Sunday, February 26, 2017

AN EVENING WITH A NIKKATSU STAR! Breaking Bread with Mari Tanaka!

Nikkatsu actress Mari Tanaka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Mari Tanaka is a Nikkatsu actress with no connection to special effects or tokusatsu whatsoever. But her involvement in the Japanese film industry is particularly fascinating to me. She became popular at Nikkatsu during the 1970s, during which the studio produced many of its more "exotic" films that have since become notable around the world. 

More specifically, she starred in the controversial Love Hunter (1972), which was accused of obscenity by Japanese authorities, though the charges were eventually dismissed by the courts after a lengthy legal battle.  

Looking at Tanaka-san today, it's hard to believe that she starred in anything that could have been categorized as obscene. Still, she has many admirers who fondly remember her work at Nikkatsu to this day. Admittedly, I haven't seen any of her films, but I hope to change that someday.

BEAM ME UP! Sadao Iizuka Talks Making Beams in the Ultra-verse!

The energetic Sadao Iizuka explains how he animated the various beams seen in the hit TV series Ultraman. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended another fascinating event with Sadao Iizuka, the optical effects expert who animated Godzilla's ray, King Ghidorah's gravity beams, and Ultraman's Specium Ray. The bulk of the event focused on Iizuka-san's work on Ultra Q (1966) and Ultraman (1966-67).

Sadao Iizuka talks to his fans during a break outside. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There were certainly beams aplenty in the various Ultra-series, but Iizuka-san also discussed the other optical effects he worked on. Several visual aids were used to demonstrate how the effects were done. All in all, it was quite intriguing! 

Art director/production designer Toshio Miike. Photo by Brett Homenick.

But that's not all! On hand were several tokusatsu VIPs. Toshio Miike, an SFX art director and production designer whose credits include: Gunhed (1989), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Zeiram (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2 (1996), Gamera 3 (1999), GMK (2001), Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002), Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), and Shin Godzilla (2016). Of course, even those credits just scratch the surface of what he has done!  

Yours truly with artist extraordinaire Yuji Kaida. 

Another attendee was the celebrated artist and illustrator Yuji Kaida, who has recently garnered international attention for his dynamic Japanese-release poster for Kong: Skull Island. I've met Kaida-san at several of these events, but this was the first time we actually posed for a photo.

With Heisei-era assistant director Yoshiaki Konndo.

Another Godzilla series alumnus at the event was assistant director of SFX Yoshiaki Konndo. Having worked on Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon (1994), Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), Mothra (1996), and even Godzilla 2000 (1999), he was a key member of Toho's SFX staff during the 1990s.  

If you're into Japanese special effects, this was truly the place to be! The SFX side of the industry was well represented here, ranging from Godzilla (1954) to last year's Shin Godzilla. What a great time it was!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

SHINICHI YANAGISAWA RETURNS! The Guilala Actor Is Back in 2017!

Shinichi Yanagisawa on the drums. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On February 21, I was privileged to attend anothe live performance by Shinichi Yanagisawa and his jazz band. This time, I was able to attend practically the entire show, as some well timed work cancellations gave me an early start. 

Shinichi Yanagisawa sings jazz. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Shinichi Yanagisawa, of course, played Miyamoto in Shochiku's The X from Outer Space (1967), but his acting career dates back to the 1950s with Nikkastu Studios. It's always a treat to see the multi-talented Yanagisawa-san perform live!

In between Shinichi Yanagisawa and saxophonist Kyoichi Watanabe. 

I've attended every HUB show with Yanagisawa-san since October 2014, so at this point, it's difficult to find something new to say, other than it was a blast. I've gotten to know some of the regulars there quite well, and it's always fun to catch up with them. 

That's all for this month. I can't wait to do it all over again in the spring. See you then!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

THE LADIES OF SUPER SENTAI! Three Decades of Toei Action Heroines in the House!

Yours truly with Ultraman 80 and Dynaman actress Sayoko Hagiwara. 

Today, I attended an event with a plethora of alumni from Toei's long-running Super Sentai series. of course, most Americans are only familiar with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but Super Sentai is where it all started.

One of the guests I was interested in seeing again was Sayoko Hagiwara. As readers of this blog ought to know by now, Hagiwara-san played Yullian on Ultraman 80 (1980-81) and Dyna Pink on Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84). I was rather surprised when Hagiwara-san greeted me with a hug. Suffice it to say, that's not something one often gets an event like this!

With Goranger and Battle Fever J star Lisa Komaki. 

