Godzilla Was Very Different 60 Years Ago


From The Wall Street Journal

TOKYO—Godzilla has come a long way in 60 years.

When the original film opened in Japan on Nov. 3, 1954, Godzilla was made from bamboo, cloth, paper, wire and whatever was available, says Eizo Kaimai, the 85-year-old chairman of Kaimai Productions.

This was long before digital wizards came along to create a T-Rex or Transformer, before Star Wars, Jurassic Park or Avatar.

“Back then, when we first created monster movies, we didn’t even have plastic or urethane material available,” says Mr. Kaimai, one of the few surviving members from the team that created the first Godzilla film. “It was hard work.”

This isn’t to say that the special-effects team for the new Gareth Edwards-directed “Godzilla,” which opened world-wide this year, had it easy. According to London-based Moving Picture Company, which rebooted the monster, creating the living creature from concept artwork took seven months, working up his body—from the underlying bones, fat and muscle structure to the thickness and texture of his scales. The new movie has brought in $525 million world-wide, according to Box Office Mojo.

Mr. Kaimai gives the Hollywood remake high praise, saying he is glad to have lived long enough to witness the digital revolution breathing new life into his monster. “They’re good. They really did something extraordinary,” he says. “They are so good, we will end up losing our jobs.”

But the octogenarian takes pride in the fact none of it would have existed if it wasn’t for his team’s efforts in the summer of 1954.

Before signing with Toho Studios, Mr. Kaimai made a living creating life-size dolls, including those used in haunted houses in theme parks. Godzilla was his first job collaborating with a film actor. On his first day, he says, he was presented with a miniature clay model of what the beast might look like and told to get to work.



The exterior of Godzilla’s body was manufactured with rubber material. For its feet, the team came up with the idea of remodeling rubber boots. World War II had ended just nine years earlier and the only place such gear was available at the time was the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Mr. Kaimai says.

Directors, designers, actors and producers all came up with requests and their ideas on what the beast should look like. Mr. Kaimai would add or reduce bumps on Godzilla’s skin.

“It wasn’t a fun process, to be honest. Everything was done on a trial-and-error basis,” Mr. Kaimai says. The finished prototype was a failure as well. “I knew the moment we were done, the first Godzilla suit had failed. The joints were too stiff and no one could move in it,” he says. “Plus, it weighed 100 kilograms [220 pounds].”

The original Godzilla film was shot between August and October in the scorching summer of 1954. Actor Haruo Nakajima remembers what it was like inside Mr. Kaimai’s remodeled suit, which still weighed about 60 kilograms.

“The temperatures inside reached 140 degrees,” says Mr. Nakajima, 85 years old. He would pop out of the rubber monster after each take, with sweat dripping from his shirt. In Mr. Nakajima’s view, Ken Watanabe, the actor who plays scientist Ishiro Serizawa in the latest Godzilla film, is “still inexperienced.”

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