An interview conducted by Toho Kingdom staff with Japanese artist Shinji Nishikawa, known for his work on the Godzilla series from the late ’80s into the early 2000s. The interview took place through e-mail beginning January 11th, 2018 and concluded later that year in November. A majority of the questions are one-offs, with the theme of the interview initially being about “lost projects,” though some of Nishikawa’s other works outside of Toho are briefly discussed as well. Translations by Noah Oskow and Joshua Sudomerski, and special thanks to Matt Frank for helping get this interview together!
Toho Kingdom: When did you first become interested in drawing professionally?
Shinji Nishikawa: I enrolled in university and joined a manga research group. In this circle there were many special effects fans, and a year prior to the release of The Return of Godzilla (1984), screenings of Toho special effects movies were being rerun in various parts of Japan as part of the “Godzilla Revival Festival”. Being in such an environment, I also became interested in Japanese special effects again. In my third year of university, I had gotten into manga and movies so much that graduating became difficult, so my father told me that I could “make a book as a condition to allow me to drop out of college.” So I made the doujinshi called “Godzilla Legend”. This book gained a reputation and soon offers from publishers arrived, and this opened the way for me to become a professional cartoonist.
TK: How did you become affiliated with Toho?
Nishikawa: Toho was planning a film adaptation of a novel called Toi Umi kara Kita Coo, and director Koichi Kawakita who had received the consultation was looking for a person who could draw “a cute child dinosaur”. Mr. Kazuo Sakutani, who had a close friendship with director Kawakita, introduced “Godzilla Legend” to him and mentioned me. In February 1989, I brought a picture of dinosaurs and “Godzilla Legend” to the shooting of Gunhed (1989), and this was the first time I met director Kawakita. Although the film adaptation of Toi Umi kara Kita Coo was cancelled, a few months later, there was a call from director Kawakita and I was asked to design Biollante.
TK: What Toho project did you enjoy working on the most?
Nishikawa: That’s a difficult question. The most exciting to work on was Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), as I participated on the development of a Godzilla movie for the first time, but because I was brought in during the middle of development, it wasn’t as satisfying. For Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), as I was able to draw many designs from the start, this one had the most sense of fulfillment. In terms of what I “enjoyed” the most, I rather liked working on the “Millennium Series,” where we increased our new staff, and where I started receiving production planning consolation with the directors.
TK: Which monster design of yours would you say is your favorite?
Nishikawa: I think that Biollante is good in the sense that I could present a new form that I had never seen before. However, as I was able to help the senior designer and modeling, I’d say “Kiryu” is my favorite character as I had the most control over the design overall.
TK: What are some of your favorite monsters in general?
Nishikawa: There are too many that I cannot narrow it down, but… basically I like the standard “dinosaur type” monsters such as Godzilla, Anguirus, or Varan, but monsters that deviate from traditional living things such as Hedorah or Gigan are also cool.
TK: What was it like seeing Biollante being brought to life in a movie?
Nishikawa: When I first saw the models for Biollante at the studio, I was deeply impressed by the size and realism of the molding. Compared to the impact of the real thing, I felt that the short ten minutes or so it appeared on-screen was not enough to really demonstrate its appeal. Still, some of those cuts had a real impact, and were really wonderful.
TK: In your Godzilla art book [Shinji Nishikawa: Drawing Book of Godzilla], you mention how Bagan was originally going to transform into three different forms. Do you remember any other story details of this early outline?
Nishikawa: I drew the three forms which were initially described in the plot, after which director Kawakita told me that I should “freely draw as many drafts images” as I liked, and I went about drawing quite a few different designs. The thing that most influenced me was being asked to use the head of the dinosaur Styracosaurus as a motif in my drawings.
TK: In an interview, [director] Kazuki Omori said how Mothra vs. Bagan would have been the start of a new series of monster movies. Did you hear of any details about where the series would have headed, or what monsters could have appeared?
Nishikawa: I don’t believe there were any concrete plans for a series after that. However, because the story of Mothra vs. Bagan began in Singapore, movies from that period onward might have taken place in other countries as well.
※ The story for Mothra vs. Bagan included scenarios in Japan, Singapore, Nepal, Malaysia, India, and Thailand.
TK: Did you submit a story outline for Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)?
Nishikawa: No. But after receiving the synopsis, I made some suggestions and pointed out problems.
TK: In your Toho art book [Shinji Nishikawa: Drawing Book of Godzilla], you have a sketch of Meganulon from 1991. What movie was it considered for, and what role would it have played?
