Friday, December 30, 2016
Ulf Otsuki gives the cameraman thumbs up. Photo by Brett Homenick.
As the New Year approaches, I've been keeping pretty active, and today was no exception. I met up with Ulf Otsuki for lunch in Asakusa. As usual, it was a lot of fun to spend time with Ulf and his family.
The drive to Asakusa was rather beautiful, and I wish I could have taken some photos.It was a gorgeous day, marred only by the fact that it was freezing cold outside.
I'm excited for the New Year, and I hope it will be even more productive than this year. Happy New Year!
So this happened. I was interviewed in Shibuya on December 29 about random Japanese things for TBS Television. The segment should air on January 24 sometime between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
In the interview, I was asked about my life in Japan and my interests in Japanese things. Naturally, I talked about Japanese movies. The whole process took about five minutes. It'll certainly be interesting to see how much, if any, of the interview gets aired.
Signage for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in the 109 Cinemas in Futako-Tamagawa. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I was actually looking forward to seeing Rogue One. The trailer looked rather impressive to me, and the difference in tone from what we usually get in the Star Wars universe intrigued me. I was completely unimpressed with The Force Awakens, and given that this film seemed (superficially, anyway) to be the antithesis of TFA, I entered the theater with the notion that I'd end up enjoying the experience.
I wanna talk to somebody in charge...
I'm not sure the best way to begin, but I'll start by saying that I haven't been this bored by a movie in a long time. Halfway through, I gave up, and when I say that I gave up, I mean I completely checked out. I alternated between staring at the floor, the ceiling, my wrist in search of a watch that wasn't there -- anything but the screen. It was brutal. I can't remember the last time I cared so little about the characters or their actions in a film that I paid to see in a movie theater. As much as I disliked the rebooted Ghostbusters, I have to admit that it held my attention more than this flick did. Yeah, that's not good.
Gareth Edwards is 0-3 with me. But I will give the director credit for one thing. Visually, Rogue One was pretty amazing. I really liked how the film looked. Other than that, however, there just isn't much going on. The Force Awakens might have put me to sleep, but Rogue One made me wish I'd bought sleeping pills at the concession stand. Gotta have a little substance to go with my style.
Oh, and I laughed when I saw CGI Peter Cushing. It was never a convincing effect to me, and it turned the proceedings into a Bizarro World version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Seriously, just stick to CGI aliens; they're much more believable.
I would have written more, but the Nostalgia Critic and the gang at Red Letter Media have already said everything I would have -- and much better than I could have. Watch their reviews, and you'll know more or less my reaction. When I left the theater, I figured I must have become a grumpy old curmudgeon somewhere along the way who has no time for these goofy blockbusters anymore, but I was relieved to find that I wasn't alone in my opinion.
Who knows, though. Maybe I'll like the next one.
While in Shibuya the other day, I saw an interesting advertisement placed in front of the bronze Hachiko statue in Shibuya. NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen (or just plain old Kohaku) is the long-running, year-end music show that many Japanese traditionally watch on NHK during New Year's Eve. This year, Shin Godzilla will somehow be a part of the festivities, but we'll just have to tune in to see what will happen.
I'm just not sure that will be enough to get me to tune in at long last!
I'm pleased to report that my interview with Mike Worley on his relationship with Ultra Seven guest star Linda Hardisty has been translated into Japanese and published in Yasushi Shiroi's 25th anniversary edition of his Pointer magazine. Shiroi-san is the world's number-one Ultra Seven fan, and his replica Pointer (seen in the photo below) is a sight to see. Hard to believe it's not the same car used in the series!
Yasushi Shiroi and his Pointer. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I must give Shiroi-san a lot of credit for his excellent editing skills. In the past, I've dealt with a few others whose abilities in that department were sorely lacking, I'm afraid. Here, however, my interview looks great, and I doubt anyone could have done a better job. A big thanks to Shiroi-san for all his help!
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Actresses Miyuki Tanigawa (left) and Hiroko Saito (right) pose for pictures. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Today I attended a special Christmas event that focused on some more obscure Tsuburaya Productions TV programs. Episodes of Time of the Apes (1974-75), Ultraman 80 (1980-81), and Star Wolf (1978) were screened, and each featured an appearance by one of our guests. All three episodes were film prints, not DVDs or Blu-rays.
Hiroko Saito reacts to a comment. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Hiroko Saito was one of the guests, and her career touched just about everything that was popular on TV during the '70s. She's appeared in Kamen Rider (1971-73), Kamen Rider V3 (1973-74), Kikaider (1972-73), Inazuman (1973-74), and Ultraman 80. She was a regular on Time of the Apes as the young girl Yurika.
