GODZILLA 2000 Production Notes
Publicity Materials from the 2000 US Release
Source: Sony Pictures
GODZILLA 2000 airs on the Sony Movie Channel today as part of September’s GODZILLA SMASH-A-THON. SciFi Japan thought this would make a good opportunity to take a look back at the production notes created by TriStar Pictures for the film’s US release on August 18, 2000.
The following text has been slightly modified to update some information and correct factual errors. No opinions were changed, so Sony’s enthusiastic comments regarding their 1998 GODZILLA remake remain…
A thick fog covers the seashore. Suddenly, as if out of a primeval dream of terror, a massive reptilian form obscures the window of a lonely lighthouse. It has razor-sharp teeth in a gargantuan mouth; claws that can cut through steel; a roar that echoes back through the centuries; dorsal fins that resemble crimson lightning bolts; and fiery breath that incinerates everything it touches. Soon, all in the creature’s wake is utterly destroyed, and a terrified Japan can only wonder where this monstrous beast will next appear.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters, is back.
In the TriStar Pictures release GODZILLA 2000, the 23rd entry in one of the world’s most durable and beloved series of films seen by almost 100 million filmgoers in Japan alone, Godzilla faces a formidable new foe in Orga (aka Giant Alien Millennian), a gigantic, lethal creature that has slowly transmuted from a UFO believed to be dormant for 6,000 years.
In GODZILLA 2000, this grandfather of all subsequent monsters emanating from the vivid imagination of Japanese filmmakers has been given new life by the special effects wizards at Toho Studios and director Takao Okawara, already a veteran of the genre with such films as GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH, GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II and the recent GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH. On Okawara’s team is executive producer Shogo Tomiyama, who began his career as an assistant on the Godzilla films at Toho in the 1970s and ’80s before graduating to full producer on the historical fantasy OROCHI THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (directed by Okawara) and another entry in the highly popular Toho daikaiju (giant monster) series, REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3.
For GODZILLA 2000, Okawara and Tomiyama have assembled a talented group of filmmakers and artists heavy on Godzilla experience and absolutely dedicated to the legend and lore of the famed monster, including screenwriters Hiroshi Kashiwabara (GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA) and Wataru Mimura (GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II, OROCHI THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON); production designer Takeshi Shimizu (GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH, GODZILLA VS MECHAGODZILLA II, GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH, as chief designer) and composer Takayuki Hattori, who gave the monster a new aural spectrum in GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA. The special effects director is Kenji Suzuki, who previously devoted his talents to GODZILLA VS SPACE GODZILLA, as 1st specialeffects assistant director, and REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3. Suzuki was backed by a huge visual effects and design team, who busily advanced high-tech schemes for the film while relying tried-and=true formulas, such as the magnificent miniatures which have graced all Godzilla films in the past.
The cast for GODZILLA 2000 includes some of Japan’s most popular screen and television actors, including Takehiro Murata (Juzo Itami’s MINBO- OR THE GENTLE ART OF JAPANESE EXTORTION, THE BIG PATIENT and WOMAN OF THE POLICE PROTECTION PROGRAM as well as GODZILLA AND MOTHRA: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH and GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH) as Shinoda, the head of GPN (Godzilla Prediction Network), a service dedicated to minimizing the destruction caused by Godzilla; Hiroshi Abe (OROCHI THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON) as CCI (Crisis Control Intelligence Agency) chief Katagiri, who is obsessed with the goal of destroying Godzilla forever; Naomi Nishida (winner of the Japanese Academy Award for Best New Actress for her first film, MY SECRET CACHE, who continued to star in BEGGING FOR LIFE and the smash hit horror films HAUNTED SCHOOL 2 and HAUNTED SCHOOL 3) as science magazine writer Yuki; actor/director/writer/musician Shiro Sano (TO SLEEP SO AS TO DREAM, EVERY DAY IS SUNDAY, SHARAKU) as CCI scientist Miyasaka, Katagiri’s assistant; and 12 year-old Mayu Suzuki in her screen debut as Shinoda’s daughter.
