Thursday, August 2, 2012

G-FEST XIX

Your humble blogmeister sandwiched between two of the genre's biggest icons: Bin (Ultraman) Furuya and Akira (Ogata) Takarada at Narita International Airport.

G-FEST XIX (2012) is in the history books, and by all accounts we had the biggest turnout of all time. According to Jeff Horne, more than 1,800 fans crammed the Crowne Plaza O'Hare in Rosemont to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event!

 Ultraman and I prepare to go through Customs at Narita Airport. Photo by Akira Takarada.

I met up with G-FEST's two honored Japanese guests at Narita International Airport the morning of July 12 (Japan time). Mr. Takarada was in the process of printing out his e-ticket when I saw him. Mr. Furuya didn't join us until Mr. Takarada and I had our tickets in hand and our luggage checked.

One interesting side note is that Mr. Takarada discovered that he had misplaced his passport a few days beforehand! He ultimately had to order a new one, which arrived only the day before we left. How's that for luck?


Now how's this for coincidence? With about an hour or so before landing in Chicago, I happened to look at what the Japanese gentleman was watching for his in-flight entertainment. It turns out he was watching a TV drama featuring Akira Takarada! I quickly stopped what I was watching and found the TV drama in question. It also was apparently the drama that Mr. Takarada came to Nakatsugawa to film last December (which was when this year's G-FEST plans were initially hatched). See, folks? It all comes full circle!

Two masterpieces give each other the once-over at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After arriving at O'Hare, it was off to the Crowne Plaza to get the guests checked in. After check-in, they elected to rest in their rooms for about an hour and a half before our next appointment. All I had time for was a quick shower before I made sure that all the pieces were in place for our next stop: the Art Institute of Chicago. Pam and Martin Arlt of Mad Scientist magazine took us to our next destination.

 Just outside the Art Institute with the city of Chicago behind us.


Hiroko Saito of the Art Institute gave our guests a Japanese-language tour. Even to non-fans, Messrs. Takarada and Furuya must stick out, as I was asked by a patron of the museum who the two gentlemen were. I suppose they must have looked like "somebody," so I explained their careers in Japan to the lady.

The Wolfman meets Ultraman: Danny T. meets a childhood idol of his, Bin Furuya!

After the guests had toured the Art Institute, we returned to the hotel. From pretty much this point on, the guests were mobbed by fans all weekend. They couldn't walk two feet without getting stopped for a photo or an autograph. Luckily, however, they managed to get picked up for a dinner held by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Chicago.

About to eat dinner with Tom Korzeniowski, who himself had spent many years living and working in Japan.

While Mr. Furuya and Mr. Takarada were having dinner, Frontier Enterprises voice actor Tom Korzeniowski stopped by the hotel to meet me. I interviewed Tom for G-FAN two years ago, and this was our first face-to-face meeting. Coincidentally, the only movie he remembers dubbing for Frontier is The Last War (1961), which stars Akira Takarada! He also appears onscreen in 1968's The Green Slime. We swapped stories about Japan and other things. It was great to meet Tom, and we'll be sure to meet up next time I'm in Chicago.

 Tsukioka swoops in for an autograph from Akira Takarada! 


The guests retired for the evening after having dinner. The rest of the night was devoted to meeting and mingling with fellow fans, some of whom haven't been to G-FEST in many years.


 J.D. "Da Chief" Lees hobnobs with his favorite San Fernando Valley kaiju fan, Richard Pusateri. I hope no one reading this is too jealous!


It certainly was great to talk to a myriad of G-fans. But that was enough fun for one night. Gotta save my energy. Three days were left!


On Friday morning, we organized the toys that Mr. Takarada shipped to G-FEST for sale. While in his hotel room, some obligatory photos were snapped, this time with the webmaster of AkiraIfukube.org, Erik Homenick.

A side of G-FEST's Opening Ceremonies that you usually don't see!

For most of Friday, Mr. Takarada and Mr. Furuya were taken on a cruise on Lake Michigan. Despite the unexpected downpour that took place the same day, a good time was had by all. The guests returned in time for Opening Ceremonies, during which they greeted G-FEST attendees, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. Afterward, it was time for dinner.

A motley crew joins Akira Takarada and Bin Furuya (not in the shot) as the Crowne Plaza shuttle takes us to Giordano's. 

