Sunday, July 27, 2014
I returned home earlier this afternoon from seeing the new Godzilla at Toho Cinemas in Shibuya. Of course, the movie has been playing around the world for months, but it just opened in Japan on July 25.
I invited actress-singer Izumi Yukimura to join me at Toho Cinemas. Although she's acted in numerous Toho movies, she has never appeared in a tokusatsu production. We had seen Gravity together earlier in the year, so I thought it would be nice to see with film with her for the first time. Thankfully, she was game to see it!
We took in a 3-D screening of the film, which was dubbed into Japanese. (And, yes, I did recognize Katsuhiko Sasaski's voice dubbing Admiral Stenz!) I was a bit disappointed not to see the English-language version, but ultimately I don't think I missed much. The story was easy (too easy?) to follow, so I never felt I was in the dark about anything that was going on.
In short, I didn't feel the movie lived up to its potential. There were certain scenes that I enjoyed, but overall the movie felt more like it was trying to be a slightly more serious Pacific Rim (which I did not care for at all). I was hoping for more drama, better acting, and a sense of urgency. Some of that is contained in the earlier scenes (with Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche), but it's largely absent after those actors leave the movie. The movie is just another summer blockbuster, which is fine if that's what you're looking for, but as for me, I've been there and done that.
Still, I had a great time with Yukimura-san who told me she was amazed by the special effects. I don't think she's ever seen a 3-D movie before, so this was a brand-new experience for her.
All in all, it was a great day with a so-so movie. I'm not too anxious to see the announced sequel, but we'll see how that one turns out.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Word just came that filmmaker John Fasano passed away in his sleep last night. John was a big Godzilla fan and has contributed a substantial amount of art to G-FAN magazine in recent years. He was also a friend, whom I always enjoyed speaking with about monster movies. John was incredibly talented and passionate, and I'm shocked at his passing. This news will take a long time to process.
RIP, John Fasano. I'll miss you every day for the rest of my life.
Wanna talk to somebody in charge? Well, at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, this guy is in charge! I saw the incredible new Godzilla statue. Standing 6.6 meters, this Godzilla statue will only be on display until the end of August, so stop by while you can. This Japan Times article has more information, but before reading it, here are the photos I snapped.
For a limited time, Godzilla fans in Tokyo can take in a rather cool gallery of Godzilla-related props, replica suits and busts, and other goodies at Shibuya Hikarie. The exhibit opened today (July 20) and runs through July 29. So, if you're in the vicinity, stop by while you can!
As with most such exhibits, photography is mostly frowned upon here. However, there is a specific section where pictures are allowed, so shutterbugs take note. The photos of the designated section are presented here.
Overall, the exhibit is rather impressive, if a bit small. It's essentially all contained in one large room, and most of what's on display are replicas. However, some original props made it in.
Here's the train car from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)! Now that was great to see -- only at Shibuya Hikarie! For more information, follow this link.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
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!
Thursday, July 17, 2014
With roughly 3,000 attendees, G-FEST XXI was the largest, most successful convention in its history. The highlight of the show was the reunion of actors Katsuhiko Sasaki and Tomoko Ai, who hadn't seen each other since making Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975!
There were many surprises along the way, but I will write a longer report with more details. Congratulations to everyone involved for making this G-FEST one for the history books!
Friday, July 4, 2014
July 5 marks Bin Furuya's 71st birthday, so your humble blogmeister wishes the beloved Ultraman suit actor a very happy celebration. On top of being the very first suit actor to portray Ultraman, Mr. Furuya played Amagi in the popular follow-up series Ultra Seven (1967-68). Mr. Furuya began his acting career at Toho where he was largely used in small background roles.
Happy birthday, Ultraman!
Today I had the distinct privilege of meeting actor Shigeo Kato. His name most likely isn't very familiar to most Americans, but his credits will be.
A (very) partial list of his credits include: Ikiru (1952), Eagle of the Pacific (1953), Seven Samurai (1954), Godzilla (1954), Musashi Miyamoto (1954), Half Human (1955), Battle in Outer Space (1959), Outlaw Outpost (1959), Mothra (1961), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), War of the Gargantuas (1966), Submersion of Japan (1973), The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974), Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), The Imperial Navy (1981), Godzilla 1985 (1984), Dreams (1990), Madadayo (1993), and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000).
Perhaps you could call him the Dick Miller of Toho! The 89-year-old Mr. Kato recorded a greeting for G-FEST's opening ceremonies. Don't miss it, be there!
When I've visited Kamakura and other nearby locations in the past, a giant statue overlooking Ofuna has always caught my eye, but I never had the time to venture out and find out more about it ... until today. After an appointment in Kamakura, I finally decided to get a closer look.
Ofuna Kannonji Temple is easily accessible from Ofuna Station. It's located atop a steep hill, but for those of us who have visited the big Godzilla slide in Kurihama, this hike is a piece of cake!
The statue is quite beautiful, and it is particularly striking to see in person. Photos do not do it justice. The only way to experience it is by getting a closeup look.
It's always important to think about peace, especially in these times. Ofuna Kannonji Temple serves as a helpful reminder. For more information, follow this link.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
My friend Yasushi and I just finished a lengthy planning session with Mr. Katsuhiko Sasaki, who is one of the featured guests at G-FEST in Chicago next week. Mr. Sasaki is very excited to visit Chicago, and we are working very hard to make his trip one for the history books.
On the way back, I photographed this giant advertisement for a Godzilla exhibit in Shibuya Hikarie that will be running when I get back from G-FEST! Pretty good timing, eh?
See you in Chi-town!