Ed Godziszewski

Patrick Galvan: I am very pleased to announce that for my first Toho Kingdom interview, I am interviewing none other than Ed Godziszewski, whose accolades in the Godzilla fan community include numerous DVD commentaries, the fan magazine Japanese Giants, a now-rare book called The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla, and an upcoming, much-anticipated biography on the great director Ishiro Honda. Mr. Godziszewski, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.

Let us begin with the traditional questions: the ones every fan gets asked at some point. Where did your personal affection for Japanese science-fiction begin? What is the first tokusatsu film-Godzilla or not-you can remember seeing? And, out of curiosity, did you see that particular film in a theater or on television?

Ed Godziszewski: My first experience that I can recall with Japanese SF was with the first Godzilla. I think it was in 1959 when Godzilla was going to premiere on tv in Chicago. There was a lot of fanfare for it, although I really didn't know what Godzilla even was. For a 6-year old like me, it just sounded like something I should see. Since it was going to be on at 10:30pm, that was way past normal bedtime, so I got special permission to stay up to see it. For the first 20-30 minutes, it was kind of scary so after the first commercial I wound up moving on the couch next to my older brother...and then came the typhoon scene, which was really frightening. As the scene ended, they cut to commercial break, and I couldn't take it any more. I announced to my brother that I was going to bed, and off I went to hide under the covers. The next day I heard from my brother that Godzilla was actually a huge dinosaur that breathed, was I disappointed that I gave up when I did. Like most of us who became fans, I was a big dinosaur aficionado as a little guy. This was technically my first encounter, though I never saw the payoff. Anyway, fast forward a few years and I was sitting in a movie theater in mid-July, and a trailer came on for King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). I was stunned-so this is Godzilla! Not only that, when the back fins lit up and he shot his atomic breath, I silently declared that this is the greatest dinosaur EVER. After reminding my mom about 1000 times during the following week that we should go see this movie, finally the day came, and that started me down the path of Japanese monsters and sf.

Galvan: Did you always have an interest in Japanese cinema and culture? Or did your fascination begin with Godzilla and expand as you grew older?

Godziszewski: I watched every monster and sf film I could see when I was a kid, but I always seemed to enjoy the Japanese films the most when I was young. At that time, I never gave much thought as to why that was so, but I did notice that the Japanese ones were the most interesting for me. As I look back on that now, I believe it was a combination of things. As far as monsters go, the Japanese films had the best looking characters for me, and when it came to spaceships and super weapons, their designs were by far the most interesting. But there was also something more to it than that, and I think it was the thing that has sustained my interest in these films past the stage when I was little, which was their use of the miniature technique. The alternate reality of miniature sfx really struck a chord with me, and that has never changed. I would always find myself enjoying miniature work more than other techniques. The best illustration of the point is that I much preferred Lost In Space to Star Trek as a kid, despite the vast gulf between them in writing, mainly because the effects looked so much more interesting to me.

As a kid, the sf films were really the only Japanese films that were available, so all I knew about Japanese film was that Japan made my favorite science fiction movies. Other Japanese films may have played in art houses, but in the 60s when I grew up, I wouldn't even have known what an art house was, much less where to find one. If a film wasn't advertised in the newspapers as playing locally, or if it wasn't on tv, I wouldn't even be aware that it existed. Not until I got into college did I become aware of other Japanese films, and because I liked their sf films, I thought it would be interesting to see other Japanese films. At that time, other Japanese films meant Kurosawa, so it was easy to expand the scope of my interest. Japanese animation then gained my attention thanks mainly to the music of Space Cruiser Yamato...I was so enthralled after hearing the soundtrack that I started watching the show in Japanese, and that opened the door to other animation, mostly that of Leiji Matsumoto and Osamu Tezuka. By the late 70s, I discovered a theater in Chicago that showed 35mm prints of many types of Japanese films, and I came to experience costume dramas, comedies, action, and other types of films. Most of the films I saw at that time were contemporary to the 70s and 80s, often double features of Yoji Yamada films (especially Tora-san) and Zatoichi films. The more I saw, the more interested I became in both Japanese films and culture. But it all started because I had such a special affinity for Japan's SF films.

Galvan: Since you are well-known for your heavily researched articles and DVD commentaries, let me ask you this: What sort of resources were available before you started contributing to the western world's knowledge on these films? Any credible sources for behind-the-scenes information available to fans at the time? Or was basically everything on the level of the beloved (but notoriously inaccurate) Ian Thorne book from 1977?

Japanese Fantasy Film JournalGodziszewski: Aside from a few fanzines, most notably Greg Shoemaker's Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, there really weren't any resources for information on Japanese sf films aside from an occasional article or photo that you would see in Famous Monsters (and FM wasn't exactly in the know on these films). Even then, the amount of production information that these publications were able to uncover was rather thin. If it wasn't in print, there were not many other places to go. Information was scarce to say the least, and even in Japan, as I would later find out, there wasn't all that much information to be found at the time. It wasn't until the big monster boom of the late 70s and early 80s that we started seeing Japanese books that talked about the making of these films or that showed any making photos. The Films of Eiji Tsuburaya, a book published shortly after Tsuburaya's death, was about the only real source of background info on these films until that breakthrough era. And even then, most of what was available was in Japanese, so it wasn't easy to do research for someone such as myself. One thing that helped a lot with research was that videotape came into existence in the mid-70s, and through that medium I was able to see original Japanese versions of films and on rare occasion, making-of specials.

Galvan: Did you always have an interest in writing, or is this something that developed alongside your passion for Godzilla? What was the first Godzilla-related piece you wrote, and where was it published?

