Category Archives: Ultraman Kaiju Makings

KERONIA (making)

Keronia design drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “This is a kaiju in the form of leaves put together and it is asymmetric.”

I think Keronia was an attractive kaiju in its own way, while the design itself may not be so appealing by today’s standards, with the impressive fight with Ultraman and the idea that a “plant” life form species on the earth, instead of an alien, challenged humanity after gaining the intelligence and ability that grew to the level that could far surpass the human race.

I find how the asymmetry made the design attractive even moderately in this case indicates it is the work done by Narita who was an excellent sculptor as it would have looked too simple and plain otherwise.

Enlarged heads part from the above design; I like how the side view looks

The human-sized Keronia who appeared from the closet was extremely creepy while the actor seems to have nearly tripped and fell down behind the scenes after he ran out of the room probably because he had to run with the costume’s huge head unproportional to his body hardly held in the proper position and with the poor visibility through the head.

It seems that Ryosaku Takayama wrote in his kaiju sculpting diary that he made about 35 pieces of the leaf-like surface and that it took a lot of work so that he had to make a particular box to dry them with two infrared lamps set on it while working throughout New Year holidays pressed for sculpting kaiju costumes to meet the deadlines.

Giant Keronia head (left) and human-sized Keronia head; Keronia was another kaiju whose “Takayama eyes” were very much impressive with the eyes that, strangely enough, fully make you feel the creature is actually alive

The head of the human-sized Keronia was also sculpted by Takayama along with the head of the giant Keronia although the giant Keronia costume also had its head and body separated to be worn. Hiroko Sakurai who played Akiko Fuji attacked by the human-sized Keronia says she was so frightened, while acting, by the scene because of the situation of the plant human suddenly showing up from inside the closet.

Looking at the expressive actions of Ultraman performed by Bin Furuya, it makes me feel enthusiastic teamwork of the staff on the set joining forces to try to make the show more attractive by featuring impressive fights between Ultraman and a kaiju as explicitly shown by the scenes, for example, where Ultraman smashed out of the building in the sequence of Hayata turning into Ultraman (I would really sympathize with the building owner if it were real) or Ultraman sort of somersaulted on the ground while fighting with Keronia, including “Ultra Attack Beam” Ultraman unexpectedly fired at the plant human his Spacium Beam didn’t work on.

At any rate, it is hilarious to see the baby Keronia set to be flammable and useful as a household fuel. The appearance of Shoji Nakayama as Dr. Ninomiya who would play Captain Kiriyama in “Ultraseven” made this episode even more impressive.

Giant Kenonia costume in the Bisen studio

WOO (making) #2

Woo costume sculpted by Ex Production that looks great!

Yuzo Higuchi, the director of this episode, agrees with the interviewer in a book article who asked him if this episode was meant to warn people about the excessive resort development which spread into every part of Japan back then.

“Woo” seems to be described as the name which came either from an Okinawan word (the script of this episode was written by Tetsuo Kinjo who was originally from Okinawa) denoting a kind of fabric pronounced in a similar way or from the title of the show “WoO” being planned along with “UNBALANCE” while “UNBALANCE”  finally turned into “Ultra Q.”

Woo with its eye lights off looks so horrifying like a spector

As it is likely they had a lot of snowfall on the location set they hadn’t had for the last 20 to 30 years, chances are it made the filming very hard. Higuchi recalls they had to walk very carefully not to leave any footprints on the snow and that none of the cast and staff were good at skiing so they had to hire ski instructors in the locality to have them perform for the long shot scenes showing the SSSP members skillfully skiing down the slope in a graceful manner instead of the cast members, Kurobe, Ishii (present Dokumamushi) and Nihei.

While having the instructors ski instead of them, it seems that the cast had to wait shivering in cold with their overcoats on as their SSSP uniforms were worn by the instructors while they didn’t bring the spare uniforms to the location.

Woo costume described in a book as the deteriorated one after the appearance in the show

Higuchi says they had a very hard time because, for the medium shot scenes showing the actual cast, the SSSP members were not able to stop on skis where they were supposed to play to be properly caught on film as they easily got out of the picture with the momentum out of skiing from a place a little way off with their skis on.

The ski field that appeared in this episode is likely to have had a resort facility affiliated with TBS, which should indicate how much popular going to resorts including ski fields was among people during Japan’s postwar high economic growth period.

Woo is also well known as a kaiju who appeared in “Ultra Fight” afterwards with its costume always having its long hair cover the face and with a completely different character as a violent fighter somewhat with an eccentricity who easily picks a fight with the other kaijus.


