan to Pearl Harbor. But there was one aircraft which had engine trouble. So the mechanic tried to repair it, but because of some accident, he lost his finger. So all shooting was suspended. They tried to do the same thing again and again, but because of the continuous bad weather, they couldn’t shoot this scene. But, after all, we did it. During that time, I had to go to one island in Izu for location shooting. We went there, but because of the typhoon, we had to come back by ship. So we had lots of trouble during the shooting. It took well over three months.

Mr. Matsubayashi used to be a Navy officer during the war, so he wanted to warn people, the audience, that war shouldn’t be done. He always puts in a scene, a very important scene, to prohibit war. In the case of Taiheiyo no Arashi, he put in a scene at the very end, where within the sinking aircraft carrier, the commander played by Mr. Mifune and the captain of the fleet played by Mr. Jun Tazaki, were talking to each other, saying that we should never start a war like this again. That scene made this film very deep.

Of course, you know that Mr. Matsubayashi passed away, but one year before he passed away, he asked me to go see Taiheiyo no Arashi together, which was shown at a small theater in Asagaya. And we did. It was several decades after the movie was produced. But I was impressed by the movie. I am a big fan of Mr. Mifune. Mr. Mifune was still very, very impressive in that movie. When he says important lines, the camera shoots him diagonally from the back, which is usually shot from the front. So that scene was very nicely shot, and I really liked that scene. Mr. Matsubayashi said, “I know how Mr. Mifune is attractive in what camera angles.” So I think Mr. Matsubayashi loved Mr. Mifune’s acting and studied how to photograph him and which angles he should take.

Even now, my scenes are also very good. I myself was impressed by those scenes simply because I think Mr. Matsubayashi tried to get the most of me.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: My next movie is Dokuritsu Gurentai (a.k.a. Outlaw Outpost, 1959). This was a very early Okamoto movie. Please talk about what you remember filming this. Also, what were your initial impressions of Okamoto when you met him and his directing style. It was very different from most directors.

YN: My first impression of Mr. Okamoto was that he was a strange guy! (laughs) A weirdo! He was always wearing something black: black sunglasses, black clothing, black pants. Later on, I found out his coffee cups at home were all black.

Actually, his directing style was not for me. Mr. Okamoto’s movies are composed of fragmented cuts of about three seconds from “Action” to “Cut.” It takes six seconds in total from the start of shooting with the sound of a clapperboard through the finish of the scene, and a cut of three seconds from a six-second scene is used for the final product, which does not give an actor enough time to act.

I would prefer a long single shot like five minutes or even ten minutes, where the performance of actors involved in the scene could get more realistic and more intense.

BH: Who do you think was the most actor-friendly director? Whose directing style was best suited for actors?

YN: Hiroshi Inagaki and Yasuki Chiba. Let me talk about Mr. Chiba first. His direction was all written in the final script, which meticulously depicts every single cut. For instance, this cut should be a close-up, upper torso, or whole body shot, with some direction like the use of a crane or some other vehicle. There was absolutely no change on the set, and shooting went entirely as written. Therefore Mr. Chiba’s directing style was very favorable to new actors who were not accustomed to how shooting goes.

Mr. Inagaki, on the other hand, had a contrasting directing style. He would sit in the director’s chair placed far away from the camera, wearing a pair of black sunglasses. We couldn’t figure out how Mr. Inagaki responded to our acting at all. Which cut of a scene would be shot, when a dress rehearsal would be done, and when to get on to real shooting would be all cued in by a chief assistant director. Whether a scene is good or not was decided by him. So actors were always curious about knowing how Mr. Inagaki and his chief assistant director communicated to each other as to what decision to make. But we could never know how after all these years.

BH: My next question was about Osaka-jo Monogatari (a.k.a. Osaka Castle Story, 1961), with Inagaki, the director. Inagaki is famous for doing very big movies, and you worked with Mifune (Kyoko) Kagawa, and (Yuriko) Hoshi, many big stars. So please talk about Osaka-jo Monogatari or Inagaki in general.

YN: When it comes to Osaka-jo Monogatari, I’d like to talk a little bit about Mr. Mifune. As you know, Toshiro Mifune was the number-one star at Toho and a superstar in Japan. Nevertheless, he had never been late for shooting. He had never brought any scripts to the studio. He memorized all the lines. Despite his position, he didn’t have a chauffeur or an assistant. He would drive an old car called MG-TD 1953 model by himself every morning, sometimes with a lunch box prepared by his wife. His style penetrated into the whole studio, and all Toho actors emulated what Mr. Mifune was doing. They were never late for shooting, never brought scripts with them. This never happens in other studios.

I worked with Mr. Inagaki on many different movies. When it comes to historical films, we would go on location for a month or two for shooting. We would start shooting early in the morning and finish at five in the afternoon. After work, we went back to the hotel to drink, have dinner, and then play mahjong, which was a typical day. Since alcohol doesn’t agree with me, Mr. Inagaki might have thought that I’m not good at releasing stress and kindly suggested I bring three of my friends to play mahjong every time we had a long location shoot.

Thanks to Mr. Inagaki’s permission, I would play mahjong every night, but after this situation continued for ten days, twenty days, I started to worry about what was going on, because I was not called to play my part while other actors and staff members left for shooting every day. So one day I went to see what’s happening, and found that someone else wearing my costume was playing my part together with my scene partner. So, I asked Mr. Inagaki, “That’s my role, isn’t it? Why is this other actor playing it?” Then he replied, “A film is a magic, Yosuke. After location shooting, we will shoot close-up scenes at the studio and edit them together. So just relax and hang out with your friends.” After all, during this long location period, I spent only two days shooting my scenes, where I rode a horse and ran.

After we came back from locations, we started to shoot the close-up scenes at Toho Studios. There were scenes where Koshiro Matsumoto, who used to be known as Somegoro Ichikawa (he assumed his father’s name), and I were supposed to fight. Mr. Inagaki told me to put on Ichikawa’s costume, and the other way around. They filmed from a distance, so the audience wouldn’t know who they were. Only in the close-up scenes did we wear our own costumes. Then they edited them into the movie, and Mr. Inagaki asked me in a playful voice, “Can you tell which is you?” I couldn’t! That’s one of the fun things he did during the shooting. Mr. Inagaki was a fun director. During long shoots, he did that kind of mischievous thing a lot.

I appeared in Mr. Inagaki’s movies a lot. Every time I went somewhere in Japan outside of Tokyo, I was asked to bring three of my good friends.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: And Toho would pay for them?

YN: (in English) Yes, yes! (laughs) Everything!

BH: My next movie is kind of interesting because, in America at least, many people compare Inagaki to (Akira) Kurosawa. You were in Yojimbo (1961). So please talk about Yojimbo and working with Kurosawa.

YN: Mr. Inagaki’s works and Mr. Kurosawa’s works are both masterpieces. But the sets are as different as paradise and hell! Mr. Kurosawa is always in an angry mood. Only when he looks at Mr. Mifune does he smile. Other than that, he’s always angry. Mr. Kurosawa requires all the actors to be dressed up and made up and do dress rehearsals every single day with lighting and everything, but he doesn’t shoot. But every single day he repeated it. I was young, and I was kind of green, so I asked Mr. Kurosawa, “Why don’t you shoot? We are all ready.” He didn’t answer!

There’s a scene in Yojimbo when Mr. Mifune is entering a deserted town where he comes across yakuza mobsters, and the wind is blowing very heavily, and fallen leaves are blowing all over. Everybody was ready for shooting, but Mr. Kurosawa said, “Stop.” He picked up one leaf, and said, “This leaf didn’t match the others.” So Mr. Kurosawa went away, and everything was canceled. These leaves didn’t come from that tree. So a staff member went all the way to Nagano, located north of Tokyo, to find the right leaves for that tree in the studio!

A very old actor, Ikio Sawamura, was striking the bell all day long. The bell was hung in a very high place, so he had to climb up there, and every time we had a rehearsal, he had to go up there and strike the bell. Mr. Kurosawa repeatedly tested those scenes. One day Mr. Sawamura asked Mr. Kurosawa, “How many times should I hit the bell?” Then the director replied, “You have to keep hitting the bell until I say cut.” He rang the bell all day long until the bar got broken! If you closely watch that scene, after he hits it three times, it pans out. That’s how we perceived Mr. Kurosawa.

BH: My next question is about (Salaryman) Chushingura (1960). It’s another big film with many, many stars. So what do you remember about (it)?

YN: They usually put two films for one show, a costly feature film and an all-star movie like (Hisaya) Morishige’s comedies, especially for New Year’s Day and Obon, to draw a bigger audience.

I personally enjoyed every single day because I appeared in both the big movies and the salaryman movies at the same time. Mr. Inagaki, Mr. Kurosawa, and Mr. Honda were making movies in a very serious manner, but Mr. Matsubayashi is kind of a funny guy. Many comedians appeared in his salaryman series, like Keiju Kobayashi, Frankie Sakai, Norihei Miki, and Daisuke Kato. They can do whatever they want, so it’s very funny.

The director, Mr. Matsubayashi, persuaded the staff members never to laugh. So they have to try not to laugh until the director says cut. But he hardly says cut! So the comedians were doing whatever they wanted, and naturally it was so funny, and everyone wanted to burst into laughter, but they couldn’t. That lasted and lasted, and at the very end, Mr. Matsubayashi said cut, and everybody started to laugh, and it lasted about 30 minutes! (in English) So, every day, we enjoyed (it) so much!

BH: Which is your favorite Inagaki film? Would it be Osaka-jo Monogatari or another one?

YN: Yato kaze no naka o hashiru (a.k.a. Bandits on the Wind, 1961) and Gen to fudomyo-o (a.k.a. Gen and Acala, 1961).

BH: Did you work with Setsuko Hara?

YN: (in English) Yes.

BH: What was she like? She’s a very, very big star, so what was your impression?

YN: Very attractive. I had little chance to talk to her, but she was an elegant lady.

BH: Another war film with Mr. Matsubayashi is Taiheiyo no Tsubasa (a.k.a. Attack Squadron!). Once again, you worked with Mr. Matsubayashi on another war film. So please talk about what you remember from making this film.

YN: I watched the DVD a couple of days ago. This movie also rejects war. I was impressed by the scene where Makoto Sato got shot and couldn’t see. His subordinate, played by Kiyoshi Atsumi, guided him to land safely. That scene with Makoto Sato is very, very impressive. But there’s one funny scene, which I didn’t really appreciate, where Yuzo Kayama flew his fighter despite his boss’ objection. His fighter was a cutting-edge combat fighter after a Zero fighter, and he was aimed at by an American aircraft. At the very last moment, a Japanese fighter came to help him, but the pilot was Mr. Mifune, for some reason. Mr. Mifune was supposed to be the top of the top-ranking officials. Why was he flying the fighter at this point in time? I didn’t really like that scene.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What was Kayama like? What was he personally like away from the set?

YN: He is one year younger. I worked with Mr. Kayama, but I didn’t have a chance to talk with him closely.

BH: Another war film you worked on, Chintao yosai bakugeki meirei (a.k.a. Siege of Fort Bismarck, 1963), with Kengo Furusawa (as director). So please talk about working with Furusawa and working on another war film with him.

YN: I made my debut in Mikkoku-sha wa dare ka. Because it was my debut film, I had no idea what was happening on the set. All I could do was show up at 9:00 sharp at Toho Studios by motorbike. I commuted by motorbike. I was guided to go to the costume department and then makeup and then the studio. I was instructed by the director, “When you enter from that door, Ms. Yumi Shirakawa, your older sister, will be here and will say a line to you. When you hear her, you have to say this line. And then go out of the door this way.” That’s the direction given by the director, but the assistant director, Kengo Furusawa, said, “No, no, no. That’s not the way. You have to come out this way.” He would always say something opposite or different.

So there were often some conflicting things, and I didn’t know what to do and asked the director what I should do. Then the director said I should follow his instruction. As a result, Mr. Furusawa, the chief assistant director, didn’t show up the next day because of the conflict. During the day, he was there in the studio, but he was in the prop room, striking something with hammers. (laughs) Everybody was wondering, saying, “Why didn’t you come?” “Because I don’t agree with the director.” He didn’t come after all. But, in every scene in every film, he’d say something opposite.

But Kengo Furusawa’s way of directing is more real than the director. For instance, when I played a criminal who killed a policeman, I had to escape, and we used a Toho building. I had to climb the staircase to the roof of the building. There’s an elevator machine room on top of that. So I had to climb over there. I rehearsed the scene five times from the beginning, so I was exhausted by the time they did the shoot. But that’s what Mr. Furusawa wanted. When I was hiding in the trunk of a car, when I was confined in there, nobody can see me in there. So usually I would be let out of the trunk first, and then they shoot the car escaping and driving away. But Mr. Furusawa wanted me in the trunk during that scene. After I got out, I was exhausted. He wanted that type of realism.

BH: Which film was that, when you were in the trunk?

YN: It was Mikkoku-sha wa dare ka, my debut movie. As I mentioned before, Kihachi Okamoto, the director, dressed all in black all the time. On the other hand, Kengo Furusawa was always in all white all the time! Originally I thought he was a little weird, but when I was starring in my debut movie, there was a chase scene. I was chased by police, and I had to jump into the river, which runs through Toho Studios. There was a dirty river and drainage there. Before they shot this scene, Kengo Furusawa was instructed by the director to do the test scene. He was always in white clothing, so he was hesitant, but he actually did it. After that, I believed in him, and we became very close.

I appeared in many of Mr. Furusawa’s movies. He made lots of Crazy Cats (a comedy group) films. I very often worked together with Makoto Sato in his films. Every time I did NG (no-good) scenes, Mr. Furusawa scolded Makoto Sato instead of me. I would volunteer by saying that it was my fault, but Mr. Furusawa would say, “No, it was Mr. Sato’s fault. Because his acting is no good, you can’t respond to him properly. It is definitely his fault.”

Pale-san was his nickname. Mr. Furusawa used to be in the army, and he was a parachute trooper. There was a very famous incident in Palembang (a city in Indonesia), which was a battlefield. The Japanese army landed in Palembang by parachute. He was one of those troopers. The Japanese occupied (Indonesia) during World War II, so Palembang is the name of the city there. He proudly talked about it all the time, so everyone started to call him Pale-san. Later on, however, everybody learned that Mr. Furusawa didn’t actually land in Palembang by parachute. All the staff members of Toho would say, “Pale-san didn’t land in Palembang!” That’s why he’s called Pale-san.

BH: How did he actually get there? Was he actually there?

YN: (in English) Maybe! Not sure! (laughs) He’s an enthusiast for making movies, so he requires all the actors to be into it with real spirit and soul. If there’s soul in it, you can do anything. That’s the way he thought.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

There are many intriguing stories about Mr. Furusawa. One episode is like this. One day he handed over a cut segmentation and a storyboard he printed out to all the actors and staff members one by one, saying, “Today I will shoot exactly as directed. So please follow them.” But I found some of the directions were not very natural and said to Mr. Furusawa, “This scene is a little difficult to act if I follow the direction. How about doing this way?” Then he said flatly, “No! Do as the direction says!” But I still had a hard time acting that scene, so I did it the way I thought natural and asked him if he liked my scene after shooting. Then he responded in a very soft voice, “Yeah, that is better, although it went well last night when I asked my wife to act.” This disclosed to everybody that he did his homework last night when he was storyboarding every single scene while his wife was trying to act for him to see if it was good. The whole studio was full of laughter!

BH: I also wanted to backtrack a little bit and ask you if, when you first joined Toho, if there was a sempai or someone who advised you and took you under his wing. Was there someone — an actor, maybe a director, or producer who was a mentor to you?

YN: Actually, in Toho culture, there’s no seniority system like in typical Japanese companies. All staff members, all actors, old and young, are all gentlemen. But the interesting thing is that there were two big stars: Ryo Ikebe and Toshiro Mifune. They were very opposite from each other in the sense that Mr. Mifune, as I mentioned before, would never be late, memorized all the lines, would never bring any scripts.  Ryo Ikebe, on the other hand, would say he would show up at 9:00, but would usually show up in the afternoon. He never memorized anything. They were two big stars. In other words, the young actors loved Mr. Mifune. He was the mentor and the ultimate goal for young actors. All the young actors came to see the filming of his scenes.

Well before I became an actor, there’s a famous story. In the film titled Ginrei no Hate (1947), which is a story about climbers, there were two leading actors in the film. During the shooting, all the staff members, the actors and everybody, carried very heavy equipment while climbing up the mountains. Mr. Mifune was the head honcho, and he was carrying the heaviest things by himself, and walking at the front of the group. In this movie, both Mr. Mifune and Ryo Ikebe starred in the film. Mr. Ikebe didn’t carry anything. So Mr. Mifune said, “Why don’t you carry something like the rest of us?” Mr. Ikebe said, “While you were in the war, you were just one of the soldiers. I was a high-ranking official.” So that’s why.

BH: Another film that you worked on is Chi to Diamonds (a.k.a. Blood and Diamonds, 1964). Jun Fukuda was the director. Do you remember Fukuda?

YN: In Mr. Fukuda’s debut film, I starred. But I can’t remember the title! (laughs) When a chief assistant director was promoted to director, I (usually) starred in his debut movie. (looks over his filmography for Chi to Diamonds) I don’t remember (this film)! (laughs)

BH: In general, what do you recall about Fukuda?

YN: He was a nervous type. He lost his temper very easily. I worked with him a lot. Jun Fukuda, Kengo Furusawa, and Eizo Sugawa were the chief assistant directors I promoted to director! (laughs) They wanted to use me because there was some potential for something new, I think.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about Uchu Daikaiju Dogora (a.k.a. Dogora the Space Monster, 1964). You worked with Honda on this, and you co-starred with Dan Yuma (or Robert Dunham). So what do you remember about Dogora, particularly Honda and Dan Yuma?

YN: (in English) Gentleman. (Mr. Honda) never shouts. He was always a gentleman, unlike others. I was never instructed to do this or that by Mr. Honda. Robert Dunham was not an actor. He was a car person. He was a racer and would drive a Hino Contessa in car races. Due to the contract with Toho, I was prohibited from doing any car races on motorbikes. I had just bought a Porsche 356C when I worked with Dan Yuma. We went to Shimoda, Izu, for location shooting. I just bought the Porsche 356C, so after dinner, I drove the Porsche on highways. And Dan Yuma drove a Hino Contessa. So both of us actually raced along the highways, the Porsche against the race car. As an actor, I thought he was an amateur. But he understood some Japanese. There were very few foreigners at that time, so the director probably didn’t require much.

BH: You also starred with (Hiroshi) Koizumi and (Akihiko) Hirata and Yoko Fujiyama. So please talk about working with Koizumi, Fujiyama, and some of the other co-stars.

YN: (Mr. Koizumi’s) role was always that of a gentleman, and his nature is that of a gentleman. Mr. Hirata is elite. Mr. Hirata is a gentleman, too, and his background is unique. He went to the Japanese version of West Point. After he was released, he entered the University of Tokyo. After graduation, he went to either Mitsui & Co. or Mitsubishi Corporation, both blue-chip general trading houses. I don’t remember which one, but he was an elite salaryman. He was smart and very good-looking and a gentleman as well.

After movies, I made my TV debut in Seishun Towa Nanda (a.k.a. Is This Youth?, 1965), which was one of the biggest hits on TV. My co-star was Yoko Fujiyama, but I didn’t remember we played together in the film! (laughs) So I said, “How do you do?” Then she went, “I co-starred with you in some movies in the past.” It was kind of embarrassing! (laughs)

I didn’t realize that I played the role intended for Mr. Hirata, Professor Hayashida, in Godzilla (1984). Only when the Godzilla fans came to Japan (for G-TOUR 2011) did I find out. If I had known that, I probably couldn’t have done that role. There could have been a lot of pressure on me because of Mr. Hirata, but I didn’t know that, so I was lucky to play that role.

I watched Godzilla (1984) the day before yesterday for this meeting. I enjoyed it. In 1985, I started to go to Africa for the Paris-Dakar Rally. I did that for eight years. I didn’t work during that time. I was racing in the desert. At that time, the movie industry in Japan was declining. On the other hand, TV was going up. But I didn’t realize it because I was in the rough!

BH: One of your biggest kaiju movies was San Daikaiju: Chikyu Saidai no Kessen (a.k.a. Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, 1964). You were Detective Shindo in that (film). So please talk about what you remember about working on (Ghidrah), which is a very popular kaiju movie.

YN: (searches his filmography, doesn’t remember the movie) I appeared in seven movies in 1964!

BH: From that movie, two actors who are very well known are (Akiko) Wakabayashi and (Takashi) Shimura…

YN: Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Shimura are always in the kaiju movies. The Peanuts! I now remember! (laughs) I remember Dogora more.

Mr. Shimura was an old, well-seasoned actor, and he was always in Mr. Kurosawa’s movies. That’s the impression I have. But, looking back, he must have been younger than I am now. He didn’t talk much, but he was a nice older man. Toho wanted Akiko Wakabayashi to be a real star until she appeared in the 007 movie (You Only Live Twice, 1967). She was talented, but she was not a huge star. There were not many actresses at Toho at that time: Reiko Dan, Yuriko Hoshi…

BH: Kumi Mizuno, Mie Hama, Yumi Shirakawa…

YN: Yumi Shirakawa and Yoko Tsukasa are good stars, very good actresses. Actors and actresses didn’t have a chance to chat with each other because everything was divided into male and female sections. So, when we’d go somewhere else, we’d reserve different planes, different trains. Then we’d just meet each other at the site.

There was an agreement among the five film studios (Toho, Toei, Nikkatsu, Daiei, and Shochiku) that they wouldn’t lend their actors and actresses to other studios. We didn’t have a chance to get to know the actresses, unfortunately. But, every year, there was a baseball game. Only in this annual baseball game would we actually see in person other actresses from other studios. In reality, we didn’t have a chance to meet and talk with the actresses.

BH: So there’d be a baseball game that was played by all the studios?

YN: Yes.

BH: Every year?

YN: Yes. It was fun.

BH: When the contract system ended at Toho in 1970, I believe, please talk about when you left Toho and when your contract ended, and please talk about the end of your being contracted at Toho.

YN: The film industry had been declining at that time, so nobody wanted to enter into a contract. But, before the system ended, I went to Mifune Productions.

BH: I see. What year?

YN: (searches filmography)

BH: When I talked to Kumi Mizuno, she left Toho in, I think, 1966. I noticed that you left Toho, too. Is there a reason that some of the stars left Toho? Were they not satisfied with the roles, or did they want more freedom?

YN: I probably left around the same time. After the five-company agreement ended, everybody was kind of free, but still everybody thinks that the grass is greener on the other side. Many actors were not satisfied with their contracts, so they left. If the industry were improving, there would be room for negotiation, so they could have stayed. But, at that time, there was no improvement in the industry, so people left. I probably left in 1966.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Why did you decide to join Mifune Productions?

YN: I had an actor-friend named Shinsuke Achiha. (Shinsuke Achiha is best known in America as Ultra Garrison member Soga from Ultra Seven, 1967-68.) He was not a major star, but when I was asked to take care of this young actor, I was starring in Seishun Towa Nanda, one of the biggest hits on TV. So Mr. Achiha was cast as the captain of a baseball team at the school. This was a high school story. But, every three months, they replaced all the students to keep it fresh. So he had to graduate from the role in three months, but he wanted to be there. He asked the director to have him drop out, but the offer was declined! He was actually out, and he was not placed with any roles after that. He attributed that to his management company, and he kept saying that because he was not blessed with good managers, he was a struggling actor.

So he wanted to be a manager after all. He asked Raita Ryu and me to be our manager. At that time, I came across Mr. Mifune, who suggested I join Mifune Productions and work together with them. Then I talked to Mr. Ryu and Mr. Achiha about Mr. Mifune’s offer, and the three of us decided to go to Mifune Productions. I really respected Mr. Mifune.

In those days, Alain Delon, a French actor who was very popular in Japan, was represented in Japan by Mifune Productions. But, while I was with Mifune Productions, there were many problems! Mr. Achiha, Junichi Tanaka, and maybe Mr. Ryu, too, wanted to make another production company for actors. Apparently, there was a conflict of interest between the production department and the actors department. I kind of agreed to their idea, and the next day I went to Mr. Mifune and asked his opinion because he’s an actor as well as CEO of Mifune Productions. He said he never heard that plan, and he was shocked to hear it.

So Mr. Achiha, Mr. Tanaka, and Mr. Ryu wanted to make their own production company, separate from Mifune Productions, because Mifune Productions had just arranged for Alain Delon to appear in a clothing commercial for D’Urban which made a big profit. So, I think with that money, they wanted to make another production company. And they did after all. But a new young actress, Keiko Takeshita, who is very famous now, stayed together with me at Mifune Productions. The new company was called Actors Promotion. They enjoyed (success for) some period but ultimately disappeared, and Mr. Achiha committed suicide (in 2007).

BH: Certainly G-Men ’75 was a big hit. Talk about the impact that G-Men ’75 had on television at the time.

YN: At first, Toho wanted to produce Taiyo ni Hoero! for TV, and they wanted to use Yujiro Ishihara (a popular leading actor from Nikkatsu Studios) as the new star. I was starring in Tokyo Bypass Directive (1968-70). Taiyo ni Hoero! was a police drama based on the Tokyo Bypass story, although the title was different, and the producer probably thought that if he would use me as the lead role in the new series, it would make no difference.

At that time, there was an offer for G-Men ’75 at Toei to me, but I never appeared in anything other than the films and TV programs of Toho and Mifune Productions. So I was wondering what to do. Toei said that a series of shows they had produced were not very successful, so this time they wanted to make G-Men ’75 a big hit with me. I accepted this offer because Mr. Yu Fujiki, whom I’ve known for a long time, would also appear in this show. I wanted to co-star with him.  

Toei had been using Mr. Fujiki because his color was different from Toei’s. He was more like a Toho type. He wasn’t a leading actor; he was more of a supporting actor. But I was comfortable with him being there, and I liked the concept of the show, and the producer’s enthusiasm made me accept G-Men ’75.

BH: The next thing (I’d like) to talk about is Godzilla ’84. Of course, it’s a big feature film, and directed by (Koji) Hashimoto. Please talk about working with Mr. Hashimoto and what you remember filming Godzilla ’84.

YN: I didn’t know that Mr. Hashimoto was a director. If I remember correctly, he was in the production department. He was a serious man. I watched Godzilla, and I thought it was good. But I think if Mr. Honda would have directed it, it could have been a totally different film, an interesting one. Mr. Hashimoto made this movie only, but I wanted him to make more movies.

And then I went to Africa for rally racing, so I don’t really know what was happening around that time.

BH: What about Ken Tanaka, Shin Takuma, and Yasuko Sawaguchi?

YN: Ken Tanaka and Shin Takuma had been actors at that time, so they were good actors. But this was Yasuko Sawaguchi’s second film. So she was a new actress, not as good as she is now.

BH: Do you have any other memories, anything that stands out during the filming?

YN: All the actors at Toho are so serious and diligent, so there are no funny stories. They are very well educated and very well behaved and gentlemen. So it’s not worth mentioning. It’s been over 50 years since I’ve entered the movie industry. I’ve seen many different people. I’m very happy to be an actor because I’ve been doing this all my life.


Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: One of your more recent films was Guilala (a.k.a. Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit, 2008), with (Minoru) Kawasaki.

YN: (laughs) All of a sudden, he showed up at my office, asking me to appear in the film. I asked him what the story was about, and he said, “It’s called Guilala.” I declined the offer. Then we had a year-end party, and he showed up. (laughs) He was seated next to me. “Please, please!” He said that Susumu Kurobe and Bin Furuya miss me, and I read the script. “No, thank you.” He came here every single day. So I did it after all.

In the movie, prime ministers from all over the world discuss how to battle Guilala. It’s a summit. There were a lot of foreign actors. Those actors live in Japan. They are amateur actors. It caused some problems after all. There’s a big conference room in Gotemba. It’s a beautiful conference hall. The foreign actors looked like the actual heads of state! They were lookalike actors. I presumed that it would take time, probably, because they were amateur actors. However, I found them very good; they had quality techniques I’ve never seen before. The person who played Mitterand was an Iranian who doesn’t speak French at all. As a French voice actor was speaking for Mitterand, the Iranian actor was lip-synching to him. This technique was new to me and very impressive. I really enjoyed being part of this movie since I did my very best, although the level of the movie is kind of low and naturally ended up an okay movie! There was neither SFX nor computer graphics because it was low-budget.

BH: Takeshi Kitano did the voice of Take-Majin.

YN: (laughs) When Toho makes a movie, they can employ all the Self-Defense Forces equipment, like submarines and helicopters and aircraft. But, with a low-budget movie, it’s hard, so you can tell.

BH: In conclusion, would you have any final comments for your fans? Would you like to say what you’re working on now?

YN: I feel that there’s something wrong with the entertainment industry in Japan. Only comedians who look like amateurs become very popular for some reason. They sing a song and appear in big-budget movies and TV shows. I feel there is something wrong, so my friends and I want to correct the orbit of the entertainment business to a deeper, more serious one. I feel it’s a mission I have.

A few years ago, I was offered to appear in a Korean film, Seducing Mr. Robin (a.k.a. Seducing Mr. Perfect, 2006), and I went to South Korea. I was so impressed by the high level of the crew. The cameramen and lighting crew all learned in Hollywood how to make films. Their quality is much higher than the Japanese, and there’s no comparison.

As far as the movie industry is concerned, we used to do this level of work in Japan, too, but in Korea the Confucius thought is still there. So the seniority system is still there. I was one of the oldest actors. My role was the Japanese automobile company president, and I was standing so that the suit I was wearing wouldn’t get any wrinkles. So I was standing all the time while waiting for my scenes. When I stood, all the other crew members stood, too. I asked them, “Why don’t you sit?” They answered, “Because you’re standing.” Once I had a seat, everybody sat down! I also asked them, “Why don’t you guys smoke?” They answered, “Because you’re not smoking.” So when I smoked, everybody did, too. All the Japanese studios used to have that kind of tradition, but there are no such manners anymore. So I was impressed by the fact that they still abide by those rules, and also the quality of techniques learned in Hollywood by the young cameramen and lighting people. I was impressed by the Korean film industry.

I was invited to appear in two Filipino movies. I’ve heard of how a movie star was treated in the good old days, but a similar custom still remains in Philippines, and I was treated like an old-time star, e.g., at the same time the director says “Cut,” a chair, a table, an ashtray, a parasol, coffee, and sometimes a masseur come to me. When shooting is ready, an assistant director comes to pick me up and drive to the location. Soon after I arrive there, the director says “Now we’ll be shooting,” without any rehearsal. I learned a stand-in for my role already rehearsed before my arrival. So I asked my stand-in to perform my role for my reference and then acted before the camera. It was an unusual system, but I enjoyed shooting in the Philippines in their way. I highly recommend that young actors go abroad like I did, including Hollywood.

FROM ULTRA SEVEN TO THE OLYMPICS! Terry Farnsworth on His Acting Career in Japan and Beyond!


The cast and crew of Ultra Seven is all smiles in Kobe! From left to right: Sandayu Dokumamushi, Pointer driver Mr. Koyama, Linda Hardisty, Koji Moritsugu, Bin Furuya, Yuriko Hishimi, Terry Farnsworth, and Shoji Nakayama. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

Fans of the superhero series Ultra Seven (1967-68) from Tsuburaya Productions should know the name Melvin Webb. In episodes 14 and 15 of the series, Melvin Webb is a Secret Service agent sent to Kobe, Japan, to help keep the Earth safe from King Joe and his evil alien forces.

In this interview, we will get to know the man behind Melvin Webb: Terry Farnsworth.

Terry Farnsworth was born on August 27, 1942. After graduating high school and attending a couple of years of a pre-college program in Canada, he left for Japan at age 20. Originally, Mr. Farnsworth went to Tokyo for three months but eventually stayed for six years.

After earning his black belt in Montreal (and after getting cold feet about at engagement at 19 years old), he came to Tokyo to pursue judo. After leaving Japan, he returned to the family textile business, which at the time was experiencing some problems. In order to turn things around, Mr. Farnsworth transformed into a leather-skin importing business, and as a result traveled all over the world importing leather skins. Ultimately, it became the third-largest leather importing business in Canada. Eventually, Mr. Farnsworth began liquidating the business and invested in a start-up company in Montreal, which provided him with a hefty windfall. For the last 25 years, most of his income has come from trading in the stock market.

Aside from his work in Ultra Seven, Mr. Farnsworth appeared as an extra in The Green Slime (1968), battled onscreen with the legendary Japanese star Ken Takakura in The Drifting Avenger (1968), and had a small part in Cary Grant’s last movie, Walk Don’t Run (1966). In his first interview about his entertainment career in Japan, Mr. Farnsworth spoke to Brett Homenick for Vantage Point Interviews.

Brett Homenick: Please take me back to the events that led up to your coming to Japan.

Terry Farnsworth: Basically, I wasn’t happy being in the family business. I was a bit of a rebel. I became engaged to get married, and I came to the realization that I was too young. I’d just gotten my black belt in judo, so I thought a great place to go would be Tokyo and pursue my judo, which I did, and never looked back.


Terry Farnsworth poses as a gunslinger in the Ken Takakura vehicle The Drifting Avenger (1968). Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Drifting Avenger © 1968, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: So how did you know where to go?

TF: Well, in the judo circles at that time, Kodokan (Judo Institute) was like the Mecca, and foreigners came from all over the world to practice there. So we knew where to go. I was fortunate that I had a girlfriend at that time, a sort-of girlfriend, that happened to be on the same boat as me. I took a boat from Vancouver to Yokohama. She happened to be on it, a total coincidence, and she was third-generation sansei Japanese but could speak the language. So she and I lived together for a while, and of course she was able to find the place to live, and she could speak Japanese, so it was quite easy for me at that time.

When I was over there, I enrolled in Naganuma School of Japanese. I was going to school three hours a day every day studying, so I picked up the language fairly rapidly. I was also immersed in a total Japanese atmosphere. I was the only foreigner to train in judo at Chuo University. Nobody spoke English. So we had the guy talk, my girlfriend with the feminine talk, and at school you got the basics. So I picked it up fairly fast.


Terry Farnsworth and Robert Horton pal around on the set of The Green Slime (1968). Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Green Slime © 1968, Toei Co., Ltd.

BH: While you were in Japan in the beginning, you were practicing judo, you were going to school. What other activities were you doing at that time?

TF: Judo, karate, teaching English, and then I got discovered in a bathhouse (laughs) in Kasumicho, just off of Roppongi where I was living and became a movie actor.

BH: Well, tell me about that meeting. Who discovered you, and what did they say to you?

TF: So here we are, sitting in the ofuro, and as you know, it’s women on one side, and men on the other side. Then there’s a row of buckets that all the guys would sit on. We’d shave, rinse ourselves off, and wash ourselves before going into the hot tub.  As I was sitting there shaving, this fellow (Eddie Arab) with a beard came behind me. I could see him through the mirror. He said, “Oh, you very handsome. Are you American?” That’s with his thing dangling three inches from my ear! I said, “No, actually, I’m Canadian.” “Oh, you very handsome. You should be movie star!” I said, “Yes, thank you. Everybody tells me that.” So he tells me he’s a movie agent, and I go, “Yeah, yeah, okay, that’s nice.”


Terry Farnsworth, Linda Hardisty, Shoji Nakayama, and Yoshio Tsuchiya react to Ultra Seven’s heroics. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

A day later, I see him outside my apartment with his wife and his brand-new baby, strolling in a carriage. It turns out he is a movie agent and legitimate! So I go up to his apartment, and we have a discussion. Three weeks later, I’m the star of a movie called Lala in Fog. Now Lala in Fog was considered to be a blue movie in those times. Not sex, but blue. Lala was the name of the actress, and there’s only two of us in the movie – her and I – and it was a narrated film. Lala was a half-white, half-Japanese stripper at the Nichigeki Theater, I think. Gorgeous body, by the way! Didn’t speak a word of English. We went up to Bandaisan (Mount Bandai) with the movie crew for three weeks on location. First time I had ever shot a movie. It was a great, great experience – really nice people. She was naked on the beautiful white stallion, which was a white farm horse that the farmer rented to the movie people. But I always held the reins, so they had to cut the reins part out of the production.


An alluring scene from Lala in Fog, Terry’s first movie. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth.

That was that! We shot that movie in three weeks. Great fun. This movie was so stupid that it was actually hysterical. I was catching butterflies in my little shorts in the forest when she appeared as an apparition out of the ocean or out of the river, and I fell down a 120-foot cliff, which I by the way for $7 a day I think I was getting paid at that time, refused to fall down 120-foot cliff, and we compromised on a seven-foot hill. And then she nursed me back to health. That was that movie.

I took my friends who came from Canada just as the movie was being shown. I took them to see it. Took a taxi to Shinjuku, took about a half an hour to find the movie theater. Even though my billboard was there – I actually had a billboard with my picture on it – I paid the fee. There was another movie on before. By the way, you had to go through a kitchen downstairs, and there was a movie theater that sat about 200 people. After the first movie, out of 200 people, there were maybe 50 people left. When my movie finished, I thought I should walk out with my coat over my head so nobody should recognize me! That’s how good it was! So that was my first foray into movies.

Then I found a different agent called Johnny Yusuf. I did a lot of TV work. I did Attchan, which was a kids’ show, in Kamakura. I did some gangster movies. I forget who was in that, but all quite famous Japanese actors. I had a small part in Walk Don’t Run (1966) with Cary Grant and Samantha Eggar, which I kind of talked my way into. I was an Olympic walker in that one. The best movie was from Toho. (The Drifting Avenger was) a cowboy movie starring Ken Takakura, who’s died now. He was a great, great guy. I had to get interviewed at Toho, and they said, “Can you ride a horse?” I said, “Excuse me, have you ever been to Montreal? It’s all ranches. I grew up on horses!” So I got the part! They took five foreigners out, and they used stunt men for the other four. They wanted to use one for me, but I actually could ride a horse, so I had a great time. That was a great movie. Again, we spent about three weeks on location in a town called Tamworth (Australia). That was a real movie. It had stagecoaches. I got killed in a shootout with Ken Takakura. A stunt man was falling off a 60-foot water tower into cardboard boxes when he got shot. We just had a great time.


Behind the scenes of The Drifting Avenger, filmed on location in Australia. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Drifting Avenger © 1968, Toho Co., Ltd.

I almost got killed there because we were driving from Tamworth to Sydney, and a 17-year-old stunt driver who was Australian hit an oil slick in the road. The car almost ran into a 40-foot van, but he managed to miss that. We went down an embankment. The car turned over twice. It was the first year they came out with seat belts with shoulder straps, so I put it on as a giggle because I’d never had a shoulder-strap seat belt on, which saved my life because we ended up upside-down in the car. I opened my eyes, and Johnny’s sitting there upside-down moaning, and I said to him, “Johnny, Johnny, are you okay?” He said, “Ooohhhh…” I said, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” “Oooooh, it’s a brand-new car, and when my parents find out, they’re going to kill me!” Then we walked out, crawled out the back window. We were okay, got a little banged up, but made it back, finished the movie. That was it. There were a few other small parts. Usually, I was the bad guy or a soldier in the army. But that was basically the career. Then I got married in Tokyo. My first wife was a fashion model, Japanese. Then we spent a two-month honeymoon back to Montreal.


Terry’s first wife, fashion model Toshiko “Tina” Sato. Photo © Terry Farnsworth.

BH: Let’s go back to Ken Takakura. Did you get to spend much time around him, and if so, what do you recall about being around him?

TF: We spent a lot of time together. We were all in this hotel. Ken Takakura was hysterical. He spoke perfect because he’d lived in London for a while – or England. He had put – I don’t know if I should even tell you this one! – but he had bugged the director’s room, and the bug came on to the radio in his room. (The Drifting Avenger was directed by Junya Sato.) So he could turn on the radio and hear what they were talking about. We all sat around and listened because he said, “This is important for my career! I must know what’s happening.” (laughs) So he was secretly bugging the conversations so he’d know what was going on, but he was a great guy and an excellent, great actor, also. A lot of fun and a wonderful human being. He only got upset with me because the makeup girl was from Hong Kong, and somehow I ended up with her when he was trying everything to get her. One day, we sat there, and he said, “I don’t understand how you get this girl. I’m famous actor, and I try to catch her, but you get her. How you do this?” I didn’t really have an answer for him. I did, but I didn’t want to tell him! (laughs) And that was it.


Another behind-the-scenes look at The Drifting Avenger. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Drifting Avenger © 1968, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: This is really fascinating. Do you have any other stories about Mr. Takakura and what he was like?

TF: Not really. I used to meet him at the gym sometimes.  He went to Clark Hatch’s gym in Roppongi for a while. I remember a couple of years later I ran into him. The only thing I could tell you is, the first day I met him to the end, he was a complete gentleman, very confident in himself and his abilities. For instance, in the movie with Cary Grant, Cary Grant was a complete snob. If you got caught taking a picture of him, you’d be fired off the set immediately. Ken Takakura was completely the opposite. He was accessible, he was a gentleman, he was nice to talk to, he was fun if you’d eat supper together. Very nice man. I have absolutely nothing bad to think about him or say about him.

BH: Do you remember the director on this Western film you made in Australia?

TF: No, not a bit. I’m going back 50 years, don’t forget! I really don’t remember.

BH: Let’s go back even further. Johnny Yusuf, talk about him and your relationship with him. What was he like to do business with, and what he was like away from business?

TF: Johnny, I think, was Turkish if I’m not mistaken. A big guy. He was like a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He was a legitimate. He’d arrange an interview, I’d go for it, and I’d either get the job or not. And I would get paid. I forget if the money came through him or directly from whoever I was working for at the time. I knew him quite well. I think we had supper a couple of times. Nothing special to say either way. He seemed like a nice guy. He was connected in the movie trade. Based on that, he got me jobs, and I had a good time.

BH: You also worked with Eddie Arab. Is that correct?

TF: Yeah. Eddie was a different kind of guy. (laughs) He looked like an Arab; he had a big, long beard. He was married to a Japanese. He was my next-door neighbor. He also had a modeling agency. Very nice guy. Like I say, my neighbor; we’d talk a lot. Didn’t socialize particularly, but again, one of the guys who helped me. Even when I came back to Japan, I went to his office and met him. We remembered each other, and we chatted, and that was about it.

BH: Let’s talk about Ultra Seven now, which of course is your best-known credit around the world. If you remember how you got cast in that, please tell us.

