Detailed below are alleged events that occured during filming and production of the 1971 film, "Godzilla vs. Hedorah". As such, all are but rumors, yet some persist that they are true.
From 1954 onward, the Godzilla series had become popular enough to be a staple of pop culture and an every day commodity in Japan with new movies being produced yearly on decent budgets, half of which went toward costume design. It became a regularity in what was known in the Showa era of kaiju films, a trend that persisted well into the ‘70s. Much like everything else the Godzilla series of films began to experience franchise fatigue, with production values becoming cheaper and cheaper, new costumes looking shoddy and the recycling of stock footage.
This particular phase of fatigue was never more evident than in 1969s “All Monsters Attack”. The abysmal final product put the entirety of the Godzilla franchise on hold for a whole two years, allowing for the general public to forget about the disastrous film and enough time for the minds at Toho to regroup and eventually start work on another film. It was originally intended for the franchise to end after the release of “Destroy All Monsters” several years prior but the release of yet another film made it impossible to end a franchise that had made them famous, so it was quickly decided that work on another entry into the franchise was to start immediately.
It was decided early on that the next installment would carry a message much like the original Godzilla film close to 20 years prior, but rather than focusing on the dangers of nuclear radiation, the message would instead focus on pollution and its effects on the environment. From this idea, Godzilla’s opponent, Hedorah, was formed. Designed to be a “smog” monster, Hedorah’s appearance was originally much, much different. The initial drafts were similar to that of Godzilla, albeit with a stockier build, elongated face, more rounded teeth and a ashen grey color, more or less a non-threatening design. This appearance would be the groundwork for the new film, and as such, a new, young director was chosen to lead.
Quiet, introverted and often times described as imposing, Yoshimitsu Banno was chosen as the director for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, an undertaking that made the company uneasy to say the least, as Banno had yet to ever direct any kaiju film, much less a Godzilla one. Toho hesitantly allowed Banno to take the reigns, and the project continued as expected. Unfortunately for the team, as well as Toho, things would not go as planned.
Banno started confident in his ideas that he proclaimed regularly, and his coworkers often described his visions for the film as “off the wall” and strange. Given only 35 days to shoot the film, Banno and co-writer Takeshi Kimura often locked themselves away on weekends and bantered back and forth over potential film ideas. One report claimed Banno and Kimura yelled feverishly until the early morning, neither leaving the room until an agreement was made. Banno was also known for changing ideas last minute, turning Hedorah’s design from a Godzilla-esque monster to a large, towering blob, a tendril-like creature with large, red eyes mere days before the costume building process was to begin.
As time went on and filming progressed, tensions ran high between production and the actors themselves, as many shoots ended with several arguing that scenes weren’t “just right” after the actors had repeated them any number of times, leading to them storming off from each other, actors decrying the capabilities of the production team and not speaking to them until the next shoot. As these spats between them escalated higher and higher, Banno himself often remained disconnected from these events, as every time they would occur, he would simply leave, but not before quietly speaking his mind on how he thought none of them performed up to par. This irritating and disconnected behavior persisted to the point of extremity in some cases, as actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, who portrayed Hedorah, was struck during filming with appendicitis. Doctors were forced to perform the appendectomy while still removing the Hedorah suit, not because it was too elaborate to remove, but because Banno ignored Satsuma’s serious complaints until other members of production stepped in and helped. When questioned later, Banno simply stated he was ignorant to the cries, and had, “too much to film, in too little time”. Some say Banno would lock himself in his office with small supplies of food for days on end after these heated arguments, speaking, but to no one in particular, occasionally cursing loudly, thrashing, sending objects flying about the room. These occurrences would then be followed by long periods of silence, the only audible sound being Banno scribbling furiously on his notepad.
On top of these was a particularly nasty rumor about the supposed twenty whole minutes cut from the final film. Around halfway through the film Banno allegedly had several more scenes planned, which was described by others as, “disturbing and surreal imagery, more so than in the final cut, that would have helped pad out the story and further finalize Banno’s vision for the film.” Several examples of these alleged scenes were one in which Hedorah crushes a families home, the mother and son outside, screaming, as the father is trapped, crushed by the collapsing house in front of them. One, which portions of are seen in the film, included a surreal dance party where the participants wore bunny masks, smeared unknown substances along the walls, injected heroine, and even wrote nonsensical scrawling on any and all flat surfaces. Another would involve a young psychic child, upon sensing Hedorah’s arrival, be plagued by horrific night terrors, featuring bizarre, macabre illustrations of previous Kaiju that Godzilla had fought before. The last example was one that Banno himself described in detail to Takeshi Kimura during a late-night session, and had Godzilla fighting Hedorah into a grassy countryside. They would continue to thrash about, the sky growing dark, when Hedorah would gain the upper hand, wrapping its tendrils around Godzilla’s arms and neck, allowing for traces of blood to ooze from Godzilla’s mouth. Banno excitedly exclaimed that the way Godzilla would win would be to show a shot from behind Hedorah, and to watch as Godzilla’s hands tore through to the back and then thrusts outward, effectively tearing Hedorah in two. While later Godzilla films would take a more violent approach, this idea was still struck down almost immediately for being too over the top, considering the vast majority of the audience for these films were children.
These changes, which did not please Toho, were cut from the film prior to release, much to Banno’s dismay. As there was no time to re-film certain scenes, the final cut of Godzilla vs. Hedorah was even more bizarre than intended. It was described as eerie, bizarre, and in a most extreme case, utterly nonsensical and insane. Banno himself, however, was extremely pleased with the results of his film, so much so that he began writing a sequel almost immediately. Tomoyuki Tanaka, who was a seasoned Godzilla director and also hospitalized during filming, went so far as to tell Banno that he had “ruined Godzilla.”. Banno was not discouraged, as he was even more determined to have his sequel made. Despite his intentions, Banno was banned from directing another Godzilla film, as his extreme approach to filming that left several members hospitalized as well as his dark ideas were deemed unfit for the series. Banno, obviously unpleased with this turn of events, cut communication with many of his superiors as well as those around him. Many other projects were considered afterward, but Banno was scarcely heard from, and never seen.
The last accounts anyone had of Yoshimitsu Banno after his directorial debut are vague at best, but the only foreseeable conclusion is as follows: mere months after his ban, he quit his job as assistant director to several cartoons, and cut contact with those around him. Packing his documents, along with the remaining 20 minutes of footage not seen in the final film, he disappeared. It’s unknown what happened to Banno, or what became of the 20 minutes of footage, but for better or worse, neither were ever seen again.