Tuesday, December 16, 2014
I just returned home from another live performance by the Shinichi Yanagisawa All-Stars at the HUB in Asakusa, Tokyo. Since Christmas is quickly approaching, an entire set was devoted to famous Christmas songs, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and several others. Naturally, these songs were done in a jazzy style that was very enjoyable.
In between sets, I was visited by Yanagisawa-san, who signed my Blu-ray sleeve of The X from Outer Space (1967), in which he plays Miyamoto. Yanagisawa-san's signature joins that of co-star Itoko Harada, whom I met last week.
The music certainly put me in the mood for Christmas, as did Yanagisawa-san's kindness. I presented him with a Christmas card during the evening, which he was happy to receive. Being a fan of Yanagisawa-san's acting has led to my becoming a fan of his singing, and I eagerly anticipate seeing his next live performance in Asakusa!
Sunday, December 14, 2014
I just returned from a play written and narrated by Hiroyasu Yamaura, the principal screenwriter for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), as well as several notable tokusatsu programs. The play was essentially a one-woman performance, and the star, Fumiko Narisawa, did an excellent job, despite her later telling me how nervous she was.
The play, entitled Lili Marlane, is a dramatic story that takes place in Europe during World War II. The audience was packed and gave the cast and crew a big round of applause at the end. During Yamaura-san's closing narration, he says the line (in English), "Life is beautiful." As he said it, he looked at me and smiled. Suffice it to say, the smile was returned.
Following the performance, I was invited by Yamaura-san to the after-party. The after-party lasted several hours and was a lot of fun. I thanked Yamaura-san many times for his hospitality. I will be seeing him again very soon!
Congratulations on a great play, Yamaura-san!
Thursday, December 11, 2014
On December 5 (which, as it turns out, was his birthday), longtime Toho SFX director Koichi Kawakita suddenly passed away at the age of 72. A ubiquitous presence at various fan gatherings in Japan, Mr. Kawakita was a special guest at G-FEST this July in Chicago. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kawakita was a beloved figure on both sides of the Pacific.
As most Godzilla fans know, Mr. Kawakita directed the SFX scenes for every Godzilla movie from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).
Mr. Kawakita joined Toho in the early 1960s, working on the lavish sci-fi epic Gorath (1962), among many other films. In the 1970s, he worked on a variety of films and television programs, such as Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Zone Fighter (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974), Zero Pilot (1976), The War in Space (1977), and the Shaw Bros.' Mighty Peking Man (1977). In the 1980s, Mr. Kawakita directed the dazzling effects in Sayonara Jupiter (1984) and Gunhed (1989). Following his retirement from Toho, Mr. Kawakita founded his own production company, Dream Planet Japan.
I've been fortunate to meet Mr. Kawakita at several events in Japan. We even rode together on the same flights to and from Chicago last summer for G-FEST. (On the way to Chicago, Mr. Kawakita and his family sat just a row or two behind Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, and me. Because I was busy with the other guests at G-FEST, I didn't have a chance to talk with Mr. Kawakita at the show until the Sunday night convention staff dinner. With my friend Yasushi's assistance, I was able to ask Mr. Kawakita many questions about his career.
Thank you for the wonderful memories, Mr. Kawakita. May you rest in peace.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Today I was very pleased to meet Itoko Harada, a former actress at Shochiku Studios during the late 1960s. Although she decided to leave the entertainment business by the end of the '60s, Harada-san is remembered by kaiju eiga fans all over the world for her leading role in The X from Outer Space (1967).
These days she is involved in pottery, but Harada-san still has fond memories of her acting career. When I brought her my Blu-ray sleeve of the film for her to sign, she enjoyed looking at it and showing it to her friends before adding her signature to it.
On top of having a successful singing career, Harada-san is also notable for starring as one of the members of the all-female spy team in Shotaro Ishinomori's Flower Action 009-1 (1969), in which she appears alongside Kaoru Yumi (Espy, Prophecies of Nostradamus).
Harada-san was very friendly, and I enjoyed having the chance to meet her. It certainly was flattering being called "ikemen" by the star of one of my favorite monster romps! I hope for other such meetings in the future!
Sunday, November 30, 2014
November 29 saw an end-of-the-year party take place at La Shion in Futako-Tamagawa. Readers of this blog will no doubt recall that this bar and restaurant is owned and operated by actor Shunichi Okita and his wife. Okita-san played Ichiro Yamanaka in Ultraman Ace (1972-73), and he also appeared in numerous films for studios like Toho and Nikkatsu throughout the 1960s and '70s.
In fact, during the party, Okita-san played an old TV show in which he appeared as a gun-toting criminal, holding terrified restaurant patrons hostage. Everyone in attendance got a kick out of seeing Okita-san work his magic 40 years ago!
Overall, it was a lively party with many new and old friends. A couple of English speakers were among the party-goers, and we all hung out together well past midnight. (Thankfully, I was able to catch the last train home!) I'd really like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Okita (pictured above) for their generosity and hospitality!
Thanks to my friend Yasushi, I had the privilege of meeting actor Hiroyuki Takano earlier today. Takano-san was starring in a play at Theater Brats in Shinjuku, and following the performance, Yasushi introduced us. Even though our meeting was brief, I could tell that Takano-san was the type of actor who enjoyed meeting his fans.
Hiroyuki Takano co-starred in the Toei superhero series Barom-1 (1972) as Kentaro Shiratori. Takano-san has also appeared in episodes of Ultra Seven (1967-68), Mighty Jack (1968), Operation: Mystery (1968-69), Spectreman (1971-72), Return of Ultraman (1971-72), Kamen Rider (1971-73), Silver Mask (1971-72), and Submersion of Japan (1974-75).
Also of note was that the performance was also viewed by actress Yuriko Hishimi, one of the stars of Ultra Seven and Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). Hishimi-san and I had a pleasant chat as well.
I look forward to meeting Takano-san again in the future!
Sunday, November 23, 2014
I've just come back from a very cool event in Kawasaki, Kanagawa, with screenwriter Hiroyasu Yamaura. Yamaura-san was the principal screenwriter for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). According to Yamaura-san, he was personally asked by director Jun Fukuda to write the script for Mechagodzilla. He completed the script by himself, but afterward director Fukuda rewrote it, which is why both men are credited as writers.
Yamaura-san's other credits include episodes of Ultra Q (1966), Space Giants (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), Mirrorman (1971-72), Galaxy Express 999 (1978-81), and Ultraman 80 (1980-81), among many other titles.
Yamaura-san was a very personable and friendly individual. During dinner, when he mentioned that his favorite movie is Singin' in the Rain (1952), I began singing the title song, which Yamaura-san joined me in singing. After I told him I grew up in San Diego, he told me that he's visited the city in the past and enjoyed it immensely. We also sang the traditional Japanese song "Furusato," which can be heard in War of the Gargantuas (1966).
All in all, it was a wonderful event, and it was quite an honor to meet the screenwriter for one of my favorite Godzilla movies. I look forward to meetin Yamaura-san again in the future!