Q: Previously you had
directed such a wide array of movies – everything
from erotica to an art film to horror. Why did you
want to make a giant monster movie?
SK: Because actually I always wanted to make a kaiju
eiga since I was a child. I felt that I would make
Q: When did you decide to become a filmmaker, and
how did you get into the business?
SK: When I was a high school student I made an
8-millimeter film, and that was the first time I
wanted to be a director. Before that, I wrote
stories and also a manga cartoon, but I didn't feel
that those things were right for me. Once I made
that 8-millimeter film, I felt this was what I
wanted to do. When I drew cartoons, I didn't feel
quite right about the designs I was doing, but in
film, I just had to shoot the film.
In the university, I actually majored in the
educational department, and after that, I wanted to
be a teacher. The reason was that Japanese films
were not really commercially successful at that
time, and I realized that when I was a high school
student. After graduation from the university, I
took the interview examination at the Nikkatsu
studios, where they were looking for assistant
directors. Back then, Nikkatsu was the only studio
looking for those positions. At that time, 250
people took the exam, and only 2 people were
accepted and I was one of them. I wanted to show my
own 8-millimeter film work, but the Nikkatsu studio
people didn't let me. They just accepted me for my
passion towards filmmaking.
Q: What year were you hired by Nikkatsu?
SK: In 1978. I worked for five and a half years as
an assistant director. I hated that kind of work,
it's very hard. Back then, after the rehearsal of
those erotic scenes, I had to fix the bed for the
actors. I felt so depressed. Do you know how the
actors have to wear the patch in front of (their
genitals)? The actresses have to wear that patch,
and actually they will put it on by themselves. But
for the male actors, I had to put that patch on
them, because sometimes there are some actors who
don't know how to wear that patch. It's made of
rubber tape, so it's kind of painful if they don't
know how to rip it off correctly. [Note: Kaneko is
referring to the maebari – a skin-colored patch worn
by actors in Roman Porno films to prevent accident
shots of pubic hair, and developed by Nikkatsu
Studios in the 1970’s to comply with censorship
Q: Were there any particular kaiju eiga that left
an impression on you when you were growing up?
SK: The first one I saw was Mothra. Actually, Mothra
was probably the first film I saw, not just the
first kaiju eiga. Also Mr. Honda's films left quite
an impression on me.
Q: Some people say Gamera, Guardian of the
Universe looks as if it were influenced by Godzilla
(1954). Was that your intent?
SK: Well, I really didn't make it a conscious
tribute to the original Godzilla, but I just wanted
to make a good kaiju eiga.
Actually the first day of shooting was the scene on
Himegami Island, where Nagamine, the bird biologist,
arrives and she sees all those broken houses. On the
monitor, it was shown in black and white, and I
suddenly realized it was looking like Godzilla. The
crew men came to look at the monitor and shouted, "Odo
Q: What was it about Mr. Honda's films that you
liked so much?
SK: I really feel that high spirit in Mr. Honda's
films. When I saw all of Mr. Honda's kaiju eiga,
first when I was a child I just thought they were
very extravagant compared to all the other kaiju
eiga. But once I grew up, I felt that Mr. Honda was
a great soul, a great spirit … Within the kaiju eiga
genre, Mr. Honda's work really expresses all the
beauty of human beings. The human characteristics
are really expressed.
Q: As in Mr. Honda’s movies, your films have
those light touches of comedy, and you similarly
show your characters in ordinary situations. There
are the scenes in Asagi's fathers house, the
SK: Actually, it's rare to see such domestic
situations as Asagi's house in the 1990’s in Japan.
Because all the walls in the houses are more
modernized now. So actually, I did research and I
found that house, and I used it because it was kind
of old style, more like orthodox, conservative.
Q: Like Mr. Honda, you seem to be similarly
fascinated with ordinary people working at their job
and so forth. Would you agree with that?
SK: The bottom line was, I wanted to make a kaiju
eiga the “right way,” and so Mr. Honda's films were
like a textbook for me. For example, during the film
dubbing process, I worked with Mr. Higuchi. So, when
we inserted music and so forth, we actually had
conversations like, “If Mr. Honda were here, how
would he do such a scene?” Such as, in that scene
where Gamera comes ashore in Fukuoka, the music
score originally played from the beginning to the
end of the scene, continuously. But I felt that the
music score might kill some of the sound effects,
such as the ambulance siren. So I said, “what would
Mr. Honda do if he were here?” Then, we actually cut
that music in the middle, and the ambulance siren
came through very clearly. I think if this was a
Hollywood film, they might have run the music from
beginning to end.
Q: What is your working relationship like with
screenwriter Kazunori Ito? I understand that, prior
to the Gamera films, you worked on several projects
SK: When I was an assistant director, I wrote
cartoon film scripts. At that time, Mr. Ito was in
charge of correcting all those scripts and kind of
summing up the story. That was the first time I
worked with Mr. Ito. After I stopped writing those
cartoon scripts, Mr. Ito made his debut as a
screenwriter. Since then, I had asked Mr. Ito to
write a screenplay for me, but he never had a
Once I wanted to make a movie version of Ultra Q,
and I asked Mr. Ito to write the screenplay, but it
never materialized. I don't know about other genres,
but for kaiju eiga, Mr. Ito and I are of the same
mind and attitude. Actually I felt a little bit
different when we worked together on Necronomicon
compared to Gamera. But, when we worked on Ultra Q,
I felt very close to him. Compared to other writers
I have worked with, Mr. Ito is more flexible. And
also, he understands when I ask him to change some
parts and he grabs the idea quickly. And when we are
shooting, if I ask him to change some parts of the
script, Mr. Ito really doesn't get angry. Some
writers get angry when their script is changed.
Q: Were there any major story changes in Gamera,
Guardian of the Universe from the first draft to the
SK: Well, I don’t know if this is major, but in the
original draft there were five Gyaoses. And also,
there was too much exposition. In the original
draft, there were too many scenes before Yonemori
gets to Asagi's house. He had to go through all
these obstacles to get there. And in the original
story, when Yonemori got involved with doing the
research on the ship, originally Kusanagi didn't let
him join. Actually, Yonemori blackmailed Kusanagi,
threatened to expose this scandal in which the
insurance company was responsible for this accident
involving the strange atoll.
Also, in the original story, the Japan Self Defense
Force immediately attacked Gamera once he came
ashore in Fukuoka. After several conversations with
actual defense force members in Japan, we learned
that usually the JSDF never really attacks that
In the original story, the atoll was submerged, and
its surface was below the sea, and all these air
bags were attached to the atoll to float it to the
surface. And also, the bridge scene was not really
in the original script.
Q: That’s one of my favorite parts of the film.
SK: Well, the original story was very interesting
and very good, but still it didn't have enough
dramatic flourishes. So, then we added the bridge
scene. The biologist Nagamine was not in the
original story; actually, I added that character.
Also, Mr. Ito felt a little bit uncomfortable about
putting in a scene in which the hero saves the girl
and the child on the bridge. He felt kind of
embarrassed to include such a scene, it felt kind of
SK: Actually, this feeling of embarrassment about
this type of scene is really why many Japanese films
don't look that far-fetched. That usually doesn't
happen, a person just saving a beautiful woman. It's
rather obvious and fake. That’s why we kind of
hesitate to include scenes of rescue or heroic
Q: That reminded me of the scene where Frankie
Sakai saves the baby in Mothra.
SK: Actually, I told Mr. Ito that I wanted to have a
scene where somebody saves another person's life.
Then, Mr. Ito said to me, "maybe it's time to have a
scene like the one in Mothra.”
Q: One of the reasons I love the bridge scene,
and the scene where the Gyaos are captured in the
dome, and the scene on the island where Gyaos fly
over the trees, is that people are directly
threatened by the monsters, so it creates horror.
Most kaiju eiga aren’t really scary. Usually the
monsters just fight other monsters, they don't
SK: When I was a child, seeing all those monster
movies really scared me. So, that's what I wanted to
bring back again. I really didn't refer to any 80’s
and 90’s kaiju eiga, but I did watch a lot of horror
Q: Is it hard to create horror without really
scaring the children?
SK: I actually feel I am quite good at striking a
balance. Remember the scene where Gyaos nests in the
Tokyo Tower? Originally, that was supposed to take
place somewhere on top of a building. It was Mr.
Higuchi's idea to switch it to the Tokyo Tower. He
really has such great flashes of ideas. But also, he
suggested we include a scene of cannibalism among
the Gyaoses. From my point of view, that's kind of
too much for children. So, maybe he doesn’t strike
that balance quite as well as I do.
Q: Well, although primarily for children, the
original Gamera series was very violent at times,
compared to the Toho films.
SK: There was more blood. In the Toho movies, [SFX
director] Eiji Tsuburaya didn't want to show the
Q: What is your opinion of the original Gamera
series? Did you decide consciously to make your
films different in tone and style?
SK: I really enjoyed the original Gamera vs. Gyaos,
but there were other films, such as the one where
Gamera does those flips on the iron bar [Gamera vs.
Guillon]. Compared to Toho's special-effects films
during that time, the effects were somewhat poor.
Therefore, going into Gamera, Guardian of the
Universe, I really wanted to make a kaiju eiga that
would be convincing to today's audiences, which are
much more sophisticated.
