Saturday, February 7, 2015

HONORING KOICHI KAWAKITA: Toho Studios Hosts a Memorial Ceremony for the Late SFX Director

With actor Koichi Ueda at the Koichi Kawakita memorial celebration, taking place at Toho Studios.

I've just returned home from a moving celebration honoring the life and career of Godzilla series SFX director Koichi Kawakita. For me, things got started on the Odakyu Line platform at Noborito Station. There I happened upon Heisei series director Takao Okawara, who was also waiting for the train to arrive. After we entered, Millennium series SFX director Eiichi Asada boarded the train, wearing a surgical mask. I watched as Asada-san approached Okawara-san and introduce himself. The two talked until getting off at Seijo-gakuen-mae Station, at which point I shook hands with the gentlemen and introduced myself. Both were surprised that I recognized them and knew who they were!

Former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano poses in front of the memorial. Nakano-san gave a moving speech, honoring his colleague.

When I arrived at Toho, screenwriter Wataru Mimura was also making his way there. I also ran into my friend Yasushi. The celebration was a veritable who's who of Toho, including: Godzilla suit actors Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma, directors Yoshimitsu Banno and Kazuki Omori, producer Shogo Tomiyama, SFX directors Teruysohi Nakano, Kenji Suzuki, and Eiichi Asada, actor Koichi Ueda, Shinichi Wakasa, Hurricane Ryu, Yoshikazu Ishii, Hiroshi Sagae, and many others.

As you can see above, Godzilla was even on hand, smashing a city. It was an appropriate tribute to a man who had directed the Big G in many such situations.

With writer-director Kazuki Omori, who wrote and directed Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).

Before the ceremony got under way, attendees met and mingled with one another. It was quite nice to see old friends and colleagues excitedly coming up to one another and reminiscing about old times. I walked around the studio and caught up with a number of old friends and acquaintances.

With Millennium series SFX director Eiichi Asada.

I introduced myself to actor Koichi Ueda, who was in numerous Heisei and Millennium Godzilla films, not to mention the original version of Shall We Dance? (1996). Ueda-san was very friendly and a pleasure to speak with.

Hanging out with a man who needs no introduction, Haruo Nakajima.

After the memorial began, Teruyoshi Nakano, Kazuki Omori, and Shogo Tomiyama addressed the audience and paid tribute to Kawakita-san. Nakano-san's speech in particular was quite moving. When he finished by saying "Kawakita-kun, sayonara," the finality of Kawakita-san's passing swept through the studio.

Director Masaaki Tezuka, the most prolific of the Millennium series directors.

Following the speeches, when I was taking pictures around the studio, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Sonoe Nakajima, Haruo Nakajima's daughter. We said hello, and of course I greeted Nakajima-san himself, who was in great spirits.

SFX director Kenji Suzuki and screenwriter Wataru Mimura.

As I was leaving, I got another tap on the shoulder. This time it was Shogo Tomiyama, who thanked me for coming. What better way to end the evening?

Suit actors Hurricane Ryu (left) and Kenpachiro Satsuma (right) reminisce about their Toho days.

When the event finished, Wataru Mimura, Yasushi, and scenario writer Fuko Takano went to the Italian restaurant Saizeriya for dinner. The food was delicious, and the mood was light. I think we all needed to lighten the mood after the attending the ceremony.

Rest in peace, Kawakita-san. Thank you for the memories and the movies.

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