On June 24, 2018, I went to have a chat with Daiji Kazumine (real name: Kuniharu Terada), a manga artist who has been criminally overlooked by the kaiju fandom of the west. Who is Daiji Kazumine, you ask?

What if I told you that Kazumine is one of the most prolific manga artists who have adapted tokusatsu programs into manga form? That indeed he was one of the original manga artists to adapt the first Ultraman television program into a manga, creating original stories with existing UltraKaiju and also original monsters. The original monsters he created include Yamaton (a battleship monster), Cyborg Dinosaur (the name says it all), Gorudaa (a winged monster worshipped as a god), Uetton (a sort of cross between a balloon, a dinosaur, and an octopus), and Shinkaijin, or “deep-sea-man”—and many of these UltraKaiju were popular enough that later were made into action figures! Furthermore, Kazumine-sensei did manga adaptations of Ultra Seven and Ultraman Leo and Spectreman, as well as Super Giant (AKA Starman in the States), MirrormanFiremanNational KidRainbow MaskGolden Bat, Denjin ZaborgerKaiketsu Raionmaru, and more. I even did a review of one of Kazumine-sensei’s manga a while back—the manga adaptation of Godzilla vs. Hedorah! And if your interest still hasn’t been piqued, Kazumine-sensei didn’t only adapt Godzilla and Ultraman—he also did manga adaptations of the old King Kong cartoon (which unfortunately have not been officially collected into tankoban form), and a second Godzilla manga (this time a story from his own imagination) in The Godzilla Comic collection from the early 1990s. That isn’t even counting his own original manga characters and creations, which run the gamut from more heroes such as the flying-motorcycle-riding Denjin Arrow (which had an anime pilot produced way back in the 60s) and Senkou Mack to baseball manga, samurai parodies, and insane pro wrestling stories (which were his personal favorite). This man is a massive legend in the world of tokusatsu manga and manga more broadly, and I was extremely honored to meet and talk with him on that quiet afternoon in June.

Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine with original art of Godzilla, Ultraman, and Spectreman.

After some confusion trying to find Kazumine’s assistant at the train station (I had to run around quite a bit to find him—his name is Mr. Atsushi), we went to Kazumine’s actual house! As we were approaching, I told Mr. Sasaki I had been anxious about what to wear to the interview (since I had never interviewed a Japanese person in Japanese like this with no translator). Mr. Atsushi laughed, and then we were inside the house, being ushered to Kazumine’s work room, with Kazumine’s actual art table and bookshelves full of his manga. Mrs. Kazumine served us drinks, and Kazumine came in to talk with us shortly after.

One of the first things he said when he came in the room was that he was going to wear a kimono for the interview, but that he had some trouble with the belt, and just decided to wear something else. So I guess I wasn’t the only one uncertain about what to wear that day!

And really, once Kazumine came in with his massive smile, a lot of my nervousness was washed away. Mr. Atsushi had warned me that manga artists usually treat Kazumine with respect and use polite language, and since my “keigo” (or honorific Japanese) is not so great, I was concerned. However, Kazumine’s friendliness and candor really put me at ease, and we proceeded to have a long, fascinating conversation for the next several hours.

Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine and I, talking at length about his lengthy manga career!

We started by talking about why Kazumine became a manga artist. Kazumine said that he had enjoyed manga as a child and started drawing manga on the sidewalk, his own original stories. Then one day when he was looking out of his window from the second floor he saw that some people had ridden their bikes over the drawings which he had worked so hard on, and the tracks of the wet tires had made a big “X” across his art! Kazumine thought, seeing this sign, that “Ah, maybe I really can’t make manga…”

However, he ultimately ignored the apparent omen and continued drawing manga and art. For example, in elementary school he drew flip art in the margins of his textbooks because he didn’t have much paper. At the age of 18, when he told his father he wanted to become a manga artist, his father threatened to disown him. Kazumine’s siblings helped him out in significant ways after things went sour with his father, and he continued drawing manga. His older brother gave him food, his second oldest brother lent him a room, and his older sister gave him paper from her business of making fake paper flowers for shop fronts. Paper was expensive, so these donations were a huge help for the young Kazumine. His eventual master, the manga artist that he worked under, was a man named Tokihiko Oka, introduced to Kazumine through a customer of his sister’s.

Daiji Kazumine InterviewHere is the master of tokusatsu manga himself, Daiji Kazumine, mid-interview.

I was not familiar with Tokihiko Oka, and I was shown some of Oka’s old works, which looked (in my eyes anyway) really cool, with densely detailed drawings and a definite adventure/sci-fi/fantasy vibe. It was through Mr. Oka’s good graces that Mr. Kazumine would land his first big manga job, penning Nazo no Karakuri Yashiki, a sort of fantasy/samurai story the name of which roughly translates as “Mansion of Mysterious Devices.” The manga was first published in July 1956 in a special summer book from Shonen magazine.

