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Studying dinosaurs for the future of humanity

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Paleontologist Yoshitsugu Kobayashi

Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, a renowned professor of paleontologist and deputy director of the Hokkaido University Museum, has been nicknamed “Falcon’s Eye” for his successive discoveries of dinosaur fossils. He also played an important role as a consultant for the film “Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2: Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita!” (Dinosaur superlegend2: Darwin’s Amazing Animals theatrical edition), which explores the period after an asteroid impact believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

How did Kobayashi, fascinated by castles and Buddha statues as a child, become a world-famous paleontologist?

Digging for ‘treasure’

Kobayashi was born in 1971 in Fukui Prefecture, which was nationally known for its findings on dinosaur fossils. However, in his youth, Kobayashi was more fascinated by castles, Buddha statues, temples and ancient tombs than by dinosaurs.

Nevertheless, finding a fossil during a high school science club activity set him on the path to becoming a paleontologist. During the activity, he discovered an ammonite after breaking open a rock with a hammer, and was thrilled to realize that he was holding in his hands a creature that lived 150 million years ago.

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©Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2 Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita! Produced and distributed by United Cinemas
Menacing Maip Dinosaurs

“As a child, I was drawn to feeling the flow of time, whether it was through castles, made by people who lived hundreds of years ago, or through fossils, which were the remains of creatures that lived more than 100 years ago. . million years ago,” Kobayashi said.

Since then, Kobayashi has often gone fossil hunting. However, he said, “I didn’t really understand evolution and hated biology.” For him, digging for fossils was like a treasure hunt. He considered fossil digging merely a hobby and had vague thoughts of becoming an employee of the company in the future.

However, when he went to college, he started to worry. Coincidentally, he went to the United States for a year of language study, which only increased his anxiety and impatience about the future.

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The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tools that Kobayashi takes to his dinosaur dig

“What do I really want to do?” Kobayashi wondered. At a time when he felt like he was losing track of himself, he impulsively picked up a dinosaur encyclopedia from the university library. As he looked through it, the excitement he felt at touching the lives of creatures from the distant past through fossils came back.

“I want to learn more about dinosaurs. I’m going to America again,’ Kobayashi thought. Three months after returning from studying abroad, he returned to the United States.

A turning point

Kobayashi graduated from the University of Wyoming with highest honors and a higher placement due to his unwavering dedication and mastery of study techniques. However, he faced challenges in graduate school at Southern Methodist University, which he entered after overcoming a 50-to-1 competitive ratio. No matter how much research he collected, it was continually rejected by his professors, and he had difficulty gaining their approval.

“I realized that having knowledge and knowing how to apply it to create something are two worlds apart. Studying and research are not the same,” Kobayashi said.

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©Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2 Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita! Produced and distributed by United Cinemas
A battle between a colossal herbivorous Puertasaurus, in the rear, and a gigantic carnivorous Maip.

He thought many times, “I just have to go back to Japan,” as he kept trying different approaches. One day, a professor listening to his presentation applauded and exclaimed, “Great!”

“I believe that was when I made the transition from student to researcher,” Kobayashi recalls.

Since then, Kobayashi has discovered new and valuable dinosaur fossils worldwide, including in Mongolia, the state of Alaska and China. In the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, he discovered the complete skeleton of a Deinocheirus, known as the mysterious dinosaur. In Mukawa, Hokkaido, he unearthed the complete skeleton of a large herbivorous dinosaur from the end of the Cretaceous period, the first found in Japan. He has also published research that challenged previous theories. For example, he revealed that among the theropods, which were considered carnivorous, there were herbivorous species.

Humanity in danger

Several studies have clearly shown that some dinosaurs evolved into birds. “People used to think that dinosaurs were stupid monsters that were extinct. However, these creatures that once walked the land underwent a major change, achieving incredible evolution into birds that dominate even gravity,” Kobayashi said. “It’s the dinosaurs that left us all this data.”

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©Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2 Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita! Produced and distributed by United Cinemas
A Puertasaurus looks up at the sky.

While involved in research and writing, as well as in the activities of the Hokkaido University Museum, he spends several months of the year abroad on excavations, immersing himself in the world of dinosaurs.

“For me, dinosaurs have become part of life. When I take surveys or do research, my body moves without thinking. I think that’s probably because I like them so much,” he said.

The film Kobayashi served as an advisor and shows the struggle of dinosaurs desperately trying to survive after the asteroid impact. While such a story is an event from the distant past, the truth is that we are currently living in an era where species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate, he said. The cause is not meteorites, but human activities.

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©Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2 Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita! Produced and distributed by United Cinemas
The moment of an asteroid impact

“We, humanity, are actually in a very dangerous state,” Kobayashi said. Understanding dinosaurs is also linked to knowledge about the future of the Earth and humanity. This strong belief drives him to conduct his research.

“The key word in dinosaur research now is resurrection. It’s exciting to see more and more research emerging that makes this possible [researchers] to restore the original, real appearance of dinosaurs,” Kobayashi said.

Despite being a leading researcher in the field, Kobayashi does not seem pressured. During a dig in Uzbekistan last summer, Kobayashi competed with his students every day to find fossils.

“In the end I won and my students called me childish,” he said. The moment Kobayashi said this, his sharp ‘falcon eyes’ softened.

Dinosaurs come to life in high-definition CGI

“Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2: Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita!” is the fifth film of NHK’s popular nature program “Darwin ga Kita!” (“Darwin’s Amazing Animals”), airing Sunday evenings. It takes place 66 million years ago on Gondwana, an ancient supercontinent. There, fights to the death took place between dinosaurs such as the colossal herbivore Puertasaurus, the gigantic carnivore Maip and the horned Carnotaurus, all of which used their wits to survive and produce offspring.

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©Kyoryu-cho-densetsu2 Gekijoban Darwin ga Kita! Produced and distributed by United Cinemas
Dinosaurs living in the harsh conditions after an asteroid impact

The film also illustrates dinosaurs desperately struggling to survive amid fires and a cooling global environment caused by an asteroid impact. Unknown aspects of dinosaurs, revealed by the latest research, are depicted in immersive high-definition CGI.



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