Tokusatsu and CGI: The Special Effects of Shin Godzilla with Yoko Higuchi.
For 63 years and still growing, it has always been about the special effects when it comes to Godzilla. From the revolutionary Tokusatsu style from the great creator of Eiji Tsuburaya to the modern technology of Hollywood, the things in special effects has always left us in awe and has given us inspiration, along with fulfilling our dreams.
On October 18, I had another wonderful interview with Yoko Higuchi who is the up-and-coming filmmaker who worked in Toho's special effects department as a Production Assistant. In our interview, I talked with him more on his experience on Shin Godzilla and what it was like to be involved with the special effects. Here, we both take a stroll down memory lane about Shin Godzilla. This is what we talked about.
B: "Mr. Yoko Higuchi, thank you once again for taking the time to do another interview. It's a pleasure to have you again."
Yoko Higuchi: "No, no, thank you for taking the time to talk to me again."
B: "You deserve it, my friend. Looking back on your letter to Toho and getting a response from the staff members, was it the staff members that told you that you would be working in the special effects department?"
Yoko Higuchi: "At first, I was just applying to be a PA. So just do basic things to assistant the production in any way I can. Before filming began, I set up the office spaces and made sure it was clean and there was enough snacks/beverages for everyone. But once filming began, I was moved to Unit A where they shot scenes with the actors (including that giant scene in Kamata). Then, not too long after, I was moved to Unit B, which handled all the special effects shots in the film, and remained there for most of the shooting time. I occasionally help out with some Unit A shots, but I stayed in the effects studio mostly."
B: "That's extraordinary! If memory serves me right, weren't there two Units in A and B?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Like most productions, they had 3 units: A, B and C. Unit A handled the scenes featuring actors and/or extras. Unit B handled the tokusatsu effects. And Unit C handled, I believe, b-roll footage."
B: "Ah, yes, the Art of Shin Godzilla book explained that specifically. I remember now. Unit B constructed that giant animatronic puppet. Was it like to witness those artists construct that amazing puppet?"
Sadly, I did not get to see them create the animatronic puppet but I did see them wheel it into the studio for the first time and it was a surreal moment. Words cannot describe the feeling that was going through my body. I don't think it really dawned on me I was working on a Godzilla film until I saw that animatronic."
B: "I think I would have asked to take it home if I had the money for that animatronic puppet. Seeing the many pictures of it and seeing it in action on the special features for the 3 disc set I own, I would have never left the studio. (laughs)"
Yoko Higuchi: "Oh believe me... The urge to just wheel that thing out of the studio and magically stuff it into my suitcase was always there (haha). And seeing it move is a whole other story. It was unique and different. Didn't move like any other Godzilla we've seen before. And seeing it everyday at the studio, really did give me strength during the toughest days on set."
B: "Yeah, the puppet was very clearly operational. Like we talked about in our last interview, it was disappointing to see it not make the final cut."
Yoko Higuchi: "It was disappointing, but ultimately it turned out fantastic so no complaints there."
B: "Indeed. The tokusatsu element still remained however. I mean, even though it was motion capture, it still required an actor to play the role of Godzilla."
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, it did. Somehow the old techniques survived."
B: "It was Mansai Nomura who played the role of Godzilla for this film. Could you tell me what it was like to see him preform as Godzilla?"
Yoko Higuchi: "I sadly was not able to see any of Mr. Nomura play Godzilla because that was up to the visual effects department while we were the special effects department. I have only met the CGI team just once but they have done some incredible work."
B: "Well, that stinks. I take it you didn't get to see Katsuro Onoue work in the visual effects department much then?"
Yoko Higuchi: "I actually worked closely with Director Onoue because he was in charge of the special effect unit where I was in. I saw him almost everyday in my time at the studio. He's a great man and he's been very generous to me over the past 2 years."
B: "Most excellent. While he was the VFX director, there was the VFX supervisor Atsuki Sato and VFX producer Tetsuo Ohya. Were any of these gentlemen strict on this production?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, although Mr. Sato was not there everyday, I did see him quite often. He, too, has been very kind to me and is a great guy. I actually don't think I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ohya on set."
B: "It's really incredible that you not only got to work with everyone there and to meet the cast, but that you got to make friends with them."
