Kaiju Transmissions Interview: Kazuhiro Nakagawa

As you likely know, Kaiju Transmissions is a remarkable podcast that regularly brings us detailed discussions of frequently under-represented topics related to kaiju and tokusatsu filmmaking (and if if you didn’t know, check it out; you’re about to have a new favorite show). Hosts Matt and Byrd got to interview a number of guests at last month’s G-Fest XXIV, but due to technical difficulties, the audio came out sounding not quite up to broadcast standards. Rather than just chuck the interviews, they figured folks would get a kick out of reading the transcriptions, and offered to let me post them here. Kudos to their efforts, and enjoy the interviews!

G-Fest 2017: Kazuhiro Nakagawa Interview
for the Kaiju Transmissions Podcast

Kyle Byrd:  We’ve been interviewing some of the guests who have been very generous in giving us some of their time.  Today joining us is Kazuhiro Nakagawa, who is an assistant director.  Kaiju fans may know him as being Shinji Higuchi’s assistant director on the Attack on Titan films and Shin Godzilla.  He is also the director of the short film Day of the Kaiju as well.  So first off, thank you for sitting down with us today.

Kazuhiro Nakagawa:  Nice to meet you.  I’m Kazuhiro Nakagawa (laughs).

Matt Parmley:  With us as well interpreting for us is Mike Field.  So thank you for doing that for us Mike, we appreciate it.

Mike Field:  You’re welcome, thank you for having me.

KB: So how did you get involved in working on tokusatsu films, especially since it seems like there are less and less of them?  How did you break into that industry?

KN: I worked originally on TV dramas that didn’t have any effects and weren’t tokusatsu related.  I got into the tokusatsu world because of Shinji Higuchi, so that’s how I got involved with Attack on Titan and Shin Godzilla.

KB:  How did you first meet Higuchi and get on board with those projects?

KN: I first met Higuchi-san in 2006 on Sinking of Japan.  I really loved the 90s Gamera series and when I met him, I was so stars truck, I was thinking “Higuchi!  He really exists!”  I was blown away!

KB:  So I want to talk about your short film Day of the Kaiju.  What gave you the idea to make that film?

KN:  When I made it, I was thinking about the effects of the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima disaster.  I wanted to make a movie that would incorporate that type of disaster.   I wanted to make a movie where the kaiju was a metaphor for things you couldn’t see.  The disaster with the nuclear power plant, you couldn’t see that danger.  It was something you couldn’t grasp, so the kaiju is the metaphor for those dangers you couldn’t see to understand.

Day of the Kaiju (2014)

KB:  Was the movie born out of a particular frustration with how the government was handling those disasters?  Because in the movie, the government very much doesn’t want to listen to the experts and because of that, a lot of people pay with their lives.  Was that something you were feeling a particular frustration with at the time?

KN:  Yes, of course.  I felt like if I do nothing, nothing would change.  So my way of doing something was to make a film.

KB: The actual kaiju we don’t see much of in the movie.  But how did you come up with the design for that monster?

KN:  Well it was based on a whale, but the big tusks were something I took from Gamera!

Day of the Kaiju

MP:  So lets talk about Attack on Titan.  What was your role on that film?

KN: Assistant director.

MP: What did you handle as assistant director?

KN:  I was in charge of the props.

MP: Did you work with the big Colossal Titan puppet?

KN:  Yes.  (Mr. Nakagawa pulls out his phone and starts looking through his pictures).

KB:  He’s got his phone out.  It looks like he’s going to share an image with us, which we will describe.

KN:  Keep talking (laughs).

MP:  As far as the props go, what other props were you working with besides the Colossal Titan?  Oh, he might be showing us!

KN: (Shows photo on his phone)

KB: So we’re looking at a behind the scenes photo.  We have the Armored Titan, the Colossal Titan, and Ehren.  That was great work on those puppets and suits.

KN:  As far as other props, I was mainly working on the solider props, so their costumes and their weapons and those things.

KB: Were there any scenes in particular that you had a heavy hand in?

KN:  I feel like the scene I remember the most and that I had the biggest part of was the first big Titan attack in Part One.

MP:  Ah, that’s my favorite scene in the movie!

KN: I remember working on the timing of blowing up all the figures and models and those things.  I really liked that.

MP:  Was there difficulty filming those scenes?  Are there any stories you could share about any hardships you had while filming?

KN:  There weren’t any real Titans in that scene, they were added later.  So when we were filming without having them there, that was very difficult.  So we had to have a long pole for the actors to look at to act out the scene.  That was pretty difficult.

KB:  Shifting to Shin Godzilla, what was your general job on the set there?

KN:  I was the assistant director on that too.  For that one, one of my big jobs was researching and looking up information about politics and politicians and what they do.

MP:  That’s a very difficult job (laughs).