Given its close proximity to the hotel, we chose to go to Giordano's for one of the funniest and most interesting dinners of all time. Danny T. had an ongoing "dialogue" with the woman he dubbed "Grandma," our ostensibly surly waitress who really seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth. And Grandma was right -- it wasn't cheesecake!

Damon Foster speaks with Akira Takarada, who had fond memories of Damon from two years ago.


We returned from the dinner, and the guests were once again met with autograph and photo requests! I've never seen guests at G-FEST mobbed to such an extent. Well, that's all for Friday. Saturday was up next, and what a day it turned out to be!

 Interviewing Takarada-san: Onstage with the Big Boss himself.


Saturday began with my interview with Akira Takarada. The interview went extremely well, and Mr. Takarada answered questions from many in the audience. The interview surprisingly had a strong emotional side when Mr. Takarada discussed his postwar experiences.

Cease and desist? Naw, come and listen! In this session, I discussed my experiences in Japan, using photos I took myself for illustration. All content contained therein was (obviously) my own.

Despite some attempted outside interference from a goofball who didn't have a clue what he was talking about, my session on the things I've done and people I've met in Japan went as smoothly as I could have hoped. The only snag was that my session was delayed a few minutes, as Mr. Takarada was (what else?) signing autographs and posing for pictures near the stage. Once everything was moved outside to the hallway, I began my presentation. My friend Danny joined me onstage to throw in his two cents when necessary. It was laid-back and informal, just as I envisioned it. I got compliments throughout the weekend, which certainly gave me a boost. I hope someone videotaped the session!

 Damon Foster interviews Bin Furuya about Ultraman and Ultra Seven.


While Damon Foster interviewed Bin Furuya onstage, Jeff Horne alerted me to the fact that radio host Mancow was in the audience. Jeff asked me to assist Mancow, as Jeff was too busy wrangling the massive line for Svengoolie. I quickly made my way to Mancow's seat and quietly introduced myself.

Yours truly with Mancow (and Ultraman).

Mancow is a genuine Ultraman (and Johnny Sokko) fan. Once he found out that Bin Furuya would attend G-FEST, he got in touch with the convention to become a part of it. I made sure that Mancow got to interview Furuya-san for his radio show. G-FEST and Mr. Furuya could use some national exposure!

A happy moment: Following the interview, Mancow poses for pictures with one of his heroes.

The interview lasted about 10 minutes and was conducted behind closed doors. Hiroko Saito and Yoshiko Urayama of the Chicago Shimpo newspaper were also on hand. Following the interview, Mancow had his Ultra-memorabilia signed by Furuya-san. While all that was wrapping up, I got to chat with Mancow about another passion we both share: pro wrestling!

It's coming! National horror host Svengoolie drew hundreds of fans to G-FEST, helping make this convention the biggest G-FEST of all time!

Svengoolie's line was truly remarkable; it was as long as the Dealers Room gets on Friday afternoon! Although he was only at G-FEST for two hours, Svengoolie gave the show a big bump which was truly appreciated.


My attention quickly turned to the autograph line, during which I was placed in charge of hawking the toys Mr. Takarada sent to G-FEST. Most of the toys sold, I'm happy to say.

Hangin' out is what it's all about! Bin Furuya with some of his biggest fans anywhere in the world!


After the events of Saturday ended, it was time for more partying. As you can see, a great time was had by all! 

Bin Furuya shows off a replica gun from Monster Zero.

Sunday morning brought Bin Furuya's interview on his non-Ultra career. Everything from his Toho career (as an extra in many kaiju films) to his recent role in Monster X Strikes Back was covered. But the highlight of Mr. Furuya's weekend was still to come...

Akira Takarada presents Bin Furuya with the Mangled Skyscraper Award.

What a magical moment this turned out to be. I'm just glad I was able to cover it, as I not only was using my camera, but I was also taking shots with Furuya-san's camera at the very same time! Not an easy feat by any stretch!


A picture is truly worth a thousand words. Mr. Furuya was genuinely touched by the award. It certainly helped that Mr. Takarada, who partly inspired Mr. Furuya to become an actor in the first place, presented him with the award.


That's all, folks! Well, almost. I only touched upon a fraction of what took place. For instance, Mark Jaramillo presented several minutes of the elusive fan film "Wolfman vs. Godzilla" for the first time to a Western audience. (Though I missed the session itself, thankfully Mark showed me the clips he brought the day before his impromptu presentation.) There were plenty of other notable sessions that I missed. For another perspective, I wholeheartedly recommend this report.

G-FEST by any measure was a great success!

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