The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is no surprise that Godzilla has changed throughout its 60+ year career while maintaining its character through each film that has been produced by Toho.
I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with a SFX production assistant that worked on set for the film Shin Godzilla. An up-and-coming filmmaker who not only has a passion for Godzilla but also as a filmmaker in General. On Sunday September 10, I had my very first interview with a Mr. Yoko Higuchi at 5pm online through Twitter via DM. Although I was requested and asked kindly to leave out production questions because of no real approval by Toho, I did manage to come up with some questions that fit the bill for this interview. So, without further ado, allow me to share with you all what we talked about.
B: "Well, it's time. First off, thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Mr. Yoko Higuchi."
Yoko Higuchi: "It's my pleasure, Ben. Thank you for having me."
B: "Let's start at the beginning. Toho announced a new Godzilla film (Shin Godzilla ), the first since 2004's Godzilla Final Wars in Japan. How did you come to know about it?"
Yoko Higuchi: " Around the time the 2014 Gareth Edwards Godzilla film was out in theaters, I heard quiet rumblings in the fan community about a possible Toho Godzilla film. Naturally, I stayed updated on that story and soon enough they announced they would be doing a new Godzilla film. They didn't announce the directors at the time, but it got me very excited. And, naturally I got even more excited when Toho confirmed later on that Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi of Evangelion game would be co-directing the film."
B: "Like the rest of us. (laughs) It was exciting to hear these two men would take this project in their hands. Being involved with the film, did you strictly apply through Toho, and what was your job title and position?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, hearing that these two geniuses of their craft would be helming the next Godzilla film was very exciting. It was also the sole purpose I decided to reach out to them. I wrote a letter to Toho in the summer of 2015, telling them I knew there was a new film coming out and I would do anything to be a part of the production. Eventually, I got a response from some of the staff members there and, as quickly as you can say Shin Godzilla, I was on flight to Tokyo. To answer your question, production assistant would probably be the most accurate title of my position on the film."
B: " Wow! That's incredible! Little late on the congratulations but, congratulations!"
Yoko Higuchi: "Thank you for the congratulations!"
B :" While working with all of the talents involved with Shin Godzilla, what was it like witnessing all of their craftsmanship be poured out with their hearts and souls into this film?"
Yoko Higuchi: " Seeing everyone working on Shin Godzilla really was extraordinary. As an aspiring filmmaker, it was life changing to see all the passion and hard work that was done by these incredible artists. While still keeping its tokusatsu roots, Shin Godzilla was a revolutionary film for the series because of its seamless blending of old school techniques with modern technology."
B: " Like Shinji Higuchi said during a press conference that he was going for the "Hybrid" technique. Which, there are more practical effects in the film that few people are missing."
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, the best of both worlds, so to speak."
B: " Indeed. So, after Toho began production, and a few months later, they revealed what Godzilla would look like in the film. What was it like seeing Mahiro Maeda design Godzilla's new look?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Naturally because I was working on set, I saw a lot of Godzilla's new design and, I can tell you, I never felt more giddy in my life than seeing the updated look. It harkened back to what Ishiro Honda's original vision of a burnt, horrifying monster that was born out of the atomic bomb. To be honest, the design was off putting at first. Not because it was a bad design, but because it was the first time in my life I was terrified of seeing Godzilla. It was a thrill seeing that beautiful yet haunting reimagining of the big G himself."
B: "Yes! Few people realize the true history of the 1954 original films visioning by Ishiro Honda. To me, it was so cool to see that Mahiro Maeda go for what was originally intended for the 1954 original. This Godzilla actually makes the gmk2001 design look friendly. (laughs)"
Yoko Higuchi: " Precisely! The best Godzilla designs are the ones that reflect his status as a Japanese symbol. Whether it's a symbol for atomic warfare, the friend of the earth, or as you mentioned, the collective angry souls of everyone who perished in 1945."
B: "When you got the job with the company, how exciting was it for you to be apart of this wonderful film?"
Yoko Higuchi: "To answer your question, I don't know if I can describe it in words how excited I was to be a part of Shin Godzilla. The word "excitement" doesn't really cut it. Maybe euphoric. I cried tears of pure happiness multiple times on and off set. It was a dream come true for a life-long fan and as an up-and-coming filmmaker to be working on a professional set at the age of 20."
B: " I can only imagine how exciting it was for you. Only 20? Wow! That's even cooler. It's everyone's dream that are hard core G-fans to be able to work a future film at some point, no doubt."
Yoko Higuchi: "It was the coolest thing ever as a 20-year-old to be on that set. Really was a dream come true."
B: "You're from New York correct? When traveling to Japan to work on the film, how long were you there?"
Yoko Higuchi: " Yes, I was born and raised in New York, but I did go to Japan a few times to see my family so, staying in Japan for the duration of the production wasn't too difficult. I left New York I believe in the end of July and returned back home in early December. Roughly 4 months of work, I would say."
B: " Speaking of family, just looking at your last name, I can't recall if I've asked you already in the past but, are you related to Shinji Higuchi, the special effects director and co-director of the film?"
Yoko Higuchi: "You have no idea how many times people have asked me that on set. (laughs) It's purely coincidence that director Higuchi and I have the same last name. Lead to a lot of confusion and equally as many laughs at Toho."
B: " (laughs) It sounds like you and everyone there had a blast with this film."
Yoko Higuchi: "It was a lot of hard work and physical pain, but it was always cheerful and fun. Not a moment of negativity on set, even when things were at its hardest."
B: "Speaking of Shinji Higuchi, what was it like to witness him direct the special effects for this amazing film?"
Yoko Higuchi: " Seeing Higuchi work with the special effects was a blast. Him and Katsuro Onoue did something really special with this film. As a filmmaker, seeing how they construct each set piece and go about creating everything they needed to create each shot was inspiring. It was meticulous, well planned and we'll executed."
B: " A lot like what Eiji Tsuburaya did during his infamous work with Toho. All nonsense aside and pure dedication."
Yoko Higuchi: "Dedication is precisely the word, yes."
B: "Knowing the section of "The Art of Shin Godzilla" book you wrote and helped make, who gave you the opportunity at Toho and how overwhelming was that for you?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Because I'm an American, they politely asked me if I could help them with some of the English documents. They were already made and done, but they needed some polishing and that was very fun to do. Knowing it may or may not end up in the final cut was exciting. Some of them didn't but it did end up in "The Art of Shin Godzilla" book, which was great. As for who gave me the opportunity to do that specific task, I don't exactly remember who it was, but multiple staff members have asked me to do some English tweaking here and there on some of the documents."
B: " A lot of the production questions I've had for this interview are exactly provided in that outstanding book. So glad I own it."
Yoko Higuchi: " Awesome! That book is just incredible. Flipping through it reminds me of all the great memories I had from the set."
B: " Is Shin Godzilla the only Toho film you've been involved with?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, Shin Godzilla is the only Toho film I've been involved in. Heck, it's the only film, so far, I've been a part of."
B: "Like you said, a pure dream come true. Not only to be working on the set but also helping out with the book. When Toho decided that Godzilla in Shin Godzilla was all CGI, what were your thoughts about this?"
Yoko Higuchi: " When I heard that Godzilla was going to be full CG, I honestly didn't think much of anything. If Anno and Higuchi thought that going entirely CGI was the answer, then that is the answer. I trust their intuitions and, in the end, I was right. The CG on Godzilla looked incredible in Shin Godzilla."
B: "Indeed it did. Even on a much lower budget compared to Hollywood. Knowing Shinji Higuchi's team of special effects artists that constructed a giant animatronic puppet for the film, and finding out later it was failing effects shots, were you the least disappointed that it didn't make final cut for the film?"
Yoko Higuchi:" Oh, most definitely. But then you sit back and remember that a lot of things are often cut from films, so it didn't disappoint me as much as some may think. We did hard work on the effects so it was sad for a brief moment to see it not used in the film, but if it doesn't hurt the final product, then let it be."
B: "Well said. People need to appreciate these things better than what they do."
Yoko Higuchi: " Exactly right."
B: " If I may ask, who was it in Toho's department that decided to name the film "Shin Godzilla"? Was it Hideaki Anno or someone else?"
Yoko Higuchi: " I actually don't know who decided to name it Shin Godzilla, but I assume it was Hideaki Anno because he was the main director and he was also the script writer and he did the screenplay."
B: "That would make sense. I mean, like you said, he was the main director of the film. Speaking of Hideaki Anno, what was it like meeting him and working with him?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Interestingly enough, Hideaki Anno was one of the two men (the other being Christopher Nolan), who pushed me into filmmaking. After seeing The End of Evangelion, I sat in silence and decided I was going to be a film director. And to meet the man in person was unimaginable. And the fact that I was working under his command in his production rather than just meeting him as a fan was even more dreamlike. The first day I crossed paths with him at the studio, I was wearing an Evangelion T-shirt. That was a little embarrassing to say the least. I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to hide the design. (laughs) But, because I worked mostly with the SFX department, I didn't see him too much, but I would occasionally drop by and see him direct the many boardroom meetings and that was extremely fun. The amount of precision and care he puts in every shot is incredible."
B: "His work for this film was outstanding. To incorporate humour and then to make it serious was unreal to witness. To me, this film is the best Godzilla film since the 1954 original. Not everyone is going to agree of course, but to say they hate this film means they hate the original to be honest. I've read so many of Toho's books about Godzilla from 54-Shin, and to see what the production was for the 54 original was like being there at the studio to watch it all become a reality."
Yoko Higuchi: " It may sound a little biased, almost as if I'm promoting the film a little (laughs), but I would say Shin Godzilla is the best film since the 1954 original. It truly is something special."
B: " Agreed. During the film's production, while on the set, were you ever nervous at any point during production?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, many, many times. Tackling a different culture is never a calming thing. Although I am Japanese, I strictly am American raised so, many things about the way Japanese people talk, act, and work was very different and new to me. That first month of working there was very difficult because I had to improve on my oral Japanese skills and correctly follow any instructions I was given in a language that wasn't my first. Once the first month passed, New things began to make me nervous, which was mostly the fear of making a mistake in a production that required full concentration of everyone on board. Film production is like orchestra. If even one player is off, the whole thing goes down."
B: "I hear you there about working with a different culture. As a CMM operator at my job for our quality department, I've worked and continue to work with many Japanese members who are there for support. So learning their language and stuff was very difficult to do at first. However, week after week, I've learned so much from them in their language that I can talk with new members from Japan that come here to the states. Some of which can be very funny at times. Especially talking about their favorite comedians. (laughs) So, like you said, the minute when one person might make a mistake on set, pretty much the whole team goes down with them. That's insane."
Yoko Higuchi: " It's amazing how much of a new language you can learn just by casually speaking with others of the same language. And yeah, it really is scary. You gotta be on point all the time on set. Always."
B: "The film has such a wonderful cast. What was it like to meet Hiroki Hasegawa, Satomi Ishihara, and so many others?"
Yoko Higuchi: " It was fun! I knew Hiroki Hasegawa and Satomi Ishihara because I saw them both in the live action Attack on Titan films that Shinji Higuchi directed, but almost everyone else I've never seen before. There were often times I would stumble upon an actor and casually have a brief conversation, not knowing who they are, and then later on, a staff member would ask, "You do know who you were talking to, right?" I guess it was better not knowing most of the cast because I wouldn't have many fanboy type moments on set. I had enough of that going on with Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. (laughs)"
B: " Yeah, just being at Toho must have been a fanboy type moment anyway. (laughs)"
Yoko Higuchi: "Most definitely. Every day was, "Holy crap, I'm at Toho. How!?"
B: "Godzilla's design in Shin Godzilla is my personal favorite design. It was the 1991 Ghidogoji for the longest time. How do you feel about the design?"
Yoko Higuchi: "As for Shin Godzilla's design, I adore it. From its open, unblinking, glaring eyes to its abnormally long tail, this was a unique design but, at the same time, was recognizably Godzilla. I find it amazing that you can recognize Shin Godzilla's design just by his silhouette. Anno has created his Godzilla. Before laying eyes on it, my favorite design previously was DesuGoji/Burning Godzilla. Pre-Shin Godzilla, my favorite Godzilla film (besides the original) was Godzilla vs. Destoroyah 1995."
B: "Yeah, like Shusuke Kaneko before him, Anno made a remarkable film and his Godzilla. It would be a blessing if both of these men can create more future Godzilla films for Toho."
Yoko Higuchi: " Very much so. Godzilla still has a bright future."
B: "Unfortunately, I need to wrap this interview up. My final questions to you are these. When the film's production was all completed, Toho had the red carpet event and grand opening before the full theatrical release in Japan. Were you there for the grand opening, even though you've worked on the film, and about how many times did you watch this film while in Japan?"
Yoko Higuchi: " To answer your final questions, I wasn't there for the red carpet event, but I did see the film 3 times before it was released in theaters, and I saw it 4 more times in Japan once it was released."
B: "That's great. I'm more than sure you were very happy to witness all of this hard work pay off for this film. To see it become one of the most attended film's of the Godzilla series was unimaginable. I never would have thought it would get as high in numbers as it did. The film was a major success and to this day is being hailed as one of the best ever.
Mr. Yoko Higuchi, thank you so much for allowing me to conduct this interview with you. I know Eiji Tsuburaya, Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishiro Honda, and Akira Ifukube are looking down from heaven with smiles on their faces to see you and everyone else pour your hearts and souls into this film. I hope at some point I can conduct another interview with you in the near future. God bless, and thank you once again."
Yoko Higuchi: "It was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life, as a Godzilla fan and as a young filmmaker. Thank you for having me, Ben. The thought of those great geniuses smiling down on us really does make it all worthwhile. Again, thank you for this interview. Had a blast!"
B: "Sayonara (goodbye), Oyasumi (Good night.)"
Yoko Higuchi: "Have a good night."
I hope that everyone who has read this interview is enjoying it as much as I did doing it. There is so much one can learn from these filmmakers. I personally want to thank Yoko Higuchi from the bottom of my heart once more. He is such a cool car and a great person to chat with. Mr. Yoko Higuchi, if you're reading this, thank you!
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