WOO (making) #1

A: primary design of Woo drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “In a word, it is a sen-nin. As there is nothing interesting if it’s all white (while the set would be white too*), I made its face dark. Even though I initially drew A, it looked too much like a sen-nin, and I drew B instead by flattening its head.”

*Narita’s own remark

Sen-nin means a wizard or hermit seen as immortal living in the mountains while it should have originated from Taoism and the word is often used in Japan to refer to someone living in the mountain, not necessarily in seclusion or for a religious purpose, saying something like “He’s a man just like a sen-nin living so deep in the mountain” apart from the Chinese religion (I believe most Japanese people are even unaware that the idea of sen-nin originally came from Taoism even though the word itself is so familiar to them).

Enlarged head part from the above image

It seems that Yuzo Higuchi who directed this episode featuring Woo had something more like an abominable snowman in mind and that he realized the actual costume had excessively long hair when he looked at it for the first time. But he says, as he didn’t know a kaiju like an abominable snowman (Guigass) had already appeared in the show then, the design of Woo is now fully acceptable to him.

As to its sculpture, the costume was made by Ex Production instead of Ryosaku Takayama following Goldon that appeared in the previous episode.

B: finalized design of Woo drawn by Tohl Narita

Keizo Murase who was with Ex Production back then says they used plant fabric of Manila hemp usually called “sutaffu (stuff?) among them. Even though the stuff is usually rather short in length, he says they obtained the long one from a bike store which used to be located right across Toho because the store owner had a lot of knowledge of the fabric material as they also dealt with ropes (I don’t exactly understand why ropes can be associated with a bike store).

Tetsuo Yamamura says the Woo costume was very light in weight with the long hair just covering the lower part of the body like a straw skirt with nothing to cover the actor’s body while the actor looked out through the bunch of hair so that his face could have been exposed if the covering hair should have been pushed aside.

Woo head design separately drawn by Tohl Narita apart from the above picture of the whole body; I find the preciseness of the drawing pretty impressive

GOLDON (making)

Finalized design of Goldon drawn by Tohl Narita
Primary design of Goldon drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “This is the underground kaiju based on the caterpillar I got the idea from.”

Featuring Goldon, this was another impressive episode with two of the same kaiju appeared even using one single costume with the other one set to appear after the previous one died.

And I feel like the appearance of Senkichi Omura who eccentrically played the miner Yamamoto obsessed with gold made this episode even more unforgettable along with the Ultraman’s Type B costume badly showing the deterioration including Dada’s episode.

The Goldon costume was sculpted by Ex Production instead of Ryosaku Takayama while the production company had made the costumes of Peter for “Ultra Q,” Hydra and Guigass (remodeled from Hydra) for “Ultraman” and Woo was added to these three with the episode to come right after Goldon.

Tetsuo Yamamura says the Goldon costume had no opening with the zipper on its back through which the actor could get inside but that it was the costume that could be separated into the upper and lower parts while they met where one of the dents lied between the segments of the body with the ingenuity uniquely featured for this particular kaiju costume.

Keizo Murase who worked on the Goldon costume at Ex Production back then before he founded his own company “Twenty” later states that Goldon was painted with gold powder (I think he means gold-colored powder) mixed with lacquer paint.

According to him, they made its back rough by spreading latex mixed with sawdust over it while he adds, because it will become sticky unless the part coated with latex containing sawdust get immediately dried, they had a housewife, who worked part time for them, make it dry with the heat of reflector lamps.

Murase says they regularly had a housewife named Kato-san (Ms. Kato) come to help them as a skilled, seasoned part-time assistant for their job while she had also been involved in the sculpting work at Toho as a part-timer.

Goldon costume seemingly at the back of the Bisen studio

DADA (making) #3

Dada A, B, and C illustrated by Tohl Narita at a later time

As to the body of Dada, a black wet suit was painted into a zebra pattern by spraying white paint on it while being masked with tapes so that the black parts could be left out.

The face of Dada specified as “Dada A” damaged by the shot of Ultraman’s Spacium Beam was apparently portrayed using an additional face with scars and burns whose eye parts left open attached onto Dada A’s face that remained intact.

As Dada appears to have been one of Narita’s favorite characters, chances are the alien had been newly illustrated by Narita as his art works (without the okappa hairdo) in later years.

