Thursday, March 31, 2016
Today was the last day of March, and given that the end of my birthday week is drawing near, I decided to visit actor Ulf Otsuki at his home as a way to end the festivities with a bang. We kicked things off by watching the MGM musical Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), co-starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. After that, we went to a nearby Indian restaurant for curry and other spicy foods.
It was an enjoyable, relaxing evening, and it's always a treat to see Ulf. He loves watching old Hollywood musicals, and they're beginning to grow on me, too. I always try to discover new things.
Thanks very much, Ulf!
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Today (March 30) I paid a special visit to Kamakura. I always have a blast meeting Toho actor Shiego Kato, and given that I happen to have a lot of free time for my birthday week, I decided to come see him again.
After having coffee, we made our way to the Kamakura City Kawakita Film Museum in order to take in a special exhibit on the late actress Setsuko Hara. The exhibit featured many rare photos and movie posters. While looking at one poster, Kato-san pointed out to me that the film was directed by Yasuki Chiba, a director he worked with and admired.
Following that, we made our best attempt at viewing the cherry blossoms. The only problem? They're not in full bloom yet! Still, we enjoyed seeing what there was to see!
While the cherry blossoms may not have been out in force, the tourists were. It was very difficult to get from one place to another. I suppose they were expecting the cherry blossoms to be in full bloom, but that was unfortunately not the case.
Today was a very fun day, and it encompassed Japanese movie history as well as Japanese culture. I feel it's very important for me to make the most of my time here, and that means not letting opportunities to do cool and unique things pass by.
Thank you very much, Kato-san! Let's do it again soon.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Today is my birthday, and today I met director Yoshimitsu Banno for coffee at a cafe near his home. We had a great time talking about Toho history and his future projects. We were later joined by an artist named Kaneko-san, whom Banno-san is working with on one of his proposed films.
During the meeting, Kaneko-san sketched different ideas based on the concepts given to him by Banno-san. It was very interesting to watch the process unfold. It was the first time I'd ever seen something like that before!
Tomorrow is Banno-san's birthday, so I made sure to bring a gift for him. He enjoyed today's meeting, so hopefully the next one won't be too far in the future.
Thank you very much, Banno-san!
Everyone knows Tokyo Tower. The Diet Building? Been there, done that. Information about these locations are easily accessible for free on Google, but what about the more tokusatsu obscure filming locations that you can't just enter into search engines? There's only one place to find info on these locations, and it's right here on this blog -- all for free!
Today's entry is the Nagasawa Filtration Plant (a.k.a. the Nagasawa Purification Plant) in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. It ought to be instantly recognizable to readers of this blog, as it has been featured in many classic SFX movies and TV series.
Among other titles, it has been featured in Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961), Gorath (1962), episode 2 of Ultraman (1966-67), the Super Sentai series, and perhaps most famously as Jounan University's Institute of Biochemistry in Kamen Rider (1971-73).
As great a location as it is, you are not allowed to take pictures from inside the entrance gates unless you have prior permission. Also, you must arrange in advance if you'd like a tour of the facilities. Despite that, I had a great time seeing such an iconic and prolific filming location in person.
I was glad to find out that this location still exists, but I was just as surprised to find out what it actually is in real life! Who knew it was a water filtration plant? It's amazing to be finding out so many new things after so many years in Japan!
Monday, March 28, 2016
Tonight, while waiting to meet a friend at the Hachiko Statue in Shibuya, I suddenly noticed a familiar face standing just a few feet away. It was actress Keiko Nishi, who played TAC member Noriko Mikawa on Ultraman Ace (1972-73)!
I've met Nishi-san many times in the last few years, but this one was completely unplanned! We had a good laugh about our chance encounter. We took a few photos, and then we both went on with our scheduled appointments.
Many thanks to Nishi-san for spending a few surprise moments with me at the Hachiko Statue!
While walking through Shibuya Station today, I happened upon this poster and snapped the above photo. Daniel Kahl, a famous TV personality in Japan, appears prominently on the poster. Kahl played Major Spielberg in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), and he remains an active presence in Japanese media to this day.
Of all the Western actors in the film, Daniel Kahl and Kent Gilbert are by far the busiest and popular performers. Others have moved on to different careers.
In case you didn't know, spring has arrived, and in Japan the new season is ushered in by the blooming of cherry blossoms. They're starting to appear throughout the country, and here are just a few in Shibuya. Enjoy!
Sunday, March 27, 2016
With my birthday being right around the corner, I went to dinner with kaiju designer Akihiko Iguchi in Kawasaki. When I arrived, I learned that he had a surprise for me: Kensho Yamashita, director of Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), would be joining us.
The conversation was lively, and both gentlemen shared great stories. I learned that Yamashita-san scouted locations in the U.S. for one of my favorite films, Blue Christmas (1978), on which he served as assistant director. It turns out he scouted San Diego as a possible location, but given the bright blue of the sky and ocean, it was rejected in favor of New York, which better fit the tone of the movie.
Yamashita-san discussed his debut movie as assistant director at Toho, the Kei Tani vehicle called Kiki kaikai ore wa dareda?! (1969), and he was surprised when I was able to find the poster image easily on Iguchi-san's smartphone. (Even though I haven't seen it, I was familiar with the film already.)
Yamashita-san told many stories about working with director Kihachi Okamoto on films like the aforementioned Blue Christmas and Battle of Okinawa (1971). Yamashita-san also assistant-directed Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975).
Iguchi-san talked about his work on The Human Revolution (1973) and the difficulty of getting the storm effects just right. Both men agreed that working with fire and water is just about the most difficult thing about doing SFX.