Nishikawa: I hadn’t made it based on any concrete assumptions regarding any movies. With King Ghidorah having been resurrected, we thought we were going to have a policy of bringing back monsters of the past rather than creating new ones. Rather than simply putting these monsters into the films exactly as they had been portrayed originally, I drew Meganulon with the intention of having him be a monster we knew from the past but whose appearance was like something we had never seen before, hoping to thus combine the appeal of newness with that of nostalgia.
※ The concept artwork for the 1991 Meganulon bears a heavy resemblance to the Meganula from Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), a movie Nishikawa also contributed concept art to.
TK: Did you submit a story outline for Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)?
Nishikawa: While this isn’t the storyline itself per se, I did put forward some ideas, like how Godzilla and Mothra fighting only by themselves would be limiting, and how the mechanics on the human side would fight.
※ When asked, Nishikawa stated that he did not submit story outlines for Mothra vs. Bagan or Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994).
TK: How did you enjoy working on Ultra Special Tactics Squad Go!?
Nishikawa: I found it interesting in that the design orientation in regards to the Ultra Monsters was so different from that of the Toho monsters. As it’s a story that involves Ultra Q and Ultraman, I attempted to create designs that would not feel out of place amongst those of the kaiju designed by Toru Narita.
※ Fantasy Tokusatsu Series: Ultra Special Tactics Squad Go! (Japanese title: 空想特撮シリーズウルトラ作戦 科特隊出撃せよ!) is a 1992 video game released for the PC-9800 series in Japan, with Toru Narita being a notable Ultra series monster designer.
TK: Which monsters did you design for Ultra Special Tactics Squad Go!?
Nishikawa: I designed all the monsters, though the combining monster Mido & Ronga was designed by a modeler.
TK: Is Reborn Birugamera based off of one of your designs for Bagan?
Nishikawa: The way his neck protrudes and the shape of his shell are some of the aspects of his design that I drew based on those I had made from when I worked on Bagan.
※ “Reborn Birugamera” (再生ビルガメラー – Saisei Birugamera) is a boss monster from the game. In his 2019 art book Shinji Nishikawa Design Works, Nishikawa would reiterate how the Ultra monster was based off of a concept he made for Bagan, its silhouette being like that of a beetle.
TK: In your draft for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), was your version of Mechagodzilla a combining machine?
Nishikawa: Before we decided upon “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla,” I had put forth a project called Mecha-King Ghidorah’s Counterattack. This was based on an idea about how Mecha-King Ghidorah, raised from the seafloor, could be brought back to life as a combining machine. Besides my first drawings of Mechagodzilla, they were all drawn and designed as combining mechas.
TK: Was Rodan included in your story outline for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993)?
Nishikawa: Rodan did not appear.
TK: In an interview, Koichi Kawakita mentioned the name of an outline called Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla: Metallic Battle. Was this your outline?
Nishikawa: I think different.
※ Koichi Kawakita’s interview can be found in the Japanese book, Heisei Godzilla Perfection. In it, Kawakita refers to Toho monster/mecha designer Kunio Aoi as the writer for this draft. Aoi has denied this claim, however.
TK: What were some of your inspirations when designing Kumasogami from Yamato Takeru (1994)?
Nishikawa: I wasn’t specifically referencing anything in particular with that design. Toho tokusatsu don’t tend to have many humanoid monsters, so I thought that creating him with the simple image of a titan made of lava would help to create some differentiation between it and the Godzilla series.
TK: In your art book [Shinji Nishikawa: Drawing Book of Godzilla], you have a salamander monster and a jellyfish monster in the section for Yamato Takeru (1994). Were these early designs for Kaishin Muba?
Nishikawa: In the story within the draft script, the salamander was to appear in the first half of the story, meaning he was a monster who was scheduled to appear earlier than Kumosagami.
TK: Did you hear any story details about Yamato Takeru II?
Nishikawa: I don’t know about the second film, but I heard for “3” they wanted to introduce Godzilla into the trilogy.
TK: In the book Godzilla vs. Destoroyah Completion, it talks about your story outline called Godzilla vs. Baraguirus. Did you make any sketches for Baragon or Baraguirus?
Nishikawa: I don’t think I drew any.
※ Also in the same book is one of Nishikawa’s sketches for a Heisei version of Anguirus. This version of the monster was originally suggested by Nishikawa to appear in a story draft for Godzilla vs. Godzilla, with Ghost Godzilla possessing Anguirus as opposed to Little Godzilla and taking on a new monstrous form.
TK: Do you mind sharing more details about “Baraguirus”, such as what caused Anguirus and Baragon fuse, or how the story ended?
