Confirming Japanese social media posts earlier this week, Koichi Kawakita, veteran Special Effects Director of the Heisei Godzilla Series, has died this month at the age of 72.
Kawakita passed on December 5th from liver failure. Funeral services were conducted with family only, but a farewell event is currently being planned.
After falling in love with special effects work by way of Toho’s The Mysterians, Kawakita started at Toho as a Camera Assistant on another sci-fi classic, Gorath, in the 1960’s. Kawakita would work on several other Toho science fiction films, including The War In Space, the infamously banned Prophecies of Nostradamus, and Godzilla VS The Sea Monster. Kawakita’s first major claim to fame was becoming Yoshimitsu Banno’s assistant director, joining the ragtag production team of Godzilla VS Hedorah (aka Godzilla VS The Smog Monster) in 1971. This is notable due to how the film was struck with a low budget, only one production team, and the challenge of filming everything including effects scenes in 35 days.
After working on films like Gunhed and Sayonara Jupiter, he would become the special effects director of the Heisei Godzilla Series starting with Godzilla VS Biollante in 1989. He would serve in this post through Godzilla VS Destroyah in 1995, carrying on into the second Rebirth of Mothra film. After officially retiring from the studio in 2002, Kawakita would return to Toho to do effects work on all three of the Choseishin series: Gransazer, Justiriser, and Sazer X. His final film project with Toho was the series’ crossover film, Sazer X: Fight! Warriors of the Stars.
Kawakita was also involved in effects work on the early Ultra Series, having studied under Eiji Tsuburaya in his early Toho days. In 1972, he made his special effects director debut on Ultraman Ace for episodes 1-21. Prior to that, however, he worked as an effects unit assistant director on The Return of Ultraman, and was in charge of composite shooting for the original 1966 Ultraman series, where he was responsible for Ultraman’s growing effect shot. Furthermore, Kawakita worked on Ultraman Taro, Ultraman 80, and the sci-fi off-shoot, Megaloman.
Anime fans of the 1980’s may remember Kawakita best for being the director of several iconic Popy/Bandai’s Chogokin (lit. Super-Alloy) toy commercials. Popy’s Chogokin line of toys is better known for its integrations into Mattel’s Shogun Warriors toyline. Kawakita worked on the Chogokin commercials for the first half of the 1980s, with his commercial for DX Chogokin God Sigma winning an International Broadcast Advertising Award. Along with the Chogokin commercials, he worked on ads for the immensely popular 1981 Mobile Suit Gundam plastic model kits. His series of commercials, best known by their narration warning of “Zeon’s Threatening Mechanism” have remained a fan-favorite to this day. He would return to commercials several times, including ads for Bandai’s vinyl Ultra Monster Series in 1983, plastic model kits for 1994’s Mobile Fighter G-Gundam, and the most recent Mecha Godzilla SH MonsterArts promotional video.
Kawakita leaves behind a proud legacy and a VFX company, Dream Planets Japan. His last project, Soukou Kyojin Gunbot, just finished airing on TV Osaka.