Miyuki Tanigawa listens to a question. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Our other guest was Miyuki Tanigawa, who is best known for playing Hime on the TV series Star Wolf. Star Wolf was later edited by Sandy Frank into Fugitive Alien and Star Force, both of which were eventually lampooned on MST3K. I told Tanigawa-san about the Sandy Frank edits but decided against mentioning anything about the Satellite of Love.
It was a lot of fun to meet these two actresses -- on Christmas, no less. Shortly after the screenings, Saito-san left, but Tanigawa-san stayed for the dinner portion. Tanigawa-san was quite friendly and a lot of fun to converse with.
Tanigawa-san's birthday was on December 15, and given the occasion, a birthday cake was prepared for her. Not just any cake, mind you -- a Shin Godzilla cake! The photo above captures the moment she blew out the candles.
And there you have it! A very nice Christmas celebration with two heroines from Tsuburaya Productions.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Actress Sayoko Hagiwara at a recent signing event. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I've just returned from a great Christmas Eve event with actress Sayoko Hagiwara. Hagiwara-san played Yullian in Ultraman 80 (1980-81) and Dyna Pink in Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84). She also later appears in Choushinsei Flashman (1986-87).
I arrived just after work and was able to attend the dinner portion. It was my second time to meet Hagiwara-san, and I was glad that she remembered me. We spoke quite a bit in English (after my Japanese failed), and she even invited me to come and sit next to her when she changed seats to speak with another group of fans. She also said I looked like Kyle MacLachlan, which was quite a compliment.
Hagiwara-san is awesome, and I look forward to seeing her again. She's among the friendliest genre personalities I've ever met. Thank you very much for an incredible Christmas Eve, Hagiwara-san!
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Shinichi Yanagisawa sings jazz in Asakusa. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I returned to the HUB in Asakusa to see another show with actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa, whom kaiju fans ought to know as Miyamoto from The X from Outer Space (1967). Yanagisawa-san's film career goes all the way back to the 1950s with Nikkatsu Studios.
The show was very enjoyable, as always. Thanks to a last-minute change in my work schedule, I was able to attend much sooner than I expected. Two months ago, I arrived in the middle of the third (and final) set. This time, however, I was able to see most of the show.
Afterward, I handed Yanagisawa-san a Christmas card, and we took the two photos above. Yanagisawa-san is never less than awesome with his fans.
What a great way to celebrate Christmas. Can't wait for 2017!
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Yours truly with actress-singer Izumi Yukimura.
Tonight, I had the distinct privilege of seeing a live performance by Izumi Yukimura, the legendary singer and actress. She was a member of the enormously popular singing trio Sannin Musume with Hibari Misora and Chiemi Eri, with whom she starred in several musicals at Toho Studios during the 1950s. She also appeared in movies for director Kihachi Okamoto, including the all-star war actioner Desperado Outpost (1959).
Yukimura-san even appeared in some genre (or perhaps "genre-ish") films for Toho, including the lighthearted fantasy The Princess of Badger Palace (1958) and Ichimatsu Travels with Ghosts (1959).
It was so nice to see Yukimura-san again after such a long time. Her English is very good, which naturally makes communication with her a breeze. She's also very friendly and open-minded. She very kindly signed a couple of DVD sleeves for me. I just hope it won't be so long before I see her again!
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Teruyoshi Nakano comments on the design of Shin Godzilla. Photo by Brett Homenick.
On Sunday, December 11, I was pleased to attend another special event with Teruyoshi Nakano and other guests. Nakano-san was the Godzilla SFX director at Toho between 1971 and 1984, and he SFX-directed such other films as Submersion of Japan (1973) and Princess from the Moon (1987).
Takashi Naganuma studies Shin Godzilla. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Also on hand was Takashi Naganuma, who worked on Toho SFX from the 1970s until the '90s. It's always great to see Naganuma-san, and I was happy for the opportunity to thank him again for inviting me to his launch party last month.
Optical effects maestro Sadao Iizuka is all smiles at the event. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Another special guest was Sadao Iizuka, the man who animated Godzilla's ray, King Ghidorah's gravity beams, and Ultraman's Specium Ray. His SFX career dates back to Godzilla (1954), making any appearance of his extra special.
The event began with a screening of Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, which I'm told was the first time Nakano-san had ever seen it. I skipped the screening, have just seen the film last week, and I wasn't exactly in the mood to watch it all over again. I arrived right after the movie wrapped, so I timed my arrival pretty well.
The Q&A session was quite interesting. One tidbit is that, according to Nakano-san, suit builder Teizo Toshimitsu based the texture of Godzilla's skin on umeboshi (pickled plums) seeds.
Still, it wasn't all just serious talk, as the photo above proves. Believe it or not, this pose was actually, Nakano-san's suggestion. He has a great sense of humor, and this photo is just one example. Suffice it to say, I had a blast!