For Karakuri Yashiki, Kazumine said he had to fix his manga over and over again over a course of several months. It took over half a year from the point at which he had submitted the manga, with numerous revisions, before the publisher gave him the final okay. At that time he drew by himself, and he had trouble keeping up with deadlines at first because the drawings were so time-consuming! (Mansion of Mysterious Devices was republished recently with the Kazumine’s serial manga Tenryuu Nijitarou, another fantasy-style samurai manga wherein the protagonist lives in a hollowed out tree! Mr. Kazumine has also done several other samurai manga, including the humorous Kazumine original Dongara Ganbou, and Hakuba Douji, based on the television series of the same name.)

It was also through Mr. Oka that Kazumine would meet perhaps his most famous assistant, Jirou Kuwata, the co-creator of 8-Man. Kuwata was famous for doing the Japanese Batman manga, and he drew some of the Ultra Seven manga series. When asked about Kuwata, Kazumine called him his “ani-deshi,” which means something like “older brother assistant” because Kuwata was actually older and more experienced in the manga field when he worked as Kazumine’s assistant. What’s more, Kazumine quickly said that Kuwata’s art was really excellent and superior to Kazumine’s own!

Kazumine is perhaps most famous for his work on the original Ultraman series’ manga adaptation, and so of course I asked him some questions about that. First, I was curious about how he adapted manga from tokusatsu programs and films. Did he read the scripts and develop from there, or actually watch the shows first, or something else? He said that usually he read the scripts first and then did the manga based on the text of the scripts. But in the case of Ultraman, the show was broadcast first, so many of the readers would know the stories already when they picked up the manga volumes. Kazumine didn’t like that, so he made new stories. (Atsushi said that for kids like him, it was great because they were always wondering what was going to happen in the new stories.)

Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine at his art desk, drawing the hero of Dongara Ganbou for me!

I asked Kazumine if Tsuburaya Productions gave him any rules for the original manga that he made, and Kazumine said that they gave him two rules: One, don’t change the depiction of Ultraman, and two, don’t change the depiction of the monsters. However, according to Kazumine, he did not follow these rules!

For example, Kazumine said that he changed Ultraman in some fairly big ways. The original Ultraman design gave Ultraman longer “pants,” but Kazumine’s Ultraman had shorter “pants”. Kazumine said he wanted Ultraman’s legs to look long, like a foreigner’s legs. “Foreigner’s legs are long,” he said. “Foreigners are tall, and many Japanese look up to them—for real!” And so in order to show off Ultraman’s long legs, Kazumine made the pants shorter.

Kazumine was also worried about the fact that Ultraman “had no face”—no facial expressions. “Ultraman couldn’t cry or yell or get happy,” Kazumine said. “He just had those yellow eyes.” So Kazumine gave Ultraman a mouth that moved so he could express emotion, and he also made Ultraman bleed! He said he was very thankful that Mr. Tsuburaya forgave him these transgressions, because it was a big help to him.

I asked Kazumine if he preferred making stories based off of other writers’ stories, or his own. Kazumine replied that “It’s more fun to make my own stories and think about them. I can think about them freely, you know? Thinking about it now, that Gorudaa guy, the flapping guy, he was a monster that wasn’t made by Tsuburaya Pro, but I made him. He has wings, right, and he could flap his wings and create a big wind. It was a wind made by a kaiju so it was a strong wind. The wind was strong enough to make his opponent lose his balance.”

It seemed like Kazumine really loved dreaming up original ideas for monsters and story concepts. He also told me about the creation of Yamaton, the battleship monster. With Yamaton, the design was fairly complicated, since the beast was both monster and ship, and the battleship was covered with many cannons and details which made the monster time-consuming to draw. When Kazumine’s assistants complained at the time, Kazumine simplified the design to make it easier to draw.

Daiji Kazumine InterviewDaiji Kazumine with original King Kong art.

Moving on to the manga adaptation of Godzilla vs. Hedorah, one of the things I was most interested in was about the changes to the story. The manga version includes many deviations from the movie version, and I was curious as to whether these deviations were included in the original script, or if they were “Kazumine originals.” When I asked Kazumine about the scene at the beginning with the melting man being escorted by a policeman, as well as the sequence in which the flesh of Godzilla’s hands are burned away by Hedorah’s sludge, Kazumine said with some excitement that he thought he had made those changes—he said he likes scenes where people melt and break apart, and said he especially appreciated scenes like that in the Terminator franchise.

When it came to the scene in which the flesh is melted from Godzilla’s hands, Mr. Kazumine said that he thought that the acid-like aspect in Hedorah’s body melts flesh and so he included that scene, even though it was creepy. (At this point Mr. Sasaki chimed in to say that the manga seemed more real for having those scenes and was also more interesting than the movies, and I had to agree at least in the case of Hedorah. Kazumine said that it’s because it’s easier to achieve scenes like the ghastly ones we had been discussing when drawing pictures as opposed to making movies.

