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G-FEST XXIV with Tokusatsu Director Higuchi of Shin Godzilla

The Godzilla fans’ gathering “G-FEST” took place from July 14 to 16 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rosemont. Every year, more than a thousand fans across the U.S. and other countries participate. Many events were prepared for the convention, such presentations and Q & A sessions by actors, directors and crew from the Japanese Godzilla films, costume contests, classic-kaiju-movie screening, games, and kaiju craft workshops.

This year, special guests from Japan were Shin Godzilla’s tokusatsu (special effect) director Shinji Higuchi, actor Ryuki Ktaoka, illustrator Yuji Kaida, composer Michiru Oshima, director Kyotaka Taguchi, actor Robert Scott Field and more.

G-FEST was initiated by a Godzilla fan, J.D. Lees, who is a high school teacher in Canada. Lees first published a newsletter G-FAN for his friends in 1993. When he ran a small ad in a science magazine, many G-fans applied for a subscription.

G-Fans had its first meeting in 1994 with 20 members and held the second meeting at Arlington Heights in 1995. Since then, G-FEST has been held every year for 24 years, and attendees increased year after year to over a thousand. In 2014, the number of participants marked three thousand.

Scott Hamilton, a long-time Godzilla fan, remembered his childhood of the 1980s before VCRs were available. “One of things I had to do was… When I was 10 years old, I would stay up until 1 a.m. to watch a movie because they were showing it very late. I’d been always trying to stay awake desperately to watch a (Godzilla) movie,” Hamilton said.

When he was asked if he liked Shin Godzilla, he said, “Yes! I love it a lot. I thought that it was furious, scary, and I loved the political stuff, which I thought that was very well done.” He watched Shin Godzilla for three times when it was screened in the Chicago area. He added, “It stayed here in Chicago two weeks longer than anywhere else.”

Also as an anime fan, Hamilton said, “I knew Director Higuchi before Shin Godzilla, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what he has to say.”

Director Shinji Higuchi Speaks about Shin Godzilla

Tokusatsu Director Shinji Higuchi was welcomed by cheers and applause when he entered the presentation room where 400 to 500 fans had been waiting for him.

Higuchi was born in 1965 in Tokyo and grew up with kaiju monsters because he was a latchkey kid, so Ultraman and TV characters were his good friends. “Thant’s why I became like this,” as he induced the audience’s laughter.

After 1977 “Star Wars” made a big hit, most Japanese kaiju fans were enraptured by it. Illustrator Yuji Kaida and other prominent kaiju fans thought that Ultraman and Godzilla were not behind Star Wars, and Kaida took the initiative to organize a “Tokusatsu” convention. More than 1000 fans got together in it, and Higuchi was among them.

Such a movement pushed Toho Co. to make “The Return of Godzilla”, released in 1984. Higuchi was eager to watch the Godzilla shooting scenes and couldn’t sit still, so he became a staff member of the shooting team after graduating from high school.

His job was to help suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma to wear the Godzilla suit or to help with moving Godzilla’s tail. He also watered Godzilla’s mouth when it barked. He did whatever he was allowed and sometimes not allowed.

The Godzilla movie was made for the first time in nine years, so the number of veteran staff under Director Tsuburaya was not enough for the tokusatsu shooting; therefore, half of the staff members, who had been impacted by Star Wars, were newly added. Higuchi said, “A generation shift started from this Godzilla movie.”

When The Return of Godzilla was completed, Higuchi impertinently thought, “It has something wrong. It would be better if I could do it.”

Dissatisfied Higuchi found a college-student team in Osaka, who were shooting their own Ultraman films, and he joined them.

He made miniature buildings and tanks when they were studying in their college, and shot films on weekends. When they shot an explosion scene, they dropped debris, and he kicked a pile of cement powder. “When you see it in a screen, it looks like an explosion with smoke,” he said. He learned many tokusatsu methods through this experience.

Thirty years have passed since then, and Higuchi became the special effects director for Shin Godzilla. The team wanted a totally new Godzilla, which transformed its shape from one to the next; however, Toho rejected the idea. They modified it and brought a pre-Godzilla to advance to Shin Godzilla.

Higuchi decided to use computer graphics, so that they could manipulate the tail of Godzilla as if it was an independent creature. Their imagination expanded further to beam lights from the tail.

The biggest challenge was how to move Shin Godzilla. Higuchi wanted god-like or beast-like motions and looked for a person who could do that.

It was kyogen master Mansai Nomura. Kyogen is a traditional, theatrical performance like noh and kabuki, which have over a thousand years of history. Kyogen performance used to be offered for gods, and its story often described gods and beasts in deep mountains.

Nomura wore Godzilla’s mask, back fins and tail, and created Shin Godzilla’s motions. You can see the Godzilla’s sophisticated walking motions when you watch the movie.

Shin Godzilla made a big hit. Higuchi said that a secret of the success was not to reveal anything about it before the movie premiere. Even after watching it, the audience didn’t tell the surprising story to anybody because they wanted other people to have the same impact they had encountered.

Shin Godzilla doesn’t return to the ocean or fall into a volcano, but remains on the ground. Higuchi said that it was a message that Japan would have similar things. “It is the same thing that the first Godzilla appeared in the Cold War era and threw a question to us. We have issues in our age, so the Shin Godzilla would remind us of them,” Higuchi said.

“G-FEST” took place from July 14 to 16 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rosemont

Shinji Higuchi, Shin Godzilla’s tokusatsu (special effect) Director

Godzilla fans gathered to meet Director Higuchi

Director Higuchi (R) and Actor Robert Scott Field

Scott Hamilton, a long-time Godzilla fan