Suitmaker extraordinaire Shinichi Wakasa holds court, discussing his monstrous creations. Photo by Brett Homenick.
On Saturday, December 10, I attended a special dinner event with two alumni from Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), namely suitmaker Shinichi Wakasa and actor Jun Hashizume.
Jun Hashizume listens to a question about his career. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Wakasa-san, of course, is well known for his various kaiju creations over the years. But less known (at least in the West) is Jun Hashizume, the star of Space Godzilla. Hashizume-san returned to the genre 10 years later to play U.N. Secretary General Daigo's aide in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), who meets his end at the hands (wings?) of Rodan. Hashizume-san also starred in the wartime drama Zero (1984), with SFX by Koichi Kawakita.
Hashizume-san smiles as he leafs through a Space Godzilla script. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I'd met Hashizume-san once before. He attended Godzilla's 58th anniversary event at the Cine Pathos movie theater in Ginza, which has since been torn down. This time, I got to speak much more with Hashizume-san, who was as friendly as actors come.
With Shinichi Wakasa.
Space Godzilla will never be my favorite Godzilla film, but so many of the folks who worked on it have turned out to be some of the coolest people you'd ever want to meet.
With Jun Hashizume.
That's all for now. Watch this space for more updates!
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Producer Shogo Tomiyama joins screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara at a screening of Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Today I attended a special screening of a great 35mm print of Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), and it was the best the film has ever looked. Of course, it's a rather flawed film, and the final battle between Godzilla, Space Godzilla, and MOGERA is one of the most boring of the entire series.
Godzilla series producer Shogo Tomiyama recalls the making of Space Godzilla. Photo by Brett Homenick.
When the event was originally booked a few months ago, director Kensho Yamashita was scheduled to be the guest of honor. Sadly, he passed away in the summer, and the screening became a tribute to his career. The guests of honor were Heisei and Millennium series producer Shogo Tomiyama and screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara, who penned the Space Godzilla's script.
Screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara discusses the challenges of writing the film's screenplay. Photo by Brett Homenick.
This was the second time I've seen Space Godzilla on the big screen in Japan, and my reaction was the same both times. There are things I enjoy about the first half of the film, but when the final battle between the monsters takes place, I get bored to distraction and lose interest in the proceedings.
That's quite a flash! Sandwiched between producer Tomiyama and screenwriter Kashiwabara.
Still, the event was very enjoyable, and the two guests were extremely approachable and affable. The pair answered questions for about an hour before signing autographs and taking pictures with attendees.
Hanging with Hiroshi Kashiwabara, something the fine folks of Itasca never got to do.
I enjoyed talking movies with Kashiwabara-san. He's a big fan of John Wayne and Steve McQueen, and his two favorite American films are The Great Escape (1963) and The Searchers (1956). On the Japanese side of the equation, his favorite film is Yojimbo (1961), followed by Sanjuro (1962) and Seven Samurai (1954). I mentioned that one of my favorite movies is Boogie Nights (1997), which got a positive reaction from Kashiwabara-san.
With producer Shogo Tomiyama.
Likewise, it was great to see Shogo Tomiyama again. He's always friendly whenever I see him at functions like these. All in all, it was another successful event. There are plenty more in December, and I can't wait to participate!
Monday, November 28, 2016
The commemorative photo taken at Takashi Naganuma's launch party.
Takashi Naganuma just e-mailed me the commemorative group photo from Sunday's event. It features all the guests from the event (except director Tom Kotani, who left a bit early). Once again, it was a fantasic event. Many thanks to everyone who made it such a special occasion!
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Nobuyuki Yasumaru addresses Shinji Higuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Director Tom Kotani and suit builder Nobuyuki Yasumaru enjoy each other's company.
A group shot with yours truly, Tom Kotani, and Takashi Naganuma. This was taken shortly after I was invited to address the audience on the microphone. I offered praise to the SFX luminaries in attendance, and asked everyone to give director Kotani a round of applause. Kotani-san stood up and hugged me!
My photo of Toho cyclorama painter Jin Shimakura.
Yours truly with Shimakura-san! Personality-wise, Shimakura-san was extremely youthful and had a wonderful sense of humor. I really hope to have a chance to meet him again.
A group shot with director Shinji Higuchi, Takashi Naganuma, and others in attendance.
Meeting suit builder Nobuyuki Yasumaru. Shinji Higuchi is directly seated behind us.
Nobuyuki Yasumaru points out the details in a photograph to Shinji Higuchi.
Yours truly with Shin Godzilla co-director Shinji Higuchi.
A selfie with Yoshikazu Ishii, a Toho SFX expert.