About the Production
In 1998, director Roland Emmerich’s epic Hollywood version of GODZILLA, featuring the latest in visual effects and digital technology, was released to the close scrutiny of fans around the world. Indeed, most moviegoers embraced this neo-vision of what is arguably, along with its original inspiration King Kong, the most famous giant monster in movie history. In the country of Godzilla’s birth, audiences enjoyed the re-conceived U.S. GODZILLA so much that the film was one of Japan’s 1998 box office smashes.
It also inspired the Japanese to recognize the uniqueness of their original Godzilla, the star of 22 tremendously influential hits which delighted fans all over the globe. Having killed off the great monster in 1995’s GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH — what was announced as his final film — Toho decided to respond to the groundswell of demand from fans to revive him.
From this grassroots movement, a new Godzilla was about to be born. Two months after the Hollywood GODZILLA took Japan by storm, executive producer Shogo Tomiyama and screenwriters Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Wataru Mimura began devising a story plan for the new film. “I decided from the beginning that if there are 100 audience members, then there are 100 ideas of what Godzilla should be,” says Tomiyama. “If we wanted to make a new kind of Godzilla, we needed several different views. That’s why I chose both Mr. Kashiwabara and Mr. Mimura. One producer, two screenwriters, three viewpoints.”
“The first thought we had was, what kind of Godzilla movie do we want to see at the turn of a new century?” notes Kashiwabara. “Because this is the first of a new series of Godzilla films, we decided to go back to the roots and study what made him so unique in the first place.”
The first Godzilla movie, remarkably enough, was never really seen by American audiences in its original version until its 50th anniversary in 2004. Instead, statesiders were familiar with the re-edited version with additional footage (starring a pre-PERRY MASON Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin) which was directed by Terry Morse and interspersed into the original motion picture. The uncut, Japanese-language GODZILLA is an extraordinarily dark, haunting, even elegiac film from the brilliant imagination of director Ishiro Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who conceived the idea while they flied over the Pacific from Indonesia to Japan and wondered what mysteries were hidden in the waves below.
There was a practical side to Tanaka’s evolving idea about making a giant monster movie: the original 1933 KING KONG had been re-released in Japanese theatres in 1952, and the Ray Harryhausen dinosaur-from-the-depths film THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS followed one year later, both to spectacular results from the local box office.
After rejecting the stop-motion animation pioneered by Willis O’Brien in the silent era films THE LOST WORLD and KING KONG and advanced by Ray Harryhausen in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, Tanaka decided that the monster would be portrayed by a man wearing an elaborate latex suit. The final selection of the original Godzilla’s design resembled a Tyrannosaurus rex with the dorsal spines of a Stegosaurus. The first suit weighed more than 100 pounds. For the Japanese Godzilla, over the entire 46-year history of the series, this original concept of the monster suit inhabited by a human being has never wavered — nor has the Japanese public wanted it to. It is what imbues Godzilla with so much individualism and personality. Each talented stuntman or acrobat who has inhabited the various and ever-improving Godzilla suits — from Haruo Nakajima (of the first film) to Tsutomu Kitagawa (of the most recent) — have lent some of their own unique style to the colossal beast.
There was an extremely sober aspect to the project as well. As the only country on the face of the Earth ever to suffer the devastation of atomic bombing, the Japanese people were also the only ones fully aware of its dreadful cost both to human life and the environment. Producer Tanaka, director Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and several screenwriters combined the elements of entertainment and education to create a dreamlike vision of a natural universe turned upside down.
Although the reason for the monster’s existence has often been somewhat nebulous, the prevailing wisdom is that Godzilla was awakened and mutated by nuclear testing — a projection of man’s inhumanity and foolishness — and rose from the depths to wreak a vengeful havoc on the foolish species seeking to harness nature itself. Godzilla was, to some degree, nothing less than a fanciful, terrifying manifestation of an entire nation’s fear and terror of a nuclear age which they experienced first hand.
The stark, forbidding style of the first GODZILLA was almost documentary-like (with the black-and-white photography assisting greatly in sustaining this verisimilitude), right down to grim scenes of the human suffering caused by the great beast and hospitals filling up with the maimed and badly burned. Complementing this dark mood was composer Akira Ifukube, who not only created what has now become a classic film score, but invented Godzilla’s powerful, distinctive roar (by reverberating the sound produced by rubbing a contrabass with a resin-coated leather glove) and footsteps, which sound like the beating of a thousand taiko drums (but was actually made by beating a kettle drum with a thick rope knotted at the end).