Nishikawa: Since we talked about how we wanted to use a quadruped monster that hadn’t yet appeared in the Heisei Series, we also thought about how we wanted to have Moguera fight underground, and I came up with Baraguirus as a subterranean monster to fulfill that role. Although he possesses both of the special characteristics of Anguirus and Baragon, it’s not as though he was born from an amalgamation of the two of them.
TK: Did you make any sketches for the new monster created by Ghost Godzilla and Anguirus fusing? And did it have a name?
TK: How was your experience working on the Heisei Mothra series?
Nishikawa: Because I was working the TV anime series YAT Anshin! Uchuu Ryokou on the NHK network at the time, I wasn’t as involved as I had been with Godzilla. Because Mothra was a monster whose design hadn’t seen many changes up until that point, it was quite fun thinking up variations on her design. Also, since Dagahra was the sort of oceanic kaiju who hadn’t appeared in the Heisei Godzilla Series, I had a lot of fun drawing out its designs as well.
TK: What were some of your inspirations when designing Grand Ghidorah from Rebirth of Mothra III (1998)?
Nishikawa: Since he’s said to be a Ghidorah who has been living since the age of the dinosaurs, I had this image of him being quite aged. Our nickname for Grand Ghidorah was “Grand(father) Ghidorah.” I designed him with transforming wings that were well suited for flight, and rather than having him be monochromatic, I added black specks to his scales, but unfortunately these weren’t carried through in his molding.
TK: How did you become involved in the development of the PC game, Godzilla Movie Studio Tour?
Nishikawa: It was fun for me to draw in that cute super-deformed style. I was also quite happy when they included the partially animated pieces for the map screen that I had gone ahead and made by myself.
※ The animated “map screen” is a bonus program included with Godzilla Movie Studio Tour, with objects that can be interacted with via clicking. This includes Mothra Larva wiggling her tail, SpaceGodzilla summoning numerous crystals from the ground, a heat maser tank blasting Mothra Larva, King Ghidorah’s heads and tails moving while cackling, Mothra’s egg bobbing in the water, an MBT-92 firing at Godzilla’s face, and Godzilla momentarily glowing like Burning Godzilla.
TK: In the game, there is a monster called Dogolas. Was that a monster created for the game, or was it meant to appear in a movie?
Nishikawa: I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was a monster made for the game.
TK: Did you submit any story outlines for the “Millennium Series” like you did for the “VS Series”?
Nishikawa: For the “Millennium Series”, I wrote drafts for Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), but I don’t remember whether or not I submitted them.
TK: In your art book [Shinji Nishikawa: Drawing Book of Godzilla], you had a [Godzilla] skeleton on the moon from an early outline for Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000). How did the skeleton end up on the moon?
Nishikawa: I had drawn that based on a request from our producer, Shogo Tomiyama. He said it had come about as an idea from scriptwriter Wataru Mimura back during Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), but it seems Mimura hadn’t thought up any further plot for it beyond just that one image.
TK: You created many designs for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). What was your experience working on that movie?
Nishikawa: Because we had designers with strong, individualistic personalities like Yasushi Nirasawa, Katsuya Terada, and others taking part, I ended up not being able to change much of the original monsters I was in charge of. Thinking back on it all now, there are some monsters for whom I think “maybe it would have been good to change them just a bit more?”
※ Nishikawa was responsible for creating concept art of Anguirus, Rodan, King Caesar, Hedorah, Manda, Minilla, Kumonga, Kamacuras, and Ebirah. Katsuya Terada, a character designer who worked on The Legend of Zelda for the NES among other games, made concepts for Monster X and Keizer Ghidorah. Lastly, Yasushi Nirasawa is a fellow veteran artist of the Godzilla series who made concepts for Gigan, the Xiliens, and the Xilien Mothership.
TK: How do you feel about the translation from your work to the suits used in the films? Do you have a favorite?
Nishikawa: My favorites are the Kiryu version of Mechagodzilla as well as Armor Mothra, who were both molded quite faithfully to the designs. For Biollante, there are some parts that are different from my design diagrams, but I still think it turned out well. Megaguirus is quite different though, isn’t it?
TK: When it came to redesigning older monsters, did you have to follow strict guidelines?
Nishikawa: There were no strict guidelines. However, I was careful not to change the way they looked too much.
Nishikawa: All the characters in these shows were brand-new, so I was able to work with a good deal of freedom. They were fun, with so many different types of characters showing up.
TK: Out of all the movies you worked on, which monster was the most difficult to design?
Nishikawa: There aren’t any monsters that I would call especially difficult, but Mecha-King Ghidorah took some effort.
TK: What are some of your favorite designs that went unused from any of the projects you worked on?
