GODZILLA ON THIRD STREET
Director Takashi Yamazaki Discusses Godzilla’s Cameo Appearance in ALWAYS 2
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: NTV (Nippon Television Network), ASCII Media Works, Midnight Eye, various
Official Site: Always 2
Translations by Oki Miyano
Special Thanks to James Ballard
In November 2005, Japanese moviegoers flocked to see the drama ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET (Always San-Chome no Yuhi). Adapted from the popular manga by Ryohei Saigan, the film told the story of the residents of Third Street— a small Tokyo neighborhood in late 1958. The rosy, nostalgic tale was a tremendous box office success that triggered a national fad for the “Showa Era” of Japan (1926-1989). ALWAYS was also a critical hit, winning 33 awards domestically and internationally, including Picture of the Year, Director of the Year, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress at the 2006 Japan Academy Prize.
The cast and crew soon reassembled for the sequel ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET- 2 (Always-Zoku San-Chome no Yuhi, 2007). The second film was again a tremendous success, taking in more than ¥4 billion (approximately $42 million US) during its theatrical run and winning the 2008 Japan Academy Prize for Best Actor.
ALWAYS 2 also included a shocker for fans returning to see the further adventures of characters like the Suzuki family (owners of a small auto body shop) and struggling writer Ryunosuke Chagawa… the film begins with an attack on Third Street by Godzilla, King of the Monsters.
Godzilla’s guest appearance in ALWAYS 2 was a well-kept secret during production that had fans buzzing soon after the movie’s release last November. While brief— the entire sequence runs barely two minutes, and Godzilla is onscreen for only a few seconds— the scene features a number of great shots that place the viewer directly in the midst of the monster’s rampage (ala CLOVERFIELD). ALWAYS 2 also marks the first time in a Japanese feature film that Godzilla was created completely via computer animation rather than the traditional suit techniques used in previous movies.
Though there has been speculation that Toho Co. was testing the waters for a possible new Godzilla movie, the monster’s appearance in ALWAYS 2 actually came about through the efforts of Takashi Yamazaki; writer, director, and fx supervisor of both ALWAYS pictures.
Born June 12, 1964 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Yamazaki is a lifelong fan of science fiction movies, including Toho’s Godzilla and kaiju films and American productions like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and STAR WARS. After graduating from the Asagaya College of Art and Design, he joined the animation and special effects house Shirogumi Inc., and worked as an fx supervisor for movies such as A TAXING WOMAN (Marusa no Onna, 1988), SWEETHOME (1989), THE LAST DANCE (Daibyonin, 1993), EKO EKO AZARAK: WIZARD OF DARKNESS (Eko Eko Azaraku, 1995), and EKO EKO AZARAK II: BIRTH OF THE WIZARD (Eko Eko Azaraku II, 1996). He also contributed to the OVA series GIANT ROBO THE ANIMATION: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (Jaianto Robo- Chikyu ga Seishi Suru Hi, 1992) and created concept art and computer graphics for the short film THE iDol (2007).
Looking to write and direct his own films, in 1999 Yamazaki submitted a screenplay to Robot Communications, the production company behind the popular BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN series. He was quickly hired and made his directorial debut with the children’s sci-fi movie JUVENILE (Jubunairu, 2000), followed by the time travel actioner RETURNER (Ritana, 2002).
After two science fiction films in a row, Yamazaki’s next project ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET was somewhat of a departure for the director. Even so, he still managed to incorporate his love of visual effects by combining miniatures and extensive CG to recreate the Tokyo of the late 1950s. With a lavish (for a Japanese film) six months of post-production, Yamazaki and his crew were able to create a movie that took audiences back to a convincing— if idealized— mid-Showa Period.
“Since I know all about SFX, I can tell what can be achieved with a certain budget and what can’t be…,” Yamazaki told the website Midnight Eye. “I make all of the choices, ultimately, saying this is what we should go with and whatnot. ‘Let’s make a model for this and let’s use CGI there,’ etc. Since I draw my own storyboards and then put them into computer graphics, I know through this method what should be done on computer and what should be done through models and actual photography. I can do that all myself-in my own head.”
For the sequel, Takashi Yamazaki decided to throw audiences a curveball by starting with an “imaginary sequence” written by ALWAYS character Ryunosuke Chagawa. “I wanted to start with something fresh from the first film,” Yamazaki said in an interview with the computer entertainment group ASCII Media Works. “Having Godzilla destroy Tokyo Tower with his oral beam was a great way to surprise audiences.”
With ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET- 2 taking place in the spring of 1959, the director saw the film as the perfect opportunity to return Godzilla to the big screen for the first time since GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (Gojira: Fainaru Uozu, 2004). “The reason to do this was ‘Showa’. I wanted to use Godzilla because the film was set during the Showa Period. At one time I wanted to make my own Godzilla movie, and I always felt that Godzilla and Showa could not be separated. That era is one of the most important factors of the Godzilla films. The atmosphere of that time— which still bore the scars of WWII— was so unique, and I thought I couldn’t capture that kind of feeling in a modern setting. While it can be interesting to place Godzilla in the present day, something gets lost because this era is so different from Showa.”
