Saturday, August 13, 2011

Memories of Toho Studios

If you need me to explain this picture, why are you reading this blog? The sign says it all!

The August 4 tour of Toho Studios, which was organized and arranged by Akira Takarada, will go down as one of the greatest events in kaiju fandom history. If you weren't there -- well, there's no other way to put this -- you truly missed out. Plain and simple.

Walking alongside the likes of Mr. Takarada, Haruo Nakajima, and Yosuke Natsuki in the studio that made them famous ... words can't describe what an honor it truly was. It was the first (and almost certainly) the last time such an event will take place.

Lots of other G-fans have had their pictures taken at the Godzilla statue located at Toho's front gate, but how many of them have actually passed through the gate?

While the tour of Toho Studios is something I'll never forget, I prefer to let the pictures do the talking. I took so many photos and shot so much video that I hardly need to explain any of it. But I'll fill in the blanks where necessary. On to the good stuff!

Can you spot me in this photo? I'm in the Seven Samurai mural somewhere!

Shortly after the group arrived, Mr. Takarada came out with the special guests he arranged for us to meet. And what a lineup it was!

Yoshimitsu Banno, Bin Furuya, Akira Takarada, Yosuke Natsuki, and Haruo Nakajima greet their fans. Koichi Kawakita joined the festivities a bit later.

Once the celebrity guests made their appearance, obligatory photos were taken by the tour members. Mr. Takarada, through his able translator totorom, told us what to expect on the tour. With the introduction finished, it was time to go inside!

The group enters Toho Studios.

Our first stop was to Toho's Post-Production Center 1 for a special screening of a 20- or 30-minute edit of Godzilla: Final Wars. The film boasts a great supporting part played by Mr. Takarada, which made the showing of the film all the more special.

Sitting next to Yosuke Natsuki for the screening of Godzilla: Final Wars.

Although Mr. Takarada joked that the film was just a little too loud, the screening was well-received by the attendees. From there, Mr. Takarada led us to Studios 8 and 9.

Ground zero for kaiju history: Toho's drama scenes were filmed in Studio 8, and its SFX scenes were filmed in Studio 9.

Entering Studio 8 was especially exciting, and it was made even more so by the fact that we were accompanied by two of Toho's best leading men, Mr. Takarada and Yosuke Natsuki!

Where it all happened: Standing inside Studio 8.

The original Ultraman (Bin Furuya) and I bring a bit of Tsuburaya Pro magic to Toho Studios.

Elsewhere on this blog you can find the video I took inside Studio 8. The link is here. I encourage you to view it. As I've said countless times, a picture's worth a thousand words!

Inside Toho's Actors Center: The stars assemble for a Q&A.

The next stop on our tour was Toho's Actors Center, in which Mr. Takarada, Haruo Nakajima, Bin Furuya, Yosuke Natsuki, Yoshimitsu Banno, and Koichi Kawakita answered questions posed by their fans. The event has been recorded for posterity by several fans in attendance, including yours truly. You can watch the Q&A here.

The holy grail: Akira Takarada unveils the original Oxygen Destroyer to an audience in total awe.

Following the Q&A, Mr. Takarada surprised the entire tour by bringing out the Oxygen Destroyer (as seen in Godzilla '54). Although I had a feeling we'd be seeing the most famous prop in the series' history, I had no idea what was in store until the moment it was unveiled. Thankfully, the moment was recorded on video and can be viewed in Part 7 of the Toho Q&A!

Holding the Oxygen Destroyer next to Koichi Kawakita, with Serizawa's diving helmet from Godzilla (1954) on the table nearby.

With the surprise addition of the Oxygen Destroyer to the proceedings, the tour of Toho wrapped up. I must thank Mr. Takarada for making it all happen. Big shout-outs go to J.D. Lees and Yoshi Mukai of MYK for making G-TOUR II a big success. As always, totorom worked diligently in his capacity as translator.

I hope this blog post was able to convey a fraction of the excitement we all felt. It was an afternoon I'll never forget. I'll always be grateful I got to see Kaiju Heaven!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stopping by Monsters, Inc.

In good company: Monster maker Shinichi Wakasa drives me to his studio, Monsters, Inc. 

One of my many stops during my recent Tokyo trip was Shinichi Wakasa's creature shop, Monsters, Inc. Mr. Wakasa has created the majority of the Godzilla series' best monster suits of recent years, and it was a true thrill to see his monstrous creations up close and personal.

An incredible sight: Greeting me as soon as I entered Monsters, Inc., was Destroyah (from Godzilla vs. Destroyah). 
You can't ask a monster suit for an autograph, so you have to settle for the next best thing...

