BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects (First Look, Part 2)
Part 2: PRODUCTION NOTES and PERSONNEL FILE
Author: George Lawrence
Official site: Godzilla on DVD
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
The original documentary BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects will be included as a bonus feature with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966, dir. Ishiro Honda) and RODAN (1956, dir. Ishiro Honda). The three films will be released in a DVD set by Classic Media on September 9, 2008. Available at retailers everywhere.
SciFi Japan continues our coverage with a look at the making of the film and the people behind the production.
From the outset, the creative team behind BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE was not content to simply string together a series of movie clips and re-hash the story of Godzilla’s five-decades-long career.
“We wanted to explore what makes Japanese science fiction and fantasy movies distinct,” says producer and writer Steve Ryfle. “The heart and soul of these movies is the combination of miniature work and monster suits, and the organic, handmade quality of the special effects. Our goal was not to show how the films are made but to explain why they’re made that way, and to pay tribute to some of the genre’s unsung behind-the-scenes heroes.”
And unlike previous documentaries about the Godzilla phenomenon, “This film was created and filmed by people with a passion for the subject matter rather than by a crew hired to do a job, which gives it a unique dynamic,” adds producer and writer Ed Godziszewski.
Godziszewski and Ryfle had a concept and the backing of Classic Media, the home entertainment company that has released the original GOJIRA (1954), as well as many of the classic Godzilla sequels, on DVD. The two men were well known as “Godzilla scholars,” however they were not filmmakers, so they teamed with friend and colleague Norman England, a Tokyo-based journalist turned director, who had recently completed THE iDol, an indie sci-fi comedy that was shot in Tokyo with an all-Japanese cast. England brought a unique set of qualifications and experience to the project: he knew the intricacies of shooting a film in Japan on a low budget, and not only was he a fellow fan of the Japanese sci-fi and fantasy genre, but he also had spent many hours as a journalist observing the making of Godzilla movies at Toho studios.
“I’ve put more hard time in on the Godzilla set than any non-Japanese,” England says. “Probably something like 200 days. This put me at a great advantage because many of the interviewees in the film I knew from the Godzilla set. On other documentaries on the subject you can see that while the director might have interest in the SFX world of Japanese film, they don’t really understand its workings. I was able to use my experience in a way that got the interviewees to open up. We had a mutual understanding and respect that came from many long, hard indescribable days on those Godzilla movie sets. It was my goal to have them speak as if they were talking to someone on the inside, rather than to outsiders who could never really understand. I think this is what sets this film apart from others on the subject.”
The interviewees in BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE represent a wealth of talent from in front of and behind the camera, spanning several generations of Japanese special-effects movies; they are the faces of the past, present, and future of the genre. Among the actors appearing in the film are Akira Takarada, star of the original GOJIRA and Shiro Sano, star of GODZILLA 2000. Special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano, speaks about working on the Godzilla movies in the 1960s and 70s, while youthful director Takeshi Yagi, who has worked on recent incarnations of Tsuburaya Productions’ ULTRAMAN franchise, assesses the genre’s current state. Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla suit actor, is joined by Ken Satsuma, who played the monster in the 1990s, and Tom Kitagawa, who portrayed Godzilla in the most recent films.
The central figure in BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE is Yasuyuki Inoue, who helped design and build the miniature sets for GOJIRA in 1954 and became special effects art director under Eiji Tsuburaya, the legendary effects guru. Inoue and his crew of dedicated and talented craftsmen built the scale-model world that Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah were so adept at destroying—the cities, the mountains, the forests, the space ships, the submarines, the oceans, the futuristic weapons and military equipment—everything inside the frame of an SFX shot, except the monsters themselves, was designed and built by them. In short, Inoue and his team brought Eiji Tsuburaya’s visions to the big screen.
“Yasuyuki Inoue was one of the major creative forces behind the best of Japan’s special effects films,” says Godziszewski. “His legacy is enormous. Yet Inoue and his staff did all these things in relative obscurity. Eiji Tsuburaya, who understandbly receives the lion’s share of the credit, took what these people made and then worked his magic with the camera. The contributions of Inoue and the art department have long been overlooked, even in Japan, so for the first time their story can be told.”
The shooting of BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE began on May 13, 2007 and spanned six days. The crew included director of photography Hiroo Takaoka, who had worked with England previously on THE iDol, and production manager Joko Mizukami, who worked tirelessly to arrange and schedule interviews, manage the shooting schedule, provide on-set translation for interviews, and generally ensure the entire production proceeded smoothly.