Latitude ZeroGodziszewski: Seeing and reading JFFJ in the 70s was something I really enjoyed a lot, and at the time, one of the main features you would see was a filmbook (detailed story) and a review. Well, to write that kind of thing didn't require anything more than having seen the film. While I probably could have done something like that, it wasn't until I got access to things that weren't available to the mainstream that I started thinking to write. First, I got a 16mm Technicolor print of Latitude Zero (1969), a film that I understood few fans had gotten to see at that time (getting the print was the first time for me to see it). I thought this would be something more valuable to write about than a film that everyone has seen, and I started thinking this would be something I would like to do. In addition, at the same time I had just begun exchanging letters with a new friend in Japan, and he was able to provide me with a few stills and an ad for the film. Not a tremendous amount of material, but it was something I thought offered some value to readers. So writing the filmbook/commentary on Latitude Zero was the first time I seriously wrote about Japanese films. It was the same time that Brad Boyle was looking to hand the fanzine Japanese Giants over to someone, so the timing was good. That's what started me out on this path. For the next issue of JG, I got a hold of a videotape from Japan of Rodan (1956), and it was a real eye-opener, to see how drastically the film had been changed for American release. It became the ideal subject for my next issue. From that point, I started visiting Japan, doing things and meeting people, lots of books started coming out on that dealt with making information, so the sources for research started to proliferate, and I felt like I could write more. But when I wrote a detailed piece on the making of the original Godzilla, I felt it was something that needed a bigger platform, and that is why I offered it to Greg Shoemaker for JFFJ. JG was a small thing, a kind of hobby. I looked at JFFJ as the big time, something more important than JG and certainly with a far larger audience. So that was my first piece that was published outside of my own fanzine.

Galvan: In the 1990s, you published a book called The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Godzilla, which is now very hard to find. For those not fortunate enough to have read the book, could you summarize its production? Why did you write this book? What sort of content did it feature? And why was it eventually pulled from distribution?

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of GodzillaGodziszewski: The genesis for this book was a project that Books Nippan was looking to undertake back in the early 90's. My friend Alex Wald was working with them, and when they talked to him about the idea of producing an English-language book on Godzilla, Alex asked me if I would be interested in doing it. I had been doing Japanese Giants for almost 20 years at that point, and he knew that I had a passion for the subject. The book was just in the planning stages, but the company was going to work with Toho to get everything approved. Thinking that the subject just had so much fertile ground to be covered and would take a lot of time to put together, I submitted a general outline of what I thought the book should be and I decided to go ahead and start writing certain sections in advance. Whatever the final format would be, no doubt there would need to be a section of story summaries and simple reviews of each film, so that was what I started with. I thought that this would also be a good way to show Book Nippan that I was up to the task. By the time I finished with the preliminary writing, the deal with Books Nippan had fallen apart. But since I had already made a good start on writing, I though 'why not finish it up?'. And this way I could pretty much do it exactly the way I wanted and design it in a way that I could probably have never done if it was being published by someone else. I stuck with the basic premise of the Books Nippan project, which was to write something that would be accessible for all levels of fans--simple enough to act as a good introduction to the subject, but also with enough new and interesting information that would make it interesting for more hard core fans. So in addition to the basics of story summaries/reviews, I tried to cover as many aspects of these films as I could. I thought it would be valuable to add profiles of actors and staff, descriptions of special effects techniques (including suit acting), a catalog of all the different Godzilla incarnations, a section on unmade projects and unused footage (which subsequently seems to have been widely copied on the internet, usually without attribution), and a sampling of merchandising and how Godzilla has appeared in popular culture. To finish it off, I came up with a 'dictionary' that briefly described major characters, events, and devices that appear in Godzilla films. Since one of my complaints with books, especially those printed in the US, has been that they always use the same old photos, I was determined to make this book stand apart, using stills that are rarely seen to the extent possible. I think I succeeded in making something unique. The book was sold via mail order. Unfortunately, since the book was done without obtaining a license for the photos, Toho filed a complaint and asked that the booked be pulled from distribution. All but 12 copies of the print run of 1000 were already sold by that time. I was not terribly surprised that they complained and what they asked as a settlement was fair. So in the end, a book that probably never could have been published otherwise did get into people's hands, and Toho got what they wanted at the same time. I enjoyed doing this immensely. My only regret is that this means that there will probably never be an official followup/new edition.

Galvan: You are currently the editor of Japanese Giants. How did you come to be associated with and later become editor of the magazine? Also, what is the current state of the magazine? Any new issues in the near future?

Godziszewski: When FM#114 came out, I learned about Greg Shoemaker's Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, the very first fanzine devoted to Japanese SF films. Through JFFJ, I found to my great surprise that there were a lot of other fans out there, and I was able to make contact with some of them. One of them was Mark Rainey, who had started Japanese Giants years before as a small fanzine. By this time, Mark had passed the magazine on to Brad Boyle, and in writing to Brad, I found out that he was thinking to give up publishing after Issue #4 came out. As I mentioned above, it was at the same time I was working on a piece about Latitude Zero (1969), so everything sort of fell into place. I always did JG on an irregular basis, and there was never idea of making a profit from it. For me, if I broke even, that was all I needed. The magazine went from a purely manual design process (typing all the text on oversize sheets of paper and cutting/pasting graphics in with scissors and glue) to being laid out with publishing software in the later issues. The quality of design and printing increased over time, but so did the cost. Unfortunately, #9 and #10, despite upgrading to slick paper and a color cover, never sold well at all, leaving me with a lot of unsold copies and deep in the red to this day. Despite my strong desire to keep publishing, I just couldn't keep going on and losing so much money. So unfortunately, I see little hope for resuming publication. It seems that fans are far more interested in vinyl toys than reading and learning about the movies they are based on. If I ever resume publishing, I have a lot of good material on Frankenstein Conquers the World and The War of the Gargantuas (1966), which was going to be the main feature of #11. Maybe some day.

Galvan: I want to now ask you about the DVD commentaries. You've done several, most of them with Steve Ryfle, whom my colleague Nick Driscoll interviewed back in 2011. How did you get started doing this? Also, in my experience, Toho sometimes produces their own audio commentaries. Does Toho approach their commentaries in a similar way you and Mr. Ryfle do with yours? Anything included/lacking in the Toho commentaries you try/wish to bring to the commentaries you do?

Godziszewski: The first audio commentary that I was involved with was Godzilla (54) for the British Film Institute, and it was something which I was lucky to fall into. As you know, in 2004, Rialto Pictures released the original Godzilla to theaters in the US. On a whim, I sent a copy of JG #10 (main feature on the Making of Godzilla 54) to Bruce Goldstein at Rialto, thinking he might find it useful in helping to promote the film for his company. While nothing much happened at the time, when BFI contacted Bruce for his advice on their upcoming release of the film, he kindly suggested my name as well as those of Steve Ryfle and Keith Aiken as people who could provide them with materials for an audio commentary and other special features. Before I knew it, we were in a recording studio in Burbank during October 2005. And when Classic Media got hold of the rights to several films in Toho's catalog, the company decided to ask us if we would like to do the same thing for their US release of Godzilla (54). Knowing that they had the rights to not only the original film but also several others, Steve and I sensed an opportunity to do something special, so for nearly the same budget that they offered for doing the original film, we proposed providing audio commentary and special features on 7 films. Of course, we would have loved to do all of the titles ourselves, but that was neither realistic from a workload viewpoint, nor did we think it would be fair to the audience to limit all these commentaries to just our style and viewpoints. So Steve went out and got several other prominent commentators to work together with us.

Toho's commentaries are nothing like what we do. Toho always pairs a host together with someone who was involved in the film's production, and together they discuss the film as it plays. Unfortunately, it strikes me that seldom if ever do they get the guest speaker to prepare at all... they just come into the studio and start up the film. It's all ad lib and unrehearsed, which just invites a lot of dead time unless your guest is focused and well prepared. In many cases, the guest hasn't seen the film in many many years, and they haven't thought in advance what to say. So you get a lot of comments that boil down to "that was nice", "this was a good scene," and "it was a good time". Very seldom do they discuss what is going on as the film plays, and discussion often digresses for long periods into topics that are at best peripherally connected to the film. The hosts also aren't the best at leading the guest, asking questions that invite little more than yes or no answers. I find the Toho commentaries very frustrating--you go in hoping for some interesting tidbits and you are lucky if you get 10-20% of good stuff.

The approach that Steve and I use is completely different. Our goal is to provide something that will be interesting for both fans and non-fans alike. We never assume that everyone who listens is intimately familiar with these films, so we try to add a lot of basic information as a frame of reference that the listeners can use to understand why these films were made, not just how they were made. We hope that we can give people an appreciation for the workmanship that these films display--that may be our most important task, as the general public tend to treat these films with some level of disdain. Unfairly, we think. We look to mix together background information on how and why a film was made, offer some insight into the makers themselves, tell interesting production anecdotes, and of course express our opinions on the film as well. We also try as much as possible to time important information to the appropriate scenes, something that is not necessarily so easy. The goal is to fill the 90+ minutes with something worthwhile, and hopefully expand the viewer's enjoyment of the film. To do this, we develop a set script, which serves several purposes. First, and most importantly, Toho demands to see a copy of the script so that they can review and approve it. That we never had any comment or request for change (other than someone's name that we had gotten wrong) shows that you can work with them, and they won't interfere with whatever opinions one might express. But while working on the BFI project, we learned a valuable lesson about using a script. At one point, the BFI rep suggested that we take a segment (the Tokyo attack) and just do some ad-lib commentary on it. Sure, there were lots of things to talk about, but that itself became the problem. You start talking about one thing and before you know it, a lot of time has elapsed, and other things you wanted to point out wind up getting passed over because you run out of time. With the script, you can use your time most efficiently--you can better time comments to what is on screen, and you can also have much better control over getting all the important things said while under time constraint. Thus you are forced to be more concise, you don't fall victim to rambling on and on. There are rare individuals like John Carpenter who can speak extemporaneously on commentaries and do a great job of filling the time with entertaining and informative stories. But those individuals are few and far between. The drawback of our approach is, of course that we are reading from a script. Not being professional speakers, while we do try our best to sound natural, the sad fact is that the script aspect does come through to the listener. If we had a lot more time to produce these commentaries, we would work those issues out. But the recording process is actually quite time-consuming and strenuous, requiring lots of re-takes and adjustments, so that is not practical, especially on the limited budget with which we have to work.

Galvan: In addition to DVD commentaries, you've been involved in some other special features on the Classic Media releases, including a fantastic documentary called Bringing Godzilla Down to Size. What was the most rewarding thing about making that documentary? The most difficult thing? Any chance we'll see anything like it from you in the future?

Godziszewski: These extra features were sort of like writing articles--they focused on special topics and, since we controlled the accompanying visual materials, it was a much more natural way to tell a story. I thought these would make nice extras to include on the discs and was pleased that Classic Media not only agreed, but accepted funding of their production. From their side, they had to clear all the legal hurdles for rights to photos and footage--in other words, they dealt with Toho, freeing us to just create the finished product. That was huge.

As for the documentary, at some point after we had started delivering the extras, Classic Media thought it wise to make a boxed set of these Godzilla films, and so they started soliciting ideas from us for bonus content that would be available only in the box. We had lots of ideas for extras, but Steve and I thought this presented the chance for the natural extension from what we had already done. Rather than more short features, why not a proper documentary film? Honestly, we didn't really think they would go for something so ambitious, but it seemed worth suggesting. I guess that based on what we had already delivered to them, they felt confident that we could pull it off, so they picked that idea and provided us with a modest (by documentary standards) budget. We were elated...but then the reality sunk we have to actually go out and make a movie. If it had been just the two of us doing this, I am sure it would have turned out like a glorified home movie since we had never actually made a movie ourselves. We knew what story we wanted to tell, but not necessarily how to put it on film and make it a quality production. It's one thing to like movies, to talk and write about them, but quite another thing to actually make one. However, our big advantage was that we knew someone who would be ideal for helping make this film a reality. My friend Norman England, who has been living in Japan for 20+ years, did have experience with directing, and he had done it in Japan where we needed to film. I felt complete confidence that not only would Norman know what to do and how to do it well, but that he could also assemble a crew that could make it happen. And that is exactly what happened. What really helped was that almost everyone who got involved in the production enthusiastically believed in the subject of our film, and they did amazing work, despite getting paid but a fraction of what their services were worth. And we got stellar cooperation from the artists in Japan who were the stars of our film. We were able to stage a recreation of a traditional effect using staff members from multiple generations of effects artists. It may sound silly, but you could really sense something special in the room that day. It was magic watching these people work together, just as if they were transported back in time 40 years to when they were all young. I could feel a true sense of what it must have been like for them to work on sfx films. When we finally presented the finished film to Mr [Yasuyuki] Inoue and his former crew and got their approval, it was such a wonderful feeling. That was the best reward of all.