TF: I really don’t. It was probably through Yusuf. Honestly, I don’t remember how I got cast. I only remember going to Kobe, I guess, and being impressed with the car, which that ultra-modern kind of car at the time. But I don’t remember how I was chosen, only there was two of us – the young American girl and myself.


The cast and crew of Ultra Seven, on location in Kobe. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

I did see it briefly on TV. The crew was great. The cast – I forget the actors’ names – they were famous, I know that. Great guys, really fun guys. We’d go out and party after, go out for supper, drinks. Nice people to be around. I was very impressed with all the Japanese actors, especially the more famous ones, because they didn’t have that stuck-up or that I’m-better-than-everybody philosophy that many of the American actors had.


Ultra Garrison springs into action whenever danger arises! Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

Then again, I met some of the American actors in the top echelon that I did small parts, such as Richard Jaeckel or such as Robert Horton, who were great, fun guys, also. So it was individuals; some people would be nice and some not. A lot of the parts I had weren’t big, but they were decent. For me, it was all fun. I appreciated it wasn’t that hard to become an actor in Japan because they needed white people. It was like doing judo; the more movies I did, the better I got at it! I didn’t take it that seriously. I took it as total enjoyment and had a great deal of fun. Once you’re in that environment, you get swept up into it. My daughter’s doing the same thing right now. She just finished a movie in Malaysia. She was a month on location.


Actress Yuriko Hishimi (Anne Yuri) enjoys a break on the set of Ultra Seven. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: Do you have any particular memories about shooting in Kobe during that time?

TF: Yeah, just generally. I remember the crew was very cool. The one funny thing I remember is, I forget which actor it was, but he was one of the famous ones, and he decided we should all go out for supper, and we went to catch a taxi. It was the busy hour, and the taxis don’t stop unless you hold up two fingers like paying them double, so he got pissed off and started throwing rocks at the taxis when they wouldn’t stop! (laughs) Nothing major, it was a fun time, good shoot. I never realized that this TV series was anything that special. I knew it was popular, but that 50 years later we’re talking about it surprises me! (laughs)


Actress Linda Hardisty (Dorothy Anderson) enjoys a bento lunch in Kobe. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: There was a story that while filming in Kobe, a lot of the cast and perhaps some of the crew were out late at night, going to dinner, having a party, and at the hotel there was a curfew, so when they all tried to return to the hotel, they actually couldn’t go inside and were locked out for the night.


Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68 Tsuburaya Productions.

TF: No, I don’t recall anything about that. Maybe I wasn’t with them that night. I remember staying someplace where they had a curfew. That was very common in ryokans, business hotels.


The fate of the world hangs in the balance in this sequence from Ultra Seven. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

BH: Do you remember working with the fishing pole?

TF: Now that you mention it, I was a Secret Service agent, and I was spying on something. In the script, I was supposed to look innocuous and be fishing while I was actually checking out whatever. I haven’t even thought of that in 50 years until you brought it up. Vaguely I remember something about that.

BH: Any memories of director Mr. (Kazuho) Mitsuda on Ultra Seven?

TF: None.

BH: Do you have any general memories of any of the studios you worked at, for example, Toho, Daiei, Toei, Tsuburaya Productions?

TF: Well, the only one I recall is Toho. I don’t have any real memories; I just remember being interviewed by about five or six Japanese, sitting around talking to them, probably in English because they didn’t think foreigners could really speak Japanese in those days. Nothing really comes to mind. I was impressed with the studio, Toho. That was the first major studio that I’d gotten a part in a movie for. I’d never been interviewed for any major studios, per se. So no real recollections of it.

BH: Why did you end up leaving Japan?

TF: My father’s business took a major bankruptcy, and my father was old and retired, basically. My mother was running it. One, they asked me to come back, so I did. Two, I was working for a real estate company in Japan, and in ’67 I was making about $4,000 a month commissions, which was huge money in those days. I was a Canadian working from the third floor of a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo, selling Florida real estate to American GIs during the time of the Vietnam War.  I was the pitchman as well as the salesperson. So I was making pretty good money, and then the company closed up. They went bankrupt. There was nothing I could really do in Tokyo to make that kind of money anymore, so I went home and got back into the business and changed it into a leather-skin business. Through my connections, I started importing leather from Japan. I would take my customers’ products to Japan and sell them. So that’s how I was able to maintain my contacts in Japan.


On the set of The Green Slime. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Green Slime © 1968, Toei Co., Ltd.

The main reason I left was, I was then fifth-degree judo, and I wanted to compete. In order to compete, I had to go back to Canada, obviously. So I ended up being in the Olympics and world championships and competed internationally for five years. That was also one of the main reasons I went back because I’d been studying judo for all these years; now I wanted to see what I could do with it back in Canada.

BH: You were there in ’72 (at the Olympics in Munich during the hostage crisis).

TF: Yeah, I was 50 feet away. I saw that famous picture, the Arab with the mask, standing on the balcony. I saw the guy. I mean, we had to run underneath where the Israelis were, and one of my buddies had an Israeli friend, went to visit him, and he came back at 1:30 in the morning, and the terrorists came in at about 3:00. So he was an hour and a half away from being dead himself. That was horrible. We were 50 feet away from the whole thing.


Terry and Richard Jaeckel have a good time on the set of The Green Slime. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. The Green Slime © 1968, Toei Co., Ltd.

One interesting story was, separating us was the Korean housing, and when it first happened, I walked down to the Korean apartments, and I saw the door open in one apartment. I see a Korean guy sitting in the window with his rifle, facing the Arabs or where the Israelis were held. He told me he was an ex-American Marine, but he was a Korean citizen. He was on the rifle team. He said, “I’m going to get one of those f*cking Arabs!” (laughs) But they came and took his rifle away! (laughs) I was there for the whole thing and saw everything.

That’s it! I’ve had quite some events.


MEMORIES FROM THE BLACK HOLE! Goro Mutsumi Opens Up About His Acting Career!

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

The Showa-era Mechagodzilla films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), are two of the most popular entries in the Godzilla franchise. One of the main reasons for their widespread popularity is the performance of Mr. Goro Mutsumi, who portrays the alien leader from the third planet in the Black Hole in both movies. However, there is much more to Mr. Mutsumi than Mechagodzilla.

Born on September 11, 1934, Mr. Mutsumi grew up in wartime Japan. Although his early life was difficult, he eventually found success as an actor, working for the major studios of Japan, such as Toho and Daiei. In the 1960s, Mr. Mutsumi was a prolific voice actor and provides the voice of Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) in the Japanese release of War of the Gargantuas (1966). Onscreen, Mr. Mutsumi appears in such films as Kihachi Okamoto’s The Battle of Okinawa (1971), Espy (1974), The War in Space (1977). He also was a regular on Tsuburaya Productions’ TV series Fireman (1973).

Mr. Mutsumi is amazed to hear that his acting roles are celebrated by Godzilla fans in North America, so he was excited to share his stories with his American fans. Mr. Mutsumi spoke with Brett Homenick about his life and career. The translation was provided by Asako Kato.

Brett Homenick: Please describe your early life, growing up. What memories do you have from your early days?

Goro Mutsumi: When I was a child, Japan was in a very hard time. There was nothing to play with, nothing to eat, nothing. So every day I went to school, we didn’t study; we trained like in a boot camp, army training. So my classmates and I were beaten up by the teachers with a shinai, a bamboo sword for martial arts. There are no good memories from that life. I was one of those military-like kids.

BH: How old were you during this time when the boot camp situation was occurring? At what age were they preparing you for military and army life?

GM: As soon as we entered elementary school, which now would be six years old to 12 years old. At that time, the calculation of age was a little different. It would probably be about from eight to 11. But, watching the kids nowadays, they are so young and little and naive, but at that time, I was already in boot camp for the army.

BH: Well, certainly it sounds like a very rough time, but during those days, was there anything that you enjoyed doing, a hobby or anything of that sort? Any games, or did you have friends?

GM: You may know the word sokai, or evacuation, which is, during the war, many families and schools were forced to move to the countryside, outside of Tokyo. But we had a house, and the house was held by the father and usually the mother. The first son and the father stayed at home after they decided to go to sokai, or evacuation home. I was the second son, so my siblings, mother, and I moved to Yonago, Tottori Prefecture. But all we did, my mother and I, from the morning till the evening, was look for food, walking eight kilometers one way every single day. We tried to get potatoes; there was no rice available at that time. Rice is a staple food, but it was not available, so usually we got some vegetables, mainly potatoes. So all we could think of was food, how to secure food for my family. So there was no dream whatsoever.

You could call it one of my hobbies, but in order to get protein, I started fishing. I took the train for 30 minutes to go to a very famous fisherman’s village, Sakaiminato, Port of Sakai. I started to fish because fish are available all the time. I was very happy at that time. I was so into fishing then because when I was waiting and fishing, I was so into it and happy that I couldn’t think about other things. So maybe that was my hobby at that time.

BH: During this time, did you think you would end up with a military career? What were you thinking, realistically, would be your profession?

GM: Every single day we were forced to work for the military and the country of Japan. So one day we went to a pine tree forest and then cut the tree to get the sap with a can underneath the tree. We did this in order to supply it to the army. It was kind of a ridiculous thing to do, but all those things were stipulated in the curriculum in my elementary school days. So there was no choice, no room for thinking about the future. I was always thinking about how to live through today.

Japan was a very poor country, but still they started the war. The citizens of Japan in general were very poor, but the kids of that time thought it was the natural way of things. We were born in that environment. Still, we always had to find food all the time. So even after World War II ended in 1945, 10 years after that Japan had been very poor. That is because Tokyo was burned down by the war. All the cities (in Tokyo) were burned down due to the U.S. air raids. So we had to organize things together first from completely burnt ruins. There was no food, no textbooks, no buildings. So, sitting on the ground with no textbooks, we started junior high school. During the first grade of junior high school (which is the seventh grade), I came back to Tokyo. But, up until about 1955, 10 years after the war ended, we were very poor and always starved. There was nothing to play with.

BH: How did you discover acting as a possible profession?

GM: At that time, when I came back from sokai, one thing that everybody was happy about was that there was no more compulsory labor. So we children did not have to work anymore, from morning till night. But everything was still in ashes. There were no textbooks or toys or anything.

The teachers at that time were superb and excellent. One of the teachers was trying to teach drama, how to act, in order to give students a dream. At that time, children never dreamt of anything since they were born. It was very stimulating to the kids. I was lucky to be in that group because we were always asked by other groups, “Why are you guys so delightful?” It was thanks to that teacher. That’s how I got interested in drama.

BH: Do you remember that teacher’s name?

GM: (laughs) I’m trying to remember. I’m 80 years old, and I’ve mixed up all the names! (laughs)

BH: I understand. What sort of acting did you do before you joined Toho?

GM: Actually, I was not an employee of Toho. I never joined them. But I was so into acting that I decided to join a very small theatrical troupe well before the Godzilla movies. I didn’t know how to make a living at that. But I decided that now I could do anything I wanted to do. So I decided to join that theatrical troupe. The leader of the troupe was an outstanding person named Juro Miyoshi, who went down in history as one of the great playwrights in Japan, and he stimulated me a lot.

BH: Before you (worked with) Toho, I know you worked with other studios, such as Daiei. Please talk about working with some of the other studios. For instance, you worked on the film Ken Ki (a.k.a. Sword Devil, 1965), directed by Kenji Misumi. Please talk about, for instance, that experience, working with Misumi as a director.

GM: (laughs) How come you named Mr. Misumi? Why are you interested?

BH: For American fans, he’s a little well known. He directed one of the Daimajin movies, which is a special effects movie.

GM: He’s a maestro. I worked with him a lot at Daiei. He was such a nice person, but his face was like a devil! Everybody believed that he was scary. If you were a bad actor, he shouted and screamed. But he was very nice to me. There was a big star named Raizo Ichikawa. He was a very good-looking superstar at that time for Daiei. But their films were mainly historical dramas, jidai geki. I was not interested in jidai geki; I’d never done that. I didn’t I believe I could do it. I didn’t know anything about such things. Also, I was busy with TV.

I was called to come and see Mr. Misumi at one time for a movie, but I declined the offer. Then he insisted, “Why don’t we meet anyway?” So I went to see Mr. Misumi and told him I was busy and that I didn’t think I could do a historical drama. Mr. Misumi convinced me, “You can do it. You can do whatever you want.” I agreed, so I accepted it. But once the shooting started, Mr. Misumi every single day for every single act instructed me to do this and that, and I really didn’t like that. So I said, “That’s why I declined the offer!”

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

One time, the shooting stopped because of that, and again there was an argument between Maestro Misumi and myself. So the director of the production department actually jumped in to see what was going on. Mr. Misumi instructed me on playing the role of a small-time crook, and this crook should do something with a tenugui, a Japanese cotton towel. More specifically, I was supposed to bang a table with this towel, trying to show off. But that’s merely a formality for historical dramas, and I hated it, because I was always pursuing some reality. So I actually told the maestro, “I don’t want to do that.” (laughs)

That’s how we met, and that’s how we had a fight! (laughs) We really had a bad relationship, but I didn’t care. About six months later, I came across Mr. Misumi at Toei Studios. At that time, he was smiling a lot and trying to talk to me. “There were many different things happening, but I’m not a bad director!” That’s how he approached me. That’s how we got close and liked each other. I found out that he was an earnest and kind and very nice person. Usually, the other actors were so scared of him because he acted like an intimidating director at the studios, but in his nature he was a very nice person. (laughs) That’s how I found out, six months later.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What other roles did you have for Daiei Studios? Did you work for Shochiku?

GM: Maybe just one (for Shochiku). The title was Oitsumeru (a.k.a. Chase That Man, 1972). It starred Jiro Tamiya. Before the film version, there was a TV series called Oitsumeru, which means to try to corner someone after a long chase. I was with Tatsuya Mihashi in the TV series. Mr. Mihashi was a cop, and I was the villain. But, in the movie, there were a lot of yakuza people, so film-wise it’s on a magnificent scale, and I really liked it. In the movie, the cop was played by Jiro Tamiya, and I was the boss of the yakuza.

BH: Actually, that brings up a question I’m very interested in. Throughout (your) career, you’ve played many villains. Certainly in the Godzilla series you played alien leaders. Why is that? Why so many bad-guy roles? Why do you think that is?

GM: I had never done a villain role until I was 40. When I was young, melodramas on TV were played by good-looking men and good-looking women only. But I was the first one who was not good-looking! That drama was a big hit, so I was involved in melodramas for five years. But I got sick and tired of it, and I wanted to do something more active and stimulating. Because of that, I sought out a bad-guy role. Once I decided to do a bad-guy role, all the roles I was offered were all villains.

BH: Not just on-camera, but you also worked as a voice actor, particularly with Sanda tai Gaira (a.k.a. War of the Gargantuas, 1966). You voiced Russ Tamblyn’s character in Sanda tai Gaira. Please talk about (this), if you remember this film at all, but also how you got involved as a voice actor as well.

GM: (laughs) I think voice-over actors and stage/TV/narration actors — those are all actor jobs. So I think those jobs should be paid at a fair price. But, for some reason, voice-over actors are treated very poorly, especially at that time. When I was involved in dubbing (David Janssen’s character in the American TV series) The Fugitive (for Japanese TV), there was no lunchtime. From morning till late afternoon, I had to work. I was famous for other TV shows, but other voice actors had to go for some other jobs after that. So there was no lunch. That was the rule for voice-acting jobs. I really didn’t like it, so The Fugitive was the only I got involved in, and after I was done with The Fugitive, I decided not to go for voice-acting jobs anymore. For me, all the acting jobs should be paid equally. The voice-acting job was a hard job, and I didn’t really appreciate it.

I think you asked me how I got involved in The Fugitive and voice-acting. Looking back, before The Fugitive, I was doing narration for an American documentary (TV series) called Battle Line (1963). It was a very moving, magnificent documentary for TV. I actually experienced wartime hardships, so I could share the feelings of those sad stories and miserable feelings. So my narration, the quality of my voice, was embedded with that kind of sadness. I still think I have that kind of quality in my voice because I was born and raised in that miserable situation. So when the casting director was looking for someone who could (play) David Janssen’s role, he thought that maybe I was the one because of the quality of my voice. That’s how I was selected. At that time, most of the TV shows were from America, so there were lots of voice-acting jobs.

BH: In front of the camera, one of your roles is Yaju no Fukkatsu (1969). Michio Yamamoto (directed it, and) Toshio Kurosawa and (Tatsuya) Mihashi (apppear as the) actors. What do you recall about this film, as well as Yamamoto as director, and maybe Kurosawa and Mihashi as co-stars in this film?

GM: When I was offered Yaju no Fukkatsu, Mr. Mihashi was already cast in this film. Mr. Mihashi and I had worked on the Oitsumeru TV series for a long time, so without any condition I accepted this offer. The story is very, very interesting. It’s a story about the yakuza, Japanese gangsters. Mr. Mihashi plays a person who used to be a gangster, but he is no longer a gangster. Still, other gangsters came and invited him somewhere to do something bad. In the world of the yakuza gangs, Mr. Kurosawa plays the younger brother of Mr. Mihashi, and I play a person who respects Mr. Mihashi’s character. One day, Mr. Mihashi’s character says to me, “You have to throw away all the pistols, guns, swords, and everything because we are no longer gangsters.” But, after that, a huge group of gangsters came to murder Mr. Kurosawa’s character. Because we decided not to be gangsters anymore, my character decides to fight against those gangsters not with weapons but with a fruit knife, which is not a weapon by his definition. That was a very impressive scene, and the audience cried a lot.

The interesting thing is that Mr. Mihashi’s character said that we have to get rid of all the pistols and guns, but he was actually hiding them in the attic. After Mr. Mihashi’s character came back home, he found that Mr. Kurosawa and I are both dead, with no weapons. The whole house was destroyed, and he can see some guns and weapons in the attic. So I think he was moved by seeing those weapons hidden in the attic. In other words, my character didn’t use those weapons because we were no longer gangsters. Then my character got so furious with those guns that he went back to murder everybody. Yaju no Fukkatsu means “resurrection of the beast.”

BH: What are your memories of (Mr.) Yamamoto as a director?

GM: Excellent director. But I also had a fight with him! In this movie, my role was a Korean. Because Koreans were suppressed in Japan back in those days, the way I tackled the role was to be very quiet, not saying anything loud, and being very obedient to my boss. This character’s personality was a little different from the regular yakuza’s. I was doing a good-quality Korean character. But director Yamamoto was afraid of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (a.k.a. Chosen Soren). They were very active and assertive at that time. With negative portrayals in TV shows or movies or any performances, they claim something. That was probably his risk management, but I didn’t really like that idea because I was playing a very good part of a Korean yakuza.

In the very last scene after my and Mr. Kurosawa’s characters are dead, Mr. Mihashi’s character went to a bar where we used to go together, and the bar hostess played by Yoshiko Mita, started to cry a lot and never stopped. The audience thinks that there should be something in there. Mr. Mihashi was supposed to say, “Did you know that he was a Korean?” But Ms. Mita never stopped crying, which meant that she knew. That was a very important line, but Mr. Yamamoto cut it out of the movie without talking to me at all. I got angry because that was the trick of the film. That was why I acted unlike a regular yakuza gangster. I was suppressed, silent, obedient, and very loyal.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Because this very, very important line was cut, the way I approached this role has no meaning. I got so angry that I went to Mr. Yamamoto’s house! Mr. Yamamoto’s wife was Toho’s number-one scriptwriter. She understood instantly what I was saying, so she tried to convince her husband to apologize to me, but he never did. Since that time, I never saw Mr. Yamamoto again. He has since passed on.

BH: Very interesting! Another film you did, sort of yakuza-style but a little different, (was) Nippon Ichi no Yakuza Otoko (1970), with Kengo Furusawa (as) director and the Crazy Cats (as stars). (Was) Mr. Furusawa a very strange director? A lot of people have said that Mr. Furusawa is kind of a crazy man himself.

GM: To be honest with you, I was so busy at that time for some reason that I didn’t stay at the studios for a long time. So I didn’t have a chance to talk to Mr. Furusawa in person, so I don’t know him very well.

I was overwhelmed by those comedians (the Crazy Cats)! (laughs) It was so hard for me to get involved. Those actors were so talented and so versatile. As performers, they were really, really good, so I was overwhelmed. Each one of the members of the Crazy Cats was so talented and versatile. For instance, Senri Sakurai, he looked so tiny and tried to look untalented, but when he played the piano, he was a wonderful pianist. Kei Tani was a great trombone player. Hajime Hana played drums magnificently. Hitoshi Ueki was a very good singer as well.

During the film shooting, they didn’t play pianos or drums, but I could sense that they were great as performers. They were of top caliber. They had pride and confidence, very solid confidence. Just by their acting, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do anything in front of them!

Actually, when I was offered this part, I declined it! “I can’t do it! I can’t get involved because you guys are so multi-talented!” But they were such wonderful people; it’s a group of very nice and kind people at the same time. So I thought, “Well, I may want to.” That’s how I got involved.

BH: Another film is Akage (a.k.a. Red Lion, 1969), with Mr. (Kihachi) Okamoto directing and Toshiro Mifune as the star. So it’s a big film, and Mr. Okamoto is a very talented director. So please talk about working with Mr. Okamoto and Mr. Mifune as the star.

GM: Shin Kishida was in it, too. Almost all actors respect Mr. Mifune. I accepted this role instantly because Mr. Mifune was there. Mr. Mifune was a wonderful star and representative of Japan, and he’s well known around the world. But off-camera he’s such a nice, nice person, well behaved, well disciplined. Everybody respected him. Even though my role was very small in the film, because Mr. Mifune was starring, I accepted it instantly.