The subsequent Godzilla movies lightened the mood considerably, from its immediate sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (initially known in the U.S. as GIGANTIS THE FIRE MONSTER), released just six months after the original in April 1955, to the brightly-colored, increasingly youth-oriented entries that followed in the 1960s and ’70s. Beginning with THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (a.k.a. GODZILLA 1985) in 1984, the late ’80s and ’90s returned the beast to a more sophisticated vision under the direction of Koji Hashimoto, Kazuki Omori, Kensho Yamashita and GODZILLA 2000’s Takao Okawara.
When Tanaka, Honda and company shot the first movie in 1954, a great deal of thought was given to the name that would be used for the film and the creature. They chose ゴジラ (Gojira), a word created by combining the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira). “Godzilla” is the Anglicized appellation that was bestowed upon the film by Toho’s international department for foreign sales. The name is not only catchy, but apt in its own way.
The monster, in a sense, is indeed godlike within the framework of Shinto, Japan’s pantheistic native religion. It generously incorporates deities representing all forces of nature, whether benign or destructive. Indeed, throughout all 28 of his films, Godzilla is both benign and destructive, often at the same time (for example, in such films as GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER, Godzilla fights the eminently more evil flying dragon of the title to help save mankind but wipes out a few villages in the process).
Perhaps this is why Godzilla is such a perennial favorite in Japan. He’s not a “good guy” or a “bad guy” — he’s more like an earthquake, a volcano or a typhoon (all common phenomena on the turbulent islands of Japan). These violent eruptions of nature do not choose their victims. They just are. Thus, when the eagerly awaited original film opened in November 1954, it was a gigantic hit. Almost two years later, in the bowdlerized version titled GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS (17 minutes shorter than the original), American audiences reacted very much the same way — if perhaps with somewhat less personal understanding of the film’s dark side than the Japanese.
The challenge facing director Okawara, executive producer Tomiyama and their vast team of artists and technicians was to create a brand new Godzilla design which would be faithful to Honda and Tsuburaya’s original but at the same time would re-invent him for a new millennium.
“I wanted to make something new,” says Takao Okawara, “but Godzilla is a series with a long history. There are things you can change, but you have to keep to the traditions. Godzilla’s height has changed through the years. From his creation in 1954 until 1975, he was 164 feet tall. From 1984 until 1989 he grew to 262 feet, then even taller to 328 feet from 1991 through 1995. I felt that that distance between human beings and Godzilla was too much, so we reduced his height back to something closer to the original at approximately 170 feet.
“At the same time,” continues the director, “we upgraded the visual effects technology by using almost 500 CGI (computer generated imagery) shots.”
Executive producer Shogo Tomiyama was excited by the U.S. version of GODZILLA, but recognized the essential differences between Emmerich’s giant reptile and the Japanese original. “The American Godzilla was a target that humans had to beat, and, ultimately, they did. But the Japanese Godzilla is totally different — he is the star of the movie.
“In our Godzilla movies, dreams and nightmares co-exist,” muses Tomiyama — “the nightmare of being chased by Godzilla, and the dream of being Godzilla. What child, after having watched a Godzilla movie, hasn’t imagined himself as the monster — powerful and indestructible?”
“We all wondered what modern audiences want from Godzilla,” continues screenwriter Wataru Mimura. “Then we realized that they expect something worthy of that famous name—a creature scary, strong and very cool.”
“And charming,” adds Mimura’s writing partner Hiroshi Kashiwabara.
Strange as that description might seem, “charm” is crucial to the vast appeal of Godzilla. An expert perspective is offered by an American, an Academy Award-winning senior supervisor for an important visual effects company who traffics in all of the latest technologies. “I think that Japanese monster movies like Godzilla are charming in that there’s an agreement between the filmmaker and the audience to look past surface flaws, like the fact that the creature is obviously being played by a man in a rubber suit. In America, we spend a fortune erasing all seams that allow moviegoers the pleasure of knowing that what they’re watching is obviously special effects. Because of that, much time is spent making something technically perfect but often empty in terms of its soul.”
Offering the ground-level Japanese perspective are two women in their late 20s from the city of Kumamoto on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. Both have watched Godzilla movies from earliest childhood. “Godzilla is not a dinosaur,” states department store sales clerk Tomomi Akiyama. “He is a kaiju, and kaiju are not realistic, but fantasy, like unicorns or dragons.”
