Friday, October 31, 2014

HALLOWEEN IN TOKYO! Even Tokusatsu Veterans Get into the Spooky Spirit!

Hanging out with Godzilla series screenwriter Wataru Mimura in Shinjuku on Halloween.

Halloween is a holiday that is growing in popularity in Japan. Walking around Shibuya earlier tonight, I've never seen it more crowded. That is no understatement. It was jam-packed with people in various costumes, usually zombie- or superhero-related outfits. There were some Super Mario cosplayers, and even a couple of young ladies dressed up as the titular character from Seth MacFarlane's Ted! Sadly (but as expected), tokusatsu costumes were lacking among the crowds.

All that aside, I spent my Halloween in the company of two figures from the modern era of Japanese SFX movies and TV programs. First, I met Toho scribe Wataru Mimura in Shinjuku. Mimura-san penned the screenplays for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) and Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon (1994). He co-wrote the scripts for Godzilla 2000 (1999), Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). We met at the Shinjuku Piccadilly multiplex, in which a large-scale replica of Space Battleship Yamato was on display. I'm not an anime fan at all, but I just had to get a photo of it!

Mimura-san and I spent a couple of hours together, eating and chatting about movies. It was a wonderful time, and I look forward to seeing Mimura-san again.

With Tsuburaya Productions director Kengo Kaji in Omote-sando.

Afterward I met writer-director Kengo Kaji in Omote-sando. Kaji-san directed episodes of Ultraman Max (2005-06), Ultraman Mebius (2006-07), Ultra Seven X (2007), as well as the recent series Ultraman Ginga (2013). Kaji-san co-wrote the horror films Eko Eko Azarak: Misa the Dark Angel (1998) and Tokyo Gore Police (2008). We likewise spent a couple of hours together, shooting the breeze about various tokusatsu topics. It was the first time I'd gotten to see Kaji-san in person since interviewing him in 2012. I'm very glad to have seen him again!

To say the least, this was a unique Halloween for me, but one I'll always remember fondly. As if all that weren't cool enough, I even bumped into Batman in Shibuya. I wish he would have done more to keep the crowds in check! Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

YOSHIMITSU BANNO TALKS SMOG MONSTER! The Toho Director Answers Questions at a Recent Fan Event!

Director Yoshimitsu Banno speaks about his lengthy Toho career at a fan event in Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On the heels of executive-producing the recent Godzilla from Legendary Pictures, filmmaker Yoshimitsu Banno attended a fan event in Tokyo and answered questions about his work at Toho Studios.

Appropriate posters on display for the occasion: The Last Days of Planet Earth (a.k.a. Catastrophe 1999, 1974) and Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971).

Banno-san directed co-wrote Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), and co-wrote and assistant-directed The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974). Banno-san was also an assistant director for Akira Kurosawa on four films: Throne of Blood (1957), The Lower Depths (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), and The Bad Sleep Well (1960). Following his work with Kurosawa, Banno-san assistant-directed a myriad of films at Toho, everything from Crazy Cats comedies to war films starring Toshiro Mifune.

During the interview, Banno-san touched on these and other topics. He seemed in great spirits, and after the worldwide success of the recent Godzilla movie, how could you blame him? Toward the end of the presentation, the interviewers showed some slides from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, to which Banno-san offered his memories. Some of the photos were brand-new to me, which was great to see.

Banno-san spoke for two hours, and it was an enjoyable time. In particular, I liked watching Banno-san's reactions to the production photos from Smog Monster that were displayed on the big screen. Full marks to all involved!

TORU IBUKI STRIKES BACK! Getting to Hang Out Again with the Ex-Toho Player!

Toru Ibuki (left), my friend Asako (center), and yours truly are all smiles after today's meeting.

Today I had another chance to visit former Toho actor Toru Ibuki at his office. Ibuki-san appeared numerous monster movies at Toho, including: Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Monster Zero (1965), Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966), Destroy All Monsters (1968), and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). He also can be seen in the Frank Sinatra-directed World War II drama None But the Brave (1965).