Say cheese! Brett and Destroyah pal around for the paparazzi. (Photo by Shinichi Wakasa.) 
The rafters in Mr. Wakasa's shop were full of suits, props, and various creations over the years. Just looking at the amount of kaiju history contained thereon would make even the most jaded monster movie fan's jaw drop. Pretty much the entire Millennium series of Godzilla films is on display here!

Just a sampling of what one can see inside Monsters, Inc.

Even more good stuff! Monsters, Inc., has it all! 

The material contained up in the rafters could take an entire blog post, but I think the above photos give you an idea of what's there. It's truly remarkable to see so many suits and props in one place!

Looking over just one of the innumerable photo albums in Mr. Wakasa's collection. This one covers his work on Tsuburaya Productions' Ultraman 80
After snapping some photos of his workshop, Mr. Wakasa took me to an adjoining room and allowed me to thumb through his photo albums. The pictures were, in a word, astounding. I encouraged Mr. Wakasa to publish these photos in a book. I know that, at least among us kaiju fans, it'd be a best-seller!

Hangin' with Shinichi Wakasa. 

Perhaps my favorite album was the one dedicated toe Message from Space, Toei's 1978 space opera. It's long been one of my favorite films, and I marveled at all the behind-the-scenes shots I'd never seen before.

Next we entered Mr. Wakasa's office, and wouldn't you know who was waiting for us...

Me and my old friend: A requisite shot all fans get who enter Mr. Wakasa's office!

Face-to-snout: Could yours truly be Godzilla's next opponent? 

The Big G's next foe certainly won't be Mr. Wakasa. He and G go way back!

A happy moment: Thanking Mr. Wakasa for an unforgettable afternoon! 
It should go without saying that I loved visiting Mr. Wakasa's creature shop. Not only did I get to view so much intriguing movie memorabilia, I got to meet Mr. Wakasa for the first time. I couldn't think of a better first meeting!

Thanks again to Mr. Wakasa for showing me around. I hope to do it again sometime!

Shinji Higuchi and Yutaka Hayashi

Peace! sez yours truly and SFX master Shinji Higuchi, whose SFX wizardry made the Heisei Gamera films so popular among Western G-fans.

While visiting Toho Studios remains the highlight of my recent Tokyo trip, meeting two new friends, both of whose work I have admired for years, ranks right up there. With several G-TOUR members, I ate dinner with Shinji Higuchi at a T.G.I. Friday's in Shinagawa on August 5.

Mr. Higuchi and I give Ken Takakura thumbs up! 

Sitting next to Mr. Higuchi for the meal gave me the opportunity to pick his brain and swap stories about many of my favorite movie directors and actors, many of whom turned out to be his favorites, too! For example, he told me a great story about working with Tetsuro Tanba on his version of Sinking of Japan (2006), which showed that, even though Mr. Tanba was near death, he was as full of life as he ever was. We also discussed the award-winning Ken Takakura film Station (1981), Kinji Fukasaku flicks, the recently departed Sakyo Komatsu, among many other topics.

Did I mention that Mr. Higuchi is familiar with my current stomping grounds, Nakatsugawa? That alone earns him a lot of props!

Below is a video shot by J.D. Lees that captures the lighthearted atmosphere of the dinner:

Yutaka Hayashi and I meet for the first time. 

Another highlight that occurred on August 5 was my meeting Yutaka Hayashi, who played Hiroshi Jinkawa in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). Readers of this blog may know that Megalon was the first Godzilla movie I ever saw, so its influence on my life cannot be overstated. Admittedly, I was totally in awe when I met Mr. Hayashi. It's not every day you get to meet a genuine childhood hero!

A real smile: You can see how excited I am to meet Mr. Hayashi!

As with Mr. Higuchi, Mr. Hayashi and I talked about the Japanese film industry. I even spoke with him about Station, which is when I learned that Ken Takakura's last film is likely to be released next year. We also discussed Hiroshi Fujioka, the original Kamen Rider, with whom Mr. Hayashi is a close friend.

Shortly after Mr. Hayashi left, I was told by our mutual friend Akio that Mr. Hayashi typically doesn't meet fans, but that he especially wanted to meet me. Suffice it to say, I was overwhelmed to hear that.

Here's some footage shot by Akio of me with Mr. Hayashi. I think my appreciation comes through on the video. Please see for yourself.

Toho Studios: In living color!