Mr. Okamoto was a very quiet type. He was very, very emotionally stable and never shouted. On almost every occasion he let actors do whatever they wanted, and if he doesn’t like some acting, he just tells them very quietly. In other words, after actors appear in his films, those actors get better and better. He was a person everybody could get along with very well.

BH: You also worked with (Mr.) Okamoto on Gekido no Showashi: Okinawa Kessen (a.k.a. Battle of Okinawa, 1971). Many Toho stars…

GM: An all-star cast! Mr. Okamoto was a very nice person, and usually very emotionally stable and never got furious. But, on this film, one time he got so emotional all by himself; he never shouted at anybody. He got emotional because he wanted concentration from the actors. He never shouted or said anything. But he himself got emotional; his eyes changed a lot. And then everybody looked at him because he was different from usual, so everyone got very attentive, and the scenes went very well.

At one time, at the very end, I was actually killed with lots of bullets. So I had to wear a tin plate with ammunition squibs. I got shocked a lot. I think I did very good acting, but there were lots of physical shocks. If the actor were a timid type, he could have had a heart attack. After the shooting, Mr. Okamoto ran to me and asked, “Are you okay?” He was such a nice person. Physically, I got shocked after each of the squibs went off, so they actually got a very good scene because of that, but as an actor, it was a real shock! These days there are shock absorbers used for those scenes.

BH: I know you were good friends with Shin Kishida, so please talk about your friendship with Mr. Kishida.

GM: He was such a wonderful person, so I was very sad when he died. He died when he was young. I really regretted his death because I don’t think he had used most of his talent yet. In other words, he was a very good actor, but he could have gotten even better than that when he grew older. His concentration power was unbelievable. I can’t emulate it. So his acting is really, really serious. It was very close to reality. But he was also very funny.

We used to have a TV show. It was an anniversary TV show for Tsuburaya Productions called Fireman. I was a leader, and Shin Kishida was a co-leader. When we were working on Fireman, Mr. Kishida was a world-famous collector of butterflies. He wanted to get a very unusual, rare butterfly in Taiwan. He wanted to go to Taiwan to get it together with me. So he teamed up with me and called the scriptwriter and threatened him to make the shooting days shorter! We wanted to shoot the six or so episodes in about one day and get rid of all the location shooting in favor of studio shooting, so that we could save some days to travel to Taiwan together. Mr. Kishida was the type of person who wanted me to go wherever he went. So we went to Taiwan. But the surprising thing is that, when he’s wearing the costume he uses to chase butterflies, he looks like a primitive man! He had a strange hat, strange boots, a strange suit, and everything. It was a typical costume for him! (laughs) It was his uniform for catching butterflies. But it’s very strange and primitive-looking to regular people.

One day he didn’t say anything, but he left the hotel very early. But he never came back. I found out he was arrested because of the strange costume. I had an acquaintance in Taiwan, so I asked this acquaintance to find him. We found out he was detained in a prison or detention house. So I went there to pick him up. After we came back to Japan, he came with a box with butterflies, and he appreciated my efforts and assistance, so this was a token of his gratitude. It was a very rare butterfly. This butterfly has wings but no legs. I knew that these butterflies don’t have legs, but it was his idea of a joke. For me, it was funny, and it showed Mr. Kishida’s style of mischief. He was that type of person. You have to cherish it; this butterfly is unusual! It’s very rare because it has no legs. So he was that kind of a funny guy.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

I used to live close to the studios, so Mr. Kishida came to my house when I was there and even when I wasn’t there. He went to my house to have lunch or have a drink. Mr. Kishida would tell my wife not to tell me that he was there! That was a typical thing for him, so I knew that. He was like a family member.

Did you know that Mr. Kishida could not eat beef? Every time Mr. Kishida got married, he asked his new wife to sign a prenuptial agreement, saying never to serve steak at home because he couldn’t eat it. One day, Mr. Kishida came home, and his new wife was having a sukiyaki party with her friends. He got furious, so they got divorced. Not only beef, but he also could not eat meat. He got married three times, but maybe even more than that! Every time he got divorced, the reason was always meat!

BH: You did talk about Fireman a little bit, but please talk about what you recall about filming the series Fireman for Tsuburaya Productions.

GM: Naoya Makoto was the hero of this series. At that time, Tsuburaya had very big budgets for TV productions. So the production was very, very good for all the actors. In this series, Naoya Makoto made his debut as the hero. But he has a very strong accent. He’s from Saga Prefecture in Kyushu. He couldn’t easily correct his accent. So everybody was teasing him. He’s a good actor, but he was prone to being very emotional, and he easily fought with others. He couldn’t talk very well, and everybody teased him about his accent. So he didn’t talk; he just fought. He had many problems during the course of shooting with the staff members.

But Mr. Kishida was so nice and kind, and he trained him and tried to correct his accent every day. But he thought that Mr. Kishida was bullying him, rather than helping him. So when Mr. Kishida died, I asked him if he would go to the funeral. He said, “No, no, I don’t want to go.” I was surprised. I said, “You were one of the people who was trained and taught and helped by Mr. Kishida.” He thought, “I was bullied by him.” I said, “No, no, no.” I explained the details of how Mr. Kishida felt at the time, his feelings toward Mr. Makoto. Then he realized that for the first time. He always thought he was being bullied by Mr. Kishida. He changed his mind, and he came to the funeral with big flowers. In that way, he apologized to him.

BH: Your most famous movie role in America is Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). Of course, you play Kuronuma, the alien leader. So please talk about working on this film and if you recall how you were cast and working with Mr. (Jun) Fukuda as the director.

GM: (laughs) I don’t really know exactly how I was cast as Kuronuma, the alien leader. But I suspect that Mr. Fukuda was looking for someone who could do the hard-boiled type of acting. I created the role of the alien leader by doing no facial expressions. That’s how I created the alien leader, and Mr. Fukuda really liked my idea for some reason. We didn’t talk much, but he was always smiling, and he was always nice to me.

BH: With Kuronuma, the character, there was a black spot near your eye. Was that your acting choice, or was that maybe Mr. Fukuda’s choice? If you know, why was that chosen, the little spot?

GM: I don’t know why the black spot was near my eye, but that might have been to make me appear to be a strange creature. I presume that Mr. Fukuda created that spot.

BH: In the film, you worked with Akihiko Hirata. Please talk about Mr. Hirata, working with him.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

GM: He was an unusually earnest, gentleman type of actor. He behaved very well; he wasn’t arrogant at all. He was earnest and kind, and a very, very gentleman type.

BH: I understand that you have a story about Masaaki Daimon, involving a Chinese restaurant. Please talk about Masaaki Daimon.

GM: His parents are from China. I know his father. We are old friends. Masaaki Daimon’s father is my old friend, and he’s from China, and he operated a huge cabaret in Kobe. But it went bankrupt, and they moved to Tokyo. I met him at a bar, and he has some atmosphere, very quiet and a little bit sad. I made him talk to me, so we started talking. We were the same age. One day I was invited to Mr. Daimon’s family’s house, so I went. A small child was there, and that was Masaaki Daimon. He remembers that. The father was a very, very attractive person. I expected Masaaki Daimon to be very similar to his father, but he wasn’t! (laughs)

BH: In what way was he different?

GM: He was totally different — very realistic and materialistic. Unlike his father, unfortunately, he wasn’t that good.

BH: How about memories of Espy (1974)? Mr. Fukuda (was) the director, and Mr. (Hiroshi) Fujioka (was) the star.

GM: There’s a funny story. Tomisaburo Wakayama is in Espy (as the main villain). I was the one who invited him to join this movie! (laughs) I invited him because he was in a very difficult situation at that time. He fought with his brother, Shintaro Katsu, so he had no job. He had a fight with Toei, too, so he had no work there. He was the kind of person who wanted to be a star, so he stayed at expensive hotels, but he couldn’t pay. So I wanted to help him. So I asked Tomoyuki Tanaka to create a character for him, and he did. Mr. Wakayama was a Toei actor, so within the studios the actors’ guarantee was usually reasonable, not very expensive. At that time, it was like two million yen per film. But when you are seconded to other studios, you would get more. This was a Toho movie, so I asked Mr. Tanaka to give Mr. Wakayama a fee amount that could pay the hotel in three days. Mr. Tanaka agreed and paid him five million yen in three days.

Mr. Wakayama really liked this deal, and after this film, for some reason Mr. Tanaka didn’t go to me but directly went to Mr. Wakayama and asked him to appear in another film. He agreed instantly, but he asked for a much higher fee because Mr. Wakayama’s personality was that of a gangster! He went to Toho’s managing director’s room, put his legs on the table, and said, “I’m worth 10 million yen.” At that time, Mr. Mifune was the highest-paid actor in Japan, which was 10 million yen. He was told, “No, no, you can’t, because at Toho Mr. Mifune is the highest-paid, so you can’t get it.” He got furious! Then they compromised to about eight million, but that made my position very bad. Mr. Tanaka asked me, “Why did you introduce me to this kind of person? You should have known better!” By then, I knew that Mr. Wakayama was half-gangster. But the problem was that Mr. Tanaka should have gone through me so that I could make some adjustments for both of them. But he went directly to Mr. Wakayama; that’s how everything went bad. After that, my relationship with Toho was not that good.

This is why I felt I had to introduce Mr. Wakayama to Mr. Tanaka. Shintaro Katsu (best known as the actor who portrayed the blind swordsman Zatoichi in the long-running movie series), Raizo Ichikawa, and I had worked on a film, so we knew each other. At a later time, Mr. Katsu got a regular TV show in Osaka with ABC TV (Asahi Broadcasting Corporation), and I was there. So the people who lived in Tokyo had to fly to Osaka for filming every day. And everybody was so busy, so we had to fly back or come back by train to Tokyo that night. But, every single day, Mr. Katsu never showed up until late afternoon. The shooting starts from morning and is supposed to be done by late afternoon. He was a star, so nobody could say, “Oh, he was late.” We had to wait. That lasted a couple of days, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had a regular show in Tokyo; I had to fly back that day. So I decided to tell the staff members that, if the star doesn’t show up, I’m no longer interested in being here. I’ll quit. Then the staff members tried to stop me. “We need you. He’s a big star, so we can’t tell him, ‘Don’t be late.’”

So I decided to go directly to Mr. Katsu and said, “If you can’t show up until late afternoon, I won’t be here anymore.” Then I left that day. Everybody knew that I had quit. But, from the next day on, Mr. Katsu showed up in the morning. I didn’t know that until Mr. Wakayama asked me to join his film in Shikoku. Shooting was supposed to take place in a very small island in Shikoku. I think that because I didn’t know that Mr. Katsu changed his attitude that day, I had simply thought that his brother (Mr. Wakayama) wanted to punch me or something. So I declined his offer to go to Shikoku. I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want any more trouble. But Mr. Wakayama was so persistent and asked me, “Why are you declining my offer?” I said it was because of a schedule conflict. He said, “In that case, use my helicopter!” So I felt kind of forced to go to the island in Shikoku, so I went there. Usually, I’m followed by my manager, but since I felt that there was going to be a big fight there, I didn’t want my manager to see it. So I decided to go there by myself and prepared to be punched.

Then, like in a movie, he stared at me from the top of my head to my toes three times, and then he said, “Please come to the back of the Japanese inn.” We went to the back of the inn, and then he started to thank me. He said that Mr. Katsu started being very punctual thanks to my remark, and all the staff members were so appreciative. “Thank you very much.” There was no punch or fighting! That’s how we got close. Then I understood the situation of Mr. Wakayama. He had a fight with Mr. Katsu, and he had a fight with Toei, so he couldn’t work anymore as an actor. He asked me if there was any other way to work as an actor, and I said, “Of course there is a way.” That’s how I introduced him to Mr. Tanaka.

BH: Another film you appeared in (was) Mekagojira no Gyakushu (a.k.a. Terror of Mechagodzilla, 1975). You worked with Ishiro Honda, the director. Please talk about (Mr.) Honda as a director.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

GM: Mr. Honda was a Toho director, but I had never worked with him before, and at that point in time for some reason I was extremely busy, and tied up with many different things at the same time. When my portion was shot, I left. So there was no time or chance to talk with him privately. So there’s nothing to say, to be honest with you.

BH: I understand that (Mr.) Honda let the actors do what they wanted to do and didn’t give much direction. Is that (your) memory?

GM: That’s true. But I think that only when it’s not what he really wanted, he speaks up. But that’s it.

BH: You worked with such actors as Toru Ibuki, (Katsuhiko) Sasaki, and Tomoko Ai. What do you recall about working with your co-stars?

GM: As far as Mr. Ibuki is concerned, he is a Toho actor, and I didn’t have a close relationship with him. But Katsuhiko Sasaki is much younger than I am, and his father is a very famous actor (Minoru Chiaki). For some reason, he followed us whenever we went drinking or to hang out. So we were very close in that sense. He came to see us for drinking occasions. I found him to be a very nice guy. He’s a very serious and well-mannered type of person because his father is very famous.

At that time, we didn’t have much chance to get to know actresses. Actors and actresses were separate. We lived in the world of men, and women lived in their world. So I don’t know much about the actresses.

BH: What do you recall about some of the locations in Mekagojira no Gyakushu. I believe they were in Kanagawa Prefecture, but do you have any memories of the location shots?

GM: (laughs) No memories! I was an alien, so my scenes were shot in the studio rather than outside. So I have no memory.

BH: Your last tokusatsu film was Wakusei Daisenso (a.k.a. The War in Space, 1977), in which you played another alien character. Please talk about your memories of this film. In the film, you wear heavy makeup. Your face is covered in (green makeup), and Ryo Ikebe, a famous actor, was the star of the film. What can you tell us about your memories of Wakusei Daisenso?

GM: As you may know, all Toho stars are very well-mannered gentlemen. There is no arrogance whatsoever. So, of course, Mr. Ikebe was a very nice gentleman, well-mannered. That was part of the reason I didn’t particularly like Toho because I had to behave like other people at Toho. At that time, Mr. Ikebe was one of the top stars; he was a very good-looking, typical Japanese star people admired. I saw his movies, almost everything, and I respected and admired him as a fan.

BH: So (you) went to see Mr. Ikebe’s films throughout the years.

GM: Yes, I paid to get in! (laughs) He’s one of my favorite actors.

BH: Who are your favorite actors in general?

GM: Too many to mention. I saw every single famous American film at that time, so I knew those people, and I really admired them. Japanese actors are overwhelmed by American actors. America is probably the best in terms of filmmaking.

BH: Please tell your fans in the West about some of your favorite American movies, and if you could name any actors, that would be great, too. People would like to know.

GM: I like hard-boiled movies. Of course, I like Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift. Every movie I saw at that time was superb, so I was very impressed and influenced by American movies.

BH: What are some of the things you do now, whether as a career or as hobbies?

GM: To be honest with you, I can’t move my body very well. When I was 60, I went to a physical checkup for the first time in my life because I’ve been very healthy, but I was a very heavy drinker. But I had no problems physically or in terms of health. Because I turned 60, I decided to have a physical checkup, and the doctor said that I was healthy and that there was nothing wrong with my body, except for cholesterol. So he strongly advised me to take medicine to dissolve the cholesterol. So I did.

I started to take that medication and took it for seven years. On the seventh year, I started suffering side effects; my muscles were gone, and I couldn’t put energy into my body. So once I would sit down, I couldn’t stand up by myself. I was so worried, and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to separate from this doctor and the medication and decided not to take such strong medicine. This medicine was very famous, actually. The pharmaceutical company made a fortune out of it. But some people were killed by this medicine. I found out about this after doing some research.

Ten years after I suffered from these side effects, I decided to try to recover all by myself through diet and some exercises and so forth. During this time, I had to do some TV shows and stage shows per year, but it was a big hardship for me at the time. I suffered from tremendous pain, but I couldn’t reveal it as a professional actor, so nobody noticed. Still, it was very, very hard. So I had to choose roles which didn’t require much movement. But every acting role needs some movements, so I couldn’t do them as well as I wanted to. In that sense, I didn’t do as much as I wanted in the past decades. But now I can walk, and nobody notices that I have that problem. But, after I walk a lot, I can’t breathe, I can’t think, and my body almost collapses. So I still have to watch out all the time.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What do you think of the legacy of the Mechagodzilla movies? Certainly they’re still very popular, and they’re seen still all over the world. What do you think about the popularity of your Mechagodzilla films?

GM: A couple of years ago, a fan club was created for Mechagodzilla and Godzilla fans. So, even in Japan, there are still fan festivals. I was invited, but actually I didn’t remember anything about the Mechagodzilla movies! (laughs) I had to watch all the DVDs, and now I remember what I did at that time, so I can talk about it. But everybody was laughing; every time I was asked something related to my roles, I couldn’t remember at all!

BH: Those are really all the questions I have. If you have a message for your American fans, or if you have any information that you would like me to include, please let me know.

GM: America is much more advanced in terms of filmmaking. But that audience says that it loves Godzilla. So that makes us a little bit embarrassed sometimes! In that sense, I’m very honored to be part of it, and the fans – American fans, especially – encourage me to continue to be in this kind of film, and of course Japanese fans encourage me to continue as an actor. So I’m very, very happy that there are so many fans in America.

In terms of dollars and scale, American movies are much bigger, so I wonder how come Americans love Godzilla movies?! They’re low-budget.

I forgot to mention that, after I took that medication, as an actor I’m not blessed with active roles, but I’m not retired yet. So once I got my mobility back, I can still do some roles. In order to do that, I’m training a lot more than when I was young. I’ve been doing voice-training and interpretation of the playwrights and so forth, much better than before. Also, I’ve been invited to many different places to deliver speeches and lectures, which I do. Still, I’m almost 80, so I couldn’t move as much as I wanted. Now, I’ve been invited to teach at an acting school in Tokyo, so I’m a teacher there. So it’s worth (doing) for me.

SUSAN WATSON SPEAKS! Actress Linda Miller Remembers King Kong Escapes!

Actress and model Linda Miller, just after finishing her work on King Kong Escapes. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Actress and model Linda Miller, just after finishing her work on King Kong Escapes. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Linda Miller is a name that fans of Japanese monster movies have known for years, but any information about her beyond her name has been frustratingly elusive. Born on December 26, 1947, Ms. Miller eventually moved to Japan where her modeling and acting career took off like a rocket. She achieved her greatest fame as Lt. Susan Watson in Ishiro Honda’s popular kaiju eiga romp King Kong Escapes (1967), starring alongside Akira Takarada and Rhodes Reason. The following year, she appeared as a background extra in the cult classic The Green Slime (1968), filmed at Toei Studios. During her time in Japan, she developed a relationship with Toho star Yosuke Natsuki (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, Dogora the Space Monster, Godzilla 1985), about whom she has many fond recollections.  

Under the stage name Leslie Michaels, Ms. Miller also pursued acting in the United States before deciding to move on to new careers. For the first time ever, in this exclusive interview with Brett Homenick, Linda Miller shares her memories of Japan, acting, and King Kong Escapes.    

Brett Homenick: Please talk about your background, growing up. What were the circumstances? Please talk about your background.

Linda Miller: Both of my parents are from Northwest Pennsylvania. My dad was a POW in World War II in Germany for three years, and a few years after my parents married he went back into the service when I was about four years old. From the time I was four, I have lived everywhere! I’ve lived all over the United States – seven different states. I’ve lived in France, and traveled as a child throughout Europe as a sightseer, then back to the United States, onto Japan, and finally returning back to the USA.

Ms. Miller (nine months old) with her grandfather at his farm in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller (nine months old) with her grandfather at his farm in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

The military put my dad through school; he got his bachelor’s and his master’s degree in meteorology. When I was in tenth grade, we were stationed in Oklahoma so Dad could go to the University of Oklahoma in Norman. At that time, I wanted to be a Spanish interpreter at the U.N. We knew his next assignment would be for overseas duty, so Dad put in for Spain so I could go to the University of Madrid. Believing he would be stationed in Span, that summer I took summer classes so I could skip my junior year and be a senior the next year. My goal was that once we went overseas, I could go straight to college. Well, the military and life are noted for (laughs) not doing what you planned, so they sent us to Japan instead. And I was really upset at the time. So that’s the story of how we wound up in Japan; it’s because my dad was in the service.

Unfortunately I didn’t even get to go to my high school graduation because the military had us on a plane to Japan the day of my graduation. So Mom and I had to get from Oklahoma to San Francisco to catch the plane to come to Japan. I have no brothers or sisters; it’s always been just me, myself, and I!

BH: Talking a little bit more about your father and his military service, what was his name? Talk about his military service and what he did in Japan.

LM: His name was Merle D. Miller. He was stationed at Tachikawa and then at Fuchu Air Force Base. He was a weatherman. It was during the Vietnam War, so he was involved in weather forecasting and weather patterns for the Far East. In fact, they sent him to the Philippines to specifically study tropical weather patterns, like typhoons and things like that. Any- and everything to do with weather.

Ms. Miller (five years old) poses with her father. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller (five years old) poses with her father. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Going back to your childhood, what hobbies did you have? I know you mentioned (wanting to be an) interpreter, but what possible aspirations did you have? Please let us know about your childhood and what was going on during that time.

LM: That’s a very interesting question! (laughs) At one time, I was interested in journalism. I was always interested in a lot of different things. I was a cheerleader in school, and I played great basketball. I was really short; I’ve always been short, but I played guard, and for some reason I just did that really well. I was an active kid, and I’ve always been a pretty happy kid, too.

