Dennis Falt

Patrick Galvan: For this Toho Kingdom interview, I am speaking with a gentleman whom readers will know for his small but highly memorable role in The Return of Godzilla (1984)—or simply Godzilla, as it’s known in Japan. Dennis Falt played the captain of the ill-fated Soviet nuclear submarine in the aforementioned monster movie classic and has had an extensive career as a stage, screen, and voice actor in both Japan and the United States. Dennis, thank you very much for this interview.

Dennis Falt: My pleasure, Patrick.

Galvan: As we begin, could you please tell us a little bit about your background? When did you first become interested in acting? Was becoming an actor an ambition you had from an early age? Did you formally study acting, or did you learn your profession by experience? And—at the risk of crushing some illusions for those who haven’t already figured it out—are you, in fact, Russian?

Falt: I first became interested in acting at a very early age. I think it was Disney films especially that piqued my desire to become an actor. I remember writing to Disney Studios in 6th grade and telling them about myself and my interest in auditioning for them. I included a recent photograph. I know now that’s not the way to do it, but I knew nothing then. They wrote back only telling me how I could get an autographed picture of my favorite star. It was very disappointing. Later, in middle school, I auditioned for and was cast in plays in our town theater. That was exciting. I felt I was on my way. In high school, I took four years of drama classes, performing in every play we produced.  Upon graduation, I was awarded our school’s equivalent of an academy award for dramatic achievement. Also, during high school, I acted in a professional theater that featured major stars. I was getting paid to act and felt I was now a professional actor. After that, I became a Theater Arts major at San Francisco State University, but still acted off-campus in various pro productions. Upon graduation, I moved to Hollywood and studied at Film Actors Workshop.

No, I’m not Russian. Godzilla was my first Russian-speaking role.

Galvan: Do you have a preference in acting for the screen versus the stage? If so, why?

Falt: I acted in quite a bit of stage productions, but it was always my dream to get into film and TV. Though I do enjoy the instant response from a live audience, I really prefer not giving the same performance over and over. In film and TV, you do it once and it’s over. Sure, you may have to shoot the scene a few times, but you really just do it once, and it’s over. I also like the fact that film and TV is viewed by a larger audience. I enjoy recognition. I like it when someone stops me on the street and says they saw me in some TV, film, or commercial production. That never happened when I did stage. Nevertheless, I did act in two major Tokyo “Broadway” productions: Edo no Butokai at Takarazuka Theater, in which I played an American diplomat, and Tojin Okichi at the Imperial Theater, in which I played Townsend Harris, the first American ambassador to Japan. They were both one-month runs, and I enjoyed them even though they locked me up totally for that time and I was unable to do anything else.

actor Dennis Falt
Left: Dennis acting on the Tokyo stage
Right: Dennis with his wife Junko

Images courtesy of Dennis Falt

Galvan: When did you first come to Japan? When and why did you decide to move to Japan for your career? What was your first acting job after your move to Japan?

Falt: I first came to Japan in high school as an exchange student. However, I lived in Yamanashi prefecture, not Tokyo. But I did spend about two weeks in Tokyo at that time and found it very exciting and enticing. Then later, while living in Hollywood, I spent six months in Tokyo. I signed with an agency at that time and acted in film, TV, and commercials. I realized that for an American actor, jobs were available in Tokyo. I traveled back and forth for several years until 1980, when I decided to stay permanently in Tokyo. I can’t remember my first acting job after my final move, but my first ever acting job in Japan was in an NHK TV series called Hana No Shogai in 1974. I played one of Admiral Perry’s captains on the black ships that opened up Japan to the West in 1853.

Galvan: Do you have a preference in living/working in Japan versus the United States? If so, why?

Falt: I definitely prefer living and working in Japan. In Hollywood, the competition was heavy. I’d go to an audition, and there’d be fifty guys that looked like me. Here, I’m unique. Sure, I have competition, but they are basically amateurs, guys who stepped into the business because they heard there’s money to be made, but they have no acting experience. If the job calls for acting rather than just looks, I usually get it. (Of course, it helps that I speak Japanese.) For me, Japan is a better place to live than America. The food is great. The people are nice. The transportation system of trains and subways makes it easy to get around without a car. There are no guns or drugs. A girl can walk anywhere at night and be safe. And there’s no Donald Trump. I would never live in the States again.

Dennis Falt and Godzilla
Images courtesy of Dennis Falt

Galvan: Let’s now turn to the role the readership is most eager to learn more about: your part as the Soviet submarine commander in The Return of Godzilla (1984). How did you get this role?

Falt: I auditioned for my role in Godzilla. When my agent asked if I was interested, I jumped at the chance. The thought of being in a Godzilla movie really excited me.

Galvan: Were you familiar with any of the Godzilla movies prior to landing this job?

