Monday, September 28, 2009
I was browsing some old files and remembered that I made this screen grab some time ago. Stan Winston used to host SFX films on AMC circa 2000, and this image was taken during his intro of Gammera the Invincible, as I recall.
Standing right next to Mr. Winston is the maquette his studio created for Jan De Bont's version of Godzilla, which was ultimately abandoned. It's an impressive design, but it will forever remain in the what-if category.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Daisuke Ishizuka reports on a giant Gundam display in Odaiba.
Daisuke Ishizuka strikes again with a report on Koichi Kawakita's latest movie that'll have you shouting, "Zoids!"
Kenju Shimomura takes a break from teaching at Oxford University to offer G-FAN readers an in-depth look at the influence Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had on Japanese cinema.
Doug Finkelstein reports on the Bermuda Depths DVD offered through the Warner Bros. Archive Collection.
Brett Homenick interviews Kazuaki Kiriya, director of Casshern (2004).
Mike Bogue takes a look back at The Cosmic Monsters.
Brett Homenick and totorom interview Toho star Hiroshi Koizumi.
Allen Debus offers a unique take on TriStar's Godzilla (1998).
Lyle Huckins reviews Big Man Japan.
Jeff Rebner presents his renderings of Gamera's Showa-era foes.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Here's an interesting video. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (a Franklin Roosevelt appointee who served on the court from 1939 to 1975) appeared on the game show What's My Line? in 1956. You don't see stuff like this very often, so give it a look.
Justice Douglas was one of the so-called "nine scorpions in a bottle," a phrase commonly attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Justice Holmes would likely be pleased that this phrase has seen renewed popularity in recent years.
Monday, September 21, 2009
An autograph Robert Axelrod mailed to me in 1995. Hallo Spencer is seen at the left, and Elmer, Robert's character, is on the right.
My favorite television program is one most people have never heard of. It's called The Hallo Spencer Show and aired (in the United States) from 1993 to 1994. I mention the United States because the show, titled simply Hallo Spencer, was a long-running program in Germany, airing from 1979 until 2001. To put it in a few words, the show was essentially Germany's answer to the Muppets, and it focused on the goings-on of a small village inhabited by a cast of diverse characters (running the gamut from a dragon who lives in a crater to a pair of twin girls who share a houseboat together).
In the early 1990s, Saban imported the show to the U.S. and made a few changes (shaving several minutes off each episode and incorporating a rap that was sung by Hallo at the end of every show, "wrapping" it up).
While most hard-core fans (naturally) find the German version superior, I don't. Not at all. I've seen several of them on YouTube and have been left cold each time. For me, Hallo Spencer can only be voiced by Tom Wyner, Elmer (not Elvis!) can only be voiced by Robert Axelrod, Grumpowski can only be voiced by Mike Reynolds, etc., or else it's not the real thing.
I discovered the program in the fall of 1993, and it quickly became one of my favorites. The show was well-written (it remains the cleverest "children's" show ever written, in my humble opinion), the voice cast was perfectly selected for each character (which is one of the reasons I was surprised to learn the show was originally made in Germany. I always thought the characters were created with the American voice actors in mind!), the music was charming, and, to this day, watching an episode can always bring me out of a bad mood.
Fast forward to September 1994. School is about to resume, and by this time, I had seen and taped virtually every episode of The Hallo Spencer Show. However, on my first day of school, I decided to set my VCR's timer to record the show during its usual time slot on WGN. I loved watching the show after coming home from school, and I was curious to see which episode aired on my first day of 8th grade. Well, I got home, checked the tape, and discovered that Hallo no longer occupied its old time slot. In fact, it no longer occupied any time slot. It had been taken off the air. Of course, I was disappointed, but I was mostly relieved that I taped all but one episode (to my knowledge, anyway), so the show wouldn't just be a pleasant memory for me.
In December of '94, I started thinking about all this again, and I decided to write a letter to Saban, letting them know that, while the show may not have lasted very long, it had at least one dedicated fan. I had no idea whom to address the letter to, and after looking at the show's credits, decided that the producer, Eric Rollman, would be the most relevant person. I mailed the letter to Saban and had no idea what to expect.
