UPDATED 12/11: Toho's visual effects director who forged and shaped Godzilla's look for the 1990s, Koichi Kawakita, passed away from liver failure on December 5, 2014, with the family releasing the news today in Japan. Only next of kin are allowed at the funeral (chief mourner is his widow, Shigeko). There will be public a memorial service announced for a later date.
Kawakita graduated Nakano Broadcasting High School in 1960 and began his higher education at Kokusai Junior College. Intensely interested in movies, since seeing THE MYSTERIANS (1957), he began working a part-time position at Toho Studios that same year. Offered a full-time position at Toho, he dropped out of college in 1962.
Although headhunted for an Executive position, Kawakita expressed his desire to become a member of the Visual Effects Department, and was taken under the wing of Eiji Tsuburaya, the head of that division and the father of Tokusatsu (Japanese Visual Effects). Later, that same year, Kawakita became an assistant visual effects cameraman on GORATH (1962).
He was transferred to the flagging optical effects department in 1963, and became engaged in rendering the beams and other optical animation for Tsuburaya's films. In 1965, he assisted in the creation of composites and optical effects for Episode 12 of ULTRA Q, "I Saw a Bird!", which was his first work for a television production.
In 1966, he served as an assistant visual effects cinematographer for GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966). After Tsuburaya's death, he was transferred to Toho's new "Visual Planning Department" in 1971. For GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH, both production units were consolidated into one, and Kawakita served as director Yoshimitsu Banno's 1st Assistant Director and on Optical Effects.
Kawakita served as Chief Assistant Visual Effects Director on all of the 1970s Godzilla films, save for GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972) and GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), while he worked on the television series ULTRAMAN ACE (1972), ZONE FIGHTER (1973), and JAPAN SINKS (1974). In 1976, he made his impressive film debut as Visual Effects Director on SAMURAI IN THE SKY.
While Tsuburaya's 1st AD, Teruyoshi Nakano, was the head honcho, Kawakita was placed in charge of developing and directing the monumental miniature and visual effects for SAYONARA JUPITER (1983) and GUNHED (1989), both rivaling some US-produced effects techniques, before changing the way the world saw the Big G with GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989).
Kawakita's re-imagining of the monster, a fiercer, more toothsome creature, which set a standard that sits to this day, remains Toho's de facto design of choice. During the 1990s, as head of Toho's Visual Effects Department, his tenure yielded a number of films, television productions, non-film projects and events before he retired from Toho in 2002.
One of his dreams was to produce a remake of his favorite Toho visual effects film, THE MYSTERIANS, proposed in 1990, which never came to fruition. As a free agent, Kawakita formed the independent Tokusatsu and VFX company, Dream Planet Japan in 2003. His last production was the miniseries GUNBOT: THE ARMORED ROBOT (2014), which began broadcast in November.
Director Kawakita was 72 years old.