Sunday, May 3, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AKIRA TAKARADA! The Toho Legend Hosts an All-Star Birthday Bash in Shinjuku!

Yours truly with Akira Takarada at his birthday bash in Shinjuku.

Sunday, May 3, saw an incredible all-star birthday celebration of one of Japan's biggest stars, Akira Takarada. Held on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (a.k.a. the Tax Towers), it was a once-in-a-lifetime affair, and certainly the most star-studded event I've ever attended in Japan.

Takarada-san greets fellow Toho actors Yuriko Hoshi (middle) and Machiko Naka (right). 

Among the guests were Yuriko Hoshi (Godzilla vs. the Thing, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster), Machiko Naka (the Young Guy series, Godzilla's Revenge), Yosuke Natsuki (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla 1985), Akira Wakamatsu (Mothra, Dogora the Space Monster), Shogo Tomiyama (Godzilla series producer), and (at the after-party) Bin Furuya (Ultraman, Ultra Seven).

With actress Yuriko Hoshi, the star of many films from Toho.

As the party was just beginning, Natsuki-san invited me to join him at the VIP table with him, Shirakawa-san, and Wakamatsu-san. Natsuki-san and I jumped right in to talking about the latest news and what we were both up to.

Natsuki-san introduced me to Shirakawa-san and Hoshi-san (whom I last met in August of last year), and I introduced myself to Naka-san. I interviewed Naka-san about her acting career by correspondence several years ago, and pointed out that I was the one who interviewed her. As I expected, Naka-san was very kind and warm.

The two stars of Godzilla vs. the Thing reunite with an old colleague. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In the best Japanese I could muster, I spoke to Hoshi-san about her fellow Toho alumnus Tatsuyoshi Ehara, as well as her involvement in a few Toho films. Hoshi-san was more than happy to mix and mingle with her fans.

With actress Machiko Naka.

Each of the special guests took the stage (one by one) and addressed Takarada-san, wishing him a happy birthday. The chemistry between the guests and Takarada-san was palpable, and the audience could sense a feeling of genuine admiration between them.

Yosuke Natsuki (left) shares a laugh with actor Akira Wakamatsu. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I enjoyed meeting all the guests, and everyone went out of his and her way to accommodate the fans. Given that many in attendance simply never attend public events, many fans were eager to get their items signed and photos taken. But I'd like to single out one guest in particular who went above and beyond the call of duty.

A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words. Yumi Shirakawa and I pose for a photo.

Yumi Shirakawa was exceptionally friendly with her fans and admirers. I'd often heard that she was an open-minded person, but never having a chance to meet her myself, I couldn't be sure until I got such a chance. But, after Natsuki-san introduced us, it became clear that she was very open-minded ... and then some! I mean, just look at the above picture!

One of the highlights for me was borrowing her camera and taking pictures of some of the goings-on at the party. It was truly my pleasure to be in her company.

Hanging with Shirakawa-san and Natsuki-san at the after-party. 

After the main celebration completed, many of the attendees and a few of the guests moved to another building for the after-party. Natsuki-san and Shirakawa-san were the first to arrived, followed by Takarada-san and later Bin Furuya. Once again, Natsuki-san invited me to sit at the VIP table with him, which was another honor for me.

With Bin Furuya, who flew in from M78 for the occasion!

The after-party was much more laid back, and guests and fans freely hung out and spoke with one another. I congratulated the organizers on a job well done, and I hope more such events will take place in the future. After the after-party, Bin Furuya and a few of us (including Takarada-san's secretary and Kyoko Ifukube, the composer's daughter) went to a Japanese restaurant for perhaps an after-after-party. This gathering was even more relaxed, and many laughs were had by all.

Yum! That birthday cake looks good! Photo by Brett Homenick.

All in all, it was an excellent event. The phrase "once in a lifetime" is thrown around a lot these days, but this celebration certainly had all the earmarks of such a description. It was the perfect way to cap off what was already an amazing week.

Happy birthday, Takarada-san!

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