I was one of those girls that did not dream of growing up, getting married, and having children – as that being my goal. I always dreamed in terms of, “When I grow up, I’m going to do this or be that.” There was a fleeting moment I thought acting would be a fun thing to do, but I never really pursued it.

In 9th grade I discovered languages, especially Spanish. I found out I have an aptitude for languages. So that’s pretty much what I was focused on at the time, was languages.

BH: What schools did you attend? What subjects particularly interested you – I suppose aside from languages and so forth?

LM: Well, I only went to school 11 years because I skipped a grade so I could go to Madrid University! (laughs) In 11 years I went to seven different schools throughout the United States and the world. I was in Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, France, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma. I never was anywhere longer than about two and a half years. (That) was pretty much my duration of wherever I lived. So I went to a lot of different schools. I also loved math, and I loved history – those two in addition to Spanish.

Linda at home with her mother and father in 1965. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller at home with her mother and father in 1965. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Please talk a little bit more about the move to Japan and what the transition was like, adjusting to life there.

LM: (laughs) Well, when I first was told we were going to Japan instead of Spain, I had a bad attitude. I was so disappointed. But my experience throughout childhood was to adapt – because we moved so much, and I had no choice but to adapt. I used to play a game with myself when I knew we were leaving one place and moving to another. I would substitute the sadness of leaving and begin to imagine the new adventure I was going to experience.  It helped me to adapt better.

Unfortunately I didn’t really feel too excited about going to Japan. When I got on the plane to go I was not happy. I was thinking, “We should be going to Spain!” I remember the flight was very crowded, and it was long and not very comfortable because it was a military flight, which are normally crowded.

However, when we get off the plane and were taken by bus to Tachikawa (I think), much to my amazement, I had a real sense of familiarity. It felt very comfortable immediately. I don’t want to say I felt like I was coming home, but it was akin to, “I kind of belong here.” Everything about Japan was completely different than what I had experienced in my life, yet I felt so at peace. My transition was really easy, and completely opposite of what I thought it would be.

We got there in June of ’65, and it rained almost every single day that month. (laughs) I wasn’t used to that. I found it interesting that my clothes always felt like they were kind of damp, and I remember potato chips were soggy. (laughs) “How do these people eat potato chips here?!”  The weather was something that kind of threw me… and the humidity – I wasn’t used to the humidity.

A cover of Josei Seven magazine, featuring Ms. Miller and another model. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

A cover of Josei Seven magazine, featuring Ms. Miller and another model. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

We had just been here a few days, and my dad told me that a family we used to live next door to when I was a little girl in France was stationed there at the same time, too. They had a girl my age, and she was graduating and having a graduation party, and she invited me. I didn’t get to have my graduation party because I had to leave, so I went to her party. It was just kind of surreal to have somebody from your past just pop up into your present. When you’re a military kid you don’t have people from your past in your current life. There’s always just now and tomorrow when it comes to friends.

At the party, I met a girl who was a little shorter than I was. I’m only 5’1, so by American standards I am short. She was kind of bragging about how she was earning school money and clothes money by modeling, and how she was doing this assignment and that assignment. I just looked at her, and in my spirit I just said, “Gosh, if she can do it, I can do it.” I had this sense that I could do it. She told me she was going to Patricia Charm modeling school, and I pursued it immediately. I don’t know if she’s still around, but Patricia (Salmon) had a modeling school in Harajuku for foreign talent.

So I went there to take charm lessons, learn how to put on makeup, walk, and all that kind of stuff. Almost immediately I started to work. I got jobs – lots of jobs. I never finished the modeling course because I was working. And it was wonderful. Japanese people treated me so great. When I look back on it now, I was somewhat of a novelty. I wasn’t six-foot-tall, blond, and blue-eyed where I’d stick out like a sore thumb. But I was Japanese height. I had brown eyes and light brown hair. I was still American-looking, but I wasn’t so different that it was shocking. I just worked all the time. I did magazines, fashion lay-outs, and magazine covers – all kinds of newspapers ads for products, from appliances and toothpaste.  Once I even did the cover of a magazine for accordion lovers! I was the Noritake China “girl” for the Far East and appeared in magazines all over Asia.

During the 1960s, Ms. Miller worked as a model for Noritake China in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

During the 1960s, Ms. Miller worked as a model for Noritake China in Japan. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

One of my favorites was a contract with a magazine called Josei Seven. I don’t know if it’s still around; it’s a girls’ magazine or a young women’s magazine with fashion and gossip and all sorts of articles. Every week I was on the cover of the magazine, and those are some of my favorite photos. I also did some TV commercials and radio. So I worked a lot. All of my contemporaries were either in high school or going to college. Even though I tried to go to college in the beginning (I went to Sophia University for a couple of semesters), I was just too busy working. At Sophia I studied Spanish and Japanese, but the Japanese I learned basically came by working with the Japanese people. I had interpreters each time I went on a modeling assignment, and then eventually I didn’t need an interpreter. I mean, I wasn’t fluent, but I could hold my own.

Everybody treated me nice – the photographers, hair dressers, make-up people, the crew.  I was protected; I was never exposed to anything sleazy or anything uncomfortable. I was just really protected and well taken care of, and that’s why I have such a warm spot in my heart for that time, because it was fantastic! (laughs) It was just great. It was like you woke up one day, and you felt like you were a princess. That’s kind of how it felt for me.

BH: At Sophia University, what did you study? Was it simply the case that you were working too much and decided not to graduate?

LM: I was studying Japanese and Spanish because those are the two languages I gravitate towards. I can’t remember what other classes I took. I just remember those two because I made a couple of friends. Like I say, it was just a couple of semesters, and I would miss class because I was on assignments. My interest just kind of went away because I was working so much, and I did not have time really for school.

BH: How about acting? How did you get started with that?

LM: I had no plans for acting. I was busy doing my modeling and TV commercials and some radio, and then one day I got a call. I don’t remember the specifics, but I wound up meeting with a man, Arthur Rankin, who said he had seen my picture on a magazine or had seen my commercials in Japan. He traveled back and forth between Tokyo and New York quite a bit. He said he had been trying to find me because “I think you would be great in this movie I’m producing.” I was quite surprised. I said, “I have never acted a day in my life.” He didn’t care. It wasn’t a big-budget movie; we weren’t going for Oscars. I just happened to look like what he envisioned for this particular role of Susan Watson.

Linda Miller clowns with Osman Yusuf on the set of King Kong Escapes. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller clowns with Osman Yusuf on the set of King Kong Escapes. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

So I met with him, and we talked, and … boom! I was in a movie! It was all very fast and unplanned, and it just happened.

BH: What were your initial impressions of Arthur Rankin when you met him? What was going through your mind as he was proposing all this to you?

LM: I was a little intimidated by him. At the time I was 18, I think, and Arthur appeared very sophisticated and worldly, and I was not. So there was a part of me that was being very cautious about who this man is. But he was always very nice to me. He was always very decent.

But at first I was concerned: Here’s this guy coming in from Hollywood, New York, in the big bad world, and I’m just this 18-year-old, inexperienced girl, and what does he really want? That was what was in my mind. But when I met him, he took me to a fancy restaurant. I’d never been to a fancy restaurant before. So it was all pretty heady stuff, but he was very nice, and he was businesslike. So I got the feeling that he was legit. He had – I don’t know if it was a friend or girlfriend or what her role was – but he had, I think, a Eurasian model-friend of his that was no longer modeling, but she was really beautiful, who took me under her wing. He wanted me to be blond, so she took me to her beauty parlor, and they bleached my hair blond, which I was never happy with. (laughs) It just didn’t look like me.  So she kind of took me under her wing for that purpose, because Arthur was always flying in and out of town.

I got the script, and I just had no idea what I was doing. I was very nervous, especially when I met Rhodes (Reason) and (Akira) Takarada-san, because they were both really tall and very imposing. I mean, they were colorful men, and I was in awe of just the two of them, because they were experienced, they were seasoned, they looked great, they had a presence and an aura about them. I used to think, “What am I doing here?!” (laughs) “Why me?!” I know now it was because I was probably one of the very few people available that lived in Japan and could do the part. It wasn’t any special thing that I was so great; it was just the opportunity – right time, right place. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a door of opportunity to open up for you.

Linda Miller mugs for the audience while a man in a gorilla suit menaces her during a skit for a King Kong Escapes party at the Hilton. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller mugs for the audience while a man in a gorilla suit menaces her during a skit for a King Kong Escapes party at the Hilton. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: When it came to payment – I don’t know if this is something you would rather not discuss, and if not, that’s okay – but what were the negotiations like? Did he just make an offer to you for a certain amount, and you accepted?

LM: I don’t want to talk about the amount. I did not negotiate. I am not – at least at that time I was not – a negotiator. My mother negotiated. She scared me to death. They made the offer, and she said, “No, no, that’s not enough.” And I said, “Mom!” I don’t know how many times, but there were several offers that went back and forth, to the point where she said, “No, she’s not going to do it unless you give me this amount. There’s no more negotiation.” My mom’s very tough! She’s the youngest of eight children, so she’s negotiated all her life! (laughs)

So she did the negotiation, and I got what she asked for. I would have been happy with whatever they gave me just to do a movie, and Mom knew that, so she stepped in and took over that.

BH: Do you remember around what time all this was going on? Was it early 1967? What was the timeframe?

LM: Yes, it was early 1967, because we started the film, I think, in May or June of ‘67. It was either late spring or early summer, because I met (Yosuke) Natsuki during that time, so I believe that’s about what it was – maybe April.

BH: What do you remember about preproduction, such as getting fitted for your costume and meeting with (Ishiro) Honda-san, the director, and that sort of thing?

LM: I remember makeup and hair more than anything. I know there were a couple of dresses – in fact, I think I had only one or two dresses in the whole movie – that I was fitted for. But I remember the makeup and the hair more than anything. Suzuki-san was the makeup guy because Rhodes used to always yell, “Suzuki-san!” (laughs) The way he said it was just hysterical. I can’t remember the woman’s name that did my hair. So that’s what I remember: going in for testing for hair styles and the clothing, but not a lot of it.

I remember meeting the director, Honda-san, but then there was a guy named Henry Okawa. He was a trip! He was the interpreter, and he was hysterical. Gosh, back then, he must have been in his 60s. But I just adored him. I don’t remember any of the stories he told; I just remember that he was a lot of fun to listen to, and he helped me a lot. He really did, because I didn’t know what I was doing; I didn’t understand what Honda-san was asking for. He bridged the gap a lot, because I guess he’d been in the (United) States or something. His English was great. He was quite a character.

BH: Please talk about Honda-san a little bit more. How would he direct you in a scene? How would you describe his directing style?

An unidentified Toho executive poses with Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Arthur Rankin at a dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

An unidentified Toho executive poses with Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Arthur Rankin at a dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

LM: He was very gentle. Even when I felt I disappointed him, I could tell it’s not what he wanted – of course it’s somewhat the Japanese way – but he was very gentle and not threatening. I almost felt like he understood I was out of my comfort zone because I didn’t know what I was doing. So he was quiet, and he was gentle – at least with me. I got closer to Henry than I did to Honda-san because of the language. I felt safer with Henry because Honda-san was the director. But he was really, really a nice man.

BH: It’s been said by many others that Honda-san would essentially let the actors do what they wanted, and he would mostly approve and sometimes say, “Do it this way.” Is that your experience? Would he just basically let you do what you wanted?

LM: Yes. Henry and I would talk about it, and he’d let me do what I thought he wanted me to do. There wasn’t a lot of correction. He didn’t say, “Oh, man, you missed it. You need to do it this way.” There wasn’t a lot of correction. You’re right. That’s an accurate assessment of him.

BH: Well, let’s talk about some of your costars. What do you remember throughout the production of Rhodes Reason?

LM: Rhodes was hysterical! (laughs) He was tall, he was handsome, he was like a movie star. So I was in awe when I met him, and I was intimidated. But then as I got to know him, he was a little bit goofy. (laughs) He had a goofy sense of humor. I used to love to watch him and Takarada-san banter back and forth. They would try to one-up one another – in a friendly way. These were two macho movie stars.

Rhodes was very helpful to me. Because I had no experience, I had nothing to draw on. I was thrown in a river to swim or drown. He helped me a lot with things I didn’t know how to do. He kind of coached me. So he was very generous that way. I wasn’t a threat, but he didn’t view me as a threat, like I was going to take time away from him. He was very generous and very nice. He was nice to my family. He became a family friend, and when we came back to the States, we got in touch with him again, and he became part of our extended family.

He has this famous line, which makes me chuckle. When he’s getting ready to leave, he’ll say in his most professional actor’s voice, “It’s always a pleasure to say goodbye to you.” (laughs)

BH: (laughs)

LM: Every once in a while I’ll look at my mom and say, “It’s always a pleasure to say goodbye to you!” (laughs) In fact, his son is a cameraman, and I’ve seen him on a lot of the different shows. When the credits come on, we’ll see Brian’s name on there. But Rhodes was fun; he had stories. I just really enjoyed working with him.

Clinging to a tree -- just another day at the office in Japan! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Clinging to a tree — just another day at the office in Japan! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Excellent! How about Takarada-san? What do you remember about him?

LM: Very tall. He was also very handsome and a very strong personality. He was very sweet to me, too. I just got the impression that he really knew what he was doing. I did with Rhodes, too, but I could tell because he was speaking Japanese with the rest of the Japanese. He was very commanding. I just knew that this man knew what he was doing. You knew you were in the presence of a movie star.

He also was very nice to me, and we had several scenes together. We would talk in between takes. He just seemed sweet. Everybody was so sweet to me! I enjoyed working with him. I had no interaction after the film because I wasn’t around long after the film came out, but while we were together, he was helpful and was a lot of fun.

BH: How about the female costar, Mie Hama?

LM: She was kind of aloof. I didn’t get warm and fuzzy feelings from her. She was decent to me. But we had no real interaction.  We had a couple of scenes together, but we really didn’t interact that much together. I really don’t have much to say – other than she’s really beautiful and a good actress.

 BH: Understood. Well, I’ve heard some interesting stories about the next person, Hideyo Amamoto, who played Dr. Who. Some people have said he’s a really strange individual. Is that something that you found on the set?

LM: Yeah! (laughs) He looked the part! (laughs) He was very strange in a really endearing way. Take into account my Japanese was good,  but it wasn’t that good that I could understand all the nuances  of what people were saying, and a lot of things went over my head. There were several in his crew that kind of followed him around, because he was Dr. Who, and (they were) all his little soldiers. They were like a whole little group to themselves, and he looked like the mad scientist, and the way he smiled that crooked smile that he had. And his wild hair. (laughs) In fact, after the filming was over, he was in a play, The Fantasticks, and he invited me to come see him. He was quite a sight in his tights. I thought, “Oh, my God, his legs are so skinny!” (laughs) So my mom and I went and saw him in the play; I think that really pleased him.

Yeah, he was a little odd, but it worked well for the part, and he was an interesting character and a very endearing person.

BH: Do you have any other stories or recollections about any of the other cast members, whether they were American or Japanese? Do any names stand out?

LM: Yes. During that time, it must have been in June, because it was the Six-Day War, and we had a bunch of Israelis on the set. Their talent agent was some foreigner who was from the Middle East, I think, and they were with him. So I remember them being on the set, and being a pretty jovial bunch of guys. There was maybe five or six of them. The Six-Day War ended, and I didn’t even know there was a war at the time. I was so wrapped up in what I was doing. (I remember) how elated they were and how just so happy for their country. I remember that about them.

After the production, one of the crew members – and I can see his face; I don’t know his name – he drowned when he was swimming. I think it was before we had the premiere of the movie in Tokyo that he drowned. That always made me feel really sad because I can see his face in the photograph. I have a picture of him somewhere.

BH: Did he drown at Toho or just on his own time?

LM: On his own time. He went to the ocean on vacation and drowned in the ocean.

BH: Please talk about some of the locations. I know you shot in Oshima Island…

LM: That was my favorite. I loved Oshima Island. However, I didn’t enjoy the boat ride over there. I’m not real good on the sea, and I got a little queasy. The hotel room was all Japanese  –  tatami in our rooms, sleeping on the futon. It was the real Japanese deal. One of the highlights was, at night, when we’d all get together for dinner in the room, we had tempura. It was the best tempura I’ve ever had because it was all fresh. Everything was fresh from the island. So I remember the food more than anything on that set!

I guess we did a lot of outside locations there. I can’t remember. But I remember going there, but I don’t remember what we did, other than all getting together and eating dinner.

BH: Do you have any memories of the crowd scenes, such as the U.N. or near Tokyo Tower, when you were surrounded by all the crowds?

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

LM: I remember Tokyo Tower. That was towards the end of filming, and I was just beginning to feel a little bit more comfortable doing what I was doing. There were lots of people there, and it was, like, 3:00 a.m. It was really early in the morning.

(laughs) This is so silly. In the scene, I’m supposed to be upset, and I actually cried. I remember Rhodes telling me how proud he was of me that I cried on cue! (laughs). That whole scene was hard because it was late at night, there’s a lot of sitting around, and then you do a couple of minutes, and then you sit around, and you do a couple of minutes. And lots and lots of people around.

Let me digress here a moment. Before I did the film, when I first got to Japan, within a month, a friend approached me and said, “I’m doing a TV show. I can’t do it anymore. Can you go and audition?” So I went in and auditioned. It was called Hyakuman-Nin no Eigo (English for Millions). It was James Harris. It was an English program that was televised into the schools. So, when I would go out, and there’d be a bunch of school kids, they would recognize me, and I’d have to sign autographs. So I got somewhat accustomed to my face being recognized – not everybody, but from time to time.

So, when we were there at Tokyo Tower, I got a sense of that, of being recognized. That’s about all I can really remember about that.

Another time that was really hard – we weren’t on the ocean, but we were on shore, and there was a body of water; I don’t know where it was. It was outside, and they used the reflector to light you, and that was awful because it just killed my eyes. I couldn’t look where I was supposed to look because I had very sensitive eyes. That was a hard time. I remember getting really upset because we were outside, and I did not want to get a tan because I by then had been convinced, I guess, and agreed that you shouldn’t expose your skin to the sun a lot; it’s not good for your skin. So I remember being outside and thinking, “I need to get out; it’s too much sun! I’m going to get a tan!” (laughs)

BH: One of the things that happens throughout the movie is, you are in a big prop hand, whether it’s King Kong’s hand or Mechanikong’s hand. So please talk about being on that big prop.

LM: (laughs) Oh, that was so much fun! Before the film, I was trying to imagine, “How are they going to do this? How am I going to be sitting in King Kong’s hand?” I could not, for the life of me, figure it out. So, when I got to the set and saw this big hand, it just made me chuckle inside.

It was a little uncomfortable because I had to sit in his hand, and I was somewhat elevated off the floor, and behind was a blue screen or green screen, something like that. I had to pretend that I was in his hand, and I was talking to him. That was kind of hard to do! (laughs) I had to really use my imagination. So Rhodes helped me a lot there. He gave me some hints on what to do. I spent a lot of time sitting in his hand. It just felt kind of strange at the time. And then, when I saw it in the movie, I went, “Oh, that’s how they did it.” It was quite a revelation. I was up there all by myself. There were a number of scenes where I was by myself, and those were the scariest. I’m afraid of heights, and they had a scaffold in the studio, and I was supposed to be climbing Tokyo Tower. So I had to get up on that scaffold, and I was frightened because I’m afraid of heights. So I was hanging on for dear life.

When I was in Mechanikong’s hand, I was up high, too. It was a little frightening because, like I say, I have a problem with heights.

BH: Some people have had a little fun with some of the lines you had in the film, such as when you’re talking to Kong, and you’re saying, “Don’t … shake … the … ship,” and things like that. Obviously you were doing what the script called for, but what was the approach to things like that? Was that something that Rhodes helped you with?

LM: He helped me, but it is so obvious I don’t know how to act when you look at that scene in particular. At least at the time I did not know how to act. I just did the best that I could possibly do. He helped me, so it would have been worse if he hadn’t helped me. I remember that one and one other one where I was mortified. When I see the film, I go, “Oh, my God.” In the beginning, when I’m supposed to walk through the ship, saying “Good morning” or “Hello” to everybody, I was like a robot. They kept trying to get me to loosen up, and I was doing my very best.  But, holy cow, that was bad.

Modeling for Honda at the Tokyo Auto Show. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Modeling for Honda at the Tokyo Auto Show. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

That was one of the first scenes that they shot. Prior to that, I was model. It was, “Stand here,” “Look here,” “Do that,” “Don’t move.” So I wasn’t used to using my body in movement. I came back to my dressing room after that opening scene, and I said to my mom, “They’re going to fire me.” (laughs) I said, “I did such a terrible job, and it’s not like I wish I could do it again because I don’t have a clue what I would do differently.” I was mortified; I was embarrassed. I knew I did terrible, and I didn’t know what to do about it. That was, I think, one of the first scenes, and then Rhodes kind of took me under his wing to try and help me because I was very stiff. As an actress, you have to believe what you’re doing. Now I could put myself in that situation, and pull it off, but then I couldn’t because I just didn’t know what I was doing.

BH: For your scenes, were there any changes or ad libs on the set, whether to accommodate your acting ability at the time? Were there any changes from the script that were going on for your scenes?