The response I got was nothing short of overwhelming. Tom Wyner, the voice of Hallo Spencer himself, gave me a call. We chatted on the phone for a while had several subsequent conversations. I also received a letter from Robert Axelrod, who voiced Elmer, Hallo's sidekick. In his letter, Robert explained that he came to work to do voice-over work for The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (on which he voiced Lord Zedd) when Scott Page, Power Rangers' ADR director, showed him a photocopy of my letter. Suffice it to say, Robert was touched by my letter and confirmed to me what I already thought, that the cast and crew of Hallo Spencer loved the show and considered it a favorite project. Interestingly enough, I later asked Robert how often he saw fan mail through Saban, and he said that the voice actors virtually never saw any. I don't know how it did it, but I'm extremely thankful my letter made it through!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Veteran Toho actor Tadao Nakamaru passed away unexpectedly on April 23, 2009, due to a ruptured aneurysm. He was 76.
Mr. Nakamaru was born on March 31, 1933, and appeared in numerous Toho SFX films, playing the part of Lance Corporal Sudo in The Secret of the Telegian (the film's main villain). He also appeared in Terror of Mechagodzilla as Tagawa, the head of Interpol.
Coincidentally, I contacted Mr. Nakamaru's personal assistant back in March, less than two months before he passed away, and requested an interview with Mr. Nakamaru about his film roles. Mr. Nakamaru politely declined my request, citing his retirement from the film industry.
I send my condolences to the family of Mr. Nakamaru.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
One of my favorite U.S. trailers for a Toho movie would be this one for The Mysterians.
Not much else to say about it, except that I've always thought that the voice-over between 0:12 and 0:15 sounded like a bad Shatner impression.
The film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is celebrated by film critics and even some political scientists for embodying the idealism of the average citizen's ability to go to Washington to make a difference. In practice, the 1939 Frank Capra film is more fictitious than its supporters would like to believe, but there have been moments in our history where life does seem to imitate art (or at least James Stewart).
Substitute Mr. Smith for Mister Rogers, and let the ever-reliable Wikipedia fill us in on the rest:
In 1969, Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to significant proposed cuts. In about six minutes of testimony, Rogers spoke of the need for social and emotional education that public television provided. He passionately argued that alternative television programming like his Neighborhood helped encourage children to become happy and productive citizens, sometimes opposing less positive messages in media and in popular culture. He even recited the lyrics to one of his songs.
The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, was not previously familiar with Rogers' work, and was sometimes described as gruff and impatient. However, he reported that the testimony had given him goosebumps, and declared, "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million." The subsequent congressional appropriation, for 1971, increased PBS funding from $9 million to $22 million.
The video footage of Mister Rogers' testimony (along with Senator Pastore's surprising reaction) is embedded at the top. If you like politics, or endings where the good guy wins, give it a look.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Click on the images for a larger view:
A week later, the newspaper ran an interview with Kenji Sahara, ably translated by totorom, which was conducted at the convention. The interview appears below, and it is reproduced with permission.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
One of the most interesting aspects of G-FEST for me was that, not only did we American fans learn a lot about Mr. Sahara's career, but that Mr. Sahara himself learned a few things about it! For instance, Mr. Sahara never realized, until G-FEST, that he appears in the Japanese trailer for Mothra (1961).
Much more amusing, however, was Mr. Sahara's reaction to learning the American title to his 1958 SFX film Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, which as many of you know is The H-Man. Well, it turns out that the letter "H" has a much different connotation in Japan, a -- shall we say -- fairly risque connotation. Thus, the idea of an H-Man to Mr. Sahara brings to mind something entirely different from what Columbia Pictures, the American distributor of The H-Man, originally intended!
I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Sahara Sunday night in his hotel room with totorom. When the time came to ask him about the 1958 film in question, I began, "My next question would be about Bijo to Ekitai Ningen, otherwise known as ... H-Man!"
We all laughed.
The hit television program Lost has been on the air since 2004, but only recently has producer J. J. Abrams realized what it's been missing: The grace of Bruce Lee! The speed of Sonny Chiba! The force of Chuck Norris!
Kung Fu Cinema reports that Hiroyuki "Duke" Sanada has joined the cast of Lost, giving network TV audiences in the U.S. a rare (for them, anyway) chance to see a Japan Action Club member and the star of such films as Message from Space, G.I. Samurai, and Legend of the Eight Samurai whenever it is that Lost airs.
The YouTube clip above features the U.S. trailer to Sanada's 1982 action film Roaring Fire. Suffice it to say, you won't be seeing anything quite that dynamic on ABC any time soon.