Koichi Kawakita, the special effects director who updated Godzilla for the ’90s, helping to spur interest in an American remake, has passed away. Kawakita died on his 72 birthday anniversary, December 5, 2014; the cause of death was liver failure. You can read an obituary by August Ragone here.
Kawakita took over the special effects for the GODZILLA series with GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), a film which saw a new generation of behind-the-scenes craftsman reinventing the character for a new generation. Directors and writers came and went, but Kawakita remained with the series throughout the 1990s, recreating many of Godzilla’s most famous opponents in GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH (1991), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992), and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1993). He also directed special effects for OROCHI, THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (1994, aka YAMATO TAKERU) and the Mothra spin-off series that began in 1996 with REBIRTH OF MOTHRA (aka MOSURA).
Kawakita helped return Godzilla to his roots, abandoning the comical hijinx of the 1960s and 1970s films in favor of a more serious approach, with the monster depicted as a destructive force of nature, though not necessarily evil. The Godzilla depicted in his effects work was an enormous beast with shark-like rows of teeth and more facial expression than in the older films; the design of the suit remained mostly consistent from film to film, though it did evolve gradually, the bulky proportions helping to hide the human anatomy of the actor inside. Awe-inspiring and sometimes frightening, Kawakit’as Godzilla was an anti-hero – dangerous but sometimes preferable to the alternative – perfectly suited to a series of screenplays that consistently played around with the question of whether we should root for or against the monster.
Though not realistic, Kawakit’as work was imaginative and colorful, and it was filled with spectacular, memorable images: Godzilla decapitating one of Ghidorah’s heads with a blast of atomic breath; the shock wave of Rodan’s flight creating miniature explosions in the ocean beneath him; Mothra’s wings gracefully unfurling as she emerged from her cocoon; and Godzilla himself going China Syndrome at the end of GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995).
Kawakit’s work was filled with a Sense of Wonder. He brought a beloved fantasy character back to life for a new generation, and his legacy lives on in the films that followed, including this year’s American remake.