SciFi Japan

    GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE Los Angeles Screening Event with Koichi Kawakita and Norihiko Iwasaki

    A Report on the Special Godzilla Event Held May 3rd at the Aratani Theater and Anime Jungle Author: Andrew Nguyen with Extra Material from Richard Pusateri Source: Anime Jungle Event Site: Special Thanks to Tetsu Shiota, Yoichi Kakuma, Daisuke Ishizuka, Arian Hinojosa (MAT) and Mark Jaramillo

    In the lead-up to the premiere of the new American GODZILLA from Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros, some past Godzilla films were also screened in the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, the highest profile reissue has been the first GODZILLA (???, 1954); Rialto Pictures has released a new 60th anniversary restoration of the original movie that will have a limited theatrical run through the summer. Another film receiving its due in the spotlight is GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE (??? VS ?????, Gojira Tai Biorante, 1989), the 17th movie in the Godzilla series. A direct sequel to THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (???, Gojira, 1984), the movie opened the film in Japanese theaters on December 16, 1989. North American rights to GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE were licensed from Toho by Miramax in 1990. The company decided against a theatrical run and instead released the film on VHS and laserdisc in 1992, followed by pay cable television in 1993. Out of circulation for several years, GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE was finally released on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time in 2012. Miramax acquired a new HD transfer from Toho for the Blu-ray, and is now offering digital screenings of the movie for theaters and festivals. GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE will be featured at “GODZILLA NIGHT 3”, June 28 at the historic Bal Theater in San Leandro, CA. GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE also screened at the eighth annual "Godzilla and Friends Festival" on May 2 and 3 at Washburn University in Kansas. That same weekend, GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE was featured as part of Fiesta Matsuri special events in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. The special guests for events connected to the Los Angeles screening were the movie’s director of special effects, Koichi Kawakita, and Norihiko Iwasaki, owner of the Marbling Fine Arts company that built miniatures for the Godzilla, Gamera, and Ultraman series.

    Starting work at Toho in 1962, Kawakita had gained experience working on special effects on war and science fiction films in both movies and television. His most notable FX work before taking charge of the Godzilla series would be SAYONARA JUPITER (?????????, Sayonara Jupitaa) in 1984 and GUNHED (?????, Ganheddo) in 1989. Kawakita partnered with writer-director Kazuki Omori on GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE, and the two directors became the main architects of the Heisei Godzilla Series, the second wave of Godzilla films that ended with GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH (???VS??????, Gojira Tai Desutoroia, 1995). Kawakita had previously visited the United States several times, including a visit to Los Angeles in 2000 during that year’s G-Fest. The genesis of the Little Tokyo event goes back to Japan in mid-2013, when Koichi Kawakita expressed interest in returning to Los Angeles to have an event for American fans of Godzilla. With the assistance of his friend Daisuke Ishizuka, Kawakita spoke with the home office of Anime Jungle in Osaka, which contacted Tetsu Shiota of the Los Angeles Anime Jungle. The timing was perfect, as Shiota was in talks with Yukio Kawaratani of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACC) about having a Godzilla event as part of the 2014 Little Tokyo Fiesta Matsuri, a family-oriented celebration of multi-culturalism. Kawaratani is a longtime Little Tokyo activist who had organized the Godzilla Film Festival (DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, GODZILLA VS HEDORAH and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA) in 1996, a highlight of 56th Nisei Week Japanese Festival (Godzilla himself made a rare personal appearance in the form of a Heisei series “attraction” suit). This year Kawaratani and Shiota arranged for the screening of GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE with Miramax as well the appearance of Koichi Kawakita and Norihiko Iwasaki.

    On Friday May 2, a demonstration of the special photography used in live action Japanese tokusatsu (special filming) movies was presented to the media at the Little Tokyo Aratani Theater. After Kawakita was briefly introduced, Iwasaki demonstrated cinematic techniques of low camera angles, forced perspective and high speed photography for making miniature things appear much larger. Buildings constructed at a 1/150 scale were arranged with larger buildings in the foreground and smaller scaled models in the background to create the optical illusion of greater size and distance between the buildings. High speed photography creates illusions of increased size by tricking the mind when played back at a slower speed. The explanation offered was that if a rock falls at a meter per second, then a rock filmed falling at 10x speeds and played back slower, that rock appears to fall ten times longer. The resulting apparent ten-fold increase in time the rock falls tricks the mind into interpreting the rock falling ten times farther than it really did. That increased time also makes the rock appear ten times larger since it takes ten times longer to fall. This principle was demonstrated by recording a rock (standing in for a meteorite) landing on a miniature building. First the rock was shown landing on the building at natural speed. Then the same clip was played back at a slower speed and the result was surprisingly effective at making the video clip appear like a very large object falling into a building. “Pan Focus,” called deep focus in America, is the technique of using special lenses to keep objects in the foreground and background in appropriate relative focus to further sustain the illusion of distance in the miniature set. Later a “Burning Godzilla” figure from GODZILLA VS DESTOROYAH was positioned at the back of the work table. The low angle and forced perspective of the miniature set made Godzilla appear to loom over the landscape. At that point Kawakita re-entered the stage and posed with the Burning Godzilla.

    After the demonstration, the group went from the Aratani Theater to the nearby Japanese American Cultural & Community Center for a small press conference. For appropriate atmosphere, Shiota brought an impressive, one meter tall Kaiyodo Godzilla (1989 GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE version) 1/80 Soft Vinyl Kit sculpted by Yuji Sakai that was assembled in Japan and shipped to Anime Jungle.