Yoko Higuchi: "I am so grateful to have been around a crew that was passionate about the craft but also kind as well. I am privileged to call these great artists and craftsmen my friends. It really is an honor."
B: "I think I'd say the same if I were to ever work on a Godzilla film myself. Looking back while this film was still in production, Takayuki Takeya designed the maquette of Shin Godzilla to be displayed for the public. Did you by chance get to see him design the maquette and were you there for the release of it?"
Yoko Higuchi: "I sadly haven't had the chance to see/meet Mr. Takeya and I wasn't there when they debuted the maquette but we did see different version of it on set at the studio.There was one maquette for each evolution form."
B: "Yeah, they were all so amazingly detailed."
Yoko Higuchi: "That was my first glimpse at this new Godzilla and it was breathtaking. Seeing that maquette for the first time, I'll never forget it."
B: "Yeah, it really captured the eye of everyone. It matched Mahiro Maeda's artwork in imagery and brought it to life."
Yoko Higuchi: "It is a remarkable design; on the page and in person."
B: "Indeed. You know, when Toho announced who the directors were going to be, I remember Shinji Higuchi said he was going to give us the greatest worst nightmare. I think he succeeded don't you?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Oh, most definitely. Seeing the animatronic Godzilla for the first time shocked me, to be honest. It really did frighten me. It was almost hard to step close to it. This truly, without a doubt, the most frightening Godzilla we've ever seen."
B: "It really is. It is what Ishiro Honda had envisioned with 54. A pure nightmare. A monster that resembled the atomic warfare and a creature that had a meaning."
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, pure evil."
B: "In our last interview, you said you would occasionally drop by and see Hideaki Anno direct the many boardroom meetings. Can you tell me more about the precision and care he put into this work?"
Yoko Higuchi: "As for Anno's direction for the board room meetings, he was very meticulous. Setting up the shots was an entire process in of itself. If the camera was even a millimeter off, he would go and change it. He is a visionary director who almost has the entire film in his head already mapped out. As an aspiring filmmaker, it was incredible seeing this man work."
B: "Interesting. I take it he was very strict as well?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes he was. Of course, not to the point where the set was completely devoid of fun, but serious enough."
B: "I see. Well, knowing Hideaki Anno was your biggest influence into filmmaking, do you feel like working with him has helped you have a better understanding of how filmmaking works?"
Yoko Higuchi: "That's a great question. I wouldn't say that watching him specifically made me understand how filmmaking worked, but I would say that watching this entire production function as one unit did help me. Being part of a whole made me see the big picture. I've always been more comfortable directing, writing and shooting but being a small wheel in this massive production put it all into perspective. Of course, seeing a master class director work did help me just for personal reference, but it was everyone coming together to make Shin Godzilla that made me realign my preconceived notions of filmmaking."
B: "That's great. You have a bright future ahead of you. I hope that Toho will contact you for a follow up."
Yoko Higuchi: "Thank you! If they were do a sequel to Shin Godzilla, I'll be there."
B: "You're welcome. The Shin Godzilla OST was orchestrated by Shiro Sagisu. Did you get the chance to see him and watch the orchestra perform these songs?"
Yoko Higuchi: "I've actually seen Mr. Sagisu at the Shin Godzilla vs. Evangelion concert where they performed the entire soundtrack live this year. I was also at the after party so I got a chance to see him again there. As a huge Evangelion fan, I adore his work and the music he composed for Shin Godzilla is just incredible (especially "Who Will Know")."
B: "Who will know, persecution of the masses, and my personal favorite, defeat is no option are just remarkable. Like Akira Ifukube and Kow Otani before him, he's joined the ranks of those guys as great composer."
Yoko Higuchi: "Most definitely! This is one of my favorite scores of recent memory and you can see why. Every track he has composed is just something else. Something unique."
B: "Truly. Is there anything else you could tell me about your experience in working in the special effects department?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Well, I can say that the experience was hellish but not in the bed sense. I worked long shifts at the studio and returned back to my aunt's house where I was staying super tired. The job was physically tasking but emotionally rewarding. Seeing all the small things that everyone was doing on set was just incredible. As you probably have already seen in The Art of Shin Godzilla book, these amazing artists have done so many awe-inspiring things and it really opened my eyes more to the art of tokusatsu filmmaking. At first, I was a little skeptical as to why Japan felt the need to continue tokusatsu filmmaking with the advent of CGI. I thought they could save more money and make things look more realistic with computer generated monsters or destruction, but I soon began to realize that they aren't doing it just to do it, they're doing it because they love it. Everyone wants to keep the tokusatsu art style alive and that was something that really touched my heart."
B: "My God, that is fascinating. The thought that they wanted to continue the roots of tokusatsu and keep that tradition holy is beyond words if you ask me. And, yeah, looking at the special effects section of The Art of Shin Godzilla really does make me appreciate what the artists have done with their craftsmanship. I'm also more than sure it has been this way since Eiji Tsuburaya first gave life to this style of Japanese special effects that we all call tokusatsu. I'm also very proud of Shinji Higuchi. He has learned so much about tokusatsu from Teruyoshi Nakano who in my mind was the greatest successor to Eiji Tsuburaya."
Yoko Higuchi: "It is a special art form that is unique to Japan and it was inspiring seeing these guys keep that tradition alive. Everyone from Anno to Higuchi to Onoue to everyone at the studio with us all had the spirit of Tsuburaya within them and that kept them going through the film's production."
B: So, while working on that set, and now knowing it was pure Hell on everyone, did any of these artists complain at all while in the process of production?"
Yoko Higuchi: "To answer your question, sure there was a few mumbles and grumbles here and there, but overall, we had a good time. This is one of the few jobs in the world were we get to be little kids. Playing with giant monster animatronics, blowing up stuff, making miniature sets and them destroying them... We do this because we love the work and to complain means you don't love the work."
B: "Wow! It's heart-lifting to know that the spirit of Eiji Tsuburaya flowed within you all to make this production. I'm more than sure he's very happy with what you all did. All of this hard work and dedication has paid off big time for you all."
Yoko Higuchi: "Thank you. I hope we've done right by him by continuing his legacy and mixing it with the latest technology."
B: "Was there ever a time you had to work double shifts to get all of the work done?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Oh, of course. My entire job was to do multiple things at one time. I would make coffee, tea, water and set the snacks up everyday, but in between I'd do so many other tasks depending on the day. Sometimes I slated for the camera, other times I dabbed the explosives with water, other times put on rain boots and dealt with fake blood. It all depended on what we were doing on set but I'd do double, triple, maybe even quadruple shifts a day. Because Japanese films don't have the luxury of having hundreds and hundreds of people working on set, the crew members are tasked to do multiple things at one time to finish the work. It's daunting at first but you get used to running around the set rather quickly."
B: "Damn, dude. You stayed busy."
Yoko Higuchi: "Yeah, I stayed very busy over there. Did a lot of things in a small amount of time. Thankfully, it all went smoothly."
B: That's good. Re-reading one of your statements about being shifted to Unit B, knowing that you helped out with the special effects of Shin Godzilla, and knowing Unit B constructed that giant animatronic puppet, what was it like to see all of these effects shots come to life on the big screen?"
Yoko Higuchi: "It was so satisfying. Being able to point at the screen and go, “I remember doing that shot,” was very fun. Although not many of the tokusatsu elements made it into the film, it all turned out to be a glorious mix of practical effects and CGI."
B: "Yes. The best of both worlds. I recall that 2 meter tall statue being released to the public as well. Who was it that made that statue if you don't mind me asking?"
Yoko Higuchi: "I actually don’t know exactly who made it but it’s super cool."
B: " Yes it is. While working with Shinji Higuchi, is there anything else you could tell me about this tokusatsu master as far as how strict or fun it was working with him?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Director Higuchi is a very chipper man overall. He really does elevate the mood and gives us the proper motivation. He cracks jokes and makes us laugh, but when he has to be serious, he's serious. Definitely the kind of man you want to work with and the kind of director I'd like to be: fun but will get things done efficiently."
B: "Very cool. What about the precision and care he puts into directing the special effects?"
Yoko Higuchi: "Of course, he was involved with both Unit A and B so he wasn't already all the time at the studio but when he was, he would review everything carefully and made sure everything went according to plan. He definitely has a keen eye for special effects after his work on the Gamera trilogy and the Attack on Titan films so it was a very smooth process."
B: "Indeed. A lot of his visuals in Shin Godzilla can be identified with the Gamera trilogy of the 90's. Even a much smaller budget with the Gamera trilogy he was able to pull off some of the best tokusatsu effects ever. When I heard that Toho hired him as the special effects director, I knew this film was in good hands."
Yoko Higuchi: "Yes, he really is a master of the craft and I'm so glad they brought him on board for Shin Godzilla. Having both him and Anno was a blessing."
B: "Was there anything in the special effects department that you were not allowed to be involved with?"
Yoko Higuchi: "No, not really. It's not that I wasn't allowed. I was just simply not placed there. For example, the CGI department, I was not a part of. If I stayed in Japan longer or if I asked, maybe I could've been."
B: "I see. The CGI team really worked hard with the visuals. I was really impressed and pleased with the effects of this film. Although Godzilla itself in Shin Godzilla is entirely CGI, the way it was handled with the CGI looked practical, and I think that says a lot about making good CGI."
Yoko Higuchi: "They did a phenomenal job on Shin Godzilla. Although they, of course, cannot compare to the visual effects we see in $100+ million Hollywood blockbusters, the CGI in Shin Godzilla are spectacular for the resources that they had. Very pleased with how the film turned out."
B: "Truly. This is my final question for this interview. Is there anything else about your experience with this film that you feel like sharing that I haven't asked?"
Yoko Higuchi: "That's a good final question. I don't think there is much else that we haven't talked about already. What I can't emphasize enough is how lucky I was to be a part of Shin Godzilla. It really was a dream come true, much like the title of our previous interview. I know that the world can be unfair to many of us, but just sometimes, if you work hard enough, your dreams may just come true. You just need to work hard at it and never let an opportunity slip past you. I was lucky enough to be a part of Shin Godzilla's production and I will not take it for granted. As a Godzilla fan and as an aspiring filmmaker, I intend to use everything I've learned from my experience on set to my future career. The feeling I felt everyday walking into Toho Studios is something I cannot describe in words. It was an emotion that was unlike anything I've felt. I've wept tears of pure joy numerous times and I could not believe what I was seeing, hearing and feeling. Although it was, on many occasions, a hard, difficult, grueling experience being a PA on a real film set, I've never felt so much joy as I did on that set. So my final thought is, to anyone out there reading this, your dreams can come true and I hope my story will inspire you to achieve your dreams and do something great. Something you're proud of. I have many more dreams I have yet to fulfill and I hope I can go on to accomplish them in the future."
B: "Yoko, very generous of you to speak out like this to everyone who has big dreams. You've been on the most incredible journey in your life and to do something some of us have yet to accomplish. Working on a Godzilla film.
You're future is very bright. Toho knows who you are and what you're able to do while on the job. Sequel, no sequel, new live action film, I hope the next one when the time comes that they will contact you and get you back into filmmaking. You have helped inspired many to want to fulfill their dreams the way you did.
Yoko, my friend, thank you ever so much for this wonderful interview we've had together. Words can't describe how appreciative I am of you for taking the time of day to allow me to interview you. Everything we have talked about has not only led me to love the film even more, but has made have a lot more respect for you and everyone involved with this production. Keep your head high. Your dreams will come true. With the experience you've been given by working with your first film will lead you to higher grounds in the near future. Thank you once again for all of this info and for sharing your experience on Shin Godzilla."
Yoko Higuchi: "Thank you so much for everything. It's been great to talk about my experience on set. I'm glad our conversation has given you more love for Shin Godzilla because I can't love it enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your time!"
B: "It was my pleasure, Yoko. Have a good night and good luck in your future. Sayonara."
Yoko Higuchi: " Have a great night, and thank you!"
I hope everyone who is reading this has enjoyed our conversation that we had. We took a big leap into memory lane of Shin Godzilla and Yoko's experience with the film. We have opened a large door for fans of Shin Godzilla.
If you want to talk with Yoko Higuchi on a more personal level, be sure to get in touch with him here at these links.
And, for the fun of it, here are some photos of Yoko Higuchi.
(Shinji Higuchi and Yoko Higuchi together. No, they are not related.)
In case you missed our first interview, you can read it here below.
If any admin can make this into an article, that would be great. I tried to make an article out of it but,my internet is slow. This has been Huge-Ben, signing out.
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