Another illustration of Dada drawn by Tohl Narita

While Dada is one of my favorites as well and I like this episode with a mysterious touch also featuring Ultraman who was shrunk to the human size, it was a bit shame that the mysterious alien made himself look so weak as to be defeated even by Captain Muramatsu!

Come to think of it, the scene where Ultaman turned human-sized was somewhat misleading to us when we were children, and there were kids including me who wrongly took it as Dada’s attack by his Micronizer took no effect on Ultraman and as Ultaman reduced his size of his own accord to try to catch or fight with human-sized Dada.

It caused us to mistakenly think of both Ultraman and Ultraseven as aliens who could adjust their sizes freely. I assume there should still be people who are mistaken about it even now except ardent fans of Ultraman as they would say, “I dimly remember I have seen Ultraman also shrink to the human size in an episode.”


DADA (making) #2

Clay mold of the Dada head at Ryosaku Takayama’s Atelier May; it tells us that the one single head was planned to have the three faces placed at different angles; the female molds of the faces perhaps cast out of the clay mold are found at the bottom of the platform

Takayama is likely to have written in his diary that Narita spent two or three hours in Takayama’s Atelier May while correcting the design of Dada looking at books of ancient art and African art borrowed from Takayama although Narita had come to the atelier with the Dada design three days before to stand by for having the Gomora costume tried on by someone.

Narita and Takayama seem to have initially tried to design the head to rotate so that the three different faces show up sequentially with the other two covered with lids in the double-door style while one of the three would face forward, whereas it didn’t do the trick. So it was redesigned to enable the head to show the different faces in another way.

Tetsuo Yamamura says in a book that it was decided they would simply replace the faces by attaching one of them onto the core part that looked like a head with black hair (such a hairstyle is called okappa in Japan, probably from the imaginary creature kappa. So Dada is often associated with the hairdo jokingly like “Dada with an okappa hairdo.” The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama characteristically has that hairstyle).

Yamamura also says that is why a slight gap can be found between the face and black core head and that, if closely watched, you can find wires between them to tie them together.

As you know, the idea of showing three different faces based on the same head was inherited to “Another Dimensional Man Gigi” in the show “Ultraman Cosmos” that had the varying faces depicted with the use of computer-generated images.

You can see the process of trial and error through these photos including the above ones. It seems that Dada B in the center was not planned to have any nose although his piggy nose is the outstanding feature of that version along with the pattern on his face that looks like a mustache

DADA (making) #1

Dada design drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “It has three faces on a single face (head). I aimed at making the face vary properly according to the camerawork rather than showing the faces like a multi-headed statue of Buddha. I think of the depiction as what we need to work on better in the future.  It can be called an op art human overall. The illustrations of A, B, and C are the works I recently drew .” (*the illustrations drawn by Narita will be shown in the last of my serial posts to come.)

In my personal view, Dada was one of the most impressive alien characters featured in the original Ultra Series while he is just called “Dada” without any title as it is the name that sounds pretty unusual consisting of the simple repetition of the same syllable so that it makes the name sound more unique along with his zebra-patterned body design that makes him look like an abstract art work.

Enlarged head part of the above image

It is not surprising that his name sounds somewhat mysterious in itself as Masahiro Yamada, who wrote this episode, named him as such from “Dadaism” with a space creature to be thought outside of the box in mind.

The sounds like the pumping heart he constantly makes (it sounds like saying “dada” as well) and his creepy roars and groans also make him outstandingly mysterious in a different way from any other aliens who appeared in the series.

As Narita described in his art book, there seems to have been a lot of trial and error in designing the character and having Ryosaku Takayama sculpt the head.


GOMORA (making) #2

Gomora in the studio

Kurakata added he had been really nervous wondering if the radio control receiver might break at any time especially in the scene where Gomora’s tail was severed and the part where the tail dropped off caught fire as the heat and fire could have damaged the receiver.

Although there are some pictures of Ultraman and Gomora fighting with each other in front of Osaka Castle that should have been demolished by the kaiju before Ultraman appeared, it is known that these are the still photos shot before the castle was destroyed.

As to the miniature of Osaka Castle, it is known that Akira Sasaki who sculpted the original Ultraman and Ultraseven heads was involved in making it. He says he still remembers the sculpting of Osaka Castle well along with the National Stadium that appeared in Ultraman Episode 19 featuring Abolas and Banila.

Kunio Suzuki who acted Gomora got into the suit with goggles probably to protect his eyes from explosions of gunpowder
Gomora standing by at the side of Osaka Castle

Sasaki says it took him about 10 days to make the castle with the help of part-time assistants using plaster and wood with the structure to be built on the rock foundation made of styrofoam.