Falt: I remember watching the first Godzilla movie, Godzilla King of the Monsters!, in 1956 in a theater in my hometown. As a kid, it was pretty exciting, and to see an American actor, Raymond Burr, in a leading role made it all the more interesting. In years to come, I saw a number of other Godzilla films, but they were never as exciting as the first one. Until mine, that is.

Galvan: Did you or any of your fellow “Soviets” speak any Russian before this assignment? Did you have a dialogue coach on the set, and if so, what did he/she think of your dialogue delivery and accents?

Falt: Now, that’s funny. No, none of us could speak any Russian. My crew was actually Spanish, Australian, English, and American. We had a Ukrainian Russian dialogue coach who came to the set every day to work on our lines. She would often get frustrated and say she hoped the film would never show in Russia, but when it came to shooting, I think we finally had it down.

Godzilla director Koji HashimotoGalvan: Do you have any specific memories working with the film’s director, Koji Hashimoto?

Falt: No, nothing specific, just to say he was one of the better directors I’ve worked with. He pretty much stuck to the schedule, which is unusual in Japan, and he got what he wanted from us. I think he was quite pleased with the final cut.

Galvan: The scene concludes with Godzilla attacking the submarine. On-screen, you and your fellow actors are drenched and washed away by several gallons of water poured from above. How many takes was required to get it right? How many times were you subjected to that huge cascade of water? Also, was the staff kind enough to keep the water warm, or was it as cold as the sea itself?

Falt: A scene like this can only be done in one take. You can’t stop the water. When the water came down, we were knocked off our feet and washed across the stage floor, bumping into whatever was in the way. We thought the first take was it, but they dried us out, filled the tank, and shot the scene again from another angle. The water was pretty cold, as I remember, and when the 2nd take was over, we were released to the dressing room area where there was a huge hot bath that we all jumped into.

Galvan: Did you get a chance to watch the filming of any scenes besides your own? I am especially curious if you had an opportunity to see any of the special effects filming.

Falt: I didn’t have the opportunity to watch any other filming besides my scene. At the premiere, I was able to see the whole film and all the special effects; then, when it was over, the main actors and myself were called up on stage to be introduced, receive applause, and take bows.

Godzilla 1984

Galvan: What were your thoughts on the finished film? How did you think your scene turned out?

Falt: I liked the finished film, and I think for Godzilla fans, it could be included in the top three. I wasn’t that impressed with ingénue Yasuko Sawaguchi’s performance. Not much experience. Cute, but that’s about it. I was satisfied with my scene. I think, for the most part, it was believable. There was just one point I wish we had done over: where I’m thinking what to do next. I didn’t like my action. Nobody ever said anything, only me, so maybe I’m the only one who felt that way. Anyway, it’s history.

Galvan: The Return of Godzilla (1984) has a lot of Cold War era ideas in it. Did the political content stick out to you while you were filming, or did you mostly view it as an entertainment movie which just happened to feature some Cold War elements in it?

Falt: None of us felt anything political about it. It was, as you say, just entertainment. It was fun, and we really got into playing Russians and shooting what we thought was an American sub. Damn Yankees.

Galvan: In the movie’s climax, there is a scene in which Godzilla rips open the side of the Yurakucho Mullion Building, which contains Toho Cinemas Nichigeki. So, Godzilla destroyed one of the very buildings where many people would have been watching the movie back in 1984/85. Did you have the pleasure to watch your Godzilla movie in a theater destroyed by the titular character?

Falt: No, I actually don’t remember that scene. Our premiere was held in Akasaka, which, as far as I know, wasn’t destroyed by Godzilla.

Galvan: When the film came out in the United States in 1985, it was extensively re-edited and included brand-new scenes featuring Raymond Burr. This new version was called Godzilla 1985. Your scene in the American version was slightly adjusted, with deleted dialogue and additional music. Have you seen Godzilla 1985 and, if so, what are your thoughts on the changes made to your scene?

Falt: I haven’t seen the American version, but a friend in Hollywood did and asked me if I had met Raymond Burr. I told him Raymond Burr wasn’t in the film. He assured me he was. That really confused me.

Dennis Falt as a Russian
Image courtesy of Dennis Falt

Galvan: Did your role in this film ever lead to you playing Russians in other Japanese productions?

Falt: I played a Russian soldier two more times. Once, with two other army deserter buddies, we got to rape a Japanese nurse. That was fun. Then later, I played a military guard in a WWII prison for Japanese soldiers in Manchuria. The director asked me if I could speak any Russian. I told him I could speak a little, so he asked me to use my Russian while interrogating the prisoners. I used my same lines from Godzilla: “Bring me the sound spectrograph analysis. You’re not a whale, you don’t have sonar. Fire the torpedoes at this guy. Full speed ahead.” The director didn’t understand, so he thought it was great. I always wondered what any Russians who might have seen it would have thought.

Galvan: Can you still recite your Russian dialogue?