“Godzilla is such a big star that it was important to prepare the proper stage for him to perform. To me, that stage should be the Showa Period. I always wanted to use the historical background of Showa, and now I had the chance to make a movie set in the era I most wanted to see Godzilla in. That was a big reason why I used Godzilla in ALWAYS 2.”
Longtime Godzilla fans know that the monster’s look has changed from film to film, with each design given its own nickname. The Godzilla design for ALWAYS 2— called “Third Street Godzilla” (San-Chome Gojira)— was primarily modeled on the beast’s appearance in director Shusuke Kaneko’s GODZILLA, MOTHRA & KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (Gojira Mosura Kingugidora Daikaiju Soukougeki, 2001). For GMK, the monster was given pure white eyes to convey its anger and villainous persona in that film, and Yamazaki decided to use the same technique. “It’s based on Kaneko’s Godzilla,” he explained. “I liked Godzilla with white eyes, and wanted to make a fearsome Godzilla.”
The original model for ALWAYS 2’s Godzilla literally was a model… a garage kit of the GMK Godzilla sculpted by Syunsuke Niwa. Each year, Wonder Festival— a massive toy and model convention held at Tokyo Big Sight— allows amateur modelers to obtain a “one day copyright” to sell their self-produced kits of popular licensed characters. Yamazaki purchased Niwa’s GMK model at WonderFest and modified it to create the Third Street Godzilla. “I had decided to create something that looked massive and heavy…Godzilla’s image is like a moving mountain, after all. Niwa’s Godzilla had that kind of mass,” Yamazaki said.
“I then altered the face of Niwa’s Godzilla into a look that I preferred. The face of the GMK Godzilla was like an alligator’s but I changed it to look more like a dog… I also thought about the original Godzilla [from 1954’s GODZILLA], and added little details such as the pointy ears. In a way, this version is a sort of ‘Hybrid Godzilla’ combining features from many previous designs.”
After Yamazaki settled on the final design, the CGI crew scanned the GMK model and took details of the skin texture for Godzilla’s body. Once Godzilla was in the computer the staff produced a rough polygon model using the 3D graphics program Maya on the Linux operating system. When the data reached 1000 polygons, the CG model was transferred to Mac and more details were added using the 3D paint tool ZBrush. “I had practiced with ZBrush for a long time and I wanted to use it some day,” Yamazaki explained. “So I did the touchups on Godzilla by myself.”
“Directing movies is my job so I don’t have time for many hobbies, but CGI is one of them. It’s kind of sad, but it makes me tremendously happy because it’s so much fun. The job of a director is basically as a supervisor to the crew, but I always want to save some ‘hands on’ work for myself. For this project, it was ZBrush. I handed everything over to the CG staff when the model was around 1,400,000 polygons, and asked them to make the bone [the framework that controls movement for a CG model].”
Creating the Godzilla sequence in ALWAYS 2 was very expensive, and necessitated that the monster’s appearance would be brief. Takashi Yamazaki decided to make the most of the situation by using filmmaking techniques similar to what would be seen in CLOVERFIELD two months later. He said, “It was a conscious decision in that sequence to show more of the destruction caused by Godzilla rather than Godzilla himself… houses and buildings blow up, electrical poles are smashed, a street car flies overhead. Recent Hollywood horror films have been superior at showing the large scale effects of a destructive force so I wanted to use similar methods.”
“There is a saying that ‘rumor is bigger than the truth’. My thinking was that— rather than reveal everything all at once— I would only show things in bits and pieces. I thought that would look more real. I wanted people to experience the film from the perspective of the characters, and shooting from a worm’s eye view puts the viewer there in the moment. I couldn’t have gotten that if I had used a wide establishing shot.”
As a completely CGI character, the Third Street Godzilla was able to perform in a manner different from earlier films. Yamazaki directed the monster’s brief appearance as if Godzilla were “a real creature, not a suit manipulated by a stunt actor,” and used some rarely-seen animalistic movements such as a nice head twitch as Godzilla turns to stare down at the Suzuki family.
Takashi Yamazki also honored Godzilla’s roots by maintaining the frightening image of the original Godzilla. “It was a metaphor for war, the image of the mushroom cloud… Godzilla even entered Tokyo on the same route used by the invading B-29 bombers. I chose to have a terrifying Godzilla in ALWAYS 2 because he was created at a time when audiences were directly familiar with the War.”
“I wanted to recreate that image; this Godzilla is for adults, not children.”
ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET-2 premiered at the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival on October 22, 2007 and opened nationwide in Japan on November 3. The film was released on Region 2 DVD in Japan on May 21, 2008.
The first US screening took place at the 2007 American Film Market in Santa Monica, CA on November 2, 2007. ALWAYS 2 will next be shown (along with the first ALWAYS) at the New York Asian Film Festival/ Japan Cuts:Festival of New Japanese Films , running July 3-6 at the Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, New York, NY 10017. Tickets are $11 general / $7 members and seniors.
For more photos and information on ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET- 2 and Third Street Godzilla please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan: