Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sizing Up Sazer X

Kazuki Omori and Hiromi Eguchi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

For the first time, I took in a screening of Sazer X: The Movie (2005), which reunited the talents of Kazuki Omori in the director's chair and Koichi Kawakita handling the SFX. The 35mm print looked great, but I wish I could say the same about the movie. It reminded me less of the Heisei Godzilla series and more of random Sunday morning Super Sentai programs.

 Kazuki Omori. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The event brought together director Kazuki Omori and one of the film's stars, Hiromi Eguchi. Eguchi-san is probably best known for playing Shion in Keita Amemiya's Garo: Red Requiem (2010), as well as having appeared in episodes of various Garo TV series. She also acts in episode 29 of Ultraman Max (2005-06). She's also one of the few guests I've met at such events who is actually younger than I am.

Miyoko Yoshimoto. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Although she wasn't officially part of the festivities, actress/singer Miyoko Yoshimoto was on hand. She appears in Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey (2000) as Camearra (a.k.a. Kamila), but she's certainly much nicer in person than her character in that film.

All in all, I enjoyed my time at the event, and it's always worthwhile visiting Kazuki Omori. Many thanks to all those who made today's event one for the history books!

Takin' It Easy with Two Japanese Cinematic Legends

Shoichi Maruyama. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday night (April 21), I attended a dinner event with two special guests. One guest was completely new to me: screenwriter Shoichi Maruyama. Maruyama-san has enjoyed a lengthy and successful career as a screenwriter. Among his scriptwriting credits are The Beast to Die (1980), The Last Hero (a.k.a. Dirty Hero, 1982), Kinji Fukasaku's The Triple Cross (1992), Rex: A Dinosaur's Story (1993), and Quill (2004).

Maruyama-san also wrote the screenplay for Kazuki Omori's Take It Easy (1986), which was the centerpiece of the evening's event. Also in attendance was director Omori, and while the theme of the evening had nothing to do with his Godzilla films, it was still quite enjoyable.

In particular, I found Maruyama-san to be very kind. When I mentioned to him that I'd seen The Last Hero, he was genuinely surprised that I'd seen his work. We bumped into each other again on the train platform after the event, and he told me what a great time he had had that evening. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed meeting Maruyama-san and hope to get a chance to see him again in the future.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Jazzy Night with Shinichi Yanagisawa!

Shinichi Yanagisawa on the drums. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On April 17, I returned to the HUB Asakusa to attend the latest performance by Shinichi Yanagisawa and the Swing All-Stars. It was another great evening of classic jazz tunes.

Shinichi Yanagisawa sings jazz. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Yanagisawa-san played Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), and later this year, he will return to the big screen in a family drama with Choei Takahashi (the star of Toho's Lake of Dracula). I'm sure I'll have more to say about it in the months to come.

Many thanks to Yanagisawa-san for another great evening of entertainment. Can't wait to see him again at the next show!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Comedy Has Come Back to Asakusa!

Fumio Ishimori. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I paid a visit to the Asakusa 21st Century Comic Theater to attend a stage play written by Fumio Ishimori. Ishimori-san is a prolific screenwriter whose credits include the Toho horror film Crest of the Wolf (1973), along with a myriad of TV productions, such as Kamen Rider (1971-73), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), and Zone Fighter (1973). 

The play was a 007 parody with a lot of broad, over-the-top humor. There was even a Kamen Rider reference in the show. (Take that, Shocker!) Definitely fun stuff. I certainly had fun seeing Ishimori-san again, who is always very friendly. I'm already looking forward to his next production!

Ultra-Guests Assemble on Friday the 13th!

Ultraman Jack himself, Eiichi Kikuchi, strikes his trademark pose. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On the night of Friday the 13th, I was able to attend an Ultra-cool event in Tokyo. This event featured no fewer than four special guests, all related to the Ultra-series in one way or another.

The first guest was none other than Eiichi Kikuchi, who is principally known as Ultraman Jack's suit actor in Return of Ultraman (1971-72). Kikuchi-san also donned the Ultra Seven suit in Ultra Seven (1967-68) for two episodes (14 and 15). He also tussles with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967).

Shigemitsu Taguchi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Another major guest was Shigemitsu Taguchi. Taguchi-san  has written episodes of Return of Ultraman, Mirrorman (1971-72), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Jumborg Ace (1973), Ultraman Taro (1973-74), Ultraman Leo (1974-75), among many others.

I've met Taguchi-san a couple of times before, and he's always a warm and friendly gentleman. His credits in television are oustanding, as he had in just about all the best programs from Tsuburaya Productions in the 1970s.

Kazuya Konaka. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Kazuya Konaka was on hand, not just as a guest, but also as an emcee. Konaka-san has directed episodes of Ultraman Dyna (1997-98), Ultraman Cosmos (2001-02), Ultraman Nexus (2004-05), Ultraman Mebius (2006-07), Ultraseven X (2007), Ultraman Ginga S (2014), and Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga (2016-17). As for films, Konaka-san directed Ultraman Zearth 2 (1997), Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna (1998), Ultraman Gaia: The Battle in Hyperspace (1999), Ultraman (2004), Mirrorman Reflex (2006), and Ultraman Mebius and Ultra Brothers (2006).

Masahiko Shiraishi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last but not least was Masahiko Shiraishi, an author and researcher who has recently written books about the early Ultra-series. Shiraishi-san is himself a veteran of the world of tokusatsu, as he worked under SFX director Koichi Kawakita on the Heisei Godzilla series.

And that's a wrap! What a fun evening it was.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Memorial Celebration of Yosuke Natsuki

Toward the end of March, I received an invitation in the mail to attend a memorial celebration of Yosuke Natsuki. Naturally, I immediately decided to attend, and so I made the necessary arrangements.

The celebration was held today (April 12) at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu in Nagatacho, Tokyo. Many of Natsuki-san's colleagues from his acting days were in attendance, and there were a few I got to meet for the first time.

Many of Natsuki-san's personal items were on display in the entrance, but once you got to the main ballroom, it was filled with about 320 people who knew Natsuki-san onscreen and off-.

Many familiar faces were on hand, and it was certainly great to see them again. Below, I will talk about some of my personal experiences and encounters at this memorial event.

Yasuhiko Saijo. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The first person I ran into was actor Yasuhiko Saijo, a supporting actor at Toho and one of the stars of Ultra Q (1966). While on my way to the main ballroom, I had a (very brief) encounter with Toho actress Yoko Tsukasa. After entering the main ballroom, I encountered director Tom Kotani and had a brief chat with him.

Machiko Naka. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Toho actress Machiko Naka was also in attendance, as were a number of folks I hadn't met before. Director Minoru Kawasaki came up to me to say hello, and I later bumped into producer Shogo Tomiyama.

Akira Takarada and Yoko Tsukasa. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Many of the event's VIPs spoke in honor of Natsuki-san. While Akira Takarada and Yoko Tsukasa's comments struck a lighter tone, Tom Kotani's comments underscored the sadness of Natsuki-san's passing.

With Akira Wakamatsu. 

Early on in the event, I approached Toho actor Akira Wakamatsu, whom I met for the first and only time three years ago. I was surprised to find that he immediately recognized me. He came all the way from Fukushima to attend.

With Daijiro Harada. 

I had an amusing chat with Natsuki-san's G-Men '75 (1975-82) co-star Daijiro Harada. He's better known in the West as Mechagodzilla's pilot in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993). We had a fun chat about the English he spoke in the film. We snapped the above photo right before Harada-san had to leave to be interviewed by the Japanese media.

With Yumi Mizusawa. 

One actress I met for the first time was Yumi Mizusawa, one of the regulars on Natsuki-san's popular TV series What Is Youth? (1965-66). She was selected as a member of Toho New Talent's 5th class in 1965 (along with Son of Godzilla's Bibari Maeda) and went on to become a prolific television actress and singer. While her credits are mostly non-genre, she appeared in episode 92 of Kamen Rider (1971-73) and episode 16 of Iron King (1972-73). Her most notable film appearance is in Kihachi Okamoto's Epoch of Murder Madness (1967).

During the event, a slide show was projected onto a big screen that featured many photos from Natsuki-san's life and career. One interesting photo was of Gene Hackman's visit to the set of a period piece with Natsuki-san and Toshiro Mifune. Another notable shot was a candid of Natsuki-san (in full Professor Hayashida garb) and Yasuko Sawaguchi that was taken (presumably with Natsuki-san's personal camera) on the set of Godzilla (1984). One of the final photos in the presentation was one that I took. You can see it above. Suffice it to say, it was quite an honor that one of my photos was used in the tribute to Natsuki-san's life.

Overall, it was an excellent event, and the organizers did a top-notch job. While the reason we gathered in this hotel ballroom was especially sad, the warmth and  kindness of those in attendance truly made this a celebration of a great man.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Talkin' Godzilla and King Ghidorah on The Monster Report

I'm very pleased to report that the episode of The Monster Report that my brother Erik and I recorded in December has just been finished and uploaded to YouTube. The topic is Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and as you can probably tell from the video's 96-minute running time, we had a lot to say.

I'd like to thank Nick Poling for the opportunity to appear on The Monster Report. He was a fantastic host. Now drop what you're doing and give it a watch!