Monday, March 21, 2016

FIFTY YEARS OF ULTRA Q! Japan's Groundbreaking SF Series Is Celebrated in Tokyo!

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. 

Shozo Uehara, Toshihiro Iijima, and Eizo Yamagiwa share a laugh prior to the start of festivities. Photo by Brett Homenick.

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.

Yours truly meeting legendary sculptor and suitmaker Keizo Murase for the second time.

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, UltramanUltra SevenReturn 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 UltramanUltraman Ace, and Ultraman Taro in the 1970s.

Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano talks about Eiji Tsuburaya and his SFX legacy. Photo by Brett Homenick.

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.

Eizo Yamagiwa (left) and Shozo Uehara (right) speak about all things Ultra. Photo by Brett Homenick.

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.

Toshihiro Iijima, Sadao Iizuka, and Keizo Murase are all smiles all photographers snap away. Photo by Brett Homenick.

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!

Sadao Iizuka and Keizo Murase, two SFX veterans, compare notes (and what notes they were!). Photo by Brett Homenick.

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!

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