I always enjoy my meetings with Ibuki-san, who has become a close friend in the last year. I've seen him several times in 2014, and I hope for many more encounters next year! Thank you very much, Ibuki-san!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

SHINICHI YANAGISAWA LIVE! The Former Shochiku Player Performs in Asakusa!

Actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa poses with yours truly at the HUB in Asakusa in between sets.

I had the distinct privilege of going to the HUB in Asakusa on Tuesday, October 21, to see Shinichi Yanagisawa sing and play drums in his jazz band live and in person. The former Shochiku actor sang several jazz tunes in English and did an excellent job!

Yanagisawa-san sings in front of a packed audience at the HUB! Phtoto by Brett Homenick.

While he was on drums, Yanagisawa-san spotted me in the audience and greeted me. After the set, I had a pleasant chat with Yanagisawa-san and saxophone player Kyoichi Watanabe. I'm still in the process of transcribing last month's interview, but I hope to have it completed in the near future.

Shinichi Yanagisawa played Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), but he also appeared in films made by all the major studios in Japan: Toho, Shochiku, Daiei, Toei, and Nikkatsu. He got his start as a jazz singer before making the transition to acting in the 1950s.

All in all, it was great to visit Yanagisawa-san again, who is as friendly and genuine as people come. I hope to get many more opportunities to see him in the future!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Remembering Anna Nakagawa

With Anna Nakagawa, immediately after our interview for G-FAN magazine in February 2012.

Like all other Godzilla fans, I was shocked to learn of the recent passing of actress Anna Nakagawa at the age of 49. Cancer has taken her life, but her spirit will live on in her movies and TV dramas. The daughter of director Harunosuke Nakagawa (who helmed several episodes of Ultra Q), Nakagawa-san would make her own mark in the tokusatsu world by starring in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) as Emmy, the good-hearted Futurian who ends up piloting Mecha-King Ghidorah.

I was privileged to interview Nakagawa-san in February 2012. Nakagawa-san spoke at length about her memories of the film, which were quite fascinating. The interview was eventually published in G-FAN magazine. Before the interview, Nakagawa-san gave me a Cast Co. bromide card set of King Ghidorah, one of which she signed for me. Suffice it to say, I'll treasure her signature.

A chance encounter on the Odakyu Line in March 2013 proved to be my last time meeting Nakagawa-san. Photo by Brett Homenick.

At the end of March last year, I was heading to Shinjuku on the Odakyu Line when a familiar-looking passenger stepped onto the train. It was none other than Anna Nakagawa! She was just as surprised as I was! Even though her English was as minimal as my Japanese, we were able to have a pleasant conversation. I snapped a few photos, and Nakagawa-san went on her way. Sadly, I'd never have a chance to see her again.

Nakagawa-san and I were connected on Facebook, and occasionally we'd exchange messages and like each other's photos. I always hoped for another opportunity to see her, but given her busy schedule, it was never to be. I'll always remember the time we did get to spend together and the generosity she showed me.

Rest in peace, Nakagawa-san.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Tribute to Cleo Baldon Melchior

Spending time with Cleo Melchior at the Melchior residence in July 2012. This photo was taken the night before I left Los Angeles.

This morning I woke up to some of the worst I've read in years, via classic horror writer Tom Weaver. Cleo Baldon Melchior, the wife of writer-director Ib Melchior (Reptilicus, The Angry Red Planet), passed away on October 12 of a stroke. No other details seem to be available at the moment, but I know that I'll always cherish the time I was honored to spend in this wonderful lady's company.

Born on June 1, 1927, Cleo worked as a landscape architect who specialized in designing swimming pools. She had several celebrity clients, some of whom she told me about over many dinners we would have together.

I first met Mrs. Melchior in September 2009 when I traveled to Los Angeles to visit some friends. This was shortly after I relocated to Rancho Mirage, CA, after a four-year stay in North Dakota. In 2008, I interviewed Ib Melchior for G-FAN magazine about his monster movies, and shortly thereafter I also reviewed his book Melchior A La Carte for the magazine. When I moved back to California, Ib kindly invited me to stay at his home if I wanted to come to L.A. Of course, I readily accepted the invitation.

