Sad news from Japan…it has been widely reported on social media and several Japanese web sites that special effects master Koichi Kawakita has passed away at the age of 72.
Although not a household name here in the West, Kawakita was a special effects legend in Japan. Kawakita learned his craft working as an apprentice of Eiji Tsuburaya, who is widely considered the father of the Japanese special effects industry. Beginning with the 1962 film Gorath, Kawakita spent decades working on dozens of movies in the Visual Effects Department of Toho Studios, the Japanese film studio famous for Godzilla and its other Kaiju Eiga (“Monster Movies”).
Although he contributed to Godzilla films throughout his four decade career at Toho, he is best known for creating special effects for the rebooted Hensei-era (1984 – 1995) Godzilla films like Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah:
After Godzilla was turned in to a friendly, almost comic character in the 1970s, Kawakita led the effort to reimagine him as a leaner, meaner and more terrifying force of nature beginning with 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante. Although the “Hensei” films are not universally loved by diehard Godzilla fans, Kawakita’s contribution to the series’ legacy is undeniable and enormously respected.
Kawakita retired as the Head of Visual Effects at Toho in 2002, but founded the independent special effects studio Dream Planet Japan in 2003 and continued working on a number of projects, including the Power Rangers/Super Sentai-like TV series Chōseishin GranSazer. In recent years he was also an honoured guest at many Godzilla conventions and movie retrospectives and taught Tokusatsu filming techniques as a visiting scholar at Osaka University of Arts.
One of the last public events he attended this year was G-Fest XXI, where he participated in a panel discussion with Kaijucast host Kyle Yount:
Toho hasn’t made a Japanese Godzilla movie in over a decade, but the day after Kawakita’s passing they announced plans to revive the Japanese Godzilla franchise with a new film in 2016. The timing was surely coincidence, but it seems fitting that Godzilla will now pass in to the hands of the next generation of Japanese special effects artists.
Rest in peace Kawakita-san.
Via Asahi Shimbun.