Godzilla is the most famous monster from Japan. After the first film in 1954, 28 films were made in Japan, and Hollywood made a remake in 1998. And we will see another Hollywood adaptation of Godzilla this May. Akira Takarada, who was the leading actor in the original Godzilla, says, “Godzilla is my peer.” Takarada has appeared in many Godzilla films. He is one of the most successful actors in Japan, but the reason he became an actor is quite interesting, which we discuss in our exclusive video interview.
In this second part of our exclusive Akira Takarada interview, the legendary actor talks about the history of Godzilla and the deeper meaning behind the monster. Plus, he reveals his acting philosophy and how he prepares for roles.
And lastly, our interview with Akira Takarada takes a more personal turn as he discusses some of the more interesting fan letters he’s received over the years (including marriage proposals!) and his secret to successful aging.
Below is a translation of our entire Akira Takarada interview:
Q1: Why did you decide to be an actor?
AT: For eating. After the war, I came back to Japan from Manchuria with my family. Manchuria is in the northeastern part of China. We were very poor. I needed to work. I had a picture of my future that I would be a corporate employee after graduating from college. But I was interested in acting when I was in high school and my friend recommended I audition for Toho’s New Face. So then I tried it and I was accepted. My perspectives are very different from other Japanese people because I come from Manchuria. That provided a sense of remoteness to me in high school. But acting saved me. My dream wasn’t to be an actor. But, fortunately, I was chosen from many applicants at the Toho audition. There were so many auditions and many people were dropped but I remained. Then I became an actor.
Q2: Do you have moments where you feel like you are not from Japan?
AT: As arrogant as it sounds, I was raised in a cosmopolitan environment. My childhood friends were Japanese but also Chinese, White Russian and Asian Indian. We played hide-and-seek and ate together, so I was different from trueborn Japanese kids.
Q3: What did Toho ask you to do at the audition?
AT: It was very hard. I had to take an audition once a month for six months. It was dialogue, acting and singing — many different things. I read scripts written by famous Japanese writers. And I sang my favorite American pop song in English. I kept thinking I would fail in the next audition. But at the end, I was the only one that remained. Then at the final audition, some had just joined and had some connections with Toho. They were Kenji Sahara, Momoko Kōchi, Yu Fujiki and Masumi Okada. Then we became the sixth graduating class from Toho’s New Face.
Q4: Could you talk about the memory of the original film?
AT: Godzilla was my third film and the first leading role. I dreamt about having a leading role in a film so my dream came true. But when I heard Godzilla, I had no idea what it was. So I asked them and they said it was the combination of a gorilla and a whale (kujira) in Japanese. Now Godzilla has become a superhero who is loved all over the world. However, I didn’t think it became so famous at the time. Japan was the only radiation-exposed country. Japan experienced the devastation of atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also the Japanese fishing boat was exposed to radiation in Bikini Atoll in 1954. Japan has been exposed to the bomb’s radiation three times. Godzilla came from these things. A lot of famous scientists were against nuclear bombs. But people in the USA and Soviet Union developed and tested them because of the Cold War. Godzilla, a fictional monster, woke at the sound of the bomb being tested. And then it started to attack people. Godzilla is not a bad monster. Godzilla is representative of alerting mankind to nuclear bombs. So that is why a lot of people have supported Godzilla. I campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons. I’m a member of a group that wants to protect Article 9 of the Constitution.
Q5: What did you do to prepare for the original Godzilla?
AT: Preparing for a role is how you read a script given to you. That is a patent of each actor. It differs in each actor so I can’t tell you. Actors can be many kinds of people. I think all actors want to play Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. I couldn’t believe I actually was given that role. Actors can experience lives as other people. I have to put things in the proper perspective. I must have extensive knowledge, for example, politics, economy, culture and education. So, I need to prepare for acting all the time and be ready to go any time.
Q6: Do you have any fan letters which have impressed you?
AT: I have received a lot of fan letters from people regardless of age and country of origin. I have had many letters from fans who have asked me to get married.
Q7: You are very active and don’t seem your age. What is the secret?
AT: I’m 80. The secret is actually “working.” For my work, I have to exercise and have vocal training. But my eating habits are changing, because of my age. I want to eat a big steak, but I can’t eat that anymore.