A few months ago I had the great honor of interviewing costume-design legend Keizo Murase in the actual studio at which many of the classic Toho monsters were created. We had an amazing two-hour conversation ranging over kaiju history and covering dozens of stories, and I am looking forward to getting the video translated and posted for fans in the West to enjoy. Chris Mirjanhangir set up the interview in conjunction with Daisuke Sato, who was also the mastermind behind Howl from Beyond the Fog, a Kickstarter-funded tokusatsu short film set in ancient Japan and featuring a cast of puppets—and a film which will soon premiere at G-Fest! After interviewing Mr. Murase, I got to talking with Mr. Sato (who we also interviewed here on TK in the past), and he casually mentioned that he was the one who assembled the Godzilla costume in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), which was designed by Shinichi Wakasa. I was flabbergasted and asked if it would be possible to interview Mr. Sato personally as well, and he graciously agreed. That interview took place on June 22, 2019.
For now, I just want to give the highlights of that interview, and also invite any G-Fest attendees to go check out Howl from Beyond the Fog. Daisuke Sato is a super nice guy (and he speaks English!), so I hope his film will get a lot of attention at this year’s G-Fest.
I met Mr. Sato at Burger Mania, one of the best hamburger restaurants in Tokyo (my recommendation) before moving to a nearby café so that I could audio-record more easily, given that Burger Mania was a bit noisy (unfortunately recording in the café may not have been much better, as my mic picked up way too much background noise). Nevertheless, we still had a nice time over tea and/or coffee chatting about Sato’s history of making monster costumes. Our conversation went this way and that way, but Sato was really patient with my multitude of questions.
Here I want to especially focus on Daisuke Sato’s experiences making Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), and Gamera the Brave (2006), though he also worked on the sets for The Great Yokai War (2005), and worked on the TV show Gransazers (for which he made gloves for the human costumes, as well as cannons and legs for some of the robots), plus Ultraman Mebius & Ultraman Brothers (2006) and other monster-related projects, as well as Samurai Commando: Mission 1549 (2005), for which he made some of the prop firearms.
Daisuke Sato got his start working on GMK while he was still a student at the now-defunct Tokyo Eizou Geijutsu Gakuin. His role on GMK was relatively small. He made a wall of life-size Godzilla scales which were used for a scene in which Godzilla emerges from the water and can briefly be glimpsed through the rush of liquid (Sato showed me the scene, but it was hard to catch his work). Sato was also the man behind the puppet in one shot in which Godzilla was under water. A puppet was utilized for that scene in particular shots, and Sato was the performer, turning Godzilla’s head threateningly!
The other Godzilla film that Sato worked on was Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), on which he had a much larger role. Comparing the two films, Sato recalled that when shooting for GMK, the crew did about ten shots each day, but for GFW they did 16 shots every day (split into two shooting crews). However, according to Sato, GFW was the less stressful as they got off at six each day, but on GMK they might go much longer into the evening, which was exhausting.
On Godzilla: Final Wars, Sato had an incredible opportunity: he was the man put in charge of assembling the suit designed by Shinichi Wakasa. This windfall did not just plop into his lap, though; Sato personally requested the duty from special make-up man Rikiya Soh, who granted his request. Sato was in charge of assembling three suits, which he did in three months. Those suits included the main suit, a heavier armored suit for scenes in which the monster was taking fire and explosions, and an action suit that was lighter and allowed the actor freer movement for active scenes.
Sato also has memories of eating at the studio café with some of the actors and staff, and recalls that the actors playing the Xiliens would eat in full costume. (Unfortunately, apparently they did not stay in character while at lunch. Still, the image of Xiliens eating lunch together at a café is priceless.)
Soon after GFW, Sato would then work on Gamera the Brave (2006), creating the front carapace of the main suit as well as a cheaper Zedus head created specifically to be destroyed in the climactic fight. The original Zedus head was quite expensive and detailed, and thus the second head was commissioned. Asked whether he felt any regret that his monster head had been destroyed, he said, no, since that was its purpose all along.
Outside of creating parts of the costumes for Gamera and Zedus, Sato was also in charge of costume maintenance, fixing any wear and tear that the costumes might take in the course of filming. However, at least one time damage to one of the suits came not from on-screen monster action, but from an unexpected source: Sato himself! One day, Sato was exhausted after a long day and was trying to load up the costume of the older Gamera that appears in the flashback at the beginning of the movie. Due to his fatigue, Sato accidentally let the costume fall and smash against the floor, damaging the monster. This was before they had shot any of the scenes featuring the beast! Luckily, Sato was skilled enough to fix the costume himself, albeit perhaps with a bit of egg on his face.
Sato also made performance suits of Ultraman for promotional events related to the 2005 film Ultraman in which he built up the musculature first and then added armor over the top. Sato disparaged these suits in our interview, though, claiming that due to his lack of talent they were heavier than they should have been. These would not be the only promotional suits Sato would make, however, as he would go on to create more hero suits for Gotochi Hero.
Sato’s most recent project is the ambitious Howl from Beyond the Fog, which was successfully Kickstarted some time ago in November 2017, and on which he worked beside monster effects legend Keizo Murase, who created so many of the classic Toho monster costumes of old. Howl from Beyond the Fog was partially inspired by Ray Bradbury’s The Fog Horn (upon which Sato also created a fan film years ago, which was later tragically lost due to a hard drive crash). However, unlike The Fog Horn, Howl from Beyond the Fog takes place in ancient Japan. The main characters are a young boy named Izana and a beautiful blind woman named Takiri, who shares a bond with the monster of the film, an equally blind (and in this case, aged) monster called Nebula. (The monster was originally named Amenosagiri, after the Japanese myth, but a child asking about the monster’s name at a convention in France inspired Sato to change the name to something simpler. Nebula has the classic kaiju name aesthetic, ending in “la”, but also sports a double-meaning, since the word “nebula” comes from a Latin term for “fog.)
Howl from Beyond the Fog is a story done completely in puppets so that Sato could have more control over the shoot and was influenced by a puppet TV dramatization of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms made in the early 1980s (when asked, Sato admitted he had never watched the more recent Thunderbolt Fantasy, and thus was not influenced by that series). According to Sato, almost all the shots are composite shots, and when asked what was most difficult in making the movie, he said “everything!” Still, despite all the hardships, it seemed obvious Sato was excited about the movie, and he said his favorite scene was when Nebula destroys the town.
When I asked Sato if he has a message for fans of tokusatsu, he spoke about how while mainstream movies have moved on to CGI, independent films can still do the more traditional suitmation effects, and he hopes that both kinds of films can be made in the future (if I understood him correctly—my recording is hard to hear, with too much background noise).
I was hoping there would be a chance to get my hands on the movie on DVD or Blu-Ray, but as of this time the DVD/Blu-Ray will only be available to Kickstarter backers. In the future there may be more opportunities to see the film, but for now fans will have to be content to watch the movie at conventions such as G-Fest and the Atami Kaiju Movie Festival in November, 2019.
If you are attending either festival, please consider giving the movie a view. The story is a celebration of classic tokusatsu with a unique aesthetic and a fantastic pedigree. I am so envious because I wish I could go to G-Fest and see the film myself!