First up, this ain't my story. Not at all.
BRING IT ON!
1964 was a revolutionary year. There was a musical revolution in England, a civil rights revolution in America, and a revolution-turned-war in Southeast Asia. In Japan, the kaiju revolution hit full stride. Mothra vs. Godzilla had just been released and Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster was on the way. After ten years of Toho dominating the kaiju field, suddenly every studio wanted a kaiju. And for us kaiju, we were thrilled that, after years of struggle, we were finally gaining acceptance. It was that August that the following full-page ad appeared in Variety Japan: Are you the NEXT GODZILLA? Daiei Films is looking for a powerful, charismatic kaiju to star in his own series. Open call on August 25, at Daiei Studios. (Must be good with children) My roommate Barugon and I salivated when we saw that. After years of busting our tails, this was our chance at the big time. We prepared for our auditions with monologues from Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller, and practicing our city destruction on Erector Sets. We went to the countryside to practice my flame breath and his freezing breath. August 25 came, and practically every kaiju in the country was there for the audition. I mean, every kaiju. Most of them would at least appear on "Ultraman" or "Space Giants" or "Giant Robo". But some old-timers like Anguiras and Varan were there, hoping to revitalize their careers, and they were surrounded by younger kaiju who were seeking career advice. To audition, we had to get on stage and show our stuff in front of the casting directors and the rest of the hopefuls. Ebirah gave a good read, but his lack of special powers hurt him. Red King did an excellent Falstaff, but stumbled badly in the improv part when he tripped over a bridge. Manda and Kumonga were good, but we all realized that spiders and snakes wouldn't go over well with the children. Anguiras was a front-runner going in, but clearly had problems working with children. Gorosaurus, Gabara, Guilala, Gappa, Gyaos, Guiron, all of them put in their best effort. Afterward, we waited half an hour while the Daiei execs narrowed down their choices. I struck up a conversation with Gyaos. My bat-like new friend was talking about the time he sneaked into Yojimbo by pretending to be a bird, thus making him an unpaid background performer (a.k.a. an extra, for you non-industry types). I was about to tell him about my night on the town with Akihiko Hirata when a ruckus arose. Seems that Barugon had just met Baragon, and the two had gotten into an argument over the similarity between their names. It would have gotten ugly had I not stepped in and held Barugon back. He had given a good audition, and as much as I wanted the part, I would have been really happy if he had made the cut. I didn't want to see him lose out because of some stupid argument. The Daiei people came out and announced their five finalists. They were Barugon, Gappa, Varan, Baltan... and me! Me! I couldn't begin to tell you how happy I was. The five of us were to return in one week to finally determine who would make the grade. Barugon and I went home, our heads swimming. We both wanted it equally bad. We were on the verge of stardom by the skin of our fangs, possibly the next Godzilla or Mothra. Later that night, while watching TV and after a couple Sapporos, Barugon told me he had a plan."I probably shouldn't tell you this, Gammy, but I think I've got this locked up." "How so?" "See, I've been working on something special. Now, all the great monsters have some kind of super power, right? You know, Godzilla's breath, Rodan's wind...." "Of course. We've got weapons like that ourselves." "Well, I figured, why stop at one? Double the super powers, double the chances of getting the part." I understood his train of thought, but silently wondered if this might be overkill. "Besides, it's gonna be geared for a younger audience. Which means kids, right? So, I figured, use something that the kids can relate to. Now, watch this!" With that, Barugon grimaced, and slowly a rainbow grew out of the spines on his back. Really impressive, and totally original. But this was a high-energy rainbow, and it burned a hole through our roof which the landlord would be none too happy about. But that was far from our minds at that moment. Barugon was brimming with confidence that the big time was his. And I couldn't help but feel envious, seeing my chance at the part slipping away. As much as I wanted him to succeed, I wanted the part even more now. And the final call was only a week away. What could I do? The gossip columnists were all abuzz about who would be Daiei's kaiju star. The good money was on Varan, who had previous starring experience even though his film was a disappointment and he could do little more than be a gigantic Rocky the Flying Squirrel. After him was the unknown Gappa, who had a wife and son and could thus relate to the family audience. Baltan was a real talent, but was considered too insect-like to be a kiddie hero. That left Barugon, a puppy-like lizard with freezing breath and a killer rainbow, and myself, a fire-breathing turtle. Luck was with us when we arrived for the audition. When we got there, Gappa was sitting outside with his family, moping. He had apparently been doing well until a tall building had fallen on his head and knocked him silly. Barugon went in first, and came out beaming ten minutes later. "Good luck, Gammy, you're gonna need it," he said slyly. "They loved the rainbow, and I just plain kicked tail!" "Thanks, Bar. Good for you," I responded, shaking his paw. "May the best monster win." At that time, Varan came in. He looked seriously intense, perhaps too much so for the casting directors. I felt better about that, but I still had to get over that rainbow. They called me in. I read my cold lines with the casting director, good. I trampled the city and set it ablaze, great. Then, I pulled my trump card. I had only just found out I could do it two days earlier. I pulled my arms, legs and head into my shell, and shot fire out of the holes. I lifted up from the ground, started spinning, and gained momentum. Soon I was careening all over the audition hall. I was still new at this, but I managed to not crash through the wall or into the casting people. After a minute, I slowed down, stopped, popped my head out, and took a bow, trying not to appear too dizzy. The studio people sat there in stunned silence for a moment. Then one man with a nice suit and singed hair stood up and exclaimed, "Incredible! Amazing!" This was Mr. Masaichi Nagata, the executive producer. "We'll definitely call you!" The announcement was made the next day. I was to be Daiei's Godzilla. Barugon was shocked. "How did you do it?" he asked. "I thought about what you said about doing something for kids. I thought about what kids like, and I came upon flying saucers. So bascially, I became one." "Ah, I see. Well, congrats, Gammy." He embraced me. Outwardly, he seemed glad for me, but I could see the disappointment in his eyes and hear it in his voice. This was the beginning of the end of our long friendship.
