Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Japanese Superstars Gather at the Hotel New Otani!

Kon Omura, Takashi Sasano, Mitsuko Kusabue, and Akiko Santo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier tonight, I attended a special event featuring a bevy of Japanese luminaries from the entertainment and political world. It was held at the Hotel New Otani, and it was certainly one for the ages.

Kon Omura. Photo by Brett Homenick.

One of the headliners was actor Kon Omura, who is best known in the West for his comic-relief roles in Gamera vs. Guiron (1969) and Gamera vs. Jiger (1970). I had the privilege of meeting Omura-san last year, and I jumped at the chance of meeting him again, which is why I decided to attend. But there were a couple of cool surprises in store.

Mitsuko Kusabue. Photo by Brett Homenick.

A surprise guest who was presented a special award was Toho actress Mitsuko Kusabue. Kusabue-san isn't a name very familiar to Godzilla or tokusatsu fans. In terms of genre output, she appeared in the Toho SFX fantasy The Lost World of Sinbad (1963), but she is better known for her roles in dramas and comedies, such as Mikio Naruse's Yearning (1964) and the Shacho series of salaryman comedies.

Kon Omura, Takashi Sasano, and Mitsuko Kusabue talk onstage. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Kusabue-san was given her award, delivered a speech, briefly socialized with the other guests, and was promptly whisked away, never to be seen again. Granted, that wasn't unexpected, but suffice it to say, it would have been great had she stuck around and mingled with the attendees. She's one of the few Toho actresses left who acted in the 1950s, so I'd definitely love the chance to pick her brain.

Mitsuko Kusabue. Photo by Brett Homenick.

But hey, seeing her in person was quite cool, and I did get to snap some photos of her, so considering I didn't expect to see her at all, anyway, it was a great bonus.

Akiko Santo. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The other surprise for me was the presence of former actress (and current politician) Akiko Santo. Santo-san appeared in episode 28 of Kaiju Booska (1966-67), episode 3 of Mighty Jack (1968), and a couple of Moonlight Mask movies. However, his biggest genre credit is voicing Susan Watson (Linda Miller) in the Japanese release of King Kong Escapes (1967). She is currently a member of the House of Councillors in the Diet.

Naturally, a lot of people wanted to take photos of Santo-san, but when I finally had a chance, the first thing I did was mention that I was a big fan of King Kong Escapes, which of course amused her. Despite so many people vying for her attention, she spent a good amount of time with me and was very accommodating, so I'm especially grateful to her for her kindness.

Kon Omura. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last (but certainly not least) is the man himself, Kon Omura. Omura-san was also constantly being asked for photos by attendees, so his time was limited. But he couldn't have been any friendlier. When a bingo game was being played, Omura-san approached me and asked me if I was having a good time. I answered in the affirmative. It was things like that that made me appreciate him all the more.

I had a longer chat with Omura-san's wife, Yoko. I explained the Gamera series' popularity in the West and that Omura-san was dubbed into English in his Gamera films (which piqued her curiosity). I enjoyed getting the chance to talk about growing up with Gamera films with the wife of one of the series' most iconic performers.

When Omura-san stepped off the stage at the end of the event, I shook his hand and thanked him again for being such an incredible special guest. It was a great evening and actually much more fun than last year's event.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Celebrating the End of the Year, the Toho Way!

Teruyoshi Nakano (left) and Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I was pivileged to attend an end-of-the-year party with three great Toho alums: Teruyoshi Nakano, Sadao Iizuka, and Takashi Naganuma. The year certainly zipped by in a flash, but at least its end could be celebrated in style.

 Sadao Iizuka blows out the candles on his birthday cake. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The festivities also served as an early birthday party Sadao Iizuka, who celebrates his birthday later this month. Iizuka-san turn will turn a spry 85 years old.

Teruyoshi Nakano. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As always, it was a blast hanging out with Nakano-san and Naganuma-san. The banter was mostly light-hearted and full of humor.

Iizuka-san brought a Message from Space scrapbook with him (after leaving Toho, he worked on many Toei projects), and I saw many behind-the-scenes shots of the film I'd never seen before. After browsing the photos, I asked Iizuka-san what Vic Morrow (the American star of Message from Space) was like.

Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

He replied that Morrow was a very kind person. Every day, he would tell all the crew members, "See you tomorrow!" Iizuka-san got the impression that American actors were thoughtful with movie crews (whereas some Japanese actors are not).

Iizuka-san had no idea who Vic Morrow was at the time. Naturally, Morrow spoke no Japanese, and all communication was done through translators.

And that's a wrap! The year isn't quite over yet, but this certainly helped get all of us in a celebratory mood. Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Riding the Orange Road Express!

In between actor Ichiro Ogura (left) and director Kazuki Omori.

Today, I attended a screening of director Kazuki Omori's first studio film, Orange Road Express (1978), produced by Shochiku. Going into the screening, I knew very little about the film, so I had no idea what to expect.