He adds the castle was all white when it was shaped, and they painted it finally. He also explains that the National Stadium miniature was not the whole thing of it but with one fourth or one fifth of it reproduced, saying he had a very hard time as he had to work overnight in succession to make it meet the deadline for the filming.

It is well known that the Gomora costume was remodeled into Zaragas in the end. Although it seems that Gomora was due to reappear in Ultraman Episode 37 set to be resurrected by Geronimon along with Red King, it was not realized because Gomora had already been made into Zaragas at that time, and they had Telesdon appear instead.

One of the still photos with Ultraman shot before the castle was destroyed by Gomora

 


GOMORA (making) #1

Gomora design drawn by Tohl Narita
Enlarged head from the above image: interestingly enough, a horn curved forward is found to have been added over the original horn on the snout

Tohl Narita: “I was impressed with the helmet of Kuroda Nagamasa (1568-1623), a samurai lord from Japan’s Warring States Period. I thought of incorporating the impression into this kaiju. Needless to say, it ended up having horns that were wider and thicker than those of his helmet.”

Gomora should be one of the most popular kaijus featured in “Ultraman” with its powerful and massive appearance so that it represents the kaiju characters that appeared in the show.

Along with the excellent design drawn by Tohl Narita, the subtly curved horns sculpted by Ryosaku Takayama are fabulous while the head used in the show still exists and has often been displayed at tokusatsu exhibitions with the sense of being alive still remaining unchanged as I actually saw it at an exhibition held in a museum even with the single horn on its snout missing and the mark where the left horn broken by Ultraman was fixed by being put back where it used to be.

Primary Gomora design drawn by Tohl Narita
Enlarged head from the above image
Helmet alleged to have belonged to Kuroda Nagamasa

Shigeo Kurakata says in an interview that the opening and closing movements of the mouth were operated by radio control with the receiver installed where its tail and body met.

He says, as, along with the kaiju rampaging a lot, many scenes featuring Gomora were filmed with the camera zooming out on the kaiju, they decided on the use of radio control instead of wire operation while the wire operation was predominantly used for the other kaijus. Takayama is said to have called the wire operation method “himokon” (himo=wire/string; derived from “rimokon” that is the Japanese abbreviation of “remote control”), which I find so witty.

Shigeo Kurakata (right) and the Gomora suit hung from above

DORAKO; REBORN DORAKO (making) #2

Reborn Dorako introduced as Dorako (II) in the “Fantastic TV Collection No. 2” published in 1979

While Dorako uniquely had a red lamp on the tip of its tail, it can be found that it was instructed as such in Narita’s design.

At any rate, there are no other words left to say than excellent and fabulous about Takayama’s skill of sculpture that enabled him to make the Dorako costume look totally identical to Narita’s design reproducing the details and entire shape.

To be honest, I ever thought Dorako had sickle and tape-measure hands without noticing it actually had two sickle hands in my childhood as the sickle and tape-measure hands were described as such in kaiju pictorials that were available at that time.

Deteriorated Reborn Dorako used as a stage show costume

For instance, one describes the tape-measure hand as giving out a whip from it and another as a magnetic hand.

Regarding Reborn Dorako that appeared in Ultraman Episode 37, as it is well known, the appearance is so much different from the original Dorako.

Although it is understandable that it had no wings given that it was its “reborn” version brought back to life by the superability of Geronimon as the wings were torn off by Red King (II), it is not as convincing that it had human-like five-fingered hands instead of the sickles and that it had 4 horns while the original Dorako had only a single horn.

Dorako’s right hand is described as a magnetic hand in the 24th edition of “Kaiju Ultra Zukan (Pictorial)” published in 1971 (the first edition was released in 1968)

The statement made by Tetsuo Yamamura covered in a book revealed that it was Kunio Suzuki, one of the Ultra kaiju suit actors, who took the liberty of fastening the additional horns onto the costume for no particular reason at his discretion. And the additional horns were the horns removed from the suit of Imora that appeared in “Kaiju Booska.”

Yamamura says Suzuki was in charge of maintaining kaiju costumes along with his role as a suit actor back then. While this story might amusingly show the easy-goingness of the good old days, it remains unknown why Reborn Dorako ended up having five-fingered hands.

Incidentally, “Reborn Dorako” along with the other resurrected kaijus that appeared in this Geronimon episode used to be called “Dorako II” in publications although it was just called Dorako in my childhood with no particular specification.