It was a wonderful, laugh-filled evening. I was expecting a quiet meal, but we all had a blast taking photos, telling stories, and laughing along the way. Suffice it to say, it blew my expectations out of the water. What a great evening! Special thanks to both gentlemen!
Today I had the privilege of having lunch with Toho star Yosuke Natsuki near my home. We went to a nearby Chinese restaurant (my first time there) and shared a great meal. During the lunch, he gave me a copy of a magazine about vintage cars that features an interview with him.
After lunch, I gave Natsuki-san a copy of the new DVD release of the Toho war movie Outpost of Hell (1963), a sequel to the celebrated Desperado Outpost (1959). Natsuki-san didn't have a copy and was unaware it had even been released on DVD.
Many thanks to Natsuki-san for a wonderful afternoon!
Friday, March 25, 2016
After work, I headed directly for Kichijoji, Tokyo, to attend a small, informal gathering of tokusatsu fans and Ultraman himself, Bin Furuya. Furuya-san, as always, graciously signed autographs and posed for photos.
It was also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and other fellow fans. A great time was, indeed, had by all.
I love attending these dinners. The atmosphere is friendly and laid-back. As long as they are held, I'll keep going!
Monday, March 21, 2016
Director Toshihiro Iijima and suitmaker Keizo Murase share a playful moment onstage.
Toshihiro Iijima poses with some Ultra Q toys.
Writer Hiroyasu Yamaura discusses Masahiko Shiraishi's new Ultra Q book.
Director Eizo Yamagiwa answers questions in an interview session onstage.
Eizo Yamagiwa and writer Shozo Uehara fondly remember working for Tsuburaya Productions.
Keizo Murase has a great time talking with his fans.
A kaiju-size selfie with Keizo Murase!
With Toshihiro Iijima and Teruyoshi Nakano.
Posing with Hiroyasu Yamaura.
With Ultra-series writers Shozo Uehara and Hiroyasu Yamaura.
Hiroyasu Yamaura, Teruyoshi Nakano, and Shozo Uehara pose for the paparazzi.
Sadao Iizuka talks tokusatsu at an izakaya during the after-party.
From left to right: Shozo Uehara, Sadao Iizuka, Hiroyasu Yamaura, Masahiko Shiraishi, Toshihiro Iijima, Eizo Yamagiwa, and Teruyoshi Nakano pose for pictures. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Among American fans, the TV series Ultra Q (1966) has never gotten very much exposure. Sure, it's been released on DVD, and it's better known these days than it was even just five years ago. However, aside from the likes of Kenji Sahara and Hiroko Sakurai (who are recognized by American fans from their other tokusatsu projects), the names of the cast and crew of the series are largely unknown.
For this reason, it was especially interesting for me to attend a recent launch party for a brand-new book on Ultra Q written by Masahiko Shiraishi (who worked on the Heisei Godzilla series SFX staff under Koichi Kawakita). Held at Hotel Molino near Shin-Yurigaoka Station, the event brought together several giants of the Godzilla and Ultra-series.
Some of the luminaries on hand rarely make personal appearances, and many of the attendees commented to me how excited they were to see them. These names, however, would be completely unrecognizable to most American fans.
Among the headliners was Toshihiro Iijima, who directed many classic episodes of Ultra Q, Ultraman (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), and other Tsuburaya Productions series. He also directed the feature film Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972).
Another celebrity guest was Shozo Uehara, a prolific writer who wrote episodes of Ultra Q, Ultraman, Ultra Seven, Return of Ultraman (1971-72), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Zone Fighter (1973), and Ultraman Taro (1973-74) before penning many of the Super Sentai and Metal Hero series for Toei Studios.
Another honored guest was Eizo Yamagiwa, a director who worked as an assistant director under Teruo Ishii in the 1950s and '60s before helming episodes of Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, and Ultraman Taro in the 1970s.
Some of the famous names in attendance were just there as fans themselves, such as suitmaker Fuyuki Shinada. But whether or not you were famous, we were all gathered for a common purpose, and it gave this event an extra-special vibe. We all knew we were seeing something rare, and that these particular legends of the genre seldom do public events. For me (and for many others), a lot of the fun was just in watching Iijima-san, Uehara-san, and Yamagiwa-san interact with one another.
One particular highlight for me was when Yamagiwa-san walked up to me and handed me his business card. I was quite surprised! Murase-san also did the same thing. It's a very common practice in Japan, of course, but coming from these gentlemen, it truly was an honor.
Attendees were free to walk around and mingle with the guests as they pleased. While other events have specific times allotted for photos and autographs, that was not the case here. If you wanted a photo or a signature, it was up to you to approach the guests directly. Given that all the guests were extremely friendly, this was not an issue at all. In fact, it was a lot of fun!
Overall, the event lasted about two hours, and there was an after-party attended by many of the event staff members. Sadao Iizuka joined the dinner, as well. By all accounts, it was a big success, and everyone seemed more than happy with the results.
I enjoyed meeting Toshihiro Iijima at this event. While he attended Bin Furuya's performance in December, I didn't have a chance to meet him. So I was pleased to have a few opportunities to speak with him this time.
This photo with Eizo Yamagiwa was taken shortly after he introduced himself to me and gave him his business card. He seemed surprised that an American would be so interested in his work.
It was great to have a chat with Fuyuki Shinada again after about three years since we first met. Hopefully it won't be so long till we meet again!
There are simply too many photos to share here, so they'll come in the next post. Stay tuned!