LM: Not that I recall for me. However, there was a line in the script. They were talking about the ship and saying something about “the water-sucking valve” wasn’t operating. All the English-speaking people, we were careful not to laugh, but we were just, “The water-sucking valve?!” I think Rhodes changed that line because it wasn’t “the water-sucking valve” anymore. But I don’t think really there was a whole lot of adlibbing going on because you have the Japanese actors speaking Japanese, you have the English-speaking actors speaking English. It’s all going to be dubbed in later, so we had to be pretty true so that the Japanese are reacting to what they think we’re saying. So I don’t think it allowed for much adlibbing or rewriting or anything like that. If there was rewriting going on, I wasn’t aware of it, or I don’t remember it.

BH: There were also other sets, such as the hovercraft set, the submarine set, of course, and you talked about the Tokyo Tower set, as well. What do you remember from the other sets, the hovercraft, the submarine, and so forth?

LM: What I remember from the submarine is, Takarada-san and I standing up in the tower, just chit-chatting about his family and everything. I remember that. It wasn’t, obviously, a real submarine, but there was a little tower that we were both in and talking, and I guess we must have had some scenes in it – yeah, we did. I just remember him and I having a conversation about life and his family, and my family and my background. That was one of the times we actually were able to talk one-on-one as friends.

In the hovercraft, I remember it. I don’t remember anything specific about it, except that both of the guys were there. I always liked it when they were both there. I don’t know why, but I always felt really comfortable when they were both there because I knew I was safe in the sense that if I was making a fool of myself, they would help me.  So it was always great when the three of us had scenes together. I enjoyed that.

I remember the prison scene. It was cold. They had made it cold, or it was supposed to be cold – I can’t remember which. I just remember it being really dark and feeling like I was in prison. All of that was towards the end of the film when I was starting to understand better what I was doing.

BH: Yes, that was the scene where they were trying to freeze you and Takarada-san to death. Did they actually (refrigerate the set)?

LM: I don’t recall. In my mind, they did. But I don’t know if that’s because it looked that way, and we had to act that way, or if it’s because it really was. I don’t remember that. He might remember; I don’t specifically remember.

BH: What were the typical hours? When would you go to the studio, and when would you go home? How many days a week were you filming?

LM: I remember having to be there early, like six or seven, for makeup and hair. We did a full day – until 5:00 or 6:00, something like that. There weren’t very many night shoots. I don’t recall times when we were there all day and all night. But it was a full schedule. I don’t remember if it was five days or six days, but to me my memory is that it was a full schedule, and we went to work every morning really early, especially Rhodes, Takarada-san, and I were always doing something almost every day. In fact, one weekend, one Sunday night – I used to go to bed at eight o’clock because I had to get up at five, and then get a taxi, and go to the studio – so one night I stayed out late with my friends. I think it was a Sunday night. I was really tired the next day, and I said, “I will never do that again!” So I think we pretty much had a full schedule.

BH: Do you remember how long filming lasted?

LM: I think it was probably about a month. Maybe it was two months. My mom might remember more. But I don’t believe it was over two months. It was so long ago I can’t recall for certain.

BH: How long was your commute to the studio?

LM: I think, at that time in the morning, it was only about an hour. I was living in Grant Heights in Narimasu. So I think it was maybe 45 minutes or an hour. At one point, my mom, before filming started, we actually went to the area around the studio to see about renting a place, so I wouldn’t have as long a commute. Then we just decided we would just take a taxi every day, and I could sleep in my own bed and get rest. So it wasn’t that bad. Of course, in Japan, everything takes time because of the traffic.

BH: Off the set, what did you do during filming? Did you socialize with Rhodes very much or just your circle of friends?

LM: We went out to dinner with Rhodes sometimes. Most of the time, though, during filming, I went home from the studio and stayed with my family and went to bed and got up and repeated it. At that particular time, I did not have very many American friends. I had one American friend because, from almost the time I arrived, I was always working downtown in Tokyo, Osaka, and places like that. So I wasn’t around American kids my age. I only had one real friend. I had a couple of Japanese friends, but again I was working so much I didn’t socialize a lot until filming was over and then things changed for me. I really didn’t do a lot because I was so busy.

BH: Did you watch any of the special effects scenes being shot?

LM: Yes, I did! The guy in the Kong outfit, and I watched as the little miniature helicopters went flying over the miniature jungle. It was really kind of cool! (laughs) I was fascinated in how the miniatures were so intricate and so true to life. It was low-budget, but I think they did an awesome job.

It was a real experience. I just loved the whole thing. I just thought making a movie was like a dream come true. It was just so interesting and fascinating, and everything was different. What I loved about making that movie was, every day was different. I would go to work, and every scene was different, every situation was different. In fact, this made it really hard for me, once I came back to the States and got in the real world, to have a job where you had to be there every day, and pretty much your day was the same. I had a real hard time adjusting to that. And that’s what I loved about acting and modeling and that whole creative process – every day was different. It wasn’t like work; it was like play. Even though, when I was making the film, I was intimidated at the beginning, and I was scared, I knew I wasn’t good. So that was embarrassing. Even though, it was a wonderful experience, and I just enjoyed the heck out of it.

Ms. Miller writes in English for her weekly radio program. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Ms. Miller writes in English for her weekly radio program. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: What were your memories, in general, of Toho Studios when you went there?

LM: I thought, “It’s so small,” because I’m thinking Hollywood. “It’s so small!” But everything seemed to fit and work exactly the way it was supposed to. I loved coming through the gates. It made me feel really special. (laughs) Going through the gates, “Oh, I get to make a movie!” Everybody had a purpose, and there were so many people that were required to make this film and any film come together.

Oh, and the commissary! One day, I was sitting there, and (Toshiro) Mifune walked in. I knew who he was.  He walked in, and he looked like a god. He looked as powerful in person as he did on film. I just looked and just marveled. It was one of the highlights of being there, being able to see him in person. I saw other actors that I recognized, but he was an international star. Everybody knew him all over the world. You felt it when he walked in the room; that’s how strong he was.

I remember going into the commissary in the beginning by myself. I’m an only child, so everywhere I was by myself. So it didn’t seem unusual to me. So I go into the commissary, and the first couple of times people are looking around like, “What is she doing here?” I could tell they were watching me, but as an American in Japan you’re somewhat familiar with that stare. I just went about my business. After a while, nobody paid me any attention when I was in the commissary. The novelty had worn off, I guess.

BH: When you were making the movie, what were your impressions of the film in general and how it was progressing at the time? So what were you thinking when it was all going on?

LM: That’s a really good question. I didn’t know that they shot things out of sequence. I thought we were going to start at the beginning, and then we were going to end. So that was a revelation when we started sometimes in the middle, and then we did the beginning, and then we did the end. So I wasn’t quite sure how everything was going to flow together. That was a surprise to me when it was not being shot in sequence, which is normal. I know that now, but I didn’t at the time. What Rhodes and I talked about was how to adapt: when you just shot the end of something, how to go back and shoot the beginning, keeping the end in mind of what you were doing, say, in that particular situation. So that was interesting. I just trusted Honda-san, I trusted everybody there that I knew that they knew what they were doing. I just trusted that it would be the movie that they wanted to make. I don’t think I really thought more than that about it.

BH: Was there a premiere of the film? What did you think of the film when you saw it?

LM: There was a premiere in Tokyo. I don’t know if Rhodes was here or not. I can’t remember. I remember my mom and I went. My mom went with me everywhere. I was her little girl. After the film was made, all the English-speaking actors were dubbed into Japanese. I was looking at the movie, and at parts I wanted to crawl under the chair because I knew how bad I had done. When I heard myself speaking Japanese with somebody else’s voice, I always thought, “They picked a really good person for my voice.” I felt they picked someone appropriate. But it couldn’t sound like my voice coming out of that person on the screen. It was embarrassing, it was exciting; I was proud and embarrassed at the same time. I really loved it. I really loved it. I thought it was great.

BH: What are your thoughts on the dubbed version in America where, obviously, another actress does your voice?

LM: Completely opposite. They picked someone, I don’t know who she was, but it was not the right person. As bad at acting as I (was) with my voice, she just accentuated it. I was very not happy. I thought I was going to be dubbing it because Rhodes was back in the States, dubbing his voice. I thought I was, too, but I did not have a Screen Actors Guild contract. So they didn’t have to use me. Probably I wouldn’t have acted that much better than what I did originally, but I was very disappointed in the voice that they picked. I thought it made it really cheesy, my part. I was very much unhappy with it.

I wasn’t happy with Arthur about that. I’ve never seen or talked to Arthur since then, but I was not happy with what he did (with) that. I would have done it for free. He could have flown me back to the States and just flown me back to Japan. But it’s all water under the bridge.

BH: I think that does it for King Kong Escapes. So let’s move on to a movie in which you had a much smaller role, The Green Slime. How did you get cast in The Green Slime?

LM: I had an agent at the time, a Japanese lady. I can’t remember her name. She said that they had asked for me, but she did not want me to do it because it was too small of a part. I guess it wasn’t the wisest move. If I had planned on a career, a long-term career, I would not have done it. But I said, “Oh, I want to work!” So I did it, anyway, because I just wanted to work and be on a movie set. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t the lead or even the fifth lead! (laughs) I was background. I just enjoyed being on the set.

Linda Miller takes singing lessons on the advice of a radio program who tried to turn her into a pop star. The singing coach, however, wasn't impressed! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Linda Miller takes singing lessons on the advice of a radio program who tried to turn her into a pop star. The singing coach, however, wasn’t impressed! Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Harry the Arab, I think, was the name of the agent (from earlier in the discussion). Something the Arab! He had a lot of foreign talent that did bit parts and stuff like that.

Anyway, that’s how I got it. Somebody contacted my agent or my agent knew somebody.

BH: Do you have any memories of the director, Kinji Fukasaku?

LM: Not at all, to be honest with you. The memories I have is that the female lead and the male lead – I can’t remember their names – she’s an Italian, and he used to play in Westerns.

BH: Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Horton.

LM: Exactly. I remember them.

BH: How about Richard Jaeckel?

LM: Oh, yeah, I remember him! I thought he was nice. I thought he was more interesting. The others were more standoffish, but he was approachable. I don’t recall any specific conversations, but I just remember him being kind of a regular guy, and the other two being more unapproachable. I don’t know if it’s because I was background – I don’t know why. But he was approachable, and I wasn’t there but just a couple of days, and he just seemed like he was soaking in everything and enjoying his time that he was there.

BH: So he looked like he was actually having a good time, making the film.

LM: Yeah, I got the impression he was having a good time. I didn’t get that so much from the other two. But I was only there for a couple of days, and I had just finished filming with Rhodes who totally enjoyed his time in Japan. He was just having a great time, and I didn’t get the joy from those two that I did from Rhodes and from Richard.

BH: How was Toei Studios? What do you remember about being on the sets there?

LM: I remember thinking I like Toho better. Toei was closer to my house; it was not that far. To me, once you’re inside a set, they all look alike. I don’t remember walking to the set, I don’t remember what the studio grounds were like; I don’t remember any of that. But I remember being inside, and they all look alike. Even in Toho, they all look alike. But I do recall feeling like Toho was the Cadillac of the studios. They had more prestige, I think, than the others.

BH: Do you recall any of the other background actors, the other nurses, or anyone like that?

LM: Not specifically. Sorry. I was only there for a couple of days.

BH: Certainly. I understand. How about any of the alien creatures that were walking around?

LM: (laughs) Oh, yeah, I recall those! (laughs) I just thought they were not very believable. That’s what I thought.

BH: I’ve heard conflicting stories. I don’t know if you would remember. I heard that they actually hired children to play in the costumes, and I heard others say that that was not the case. Do you remember who was actually in the costumes – was it children or adults, maybe?

LM: You know, I don’t specifically remember. But, when you said “children,” that rang a bell. But I don’t know why. I can’t say either way.

BH: What was the timeframe of the shoot on The Green Slime? Every day how much time were you required to be on the set?

LM: I think I was there three to five days, is all. I don’t think they were full days. But I had to be there in the morning, if I remember correctly.

BH: What did you think of The Green Slime? Was there any sort of premiere for it, or did you just happen to see it later?

LM: I saw it on TV for the first time when I was back in the States.  I was not involved in or knew about any premiere. The first time I saw it was on late-night TV.

On the set of English for Millions with James Harris, a weekly broadcast on NHK. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

On the set of English for Millions with James Harris, a weekly broadcast on NHK. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

BH: Next I’d like to ask you about your relationship with Yosuke Natsuki.

LM: I was still making King Kong Escapes, and I saw him in the commissary. I thought, “Wow! Who’s that?” Then somebody told me he wanted to talk to me. I was smitten almost immediately. Then, once I got to know him, we went out on a date. I remember he had a little green MG. Of course, I never drove in Tokyo. I would not even consider driving in Tokyo. But he would drive all over the place, go all over downtown and stuff. I don’t remember where our first date was, but I remember I really had a good time. I liked him; he was fun to be with. He just was down-to-earth and very fun to be with. With my Japanese and his English, we communicated pretty good. There wasn’t a major language gap. I just fell in love! (laughs) I thought and still do think he’s the best of the best. We did a lot of things together. It was really, really hard to leave.

He took me to the first fancy restaurant I’ve ever been to where you had finger bowls to wash your hands. I didn’t know what they were! (laughs) He taught me. I remember at that place – it was really fancy – they served me bread instead of rice. I so much wanted the rice instead of the bread.

He met my mom. My mom adored him. My mom thought he was really great. He treated her with a lot of respect. He treated me with a lot of respect. I’m serious, he was the best of the best.

Before I left, there were talks of me doing some kind of a TV show that I could stay in Japan. Nothing was firmed up; it was just talking. I didn’t pursue it because I was 20 years old, and I knew I was too young to stay in Japan without my parents and no other family, just to be there on my own. I wasn’t mature enough. So I came back to the States, and he and I continued to communicate. In fact, I went to meet with his friend in L.A. who used to be married to the guy who wrote The Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller). Natsuki somehow got the two of us together, and I met her at a hotel, I think. So my connection with him was strong the whole time. I was back in the States for about, maybe, four to six months, and we wrote, and we called. I missed him terribly.

Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller.

In July, I told him I was coming back to Tokyo. I thought I was coming back to get married. I don’t think he knew I was coming back to get married! (laughs) We spent about two weeks together, and then he said, “I can’t marry you.” Boy, that was really rough. I understand now that it probably was a good thing he didn’t. I was way too young to get married in the first place, and then he had his career. This is just my opinion – I don’t know this for a fact – but I’ve often wondered if him marrying a foreigner, how it would affect his career. He was at the height of his career at the time. Even though he was great, and we got along, he still was very Japanese. I wasn’t very American, but I was American enough that there would have been some clashes, I think. So, anyway, that’s all philosophical stuff; I don’t even know if it’s true.

I remember him saying to me, “You need to go back to the States, and you need to marry a Texan.” I thought, “Where’d that come from?!” (laughs) “A Texan?!” So I came back to the States. It took me a long, long time to get over him. I remember, I think in ’71 or ’72, out of the blue he sent me a letter. He asked me to meet him in Hawaii. I wanted to go with all my heart, and I never answered his letter. I never went. I wish I would have answered it now; I feel really bad now I didn’t answer it. But at the time I didn’t answer it because I was hurting so bad that I didn’t want to have to go see him and then part again. I just didn’t think I could deal with it emotionally. Instead of writing him and telling him that, I just didn’t answer. Then, years later, I lost his phone number, I lost his address, I didn’t know how to reach him. I’ve always just wanted to tell him what a great experience it was being with him and how much he meant to me. I just think when somebody is so highly thought of, they need to be told. And I wanted to tell him that. The memory is very precious, and I just wanted him to know that he really was something special to someone in this world.

My family left (Japan) and returned to the States probably about eight months after I met him.   Everything that I had experienced in Japan in the business was not what I experienced when I came back. I went to acting school. I did a couple of TV shows, but it wasn’t the same experience. Number one, I wasn’t a novelty. I was like everybody else. But the business didn’t have the heart that it did for me in Japan. I don’t think I so much wanted to be an actress here in the States as I wanted to have that experience that I had in Japan. So I left acting. I didn’t have any regrets. I knew that I was not mature enough to deal with the sleazy side that’s definitely prevalent. I was not mature enough to deal with that, know how to cope with that, and I knew that for my spiritual well-being I needed to close that door. So I closed that door on acting, but I still, when I have an opportunity to do something in church or somewhere else, I’ll take the opportunity because it’s fun, and I love it.

BH: What TV shows did you act in, in the States?

LM: I did one My Three Sons (“The Other Woman,” Season 9, Episode 20). It was the guest-starring role, and I played “the other woman.” It was all a misunderstanding; it was not the other woman. Anyway, I did one My Three Sons at CBS. Then I did a couple of Bill Cosby specials. I did some skits on that. Right when I left to go see Natsuki, I was up for a pilot, but I left to be with him. Of course, I didn’t get the pilot; I don’t know if I would have, even if I had stayed. But I was up for a pilot. So it was just, maybe, about a two- to three-year period where I was studying, and I was pursuing it. But I was not committed. I like acting; I did not like the business of acting. So I didn’t pursue it.

Linda Miller and King Kong became fast friends. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

Linda Miller and King Kong became fast friends on the Toho lot. Photo courtesy of Linda Miller. King Kong Escapes © 1967, Toho Co., Ltd.

BH: Well, after acting, what career did you find yourself in?

LM: I was always one heck of a typist, from the fourth grade. My mom went to typing school, and after school, we would go to her class together. I would sit in the background, and I learned how to type. So, in school, I won all kinds of typing awards. So I thought, “Well, I’ll be a secretary.” And that’s when I discovered how I didn’t like nine-to-five and every day being the same! So that was a hard adjustment. I worked for a big CPA firm. One of the partners was Japanese, and all of his clients were Japanese, so that’s why I was hired, because I knew enough Japanese to be cute. (laughs) Then, when I left him, I went to work for the president of one of the Japanese banks. I was bored out of my mind; I had nothing to do. I was there, I think, as a novelty. He has an American girl who speaks Japanese as his secretary. So I left that, and then I got back into the entertainment business. I worked at A&M Records in the international division, doing advertising. Then I worked for Billy Jack Productions in the promotion department. But now I was on the other side of the business.

Then my mom got sick. While she was recuperating, I quit my job at A&M Records and went to run her business. Then I got into the business side of life. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for DirecTV, and then I got involved in mortgages. I became a mortgage broker, and I was broker in California from ’77 to ’94. I had my own company, had loan offices, and did really well. Then, in ’92, I got divorced, and then I got restless. I just wanted to move; I’d been in California for 26 years, and I just wanted to move. A friend of mine had a house in Oklahoma and said, “Just go live there for a year until you figure out what you want to do.” So my mom and I moved to Oklahoma, and I hated it. Luckily in 1995 I got a job opportunity to do mortgages in Virginia, so I moved to Virginia to see how I liked it, and then my mom moved about a year later. I did mortgages until 2000.

After I left the mortgage business I went into the home-building business.  I have a partner, and he does the hard part; I do the fun part. I’m in the model center, and I design the houses, draw up the plans, help the customers pick out all the pretty things, and do all the ordering. So I do that part, and he does the physical part of it. In 2008, when the economy here really started to tank, our business went way down. We still have it open, but we’re not doing the volume we used to do. In the meantime, someone approached me who needed someone to run their business.  So I worked out a deal where I could stay where I’m at right now (home-building model center). So I have two businesses: one I own and one I run. I’m really busy! (laughs)

BH: In closing, what would you like to tell the readers of this interview?

LM:  Very rarely, maybe never, does someone have the opportunity to revisit and relive the best experiences in their lives. I am very grateful that I have been given this gift. I loved Japan and a part of my heart will always remain there – partly because of Natsuki but mostly because of the Japanese people themselves.  It says in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has a plan for each of us – a plan to give us hope and a future. I’m still alive, so I know I still have a plan waiting to unfold for me.  I’m looking forward with expectation to what’s in store for me now. Thank you again, Brett.

FILMMAKING DURING THE SHOWA ERA! A Look Back at the Golden Age of Cinema with Tatsuyoshi Ehara!

Actor Tatsuyoshi Ehara recalls his acting career. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Tatsuyoshi Ehara is a prolific Japanese actor whose career stretches all the way back to the 1940s. Born on March 26, 1937, Mr. Ehara began in entertainment as a child actor. His entry point into the world of filmmaking was at Shochiku Studios, the home of legendary auteur Yasujiro Ozu. Moving to Toho Studios in the 1950s, Mr. Ehara appeared in numerous works for some of the best directors Japan has ever produced, including Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Inagaki, and Ishiro Honda.

A partial list of credits include: Desperado Outpost (1959), Inao: Story of an Iron Arm (1959), Sanjuro (1962), Red Beard (1965), Chushingura (1962), Ultra Q (1966), Samurai Rebellion (1967), Japan’s Longest Day (1967), Admiral Yamamoto (1968), and the long-running Young Guy series. 

On Monday, June 9, 2014, Brett Homenick and Asako Kato sat down with Mr. Ehara to discuss his lengthy acting career in an interview translated by Ms. Kato. The first part of the interview is below. The rest of the interview will be published on the blog Blossoming Japan in both English and Japanese.