KN: (laughs).  So with the screenplay, I kept thinking about becoming a politician and how difficult it is.

MP:  So you got to work on the actual screenplay itself?

KN:  I worked on editing and re-wording the screenplay.

KB: With Shin Godzilla, did you get to work with Anno directly at all?

KN:  Yes, but Anno wasn’t very direct, so I kind of had to work around the bush and go to different people to get a better understanding of what Anno wanted.

KB:  Was Higuchi kind of your middle man for those things?

KN: (laughs).  Well Anno-san would say something and I would go to Higuchi-san and try to explain to him what Anno was trying to say or what type of scene to film.  The most frustrating part would be when Anno and Higuchi would be talking to each other and I would just be standing there on the side, not saying anything, just waiting for them to work things out.  So I was actually kind of a middle-man sometimes!

MP: Going back to the politics portion, the movie talks about Article 9 a lot.  Was that something else you were in charge of researching?

KN:   Right, I did some research on Article 9, which involves the use of military force.  A lot of people don’t know if that would be good or not, so that was very difficult.  It is something that is argued about a lot in real life.

MP:  Would you say that was the theme of the movie itself?

KN:  It wasn’t really the main focus of the film even though it’s a part of it.  The thing was, it isn’t really about the article itself.  It is more how Japan would react, that was the focus.

Shin Godzilla (2016)

KB:  Foreigners are not as up to speed with what goes on in the Japanese government.  Would you say the movie says anything about international affairs?

KN:  I personally never really thought about it on a global or international perspective.  We really made it for a Japanese perspective.

MP:  So this is unrelated to that.  But at the end of the movie, everyone wants to know what those things coming out of the tail are.  Did they have a specific purpose?  Are they the next part of Godzilla’s evolution, or are they just there for imagery?

KN:  Um.  Only Anno knows!    (all laughing)

MP:  That’s the best answer!

KB:  Of course, of course (laughs).  On Shin Godzilla, were there any scenes you liked the most in the movie or any you enjoyed working on the most?

KN:  I really enjoyed the scene where the helicopters are flying through the building and approaching Godzilla.

MP: Ok, that is a cool scene.

KB:  Like us here, you have a passion for miniature effects and tokusatsu.  Recently, we’ve had a lot of major kaiju movies using all CG.  Shin Godzilla was one of those.  I understand there was a giant Godzilla puppet built that was never used in the film.  I understand there was some difficulty with it.  Can you maybe be more specific as to why that puppet didn’t make it into the movie?

KN:  This answer is pretty on the nose.  Anno would know better than anyone, but from what I can tell, I feel that the puppet and the way the CGI Godzilla looked were just too different, so they just stuck with the CGI instead.

MP:  So was the puppet in the movie or not?  I can’t really tell and from what Higuchi was saying earlier, it sounds like it may not have been.  Were there any shots you know it was in the film at all or was it all CG?

KN:  All CG.  Actually, except for one.  The last shot of the tail, that was a miniature tail, not CGI.

MP:  The things coming out of the tail, yeah, did they make a full prop of that?  I saw some pictures in the Making Of book.  It looks kind of like the Giant God Warrior.

KN:  Yes, they made that, but we just used the tail part for the last scene.

Shin Godzilla

KB:  Going back to CGI, here we are doing the Godzilla and Kong films with CG.  What did you think of the 2014 Godzilla film and the recent Kong: Skull Island film?

KN:  I love them!  I really think they are very Toho-like, they have a very “kaiju pro wrestling” vibe.  They feel like they are the classic Showa films, but made with larger Hollywood budgets.  Hollywood Showa.

KB:  So going back a bit, I really like Day of the Kaiju.  Do you have any plans to do any other short films or anything else at this point?  Maybe another indie film?

KN:   Yes, I do.  Right now I am putting together a plan to submit it to the Japanese government, and if they like it, they will give me funding.

KB: Ok, well good luck, that’s something we’d all like to see.  Are you trying or do you have any aspirations to direct a full feature film of your own?

KN:  Yes, for sure.  And if the Japanese government fund what I’m working for now, I’ll be directing that.  So I’d love to make it and come back here and show it to everyone at another G-Fest!

KB: That would be awesome.

MP:  That would be great.

MP:  So I think we’re about out of time, so thanks again for doing this with us.

KB: Yeah, thank you again.  And we look forward to whatever you do.  Hopefully the government will let you make your film and you can show it to us!

KN:  So you’ve seen Day of the Kaiju?

KB:  Yes, I’m a big fan.  I like it a lot.

KN: Oh, that makes me so happy! (laughs)  Thank you.

KB:  Yeah, that’s why I want you to do more!

MP: Thanks again for joining us.

KN: Thank you!

Left to right: Matt Parmley, Kazuhiro Nakagawa, Kyle Byrd, and Mike Field

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