This experience also taught me how vital it is to have everyone pulling in the same direction to get a film made. It really is a collaborative process. With all the little struggles we had, it made me think how hard it must be on a major feature where there are hundreds of people working together, pulling in all sorts of directions. And for Steve and I, the hardest thing to undergo was the editing process. You construct the film in your head and think 'this is just what we need to show.' I will never forget how our editor Yasu said to us just after we wrapped filming, "I'll bet your first version will come in at around 4 hours." Not a chance, I thought. But sure enough, after we put a first draft together, it was almost exactly as Yasu had said. And so began the agonizing, painful process of cutting things down. You hear the expression that it is like 'killing babies', which is just what it feels like. Every anecdote that you cut out, we put there to serve a purpose, and you feel terrible to let them go. But you can't keep them all, and ultimately all that cutting is what is needed if you don't want to bore the audience silly.

Of course this is something that we would love to do again, but realistically the chances of doing so are rather slim. A friend of mine who had made documentaries for Discovery Channel and some other companies couldn't believe that we made the film for the budget we had-he said what wound up on screen looked like it cost 5 times what we spent. I think that was partly because everyone practically donated their talents; this was a unique situation that would be hard to replicate. I can't imagine who would put up the money to do another film of this nature-home video companies are less and less inclined to pay for extra content these days as there is very little return in it for them. Even commentaries, which cost a fraction of a film, are becoming a vanishing breed. There is just very little economic reward for them since these features really don't push the needle on sales volume.

On a side note, as you may know, I did produce a commentary track for Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), but unfortunately the track was not approved by Toho in time for the street date of the disc, so it sits unused to this day. I hope that Echobridge, which owns the rights to the track, will some day be able to make it available.

Galvan: I understand you've also visited Toho a couple of times over the years. Any unique stories regarding these visits?

Godziszewski: Each one of those visits has been like a dream come true. There are so many fantastic memories that each visit holds that I could go on and on for quite a long time about them. I would still have to say that the first time was probably the most special, the most surreal, the most unexpected. It was in 1979 during my first visit to Japan. I remember well that the people who arranged for our visit had told us the day before that we would be going to Toho, but that we should not get too excited since there was nothing SF film-related to see any longer. Well, in my mind I thought that was still ok, just to be able to visit the place where my favorite films were made would be a treat in itself. Fortunately, it must have been a case of something getting lost in the translation because when we reached a modest workshop amidst the weeds at the rear of the lot, we got the surprise of our lives-monster suits and props were still there, many in advanced stages of decay, but they were there to be seen and held! Titanosuarus, both Mechagodzillas, Gabara, Minilla, Mothra, King Caesar, and so on, but the biggest thrill of all was to see Godzilla himself. Never in all the time I had been watching these films, writing about them, researching them, did I ever imagine it would be possible to see and touch the real things. And to top things off, we had a chance to meet with both Ishiro Honda and Tomoyuki Tanaka later in the day. It was all so surreal, so exciting. I think I could have flown home that evening without a plane...

Just as surreal and exciting was getting the chance to watch a Godzilla film being made. I have had the good fortune to watch a couple days of filming of both Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) and GMK (2001). Every moment of those days is etched forever into my memory. In 1992, it was another case of expecting very little and being overwhelmed by the reality. We had heard on our way to the studio that the scenes to be filmed that day were not much, just Battra flying over Yokohama, or something rather unspectacular like that. But once again, something must have been lost in the translation because when we walked into Studio 9, we walked right into the biggest set piece of the film, the battlefield in Yokohama, and Godzilla was to be battling both Mothra and Battra. We saw some of the most impressive battle scenes from the conclusion, and every time I watch the film, I can't help but think I was right there. When Godzilla blasts an earth-bound Battra, I think how I was just to the left of Battra, barely outside the edge of the frame. And for GMK, while watching the sfx filming was huge fun, perhaps my most special memory from that time was being able to meet Hideyo Amamoto, thanks to my good friend Norman England. Each visit to Toho has been a special treat, but these memories probably stand out the most.

Galvan: I've also heard you spent some time on the set of the notorious 1998 American Godzilla film put out by Tristar. Any interesting stories regarding that?

Godzilla 1998Godziszewski: I got a walk-on role as an extra in the film thanks to a business associate. One of my company's consultants at the time lived in LA and his son's school was holding a charity auction. One prize was an extra's role in Godzilla, and this guy bid on it and won, and then gave it to me. Good move on his part, as that guaranteed business for his company for the next 10 years! So I got to partake in filming of the conclusion for two nights in LA during July of 1997. The scenes had the 7th Street bridge outside of downtown LA standing in for the Brooklyn Bridge, and I was assigned the role of a tv cameraman, carrying a huge (and super heavy) non-functional prop camera. It was quite an education to see how a big budget film was made. The set was decorated with all sorts of intricate details, almost none of which I figured would have a chance in being seen on screen. But it was more about creating the atmosphere than anything else. There were a couple hundred extras, and because my role was part of a charity thing, I was fortunate enough to get a more prominent extra role. My character was in the front of many of the crowds, and for the closeup scene where Matthew Broderick, Maria Patillo, and Harry Shearer speak together at the end after Godzilla has been defeated, I was right there next to Matthew Broderick, my face mostly obscured by my camera. That was really fun. But my strongest memory of all was the rain...two 12-hour nights of relentless movie rain, which is not unlike the typhoon rain I would experience in Japan just a month later. To show up on film, the rain needs to be really strong. And it was strong. REALLY strong. I remember walking back to the parking lot after the second night of filming and finding the pockets of my raincoat filled with water.