Nishikawa: There were a few I quite liked from Bagan’s designs. I also drew most of Orga’s designs, so there were some of those I felt favorable towards.
TK: How did you enjoy working with Bandai on “Chogokin Tamashii MIX Mechagodzilla“?
Nishikawa: I had fun on that project since my contact person from Bandai had a lot of love for Mechagodzilla.
※ The aforementioned figure was based on Noriyoshi Ohrai’s poster for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), with the design in question originating from concept artwork by Nishikawa.
TK: [By the way, we] wanted to let you know that we spoke to the designer of the new Mechagodzilla that appeared in Ready Player One (2018). The name of the designer is Jared Krichevsky, and he was sent the work of Noriyoshi Ohrai to use as a base for his Mechagodzilla design. When Jared was given the 1993 “Heisei VS Series” poster, he was told to “make Mechagodzilla like this.” We thought you might like to know!
Nishikawa: Thank you for the interesting information about Mechagodzilla’s design. In an interview I had that was put in the Japanese brochure for Ready Player One (2018), I wrote that “I think that Mechagodzilla is based on the Ohrai poster,” but I’m glad to hear confirmation of this.
TK: Which of the doujinshi that you made is your favorite?
Nishikawa: The first “Godzilla Legend” is my favorite.
TK: How can fans buy some of your doujinshi, such as your Godzilla side stories and “Lady Franken”?
Nishikawa: Nowadays they’re all out of stock, so buying them might prove difficult. I’ve been mulling over a new issue for “Lady Franken,” so I’d like to put that one out there again with the new issue attached.
TK: Some of your Godzilla manga were released in “Godzilla Crazy Age”. However, there are other stories you have made that were published in TV Magazine and “Whole Godzilla Movie”, as well as “Godzilla Legend” and “Making of Godzilla Legend”. Are there any other Godzilla manga you have released in the past? If so, what are they called?
Nishikawa: From Rippu Shobo Publishing Co.’s “Godzilla vs. Biollante Encyclopedia” to “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah Encyclopedia,” I drew a Godzilla movie digest manga, a work called “Road to Canossa” in a volume from an anthology called “Godzilla Comic Counterattack” from Takarajimasha, a making-of manga about Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) as well as a manga called “Vindication of Kano” in NTT Media Scope’s “Roar of Godzilla,” and a manga named “Kiriko Kokiroko” in Keibunsha’s “Godzilla Magazine Vol.8.” This summer I put out a doujinshi called “New Generation Godzilla Legend.”
TK: Regarding your manga “Monster King Godzilla,” how many chapters did you release?
Nishikawa: I drew these three times for a monthly publication. They haven’t been compiled into a single release.
TK: What are your thoughts on Shin Godzilla (2016)?
Nishikawa: Compared to the Godzilla movies from back when I was involved in the series, it gives off this feeling of having been made within the context of a sort of unrestrained freedom. While I do think that there are parts of it that would be difficult to grasp for those without an understanding of the specific make-up of Japanese politics, as we have Legendary’s Godzilla (2014) which was made to appeal to the whole world, I’m glad that something like Shin Godzilla (2016) can exist alongside it.
TK: What are your thoughts on the “AniGoji” series? (Planet of the Monsters, Monster Apocalypse, etc.)
Nishikawa: The theory behind these films is quite divorced from that of already existing Godzilla movies or other kajiu films, but in a world where Legendary’s Godzilla (2014) and Shin Godzilla (2016) exist, I think it’s good to have a sort of distinctiveness. I evaluate these films as bringing forth a new way of communicating the themes inherent in the “Kaiju” concept.
TK: When did you first start joining exhibitions related to Toho? And what inspired you to join them?
Nishikawa: I think it was around 2014 that the reevaluation of Godzilla and the the proliferation of these exhibitions began. I’m not completely sure what spurred all that on, but someone I knew from reconstruction and support activities from after the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami was planning an “Akira Ifukube 100th Anniversary Concert,” and the poster I drew for that concert was what lead me to the paintbrush art style I currently employ.
TK: How have your experiences at these exhibitions been?
Nishikawa: I was able to really feel valued, not only as “the designer of Godzilla,” but also as an illustrator and as an artist. I was also able to feel how popular the Heisei works are, as well the continuing alternation of generations of Godzilla fans.
SHINJI NISHIKAWA (西川伸司) – Since the conclusion of this interview, Nishikawa has published his latest art book Shinji Nishikawa Design Works, released a new doujinshi titled New Generation Godzilla Legend, and worked as a monster designer for the 2018 anime SSSS.GRIDMAN. He also runs a blog, which he updates occasionally.