Back to Main
Chicago Shimpo
Unknown Stories of Director Honda Outside of SF Films
Presentation by Ed Godziszewski

• Ed Godziszewski, publisher of his own magazine “Japanese Giants” and writer and documentary filmmaker, spoke about Director Ishiro Honda, who was known for directing original Godzilla in 1954. The event was organized by the Japan America Society of Chicago and took place at the Society’s conference room on February 8.

• Godziszewski met Ryuji Honda, son of Ishiro Honda, while he was making a documentary film in Japan in 2007. Ryuji talked about his wish that somebody could tell the story of his father’s career and personality to a wider audience in the world. Godziszewski agreed with him.
• Then Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle co-authored “Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa” and published it last year. The book was written based on stories told by Ryuji and many other people who had worked closely with Ishiro Honda.

• Godziszewski talked about the purpose of publishing the book in an interview conducted by Patrick Galvan last year. Godziszewski said that Director Honda had been less known in the world compared to Director Akira Kurosawa or Yasujiro Ozu despite the fact that many audiences had watched Honda’s science fiction films without knowing his name. He also said that 1954 Godzilla helped open the door for Japanese film companies to advance in the world film market, and Honda had been the most commercially successful director until Hayao Miyazaki’s time arrived; therefore, Ishiro Honda’s film and his personality should be told to the world audience.

Director Ishiro Honda as Described by Godziszewski

• Honda was born in 1911, the son of father Houkan, Buddhist priest at Chuurenji Temple, and mother Miyo in Yamagata Prefecture. Being born in the year of boar and as the forth son, he was named Ishiro, which kanji characters showed “I” meaning boar and “shiro” meaning the forth son.

• When Honda was a third grader, his father became the chief priest for Iouji Temple, and his entire family moved in Takaido, Tokyo. Later, the family moved to Kanagawa Prefecture. With influences from his three brothers, Honda enjoyed reading science magazines and watching movies. He was especially impressed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s “The Last Laugh”, narrated by Musi Tokugawa.

• A while later, Honda encountered a location shooting in his neighborhood, saw a person who was in charge of everything in the shooting scene, and was interested in becoming such a person, a director.

• After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the Nihon University Art Department’s Film Section. It was a newly established section, so he was a part of the very first group of students. The school lacked enough instructors and shooting tools, but some people from the film industry gave lectures.

• Iwao Mori, lecturer of the school and executive of P.C.L. (previous form of Toho Co., Ltd.) invited Honda and some other students to “Friday Party” where young film students discussed films and related things. Before he graduated from the school, he and some students were employed by P.C.L. as an assistant director.

• During that time along with young hopefuls, Honda entered a director training program under the supervision of Director Kajiro Yamamoto. They did everything, whatever they could do rather than concentrating on directing or being an assistant for little money. They stayed in the program because they just loved films.

• Honda met Akira Kurosawa, who also signed up for the training program, and the two happened to be assigned the same room in the dormitory. They became the best friends in their life time.
• Their dormitory life was drinking and talking about movies. Honda met his wife, Kimi, who was a script supervisor, in a dormitory party.

• When Honda proposed to Kimi, her parents didn’t allow her to marry him. So the two decided to follow their own hearts and got married. Kimi was disowned by her father.
• Honda put this experience in the 1957 film “Good Luck to These Two”, which he directed. A young man and woman were determined to marry despite an opposition by her parents. When the two had a small wedding ceremony at a temple, her parents sneaked into the temple and hid themselves behind something and tried to watch the ceremony.
• Godziszewski said that Honda made many films with rich human stories outside of his science fiction films.

• The biggest influence on Honda’s life was his experience in WWII.
• While he was progressing at Toho studio, he was drafted for three times. The first draft came when he was 24. Unfortunately he happened to be involved in 2.26 incident, an attempt coup by the members of military commanding officers in his unit. As the result, he was sent to a front in China, and his serving period was longer than he expected.

• He returned to the studio when he was 26, but again he was drafted and served until he became 31. The third draft came when he was 33. Those drafts really interrupted his career. Even though Honda was a mild tempered person, he was very frustrated and said that it was just really not fair.
• The war ended when he was in China and he became a prisoner for six months. When finally he returned to Japan, he was 35 years old.

• During the time of the war, he was exposed to a lot of horror. He saw what cruel officers did to enemies, the Chinese people. He couldn’t understand why people killed each other. He had no personal animosity toward the Chinese people.
• An episode came from Koji Kajita, who was a longtime assistant director to Honda and was a solder in the war, so the two often talked about their experiences. When Honda was ordered to fire against the enemy, he would purposely shoot toward the sky because he didn’t want to take another person’s life.

• During his service, he was assigned to take care of a comfort women station for a year. He wrote an essay about it in the 1960s while few people wanted to remember about it. Godziszewski said that if you read the essay, you would feel how deeply that experience affected him.

• During the war, the only thing that kept his sanity was his wish, “I’m going to survive because I’ll go back to my family, and I’m going to make movies, going back to the studio.”

• When the war ended, he became a prisoner of the Chinese people, who paid respect to him. They said that they would welcome him, asking him to stay there and not go back to Japan. However, he wanted to see whether his family had survived because Tokyo had been bombed badly.
• When he finally returned to Japan, he learned what happened to his family. Godziszewski said that the interaction between his wife and his family was a very moving story. He recommended to the audience to read the passage in his book “Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa”.

• At the Toho studio, Honda was recommended to take an office job such as bookkeeping because he was 35, too old to become a director. But he didn’t compromise and started where he left off even though it was a low level of filmmaking.
• In 1951, he finally made his debut with “Blue Pearl” when he was 40. He wrote and directed the film, which richly depicted human conflicts and emotions between ama divers, who only lived with tradition, and outsiders, whose values were different from the ama divers.
• Godziszewski said that Blue Pearl was his favorite out of Honda’s scientific films. “One thing I hope that by making this book, we can attract some attention from studios such as Criterion Collection or some kind of art houses that will find value in Honda’s non-science fiction films and bring some of those films over here for people to see,” he said.

Ed Godziszewski

• He watched all science fiction films available in the U.S. when he was a child, but didn’t know about those movies that were directed by Ishiro Honda until later years.
• For little Godziszewski, Honda’s science fiction films were not just movies. When he was a child, the cold war had already started. He watched on TV as the premier of the Soviet Union banged on a podium at the United Nations while promising to bury America. Even as a child, he was aware of the cold war and a possibility of nuclear war between American and Soviet.
• In Honda’s science movies, on the other hand, there was a different view of the world. People from different countries could cooperate and together fought with something in a battle in outer space. He thought, “This is the world we should be.”

• Godziszewski has contributed to write Honda’s biography in English at the official site of Ishiro Honda,

Ed Godziszewski, co-author of “Ishiro Honda:
A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa”

A shooting scene from Godziszewski's presentation. Director Ishiro Honda is seen in the photo, the second from left.