Chapter 6: Behind the Camera "I want to direct." Many an actor has said this. But this was the first time it came from the mouth of a kaiju. Mr. Nagata sat there, stunned and amused."I appreciate your gumption, Gamera. But you've only been in one movie." "I know, but I learned a lot from that experience. I closely watched Noriaki Yuasa at work and got some advice from him. Besides, I did to that well-received kaiju production of 'Waiting For Godot' with Anguirus and Varan two years ago." "Come on, Father, give him a chance," said Hidemasa Nagata, the executive's son and official producer of my next movie. "I think he knows what he's doing. Besides, he did bring us a lot of yen with his movie, why not reward him?" "Very well," agreed Nagata, Sr. "Tell me what you have in mind." What I wanted was a shift away from the kiddie-orientation of my first film. Something more mature. Inspired by the themes of Erich Von Stroheim's "Greed" and Ishiro Honda's "Godzilla Vs. Mothra", I wanted a story of greed and treachery entwined with the monstrous destruction. The Nagatas agreed to this. I also wanted a larger budget. After some consideration, they went with this as well. My only real roadblock was the concept of me, a kaiju, directing a movie. Things were still tough for my kind back then, despite the growing acceptance of kaiju among the humans, and the idea of a kaiju directing a major motion picture would create controversy that Daiei wasn't ready for. I agreed to go under the synonym "Shigeo Tanaka", a common nickname for filmmakers who wanted to remain anonymous (known to you Americans as "Alan Smithee"). Also, I wanted Barugon to star. The Nagatas weren't so enthused by this. They wanted me to come back. We compromised -- I'd be in the film, but I'd do most of my work behind the scenes and let Barugon have more screen time. Barugon was floored by the news."I can't thank you enough, Gammy! I'll show everyone what I'm really made of!" Unfortunately, the problems started on the first day of production for War of the Monsters. Barugon immediately started acting like a prima donna, constantly demanding meals and massages, constantly complaining about the hot lights and shooting schedule, frequently yelling at the make-up girl and the caterers. The assistant director threatened to quit after two weeks, but I convinced him to stay on. We had a scene where Barugon knocked over a tower with his tongue. The tower fell the wrong way and landed on his head. Barugon cursed up a storm and assaulted a technician. We were able to separate the two, but barely escaped a lawsuit by the techie, and Daiei was able to keep the press from learning about the incident. Then there was the time when the leading lady, Kyoko Enami, slipped and fell on the frozen Osaka set. Barugon started guffawing loudly, and poor, humiliated, Kyoko burst into tears and ran from the set. It was time to put my foot down.I went to his trailer during lunch. I caught him shmoozing with a cute starlet and a bottle of sake. I chased the girl out and sat him down."I hate to tell you this, Bar, but you're being a real pain in the tail. I put my shell on the line to get you in this movie, and all you do is complain, yell some insults, and complain some more. The execs aren't happy, the cast isn't happy, and the crew isn't happy." "But you're thrilled, right, Gammy?" he said, smiling. "No I'm not! I'm the least happy about it! They put a whole lot of trust in me, and you're bringing me down!" "Sorry, Gammy. Just trying to be a big star, just like you." That stung. I'll admit to being demanding at times, but I was hardly a tyrant. I could see Barugon's jealousy seeping through, but I couldn't understand why he had to lash out like that."Look, Bar, you're the star in this one. I have far less screen time than you." "Yeah, but it's still your movie. You're the director, for crying out loud." "And as the director, and as your friend, I'm asking you. Please, be cool."Barugon was on better behavior for the rest of the shoot. While he still wasn't the nicest one on the set, he at least stopped being angry and rude. War of the Monsters was released in April, 1966, and it was the most critically acclaimed of my early films. As I predicted, the reviewers liked the more mature tone and the greed subplot. Unfortunately, it wasn't as financially successful as Daikaiju Gamera, and the younger crowd stayed away. For the next movie, the Nagatas decided to bring back the child actors. Barugon and I weren't as close as we used to be. He moved out and found his own house. But we remained friends, for the next few months. Things finally came to a head at Infant Island. Production had finished on Big Duel in the South Seas a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Mothra was holding the wrap party. Mothra was always a classy lady and a gracious hostess, and her parties are still legendary in the Japanese film industry. Despite the fact that we didn't work for Toho, we were still invited, and I picked up Barugon and flew to Mothra's pad. This was one of the rare occasions (at the time) where humans and kaiju mingled at a social function. Varan was dancing to Yoshio Tsuchiya's flamenco guitar. Kumi Mizuno brought her beau, Nick Adams, who had trouble speaking Japanese but still regaled us with his stories about cruising Hollywood with James Dean and Dennis Hopper. Ghidorah's left and middle drank heavily, while the right, being the designated flyer, abstained. Akihiko Hirata spent most of the time in a corner by himself. Finally, the man himself, Godzilla, arrived. He came with his pals Rodan and Anguirus -- the three of them were known to the media as the G-Pack. I was introduced to my hero by Mothra's attendants, the Shobijin. We shook hands, he smiled politely, said he saw my movie, and started mingling with his friends. I was disappointed, but I knew that I really wasn't up to his level yet. All this time, Barugon had been heavily sucking on the sake, and he started getting obnoxious. He grabbed a couple torches and started spinning, yelling, "Wheeeee! Look at me, I'm Gamera! Big fat movie star and friend of all children!" I went to him to try to talk him down, but he turned on me."Go away, Mr. Big Shot! I don't need you! You screwed me out of that audition! It should be me! Me!" "Bar, please calm down. Have some coffee --""NO!" He grabbed a nearby copy of Tokyo Variety. "Did you see this?" I looked at the front page. In the lower left corner was a story about War of the Monsters being released in America as Gamera vs. Barugon."You see?" he yelled at me. "Even when you're not the star, you're the star! That movie should be called Barugon vs. Gamera! I'm the damn star!" He turned away and started to leave. I grabbed his shoulder to try to talk to him. He wheeled around, opened his mouth, and shot his tongue right into my eye. I was stunned, and he took off. I'd never been so hurt in my life. I looked around the room. Godzilla saw me, sniffed rather disdainfully, and resumed talking to Rodan. I grabbed a nearby Asagi beer. And another. And another... I woke up the next morning in one of Mothra's guest rooms. I had a Shobijin on either side of me. I wish I could tell you more about that, because I know it would sell more copies of this book, but I really can't. I was too drunk to remember anything. I got up and shakily flew home. When I got back, I turned on the TV and heard the sad news. Barugon had been found washed up on Tokyo Bay, nearly dead. The silly fool had tried swimming home from Infant Island, and his reaction to water had nearly killed him. I went to the hospital to try to see him, but they wouldn't let me into his room. He had apparently left instructions to keep me away. The night before would be the last time I'd see him for nearly 30 years. Barugon's book, Hollywood Barugon, depicted me as a tyrant on the set and a user and abuser off the set. I'll never understand why he had to talk about me like this. I hate to sound cold-blooded (even though I am, in the literal sense), but Barugon has nobody to blame for his downfall but himself.
Chapter 9: Destroy All Monsters -- Except Me I got a call from my agent, Ichiro "Swifty" Misawa. "Gammy? Baby! Great news, pal. I got a shot for you at what you've always wanted." "A date with Mie Hama?" "No! Work in a Toho movie! A big one, too! They're calling it Destroy All Monsters and they're gonna have everyone! Godzilla, Rodan, Angilas, Ghidorah, Mothra -- you name him, he's in. Except for Baragon. He got into a motorcycle accident last night, and he was supposed to have a meaty part. That's where you come in." "That's great!" Swifty was right. It was what I'd always wanted -- to work alongside Godzilla and with the master filmmakers at Toho. Sure, it would only be a supporting role, compared to my starring roles at Daiei, but you know what to do when opportunity knocks. "So when do we start?" "Not just yet, Gammy. We gotta talk to the Toho people first. We gotta meeting with them at Toho tomorrow at two. They're still not sure if they want to use you yet, so let me do the talking, and stay cool." For all my success, I still got chills the first time I set foot on the Toho property. This truly was the big time. We drove by the giant pool where all those ocean scenes were shot, and by the soundstages where most of the action was filmed. I could swear I saw Toshiro Mifune walking by, but I couldn't be sure. We came to the giant meeting room in the executive office. There they were -- producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, director Ishiro Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, and the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla. We shook hands and made our introductions, but only Godzilla seemed unfriendly, sensing his only competition at the box . Tanaka spoke first. "Mr. Gamera, as I'm sure you know by now, one of our stars, Baragon, will be physically unable to appear in our next kaiju feature, Destroy All Monsters. We may still be able to fit him in, but only in a cameo appearance. That leaves a major role up for grabs. Now, we've considered a number of monsters to take Baragon's place. Inevitably, your name came up. But the question remains -- why you, and not someone from our own Toho family?" "It's simple, Mr. Tanaka -- who else is there?" Misawa responded. "Varan can hardly move anymore. The Gargantuas are too scary, and I've heard they stink up the set. Guilala and Gappa can't get out of their studio contracts. Magma? Who's gonna buy a rampaging walrus? Don't even make me mention Dagora!" Tanaka was more than a little nonplussed -- putting Magma in Gorath had been his idea, and everyone really did laugh at the idea of a giant walrus."Mr. Misawa," said Honda, "here's the problem. Gamera is a big star, but would he benefit from taking a smaller role?" "I think that --" I began, but Misawa cut me off. "You bet he would, Mr. Honda. "Gamera's earned his stripes, and he deserves this shot." "Perhaps," said Tsuburaya, "but here's the problem. Gamera is known around the world as the friend of all children. The role we have for him in Destroy All Monsters involves him destroying Paris, and he is supposed to be relegated to an island where he couldn't destroy cities. Would the moviegoers buy him as a 'bad guy' and possible threat to mankind?" "Now, in Destroy All Monsters, do the monsters attack because they're under alien control? That's what I've heard." "Yes. That is the case." "Well, there you go! That's just what Gammy does in his upcoming movie, Gamera vs. Viras. He's the hero again, but, if I may give some of the plot away, the aliens grab hold of his mind and he's back to his old bad self." "I heard that that's going to be stock footage from your first movie," Godzilla muttered. "Hell, that wasn't even in color. Let's see what he can do now." "And that's why we're here -- to work with the masters," Swifty said, effectively buttering them up. "Well, there is the matter of continuity," Honda said. "And since when has continuity ever mattered? You've killed half your monsters, only to bring them back. Gammy's still alive, just stick him on the island. A kaiju's still a kaiju, and there's still the potential for accidentally stepping on some old lady's house. If you've got Mothra on Ogasawara, why not Gamera?" The Toho people, except for Godzilla, were pretty much sold."Very well, then," said Tanaka. "I do have a contract drawn up already." He presented a sheet of paper, the contract. "The undersigned shall have a major role in Destroy All Monsters, destroying Paris, acting as a major threat, and helping to defeat King Ghidorah in the dramatic finale." Tanaka handed me the pen. I reached for it, ready to embark on a whole new career at Toho. That's when the door flew open. In strode Jinsei Kobashi, Misawa's former protege and partner. They had an ugly falling out when Swifty bilked Kobashi out of a percentage of their profits, and Kobashi had it in for his old friend. He was followed by, of all kaiju, Gorosaurus. "Tanaka-san!" Kobashi interrupted. "Please listen. This is a Toho movie, so it should have Toho stars, and not an upstart from Daiei. But have you considered Gorosaurus? He proved his worth in King Kong Escapes, didn't he?" Misawa lost his cool. "Gorosaurus?! You have got to be kidding me! He's no kaiju, he's just a dinosaur! Look at him! No wings, no spikes, no weapons, what's he gonna do, dropkick Ghidorah to death?" "That's a great idea!" said Godzilla. He turned to Tanaka. "Think about it, Yuko" -- only Tanaka's closest friends could call him that -- "the final battle is six against one as it is. As tough as Ghid is, it's obvious he's not going to win. Now, take out Gamera and put Goro in his place. Having to fight a weaker monster who has no real