While I was cautiously optimistic about the film going into the job, unfortunately I got a strong hint of what how the film would eventually disappoint. One scene we filmed was the crowd reacting to missiles striking Godzilla on the Brooklyn Bridge. As the ADs described the scene, they said that the missiles hit Godzilla, killing him and causing him to fall into the water. I couldn't help but think, "That's it?!?! They just shoot him? That's all it takes to defeat Godzilla?" But more telling was the reaction of some of the other extras I was with...these people didn't know or care at all about Godzilla. But they all said the same thing. "That's all it takes? That's lame."

Galvan: Speaking of American Godzilla movies, we now have two big-screen adaptations of the character done in the western world. The 1998 film, which changed the character to the point where it could barely be recognized, was poorly received by fans and general audiences alike and its planned big-screen sequels went unmade. The 2014 film, which bore more similarities to a traditional Godzilla movie, was far better received and has confirmed sequels in the works. From your personal perspective, how have America's big-screen takes on Godzilla fared? Are the presented sentiments on war, the human condition, etc. in either film even close to what Ishiro Honda evoked in his films?

Godzilla 2014Godziszewski: I can't say that either American film has done much in the way of social commentary. The 1998 film didn't even hint at any kind of social theme; it doesn't really take any discernible stance on anything. The 2014 film paid superficial lip service at best to the nuclear issue, but really there's almost nothing of substance there. Rather than offering caution about nuclear energy, the new film almost gives you the idea that nuclear weapons are actually the answer to everything. Despite the MUTO feeding off of radiation, owing their very existence to it, the humans decide using a nuclear blast is the way to go. And not only that, a nuclear blast in/near a major population center. And when that bomb actually detonates within a few miles of said population center, it's no big deal. No damage, no one is affected. And Godzilla himself is radioactive, the good guy, and not really a threat to people--he is linked to natural radiation. I guess it must be the good kind. So despite the throwaway dialogue about Hiroshima, it seems like radiation/nuclear weapons are not really a big deal to the makers of the film.

In general, I look at the 1998 film as pretty weak overall. It certainly isn't a Godzilla film, just a film with a character named Godzilla in it. We don't get much destruction, and most of the destruction is caused by the humans rather than Godzilla. The drama is pretty bland, and one of the big action sequences is just a retread of raptor action from the Jurassic Park films. Godzilla really didn't do much, so I didn't feel like I got much of what I paid to see.

On the other hand, there was a lot more to enjoy in the 2014 film. Despite the absurdly large size that they decided to give the monster, at least I didn't feel cheated by the monster scenes. While many complain that Godzilla didn't have much screen time, that didn't bother me so much. I was just as happy to watch the MUTOs in action. After suffering through Pacific Rim the year before, it was a relief to see that the makers had an idea what a monster film should be like. Unlike Pacific Rim, the 2014 Godzilla didn't hide the monsters in fog and rain, didn't film the battles closeup or with jittery camera work, didn't use jump cuts, and so on. That just makes the action all but incomprehensible and therefore not very interesting. Instead the monster battles in Godzilla 2014 were staged much more like a Japanese film. You get to see prolonged shots of the monsters in action, filmed in a way that the action was easy to understand. You can drink in the whole setting, take in a scene to the fullest detail. They didn't feel the need to 'put you in the action' with needless tight shots and quick cuts. I enjoy absorbing every detail of what is on the screen....that's the sense of awe and wonder that Japanese monster movies specialized in. They aren't afraid to let the camera linger on a wide shot. Outside of Yog, Monster From Space, I can't think of one Japanese monster movie where I felt like I had no idea what was going on during the money scenes. Since G2014 delivered that, I could overlook the relatively weak drama and the lack of social conscience. It's unsatisfying that they made Godzilla into a secondary player in his own film, but at least when the monsters were on screen, they delivered the goods.

Galvan: And now we have acclaimed director Hideaki Anno and special effects maestro Shinji Higuchi teaming up for a new Toho-produced Godzilla film slated for release in 2016. What are your thoughts on these guys' past accomplishments?

Godziszewski: I really did not know much about Anno's previous work aside from his involvement with Studio Ghibli on Miyazaki's wonderful Nausicaa In the Valley of the Wind. I know he has done some famous works like Evangelion, but I haven't seen them. On the other hand, I knew Higuchi's work very well, from his early involvement on the fan feature Orochi no Gyakushu, his sfx work under Koichi Kawakita on Godzilla, his sfx direction on Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera films, to his work as a director on films like Lorelei (2005) and Sinking of Japan (2006). His effects work has always been impressive and innovative, taking traditional techniques and pushing the envelope ever further. If there was an sfx guy out there who I wanted to see take a shot at Godzilla, this was the guy.

My overwhelming impression of these two guys as a team comes from the wonderful exhibition that was held in Japan a couple years ago to celebrate Japanese style special effects. They curated an exhibit of suits, props, design artwork, etc. that showed off the craftsmanship of Japanese special effects artists and the technique of miniature special effects. And to top it off, they made a short film titled Warrior God Appears Over Tokyo to celebrate miniature effects and show how thoroughly relevant they can be even today. The film contains 100% practical effects aside from the animated rays, and it looks astounding, as good or better than anything done with CG and budgets that are orders of magnitude higher. So with that in mind, I was excited to hear they were assigned to Godzilla-surely they would take their work on the short film to the feature level and show the world that traditional Japanese effects can make a feature that holds it own against the big Hollywood effects houses. As a result, it's a bit disheartening to hear that their new Godzilla is just the opposite, being done almost exclusively with CG and with very little model work. This was the last thing I expected. Of course I remain hopeful that it will be well made and entertaining, but I never expected that these leading proponents of traditional techniques would abandon them so shortly after their triumph at the SFX Exhibition. Perhaps it is the dictate of the studio, but for whatever the reason, it feels like this may signal the end of the techniques that brought so many of us to embrace Japanese films. And that is kind of sad to me.