Q: Were you pressured by the company to make a
children's film, or was it a company decision to
make a serious movie?
SK: In the beginning, the Daiei production company
couldn't make a decision as to what would be the
best way. Did you know that there were two
completely different scripts before Mr. Ito's?
Q: Does that include the one by Mr. Takahashi [Niisan
Takahashi, screenwriter of the original Gamera
movies from Gammera the Invincible (1965) to Gamera
Super Monster (1980)]?
SK: Actually Mr. Takahashi wanted to submit his own
work, but it wasn't a completed script. It was more
of a treatment. But there were two other scripts
before Mr. Ito's.
Q: What were they like?
SK: Terrible. They were completely for children … I
think the company probably really wanted to have
something in between those two discarded scripts and
Mr. Ito's script. I kept hearing that “Gamera is the
friend of children.” More than anything about those
old monster movies, Mr. Ito disliked those children
in the films who act like adults and boss all the
stupid grown-ups around. The kids know everything!
But Daiei's people didn't feel the same way Mr. Ito
did about it. I believe Daiei did a great amount of
marketing research before making the new Gamera, and
they found that people expect Gamera to be the
friend of children, and to work together with
children to defeat the enemy.
Q: I had heard that before Daiei decided to make
a new Gamera, they were thinking about doing a new
Daimajin movie. Were you involved in that project?
SK: Actually, when Daiei was developing a new
Daimajin, I was asked if I was interested. But it
was too expensive to do a remake of Daimajin, so
Daiei gave up on that project.
Q: Are you pleased with the critical reaction to
Gamera, Guardian of the Universe?
SK: Actually I felt kind of weird, because all the
critical reactions were more or less similar. My
previous works, such as Summer Vacation 1999,
received pro and con reviews, but with Gamera, every
one was pro. So, that really felt weird.
Q: And what are your feelings about the way it
SK: I expected more, much better commercial box
office results, after it received such a great
Q: What are you doing differently as a director
SK: This time, I want to show the fatal
circumstances human beings are facing. These
circumstances are almost like a war situation.
That's why Legion, the alien, attacks the Earth.
Compared to the previous film, Gamera's character
also seems to have grown up, spiritually and
physically. Before, it was kind of obvious that
Gamera was fighting for Mankind, to save the people.
But now, when the monster fights, the question
arises as to why. I wanted to show what he is
Gyaos was such an evil monster, but this time I had
to show something different. Not evil, not really a
hateful monster, actually this Legion character
creates such great fear because it really invades
the Earth, threatening everyone's faith in the
planet and creating a global crisis. It’s not really
just an emotional thing – Legion is different from
anything on Earth, and it has its own social
community which includes the Soldier Legion and the
Queen Legion. Another difference is that Legion
isn't inherently evil, the only thing it's trying to
do is breed and survive, to live. That's another big
difference from the previous film.
Q: Godzilla (1954) has been called a metaphor for
nuclear war and death. What would you say your
Gamera is a metaphor for, and also Legion and Gyaos.
SK: Well, right now, Japan doesn't really have
enemies exactly. For example, the former Soviet
Union, North Korea, they are different but not
exactly enemy countries. So, if we had countries who
were clearly our enemies, and we were in a cold war
situation, I wouldn't make such a film. In that
case, Legion would be a metaphor for our enemy
Q: Are you trying to illustrate Japan's
insecurity in the international community, your
SK: I can imagine it's not unbelievable that we
could be attacked and get involved in such a crisis.
We don't really have that, but in kaiju eiga, we can
show this imaginary creature. In that case, we can
show all the Japanese people cooperating with each
other to fight against such a creature. In the kaiju
eiga genre, we can show the beauty of people
cooperating. And people will be convinced of such a
situation, and it's easy to follow and understand.
Q: You mentioned that in this film, Gamera's
character develops and it becomes unclear why he is
fighting. What does Gamera represent?
SK: In one way, Gamera reveals the real man. On the
other hand, it also shows a boy who was bullied by
all those other kids, having such a hard shell. I
hope those children who are usually beaten up or
bullied, it helps them feel better after seeing the
Q: When Daiei decided to remake Gamera, why not
go back to the original story where Gamera was
threatening mankind. Instead, what you have is
something in between the original Gamera, where he’s
a threat, and the later ones, where he is a hero.
SK: Because Daiei didn't want to copy Godzilla's
ideas. Godzilla is such an evil monster.
Q: What is your working relationship with Mr.
SK: Starting from the story of how I met him, Mr.
