The Long Evolution of GODZILLA 3-D
The History of Yoshimitsu Banno’s Proposed IMAX Godzilla Film
Author: Keith Aiken and Ed Godziszewski
Source: Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc., Kerner Productions, Monster Zero News, Sake-Drenched Postcards, various
Additional Material by: Steve Ryfle and Robert Saint John
SPOILER WARNING: The following article includes story details for a proposed new Godzilla feature.
In March 2004, Toho Co., Ltd. announced that their Godzilla series would be going on hiatus following the 50th anniversary film GODZILLA: FINAL WARS. Thirteen Toho monster movies in as many years had led to audience burnout and decreasing ticket sales, so the studio realized the time had come to take a break and let demand build again before making another Godzilla film. While Toho’s decision made good business sense, it was nonetheless a disappointment for many Godzilla fans who had grown accustomed to seeing a new release every year.
Then in August of that year, came word that Godzilla’s retirement may be much shorter than anticipated. At a gathering of Godzilla fans, director Yoshimitsu Banno revealed that he would be making a new 3-D Godzilla movie for IMAX theaters. In the three years since then, there have been long stretches of silence regarding the project— leading to widespread speculation that the film was cancelled— punctuated by occasional updates that would cause brief flurries of “production is imminent” talk. In recent months that back and forth discussion has once again taken a more positive tone thanks to an announcement this past May from Kerner Optical, an American production company now attached to the film.
But what is the current status of GODZILLA 3-D? To give a better idea of where things stand, SciFi Japan takes a look back at the career of Yoshimitsu Banno, his first movie GODZILLA VS HEDORAH, and his film company AAP. We also go into all the incarnations of the IMAX project that have been planned over the years, including the previously unseen first treatment GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX.
While primarily known to fans in the west for his 1971 movie GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (Gojira tai Hedora, US title GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER, 1971), Yoshimitsu Banno has had a long and varied film career. Born in 1931, he joined Toho shortly after graduating from Tokyo University in 1955. During his first decade at Toho, Banno worked as a production assistant and assistant director to many highly regarded filmmakers, including Akira Kurosawa on such films as THRONE OF BLOOD (Kumonosu Jo, 1957), THE LOWER DEPTHS (Donzoko, 1957), THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (Kakushi Toride no San Akunin, 1958), and THE BAD SLEEP WELL (Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru, 1960). In 1966, Banno created an underwater filming team at Toho, and the following year directed the underwater scenes for JUDO CHAMPION (Minami Taiheiyo no Wakadaisho, 1967), part of the popular Young Guy movie series.
In 1969, Toho chose Yoshimitsu Banno to direct BIRTH OF THE JAPANESE ISLANDS for the Mitsubushi Hall of the Future Pavilion at Expo ‘70 in Osaka. Beyond a simple movie, Banno created an audiovisual exhibit that used mirrors to simulate the effects of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. BIRTH OF THE JAPANESE ISLANDS was a tremendous success that drew record-breaking numbers to the event. Toho took note, and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka offered Banno the opportunity to direct the next Godzilla film.
The idea for the type of Godzilla movie he’d like to make came to Banno when he visited a beach near the industrial area of Yokkaichi. The area was heavily polluted, and the surface of the water was covered in a thick layer of foul-smelling slime. “There was a message in the original GODZILLA. I didn’t want to have him battle something like a giant lobster, but rather the most notorious thing in current society,” Banno said. “At that time the rapid elevation of the nation’s economic strength created a huge pollution problem. So I asked Tanaka, ‘What about a pollution monster?’ He agreed.”
The new monster Hedorah (named after the Japanese word “hedoro”, meaning “sludge”) was originally intended to be called Hedoron but was changed after the first episode of the P Productions television series SPECTREMAN (Supekutoruman, 1971) featured their own monster with that name. Art director Yasuyuki Inoue designed the various stages of Hedorah’s evolution, based on some rather unique guidance from Banno. In an interview with the Japanese magazine Movie Treasures (Eiga Hi-Ho) Banno explained, “Hedorah’s eyes were modeled on female genitalia. I drew the kind of crude picture you find on the walls of a public toilet and handed it to the modeling staff. I said, ‘This is what I want Hedorah’s eyes to look like.’ [laughs] Well, come on, vaginas are scary!”