I spent the night at Ib and Cleo's house and was privileged to get to know them. But that was only the beginning. Over the next year and a half, I would visit the Melchiors several times, staying at their home when I would come to the L.A. area.

With Cleo and Ib Melchior at a book signing for Ib's book Six Cult Films from the Sixties in June 2010.

The last time I Cleo was when I stayed at their home in July 2012 when I was visiting the U.S. from Japan. I stayed at their home for about a week and gave the Melchiors several gifts from Japan, including a Japanese-style teapot that Cleo seemed to enjoy very much. During this time, their regular caregiver was on vacation, and in many ways I was able to step in and offer my assistance. For example, a friend of the Melchiors was hosting a party, so I drove the Melchiors to the area and assisted them at the event.

Thoughts of my last moments at the Melchiors' home has been running through my mind ever since I read the heart-breaking news. Cleo Melchior was like a grandmother to me, and I'll always remember her warmth, kindness, and humor. She and Ib were a great couple, and I'm so glad they were able to find each other. If you didn't believe in the concept of soulmates before meeting the Melchiors, you would have afterward. They were a perfect pair.

As much as I could go on about Cleo, words seem so futile to me now. Those of us who knew and loved Cleo mourn her loss, and we send our condolences to Ib.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

GODZILLA DESTROYS NAKANO! The Three Principal G-Suit Actors Make a Joint Appearance in Tokyo!

Godzilla sighted on the Chuo-Sobu Line! Suit actor Ken Satsuma travels to the signing event in Nakano. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I attended a talk show and signing event in Nakano, Tokyo. Held on the 15th floor of the Sun Plaza (right next door to the Nakano Broadway Mall), the three major Godzilla suit actors were the guests of honor. Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma, and Tsutomu Kitagawa were big hits with the fans, as they happily signed autographs and posed for photos!

Three Godzillas! What does it mean!?

Following a talk show session, all three suit actors signed autographs for their fans. The first suit actor I met in line was Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played Godzilla from 1984-1995. I had Satsuma-san sign my DVD sleeve of Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), in which he plays Gigan. Satsuma-san's signature joins those of Katsuhiko Sasaki, Yutaka Hayashi, Teruyoshi Nakano, Ulf Otsuki, and Riichiro Manabe! I also purchased a copy of Satsuma-san's book and had that signed as well.

Posing with Kenpachiro Satsuma, who not only played the Heisei Godzilla, but also Hedorah and Gigan!

Next for me was meeting Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla suit actor from 1954-1972. I had Nakajima-san sign my Blu-ray sleeve for King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), as well as a copy of his brand-new photo book, which contains many incredible still shots from Nakajima-san's acting career. When I approached his table, Nakajima-san's daughter, Sonoe, whispered to her father who I was, and Nakajima-san greeted me with a big smile.

Then we took several photos like the one below. The last several times I've met Nakajima-san, we've always taken photos like this. It's practically a tradition now!

The final guest for me was Millennium series suit actor Tsutomu Kitagawa, who played Godzilla from 1999-2004 (minus GMK). Kitagawa-san was also very friendly and welcoming. He signed my Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) DVD sleeve.

When I was about to leave, a surprise guest showed up -- none other than Robert Scott Field! That's right, M11 from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) happened to be in Tokyo at the time and was invited to attend by Kitagawa-san. Scott spent a lot of time catching up with Satsuma-san as well as Kitagawa-san. Interestingly, this marks the first time I've actually seen Scott in Japan. But, considering he lives in Osaka, that's not too surprising!

Overall, it was a fun event, and the highlight was getting to see old friends and great guests. I hope to attend more such events in the future.

BIN FURUYA'S PLAY IN ASAKUSA! The Ultraman Actor Wraps His Starring Role in a Stage Performance!

Ultraman approves! Former Ultraman suit actor Bin Furuya poses for the cameras immediately following his performance onstage. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was recently invited to view a performance on Bin Furuya's new stage play at in Asakusa, which recently wrapped. Its title, which translates as "Under the Sky of the Six Wards," was a postwar tale of Japan with plenty of humor but also some dramatic moments.