Kazuki Omori. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The film was quite amusing. It's a comedic (and highly stylized) road picture that centers on an elderly couple that steals cars from random people who try to be Good Samaritans. I didn't know until after the screening that Omori-san drew upon the social upheavals happening in Japan in the late 1960s and early '70s for this movie. Even though the content seems rather tame by contemporary standards, it seems that Orange Road Express was quite revolutionary in its day.

I also found out for the first time that Omori-san directed a commercial for the Lawson chain of convenience stores sometime in the 1990s. I wonder if the commercial dealt with time travel and/or bioengineering.

Ichiro Ogura. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Another guest at the event was actor Ichiro Ogura. Born on October 29, 1951, Ogura-san began his acting career in 1964 as a child actor. His film credits include: Nikkatsu's The Black Sheep (1967) as Takeshi Egawa, Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey (2000) as Dr. Yao Naban, and Kamen Rider Hibiki & the Seven Senki (2005) as Suzu's father.

On the small screen, Ogura-san appears in episode 14 of Captain Ultra (1967) as Susumu, and episode 22 of Submersion of Japan (1974-75) as Junichi Ishiguro, among other tokusatsu credits.

It was great to meet Ogura-san for the first time, and I hope to have a chance to do so again in the future.

An Evening with a Street-Fightin' Woman!

Yutaka Nakajima. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, November 23, I was privileged to meet actress Yutaka Nakajima. She has nothing to do with monster movies, and most movie fans associate her with her work at Toei Studios in the 1970s. Despite having no involvement with sci-fi films, Japanese cult movie fans nonetheless should be familiar with her films. 

Born on October 5, 1952, Yutaka Nakajima (a.k.a. Doris Nakajima) co-stars alongside Sonny Chiba in The Street Fighter (1974) as Sarai Chuayut. She also can be seen in Teruo Ishii's The Executioner (1974) and The Executioner 2 (1974) as Emi, The Killing Machine (1975) as Kiku Sakamoto, and Detonation! Violent Games (1976) as Akemi.

I saw The Street Fighter (along with several other classic Sonny Chiba actioners) in my early 20s, so I was quite enthusiastic about meeting Nakajima-san. It was a true joy to spend some time in her company.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ultraman 80's Jin Nakayama Passes Away at 77

Jin Nakayama as Captain Kazuki Oyama in Ultraman 80. 

Actor Jin Nakayama passed away on October 12 of lung cancer at his Tokyo residence. Despite having passed away nearly a month ago, news of his passing was announced by his agency on November 11. He was 77.

Born on September 25, 1942, Nakayama began his professional acting career in 1965 and appeared in films for a variety of Japanese studios, including Toho and Shochiku. He made his biggest impact on television, from which Ultraman fans worldwide still remember him as UGM Captain Kazuki Oyama in Tsuburaya Productions' Ultraman 80 (1980-81). He also appeared in Akio Jissoji's Ultra Q: The Movie (1990) as Dr. Ichinotani. He remained active as a performer until the time of his passing.

Please join me in saluting a true monster fighter.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Trio of New Interviews at Vantage Point Interviews!

Shigeo Kato in January 2019. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I've posted a trio of new interviews at Vantage Point Interviews. First, my January 2019 interview with actor Shigeo Kato in which he talks about everything from his World War II memories to working with Akira Kurosawa on Seven Samurai (not to mention his recollections of the original Godzilla). 

There's also my 2010 interview with Godzilla series star Akira Takarada, which has been transcribed and published for the first time anywhere. 

Last but not least is my conversation with Toho SFX staff member Takashi Naganuma, who started his career in the early 1970s and continued on into the Heisei era. 

Check 'em out today!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

In Celebration of Yusaku Matsuda!

In between Miyoko Akaza (left) and Yukihiro Sawada. 

Tonight, I returned from another event. This one was a celebration of the late actor Yusaku Matsuda, who passed away 40 years ago after completing the Ridley Scott actioner Black Rain (1989). Two of Matsuda's collaborators were on hand for the event.

 Yukihiro Sawada. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The first guest was director Yukihiro Sawada. Sawada-san has a prolific film and television career, but I know him best as the director of the first episode of Strada 5 (1974), Nikkatsu's task force-themed action series that predates Super Sentai by a year.

Earlier this year, I'd seen one of Sawada-san's feature films, Koko Dai Panic (1978). Despite its dark and controversial subject matter, it was a tight thriller that kept me invested in the film. As always, it was a joy to meet him again.

Miyoko Akaza. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Also in attedance was actress Miyoko Akaza. Akaza-san starred as Otsuyu in the Daiei horror classic The Haunted Lantern (a.k.a. The Bride from Hell, 1968) that she began to receive attention. In the West, her best-known credit would probably be Toho's Lady Snowblood (1973) as Sayo Kashima.

It's pretty safe to say that she's ageless. It was a lot of fun listening to her reminisce about some of her old co-stars and colleagues, especially Masaaki Daimon.