Saturday, July 19, 2014

G-FEST XXI: Your Humble Blogmeister Shares His Memories!

My G-FEST experience began at Narita Airport where I met special guests Katsuhiko Sasaki and Tomoko Ai (along with her entourage). I met Sasaki-san first and later caught up with Ai-san. As Sasaki-san and I were checking our luggage, Ai-san greeted us. So, technically speaking, the Terror of Mechagodzilla reunion happened at the ticket counter of United Airlines!

We all ate a small lunch together and took some photos. While we were about to board the plane, I spotted Shinpei Hayashiya and his producer-wife Atsuko Tsunakawa who were also waiting to board the plane.

The plane ride to Chicago was quite memorable. I sat right next to Sasaki-san, and Ai-san was seated next to Sasaki-san. During the flight, Ai-san gave me a small Mechagodzilla toy as a gift. As cool as that was, it was really amazing to be a fly on the wall while Ai-san and Sasaski-san spoke about the old days at Toho. At one point, Ai-san mentioned Espy (1974), which was fascinating to me. I later found out that she was talking about how that film and Terror of Mechagodzilla were being filmed at basically the same time.

After landing, we took Sasaki-san to dinner. Joining us were Yasushi from Tokyo and my brother Erik, who runs the official English-language Akira Ifukube Web site. We went to Giordano's and sampled some of its renowned deep-dish pizza. Sasaki-san was floored by its size, but he enjoyed a few slices. Say, isn't that Sasaki-san's former co-star Biollante lurking in the background?

The next day we took Sasaki-san and modeling guest Hiroshi Sagae to the Art Institute of Chicago. Ms. Hiroko Saito provided the guests with a Japanese-language tour of the gallery. Many thanks to Ms. Saito for arranging and hosting the tour.

After lunch, Yasushi and I took Sasaki-san to Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), which was also my first time in the tower. It was great to see Sasaki-san take photos of Chicago from one of the tallest buildings in the world.

Opening ceremonies was Friday night, and the guests were very well received. I don't think an opening ceremonies at G-FEST has ever seen a bigger audience. Following the guests' introductory remarks, I played video greetings provided by Toru Ibuki, Wataru Mimura, and Shigeo Kato.

The next morning, I interviewed Tomoko Ai about her acting career. It was fascinating to hear her stories about Ultraman Leo, Terror of Mechagodzilla, and her acting roles beyond.

After that, I interviewed Sasaki-san about his career. This was actually the second time I interviewed him, but even then this interview still managed to cover new ground.

The band got back together for another meal together at Gibsons Steakhouse. Sasaki-san enjoyed his steak immensely, and Yasushi provided us with very special gifts from Japan. Good times were had by all!

Jay Johnson interviewed the great Don Frye about Godzilla: Final Wars as well as other subjects. Don had the audience in stitches with his witty and sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor. Despite being a famous fighter, actor, and you-name-it, Don Frye is about as ego-free as they come.

Next came the autograph sessions, which like everything else were bigger than ever. Although some hiccups did occur, the G-FEST staff made sure everything ran smoothly.

After the autographs were finished, it was time to head to Chicago! Sasaki-san, Ai-san, and all of us went to Buddy Guy's Legend for dinner and live music. The food and entertainment were quite good, and afterward we were all feeling quite tired, so we started to make our way back.

The ride back to the hotel was one for the history books, as a panhandler came onto the train and decided to liven things up for us. Thankfully, he was escorted out of our train car before too long!

Sunday morning saw a panel discussion on Godzilla: Final Wars, with Don Frye, Martin Arlt, and yours truly. Many topics were covered during the session, including the WWF, Michael Mann movies, and bar fighting.

During the Sunday autograph session, I was showing Ai-san's manager photos of the Don Frye session I was just on, and her eyes widened. She asked me to show Ai-san the photos. She got really excited and said she was a big fan of Don Frye and wanted to meet him. I knew Don was just about to leave for the airport, but I found him in the lobby just in the nick of time. As you saw in the photo above, meeting him really made her day.

Hanging out with Yasushi, Shinpei Hayashiya, and Hiroshi Sagae was another highlight!

I almost missed getting a photo with Koichi Kawakita, but I finally got one Sunday night. That said, Kawakita-san is a fixture of various events in Japan, and I've met him several times. But it was nice to get one at G-FEST.

Photo by Loren Portillo.

And that's a wrap! There were many highlights throughout the weekend, but this blog post covers most of the events of the weekend that I was a part of. Of course, there were a lot of other great sessions and events at G-FEST, but I didn't even get to see most of them! But there's always next year.

See you at G-FEST XXII!

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