An Interview with Akira Kubo

Born on December 1, 1936 in Tokyo, Akira Kubo made his acting debut in 1952 for director Seiji Maruyama, but he is best known as Tetsui Teri, the inventor in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), Goro Maki, the reporter in SON OF GODZILLA (1967), and Katsuo Yamabe, the captain of the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968). However, he also appears in SOUND OF THE WAVES (1954), WESTWARD DESPERADO (1960), GAMERA – THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995), annd a large number of other films.

David Milner: Is it true that you have been acting since you were a child?

Akira Kubo: I’ve been acting since I was eleven years old.   A very famous radio program entitled THE HILL FROM WHICH THE BELL TOLLS was broadcast right after the end of World War II. It told a very heartwarming story about children who had been orphaned by the war. The program was so popular that a play based on it was produced. I played one of the orphans in the stage production. I was told that I didn’t look like an orphan, so I was given a very small role when the play ran in Tokyo. However, I was given one of the leading roles when the play ran in rural areas.   A film based on the play was produced in 1948. It was directed by Ko Sasaki. (Mr. Sasaki also directed RUMBA OF PASSION (1951), THE LAST BOSS (1963), and many other movies.) Keiji Sada was given the leading role, and I again played one of the orphans. (Mr. Sada is best known as Goto, the man who marries the daughter of the widow in LATE AUTUMN (1960), and Koichi Hirayama, the son of the man who convinces his daughter that she should marry in AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962).)

Guy Tucker: Have you taken any acting classes?

AK: No. I worked on some stage productions in school, but I haven’t had any professional training.

DM: Akira Kurosawa originally was not going to direct THE THRONE OF BLOOD (1957). Do you know who was? (Mr. Kurosawa also directed SANSHIRO SUGATA (1943), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), NOT YET READY (1993), and a large number of other films.)

AK: I never before have heard that. I would guess that Mr. Kurosawa’s chief assistant director, Hiromichi Horikawa, originally was going to direct the movie.

DM: Mr. Kurosawa once said that he very much enjoyed working on SANJURO (1962). Was the mood on the set of that film any different from the mood on the set of THE THRONE OF BLOOD? (Mr. Horikawa originally was going to direct SANJURO.)

AK: The movies Mr. Kurosawa directed before 1961 weren’t very successful because they were too artistic. So, Mr. Kurosawa’s reputation among film studio executives was not a very good one. In 1961, Mr. Kurosawa decided to make a simple, but still profound, movie. That’s why YOJIMBO (1961) and SANJURO are so different from his earlier films. (SANJURO is a sequel to YOJIMBO.)   When we were working on THE THRONE OF BLOOD, Mr. Kurosawa behaved the way that I’d imagined he would. He was very forceful, and he took his work very seriously. However, when we were working on SANJURO, Mr. Kurosawa behaved very differently. He was very warm and friendly. So, the mood on the set of SANJURO was very different from the mood on the set of THE THRONE OF BLOOD.

GT: Was working with Mr. Kurosawa different from working with other directors in any way?

AK: Mr. Kurosawa is very different from other directors. Most directors spend only a short period of time in rehearsal, but Mr. Kurosawa spends a large amount of time in rehearsal.

We spent an entire month rehearsing for SANJURO. Mr. Kurosawa insisted that we wear kimonos and real swords – the very heavy metal ones – during rehearsals. We gradually got used to wearing the kimonos and the swords. We also gradually got used to saying our lines.   I remember that in SANJURO, Mr. Kurosawa wanted to present an image of samurai that was very different from the stereotypical one. He also wanted there to be a clear contrast between Sanjuro Tsubaki and the younger samurai in the movie. (Sanjuro Tsubaki is played by Toshiro Mifune. In THE THRONE OF BLOOD, Mr. Mifune plays Taketoki Washizu, the samurai who murders his superiors in order to gain their power.)

DM: What was working with Mr. Mifune like? (He is best known as Kikuchiyo, one of the samurai in SEVEN SAMURAI.)

AK: Mr. Mifune is a very fine man. He is very honest.   Mr. Mifune treated me as an equal. He wasn’t at all pretentious.   Mr. Mifune, like Mr. Kurosawa, took his work very seriously. He sometimes would become a little nervous about it.

GT: How long did it take to shoot THE THREE TREASURES (1959)? (The running time of the film is one hundred and eighty- two minutes.)

AK: I don’t know how long it took to shoot the entire movie, but I spent one week working on it. (Mr. Kubo has a very small role in the film.)

DM: What was working with Hiroshi Inagaki like? (Mr. Inagaki directed THE THREE TREASURES. He also directed THE WANDERING GAMBLER (1928), FORGOTTEN CHILDREN (1949), UNDER THE BANNER OF SAMURAI (1969), and many other movies.)

AK: Mr. Inagaki was very friendly. He also was very tactful with me and the other less experienced actors.   I worked on CHUSHINGURA (1962) and a few ninja films with Mr. Inagaki. I also worked on TEMPEST (1956) with him. It was based on a novel by Toson Shimazaki.

DM: The scope of GORATH (1962) is much broader than that of all of the other science fiction movies in which you appear. Was the mood on the set of that film any different from the mood on the sets of the other science fiction movies on which you worked because of this?

AK: I was very well aware of the broad scope of GORATH while I was working on it. I think more money was spent on the production of that movie than was spent on the production of any of the other science fiction films on which I worked. However, I and the other actors who worked on GORATH always tried to do our best, so I wouldn’t say that the mood on the set of the movie was any different from the mood on the set of the other science fiction films on which I worked.

GT: Did it take the makeup artists who worked on ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963) very long to do their work?

AK: They did spend a large amount of time doing their work.   I like ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE very much. I think the drama, rather than the special effects or the makeup, is what makes it entertaining. Fans who are in their mid-thirties always tell me that when they were children, they became terrified of eating mushrooms after they saw the movie.   I very much enjoyed working on ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE. I remember that Mr. Honda spent a long period of time explaining what the film was really about. (Ishiro Honda directed ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE. He also directed GORATH, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, YOG – MONSTER FROM SPACE, and a large number of other science fiction movies.) There were many American soldiers in Japan during the Vietnam War. Almost every one of them who ran into me said, “I know you!” I would always ask in which film they’d seen me, and they always would say that it was ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE.

DM: What was working with Hiroshi Tachikawa like? (Mr. Tachikawa plays one of the young samurai in SANJURO, a member of the crew of the J-X Eagle spaceship in GORATH, and Etsuro Yoshida, the mystery writer, in ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE.)

AK: Mr. Tachikawa was a member of Shingeki. He often performed at the Haiyuza Theater in Tokyo. (The Toho Company Ltd. is Japan’s largest movie studio. Shingeki is its stage division.)

Mr. Tachikawa is more suited for works that are set in the present than period pieces. His image is one of a very sophisticated man.

DM: What was working with Nick Adams like? (Mr. Adams plays Glenn, the American astronaut, in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO.)

AK: Mr. Adams was a man full of Yankee spirit. He was very outgoing. I very much enjoyed working with Mr. Adams. He would do very funny things like disguise himself as James Cagney. When Mr. Adams left Japan, he gave me his suit as a gift.

DM: Do you know why Mr. Adams did that?

AK: The suit fitted me.

GT: Was working with the full-scale model of one of the legs of Spiga very difficult? (Spiga is the giant spider seen in SON OF GODZILLA and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS in new footage and GODZILLA’S REVENGE (1969) in stock footage.)


GT: Yes.

AK: My memories of Spiga are a little vague.

GT: Is it true that Yoshio Tsuchiya and Kenji Sahara switched roles shortly before production on YOG – MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970) got underway because Mr. Tsuchiya wanted to surprise genre fans by having someone else play the malevolent character? (Mr. Tsuchiya, who plays such characters in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959), SON OF GODZILLA, and a number of Toho’s other science fiction films, plays Dr. Kyoichi Miya, a paleontologist, in YOG – MONSTER FROM SPACE. Mr. Sahara plays Makoto Obata, an industrial spy whose body is taken over by aliens from outer space.)

AK: That’s probably true.

DM: Where was YOG – MONSTER FROM SPACE shot?

AK: We went to Guam to shoot the movie.

DM: A number of the other science fiction films in which you appear are set on tropical islands. Where were they shot?

AK: Hachijo Island, Izu, or Gotemba, which is located right next to Mt. Fuji.

DM: Did you go to visit the special effects sets of GORATH, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, YOG – MONSTER FROM SPACE, and so on?

AK: I did not have much of an opportunity to visit the special effects sets. I always was too busy working on the standard ones. However, during the production of GORATH, I and some of the other actors had to go to the special effects set to shoot some scenes. While I was there, I discovered that the members of the special effects staff had to have a great deal of patience. I was amazed by how long it took to set up a shot that would last for only a few seconds.

DM: What was working with Mr. Sahara like? (He is best known as Kazuo Fujita, the inventor in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), and Jiro Torahata, the entrepreneur in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964).)