Yoshimitsu Banno co-wrote GODZILLA VS HEDORAH with screenwriter Takeshi Kimura (RODAN, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS), and the special effects were directed by Eiji Tsuburaya’s former assistant Teruyoshi Nakano. The end result was possibly the most bizarre film in the entire Godzilla series, mixing social commentary with monster action, animation, psychedelic imagery, split screens, musical numbers, and more death and violence than was normally displayed in Toho’s kaiju movies. Nakano recalled, “Looking back it seems kind of cruel and heavy-handed. I was trying to show the serious threat of pollution with scenes of Godzilla’s eyes being burned and people dying. I guess I became uncomfortable with it— that’s why we added the comical scenes… We made Godzilla fly in that movie. That was outrageous; we probably shouldn’t have done that.” But Banno felt otherwise, saying, “Godzilla could not reach him through regular walking so he had to do something else to catch Hedorah…We got the idea from seahorses: blow air from the mouth, and move backwards.”
Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had been in the hospital while GODZILLA VS HEDORAH was being filmed, and he was not happy when he finally saw the movie. “Afterwards Tanaka looked at it and he didn’t have a good feeling,” Banno remembered. The director had hoped to make a sequel with Godzilla and Hedorah battling in Africa but Tanaka refused to let Banno make another Godzilla film. “I felt a little disappointed, but because of that I went on to make fifteen underwater documentaries. I got the chance to ride on the back of a basking shark.”
Following HEDORAH, Banno directed the theatrical documentary STARVING SAHARA (Zankoku Kiga Tairiku,1972), an appeal for relief efforts against the drought in Africa. He also co-wrote the screenplay and was an assistant director on PROPHECIES OF NOSTRADAMUS (Nosutoradamusu no Daiyogen, a.k.a. CATASTROPHE- 1999 and LAST DAYS OF PLANET EARTH, 1974), based on Tsutomu Goto’s best-selling novel. From 1975-1978, Banno directed a series of documentaries for the television series WONDERFUL WORLD. In the early 1980s, he produced the Toho TV movie TOKYO EARTHQUAKE M8 (Dai-Jishin M8.1, 1980) and wrote and produced several anime films like THE STORY OF SHIGEO NAGASHIMA, THE WIZARD OF OZ (Ozu no Mahotsukai, 1982), and TECHNO POLICE (Tekuno Porisu 21C, 1982).
Yoshimitsu Banno also worked on the development of JAPAX, a 70mm large-format filming and projection system similar to IMAX. He produced the first JAPAX film, BREATHE, which premiered at the 1985 Tsukuba Expo. Further development led to OPAX (a 70mm dome-screen projection system), CUBIC (70mm 3-D system), and TWIN CUBIC, which used two JAPAX projectors. Films in the various formats were shown at festivals and expos across Japan; among the movies Banno produced were MAGMA ADVENTURE (1988), HURRY UP CHILDREN OF THE EARTH (1988), and FLY EAGLE (1989). He also created attractions for the Space World amusement park in Kitakyushu City, and in 1991 he was invited to host a presentation on JAPAX at a film event in Milan, Italy that was organized by Francis Ford Coppola (GODFATHER, APOCALYPSE NOW).
GODZILLA, IMAX, and ADVANCED AUDIOVISUAL PRODUCTIONS
On January 29, 2000, Banno established his own company, Advanced Audiovisual Productions, Inc. (AAP), to produce 70mm large format films and animation, manufacture and sell equipment for IMAX and other giant screen theaters, and create exhibits for festivals and expositions. The long-unrealized GODZILLA VS HEDORAH sequel had always been in the back of his mind, and Banno felt the monsters would be naturals for the large format systems. He approached Toho with the idea of making a 3-D IMAX Godzilla film. Since Toho was already planning to (temporarily) end their Godzilla series, they granted Banno’s request to make a new movie featuring Godzilla and Hedorah.
The agreement between Toho and Yoshimitsu Banno was in many ways similar to the 1992 deal Toho had made with TriStar Pictures for the American GODZILLA remake. Toho would have approvals over the story, character designs, etc, but they would not be making the IMAX movie and it would not be 29th film in the Toho Godzilla series. The IMAX film would be produced by Advanced Audiovisual Productions, and it was up to Banno and AAP to raise the money needed to get the movie made. Once the film was made, Toho would handle theatrical distribution in Japan, Advanced Audiovisual Productions would be in charge of worldwide sales, and both companies would work together on marketing and merchandising such as TV specials, DVDs, CDs, toys, and books. The deal was the proverbial “win/win” situation; after 32 years Yoshimitsu Banno finally had the chance to make his Godzilla movie, while Toho could keep Godzilla in the public eye worldwide and have a new merchandising opportunity with none of the financial risks associated with making their own film.