Higuchi was introduced to me by Mr. Ito. Actually, I
saw Mr. Higuchi's work when he was an amateur, and I
was very impressed. Later, I found out Mr. Higuchi
was working on one of my erotic comedies. In that
film, there was also a small special effects scene.
There was a five-story tower in that film, and Mr.
Higuchi was building the miniatures for this tower.
But at that time he was just working, not really a
Q: He seems sort of wonderfully eccentric.
SK: His character is eccentric too.
Q: Gamera, Guardian of the Universe looks like it
was directed by a single person. The continuity
between drama and SFX is seamless. How do you work
together with Mr. Higuchi, as far as editing and so
SK: It was a really good relationship. In the first
place, we drew all the story boards together. As I
mentioned earlier, I am really good at keeping the
balance. Also, Mr. Higuchi really showed great
respect to me, so it was a good relationship.
Q: In Gamera, Guardian of the Universe there were
some effects we had never seen in kaiju eiga before.
What types of new things do you expect special
effects director Higuchi to bring to Gamera 2:
Advent of Legion?
SK: First of all, I expect Mr. Higuchi to show how
evil Legion is, and how cool looking Legion is.
Also, this time the story takes place mostly in the
countryside. Not in the center of Tokyo, or a
metropolitan city. That also gives it some
uniqueness. Also, you already know, the flying
Gamera uses his fins this time.
Q: We heard the other day a little bit of
information about screenwriter Ito's idea for Gamera
3. What can you tell us about that? [Note: at this
point, rumors were circulating that the third
installment in the trilogy would pit Gamera against
mankind; the story that eventually surfaced three
years later in Gamera 3: The Awakening of Irys is
SK: Well, it's not really in the serious phase at
this moment. It's almost more like a joke. But of
course, if there is an opportunity, I would really
like to do that. I am basically working as a
freelancer and I am not under contract with Daiei,
so I don't know what's going to happen.
Q: What are your hopes for the U.S. release of
Gamera, Guardian of the Universe?
SK: I want as many people as possible to see the
film. But also, I know it's going to be difficult
for American audiences to watch all these Asian
actors. On the other hand, when I was in Los
Angeles, I saw War of the Gargantuas in the video
store. So, I hope many moviegoers will love Gamera,
Guardian of the Universe.
Q: I think it has a good chance of success in the
U.S. video market. Many kaiju eiga are popular on
SK: In American monster films, there are only a few
scenes with the actual monsters. Japanese monster
films may look a little bit cheaper, but still there
are many more monster scenes. So I'm hopeful that
American audiences will enjoy watching this kind of
Q: Now that Godzilla is dead, Mothra is coming
back and Gamera is reborn, what does the future hold
for kaiju eiga in Japan?
SK: In the future there might not be just kaiju eiga.
It might be better to have robot films too. Also, a
really great Ultraman movie should be done sometime
in the future, but it's going to be difficult to
make a great Ultraman.
Q: Is this a good time to be making kaiju eiga in
SK: It's a good time, because now, anything can
happen in Japan. We experienced a big earthquake,
and the subway gas attack. So, people think it's not
really strange at all to have such monsters. But of
course, if a monster really appeared in today's
Japan, there would be nothing we could do after all.
Q: Have current events affected your filmmaking?
In other words, was there any concern after the Kobe
earthquake, and then with the gas attack, about
having similar sequences [i.e., the Soldier Legions
attacking passengers in a subway] in your film?
SK: Actually, it wasn't really related. Just some
journalists, when I was shooting in Hokkaido, were
concerned a little bit, because of the similarity of
these subway scenes. For example, in Gamera,
Guardian of the Universe, I heard that victims of
the Kobe earthquake actually enjoyed the film.
Q: Did you feel constrained by the budget, and
how did you make such a lavish-looking movie for
this amount of money? [Note: Although Daiei
officials have stated that the budgets for the
Gamera movies are in the $10 million range, insider
sources claim the actual budget of Gamera, Guardian
of the Universe was about $4.5 million]
SK: I did feel I was constrained by such a small
budget, because I had to delete some great scenes
and sequences from the film. Right around
pre-production, they estimated the budget at around
$15 million for the first film. But then they had to
lower the budget, so the [producers] started to
negotiate to lower the fee for each staff person.
Also, for extras, they are never paid, they just get
Gamera 2: Advent of Legion probably looks much more
extravagant (than the first film), but the reason
for that is that there are many Self Defense Force
scenes, and actually those people were working for
Q: One last question. Did you accomplish what you
wanted to with Gamera, Guardian of the Universe?
SK: Yes. I really felt that I climbed up to the top
of the hill.
conducted 1996 in Tokyo by Steve Ryfle.
© Steve Ryfle. Reprinted by permission.
Translation by Haruyo Moriyoshi.