    Kawakita described Japanese monster movies -- called kaiju eiga -- as being a uniquely Japanese genre while American movies were basically dinosaur movies. He was asked about teaching a class on tokusatsu techniques at Osaka University of Arts. Kawakita said he teaches analog techniques through his company Dream Planet Japan because understanding traditional filming techniques can help students as they work with modern digital computer graphics. Asked about unmade projects, Kawakita said he wanted to make a Mechanikong vs. Godzilla movie. Kawakita said his concept was for a Mechanikong to be “micro-sized,” injected into Godzilla and attack Godzilla from within! He offered his concept to a company in the United States, but his vision never materialized. Kawakita was asked how he would market Godzilla movies for female audiences and he replied that Toho had developed characters such as Mothra for younger female audiences. Two screenings of GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE took place on Saturday, May 3. The first showed the movie in its English-dubbed format at 3pm while the second screening at 6pm was in the original Japanese language with English subtitles. Before the screenings of the films, a small demonstration took place, which again discussed the use of miniatures with the tokatasu films.

    As the audience made its way into the Aratani Theater, they passed several tables that had been set up for the event. They included a small booth from Anime Jungle that sold merchandise from the Heisei Godzilla films (particularly GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE), as well as one holding a gigantic Heisei Godzilla statue and another with a display of some of the SH MonsterArts figures against a backdrop of San Diego. The organizers of the film screenings also set up several tables to deal with the history of the previous Godzilla-centered festival that occurred in Little Tokyo back in August 1996. It included newspaper clippings and posters of the events along with drawings of unrealized plans for the Little Tokyo revitalization involving Godzilla-inspired public artworks. Before the main events began, a count of the number of people that were there indicated that the theater was about half-full; the staff of the Aratani Theater had made only the lower levels available for the movie screening. Some of the people in the audience had been to the Godzilla film festival that Little Tokyo hosted in 1996. For the demonstration of miniature work, a miniature cityscape had already been set up on a work table on stage. As Iwasaki answered questions from the audience, he and several other people demonstrated the process of miniature effects work and its role in tokusatsu films. It again included a demonstration of buildings collapsing due to a comet hitting them as well as the use of forced perspective, which was vital particularly as the scales of the buildings changed due to the increase Godzilla’s size. The preparation of setting up the cityscape for the demonstration shows the process of using miniatures at time to be a painstaking work that perhaps can wear down even the most patient of men, as they have to get it right or endure having to rebuild the whole thing again if a mistake occurred.

    Following the demonstration, the 6:00pm screening of GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE got underway after the staff made some adjustments to ensure the best sound quality for the picture. While there was some laughter at the comedy bits as well as some of the actors speaking English in an odd fashion, overall it seemed the movie made a favorable impression on the audience for as the end credits rolled, they gave a positive reaction towards the film. After the movie finished, the audience made their way to the Anime Jungle store for the “G in Jungle” discussion panel at 9:00pm.

    With the amount of merchandise that Anime Jungle has on the floor on a regular day, the cleanup and rearranging they did to accommodate the number of people that attended the event was impressive... the 150 attendees filled up up about half of the main floor of the store. The panel first kicked off with a screening by noted Godzilla fan Mark Jaramillo who runs the website In Search of Monsters. For his presentation, Jaramillo displayed previews for several fan-made kaiju films: ATRAGON 2, RESSURECTION OF DAIMAJIN, MATANGO 2, WOLFMAN VS GODZILLA and GAMERA 4: TRUTH. Also screened was Koichi Kawakita and Norihiko Iwasaki`s short kaiju film, THE GOD OF CLAY (???????, Nendo no Kamisama, 2009/2011). The main segment of the panel began when Anime Jungle welcomed Koichi Kawakita onstage. They discussed Kawakita’s work on the Godzilla series before inviting up another guest, Yukio Kawaratani. The group talked a bit on how using Godzilla as part of the 1996 Nisei Week Japanese Festival helped revitalize Little Tokyo, which at the time was undergoing a very rough business period. They discussed the movies screened as well, news reports about the festival and the dealing with Toho Studios in the lead-up to the festival. Next to arrive on stage was Steve Ryfle, a well-known historian on Japanese science fiction films (and contributor to SciFi Japan), who handled most of the detailed questions about Kawakita’s work on the Heisei series. Norihiko Iwakasi soon joined the group, and together both Kawakita and Iwasaki discussed their experiences working on the films and tokatasu in general. Afterwards, the panel opened up the floor to a Q&A session. Eventually the Q&A session wound down and the staff of Anime Jungle announced that there would be a short break while they set up a table for Koichi Kawakita`s autograph signing. During this time, they brought out a selection of Godzilla-related items including hard-to-find books, DVDs and Blu-rays. Just before the autograph session began, the Anime Jungle staff awarded copies of six Godzilla posters produced by Kawakita`s Dream Planet Japan to guests who had won a contest. The remaining stock of posters were sold to “G in Jungle” attendees. During the autograph session, Kawakita signed a variety of Toho-related materials including books, DVDs, Blu-Rays, posters, and in one instance a Bandai vinyl figure of the Heisei Moguera. Anime Jungle and JACCC were overjoyed with the turnout for the event (attendance for GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE was approximately 500 people). They are now planning to have Godzilla screenings and events each year as part of the Fiesta Matsuri.

    Check back with SciFi Japan later this week for an exclusive Jungle GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE contest!

    For more information on the Jungle GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE Los Angeles Screening Event, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:

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