Yoshimitsu Banno went to work putting together the initial treatment for the film. One of the director’s top objectives was that Godzilla appeal to young people and demonstrate the importance of adopting a more “Earth Friendly” way of living. From the start, he decided to return Godzilla to his heroic “Save the Earth” persona of the 1970s rather than keep with the monster’s more aggressive and antagonistic portrayal as seen in the recent Toho movies. In addition to a personality change, the King of the Monsters would also display a talent unseen since GODZILLA VS HEDORAH… Godzilla would fly again!
Hedorah would also receive a makeover into a new version called Deathla. Banno explained that the name change signified that the monster came from the depths of space to devour the chlorophyll in Earth’s rainforests and destroy all life on the planet. Much like the original version, Deathla would have multiple forms; each incorporating skull imagery to emphasize its deathly character. The central form is a shape-shifting sluglike monster with flexible red-purple skin and vertical eyes. As “Locust-Deathla” the creature splits into a large swarm of insects that use their sharp fangs to quickly devastate crops and forests. Another form was the “Mushroom-Deathla”, which would spread like a fungus to infest an environment. The kaiju can also reassemble into its ultimate form, “Monster-Deathla”, a huge humanoid beast with a skeletal head. Deathla’s weapons include poisonous sludge, constricting tendrils, paralyzing fluids, and a crimson energy beam.
Banno planned to film all over the world, with much of the early story taking place at Iguassu (Guarana for “Big Water”) Falls, one of the largest waterfalls on Earth, which is located on the border of Brazil and Argentina. Banno also wanted most of the movie to be seen from the point of view of the human characters or through news cameras in order to create an effect of massive creatures towering over the audience… an idea that now seems to be a major part of the upcoming unnamed American monster movie from producer JJ Abrams and Paramount Pictures.
Take 1: GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX- 2003
Yoshimitsu Banno’s first story proposal— entitled GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX— was completed in December 2003. The IMAX movie was given the approximate running time of 36 minutes and touted as a Japanese-American co-production.
GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX opens with children singing the movie’s theme song “Bring Back the Sun” (the same opening song from GODZILLA VS HEDORAH that was translated into “Save the Earth” for GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER) as colorful amoeba-like images pulsate to the music. At Iguasssu Falls in the Amazon, children sing an old tune as they enjoy the lush vegetation and peaceful landscape. From the top corner of the screen, black spots appear in the sky like a huge swarm of insects… these are Stage 1 of Deathla, the Locust-Deathla. The monster’s theme song is sung as the locusts land in the rain forest and transforms into Mushroom-Deathlas (Stage 2). Deathla starts consuming the forest, the greenery slowly turning white and taking on a skeletal appearance.
The Deathla swarm spreads across the planet, polluting nature’s wonders… among the locations described in the story are the coral reefs in the Bahamas and Chivoli Park in Denmark (?!?). All are turned into wastelands. News reports spread the word and a cry breaks out around the world: “Beat Deathla!” These reactions as people cry out against the monster would be shown as multiple images on a monitor, much like the technique Banno used several times in GODZILLA VS HEDORAH.
Godzilla finally emerges from Iguassu Falls and attacks the Mushroom-Deathlas which combine to form the third and most powerful stage, Kaiju-Deathla. As the monsters battle, the rain forest changes back and forth from white to green depending on who has the upper hand at the moment. When Godzilla blasts Deathla with his atomic breath, Deathla explodes and reforms as Locust- Deathla. The swarm flies off, and Godzilla gives chase by flying after Deathla.
Godzilla pursues Deathla, with battles being waged on the Virgin Islands and again on the shores near Disneyworld in Florida (despite the fact that Disneyworld is nowhere near the ocean), with Epcot Center being set afire (the treatment notes the location would probably have to be changed to an anonymous amusement park). The aerial chase continues up the East Coast, through Washington DC and to New York City.
The Locust-Deathla arrive in New York City during a blizzard, and the final battle begins. Godzilla smashes Deathla’s right eye in another nod to GODZILLA VS HEDORAH. But then Deathla grows enormous and pulls Godzilla high up into the sky, only to drop him in the middle of Central Park (or possibly onto the 9/11 Monument). Deathla rains sludge down on Godzilla, burning away at his skin. Godzilla is motionless, almost completely submerged in sludge, when a chorus of children starts singing “Go for it, Godzilla.” The singing comes from around the world, growing progressively louder until Godzilla finally revives. Godzilla uses his atomic breath to protect the 9/11 Monument and then resumes his battle with Deathla, blowing off his foe’s left eye with a blast of radiation. Deathla transforms into its locust form and departs the earth in defeat.