Tatsuyoshi Ehara: I played a role as a child actor in the play Kane no Naru Oka in 1947, written by Kazuo Kikuta, a very famous playwright. My teacher selected me for the lead role of a play when I was in the fourth grade that was in competition for a national student theater contest. (This teacher liked plays rather than movies.) The producer of Kane no Naru Oka happened to see me in the play, so I was picked up. This play ran at the same time as Tokyo Odori (Dance), which was a stage musical by the Shochiku musical troupe.

At first, it was for a stage show played by Shochiku women, and then it was made into a movie, and I appeared in it. I was raised by my mother because my father died in the war. It was a single-mother home. My mother was a physician, and child doctor, who specialized in preventative medicine. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was also a doctor, and my cousin was a doctor. So my mother put me in Keio Junior High School, which is a prestigious private school. It’s a pun in Japanese, but I was (supposed to be) a doctor, isha, but actually I became an actor, yakusha! (laughs) At that time, I was only 15 or 16 years old. I was a young actor, and there were very few young actors, so I was asked to appear in the movies starring promising young actresses, like Ayako Wakao at Daiei and Mariko Okada at Toho. I convinced the school that I would use my long holidays to appear in movies, and so I could appear in movies.

When we had a love scene in a movie called Shishunki (a.k.a. Adolescence, 1952), Mariko Okada was 18 or 19 years old, much older than I was. I still remember this. But she advised me, “Don’t hesitate.” Ayako Wakao was also older than I was. As a young actor, I was advised by the staff members that I had to be an actor who is loved by everybody. Most beloved actors are called “-chan.” (The equivalent of calling a person named Leonard “Lenny.”) My name is Tatsuyoshi, so people started to call me Tat-chan soon after I got started in this business. Many former Toho actors still call me Tat-chan.

Brett Homenick: In the 1950s, I also know you worked with Mr. Seiji Maruyama in a film as the director and also co-starred with Chishu Ryu, who is a very famous Japanese actor. So please talk about what you remember working with Mr. Maruyama and Mr. Ryu.

TE: Seiji Maruyama directed Shishunki in which Mariko Okada starred. Chishu Ryu is the most respectable person for me. He was one of the leading players in Yasujiro Ozu’s films. When I met him at Toho, he was asking, “Have you ever done a love scene, Tat-chan?” I said, “Once or twice.” He responded enviously, “Oh, I envy you. I’ve never done that. I wish I could.”

BH: In the early days, you worked with Shochiku in Ofuna. What do you remember about working with Shochiku Studios during that time?

TE: In Shochiku’s Kyoto Studios, the interesting thing I want to point out is that there’s a Kyoto common sense. Japan’s capital used to be in Kyoto. So the staff would direct me, “Tat-chan, can you move a little closer toward the palace?” But I would have no clue in which direction I would have to move because I’m from Tokyo! Where Kyoto Palace was turned out to be the first thing I had to learn.

Speaking of Kyoto, Toshiro Mifune half-jokingly said that he wanted to appear in Toei Studios movies because there were two big stars at the studio. In Toei, all stars had their personal assistants. When the stars wanted a cigarette, it would be brought to them with a lighter and an ashtray. The stars were taken care of by the staff members. A person would also fan the star when he was hot. Three staff members would take care of one star. That never happened at Toho.

Utaemon Ichikawa and Kanjuro Arashi were two big stars there, so I heard the numbers of close-up cuts they would have to take had to be exactly the same, like 30 cuts each. Have you ever heard of Kinnosuke Nakamura? He was a Toei star. When he played in historical dramas, the way he cut people was not realistic. He said he could not kill people that way. It was kind of a dance. So he wanted to act in Toho movies once where Mr. (Akira) Kurosawa and Mr. (Toshiro) Mifune were doing realistic films.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

In Sanjuro (1962), I was one of the nine samurai. The swords we were using were real instead of bamboo replicas. Near Shochiku Ofuna Studios, there’s a restaurant called Tsukigase which Keiji Sada’s wife’s family owned and operated. Have you ever heard of the young actor Kiichi Nakai? He is the son of Keiji Sada. At that time, I would have lunch at Tsukigase every day. One of the reasons I moved to Toho was the route I had to take. I was born and raised in Mita, Tokyo. So I took the train at Tamachi Station and switched at Shinagawa. Going to Ofuna was tiring. It is much easier for me to take a train from Mita to Shibuya and switch to a bus to Seijo. That’s why I went to Toho!

Originally I had no intention to become an actor. Have you ever heard of Chohko Iida? She would play the role of grandmothers or old ladies. In the Young Guy (a.k.a. Wakadaisho) series, she played another old-lady role. One day, while putting on her makeup in the dressing room, she wore a ring, which was not made of authentic jewelry. It looked real, but there was a space in the back, so I realized it was fake. So I pointed it out to her, and usually a woman might get angry, but she said, “You have to become a person who makes a fake ring look real.”

As you may know, I often talk about the vertical society in Japan. Usually the grandfather has the most power in a family, followed by parents and older siblings and teachers. Children are raised by these people. Discipline, manners, and etiquette are taught by these senior people. But, these days, everything is getting flat, so society on the whole is getting horizontal. So I’m a little concerned about that. In those days, the neighborhoods were more active, and your next-door neighbors, such as an old lady, would say something to you, like, “You shouldn’t do that,” even if your parents didn’t say such things. Those kinds of neighbors are very important for me (and, at that time, for everybody) because if they thought that something wasn’t right, they would speak up. But, these days, even if they do, they don’t speak up, and it’s a problem!

These days, in the priority seats of trains, a lot of young people sit there, using their cell phones or pretending they are sleeping, even though they notice the older people. It’s a shameful thing to see.

BH: You mentioned joining Toho after Shochiku. What were your initial impressions of Toho once you joined it?

TE: The major difference between Shochiku and Toho is, at Shochiku there are some factions like Keisuke Kinoshita’s faction, Yasujiro Ozu’s group, and other ones. They would eat lunch together in a specific restaurant, but other factions would not go to that restaurant. It was that kind of atmosphere. On the other hand, Toho Studios was much more liberated and a fun place to be. It was a more innovative, anything-goes kind of place. At that time, the top star was Toshiro Mifune. He had no assistant or manager. He drove his own car by himself. He would come very early in the morning and would clean the studio by himself. That was the impression I got. When we would do some production, on the way back we would have to dismantle large props and load equipment such as lighting fixtures onto the truck. Mr. Mifune would help us do that. So that was very impressive.

On the other hand, when Mr. Mifune was invited to Hollywood, he would do the same thing there. But the union for cleaning people was opposed to his actions!

BH: When it came to Toho contract system, please discuss the negotiation with the contracts and how that would change over time.

TE: I did not have any contract with Shochiku, so I was offered by Toho to enter into an agreement, and I accepted it. I was raised only by my mother, so I wanted to help her (half-jokingly said). Toho’s contracts were good for actors, especially for A-form (A-level) actors who have the title roles on the screen. Basically, they guarantee how many films a year the studio will offer. One film is usually for 50 days. So there’s a fixed amount of money paid annually to the actors. If the production lasts longer than 50 days, from the 51st day, actors would get paid every day, whether we act or not. Red Beard lasted a year and a half, and after 50 days, I was paid pretty well! Mr. Kurosawa advised us not to appear in any other movies, otherwise our acting styles would be different. In those days, Mr. Kurosawa said that making a movie is like being at war, which costs a lot of money. Even though the soldiers have run out of bullets, they cannot simply stop the war themselves. When we are at war, we have to continue to fight, even though we don’t have any bullets left. The same thing could be said about films. Even if we don’t have enough money, we have to continue to finish up the film. We were paid pretty lucratively, but because of that, maybe they decided not to produce such expensive films after Red Beard.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

When we shot Red Beard, there is one scene where there’s a big cabinet for the drugstore. Every drawer has herbs and Chinese medicine. Mr. Kurosawa insisted that we had to have real medicine in each one of the drawers! There’s no scene where we had to open the drawers, so the audience wouldn’t know what was in there. But Mr. Kurosawa insisted that we had to put real medicine in every drawer. Mr. Kurosawa said that the surface of the drawers would look different without the medicine. Everybody disagreed, but that’s what we did. That was at Toho.

At Daiei, one time Kenji Mizoguchi said that the floor in a scene was not what he wanted, so he ordered the floor to be replaced with a new one he wanted, which they did. They tore out the old floor and rebuilt it. When there were rushes of the scene, the president of Daiei came to see them, and he asked, “What’s the difference?” Mr. Mizoguchi said, “Well, you have to hear the sounds of the steps. The sound is different.” It was that kind of culture. That’s how films go; that’s how I was taught. Actors at that time were taught that way.

BH: Do you have any stories about Mr. (Masaichi) Nagata, the president of Daiei?

TE: Mr. Nagata’s nickname was “Rappa,” which is a trumpet. It means that he tends to say exaggerated things. This is probably because he would usually say everything in a loud voice in an exaggerated way. He was big shot, and I was a young man, and I only appeared in Ms. Wakao’s movies, two or three films, so I didn’t have a real chance to talk with him. But that was my impression.

Unlike today, where films are made on a fixed scheduled and fixed budget, at that time, when we’d go to the studio, we might find out that today was a day off or that maybe tomorrow would be. When I was working on Red Beard, I had a 10-month holiday! I didn’t have to go to work, so I could do something else, which in my case was driving. There was a driving contest to determine who was the best driver in Japan, and I participated in this contest. I won the Best Driver in Japan title. Because of that, I had a chance to work for Nissan, when they were producing the Bluebird car models, and then Mitsubishi. So I had a chance to take part in car races.

I taught race car driving to many different people. That led to Go, Go, Young Guy! (1967). I was driving in the long shots of the car-racing scenes in that movie. I was sort of a stunt man! Mr. (Yuzo) Kayama was there with me, so he wanted to do some spin turns. Mr. Kayama asked me to teach him how to do that. It’s very dangerous. So I asked him to promise me not to do that stunt in front of other people. He did promise me, but he started to show off in front of others!

BH: You worked with (Hibari Misora), Izumi Yukimura, and Chiemi Eri in Janken Musume (1955), Cha-Cha Musume, (1956) and that series of films. Please talk about your memories of working with Ms. Yukimura, Ms. Eri, and (Ms. Hibari Misora).

TE: In those days, the studio was trying to sell actors and actresses as trios. Hibari Misora was the youngest of that trio, but she was ranked number one of the group. She made her debut when she was young. Hibari was taken care of by her stage mother. (laughs) She made her debut when she was very young and became a star. She reportedly had no wallet or purse. Her nickname was “Ojo,” a princess, which even her mother called her. Next in age was Tonko, which came from Izumi Yukimura’s real name. Ms. Yukimura would sing American jazz. Chiemi Eri was the oldest. But Chiemi was ranked number three, and Ms. Yukimura was number two in the trio. I appeared in the Sazae-san series with Chiemi (who was starring).

BH: Personality-wise, on the set, do you remember what Ms. Yukimura, Ms. Eri, and Ms. Misora were like, making those films?

TE: Hibari was kind of a child star, so she was treated separately. But Chiemi was always together with her older brother. Chiemi married Ken Takakura. Mr. Takakura was a very serious man. So it was kind of hard for her to live with that type of person since she was more of a liberated and delightful type of person. She was a very considerate type of person. Izumi had an assistant and driver. She didn’t have any songs by herself, but she was able to sing American jazz.

BH: One of your films during that time was Waga mune ni niji wa kiezu (1957), with Ishiro Honda as the director. Of course, Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata, Yoshio Tsuchiya, many famous Toho actors (appeared in it). What do you remember about this film and specifically Mr. Honda?

TE: I’m very happy that you pointed out this movie. It was a B-movie. Usually there were two films released at the same time every week. I was one of the actors in this B-movie. The A-picture was headlined by a top star at that time. I was young, and I was not the top star at that time. I had a major role in this B-movie. The A-movie was usually concerned with how much money it could make. But, with B-movies, that is not a concern at all. We were able to concentrate on producing something creative, meaningful, and of high quality.

In many cases, assistant directors propose some play or screenplay that they wrote themselves. There’s no casting involved from the beginning; it’s very free in that sense. In order to make a good movie, they could select appropriate actors for that role.

In film productions these days, I noticed that the angle they use is very flat. If you want to make the film more realistic, you should use vertical angles to give depth to the film. So many more people have to be cast to be in the shot, so it could be more costly. So they try to avoid using that kind of angle, which is more attractive as a film. I notice that these days. In the past, there would be a scene where a couple is walking along a river horizontally or a pedestrian deck in a horizontal way and not a vertical way.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

(The famous Japanese actor) Yujiro Ishihara said, “Please don’t put Kurobe no Taiyo (a.k.a. The Sands of Kurobe, 1968) onto home video, which would be shown on TV.” That’s because the screen is so small, and the audience can’t figure out what’s going on in that scene. It’s too small to see. These days, people can watch movies on their smartphones, which is tiny.

So they can’t figure out what they’re watching! In a movie like Lawrence of Arabia, you can’t see anything on a smart phone! So audiences should go to the movie theaters instead.

I don’t like TV dramas these days because if two lovers walk along the river very slowly, that means something. But, if today’s audience sees that, they’d change the channel. So all the scenes before the commercials attempt to be unpredictable to try to keep the audience from switching channels. (laughs)

When I was working on Desperado Outpost (1959), I had to speak Chinese. The Japanese language is very flat with little fluctuation or intonation. So it was very hard for me to emulate what the Chinese teacher said. But the Japanese are not able to tell the difference, so the director easily said, “Okay!” When we had a preview with a Chinese audience, what I was saying was completely incomprehensible. (laughs) So it was very difficult for Japanese to speak Chinese.

Kihat-chan (director Kihachi Okamoto) wanted to shoot the movie dividing the lines into many cuts. He usually wants to divide each line into two cuts. For example, if the line is, “I’m glad to see you today,” I’d have to say, “I’m glad to see…” That’s the whole cut! But you have to keep the same emotion in the next cut, which finishes the same sentence. So it was very hard for us actors to keep the same level of emotion.

Mr. Kurosawa was the complete opposite. (in English) One scene, one cut. Two cameras would be shooting. There would be long scenes, and if someone messed up in the middle, they’d have to do it again from scratch. So actors would tend to use up a lot of film.

Mr. Okamoto was unique in the sense that he’s always wearing all black. So other actors and the staff members were wondering if his underwear was also black! Gradually we sensed that Mr. Okamoto directed the cameraman to shoot the actors when we didn’t have lines. The other actors in the scene would be speaking to me, but my face would be in close-up. If the cut is your listening scene rather than a speaking scene, we sensed that Mr. Okamoto was beginning to trust this actor. I realized that reaction to the other actor’s line is very important. Mr. Okamoto would ask me, “Tat-chin, why don’t you jump from that cliff there?” with no hesitation. It would be a tense scene, so I couldn’t say no. So I would have to jump from the cliff. I realized that the reaction to the lines spoken by the other actor is very important.

There’s a movie called Samurai, and there’s a long recitation I have to do at the beginning of a scene. So I practiced and began reciting it in a recording room. Then Mr. Okamoto said, “No, no,” and showed me how he wanted it himself. So I had to practice again from the beginning because the way I did it was totally different from Mr. Okamoto’s understanding. Something like that would happen very often. But Mr. Okamoto was patient until the actor could do what he wanted.

The movie Desperado Outpost deals with the subject of comfort women. It’s still a big topic now, but these films did not promote war; they were anti-war. Mr. Okamoto implied in his film that war is humanity’s stupidest act. That’s what he tried to reflect in that movie. Still, some critics have argued that it’s a movie that promotes war. But Mr. Okamoto’s attitude was that only those who understand my message will get the message, so let it be.

BH: Another film that you worked on was Osorubeki hiasobi (a.k.a. Playing with Fire, 1959), with Jun Fukuda (as director), and Daisuke Kato and (Yosuke) Natsuki as the stars.

TE: My position in this movie was to support the newcomer, for example, Mr. Kayama and Nat-chan (Mr. Natsuki). When they made their debut, I was asked to be there to help them. At Toho, Nat-chan was a motorcycle freak. Nat-chan forced me to buy one, even though I never had a chance to drive it! Nat-chan was considered something like a gangster in Hachioji (Nat-chan’s hometown). It was a Honda model, but there was no cell motor. You had to kick-start it, so I did.

BH: During this time, you were also in a trio with Akira Kubo and Akira Takarada. What were Toho’s plans for this trio?

TE: Mr. Kubo was a star at that time. Mr. Takarada was from Manchuria. Both were stars, so they couldn’t star in a film together. So that’s why I was brought in. That made the trio. Mr. Kubo’s roles were usually very serious, so he couldn’t do anything ridiculous in his private life. Mr. Kubo once admitted to me, “You always get to play a bad guy, so I envy you!” He was tired of always being the leading man.

A great interview! Shaking hands with Mr. Ehara following the Q&A. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: In the early 1960s, you worked on Daigaku no Wakadaisho (a.k.a. University Young Guy, 1961) with Mr. Yuzo Kayama. So please talk about the introduction to Mr. Kayama and how that relationship started.

TE: I met with Mr. Kayama in a college PE class, which was actually a skiing class in Shiga Kogen Ski Area. I was born in March, and Mr. Kayama was born in April, so even though we were born in the same year (1937), in Japan the cut-off date is usually April 1. So, in that sense, Mr. Kayama is one year younger than I am. But we happened to meet in this skiing class, and at that time I was already an actor and had worked together with Mr. Kayama’s father, Mr. Ken Uehara. So Mr. Kayama introduced himself by his real name: “Hi, my name is Ikehata.” I asked him, “Are you going to be an actor as well?” He replied, “No, I’m not interested in becoming an actor. I’m very into designing ships. So that’s what I want to do — design boats.” However, when I was in the shooting in Hakuba for a movie called Daigaku no Sanzoku-tachi (1960), Mr. Kayama just came up to me and said, “I’m going to be an actor.” He had just graduated from college. I asked him, “Why didn’t you become a designer of boats?” He answered, “You can’t make much money as a salaryman, so I’m going to make some money as an actor, and then I can design ships.” His stage name is Yuzo Kayama, and the kanji characters in his name are “ka” (from Kaga Domain or modern-day Ishikawa Prefecture — a very wealthy area) and “yama” (from Mount Fuji). “Yu” is hero, and “zo” comes from the founder of Toho, Ichizo Kobayashi.

Mr. Kayama’s father, Ken Uehara, was a big star, but he was a frugal man. He didn’t spend much money in his everyday life like a star. One day, Mr. Hiroshi Koizumi got Mr. Uehara’s used car, but the car didn’t have a clock. Mr. Koizumi asked, “Why doesn’t this car have a clock?” Mr. Uehara answered, “You have a watch on your wrist.” (laughs) He was that type of person. I presumed that Mr. Kayama was raised by Mr. Uehara in a very strict way, not in a rich way.

Translator Asako Kato (left) poses with Ms. Michie Tsukui (center) and Mr. Ehara at English Avenue. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Yoko Kozakura is his mother, and she is a very interesting person. One time, she went to Hawaii for skiing. At the Immigration counter, she was asked, “Why are you carrying skis?” She answered, “You live in Hawaii, but you don’t know there is a skiing area in the mountains.” Mr. Kayama was asked to be a guarantor of his uncle’s hotel, and they became heavily in debt afterward. He had a very hard time to pay off that debt. There is an actress named Megumi Matsumoto, a B-form actress, and they were married. They started out in a very shabby apartment, but they became very successful after all. But without his wife, there is no Mr. Kayama. Mr. Kayama is a composer, so I asked him, “Why don’t you create something for your wife?” Finally he recently did that for her. But every time Mr. Kayama wants to start something new, his wife would ask me, “Tat-chan, you should say something to him.” Mr. Kayama is a very good skier, and he was selected for the National Athletic Meet. Because his relatives operated a hotel in Iwappara (a skiing resort), the lift was free. That’s why he became a very good skier. That’s what I said, but Mr. Kayama said, “Don’t say that!”

Mr. Natsuki’s mother was a great mother. She was very well-mannered and very well bred. Every time I called, his mother answered the phone with a very, very polite greeting. Their real name is Akusawa. “Thank you very much for taking care of my son, Tamotsu, all the time.” Every time a girlfriend would call him, his mother would say exactly the same thing to his girlfriend. Mr. Natsuki was very popular among girls, but all the girls were intimidated and scared away by his mother. That’s why he ended up being a bachelor. One time Mr. Natsuki asked me, “What are you driving?” I replied, “I’m driving a light car.” Mr. Natsuki envied me because he wanted to drive a Wagon R, but his manager told him not to drive a car like that because, for a movie star, it’s not good to drive such a car! (laughs) So he didn’t have a chance to drive the car he wanted. He had to maintain his image.

GODZILLA’S SCREENWRITER! Wataru Mimura on His Career Writing for the Big G!

Prolific Godzilla series screenwriter Wataru Mimura in 2015. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Since the early 1990s, Wataru Mimura has been one of the Godzilla series’ most prolific screenwriters. His first Godzilla film was the landmark Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), which is still a fan favorite to this day. Following that success, Mr. Mimura helped revive the Godzilla franchise with his work on Godzilla 2000 (1999) (with Hiroshi Kashiwabara), which ultimately led to his writing screenplays for Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) (also with Mr. Kashiwabara), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Mr. Mimura answered Brett Homenick’s questions about his contributions to the Godzilla series in an interview translated by totorom.

Note: This interview was conducted in 2008.

Brett Homenick:  How did you start your career as a writer?
Wataru Mimura: My mentor was a master director at    Shochiku, Mr. Yoshitaro Nomura. I studied writing with him in my late 20s to early 30s. I collected related materials and did some research for his scenarios (screenplays). That was my entrance into the movie industry.

