In Search Of Monsters: WOLFMAN vs GODZILLA
Uncovering the Truth Behind a Legendary Independent Film
Author: Mark Jaramillo
Special Thanks to Shizuo Nakajima and Tetsu Shiota
My name is Mark Jaramillo. I have been a fan of Japanese giant monsters since I first saw Godzilla films on television as a child. I don’t remember exactly which film was my first, but I must have been about three or four years old. I grew up discovering not only new Godzilla movies, but other characters such as Gamera, Ultraman, and Giant Robot. I watched every science fiction film that would air on TV, even scanning the TV Guide for the upcoming week, circling the movies I wanted to see in pen. I never lost my love for these films as I grew older, and my interest was reignited with the making of new Godzilla films in 1984 and 1989. I wanted to find out more, buying up Japanese publications at comic book conventions and discovering the unseen world of Japanese television tokusatsu.
It all seems strange now, that there was a time when these films and television shows were almost mythical. The only glimpses seen of them were photos in Japanese language publications and the odd clips when news shows would do stories on Japanese pop culture. With the advent of the internet, information on previously obscure subjects started to become commonplace. I finally met others who shared a common interest in this much-maligned subgenre of science fiction and fantasy. I had also previously purchased practically any merchandise I saw related to this subject, as it was extremely scarce in the pre-internet days. Now, it was possible to browse and purchase goods straight from Japan. Being particular in what was available was a new experience.
In 1999, a friend invited me to join the old Yahoo groups devoted to Godzilla films and collectibles. Photographs and opinions of the movies and merchandise were exchanged daily, but none of it was new to me. However, one day someone posted a photograph of the Kinggoji suit having its tail pulled by a hairy, white unknown monster. My interest was immediately piqued. What the heck was I looking at?
I had seen behind-the-scenes photographs such as the 1955 Godzilla facing off against the Yeti from HALF HUMAN (獣人雪男, Juujin Yuki Otoko, 1955) and assumed this to be another such photo. I just could not identify the monstrous opponent. The suit was from KING KONG VS GODZILLA (キングコング対ゴジラ, Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira, 1962), so was the monster from some obscure Toho television production from the same era? A few people on the boards theorized that the monster was a “stand-in” suit for King Kong during off-camera choreography.
The mystery of the photo was exhilarating, as I had assumed that I was familiar with all existing tokusatsu films. Within a week, another member of the board posted two more photographs from a website called “Frankenstein Conquers The Web”. One was a mock-up of a movie poster of such an alleged film. The other was a portrait of the crew posing with the monster suits on the set. Interestingly, although the Godzilla suit appeared to be from 1962, one of the crew was wearing a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK baseball cap!
According to the website, the images were scanned from an unspecified publication (which I later identified as Godzilla Super Diorama Theater) with a half page article regarding the film. The film’s title was DENSETSU NO KYOJUU OOKAMI OTOKO TAI GOJIRA (伝説の巨獣狼男対ゴジラ), or LEGENDARY GIANT BEAST WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA. It was an 8mm film created by a fan of kaiju movies in the early 1980s. Not much else was explained in the website, but I wanted to find out more about this. Where to start?
I printed out numerous copies of the photographs and took them to G-Fests 1999 through 2003 as well as Los Angeles area comic book and science fiction conventions. I wanted not only to make others aware of this oddity, but perhaps find someone who had any information on it. I hounded fans and event guests from Japan and showed them the photographs, hoping they would have some bit of information about the film. They just politely looked on me with amusement.
A few years passed and I believed that I would never find anything on such an obscure movie. Not even Japanese magazines or books had any mention of such a film. I had heard of a new collectible store in the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles called Anime Jungle. It would be a few years before I started visiting there, becoming a regular and making special requests to Tetsu Shiota, the owner of the store. He found my requests for bizarre and obscure merchandise and DVDs amusing, and we became friends. One of my requests was not for merchandise, but something I had long been searching for. I gave Tetsu the printouts of the photos I had acquired years earlier, as well as two new images obtained in my years of searching the Internet.
Fast forward to three years later, when Tetsu called me with unexpected news. One of the names off of the poster image appeared on a Japanese website along with a short blurb about WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA. The name was Shizuo Nakajima, the film’s director. Tetsu informed me that he had e-mailed the link in the article asking about the film and seeking Mr. Nakajima. Within a week, Tetsu had a response. The e-mail came from Shizuo Nakajima.
Tetsu explained who he was and that he was writing on behalf of me, who had been searching since 1999 for information about the film. Nakajima seemed bewildered. He inquired, “Who is this person? He is American, and he knows about my film?” Suddenly, someone halfway across the world was asking about his film decades after it was made and was making a big deal about it! I had many questions, and with the invaluable aid of Tetsu and Anime Jungle employee Yoichi Kakuma, finally began to get answers. After 13 years, I had found what I was looking for.
We began a dialogue with Mr. Nakajima, and began to uncover many fascinating facts not only about this mysterious film, but about the director himself! Lists of questions were composed, translated, e-mailed, and received. Along with his answers, Mr. Nakajima generously sent photographs of the production of his film. I was ecstatic! Not only were these photos that I had never seen before, Mr. Nakajima explained that they had never been published anywhere, not even in Japan! To me, this was striking gold! I will never forget the excitement of seeing them for the first time!