Areas damaged by Deathla start to recover their beauty and the theme song starts up again…Godzilla flies south to Iguassu, accompanied by cheerful music and nature’s revival. Landing in front of the waterfalls, Godzilla winks to the audience and then disappears behind the falls.
Banno’s GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX story reads like a condensed version of GODZILLA VS HEDORAH, but may be even weirder than its predecessor. Oddly enough, there are just two scenes in the story which have any connection to Japan. The first is the sequence depicting news reports from around the world being watched by Japanese people. The second scene is much more curious… while the monsters battle at the Virgin Islands during a hurricane, the artwork “Wind God and Thunder God” (Fuujin Raijin za Byoubu) would appear briefly onscreen. “Wind God and Thunder God” is a very famous illustration by the 17th Century artist Tawaraya Sotatsu that is on display in the Kyoto National Museum, so its inclusion in GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX may have been understood by Japanese audiences, but would most likely be lost on everyone else.
In August 2004, a small group of readers of the fanzine G-Fan went on a tour of Japan. While there the tour group met with Yoshimitsu Banno, who told them the secret news that he was directing a 3-D IMAX Godzilla film for release in 2005. Of course, the “secret” was almost immediately leaked and was soon posted on websites like Monster Zero News.
Take 2: GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX- 2005
Yoshimitsu Banno continued to revise the GODZILLA VS DEATHLA TO THE MAX treatment, and a new version called GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX was completed in 2005. Advanced Audiovisual Productions partnered with an American company called Whitecat Productions to form “The Godzilla 3D To The Max Production Committee”. The running time for the film was now expected to be 40 minutes, and the projected budget was $9 million (US).
In June of that year, “The Godzilla 3D To The Max Production Committee” launched a GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX website to interest possible investors in the project. The site was in both English and Japanese and detailed the concept, characters, and marketing potential of the film, as well as providing a lengthy synopsis of the latest draft. The English plot description repeatedly referred to Godzilla as female, but AAP later said this was a translation mistake and Godzilla was still the “King of the Monsters”.
The story for GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX begins at dawn, as a flaming meteor from the Deathla Star crashes into the Sargasso Sea. The meteor releases a swarm of Locust-Deathlas which rises into the sky like a tornado.
At Iguassu Falls, an American reporter named Mischa is doing a story on the “Spray of Iguassu”, a rainbow that is only seen on nights of the full moon. She has traveled to Iguassu with her younger brother Jim. The two are still recovering from the loss of their father, a firefighter who was killed during the September 11 attacks in New York, with Jim having a particularly rough time. He constantly carries around a harmonica left to him by his dad, and his only friend is a German Shepard called Little Beard.
Mischa and Jim encounter the Locust-Deathlas in the rainforest. The alien swarm tears through the jungle devouring all plant life it their path and accidentally uncover the hibernating body of Godzilla. As the King of the Monsters rises from the jungle floor with a roar of anger, the Locust-Deathlas transform into Monster-Deathla. After a brief battle, Deathla reverts to the swarm and flies north, with Godzilla and the kids in pursuit.
A freak summer snowfall heralds the arrival of the monsters to New York City. Monster-Deathla grows larger and larger as it absorbs garbage at a city dump. The alien buries Godzilla in sludge at the Central Park reservoir, then oozes down Broadway in the direction of the 9/11 Monument. Revived by the prayers of children, Godzilla blocks Monster-Deathla’s path then leaps into the air. Godzilla attacks with the “Ultra Spin Tail Punch”, slicing Deathla into pieces with a series of tail strikes. The victorious monster then flies back to its jungle home.
Godzilla arrives at Iguassu as the full moon rises over the waterfall. As Godzilla disappears into the Falls, the beast’s tail strikes the rushing water and causes a huge spray that casts a rainbow over Jim and Mischa in glorious 3-Dimensions.