AK: Mr. Sahara called me Kubo-chan even though I’d been working as an actor for a longer period of time. (Chan is used to indicate that the person being referred to is a child. It also is used as an expression of affection by adults who are good friends with each other.) He used Tadashi Ishihara as his stage name until 1956. The Japanese character for Tadashi can also be read as Chu, so I called Mr. Sahara Chu-san for a while. I afterward called him Ken-bo, which means boy Ken. Even now I call him Ken-bo, and he calls me Kubo-chan. (San, which is used to show respect, can be attached to a person’s first or last name.)

DM: What was working with Mr. Tsuchiya like? (He is best known as the controller of Planet X in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO and Dr. Otani, one of the people who are controlled by aliens from outer space in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.)

AK: Mr. Tsuchiya and I were very close friends, even though he was older than me.  Mr. Tsuchiya is a very good flamenco guitarist. I was amazed when I saw him perform on television. I started playing the guitar because I was so inspired by him, but I did not play flamenco music. I don’t play anymore.

DM: What was working with Mr. Honda like?

AK: There are two types of directors. Some, like Mr. Inagaki, just sit in their chairs and have the assistant directors interact with the members of the cast. Others, like Mr. Kurosawa, walk around and directly interact with the members of the cast. Mr. Honda had characteristics of both types of directors. When he felt he needed to give instructions to the actors, he would do so himself. However, he sometimes would just sit in his chair and watch the actors do their work.  Mr. Honda was a gentleman. He never got angry. He always was calm.  I recognized Mr. Honda’s touch when I saw RHAPSODY IN AUGUST (1991). I think the movie strikes a balance between the styles of Mr. Kurosawa and Mr. Honda. (Mr. Kurosawa directed the film. Mr. Honda worked on it as a creative consultant.)

DM: What was working with Jun Fukuda like? (Mr. Fukuda directed SON OF GODZILLA. He also directed THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (1960), GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974), and a number of other science fiction movies.)

AK: The manner in which Mr. Fukuda worked was very different from the one in which Mr. Kurosawa worked. Mr. Fukuda gave the actors a great deal of freedom.

GT: Was Mr. Fukuda any more or less enthusiastic about making monster films than Mr. Honda?

AK: I think he was equally enthusiastic about making them. All directors always try to do their best. The kind of movie on which they are working does not matter. Directors are limited by the size of the production budget and the amount of time that they have to shoot a film, but they always try to do their best within those constraints.

DM: With which of the other actors who worked on the science fiction movies produced by Toho during the 1960s did you most enjoy working?

AK: Mr. Tsuchiya. Working with him always was very enjoyable. Mr. Tsuchiya often would do very funny things during rehearsals. All of the members of the staff and cast would laugh at his jokes. Mr. Tsuchiya would become very serious when shooting began, but that also was very funny.

GT: Did you or any of the other actors who worked on the science fiction films produced by Toho during the 1960s ever grow tired of working on them?

AK: No. We never grew tired of working on them. Even Mr. Sahara, who worked on more of the movies than any of the other actors, never grew tired of working on them.   It is a joy to me that children whose parents are in their thirties or forties become aware that I am in some of the Godzilla films when they see them on VHS tape or laserdisc. Children often point and say, “Hey, it’s Uncle Godzilla!” when they see me. It’s very heartwarming.

GT: Were actors reluctant to work on science fiction movies back in the 1960s?

AK: I know that some were, but I can’t think of anyone in particular. Science fiction films were considered second-rate, so some actors did not want to work on them.   I still receive fan letters from overseas. GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and so on are mentioned in every one of them. So, I am glad that I worked on some of the Godzilla movies.

DM: Were you ever a member of Toho Geino? (It is an organization of actors who work for Toho.)

AK: No. I never belonged to that organization. I know that Tadao Takashima and Yasuko Sawaguchi are members. (Ms. Sawaguchi is best known as Naoko Okumura, the woman who takes part in conducting research which leads to the discovery that Godzilla can be lured with a sound simulating the chirping of birds in GODZILLA 1985 (1984). Mr. Takashima is best known as Shu Sakurai, the leader of the expedition to Farou Island in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, and Dr. Kusumi, the leader of the scientific research team in SON OF GODZILLA.)

DM: How did you come to appear in GAMERA – THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE? (It, like the eight earlier Gamera films, was produced by the Daiei Company Ltd.)

AK: I think that either the director and the producer, or the casting director, wanted to show a familiar face from the Godzilla series and a familiar face from the Gamera series together in one scene. (Kojiro Hongo, who is best known as Kasuke, one of the fortune hunters in GAMERA VS. BARUGON (1966), Shiro Tsutsumi, the engineer in GAMERA VS. GAOS (1967), and Nobuhiko Shimada, the scoutmaster in DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968), also appears in the movie.)

DM: What was working with Shusuke Kaneko like? (Mr. Kaneko directed GAMERA – THE GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE.)

AK: I couldn’t tell much about Mr. Kaneko because I worked on only one scene. However, I sensed that he was very enthusiastic. In addition, I felt that he took his work very seriously.

DM: Have the science fiction films on which you have worked been very successful?

AK: I’m an actor and not a studio executive, so I don’t know how successful they have been. However, I do know that the Godzilla movies have been more successful than any of the other science fiction films that have been produced in Japan. The only exception to this that I can think of is MOTHRA (1961). It did very well. It still is very popular, even among young people.

DM: Why do you think that is?

AK: I think the songs in the movie make it popular.

GT: Is it difficult to react to giant monsters that aren’t really there?

AK: It is difficult, but actors who appear in giant monster films must make the people who see the movies believe that the monsters exist. So, the actors must use their abilities to show that they are frightened by the monsters.

GT: How long before the films on which you work go into production are you given copies of the scripts for them?
AK: Usually two to four weeks.   It is not possible for Japanese actors to make enough to live on for the rest of their lives by only working on a few movies. We have to keep working. I remember that in one year, I worked on twelve films. The Japanese movie industry was producing two films per week at the time.

GT: In what year did you work on twelve movies?

AK: 1960.

DM: Do you do much improvisation while you are working on films?

AK: Yes. I do.   I’ve heard that American actors are not allowed to do much improvisation. I’ve been told that American movie studios employ dialogue directors to make sure the actors say the lines that they’re supposed to say. Japanese studios don’t do that. Japanese actors are given a great deal of freedom. We are allowed to improvise.

DM: Have you worked on any television series?

AK: Toho used to have a television studio. I worked on a large number of shows in the studio. I also worked on many of the episodes of ADVISOR MITO, a television series about samurai that was produced by Toei. (The Toei Company Ltd. also produced THE MAGIC SERPENT (1966) and LEGEND OF THE DINOSAURS (1977).) I usually played a villain in the series. (It was broadcast during the late 1970s.)

DM: How was working on television shows different from working on films?

AK: The schedule was very tight. A scene would be redone only if one of the actors had made a mistake.

DM: Have you done any stage work?

AK: I mainly have been working on the stage for the past ten years. However, I did work on Kon Ichikawa’s version of CHUSHINGURA (1994) last year. (Mr. Ichikawa also directed THE BURMESE HARP (1956), MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983), and a large number of other movies.)

GT: Do you most enjoy working on films, television series, or plays?

AK: I enjoy working on all three. Each offers actors unique means of expressing themselves. However, since I have been working on movies the longest, I would have to say that I most enjoy working on them.

DM: Which of the films in which you appear are your favorites?

AK: SOUND OF THE WAVES, which is based on a novel by Yukio Mishima. I’m very fond of that movie. I also like the science fiction films on which I’ve worked. Many people recognize me from them.

DM: Which of your roles were most enjoyable for you?

AK: I can’t choose any particular roles. I enjoyed all of them. I think it’s very important for an actor to be able to enjoy playing many different kinds of characters.

DM: Which of your roles were most challenging for you?

AK: I, like all of the other members of my generation, had a great deal of admiration for soldiers when I was young. So, playing them has been very challenging for me. (ADMIRAL YAMAMOTO (1968) and BATTLE OF THE JAPAN SEA (1969) are among the war movies in which Mr. Kubo appears.)

DM: Do you find working on period pieces very challenging?

AK: I sometimes would pretend that I was a samurai when I was a child. So, working on period pieces is very enjoyable, and very challenging, for me.

GT: Are there any American actors whom you especially admire?

AK: Jack Lemmon. I at one time very much admired the lifestyle of Jack Lemmon’s character in THE APARTMENT (1960).

DM: Are you currently working?

AK: I now am appearing in a show that is playing at the Shinjuku Koma Theater. It’s a special kind of theater. The show features a very famous singer playing a heroine.

DM: Are you going to work on any more films in the near future?

AK: I soon will begin working on one called VIRGIN ROAD. It’s not going to be shown in theaters. It’s just going to be used for educational purposes.

GT: What will it be about?

AK: It will be about a bride. I’m going to play the father of the bride.

DM: How do you feel about TriStar Pictures producing a Godzilla movie in the United States?

AK: I’m glad that a Godzilla film is going to be produced in the United States. I certainly would accept an offer to be in the movie.