Falt: I can still recite the lines, but my pronunciation has gone south. I try them out on Russians now and then, but it seems they can only understand my “Fire the torpedoes,” and “Full speed ahead.”

Galvan: I must confess I have only seen a handful of the movies you’ve made in Japan, but I wanted to ask you about a few of them. In 1987, you acted in a film from House (1977) director Nobuhiko Obayashi, called The Drifting Classroom, which was distributed by Toho. Please describe how you got this job.

Falt: Once again, a call from my agent and an appointment for an audition.

Galvan: This film also has a large number of special effects and elaborate sets. (Your character makes his appearance walking out of a hole in the wall.) How did this experience compare to working on the set for The Return of Godzilla (1984)?

Falt: With Godzilla, I only had the one set, but with The Drifting Classroom, I had many sets and more days of work. They cast a lot of kids from one or more international schools in Tokyo. They had no experience, so shooting took longer, but everyone was really nice, and we had a lot of fun. One complaint we all had was the cement dust constantly in the air that played havoc with our breathing.

Galvan: The Drifting Classroom features a heavy mix of Japanese and English dialogue. Had you worked in many projects beforehand which had a mixture of languages like this? As a native English speaker, were you ever called upon to help the Japanese cast with their dialogue delivery?

Falt: Almost every film or TV show I’ve worked on in Japan had a mixture of languages unless all my lines were in Japanese. I’ve been French, Italian, Dutch, German, Russian, but mostly American. My last film at Toho, In the Hero, was a film about making a film. We had an international cast playing an international film production company. I played a DP from Hollywood. I have never been asked to help Japanese cast members with their English dialogue. That’s not my job.

Dennis Falt and Troy Donahue in The Drifting Classroom
Image courtesy of Dennis Falt

Galvan: One of your co-stars in The Drifting Classroom was the late Troy Donahue. Please say a few words about working with him.

Falt: Troy was one of the nicest actors I’ve ever worked with, super friendly, and very open and honest. He was always very upbeat and never complained about anything. He loved to tell stories about his past, be it films or episodes with his many leading ladies. The last thing he said to me was, “Look me up when you’re in LA. I’m in the Santa Monica phone book under T. Donahue. Give me a call. Let’s get together.”

Galvan: What did you think of the finished product?

Falt: Actually, the finished product bothered me. The noise and flashing lights were over the top. I felt that anyone with epilepsy watching this would have seizures. And I didn’t like being left hanging at the end, but I guess that’s how the writer, Kazuo Umezu, intended it. He lives in my town, Kichijoi, incidentally, and I see him often.

Galvan: The last film I want to talk about is Tokyo Blackout (1987), another special effects film distributed by Toho. Do you have any special memories working on this film?

Falt: We shot in a dark studio at Toei (Toho and Toei often work together). All we had was the front of the plane for exterior and interior cockpit shots. There were 3 of us as we flew into the giant mysterious swirling cloud above Tokyo to take readings. We were never seen again. They had to shoot a few takes, because the director was not satisfied with a line reading by one of the other actors (I forget his name). The line was: “What’s with that cloud?” It just sounded so funny each time he said it, and had me and the third actor laughing (Can’t remember his name either).

Dennis Falt in Tokyo Blackout
Image courtesy of Dennis Falt

Galvan: Since I—and, likely, many of the readers—are not terribly familiar with your career outside of the few special effects films mentioned, what are some other movies you’ve made you would recommend?

Falt: Ronin, the story of Ryoma Sakamoto, is one of my favorites. I play the English ambassador to Japan, Harry Smith Parkes, in 1865. In the film Shiratori Reiko de Gozaimasu (I’m Reiko Shiratori), I play the priest at a wedding and had some very long and difficult Japanese lines. I mentioned In the Hero, shot at Toho, in which I play a Hollywood DP. There were some nice special effects in it. I also did many TV dramas: in Sangamoyu, an NHK series, I played a US army officer just prior to dropping the atom bombs. In Kenpo wa Mada ka (No Constitution Yet?), also an NHK series, I play Colonel Charles Kades, who was responsible for drafting the modern Japanese constitution after the war. One of my early starring roles in a movie in Hollywood is now a cult film, Spawn of the Slithis. I play a biology teacher, Doctor John. Also, in Hollywood, I appeared in many TV dramas, such as General Hospital, Colombo, and Lost. Now I do more TV commercials than anything else, but still work on the occasional film, TV drama, and voice job.

Galvan: Thank you very much for answering my questions, Dennis!

Falt: As I said, my pleasure. Answering them brought back some great memories. Thank YOU, Patrick.


Interview: Dennis Falt


An experienced stage and screen actor, Dennis Falt has lived in Japan since 1980 and has acted in a number of Japanese film, theater, and television productions. One of his most famous roles is as the Russian submarine commander in The Return of Godzilla (1984).

Date: 1/13/2018
Interviewer: Patrick Galvan


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