Galvan: Speaking of Anno & Higuchi, their recently revealed design for the Godzilla in their movie has caused quite a firestorm of opinions on the internet. What are your thoughts on the design?

Godziszewski: Strictly from the viewpoint of design only, I don't care much for this new image of Godzilla which looks like a leftover idea from Attack on Titan (2015). One of the great appeals of Godzilla for me is the simplicity of its dinosaur-evocative design, which makes it impressive. I don't feel impressed by the character when I see this. I don't think Godzilla needs any gimmicks, like a grotesque zombie-like appearance. I can appreciate that they are trying to make something that is scary, but I think the most effective (and much more challenging) way to do that is with a well-written and directed story. That's how you make something truly terrifying. I have always felt that it's taking the easy way out to just throw out a gruesome image-it may have shock value, it may be revulsive, but that' doesn't make it good horror.

If this design serves the story well, then it will be a lot more acceptable to me, but that is the key point. It needs the context of a strong story and good direction to make this work as horror. I very much hope that will be the case. But if not, then I feel this kind of extreme design will just be empty pandering to the zombie fan crowd. All we have now is speculation about the storyline, so we will just have to wait until we see the finished product to see if they made a huge mistake or made this gamble pay off. Change just for the sake of change does not make a good idea.

My biggest concern at this point is what kind of story will we get. As I learn more about Anno, his work seems to be consistently anti-humanistic. Mankind has done bad things, so every last person should be wiped out, innocent or guilty. That is certainly the theme of Warrior God Appears in Tokyo. And it is quite a departure from what Ishiro Honda communicated in his films, from what he intended in creating Godzilla (1954). Mankind suffers, but Honda still preached caution, warning, with optimism that mankind can and will learn. I would be disappointed to see Honda's creation subverted for a nihilistic view on mankind.

Galvan: Let's now turn to the Ishiro Honda biography you and Steve Ryfle are currently writing. How long have you two been working together on this project and do you have an idea of when we can expect a release date?

Godziszewski: As of this writing, all of the revisions are in for the first draft and it should be going to the publisher any day now for their review. Release of the book really depends on how they want this to fit into their release schedule for next year. They have not clearly told us. But we are hoping that it would be sometime mid-next year. And with any luck, we hope to have some kind of Honda retrospective arranged that can be used to promote Honda's career and the book.

Galvan: I understand you and Mr. Ryfle have seen Ishiro Honda's non-tokusatsu films as part of your research. Do these films contain themes similar to his science-fiction pictures? Any other sides of Honda presented in these movies that us monster movie fans have not seen? (To date, I've only been able to track down his war film Farewell, Rabaul and a 1966 romantic comedy called Come Marry Me, starring Yuzo Kayama-both without subtitles or the aid of a translator.) I am a huge fan of Yuzo Kayama, so I'm quite interested in knowing your thoughts on Come Marry Me (1966).

Godziszewski: One of the best things that happened during the course of this project was getting the chance to see Honda's entire body of work. It just would not do service to the man and his career to judge it solely on his work only in one genre. Getting to see all these other films was like going to Mozart's hometown and finding a trunk with a dozen-plus of his undiscovered musical compositions. There are certainly some similar themes in these other works, but they also show how versatile a filmmaker that Honda was, how well he was able to capture the reality of ordinary life. While he may have made mostly program pictures, they were seldom ordinary or done by the numbers. These films reflect his personality and his personal experiences--they are alternately charming, funny, heartfelt, introspective, contemplative, and hopeful. He routinely advocates for the individual over the rigidity imposed by tradition, and he is a harsh critic when it comes to war and its toll on humanity. In science fiction, we mostly just see his views on peace and cooperation among all peoples. Because of the grander scale of SF films and their implications for humanity, seldom do we get to see the personal studies and values that are present in his other films.

Come Marry Me is a nice little film with some good performances and has the familiar Honda theme of following one's heart rather than mere obligation or social class. It's a modest film and has some really good comic moments. He would never make a film if he didn't give it his best effort, but I get a nagging feeling that something was missing here. Years later he would say that he had no idea why he was given the picture to do, so I wonder if he was already thinking at that time whether he wanted to go on much longer. That's just pure speculation on my part.

Galvan: Some more fan questions. Favorite Godzilla movie of the Showa, Heisei, and Millennium era?

Godzilla vs. BiollanteGodziszewski: I'll answer according to how you asked the question, i.e. favorite rather than best film. Rather than 'best', which tries to judge the quality of the film, 'favorite' speaks to what I enjoyed the most. For me, this is the easiest question to answer. Of the original series of films, my favorite is Godzilla vs The Thing. Not only do I see it as the film where everyone's quality of work was reaching its peak, it also is the film that most affected me when I saw it. I still have vivid memories of every part of the day that I went to see it. From the 90s films, I like Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) the best. That film was such a leap forward in creativity and focused a lot on Godzilla vs humanity, which I actually like more than Godzilla battling other monsters. The film has a lot of weak points, but all the new ideas and techniques were exciting to see. Unfortunately it was one of only two films I never got a chance to see in a theater, but to offset that, I was fortunate enough to get an early version of the script and to see a rough cut of the film, so my experience in seeing the film progress from start to finish was rather unique. Out of the most recent series of films, it's easy to pick GMK as my favorite. It had a more ambitious concept than any other film in its era, and I really like the aspect of what Godzilla thematically represents in this film. The others during this era really did not delve into anything special thematically about the character.

Galvan: Favorite Godzilla suit?