The answers to the interview questions began to paint a detailed picture of this production, and there was so much more to the story than I could have possibly imagined. The few items of information I had previously gotten off the Internet and believed to be true ultimately turned out to be baseless rumors. The first rumor was that the film was only 10 minutes in length. In actuality, the film was conceived to be a feature length motion picture, complete with human drama and location shots. This was a far cry from my original perception of a scratchy, silent film of two suited actors wrestling around without direction.
The second dispelled rumor was that the film was unfinished. This was only half true. Principal photography wrapped in the mid 1980s. Over ten hours of raw footage exists. Post production such as editing, sound design, and visual effects have been in progress slowly over the past few decades. This was a meticulous labor of love years in the making.
Another surprise was learning that Director Nakajima worked for Toho as a production assistant during the 1970s. He worked on many of the kaiju films produced during that time as well as a few productions by Akira Kurosawa! In his tenure at Toho, Nakajima learned the finer points of film production, photography, and special visual effects. He was known among Toho staff as a big fan of Godzilla, and he was a favorite of the art design department, who gifted him with an actual puppet prop of Godzilla that was used in at least two Godzilla films.
During these early years at Toho, Nakajima and some friends had a crazy idea. Why not make some kaiju films of their own? Using materials purchased directly from Toho Studios themselves, they built full monster suits and sets of industrial factories and buildings for the monsters to destroy. Nakajima built an incredible duplicate of the Mosugoji, the version of Godzilla which appeared in MOTHRA VS GODZILLA (モスラ対ゴジラ, Mosura Tai Gojira, 1964). One of these short films was this Godzilla suit pitted against a daikaiju-sized Wolfman. Nakajima explained that in addition to the works of Eiji Tsuburaya, another early influence for him was the classic 1961 Hammer film CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. This resulting concept was put on 8mm film, along with other ideas such as WOLFMAN VS BARAGON.
These early films set the stage for a production on a much grander scale ten years down the line. In 1983, production started on a feature-length WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA film. According to Mr. Nakajima, the point of making this film was to recreate his favorite scenes originated by his idol and inspiration, Eiji Tsuburaya.
I was eager to share the information and photographs with other fans who could truly appreciate this. G-Fest, the annual Godzilla convention held in Chicago, was the obvious choice. I had not personally attended a G-Fest since 2003. I made last minute reservations and planned on returning with some interesting photos to share with fellow fans. I informed Nakajima of my intent to share his photos with the attendees of G-Fest (after explaining what G-Fest was) and he gave his permission. I also asked if he would write a short message to the fans about his film. Finally, I asked about the possibility of obtaining a short film clip or trailer of his film. I thought the request to be presumptuous and unlikely, and gave it no further thought.
Two nights before my departure to Chicago for the show, I received an e-mail from Mr. Nakajima. Along with his message to the convention, there were two attachments. One was a photograph of the prop puppet that he owns, and the other was video file. Could it be? As I clicked on it, Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla theme pounded from the computer speakers as Godzilla stomped across a mountain landscape and attacked a giant white wolfman with his atomic ray. I could not believe that I was finally witnessing actual footage of this elusive film.
Upon arriving at the hotel for G-Fest, I started making the rounds among the other attendees with my iPad in hand, sharing the pictures and footage with whoever would give me the time. A friend of mine even flagged down G-Fan magazine’s editor J.D. Lees and brought him to where I was in the lobby to see the footage for himself. I also shared the footage with convention organizers Jeff Horne and Brett Homenick, and they graciously cleared a space for me in their established schedule of events to give a presentation on the film.
Some technical compatibility issues forced me to seek out a 24 hour Kinko’s to rent computer time, e-mail the photo and video files to myself, and arrange them on a flash drive to plug into the presentation room’s projection system. I also hastily made up a flyer announcing the impromptu presentation as this would be the only advertising since I was not on the printed schedule. I accomplished this with the help of my brother, Matthew, who is always there for me and shares the same interests. We returned to the hotel at 7 a.m. and plastered the walls of the lobby with our flyers announcing the event at noon.
We managed to sleep for about three hours and then made our way to the video room, where the presentation was to be held. With barely five hours notice, I honestly expected maybe 30 people to show up. Imagine my surprise when I could hardly make my way through the door. The room was overflowing! Every seat was taken and attendees were sitting on the floors of the aisles, against the walls, and in front of the stage.
I recounted this entire story to the audience and briefly talked about other fan films I am researching, then ran the video clips of WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA. The audience was very enthusiastic and eager to see more. I had my brother film the entire presentation to show Mr. Nakajima that his work would not go unappreciated by these fellow fans.
The G-Fest presentation was only the beginning. More interviews were conducted with Mr. Nakajima with the help of Tetsu and Yoichi. I eventually gave Mr. Nakajima a formal invitation to attend G-Fest 2013 as my guest. To my delight, he accepted the request. As I write this, I am finalizing the details of Mr. Nakajima’s first visit to the United States to share his work as an independent filmmaker with an audience who can fully appreciate his work and his passion.
I have been tirelessly promoting the film to fans through many outlets. In February, I was honored to be asked to compose an article about the filming of WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA in the pages of Famous Monsters magazine, due out in August. I am proud to write for a magazine that helped define my childhood and finally have something to offer the fandom. I have worked hard in the past year to learn more about this particular film, and have learned so much more about the man responsible for it. I am happy to uncover the truth about this film after years of searching. Moreover, this is not the only independent kaiju film I am tracking. There are many more chapters to come.
Shizuo Nakajima will be a guest at G-Fest XX, held at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel on July 12-14, 2013. He will discuss independent filmmaking and screen clips from his fan film, WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA.