Thursday, December 11, 2014

Koichi Kawakita: Giant Among Giants

Special effects director Koichi Kawakita poses with some friends at the Godzilla tokusatsu exhibition in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in August. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On December 5 (which, as it turns out, was his birthday), longtime Toho SFX director Koichi Kawakita suddenly passed away at the age of 72. A ubiquitous presence at various fan gatherings in Japan, Mr. Kawakita was a special guest at G-FEST this July in Chicago. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kawakita was a beloved figure on both sides of the Pacific.

Mr. Kawakita flashes his familiar smile while addressing fans in Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As most Godzilla fans know, Mr. Kawakita directed the SFX scenes for every Godzilla movie from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).

Mr. Kawakita joined Toho in the early 1960s, working on the lavish sci-fi epic Gorath (1962), among many other films. In the 1970s, he worked on a variety of films and television programs, such as Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Zone Fighter (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974), Zero Pilot (1976), The War in Space (1977), and the Shaw Bros.' Mighty Peking Man (1977). In the 1980s, Mr. Kawakita directed the dazzling effects in Sayonara Jupiter (1984) and Gunhed (1989). Following his retirement from Toho, Mr. Kawakita founded his own production company, Dream Planet Japan.

Akira Takarada and Yuriko Hoshi join Koichi Kawakita onstage at a signing event in celebration of Godzilla's 60th anniversary. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I've been fortunate to meet Mr. Kawakita at several events in Japan. We even rode together on the same flights to and from Chicago last summer for G-FEST. (On the way to Chicago, Mr. Kawakita and his family sat just a row or two behind Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, and me. Because I was busy with the other guests at G-FEST, I didn't have a chance to talk with Mr. Kawakita at the show until the Sunday night convention staff dinner. With my friend Yasushi's assistance, I was able to ask Mr. Kawakita many questions about his career.

Thank you for the wonderful memories, Mr. Kawakita. May you rest in peace.

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