Godziszewski: Without a doubt, it's the 1964 version from Godzilla v The Thing. For me, it is the perfect combination of form and function. The body has the bulk to look enormous without looking unwieldy, the details are finely sculpted, the face has a fierce and frightening expression, the fins are well proportioned, and suit actor Nakajima gives a great performance.

Galvan: Godzilla excepted, favorite kaiju?

Godziszewski: Tough one to answer, but it's hard to pick against King Ghidorah. That has been Godzilla's deadliest enemy, it's a fantastic design, and the experience of seeing Ghidrah The Three-Headed Monster in a theater as a kid is just about on a par with my experience in seeing Godzilla vs The Thing. The fiery birth of King Ghidorah out of the meteor is one of the most jaw-dropping moments I ever had in a theater. Combine all those great memories with the character's superb design and powers, and I guess I would put him at #1a, next to Godzilla as #1.

Galvan: Akira Ifukube excepted, favorite G movie composer?

Godziszewski: This is a much harder choice to make than one would expect. Each of the other composers has such a different style that comparisons don't mean a lot. But if I am to choose, I would go with Michiru Oshima. Her Godzilla theme is far more memorable than any of the others, and she captures the awesome power of Godzilla and his opponents, which is something I really enjoy when listening to Godzilla music. And I thoroughly appreciated her adaptation of Mothra's themes in Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003).

Galvan: The 1954 original excepted, what is your personal favorite Godzilla movie?

Mothra vs. GodzillaGodziszewski: As with the suit, it's Godzilla vs The Thing. I think that this film represents the peak of technique in all areas...sfx, drama, acting, design. I cannot even begin to guess how many times I have watched it, and there is not a single viewing where I haven't felt the same level of awe and wonder that I first felt back in 1964 when I saw it at age 11.

Galvan: Godzilla Raids Again (1955) or The Return of Godzilla (1984)? Which was the better direct sequel to the 1954 original, in your opinion?

Godziszewski: That's a tough one. Godzilla Raids Again (1955) really doesn't do much to continue the story of its predecessor. Godzilla isn't the same creature (just another of the same species) and it doesn't really play on any particular theme from the first film. Aside from Dr Yamane's brief appearance and presentation of the film about the original creature, this is just another giant monster film. It's entertaining enough, but it is so different in tone and feel that I never feel like this is the next step in the Godzilla story. On the other hand, The Return of Godzilla (1984) is most certainly trying to pass itself off as a followup story to the original film, but at the same time, the link is link vague. Is it really the original creature, somehow having survived, or is it another of the same species? I never could quite understand what they were trying to say. Of course, in the end, it doesn't matter that much to the story--people recognize it as Godzilla having returned in some manner. The amount of time that has elapsed since the original film takes a bit of the edge off of it as a sequel, but at least I get a feeling that it is more of a followup story than Godzilla Raids Again. And that they are using a similar theme of caution against nuclear energy also makes it more of a proper sequel. But as with Godzilla Raids Again, you don't need to have seen the original film to understand and enjoy it. So in that way, both films aren't strong as sequels. I like them both, but at the same time I think both are rather middle-of-the-road films.

Galvan: Many directors apart from Honda have contributed to the Godzilla franchise over the years. Of these directors, whose approach did you like the most? Whose approach did you like the least?

Godziszewski: I think most of the other directors approached Godzilla a bit differently, but each of them at least respected the character and put their own spin on the character...except for Ryuhei Kitamura. I personally got a feeling of contempt for both the character and the audience from his work on Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). The fact that he proudly announced during his publicity tour that "no one has ever made a good Godzilla film before" says a lot. Really? Such blatant disrespect, especially for Ishiro Honda who created this worldwide phenomenon, is nothing short of insulting. It makes the dedication at the beginning of the film ring particularly hollow. Instead of a celebration of the character and a grand send-off for the 50th anniversary, what we got was a self-indulgent Matrix-wannabe "action" film that seemed to begrudgingly include giant monsters. The overlong 'drama' is full of characters more interested is striking cool poses than doing some real acting, and the script doesn't even try to resolve anything logically. Heroes in a tough spot? Have them escape off screen and merely explain "Somehow we escaped." He just can't be bothered by such mundane details when there's another endless martial arts battle to be added. Monster battles are staged in the briefest and least dramatic style possible. The audience is cheated time after time by not resolving the basics of the plot or showing what they really came for (i.e. monsters). He decided to treat Godzilla as just a big joke not to be taken seriously. You can argue whether or not that is a good approach, but even under this premise, everything is so poorly executed that it fails as a film. If making a film intentionally bad was the goal, well, he succeeded in spades, but I find that nothing to be commended. And in making this fiasco, he also managed to do what no one else in history was able to do, which was to actually kill off Godzilla (at the box office, at least).

As for a director whose approach I appreciated, I would have to say that I appreciated Shusuke Kaneko's take on Godzilla the most. His sensibility for the character seems to more closely mirror what I like to see. I like Godzilla best when he is powerful and seemingly unstoppable, something to be feared, and also when he thematically stands for something more than just a giant monster.

Galvan: When promoting The Return of Godzilla in 1984, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka stated he preferred Godzilla to have a "mean streak." And it does seem many fans today prefer it when Godzilla's either a villain or an anti-hero as opposed to the more heroic figure the monster became in the 1970s. Where do you stand on this topic?

The Return of GodzillaGodziszewski: I am very much in the camp of liking Godzilla as a threat. Dramatically, it's much more interesting than him being a hero. When you think of it, who are the most memorable characters in cinema? For the most part, it's the villains. Star Wars may have been about Luke and friends saving the day, but I would argue that Darth Vader is the defining image that everyone thinks about when you think of Star Wars. Sure, James Bond is one of my favorite characters, but his exploits are defined more by his adversaries than by himself. Without impressive foes like Red Grant, Goldfinger, Oddjob, Blofeld, etc to defeat, 007 would be just another spy. The villains drive the story, and the bigger and more threatening, the more difficult they are to beat, the more interesting the struggle and the more satisfying their eventual defeat. That's what creates drama. At least that's how I look at it. And in the case of Godzilla, there is some possibility to have it both ways. He can just as easily help mankind as threaten them...when fighting off threats such as King Ghidorah, he acts to protect himself or his turf. Fortunately for humanity, that sometimes coincides with our interests as well. When he is only a hero, the character too easily loses his impressiveness and can easily descend into parody. I'd rather my favorite character not be in that position.