When I was 33 years old, I met a young man working in the industry. He, Noritsugu Tsubomi, was a freelance movie producer and gave me an opportunity to write a scenario for his movie. It was a movie called Freeter (1987). Mr. Tsubomi is the movie producer whom I trust the most, and we still have a good friendship.

BH: How did you get hired as the writer for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)?

WM:  Before Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Mr. Shogo Tomiyama, a producer at Toho, asked me to write Yamato Takeru (a.k.a. Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon). As you know, Yamato Takeru is a tokusatsu movie, too. It seems Mr. Tomiyama liked the quality of my scenario for Yamato Takeru, and he thought I was good at writing tokusatsu movies.

Several years earlier, I had a chance to work with another Toho producer, Mr. Koji Hashimoto (director of Godzilla, 1984). We were going to make a comedy movie (a kind of revival of the “Wakadaisho”/“Young Guy” series), but it did not work out. Then Mr. Hashimoto introduced me to Mr. Tomiyama. That is how I got the job to write Yamato Takeru. Mr. Tomiyama asked me again to write the plot for Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). The actual scenario was, however, written by Mr. Kazuki Omori, so my plot was not adopted. Mr. Tomiyama still seemed to like my ability to write tokusatsu movies, so he asked me to write Yamato Takeru. That led to Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

BH: What were some of your original ideas for this movie?

WM: The story of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II was based on the plot I wrote earlier for Godzilla vs. Mothra. The theme was “Life.” Godzillasaurus deposited an egg in the nest of the Pteranodon. I like this brood parasitism idea, which is quite original for the movie. Baby Godzilla and Rodan were tied with a brother-like bond. It is a bond between (two) lives.

BH:  How was the English dialogue handled?
WM: I was not involved in the English dialogue at all. The translation specialist did the job.

BH: Please describe your work on Yamato Takeru as the screenwriter.
WM:  I already wrote earlier how I got hired for this movie. I had been interested in the legends of Japan for a long time, so I really enjoyed working on it. I wanted to write something like John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, but it was not easy to match Conan the Barbarian. Yamato Takeru was originally going to be a trilogy. So this movie was the first part of the trilogy, and that is why it did not have a boss character (head villain). Unfortunately, it was not a big hit, and we could not make sequels. I am still hoping to complete the story of the trilogy in my lifetime.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: When Godzilla returned in Godzilla 2000, you and Hiroshi Kashiwabara were hired to write it. How did you and Mr. Kashiwabara get hired?

WM: It is the producer’s job to choose screenwriters, so Mr. Kashiwabara and I do not know why we both got the offer to write Godzilla 2000. Maybe I should say two brains are stronger than one, as long as the two get along well. I did not know Mr. Kashiwabara before. He was an open-minded person, and we worked together well.

BH: What was the process of writing the movie?
WM: We divided the story into four parts. Mr. Kashiwabara wrote “Part A” and “Part C.” I did “Part B” and “Part D.” Then we put them together to complete the whole story. After the movie was completed, we realized this writing process did not work well. The finished scenario did not have consistency. It was as if the writers’ minds in the story were scattered. Learning from this mistake, we tried a different method for the next movie, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus. We divided the story into two parts. Mr. Kashiwabara wrote the first half, and I did the second. This approach was easier, as I could write with a constant mind. Comparing those two movies, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus has a better quality.

BH: Did you or Mr. Kashiwabara have any ideas that couldn’t be used?

WM: Frankly speaking, as the years passed, I do not have a clear memory of the details. I can say, however, that both of us, Mr. Kashiwabara and I, are not satisfied with this movie at all. Mr. Okawara, the director of the movie, seemed not happy with our job, either, so he wrote the scenario himself. The final scenario had a lot of input from Mr. Okawara. So Mr. Kashiwabara and I do not feel comfortable to say this is our work. I was frustrated with this fact, so I tried my very best in writing this story for a novel. I do not know if the novel has been issued in the U.S., but it should be far more enjoyable than the movie.

Mr. Mimura meets director Yoshimitsu Banno. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: For Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, what were some of your original ideas for this movie?
WM: I should say it is the “Dimension Tide.” Kiriko locked “Dimension Tide,” while falling down without control, on Gryphon and crashed into Godzilla.

BH:  How did you come up with the Dimension Tide idea?
WM: I was trying to come up with a most unexpected weapon against Godzilla. I thought it was impossible to destroy Godzilla with any weapon available today. It was an interesting idea to shoot Godzilla beyond the atmosphere, which was a large-scale idea. The idea just popped up to me. Of course, I had the Strategic Defense Initiative of the U.S. Air Force in my mind.

BH: When Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was written in 2002, Mr. Kashiwabara did not co-write it. Why was he not involved?
WM:  As I wrote earlier, it is a producer’s job to choose screenwriters. So I have no idea. Please ask Mr. Tomiyama. Mr. Kashiwabara is a very busy screenwriter, so he might have been occupied with other projects at that time. I do not really know why.

Screenwriters Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Wataru Mimura. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Did Toho have much input when it came to writing the script?
WM: I did not receive any particular requests from Toho. I have written several Godzilla movies, so I am confident I understand what is required for Godzilla movies. Mr. Tomiyama trusts me and leaves everything to me.

BH: How did you get hired to co-write Godzilla: Final Wars?
WM: Toho decided it was going to be the last Godzilla movie, so my writing team joined the plot, planning about one year before the actual production. It was Mr. Tomiyama’s idea. When the plot was completed, I wrote the first scenario. After that, Mr. Isao Kiriyama from the team of Mr. Ryuhei Kitamura, director of the movie, co-wrote the revised scenario together with Mr. Kitamura. The story line was not changed, but the nature of the characters and some words changed, according to Mr. Kitamura’s taste.

BH: What was Ryuhei Kitamura like to work with?
WM: I had never worked with Mr. Kitamura before. As I wrote earlier, I started working on the plot more than one year before, and they did not yet decide who was going to direct the movie. Mr. Kitamura joined the project after the screenwriter was chosen and the plot was written. So it was not up to him to choose which screenwriter to work with. I guess it was not easy for him to work with me, as we had not known each other before. That is why Mr. Isao Kiriyama from his team joined the project later.

BH: What did you think of Godzilla: Final Wars?

WM: It was the last movie of the Godzilla series, so I wanted to make it something you can enjoy as “party movie” with a lot of familiar kaiju characters. I am not sure if you could really enjoy it. I personally think that the kaiju could have been featured more in the movie. If I score the quality, it would be 50 points (out of 100). The missing 50 points is my expectation for the next Godzilla movie. The last movie was not perfect, so you can expect (more satisfaction from) the next one.

BH: Do you have any final comments for (the) readers?
WM: I do not know when Godzilla will revive again. Maybe 10 years later or 20 years later. Anyway, let’s wait for the day he comes back. Don’t worry. He will come back again and again, as long as we humans are stupid.

Mr. Mimura poses for a photo with Brett Homenick in Tokyo. Photo © Brett Homenick.

GUILALA GUY! Shinichi Yanagisawa on His Decades-Long Entertainment Career

Actor Shinichi Yanagisawa poses for a publicity photo during his heyday. Photo courtesy of Shinichi Yanagisawa.

Born on December 19, 1932, in Tokyo, Shinichi Yanagisawa began his entertainment career as a jazz singer in postwar Japan but soon found himself in demand as an actor, both in front of the camera and behind the microphone as a voice talent. Mr. Yanagisawa plays the comic relief character Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), produced by Shochiku Studios. Prior to that, Mr. Yanagisawa was a star at Nikkatsu Studios before eventually making movies at all five of Japan’s major studios. In the late 1950s, Mr. Yanagisawa worked freelance at Toho Studios, appearing in the Otora-san series of comedies, which were directed by Motoyoshi Oda (Godzilla Raids Again). As a voice actor, Mr. Yanagisawa provided the voice of Ricky Ricardo in the Japanese version of I Love Lucy, as well as lending his voice to the Japanese versions of the popular American TV programs Mr. Ed and Bewitched.

Although Mr. Yanagisawa has gained popularity for his acting and jazz singing, he is most proud of his social activism, which he always placed ahead of his entertainment career. In this interview, Mr. Yanagisawa discusses his life and experiences with Brett Homenick. Many thanks to Kyoichi Watanabe for his translation work.

Brett Homenick: Tell me about your early life and childhood, growing up.

Shinichi Yanagisawa: I was a patient child. When I was very young, I got the measles. My parents got a wet compress for me. The medical liquid on the compress was a little bit expensive, so my parents put some mustard on my back instead. It was a little too strong for a young child. I was three years old, but I was patient, and I got rid of it. That was the episode which decided my life’s motto. There is a Japanese proverb that says the character of people is decided around the age of three, and their character never changes. This episode of my youth reminds me of this proverb. My motto is, “If I am patient, everything will work out.” That is my motto, and I chose it as my motto when I was three years old. This is another Japanese proverb.

BH: How did you get started in the entertainment business? Did you think you might work some other job, or were you only set on becoming an actor and musician?

SY: In 1950, it was the time of the Korean War. Just five years after World War II, there were many orphans in Japan. I noticed that they didn’t have any socks or gloves. If the weather were cold, they wouldn’t have any way to keep warm. So I decided to devote myself to volunteer work. During my volunteer work, I got some money to pay for the supplies for the people in need from singing jazz as part-time work. So that was the beginning of my entertainment life. I never had a hope of becoming a star; I just wanted to devote myself to volunteer work and social activism.

Mr. Yanagisawa candidly discussed his career. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Specifically about becoming an actor, did you have any professional training, or was it just something that you started without having any formal training?

SY: I never wanted to become a professional actor. To this day, I cannot read music or play the piano. Because I was doing volunteer work, I didn’t think acting could become a full-time career. All the professional work I did was to support my volunteer work. So I never got specific training. I had to go back to Aoyama Gakuin University. It is a famous university in Japan. I was absent a lot because I was a jazz singer, so I was too busy to attend. I was also singing in the Nichigeki Nippon Theater, 500 days in three years. So I was too busy to go to school. I had an agreement with my university to take a three-year leave of absence, due to my work schedule. But I had to graduate, and my three-year agreement with the university was ending, so I decided to quit the entertainment business at that time. So I announced my retirement from singing. I was getting popular as a singer, and my retirement became a big problem. Enoken (a.k.a. Kenichi Enomoto), Roppa (a.k.a. Roppa Furukawa), and Kingoro (a.k.a. Kingoro Yanagiya) were the three top comedy actors in Japan at the time, and they convinced me not to quit the entertainment life. They said, “If you quit singing jazz, please stay in the entertainment business as an actor.” They brought me to the movies and TV. So I quit the university!

Therefore I never got any formal training as an actor. I studied by myself and by watching other performers.

BH: The first studio you worked for was Nikkatsu. How did you get started at Nikkatsu, and were you under contract to Nikkatsu Studios?

SY: At that time, I was a singer. Nowadays, we see that singers can act, and actors can sing. It’s a very popular thing. But, in those days, it was a very rare case. Actors were actors, and singers were singers. That was the way things were. They were separated. Most of the people at that time considered me a jazz singer. So they wondered, if a jazz singer acts, what will become of it? Nikkatsu was one of them. So Nikkatsu called me, and there was a chance to have a contract. I was contracted first with Nikkatsu, then with Toei and Shochiku. I acted in almost 160 movies.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: In the early days, what were your impressions and thoughts of working at Nikkatsu in the late ‘50s?

SY: In 1958, I was divorced. It was very complicated, but I believed in my motto, so I remained silent about it. But the people blamed me for the divorce, so there was a lot of blame on me. As a result, Nikkatsu decided not to use me in any more movies, so I had to quit Nikkatsu. I didn’t have a good impression of Nikkatsu. I believe silence is golden, so I didn’t complain. I was an expected actor of the next generation, and I acted in a few movies, then I quit because of the divorce.

BH: You worked with Shohei Imamura, the (famous) director. Mr. Imamura is well known in America for making some very good films. You worked on films like Nishi Ginza Ekimae (a.k.a. Nishi Ginza Station, 1958), Hateshinaki Yokubo (a.k.a. Endless Desire, 1958), and Nusumareta Yokujo (a.k.a. Stolen Desire, 1958) — all with director Imamura. Please talk about working with Mr. Imamura as a director, how would he direct you, and what were your impressions of Mr. Imamura?

SY: About Nishi Ginza Ekimae, it’s not such a good story, but during the shooting of the movie, there was some location shooting. In Japan, the film stock used for movies was very expensive at that time and even now. So Mr. Imamura didn’t want to waste too much film. He didn’t want to spend any money on film. So there was an episode during filming on the beach in which I was in the ocean. The weather would sometimes change, for instance, from sunny to cloudy, but the shooting must go on. The director did not want to waste the film. So I had to stay in the water the whole time. It was very freezing, so I got sick. My voice dubbing work became very difficult after that because I caught a cold, and my voice changed.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: That brings up another question about dubbing. You worked on I Love Lucy, Mr. Ed, and Bewitched – very famous American TV shows. How did you become involved with the voice acting?

SY: Dubbing actors nowadays are really in heaven. But, 50 years ago, it was hell! Back then, the scripts were ready the day of the recording. So we didn’t get the scripts until the day we recorded. We couldn’t rehearse, so it was hard work for us.

I chose to become a voice actor because I have a clear voice for recording. In I Love Lucy, Lucy’s husband (Ricky Ricardo) is Latin, so for many of the punch lines he’d speak Spanish. But, in those days in Japan, interpreters couldn’t translate Spanish, so I would ad lib the lines. That was hell!

Photo courtesy of Shinichi Yanagisawa.

BH: Was there any attempt to make it sound Spanish, or was it totally Japanese?

SY: There was no attempt.

BH: After Nikkatsu, you made some movies for Toho.

SY: I was never under contract with Toho; I was freelance.

BH: You made a movie called Otora-san no Kokyubi (1958), directed by Motoyoshi Oda. (This is part of the Otora-san series of comedies director Oda made at Toho in the late 1950s.)

SY: Did you ever hear of the Newsweek article? Newsweek praised Otora-san. I played Cho-san (a.k.a. Imocho), a street vendor selling sweet potatoes. That was the character I played in the movies.

Much more than his acting and jazz music, Mr. Yanagisawa is most proud of his charitable work. Photo courtesy of Shinichi Yanagisawa.

BH: This was in a Newsweek article? Did Newsweek magazine write something about you?

SY: It was an article about the movies.

BH: Do you remember working with director Motoyoshi Oda?

SY: The movie was based on the comic called Masura o Hashutsufukai. It was based on this comic. In the movie, it was about a muscular man who worked housekeeping jobs, doing things like cleaning floors and babysitting, which were usually thought to be jobs for women.

Since this was the time of the mass production of movies, I actually don’t have any memories of him.

Mr. Yanagisawa worked with some of Toho’s biggest stars when he worked freelance at the studio, including Tatsuyoshi Ehara (far left), Akira Takarada (third from the left), Izumi Yukimura (fourth from the left), and Tadao Takashima (third from the right). Mr. Yanagisawa is second from the right.

BH: At Toho, you worked with many stars such as Ichiro Arishima and Reiko Dan. Do you have any memories of the Toho stars from that time?

SY: Actually, I don’t have so many memories of them because there were no meetings before movies would shoot. We would go to the studio, film our scenes, and say goodbye. That’s all. That was the age of mass production of the movies, so everyone was very busy.

BH: During your time at Toho, as a freelance actor, could you describe what it was like for you to work at the studio?

SY: Nothing much! Do you know the movie called The Magic Hour (2008)? It was one of my latest movies. It had been 50 years since I worked for Toho Studios when I made this movie. In The Magic Hour, my character was very important in the movie.

BH: After your freelance work, you went to Shochiku where you stayed for many years and worked in many films. So please talk about what it was like to work for Shochiku, and why did you join Shochiku after all?

SY: I had no agent, and I never sold myself to any kind of production. But Shochiku called me and made me an offer.

BH: You have worked for, under contract or not, Nikkatsu, Shochiku, Toho, Toei … and Daiei?

SY: I made one movie for Daiei in the Nikkatsu era.

BH: You worked for all the five major studios at (this) time. What was your impression of the five studios? Which was best, which was not so good? (laughs)

SY: There were good points and bad points for all of them. There was no number one or number two. There will always be good points and bad points.

BH: Do you have a personal favorite?

SY: I have many favorites. I can’t choose. It’s very hard for me. In the Shochiku era, I liked the serious movies, like Goben no Tsubaki (a.k.a. The Scarlet Camellia, 1965), Kinokawa (a.k.a. The Kino River, 1966), Yukiguni (a.k.a. Snow Country, 1969). Comedy movies like Iroboke yokoboke Monogatari and Senjo no Yarodomo were also my favorites. Since I have done more than 160 movies, I can’t remember them all!

BH: Let’s talk about Goben no Tsubaki, with Eiji Okada as one of the stars. (It was) directed by Yoshitaro Nomura. Please talk about that film and what you remember.

SY: In that movie, I was in the trial scenes. I was the prosecutor or some sort of police official. I would talk with a runny nose. It worked for the scenes. The scriptwriter praised my acting choice for doing that. So I remembered that. The writer said it was nice acting. It was not written in the script. It was a serious movie and a serious scene. In fact, in the real world, we see regular people as policemen, so this reflects reality. (My character) was not like Humphrey Bogart; it was like Peter Falk! (laughs)

BH: Another movie at Shochiku, Kono Sora no Aru Kagiri (1964), with Minoru Chiaki, directed by Hideo Sakurai. Do you have any memories of this film?

SY: There was a location scene where I was lying on an asphalt road. Mr. Chiaki walked up to me and said, “It’s cold, isn’t it?” So Mr. Chiaki brought me a cup of sake. So I thanked him.

Mr. Yanagisawa received this fan letter from the United States in the early 1960s. Photo courtesy of Shinichi Yanagisawa and Kyoichi Watanabe.

BH: Now I’d like to ask you about your most famous movie worldwide, which is Uchu Daikaiju Girara (a.k.a. The X from Outer Space, 1967).

SY: There are nicer movies I’ve made! (laughs) Shochiku was very bad at kaiju movies.

BH: In this film, there were Eiji Okada, Shunya Wazaki, Itoko Harada, and Peggy Neal. In the film, you share many scenes with Peggy Neal.

SY: She was an amateur and not an actress at all. She was not such a good actress! (laughs) As you know, Eiji Okada was a very nice actor. He picked me up from my home in Tokyo and drove me to Shochiku Studios in Ofuna. So he was a nice kind of person.

BH: Do you remember, Kazui Nihonmatsu, the director?

SY: Not so bad, but not so good! As you watch the movie, you can tell he’s so-so!

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What was the reaction among the cast, like Mr. Okada, about making something a little silly? They’re used to more serious dramas, but this is like a children’s movie.

SY: It is different from the American entertainment world. Actors couldn’t resist the roles offered by Shochiku. So we would do what they asked. So Mr. Okada and I didn’t care about the reaction. The motto of actors was to do what the filmmakers want us to do and do the best we could at it.

BH: How about Ochiba to Kuchizuke (1969) with the Village Singers. Hiroshi Fujioka was the main star of this film, who went on to do Kamen Rider.

SY: Mr. Fujioka was a New Face. I didn’t have much contact with him at that time.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Tell me more about your interest in social welfare and activism.

SY: I convinced Shochiku Studios to bring Guilala to an orphanage. I worked hard on it, and it finally happened. (shows a photo) This was me with Prime Minister Suzuki in 1981. (shows a paper signed by many children) This is my favorite award I’ve received. I got it about 50 years ago. I started my activities in 1950. In this 1981 photo, I was the representative of volunteer activities, and there were many important people in politics here. I also met the Japanese emperor, who at the time was the prince. Because it is rude to take a photo from the back of the emperor, it was taken from behind me! So my activities have gotten a lot of recognition.

Mr. Yanagisawa (with his back toward the camera) meets the future Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Photo courtesy of Shinichi Yanagisawa.

BH: Would you like to talk about your jazz musician career at all?

SY: I started my career as a professional jazz singer in 1952. That year was my debut year, but the following year, 1953, there was a sort of fight between the record companies like Columbia, Victor, and King – the top three record labels in Japan. But my motto came into play: If I’m patient, things will go well. So I decided not to join any of these record companies and to resist their offers. I felt that if I joined a specific company, it would create bad feelings with the other two record labels.

Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki (far left) honors Shinichi Yanagisawa (far right) for his charitable work. Photo courtesy of Shinichi Yanagisawa.

That was a big topic among people in the jazz world back then. I was in my 20s, so people were surprised that such a young man would resist these big offers. So it became a big topic. Some people thought I was a little strange, but that was fine with me.

Shinichi Yanagisawa still acts and performs jazz music to this day.

BH: What are your activities nowadays?

SY: I perform in a jazz band (the Shinichi Yanagisawa All-Stars). I also have a talk show. There are two actors in it. One of them is me, and the other is a comedian named Hadaka Samuzora. We talk about current topics. We will be talking about the current problems with the Asahi Shimbun. It’s about 70% serious, and the rest is comedy. On the third Tuesdays of even-numbered months, my band has a show in the HUB Asakusa. It’s a regular gig. I sing and play drums. I’ve been doing it for 24 years.

Special thanks to Kyoichi Watanabe for all his assistance.

Shinichi Yanagisawa and Brett Homenick pose for a photo after a successful interview. Photo © Brett Homenick.