Takashi Naganuma addresses the audience of fans and pros. Photo by Brett Homenick.
On Sunday, November 27, a private party was held in Yokohama Chinatown to celebrate the launch of a new book by Takashi Naganuma, detailing Toho's tokusatsu history from the 1970s and beyond.
Godzilla stands above Yokohama Chinatown. Photo by Brett Homenick.
I was invited by Naganuma-san when I saw him a week ago. Naturally, when I heard about this party, I jumped at the chance to attend. I'm very glad I did. There were several Toho tokusatsu staff members in attendance, many of whom I'd never met before. There was even a big surprise in store for us!
Director Tsugunobu "Tom" Kotani waits in the green room. Photo by Brett Homenick.
When I arrived, I greeted Naganuma-san, who was busy setting up. I then joined director Tsugunobu "Tom" Kotani in the green room. Kotani-san still speaks quite a bit of English, though he tells me he used to be even more proficient. He reminisced about working with Richard Boone on The Last Dinosaur (1977). According to Kotani-san, he and Richard Boone got along very well, and Boone even helped communicate some of his directions to the rest of the cast. Kotani-san said that Boone was like an honorary assistant director in that sense.
Toho SFX expert Yoshikazu Ishii. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Among the tokusatsu pros in attendance was Yoshikazu Ishii, the first assistant director of SFX on Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), among a lot of other film and TV work. Ishii-san's English has come along very well since I first met him back in 2003. He helped translate my conversation with Toshiro Aoki later in the evening. Many thanks to Ishii-san for his help!
Tom Kotani greets fellow Toho director Shinji Higuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick.
The above photo ought to give away the surprise. Fresh off the success of Shin Godzilla, co-director Shinji Higuchi attended the launch party. Naturally, Higuchi-san is well acquainted with the Toho alumni in attendance, and their respect for Higuchi-san was quite evident.
Nobuyuki Yasumaru discusses his work at Toho. Photo by Brett Homenick.
A big highlight for me was getting the chance to meet Toho suit builder Nobuyuki Yasumaru. His work on Toho SFX dates all the way back to Mothra (1961), but he is best known for his work building the suits for most of the '70s Toho monsters as well as the '84 Godzilla suit and Pulgasari. His work on Toho monster suits began with Gorosaurus on King Kong Escapes (1967).
Jin Shimakura recalls his Toho days. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Artist Jin Shimakura was also on hand, and while most fans aren't familiar with his name, they know his work. Shimakura-san painted the cycloramas and backgrounds seen in many classic Toho films and Ultraman programs. In other words, if you saw Mount Fuji in the background of a monster fight scene during the 1960s, he painted it. When I spoke with Shimakura-san, he told me that he began work at Toho in 1959 (!), which would have made him about 19 years old at the time. According to Shimakura-san, his first tokusatsu works were The Three Treasures (1959) and Battle in Outer Space (1959).
Director Shinji Higuchi speaks to the audience. Photo by Brett Homenick.
SFX art director Toshiro Aoki talks tokusatsu. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Another luminary in attendance was SFX art director Toshiro Aoki. Aoki-san's career as an art assistant dates back to 1959 with The Three Treasures, but he went on to work on Mothra, Gorath (1962), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), among many other titles. In the 1970s, Aoki-san became SFX art director for films like Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Aoki-san worked in the same position for Tsuburaya Productions on Return of Ultraman (1971-72), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), and Ultraman Taro (1973-74).
Yours truly with Toho SFX art assistant Jiro Shirasaki.
Jiro Shirasaki was among with many other SFX alums, and he likewise worked on many classic Toho films in the SFX art department.
All in all, it was a tremendous party, but as is often the case, there's a lot more to say. Stay tuned!