Galvan: One of my goals since joining Toho Kingdom has been to expand, if even by a little bit, the interest of the audience in Toho films outside of tokusatsu. So I'd like to turn away from Godzilla now. What are your thoughts on Akira Kurosawa and what is your favorite film by him?

Godziszewski: Well, Kurosawa didn't become an international film icon for nothing. Of course I enjoy his films immensely. Even the least of his films have an amazing energy about them. By and large they are all very well acted and can sense how well they are planned, and they all have something to say about the human condition. You can't help but be moved in some way or another by the power of his work. Picking a favorite from his work is like trying to pick which of your kids you like the most...but if I must pick, I would go with Seven Samurai (1954). It's so visually overwhelming, full of fantastic performances, and tells its story in such an effortless manner than you scarcely realize that it's a full 3 hours long.

Galvan: Speaking of Kurosawa, there is a famous urban legend that he wanted to do a Godzilla movie of his own but Toho wouldn't hear of it for fear of the money such a project would cost. I've never found any confirmation of this story, but it is an enamoring idea. What do you think? Would Kurosawa have been a good fit for the kaiju genre?

Godziszewski: Yes, I believe that is an urban legend. I think that must have come from something that Yu Fujiki said in the dvd commentary for King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), where I think he was asked about Kurosawa doing Godzilla, and he commented that Toho would never agree since it would cost way too much. Which is exactly correct. From what I know, I doubt that he could have even made a Godzilla film back in his day. For one thing, I think he and Tsuburaya would have never been able to coexist. Their personalities were both too strong. Pretty much the only director that either one could get along with well was Honda. You'll note that there are almost no special effects in any of Kurosawa's films, which is not just a coincidence, I think. Sadamasa Arikawa told Steve Ryfle and me that Kurosawa once asked for Tsuburaya to film the moving forest for the ending of Throne of Blood (1957). Tsuburaya didn't want to do it, knowing Kurosawa would never be satisfied, but they tried anyway. When the footage was shown in the screening room, Arikawa happened to be sitting right next to Kurosawa. Upon seeing the rushes, Kurosawa loudly blurted out "Who made this garbage?" as Arikawa sunk down into his seat to try and keep out of sight. That was the last thing that Tsuburaya filmed for him. Kurosawa pretty much had an exact image in his head of what he wanted. In live action, he was in charge, so he could always get what he wanted. That would never be the case with special effects under someone else's control. As much as a perfectionist as Kurosawa was, I can't see that any amount of time and money would have ever sufficed to allow him to achieve his vision. But if time and money were no object, it would have been interesting to see what he could have done.

Galvan: Any other Toho films/directors you would recommend to fans of Japanese cinema?

Shall We DanceGodziszewski: That's one of those questions that I could write pages and pages about. I feel lucky to have had exposure a lot of Japanese films, not just science fiction and fantasy, so there are lots of choices. In the past, those of us in the Chicago area had a lot of opportunities to see 35mm screenings of Japanese films, and when I travel to Japan for business (several times a year), I have had the chance to see a wide variety of contemporary Japanese films that I am sure I would never otherwise have a chance to see. I really enjoy the warm and genuine feelings of the films of Yoji Yamada. His Tora-san series always manages to create a good mix of comedy and tug ant the heartstrings. I very much enjoy Takashi Yamazaki's films, especially the first two Always films. I know they present a sentimental and idealized portrait of Japanese life from the late 50s and early 60s, and in that sense are unrealistic, but I like this kind of old-fashioned sense of storytelling. They make me think of American films from the 40s and 50s in that way, and I feel like they are the kind of films that Ishiro Honda would have made if he were working today. I also really enjoyed his live-action adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato (2010). I have recently had the chance to see several comedies by Koki Mitani which I have really enjoyed-particularly Suite Dreams (2006) and A Ghost of a Chance. They are both ensemble comedies that are really clever and full of sharp, well-played characters. Masahiro Suo is another comedy director I like, most famous for Shall We Dance? (1996) Several of his films are just a variation on the formula of Shall We Dance?, but they are all quite entertaining and genuinely funny. One film which I wish I could see again is the 1979 film Demon Pond, a great fantasy film by Mashiro Shinoda that has never had a video release-it is not to be missed if you ever have a chance to see it. Of course there are also classic films like Harp of Burma, Children of Hiroshima, Sandakan No. 8 (1974), and Station (1981) which are all highly recommended.

Galvan: Any more future projects from you we can expect aside from the Ishiro Honda book?

Godziszewski: Having spent the better part of 7 years working on this book, I haven't really thought too much about what's next. Steve and I have talked on and off about doing a book that compiles many of the interviews that we and some others have done, some of which have not yet been published. That would be fun, and certainly less work. I hope to help out Sean Linkenback on his next book idea, which would be on Godzilla collectibles. Working extensively with him on the poster book that he did recently was really fun and rewarding. As I said earlier, I would love to resume publishing JG, but until I see a change of heart in fandom where enough people are interested to learn about how these films are made, I will have to find some other outlet for writing and researching.

Galvan: Thank you so much Mr. Godziszewski for taking the time to do this interview.


Interview: Ed Godziszewski (2016)


Publisher and editor of the long running Japanese Giants magazine, Ed Godziszewski has been heavily involved with the fandom since the late 1970's. A prolific writer, Godziszewski has also been featured in other capacities in the fandom, including doing audio commentaries for several DVDs such as Classic Media's Godzilla Raids Again release.

Date: 01/12/2016
Interviewer: Patrick Galvan


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