Filming began with Akira Takarada’s interview at his office, and over the next four days the crew traversed Tokyo to film at Tsuburaya Productions, Godzilla suit maker Shinichi Wakasa’s Monsters Incorporated, the offices of the Toho Motion Picture Company, the home of director Shusuke Kaneko, the offices of Tsuburaya Dream Factory, and a community hall where interviews with actor Hiroshi Koizumi, actor Yoshio Tsuchiya, and SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano were filmed.
The final two days of shooting took place at SFX art director Yasuyuki Inoue’s home on the outskirts of Tokyo. The original plan was to film interviews with Inoue and two of his assistants from the old days at Toho, Akinori Takagi (who specialized in mechanical effects) and Toshiro Aoki (who created the miniature forests seen in many Toho films, among other things), as well as Toshio Miike, SFX art director for the newer Godzilla movies. However, Inoue and his colleagues became so enthused about the production that they took it one step further, offering to stage a full-blown SFX demonstration in the workshop behind Inoue’s house.
Using a large water tank and a painted backdrop (created by Fuchimu Shimakura, backdrop painter for many classic Godzilla movies), Inoue and his crew (which included several 20-something assistants, representing the new generation of Japanese SFX craftsmen) demonstrated the classic “cloud tank” technique, recreating the eruption of a volcano at sea from the Toho feature LATITUDE ZERO (1969). The atmosphere in Inoue’s workshop was a throwback to the old days at Toho studios, when Eiji Tsuburaya presided over his crew.
“I’ve seen scenes like this filmed many times,” says director England. “For me, it was a chance to take my personal experience and sum it up while also giving the subjects in the film a chance to share their work methods with outsiders. My goal on this scene was to convey a little of the unknown that is always present when effects are done in complete analog methods.”
Music is a signature element in the Japanese sci-fi and fantasy oeuvre—who can forget Akira Ifukube’s booming score for GOJIRA and many of its sequels? BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE boasts an original soundtrack that was written, performed, and recorded by none other than Kow Otani, well known to genre fans as the composer behind GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001) as well as the highly regarded GAMERA trilogy directed by Shusuke Kaneko in the 1990s.
“Otani scored the documentary as if it were a giant-monster movie,” says Ryfle. “He wrote a horror motif, which recurs throughout the film in different variations. Then there is a military march, a battle theme, and a sad requiem—all the signature elements. From the moment the film begins, Otani’s music sets the tone.”
Post-production took place in summer 2007, with Ryfle and Godziszewski first writing a complete script using interview transcriptions, which had been translated into English. Next, New York-based editor Yasu Inoue assembled the film and also created several sequences with motion graphics and other effects in Adobe AfterEffects.
Meanwhile, Ryfle and Godziszewski’s search for a “name” narrator eventually led them to cult film director Alex Cox, who once approached Toho with his own idea for a Godzilla movie. “After Sy Richardson, Drew Schofield and Derek Jacobi, GODZILLA is my favorite actor,” Cox quips. “It is my career’s great regret that I have not been able to work with her!”
Alex Cox, Narrator:
Alex Cox is the director of REPO MAN, SID AND NANCY, STRAIGHT TO HELL, WALKER, SEARCHERS 2.0 and numerous other films, television shows, and documentaries. In addition, Cox has written about film for publications such as Sight and Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, and Film Comment, and from 1988 to 1994 he hosted the TV series “Moviedrome” on BBC Two. Renowned for his vast knowledge of many film genres, Cox has appeared in numerous documentaries including the BBC’s GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1998), and provided introductions to Akira Kurosawa’s RED BEARD, Kaneto Shindo’s ONIBABA, and other films on DVD. He has also written a multi-issue storyline for Dark Horse Comics’ Godzilla series. His autobiography, X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker will be published in September 2008 by Soft Skull Press.
Norman England, Director:
Norman is a long-term resident of Japan who has written about Japanese film for Starlog, Fangoria, Hobby Japan, Japanzine, Flix, and The Japan Times. He has visited over 35 film sets in Japan, including the entire Godzilla Millennium series and THE GRUDGE. Over this time, Norman has become well acquainted with some of Japan’s most successful filmmakers. He has also played bit parts in GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (2003), LORELEI, WITCH OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN (2005), DEATH NOTE (2006), and STACY (2001). In 2006, Norman wrote and directed his first feature (in Japanese), THE iDol, a science fiction comedy. The movie has received excellent reviews and has played in film festivals including Montreal’s Fant-Asia and Japan’s Yubari Fantastic Film Festival. Norman is a life-long fan of Toho’s special effects films, is very familiar with the subject and the people involved, and speaks Japanese.