Continues Akiyama’s friend, Kaori Shimamoto, “Godzilla’s personality is sort of like the neighborhood oyaji (middle aged man), who’s friendly and grumpy at the same time. Godzilla kicks down Tokyo over and over again in the same way that an oyaji kicks down a chabudai (low table) if he’s in a bad mood.”
“It’s kind of like bunraku (traditional Japanese puppet theatre),” concludes Akiyama. “We see the puppeteers, but that only increases our enjoyment of it.”
Audiences have not only traditionally enjoyed the semi-human aspect of Godzilla himself, but also the staggeringly detailed miniatures of cities, neighborhoods, natural landscapes, vehicles—from trains to jet planes—and weaponry, especially missile launchers and firearms. Some of these so-called ‘miniatures,’ such as the recreation of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, were actually quite huge in scale, filling up entire Toho soundstages.
Special Effects and Visual Designs
Special effects director Kenji Suzuki was fully cognizant of the challenges facing him in creating a different Godzilla that nodded toward the past while looking into the future. “We definitely wanted to make Godzilla more frightening than we’ve seen him in recent years. We changed his design to make him appear more ferocious: a huge mouth with razor-sharp teeth, expanded neck like a king cobra, eyes that can burn holes through you, new, re-designed dorsal fins with edges that have pearl pink colors. In the past, the only time we’ve seen color on Godzilla’s dorsals is when he radiates his atomic breath. Now, when Godzilla emits laser-like fire, the whole dorsal grows and looks very powerful.”
“At first, I drew a lot of wild designs for the new Godzilla,” adds Shinji Nishikawa of Design Works, “but we finally came to the conclusion that Godzilla should remain Godzilla — recognizable to all, but with interesting differences.”
The increased use of CGI presented new logistical goals for visual effects producer Toshihiro Ogawa. “We utilized 12 separate companies for the computer generated effects,” he notes, “and we actually have one CGI shot of Godzilla from an aerial point of view. Also, when Godzilla’s tail destroys a house, we use computer technology.”
“Usually we use CGI to erase a lot of lines,” adds Ogawa, “but this time we also erased a lot of cars and ships from our aerial photography, because of the huge amount of vehicular traffic all over Japan.”
However, as is customary for Godzilla movies, the emphasis was put on live action rather than CGI, which gave production designer Takeshi Shimizu a great deal to work with. “Director Okawara wanted contemporary reality for the film, and that was the theme of the production design. In addition to our miniatures, we filmed in a real lighthouse for the film’s prologue, and when you see a fishing boat in Godzilla’s mouth, it’s also life-size. We built it from real wood rather than manmade materials, so when Godzilla bites into it, you can really feel his power.
“The izakaya (Japanese pub) that Godzilla destroys was also built full-scale, both exterior and inside, so when it was destroyed we obviously had to do it in one take. The submarine Shinkai 6500 was also full-scale — although we used a miniature for some of the exteriors and a set for its interior, which was too small to shoot in!”
In case you were wondering how the Godzilla-meisters create the monster’s giant footprint, “It requires a lot of engineering, with several bulldozers,” Shimizu explains. “What’s more, Mr. Okawara wanted to show the footprint washed away by waves so that people could see it was not computer generated, so we researched the tides. It took a full day to shoot this scene!”
Okawara was also determined that the miniature city and landscapes would be as fresh as the rest of the concepts. “For the ‘Heisei’ Godzilla series (the 1984-1995 entries in the series), we had a stock of miniatures to work with,” says special effects art director Isao Takahashi. “This time, we had to go back to the starting line.”
Takahashi notes that the design team was also challenged by the fact that Godzilla 2000 is filmed in the widescreen format. “We had more space to fill in,” says the art director, “and CGI does help in that regard.”
As for the Big Guy himself, the talented man in the suit is Tsutomu Kitagawa, a stuntman and gymnast with 20 years of previous experience (and a former member of cult star Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba’s company) who inhabits the mighty role for the first time — though he did portray King Ghidorah in REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3. “I was shocked when Takao Okawara first called me,” admits Kitagawa. “I got goose bumps and was somewhat intimidated, because there have been so many great Godzilla stuntmen, and I’m relatively small.