Bin Furuya, Haruo Nakajima, Yosuke Natsuki, Akira Takarada, Yoshimitsu Banno, and Koichi Kawakita answer questions posed by the fans at Toho Studios during G-TOUR II. 

During our visit to Toho Studios, I brought my video camera and made sure to record as much of the action as possible. Below are the remaining bits of footage I took at the studio. The last video with Mr. Nakajima and me was recorded at the hotel in Shinagawa, but everything else was filmed at Toho.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ultraman Street in Setagaya, Tokyo

Shoowatch! Ultraman takes flight on Ultraman Street.

Down the road from Toho Studios in Setagaya, Tokyo, is what promises to be a major tourist destination for kaiju eiga fans. Ultraman Street truly lives up to its name with decor straight from M78!

G-TOUR II members photograph the entrance to Ultraman Street. 

Like most kaiju-related sights worth seeing in Japan, Ultraman Street isn't well-known in the West. But, unlike this building or that bridge featured in the background of a monster movie, Ultraman Street is a must-see attraction for G-fans visiting Tokyo.

Are street lights this cool in your neighborhood?

Ultraman Street is a walk down memory lane for kaiju enthusiasts!

Look out! Baltan Seijin wreaks havoc in Ultraman Street!

It's not just the CBC Building in Nagoya; Ultraman Street has its own Ultraman statue!

Worth the trip itself: How come kaiju fans who tour Japan don't know about Ultraman Street?

A picture is worth a thousand words, but there's video, too! Here's a look at Ultraman Street, featuring G-FAN regulars J.D. Lees and Skip Peel. Enjoy!

Rushing into G-TOUR II?

"Now look what you've done!!" Pam Arlt, Martin Arlt, Ruth Lees, J.D. Lees, and Brett relax in the G-TOUR hotel lobby in Nagoya, Japan.

G-TOUR II is now in the history books, although some tourists will stay in Japan for several more days. After meeting up with the group in Nagoya last night, I learned that the tour as a whole was a smashing success by all accounts. In fact, all the veterans of the first G-TOUR rated this one higher than the original.

Contrary to what others have said, G-TOUR II was anything but "rushed."

There's no word on a G-TOUR III at this point, but with the success of the tour's sequel, it would seem like a sure bet. Keep your eyes on G-FAN magazine for any official announcement.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tokyo: Familiar names and faces

With Heisei Gamera SFX maestro Shinji Higuchi at T.G.I. Friday's in Shinagawa, Tokyo. 

In the coming days, I plan to blog more about my various excursions around Tokyo. For right now, I'll cover some of the highlights of my trip, focusing here on many of the familiar faces I was happy to meet (some for the very first time).

Sandwiched between model maker extraordinaire Hiroshi Sagae and filmmaker Yoshikazu Ishii, at the same T.G.I. Friday's.

It was a true thrill to meet Yutaka Hayashi (Godzilla vs. Megalon) at a Beatles-themed nightclub in Roppongi! Mr. Hayashi is a genuine childhood hero.

With Godzilla series screenwriter Wataru Mimura (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, Godzilla 2000, Godzilla: Final Wars) in Shibuya.

Meeting one of my very first G-FAN interviewees, Richard Berger (Grenchiko in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah). We visited Harajuku and Omotesando.

Here with Jon Gallock, who appeared as a terrified airline pilot in Godzilla vs. Destroyah, in Shinjuku.

With Bin Furuya (the original Ultraman suit actor and Ultra Seven cast member) at a shabu shabu dinner in Roppongi.

Here I am with another legendary Toho actor, Yosuke Natsuki, at Toho Studios! All three of his Toho kaiju eiga (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, Dogora the Space Monster, and Godzilla 1985) are favorites of mine.

Holding the Oxygen Destroyer with Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla suit actor from 1954-1972, at Toho Studios. Yosuke Natsuki looks on.

With expert monster suit maker Shinichi Wakasa at his workshop. As you can see, Destroyah was there, too!

Sitting between the original Ultraman and Godzilla at -- where else? -- Toho Studios.

Inside Toho's Studio 8 where all the great drama scenes were filmed. Standing with Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster director Yoshimitsu Banno and Haruo Nakajima.

Meeting Derrick Holmes (Godzilla vs. Biollante, Lady Battle Cop). We walked around Roppongi, and man, what a night it was!

Hanging with Kent Gilbert (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) in Roppongi. Kent remains a very busy guy to this day.

With Akira Takarada, who at this point needs no introduction. He's the man who made the Toho tour happen. Couldn't ask for a better tour guide. Arigato gozaimasu, Takarada-sama!