Ed Godziszewski, Producer and Writer:
Ed Godziszewski has been editor and publisher of Japanese Giants magazine since 1977, and is author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla. Ed has written for Fangoria, Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, G-Fan, Retrovision, and other publications. In 1979, he toured both Toho Studios and Tsuburaya Productions in Japan for the first time, and since then, has visited Japan numerous times and has met and interviewed many special effects filmmakers. Ed has been a speaker at G-Fest, and in 2004, he introduced films at the American Cinematheque’s “Godzilla 50th Anniversary Tribute” in Hollywood. Ed has contributed audio commentaries and other extras for numerous Godzilla DVDs released by the British Film Institute and Classic Media. He has been interviewed by numerous media outlets including the Chicago Tribune and Japan’s NHK-TV.
Steve Ryfle, Producer and Writer:
Steve is a journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Virginia Quarterly Review, and other publications. He has been a contributing editor and columnist for Creative Screenwriting magazine and a columnist for iFilm.com. His book, Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: the Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla (ECW Press) is widely considered among the best English-language references on Godzilla. Steve has contributed audio commentaries and other supplemental material to numerous Godzilla DVDs released in the U.S. by Classic Media and in the United Kingdom by the British Film Institute. He has been a guest speaker and presenter at the American Cinematheque, Comic-Con, Anime Expo, G-Fest, and other venues and events, and he has been a guest on TV and radio programs including NPR’s FRESH AIR, INSIDE EDITION, and Animal Planet’s ANIMAL ICONS.
Hiroo Takaoka, Cinematographer:
Hiroo Takaoka moved from Japan to the U.S. in 1989 to pursue his goal of becoming a cinematographer. He earned his B.A. in Film from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1993. After graduation, he went to work as a camera assistant, learning the craft alongside established DPs such as Slawomir Idizak and Ellen Kuras. Hiroo moved up to director of photography in 2000. A documentary he shot on the arts scene in Germany won the Gold Prize at the Houston International Film Festival that year. Since then, he has chased opportunities in the U.S. and Japan. Hiroo has shot national commercials in Japan, for clients such as McDonald’s, Unilever and Nissan and was DP on Norman England’s feature THE iDol.
Yasu Inoue, Editor:
Originally from Japan, and trained at The City College of New York, Yasu Inoue began his editing career in the US at New York branch of Fuji Television (one of Japan’s major networks). During his six years at Fuji, Yasu worked as an editor for hundreds of television productions such as variety shows, news and documentaries. After leaving Fuji, he edited for the likes of ABC, HBO, Bravo, Discovery Channel, A&E and Sci-Fi Channel, to name a few. Besides television, he wrote/packaged the Sonny Chiba interview (40 min.) for the SAMURAI REINCARNATION R1 DVD. Yasu also edited the documentary (50 min.) for the Criterion Collection’s JIGOKU DVD special feature.
Kow Otani, composer:
Kow Otani has composed the soundtracks to GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (2001), director Shusuke Kaneko’s trio of GAMERA films in the 1990s, and many anime series, plus video games. He made his anime debut with CITY HUNTER (1987); other anime credits include FUTURE GPX CYBER FORMULA and MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING.
Classic Media presents BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE in an all-new DVD set featuring the classic Japanese monster movies WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS and RODAN. Available from retailers everywhere beginning September 9, 2008.
BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE
(2008, Classic Media/Happy Enterprises Productions/images from the iD)
In English and Japanese with English subtitles
Running time: 68 minutes
Narrated by Alex Cox
Directed by Norman England
Produced and written by Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle
Executive producer: Lisa Bull/Classic Media Inc.
Editor: Yasu Inoue
Original music by Kow Otani
Featuring: Akira Takarada, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Shogo Tomiyama, Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma, Tsutomu “Tom” Kitagawa, Shusuke Kaneko, Teruyoshi Nakano, Akira Tsuburaya, Ryuji Honda, Shinichi Wakasa, Yasuyuki Inoue, Toshiro Aoki, Akinori Takagi, Toshio Miike, Shiro Sano, others.
For more information on Classic Media’s RODAN/WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS DVD set and BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- New Godzilla Documentary, MOTHRA, and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS Theatrical Screening!
- BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects Part 1: SYNOPSIS