special powers gives Ghid a better chance, right? Besides, we do want to keep it in the Toho family, don't we?" "He's right," Tsuburaya said. "Also, the part we had for Baragon has him burrowing through the earth. It's been shown that Gamera's a flyer, not a digger. Gorosaurus is an unknown commodity, so the public will have an easier time believing it." "Yeah, sure, lots of carnosaurs have been found under the ground," snarled Misawa. "But guess what? They were all 70 million-year-old skeletons!" "My mother was a carnosaur!" growled Godzilla. "There's nothing wrong with us. Besides, with all due respect for your client, a jet-powered turtle is rather, dare I say, goofy." I got the feeling that he meant that with no due respect at all. "Goofy? You wanna talk about goofy? Let's talk about how you and your kid looked in Son of Godzilla!" Godzilla was about to destroy my agent, but was held back by Honda and Tanaka, while I had to restrain Misawa. "Mr. Misawa!" snapped Tanaka. "Your insolence will get you nowhere." More politely, he turned to me. "Gamera-san. You really would bring a lot to Destroy All Monsters, but I've decided that Gorosaurus-san will fit into our film much better." "Did I mention that Goro will work for next to nothing?" added Kobashi. "Gamera-san, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. I encourage you to keep up the good work, as I enjoy good, healthy competition. Someday, perhaps, there will be a place for you here at Toho. But not today." We left the studio angry -- Swifty at the Toho people, me at Swifty."I'm sorry, Gammy. It was a long shot, and Godzilla has a lot of pull. He pretty much only wants to work with his friends, you know." "Yeah, but you weren't a lot of help, blowing up in there like that. I'm surprised you didn't get us thrown out with that Magma remark." Misawa wasn't quite done yet. In a small measure of revenge, he managed to persuade Daiei to change the title of Gamera vs. Viras to Destroy All Planets, deliberately aping the upcoming Toho film. Not that there were any planets destroyed in my movie, but then there wasn't much destroying of monsters in Destroy All Monsters either. Except for King Ghidorah getting his tails kicked. Which I could've been a part of. Thanks, Swifty!
Chapter 12: The Tale of the Tokyo Ten The Tokyo Times headline on Decenber 31, 1969, sent shockwaves around the Japanese film industry: Human Actor: "I am Godzilla" Actor Haruo Nakajima, 42, revealed in an exclusive interview that he has played Godzilla and other monsters in many of Toho's kaiju , best known for bit parts in "The Seven Samurai" and "Destroy All Monsters", admitted that, while wearing 100-kg costumes surrounded by special-effects explosions could be difficult and dangerous, "it pays really well." Nakajima added that there were other human actors who played monsters. Toho Studios officials refused to comment. Nakajima was written off as a fraud at first. Godzilla came out the next day and said he did all his own scenes and stunts. Rodan, Angilas, Ghidorah, Mothra, and I all said the same thing. Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, Noriaki Yuasa, and Hidemasa Nagata, among other filmmakers, denied any knowledge of what came to be known in the media as "Suities." But the speculation continued, and soon the Parliament got involved. Specifically, one senator in particular, the previously little-known Jozu Mikirati, who said that the use of Suities went "against everything good and pure about Japan," and demanded a federal investigation. Somehow, he got it, and Mikirati became a demagogue as a result. Many kaiju and human actors and filmmakers were called in. Nakajima was the first. He retracted his statement about playing Godzilla, but insisted that he had played Varan in "Daikaiju Varan", Gaila in "War of the Gargantuas" and Gezora in "Yog, Monster from Space". Godzilla was next. He told his story again -- nobody played him but him, and that he had no knowledge of any men in suits. The rest of the G-Gang -- Rodan, Angilas, Mothra, and Ghidorah -- all said the same. Eiji Tsuburaya was scheduled to testify next. He was one of the most respected men in the film industry, second only to Akira Kurosawa himself, and his testimony could have ended the hearings right then and there. Sadly, he had been ill for some time, and he died the day he was supposed to come in. The Parliament was good enough to withhold hearings for one week out of respect. When the hearings resumed, it was my turn. I remember entering the Diet Building hounded by reporters. As I was telling the media that I had no knowledge of any Suities, I remember a little boy coming up to me and saying, "Say it ain't so, Gamera. Say it ain't so!" Inside, I gave my sworn testimony. I gave full medical and biological information, confirming that I was indeed 100 percent kaiju. Senator Mikirati, ever the menacing skeptic, repeatedly asked me if I had any human relatives, or if I dated human females. No, I had no human relatives, but I did have my romantic flings with women. More to the point, Mikirati asked if I suspected that Barugon, Gyaos, or any of my other kaiju costars were men in rubber costumes. I honestly told him that I had no such suspicions. Things were low key until Baragon came in. Before his motorcycle accident, he was one of the industry's most respected and popular kaiju. He was known as "The Monster of a Thousand Faces" for his various roles on Tsuburaya's "Ultraman" and "Ultra Q" shows. Since then, he became a notorious alcoholic, and he was practically embalmed when he testified. What was worse, he felt that he had been jerked around by Toho, and blamed the filmmakers and his fellow kaiju for his lack of work, so he entered the building as an angry, drunk kaiju. In his testimony, with his guard down, he admitted a shocking fact: He had once entered a restroom and found a man crawling into Varan's back. When asked to identify the man, Baragon said that it was, in fact, Nakajima. That blew the roof off. "Have you now, or have you ever been, a Suitie?" became a battle cry in the Diet, in the media, and on the street everywhere you went. Varan was called in. He broke down in tears on the stand, and admitted that he had been played by several men. Several! One by one, they were ratted out. Ebirah had been a man with scuba gear. Sanda and Gaila were people, too. So were Gezora and Kameba from Toho's recent "Yog, Monster From Space", although Ganime was 100% kaiju. Guilala was fired by Shokichu Studios, once he revealed his dirty little secret. People had long wondered why Bemlar's arms couldn't work on the very first episode of "Ultraman"; now they knew the truth. Dagora couldn't even claim to be a man in a suit -- even worse, he had just been a special effect operated by wires, totally unobserved by Tsuburaya's failing vision. The final kaiju to make his revelation was Zigra, my next co-star. He had been a longtime vocal coach in the kaiju community, having taught Minilla to speak in Godzilla's Revenge, and was highly respected for his rich baritone. Problem was, he was a fish, and couldn't perform the land battles, so he had hired a man to dress as him in certain scenes. There they were, the Tokyo Ten -- Varan, Ebirah, Sanda, Gaila, Gezora, Kameba, Guilala, Bemlar, Dagora, and Zigra. They had all, to some extent, been played by humans onscreen. Most of them wouldn't make so much as stock footage for the rest of their careers, and never got to be turned into Bandai figures. Varan became an acting coach, while the Gargantuas became a stand-up comedy duo. Kameba went into advertising, Dagora into coal mining, Gezora turned to real estate, and Bemlar found happiness as a Red Cross volunteer. Guilala disappeared altogether,presumably homeless. The only real casualty of these was Ebirah, who jumped into a giant pot of boiling water in 1976. Zigra made out the best of the Ten -- he continued to work as a vocal coach, but was no longer as respected as he once was. Still, the fact that he had only used a Suitie for certain scenes that he couldn't actually perform himself made him more forgiveable. Ironically, the actor who had played him for the land scenes went on to become an executive at Bandai, which is why the toy company produced a Zigra figure -- in the human, bipedal position! Nakajima and the other suit actors themselves were hardly considered villains in the first place. In fact, as time passed and wounds healed, they became respected for the hard work that they put into those heavy costumes, and have become popular guests at fan conventions. A bright spot came for all kaiju in 1974. Senator Jozu Mikirati had become even more obnoxious after his triumphs in the Parliament-Kaiju Hearings, and went on to try to weed out any and all suspected kaiju in the Prime Minister's cabinet. However, he could find no evidence, and became more belligerent as he became more desperate for victims. He had been a longtime drinker, and became more intoxicated as time went on, as well. He lost reelection, and suffered a fatal heart attack, but not after he had ruined so many lives. As for the traitorous Baragon, he eventually sobered up and continuted to work, but never apologized for his remarks and never reclaimed his past success. However, he has retained a loyal cult following to this day. Last year, he received a lifetime achievement statuette at the Eiji Awards, but received a mixed reaction from the audience. (Personally, I applauded, but wouldn't give him a standing ovation. Megumi Odaka and Koichi Kawakita, among the younger generation, did stand up for him, while the old G-Gang sat with their arms crossed.) This marked the end of the Golden Age of Kaiju. Moviegoers could no longer trust us, and they started staying away in droves, and production on kaiju films was drastically cut. The movies that were being made grew increasingly immature and uninspired. Many of the longtime kaiju stars like Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah were only sporadically working, while human actors like Kumi Mizuno and Akira Takarada went on to work in more conventional movies with all-human casts. I don't think I need to go into my last movie of this time, "Gamera Vs. Zigra". I don't particularly want to, either. The movie had incredibly negative press about Zigra's body double. On top of that, it really was a lousy movie. The scene where I played my theme song on Zigra's back was embarrassing for everybody involved, and the little girl who played Helen was the most unprofessional brat I've ever worked with, asking for a Coke after every take. My brief fling with the movie's villainess, the beautiful Eiko Yanami, was the only redeeming value I found in the whole experience. Daiei Studios, already on the verge of bankruptcy, had no choice but to cut me and cease production on all kaiju films. As cheap as my movies had become, they were still the most expensive productions at Daiei. I was no longer a box office attraction, not even with the children, and I had to be let go. The day after I had received my walking papers, and the news had hit the media, I trudged by a construction site. A couple bigoted workers saw me and laughed. "Ha ha ha! Who you gonna beat up now, Super Turtle? Huh? You'll never eat this town for lunch again!" I outwardly ignored them, but inside, they hurt me to the bone. What would I do now?
Chapter 14: My Life in Puroresu Super Monster Gamera. A mostly stock-footage pastiche of scenes from all my previous movies in a last-ditch attempt to keep Daiei from bankruptcy. It didn't work. I really have nothing to say about it, other than I needed the money. It did result in one development, however: The leading lady in the few new scenes was Mach Fumiake, a female professional wrestler. She told me that if I ever needed work, or wanted to try something different, that I should try puroresu, or professional wrestling. She gave me the business cardof Binzu Makamahon, the president of the Japanese Wrestling Federation. I told her I wasn't interested, but I thanked her and kept the card just in case. After the release of Super Monster Gamera, however, I didn't have much of a choice. I was paid scale (no pun intended), and only got a few measly yen from the returns. I wasn't getting any work. I had to move into a substandard apartment, and still had tons of bills and debts to pay off. On top of that, I got a letter from Karen, the karate student from New York with whom I had that affair. It turns out that she gave birth to quadruplets -- my children! -- whom she named Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, and now she was demanding child support! After a year of desperation, I gave Mr. Makamahon a call. Now, I had watched puroresu a few times as a little kaiju. It had been a huge sport in Japan for many years, and the late Rikidozan, the founding father of puroresu, is still every bit the icon in Japan as Godzilla. While I liked it as a lad, I felt that I had outgrown it, that staged fighting should be saved for movies instead of being passed off as a "sport." But then, considering how many children's films I had done, I thought that becoming a wrestler myself would be a lateral move at worst. I met with Makamahon the following spring. He was quite interested in working with me. I certainly had stage fighting experience, and my celebrity status would certainly result in many ticket sales."Gamera-san, I think you would fit in perfectly here in the Japanese Wrestling Federation. Yes, some people might not be comfortable with the thought of a kaiju as a professional athlete, but then that's what they said about kaiju as movie stars only a quarter-century ago. We'll find a way to work you into our sport soon. I don't think it would quite work to have you start out small, fighting jobbers. You're a star, you still are, and we should get you into main events right away." He then handed me two tickets to next month's big card. "You'll be sitting in the front row, son. From there, you'll be introduced to the exciting world of puroresu!" "Sounds great," I said. "You'll let me know what you'll do to 'introduce' me, right?" "Uh, yeah, sure. Just come to the show and we'll let you know how it goes from there." His hesitant answer did puzzle me, but I soon forgot about it. I went to the show with my neighbor, Keiji. I asked the ringside officials if Mr. Makamahon was available, but they said that he was busy getting ready for the card and wouldn't be able to see me until afterward. I asked them to tell me what would happen to bring me into wrestling. They just said, "You'll know when it happens." The ring announcer introduced me to the audience; I waved and got polite applause. No big cheers except from some of the younger crowd; I was still box-office poison, and people still had trouble trusting kaiju after the Suitie Scandal a decade ago. I must say that, even though I hadn't seen wrestling in two decades, I was quite impressed. The grapplers would jump around and throw each other around for twenty minutes or more. Many times, their moves looked like they really hurt them. One wrestler, patterning himself after the TV and comic character Tiger Mask, was an incredible athlete, doing all sorts of dropkicks and backflips. These guys would make great actors, I thought to myself. My personal introduction to wrestling came after a tag team match. I forget who the Japanese team was, but the ugly Americans were the biggest bad guys in the JWF. One of them was a big, burly cowboy with sandy-brown hair, with a bullrope in his hand and a chaw of tobacco drooling from his mouth. His name was Stan Hansen. His partner, Bruiser Brody, was a truly frightening individual -- six-and-a-half feet tall or more, with long black bushy hair, matching beard, and a maniacal look in his eyes. He was swinging a heavy chain and inexplicably chanting, "Ush! Ush! Ush!" Brody and Hansen destroyed their opponents in less than five minutes, one of their hapless victims being taken out on a stretcher. Then they turned their attention to me."Hey, Turtle Soup!" Brody yelled into a microphone. "You think you're tough? Try us on for size!" "Gamera!" Hansen joined in. "You suck, your movies suck, your kids suck, and your fights sucked! Let's see how you do against us." They climbed out of the ring and confronted me at ringside. I knew that this was it, that I'd be taking on these guys. Just play along, I thought to myself. They got in my face, started to yell at me, and then Hansen slapped me, surprisingly hard. I acted naturally and struck back. I found myself being ganged up on by Brody and Hansen and dragged into the ring. I tried my best to fight them off, but Brody choked me with his chain while Hansen hogtied my hands and feet, preventing me from going into my shell for safety. They then brought a couple of steel folding chairs, ready to pummel me like no kaiju ever had. Then a cheer went up from the crowd, and a strong-chinned Japanese man entered the ring. It was Antonio Inoki, the most popular wrestler in Japan, the same man who defeated no less than Muhammad Ali in a boxer-versus-wrestler match. While Brody and Hansen were much larger than Inoki, the hero fought both men off with a series of karate chops and kicks. The bad guys retreated to the locker room, and Inoki untied me and helped me to the back. A doctor was examining me when Makamahon walked up. "Great job, Gamera-san! Welcome to puroresu! How are you feeling?" "Well, a little hurt, actually. Those guys hit me pretty hard." "That's Stan and Bruiser for you. They're not so mean away from the ring, but they can get a little crazy. But don't worry. Antonio here will have you ready for the big match. Three months from now, in Budokan Hall. A check for twenty million yen for you after the match." For the next three months, I spent six days a week in the gym training with Inoki. He ran me ragged, going through calisthenics, weight training, aerobics, running five miles a day and up and down countless flights of stairs. Then he showed me how to give and take wrestling moves -- bodyslams, suplexes, takedowns, armlocks, leglocks, and submission holds, along with how to deliver kicks, punches, and clotheslines. A month before the match, I had noticed that we hadn't seen our opponents since that fateful night."Antonio, when are we going to rehearse the match with Brody and Hansen?" "Rehearse? Ah, that's a common misconception, Gamera-san. Our matches are improvised." "I see." I had no problem with that, as every actor must know a thing or two about improvisation. "How or when will I know what they'll try to do to me?" "Don't worry. After a while, you can see what's coming a mile away. Watch Hansen and Brody on TV, so you can get used to their style."I told him that I experienced their style firsthand at the arena. What I didn't tell Inoki was that I was starting to think that this might not go the way I thought I would. Meanwhile, Makamahon was heavily promoting my in-ring debut, and my opponents were having fun talking about what they'd do to me on TV. "Gamera!" Hansen bellowed. "I used to see you turtles all over the place down in Texas, and I'd splatter their guts all over the highway with my pickup! That's just what we're gonna do to you, ain't that right, Bruiser?" "Ya know what? Me and Stan went out on a monster hunt last week. First we tore Rodan's wings off and turned them into origami. Then we grabbed Ghidorah and tied his necks into knots. And we actually like those guys! You don't wanna know what we'll do to you, Turtle Soup! Ush! Ush! Ush!" The big event finally came. A sold out crowd was on hand at Budokan to see me and Inoki try to drive out the foreign menace. After an exciting undercard, it was time for the main event. Brody and Hansen entered the ring first, although they threatened to enter the seating area to attack the fans. Inoki and I came out next, to thunderous applause. After the prerequisite ring introductions, the match was on! Brody and Hansen charged at us, but Inoki and I were ready. Brody was kicking at my shell-covered stomach, not doing any damage. I then feinted some punches at Brody, like any movie stuntman would, expecting Brody to go along with it. He looked at me, amused. He growled, "You're new at this, aren't you?" and kicked me square in the mouth with a size-14 boot. That hurt! Wait a minute! That wasn't supposed to happen! I started swinging back, and we drove the bad guys out of the ring. From there, it settled into a more conventional tag team match. We countered their brawling with a more "scientific" style. At one point, I caught Brody in a hold called an airplane spin, where I picked him up over my shoulders and spun him around. Had I turned on my jets I could've sent him way into the bleachers. Brody bounced back and started punching me on my head. His fists were heavily taped, and I could feel something hard and sharp digging into my skin, opening up a nasty cut on my head. My God, I thought, he's got razor blades taped in his hands! The end of the match came when I slammed Hansen and delivered a belly flop onto him from the top turnbuckle. I covered him for the pin, but Brody attacked me for the save. We then started trading punches. By this time, I was really hurt and quite angry. This wasn't a put-on, this was a real fight! Brody kicked me in the face with a boot that knocked my left tusk out. In my fury, I threw my hardest punch at him. At that moment, something strange happened. Somehow, a bony spike --maybe some piece of bone that had become unlodged during the match, maybe some part of my genetic development -- poked out of my elbow. Brody wheeled back from my fist, but got grazed by my elbow spike, opening a huge gash across his forehead. With all four of us fighting in the ring at the same time, the referee had no choice but to throw out the match, ruling it a double-disqualification. Hansen knocked Inoki out of the ring and brought in two chairs for him and Brody to use on me. Discretion took the better part of valor, and I retreated into my my shell. They pounded on my armored back with chairs, feet and fists for a minute. Then I had a golden opportunity. I saw Hansen's feet in front of me, so I popped out, grabbed him by the ankles, tripped him up, and started pummelling him. I was punching, choking, and biting Hansen into oblivion as Brody stomped on my head and shell in futility. At that point, a horde of wrestlers, officials, and security poured out from the back and tried to separate us. After about ten minutes, they finally did, and we were led to our separate dressing rooms. I was checked by a doctor, who gave me a few stitches to sew up my cut. My tusk would have to be replaced. I angrily glared at Inoki, who seemed apologetic for the whole incident. "I thought Binzu would've told you how it would be," he said. "You're the biggest wrestler in Japan, why couldn't you tell me?" "We don't like to tell outsiders what we do. We could face serious problems if certain people found out how we work. Insurance companies are reluctant enough as it is to deal with us." Binzu Makamahon walked in with a big smile on his face. "Great job, Gamera-san! You looked great in there! And when those spikes came out of your elbows -- ouch!" This only got me angrier. "What the hell was that! Those maniacs tried to kill me! I thought this was supposed to be faked!" "Sure. And you're supposed to be a guy in a rubber costume. Look, I took a lot of heat from this -- most guys don't want to wrestle with kaiju, they don't know if you're gonna breathe fire on them or something. Tell you what, I'll give you your check -- I threw in a little extra -- and we'll forget the whole thing. No hard feelings?" "Plenty of hard feelings." I grabbed the check and left the arena. On my way out, I passed my opponents. "Great job, Turtle Soup!" Brody said with a friendly smile. "You'da made a great rassler!" I said nothing and left. To this day, I refuse to watch wrestling. I have all the respect in the world for wrestlers and what they do, but I can't forget my experience in this field. I know enough about it that Antonio Inoki was eventually elected to the Parliament, and that Stan Hansen is still brawling nearly 20 years later. Bruiser Brody wasn't so fortunate -- he was stabbed to death by another wrestler in Puerto Rico in 1988. A terrible way to go, even for a maniac like him. At least I was out of my financial crisis. I made all my payments, got my creditors off my shell, and was able to move on. Things were looking up for me until a week later, when I picked up the paper and read the news:Godzilla had just resigned with Toho for a seven-picture deal. I spent a lot of my check on sake that night.
Chapter 16: The Big Comeback I had just completed my hundredth performance as Jean Valjean in the musical production of Les Miserables. I returned to my dressing room and found two envelopes waiting for me. One was from the producers of an American television show called Mystery Science Theater 3000, where they had shown some of my movies and made wisecracks through it. They wanted me to appear at their convention in Minneapolis that September. I had seen tapes of the show, and while I had trouble understanding some of their jokes, I was rather amused and I was thinking of accepting their invitation. It's not very often that I get to travel to America, after second, larger package contained a movie script:
GAMERATHE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE
This should be fun, I mused. Was Daiei desperate for cash again? More kids? Cheap sets? Corny songs? Gymnastics? Generally embarrassing myself like I used to? Turns out I was hooked from page one. This had everything I could ever have hoped for -- an intelligent and serious plot, good dialogue, threatening monsters, thrilling action. And very few children, and only in bit parts at that.I was so absorbed in the script that I hadn't noticed that a half-hour had passed, or that I was still in my Valjean costume. I came to when I heard a knock at my door. There was a well-dressed man in his mid-thirties who said, "Ah, Gamera! What do you think?" I couldn't believe it. It had been over twenty years since I last saw him, but the features were familiar, and the twinkle in his eyes was still there."Kenny?" Indeed it was. Yoshiro "Kenny" Uchida, who had been my costar in my first feature film, had left acting, grown up, married, had kids, and had gone on to become a successful agent. I quickly figured out how that script had found its way into my dressing room. We went out to dinner, caught up on old times, and talked about this new project."So Yoshiro, why a new Gamera movie? Why bring me back?" "Easy to say why, Gamera. Godzilla's big business all over again, and it's time to recapture the magic. It's starting to look like 1964 again, and everybody again wants a kaiju. Hollywood wants Godzilla. Gappa, Guilala, even Yonggary are all talking about comebacks. It's time for you to come back too, Gammy. The stage isn't good enough for you, and you know it. I told Daiei that we could not only bring you back, but give you a total makeover." "That's easy for you to say, but what about the public? What sort of makeover? They still see me playing with kids on cheap sets and making a fool of myself." "That's why we have to reinvent you. Daiei wants to make something darker than what you're used to, and they want to spend more than a little money on it. We've got these great young guys to direct and do the special effects, and they have a vision, Gamera. The only thing we still don't have is you. Are you with us?" I was drawn in by his words, and I had no reason to distrust Yoshiro, but I'd been through a lot over the years, and I wanted to be careful."Well, it sounds great, but I at least want to meet with these people first. I've been promised a lot of good things before." "Gamera, trust me, this is gonna be good. Our movie together was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and I have you to thank. I owe you big time." I returned with Yoshiro to Daiei Studios two days later. I met the producer, Tsutomu Tsuchikawa, the director, Shusuke Kaneko, and the special effects director, Shinji Higuchi. I can only say that I was incredibly impressed with these young men. They wanted to do a serious kaiju eiga, a movie the likes of which hadn't been done before. They had ambition and respect for this project, and definitely wanted to steer me toward more mature themes. I still had one question for them: "What if I say no?" Kaneko: "Then we'll go ahead with a new Majin movie." Rockhead? I was sold. I wouldn't be going to America after all. I had just arrived on the set on the first day of filming, when I heard a familiar voice behind me."Good to see you again, Gammy." I turned around to see a vicious-looking, bat-like kaiju. The features had aged well, more streamlined and meaner looking, but I'd recognize that flat, pointed head anywhere. "Gyaos! How the hell are you?" We had a lot of catching up to do, and did so as we headed over to craft services for breakfast. Gyaos had lived a rather interesting life. "About twenty years ago, I realized I was, in fact, female. I eventually married Viras and we had a child, Irys. We've been a happy family ever since, even though the work's been dry lately. Until now, that is." "That's great. Frankly, I always thought there was something, well, funny about you. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The description in the script of my opponent did sound familiar, and I was hoping it would be you." "Yes. It's another way of bringing back the series, they say. I have to tell you, it's great to be back." There was a spirited air on the set that I had never experienced before. Everyone seemed to by motivated by ambition rather than money. The sets and miniatures I worked on were the best I've ever seen. Not only was I reunited with Norio Hongo from my original movies, but I also had the pleasure of working with Akira Kubo, my first film with a veteran Toho player. And of course, there were the ladies. Mayumi Naganime, who had the lead female human role, was a beautiful and talented lady. We had dinner, but that was it, since she was already seeing somebody. The other major female player, Ayako Fujitani, was the daughter of an obscure American martial arts actor named Steven Seagal. Not yet the best actress (I imagine what acting ability she has comes from her mother's side), and a little too young for me, but the teenager might improve in time. I'd had a good feeling about this movie from day one, and my hopes were fulfilled at the premiere. That night turned out to be the greatest night of my life. After years of being "the friend of all children" and "a Godzilla wanna-be", I had at last achieved legitimacy. Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe was a big hit with both the critics and the public. The movie was said by some to be the best since the original "Gojira", and Kaneko and Higuchi were called the next Honda and Tsuburaya. I was voted "Comeback of the Year" by Tokyo Variety, and some compared it to the revival John Travolta was experiencing in the States. Despite all that high praise, there were two things that night that made the premiere really special. I was talking with my old director, Noriaki Yuasa, when I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Glad to see you again, Gammy." I turned around. It was Barugon. I hadn't seen him since Mothra's party twenty-nine years ago. He looked rather haggard, but it seemed that the old animosity was gone. We embraced, much to the delight of everyone around. Turns out that Daiei had planned a reunion with my old co-stars that night, and they were all there -- Gyaos, Viras, Guiron, Jiger, and even old Zigra. We stood together for photos, and the press had a field day with it. My other memorable moment came at the post-premiere party. I was mingling at the party when the King himself came up to me. "Ah, Gamera," Godzilla said. "Excellent movie." That was all he said, but I noted the look in his eyes. Previously, there had been condescension, but now I saw respect, and maybe, just maybe, even a slight hint of jealousy. I was back, baby!
This story was featured in G-Fan magazine. I got it from the site "shrine of gamera".
I thought kaiju fans would like to read it!