Yours truly with Furuya-san. It's been a while since our last meeting, but it is always fun to catch up with Ultraman!

Seeing Furuya-san's play gave me a chance to see him sing and even perform some tap-dancing! I've known for a long time that Furuya-san was a man of many talents, but he continues to prove it in all he does!

A leaflet for "Under the Sky of the Six Wards," starring Bin Furuya, which ran from October 8 through October 10.

A couple of days after seeing the play, Furuya-san called me to thank me for coming out to see it. It, of course, was my pleasure. But Furuya-san is the real deal, so his phone call was just a reflection of the gentleman he is.

Under the night sky of Asakusa.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

IN CELEBRATION OF AKIRA TAKARADA! Kaiju Legends Come Out to Honor THE Legend!

When worlds collide! Godzilla star Akira Takarada and Heisei Godzilla suit actor Ken Satsuma meet for the first time! Photo by Brett Homenick.

Sunday, October 5, saw a celebration of Godzilla, Akira Takarada, Akira Ifukube, and just about everything else in the genre take place at Cue Studio in Ueno, Tokyo. Akira Takarada was the guest of honor, but also in attendance were Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, director and creature creator Tomoo Haraguchi, Kyoko Ifukube (Maestro Ifukube's daughter), and artist Yuji Kaida.

Everyone in attendance (including the other special guests!) each got a chance to speak with Takarada-san on the microphone. It was quite a sight to see Godzilla (and Hedorah and Gigan!) speak with Takarada-san!

Tomoo Haraguchi also offered his praise for Takarada-san. I was pleased to see two giants of the Heisei kaiju universe pay tribute to one of the greatest figures from the Showa era.

The obligatory buddy shot! After getting some things signed, it was picture time! I should mention that when it was my turn to speak, I presented Takarada-san with a poster for Salaryman Chushingura (1960), in which he was one of the stars. He was delighted to receive it!

While it was my first time to meet Haraguchi-san, I've briefly met Satsuma-san at Super Festival. I got to communicate with Satsuma-san a bit more through our mutual friend Tsuyuki. Satsuma-san was his usual gregarious self!

Even Kyoko Ifukube wanted an autograph from Takarada-san! The great composer's daughter was very excited to get this lovely shikishi board signed by the Godzilla series' biggest star.

And that's a wrap! What a great event! I was taken by surprise by all the additional guests. Truth be known, I thought Takarada-san would be the only guest, so the addition of so many bonus guests was the icing on the cake!

The highlights for me were catching up with Takarada-san and getting to know Satsuma-san much better. This event far exceeded my expectations, and I had a wonderful time. I eagerly await the next one!

TERUYOSHI NAKANO TURNS 79! The Celebrated SFX Director Celebrates His Upcoming Birthday!

 Former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano prepares to blow out the candles on his birthday cake! Photo by Brett Homenick.

October 4 marks the third year in a row that I have been privileged to attend the birthday party for Teruyoshi Nakano, the Toho SFX director who helmed the Godzilla series in the 1970s through Godzilla 1985. Despite what is often posted on the Internet, Nakano-san's birthday takes place on October 9.

Nakano-san's celebration took place in a cafe near Yomiuriland-mae Station in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. For the entire "talk show" portion of the event, Nakano-san talked about two of his favorite movies: The Third Man (1949) and Our Very Own (1950). After the talk show was completed, Nakano-san signed copies of his book, of which I'm happy to say I am now a proud owner!

When I posed for the above photo, Nakano-san said, "Family." Suffice it to say, I was humbled. So long as I'm in Japan, I'll always make it out to Nakano-san's birthday parties. I'm a Teruyoshi Nakano guy! Many thanks to my good friend Yasushi!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

JAPAN'S JAZZ SINGER! Interviewing Actor and Musician Shinichi Yanagisawa!

Actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa holds a copy of G-FAN magazine following our interview about his career. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While the actors from Toho Studios have often been celebrated by fans of the Godzilla series and Japanese movie fans in general, many of the actors who made their names at rival studios remain largely obscure and unnoticed. Names like Sonny Chiba, Yujiro Ishihara, and Ken Takakura became famous outside of Toho, but they are largely the exceptions, at least where American fans are concerned.

That's why it was my distinct honor to interview actor and jazz singer Shinichi Yanagisawa last Sunday in Shinjuku. Yanagisawa-san is certainly best known worldwide for his comic-relief role as Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967). If you remember the film's line about "plastic water," then you remember Yanagisawa-san!

Despite having been a prolific actor at Shochiku Studios throughout the 1960s, Yanagisawa-san started at Nikkatsu Studios in the late 1950s, working with filmmaker Shohei Imamura on several films. Yanagisawa-san worked freelance at Toho thereafter, even being directed in a film by Motoyoshi (Godzilla Raids Again) Oda. He also voiced Ricky Ricardo in the Japanese version of I Love Lucy! How's that for an entertainment legacy?

All this (and more) is covered in my upcoming interview. It was a joy to do, and I hope to see Yanagisawa-san again very soon!

MY DAY WITH SHIGEO KATO! Hanging Out with a Prolific Toho Player!

Actor Shigeo Kato signs my DVD sleeve of Conflagration (1975), in which Kato-san appears in a small supporting role. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As I was leaving Super Festival on Sunday, I called retired Toho actor Shigeo Kato at his home. I blogged about Kato-san in a previous post, but suffice it to say that he appeared in just about all the major Toho films of the golden age -- everything from Seven Samurai (1954) to Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000).

Kato-san and I made an appointment to meet in Kamakura and then have coffee at a nearby cafe. He happily regaled me with stories of his old days, and it is at moments like this I wished my horrendous Japanese skills were a thousand times better than they are. Still, I managed to follow along as best I could, and I was nevertheless enthralled by what I could pick up.

After a while, we left the cafe and went walking around. We spotted a local shop with a familiar face guarding its entrance! When I asked Kato-san to pose for a photo, he immediately struck Ultraman's famous Specium Ray pose. Kato-san appeared in several episodes of Ultraman and the subsequent series that followed.

Kato-san showed me around several beautiful places in Kamakura that I'd never seen before, despite having made several visits there. The day turned out to be much more memorable than I could have imagined. Walking around with Kato-san (who's a spry 89 years old!) and seeing many awe-inspiring sights was an experience for which I will always be grateful. It's exactly the sort of thing I came to Japan to do. Many thanks, Kato-san!

GET YOUR KICKS AT SUPER FESTIVAL 66! The Long-Running Tokusatsu Convention Has Toys and Models Galore!

Model maker extraordinare Hiroshi Sagae does some promotional work at Super Festival 66 in Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Super Festival 66 took place in its usual location in Tokyo's Science Museum near Kudanshita Station. As usual, there were toys and models aplenty, and while there were a few special guests on hand (including Kikaider actor Daisuke Ban), tickets for autograph signings typically sell out quickly at this event, so I decided just to do a bit of window-shopping this time.

That said, I did run into G-FEST XXI guest Hiroshi Sagae, and we took some photos and exchanged greetings. It's always a treat to see Sagae-san at these events. He's been a ubiquitous presence in recent months!

Models and toys were just as ubiquitous, and while I have not been a toy or model collector since my teenage years, it can be interesting to see what's new (or, in some cases, old). I couldn't tell you the first thing about who made these models or when, but hey, they're cool to look at!

Admittedly, a show like Super Festival offers me very little. I'm more into meeting celebrity guests and hanging out with my friends, and the culture of buying overpriced toys or models is not my bag. (Your mileage may vary, of course.) Some of these items can be fun to photograph, but only occasionally. After all, if I don't collect the models themselves, why would I want to collect a bunch of pictures of them?!

Overall, it was fun to stop in at Super Festival for a moment, but the more I attend, the more I realize the show is just not for me. Much like Wonder Festival, it caters to a different crowd with a different hobby. It can be fun to step inside that world every now and again, but I think there's a reason I spend less and less time at Super Festival every time I go.