Chicago Shimpo
From G-FEST:
Interview with Keizo Murase, Kaiju Suit maker

• Renowned monster suit maker Keizo Murase was one of the guests invited to this year’s G-FEST, an annual festival of Japanese kaiju (monster) fans, held at Rosemont’s Crown Plaza Hotel from July 13 to 15 as reported in the previous issue.

• Murase joined Toho Film Studio in 1958 and has sculpted suits for numerous kaiju and superhero characters, including Godzilla, Valan, Gamera, Ultraman Ace and Kamen Rider. Today, as the president of a creative design company Twenty Ltd., he continues to work extensively in the areas of stage and set design as well as kaiju suit making.

• As he sat at the table readying to meet G-FEST fans, 83-year-old Murase had a feel of unusual magnetism with him. Despite the appearance, though, he was calm and polite during the Chicago Shimpo interview.

Q: You sculpted the suit for Godzilla, right?

• Murase: I started with the second generation [of Godzilla]. Valan is the first one that I really began sculpting from scratch. Then followed many other Toho characters like Mothra, [King] Ghidorah, and so on.

Q: What are the major problems in suit making?

• Murase: First of all, the suit must be light. A suit actor is required to do hard actions, so he has to be able to move easily in the suit. We suit makers must consider what the actors – guys like [Haruo] Nakajima and [Kenpachiro] Satsuma – are required to do, and make a suit that’s light and easy to move in.

Q: They say it’s pretty hot in the suit.

• Murase: It really is. So we have to get the actor out of the suit in between cuts and cool him off with a fan. Then we put the suit on him when the shooting starts again. That’s how we operate.

Q: Tell us about the suit materials.

• Murase: In the early days (when we first made the Godzilla suit), we used chicken wire as the core. Then the much lighter Styrofoam became available, which made suit making much easier.
• You know mattress that we put under our futon? That type of material was then introduced, so we could make it lighter and softer.
• Sometimes the suit actor is required to act underwater, which is highly dangerous. You can’t get out of the suit on your own. When playing Godzilla, Mr. Nakajima was nearly drowned once.
• There are signs that both suit actors and we [suit makers] understand, and the actors use such signs when they are in trouble so that we can jump right in to help them immediately.

Q: In fighting scenes between monsters, there are even fire and explosions.

• Murase: Right. So, after destruction, we must restore everything on the set for the following day’s shooting. Once we worked all night to restore the set for four days in a row.
• Sometimes a building on the set gets destroyed by mistake. We have to rebuild it, paint it, and put it back just the way it was, by the following day.
• When monsters fight each other on the set of mountains, we put a lot of [fake] cedar trees. That’s a situation that can easily catch fire with explosives (and it actually happened).
• When the set catches fire, the suit actor can’t get out of the suit in time. You can’t use a fire extinguisher there because it inhibits the actor from breathing. So when that happens, we must help the actor regardless of the risk that we might get hurt.
• Our first priority as the suit maker is the safety of the actor in the suit. The second is to create a suit with a good camera appeal, a suit that’s easy to film.
• The bottom line for us is to understand everything the director asks of us and do our best to provide the best product possible.

Q: Do you also install mechanisms in the suit, like the one to move the eyes of the monster?

• Murase: Yes, those are all operated by wireless motor control. I’m 83 years old but still doing the work on the set.

Q: How long does it take to make a suit?

• Murase: It requires three people to complete a suit – by division of labor. A Godzilla suit takes at least a month to finish. Back when I was with Toho, it took almost two months. The whole work is much easier now.

Q: Why did you choose to become a suit maker?

• Murase: I’m from a farm in Hokkaido, and always liked to mess with machines and make things with my hands.
• I was suffering from allergy (atopic dermatitis) back then, so I joined my elder brother in Tokyo, hoping to fix it. My brother was an art student there and working part time at the studio where the Godzilla suit was made. He invited me to join the suit making, and I did.
• I arrived in Tokyo in May, began making the Godzilla suit in August, and then went back to Hokkaido when my allergy got better. I was going to work on the farm, but then the allergy returned. That’s why I gave up on farming and decided to devote my life to suit making.

Q: Looks like making the Godzilla suit makes you forget about your allergy.

• Murase: I agree – making things does help forget your troubles and difficulties in life.

Q: Thank you so much.

Renowned monster suit maker Keizo Murase at 2018 G-FEST

A photo of Murase displayed in an exhibit room.