When I asked him about the more overt ESP abilities of Ken featured in the manga version of Hedorah, Kazumine couldn’t remember clearly whether he had come up with those ideas or not.

I was also curious as to how Kazumine went about creating the shortened version of Godzilla vs. Hedorah given that the manga version was far shorter than the original story. Kazumine gave the following answer:

“The page count is decided, and you go through and you cut out everything except the interesting parts. You use that way when creating the manga. I look at the story, choose the parts that are most interesting or which I can imagine and which scenes I want to use, and that’s how we do it.”

The other Godzilla manga that Kazumine created was an original story loosely translated “Godzilla again Battles to Defend the Earth” by “that Daiji Kazumine of Ultraman and space monkeyman Gori”. In this story, Godzilla fights against King Ghidorah and Gigan in the Antarctic. The 32-page comic, featured in the infamous compilation The Godzilla Comic originally published in 1990, was printed towards the back of the book. And apparently Kazumine started to work on a manga project alone, and other manga artists asked to join in.

“Other manga artists asked to draw. Other manga artists wanted to draw, they were gathered together, then they were assigned their parts.”

Daiji Kazumine InterviewFrom left to right: Mitsuru Miura (Kabocha Wine mangaka), Daiji Kazumine, the author, and Sasaki Atsushi (Kazumine’s assistant).

The job of putting together The Godzilla Comic was apparently very difficult. It was difficult, according to Kazumine, because some stories didn’t have enough pages, while others did. Also, “it was kind of like the manga artists had a Godzilla competition to see who could make the most interesting Godzilla manga.” The results speak for themselves, as The Godzilla Comic and its sequel are some of the most gonzo Godzilla manga in existence!

Turning back to the original Godzilla manga that Kazumine created specifically, I asked Kazumine why he chose King Ghidorah and Gigan. He responded by saying that he “liked the shape of King Ghidorah” and that “this monster was the coolest monster made by Tsuburaya Productions.”

As to why Kazumine chose Antarctica as the setting, he said that “the mysteriousness of Antarctica feels similar to the mysterious worlds I made in my head, so I often use it as a setting in my manga.”

Interestingly, in the course of our discussions, I also found out that Kazumine met Stan Lee back when they were both popular comic creators in the 1960s in in Beijing, China. When they met each other, Kazumine had been drawing nothing but Ultraman manga for some time, and so he was wearing an Ultraman necktie. If I understood Kazumine correctly, Stan Lee was wearing a Spider-Man tie! So the two of them took a picture together on the spot, and while they could not understand each other and they did not have a lot of time together, they both smiled really big.

Perhaps most exciting of all for me was that Kazumine offered to sign one of the reprint volumes I had of his old manga. I chose Dongara Ganbou, a samurai humor comic with a silly but powerful hero and (of all things) a stretching horse. Instead of just writing his name, Kazumine drew a picture of the main character inside the front cover! I was very moved and recorded some of his work at the drawing board putting together the image and even adding color!

Kazumine had a very long career making manga, so I asked him how the manga industry has changed. He said that when he was a kid, most manga was meant for elementary school kids. But as he got older, “gekiga” and manga for older audiences began to become popular, such as Golgo 13. Because Kazumine strictly made comics only for kids, his job prospects started to dry up and he didn’t have much work to do anymore after the age of 40. He said that he makes comics similar to Superman, and wouldn’t have been able to do the more “mature” and complicated lots starting to come out.

Nevertheless, one of the most impressive stories Kazumine told me was about how he was continuing his work doing manga even at the age of 82. At his birthday party last year (2017), his assistants put together a surprise party. At the surprise party, several of his assistants and friends were telling him, “Do your best! Do your best!” And he wondered what he should be doing his best at. He decided that his friends meant for him to do his best drawing comic books, and so he decided to do a continuation of his original manga, Denjin Arrow. The previous run of the comic left on a kind of cliffhanger, and so Kazumine decided to continue the story over fifty real years later! (Luckily the Kazumines were kind enough to give me a copy of the new manga.)

For me personally, meeting Daiji Kazumine was a great job and honor and I am so glad he took time out of his busy schedule to meet and chat about his comics career. We talked about many other topics, too, such as some of his original creations and where he got some of his ideas, but I wanted to mostly focus this article on the topics most pertinent to Toho Kingdom’s audience. Hopefully if I get a chance I can more properly have the interview transcribed in full at a later date. Thank you so much for reading!

Special thanks to Mr. Atsushi and Chris Mirjahangir for helping put this interview together, and for my Japanese tutor Ayako for helping with the translation. All mistakes in the translation and otherwise are of course my responsibility.

Daiji Kazumine Interview

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