Toho Studios' Godzilla Minus One hits theaters nationwide December 1. The film takes place just after the war, and sees an already devastated postwar Japan facing a new threat in the form of Godzilla.
Godzilla superfan and Fango contributor Graham Skipper got to sit down virtually with writer, director, and visual effects supervisor of Godzilla Minus One, Takashi Yamazaki.
Yamazaki-san, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
You’ve made Godzilla scary again! In addition to clearly sharing DNA with other entries in the Godzilla franchise, there are clear ties to Jaws, and I sometimes felt reminded of The Terminator. (When I mentioned The Terminator, Yamazaki-san laughed and nodded his head approvingly.) Can you talk about the process of finding what makes Godzilla so terrifying in your film and any other cinematic influences you might have had?
I always thought that if Godzilla actually showed up in front of me, it would be scary, undeniably. And I also felt the visual effects technology overall is at the point where I could create the scary Godzilla that I wanted. Now the emphasis I placed was on how close Godzilla is, and the detail — people are running away, and you see his foot come down. You know he’s coming close to the train, and you see all the details. So, it’s a closeness. I also had the opportunity to create Godzilla: The Ride at Seibu Park. Godzilla comes right up to the riders, and it actually freaked me and my crew out, too. So, it was those details.
I loved how your Godzilla moved - its walk reminded me of the great Haruo Nakajima, and I was thrilled at how it snaps at planes like a dog. You talked a bit about your developing approach and how you captured it. Did you use a mocap actor for reference, or was the way he moved purely CGI?
There’s absolutely no motion capture used in this.
It was built completely, obviously, out of past references. I also think my cat was used as a reference at one point. I would communicate with the animators by just using hand gestures, so you know I want him to bite like this [He uses his hand like a puppet to demonstrate what he’s talking about], or I want him to twist out of the ocean or the ground like this. It was a lot of hand gestures for the animators.
Incredible work. Your film balances a tone of drama and comedy so well that it seamlessly shifts between scenes of heartbreak and genuinely funny laugh-out-loud moments. What was your approach with the actors in maintaining this tone but keeping it grounded?
In order to create the fear of Godzilla, it really rests on the actors, the humans reacting to Godzilla, to make Godzilla that much more real. Because you know you can’t really sustain tension throughout the entire time, you get tired, so I was very conscious of the audience’s journey. There are little pockets of respite, but really focusing on the human reaction is a direct key to making my Godzilla a scary Godzilla.
Hope is such a huge message in your film. Why does the world need a message of hope right now, and why is Godzilla the perfect monster to deliver it?
Production was in the middle of COVID, and that definitely affected how production went. Sometimes, we would gain some time, and we could rework the story a little bit. But during the production, Russia invaded Ukraine as well, so I felt that the Godzilla metaphor of being the greatest challenge for humanity, and humanity and people banding together to overcome a Godzilla, or a big challenge was really timely.
Not counting your own, what is your favorite Godzilla film?
My answer might be a little bit boring, but the first 1954 original Gojira. It started it all. But what’s really scary about it is that it had the human story aspect, the war story, and Godzilla. It contained all those themes right at its start, so I think it’s almost scary that it was nearly perfect from the get-go.
If there’s one thing horror fans can all agree on, it’s that we want more Godzilla on the big screen! So go support this film and see it as big and loud as possible! Godzilla Minus One is out nationwide in theaters and IMAX beginning December 1st.