According to information on the GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX website, Advanced Audiovisual Productions and Whitecat Productions had brought together a crew of personnel from Japan and America, many of whom had a long history with large format and 3-D films. The co-producers were Roger Holden (president of Whitecat Productions and 21st Century Sound and Vision, Inc) and Brian Rogers (T2 3D: BATTLE ACROSS TIME), while Yoshimitsu Banno’s longtime assistant Kenji Okuhira was named associate producer. Listed as co-director was Keith Melton, who had previously helmed CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: JOURNEY OF MAN (2000) and MYSTIC INDIA (2004). Deathla was to be designed by acclaimed concept artist Syd Mead (BLADE RUNNER, TRON, ALIENS). Toho required that traditional suit effects be used in GODZILLA 3D TO THE MAX so Godzilla series veteran Eiichi Asada (GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS) was chosen to direct the special effects. Peter Anderson (CAPTAIN EO, T2 3D, SHREK 2 4D) was named director of photography and supervisor of visual effects.
Filming was tentatively scheduled for December, with post-production taking place between March and May of 2006, and the finished film ready for exhibition in June of that year.
Take 3: GODZILLA 3-D – 2005 and 2007
In July 2005, both Yoshimitsu Banno and Eiichi Asada traveled to Los Angeles to meet with possible investors. That October, Banno and Kenji Okuhira signed a contract with Toho that finalized all the copyright details regarding the use of Godzilla and Hedorah.
On December 16, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun ran an article on the IMAX film, which was now going by the title GODZILLA 3-D. The paper reported that financial backing had still not been secured, but Banno was still preparing to begin production soon. The projected budget had nearly tripled to $25 million US. Production was now scheduled to begin in March 2006 and continue through January 2007 for a planned summer 2007 release.
The movie’s story had once again been heavily revised. All references to 9/11 were removed and the action was switched to the West Coast. GODZILLA 3-D still began at Iguassu Falls, but the battle between Godzilla and Deathla would now move to Mexico and California before the final showdown in Las Vegas. Promotional art was issued depicting a Millennium-style Godzilla standing in the flaming ruins of the Las Vegas strip.
The Yomiuri Shimbun article created a great deal of excitement among Godzilla fans. But on March 6, 2006 Advanced Audiovisual Productions shut down their GODZILLA 3-D website. There was no further news on the project for more than a year.
Finally, on May 8, 2007 the American fx house Kerner Productions announced that they would be working on GODZILLA 3-D. Kerner had started as the physical effects unit of George Lucas’ fx company Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), creating miniature props and sets, robots, creatures, aliens, and explosions. Their work has won 17 Academy Awards, but in recent years Lucas has relied more and more on digital technology for his films. In 2006, Lucas moved ILM’s digital effects division to a new facility in San Francisco’s Presidio. The practical fx division remained at ILM’s older San Rafael location and became it’s own company, Kerner Optical (with its own divisions, Kerner Productions and Kerner Research & Development).
Kerner revealed that they would be creating miniatures, creatures, physical effects, and working on visual effects for GODZILLA 3-D. The company’s website stated that the film “will be designed to take full advantage of the composition, staging, and dynamic editing of original three dimensional photography. The film will also incorporate updated creature technology along with cutting edge motion capture and 3-D CGI animation to bring a more fluid and realistic energy to Godzilla. This will create more subtle facial moves and will allow the filmmakers to expand and enhance Godzilla’s character”.
In addition to producer/director Yoshimitsu Banno and producer Kenji Okuhira, director Keith Melton, co-producer Brian Rogers, and director of photography Peter Anderson were still listed among the creative team, but there was no mention of Roger Holden or Whitecat Productions. The start of production was now announced for February 2008, with location shooting in South America, Mexico, Tokyo, Las Vegas and Los Angeles (all of the locations named in the third story treatment from 2005). Kerner also stated that GODZILLA 3-D would be filmed in English, with casting taking place in LA.
The news from Kerner Productions that seems to have generated the most excitement is that new funding had been secured for GODZILLA 3-D. Many news sources and fan sites have misreported that Kerner and/or Toho are financing the film and that GODZILLA 3-D has been greenlighted and will definitely be made. None of this is true.
According to Kerner, a Tokyo company called Digital Motion (not Toho or Kerner) has provided initial development funds for GODZILLA 3-D. Production money and initial development money are two very different things; development funding generally refers to a smaller amount of money that will allow the producers to continue creating conceptual artwork, further drafts of a script, and possibly some technology demos to help shop the project and get the necessary production funding.
Based on what Kerner has stated, GODZILLA 3-D is moving forward once again but has still not cleared the last hurdle into full production. Only time— and additional updates from Kerner Productions and Advanced Audiovisual Productions— will tell. One thing is certain… Yoshimitsu Banno has wanted to make a new Godzilla film for 36 years and he will continue to work towards that goal.