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
• 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.
• 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.
• The biggest influence on Honda’s life was his experience
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• Godziszewski has contributed to write Honda’s biography in English at the official site of Ishiro Honda, http://www.ishirohonda.com.
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.