In the beginning, Kitagawa was overwhelmed by the suit, which was incredibly heavy and filled with inner mechanisms. “When I did the first costume test, I couldn’t breathe, and the dorsal fins were so heavy,” He recalls. “It was like carrying two people on my back! I was dead tired after walking just a few steps. When we started filming, they put an air tube in the suit from the area of my feet, which made breathing a little easier, but they had to take it away for the actual takes. Playing Godzilla is not for someone who’s claustrophobic!”
Kitagawa, however, emerged as a hero. After a period of adjustment, Godzilla seemed to enter his very bloodstream, to the point he was even rejecting the between-takes air tube. Kitagawa actually became Godzilla.
“At first I tried to imitate Satsuma-san (1990s Godzilla stuntman Kenpachiro Satsuma),” notes Kitagawa, “but I wanted to create my own style, so I broke with the previous images little by little.”
Aside from the other tasks at hand, Godzilla-suited Kitagawa had to destroy Shinjuku, the glittering Tokyo neighborhood laden with elaborate neon signs, as well as be underwater in a 10 foot deep pool for the ocean scenes (at one point Kiagawa’s regulator detached and he had to be hoisted from the deep before he completely lost his ability to breathe). “Our slogan was, ‘Our Godzilla is cool! We have to do it perfectly!’,” adds Kitagawa. “We didn’t use the ‘Godzilla for close-up’ model very much. I did most of the closeups. It was hard, but I really enjoyed it. Somehow, I feel like Godzilla chose me.”
The extraordinarily detailed latex suits were created by veteran artist and craftsman Shinichi Wakasa, who has years of experience on previous Godzilla movies and three recent Mothra entries. Wakasa created several versions for different purposes; full suits; one for the upper part of the body when Godzilla stands upright in the ocean; a dorsal fin for the sea, and another that emits light when he uses his radiactive breath; and certain body parts for closeups, including his eyes, feet and hands. “I was seeking a new image of godzilla for a long time, even after we started to shoot,” admits Wakasa. “I was searching for ways to make his movements as natural as possible.” Wakasa also created two suits for space monster Orga — one for the first stage and another for the second.
For some of the younger members of the design Works unit nourished on Godzilla movies their entire lives, working with sensei (master teachers) like Wakasa was deeply fulfilling. Recalls Hideo Okamoto of the design Works, “When I visited the set I took souvenir photos with the Godzilla that they used for closeups, and I photographed the clay model for the Godzilla like crazy at Mr Wakasa’s workshop!”
The production team of GODZILLA 2000 wanted Orga also to have a particular personality of his own. “He is an intelligent being after all,” says Shinji Nishikawa of Design Works, “which is why he has human-like reactions.”
Living The Dream And The Nightmare
If it was the dream of many Godzilla 2000 designers and artists to work on one of the behemoth’s films — it was no less a fantasy come true for many of the cast members.
“To become a Godzilla movie star for Toho was my childhood dream,” says Takehiro Murata, who was born six years after the first film was released. Perhaps even more enthusiastic was Shiro Sano, who is such a Godzilla buff that in a scene when his character (CCI scientist Miyasaka) is explaining the mysterious UFO, the actor says “excuse me” and fixes his tie in a fashion that exactly echoes a movement created by the late, great Takashi Shimura (star of Akira Kurosawa’s IKIRU and SEVEN SAMURAI, among other immortal Japanese films), who portrayed paleontologist Dr. Yamane in the very first GODZILLA.
Adding to the chorus of approval was Naomi Nishida, although she admits, “I wasn’t familiar with giant monster movies, but Shiro Sano suggested that I watch the first Godzilla movie. I was shocked… it wasn’t really for children, and our film is also as much for adults as for young audiences.”
There was a particular poignancy to Nishida’s participation in GODZILLA 2000, for the beautiful young actress was born in the city of Hiroshima, 27 years after it was annihilated by an atomic bomb.
Director Takao Okawara certainly knows that, essentially, the Godzilla movies are designed as wonderful, imaginative entertainments for young and old alike — but he also understands the serious roots of the entire series. “The true enemy is not Godzilla, but ourselves — human beings who ultimately suffer from what we created.”
Concludes Okawara, “Godzilla is kind of a walking nuclear reactor and a child of our nuclear age. He is carrying the burden of our karma.”