Also on hand was Lisa Komaki. Komaki-san played Peggy Matsuyama on Himitsu Sentai Goranger (1975-77), the original Super Sentai series. She was also the suit actor for and voice of actress Diane Martin as the heroine Miss America on Battle Fever J (1979-80).

With Gingaman actress Juri Miyazawa.

Finally, I enjoyed meeting actress Juri Miyazawa for the first time. Miyazawa-san played Ginga Pink on Seiju Sentai Gingaman (1998-99). It was a great event with very friendly guests. Can't wait to do it again in the future!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

GAPPA IS STILL ANGRY! Meeting Nikkatsu Star Tamio Kawachi!

Nikkatsu actor Tamio Kawachi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I was privileged to meet actor Tamio Kawachi (which is usually misspelled as "Kawaji"), who in the West is best known as the star of Gappa the Triphibian Monster (a.k.a. Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, 1967). His other credits include Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) and the all-star Toei actioner The Bullet Train (1975). In later years, he was a regular on Ultraman Tiga (1996-97) and could be seen in subsequent Ultraman movies and TV programs. 

Tamio Kawachi signs autographs. Photo by Brett Homenick.

A 35mm print of Downhill Youth (1959) was screened, and it naturally starred Kawachi-san. Afterward, he answered questions about his career and signed autographs for attendees. I found that Kawachi-san spoke some English and has visited America a few times, namely Los Angeles, New York, and Hawaii. At one point, he stayed in L.A. for an extended period of time at his friend's house, during which he golfed and visited attractions like Knott's Berry Farm.

He asked me a couple of questions about my life in Japan, and it was an enjoyable conversation. Although he had to leave the dinner a bit early, it was certainly an evening well spent with the star of one of the most notable kaiju films from Japan (and the only one ever produced by Nikkatsu Studios). Many thanks to Kawachi-san for such a great time!

Monday, February 13, 2017

WE GOT THE BEAT! Live Manzai with Beat Kiyoshi!

Pancho Kagami (left) and Beat Kiyoshi (right) perform live manzai in Yokohama. Photo by Brett Homenick.

One thing I hadn't experienced in Japan was live manzai. Sure, with my limited Japanese, it's not like there's a whole lot I could get from it, but since I've seen a couple of live rakugo performances, manzai seemed like the next logical step. Besides, I had a chance to see it performed by one of the best!

Actor-singer Mikio Osawa talks about his career. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight's event featured an star-studded lineup, headlined by manzai legend Beat Kiyoshi. If the "Beat" nickname sounds familiar, yes, he is the former manzai partner of actor-director Beat Takeshi. Together, they formed the manzai pair Two Beats, which is still remembered fondly in Japan. Tonight, Beat Kiyoshi's manzai partner was Pancho Kagami, formerly of the pop group Pinky & Killers.

Yours truly with tonight's manzai pair, Beat Kiyoshi (center) and Pancho Kagami (left). 

Also on hand was actor-singer Mikio Osawa, who is best known in Japan as a former member of the idol group Hikaru Genji (a client of the legendary management company Johnny & Associates). He's also been an actor in TV and movies since the '80s, and his credits include Devilman (2004).

With Mikio Osawa.

Osawa-san could speak a bit of English, and we talked for a bit. He was a friendly guy, and it was interesting to get to know a former idol. 

Tonight was a very interesting experience, and it was something I've never done before. It's important to remember that there's a whole world of entertainment in Japan beyond the same old monster movies!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

SANDAKAN 8! Seeing a Classic of Japanese Cinema for the First Time!

Japanese actress Yoko Takahashi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today, I had the distinct privilege of meeting actress Yoko Takahashi for the second time. The occasion was a rare screening of the classic Japanese film, Sandakan 8 (1974), which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1975 Academy Awards (losing to Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala). Aside from her leading role in Sandakan 8, Takahashi-san can also be seen in Kon Ichikawa's The Devil's Ballad (1977).

This was my first time to see Sandakan 8, though I've known about it for more than 20 years. For the longest time, I simply knew it as a dramatic film for which Akira Ifukube wrote the score. I later learned about its Oscar nomination and the fact that Gene Siskel put it on his top 10 list for the best films of 1976. (Siskel ranked it third best of the year.) However, never having found a subtitled copy to watch, I avoided it for the longest time, hoping to enjoy the translated version. However, given that a rare 35mm screening of the film was happening (with a special appearance by one of its stars), how could I say no?

The film was quite impressive and easy to follow, despite my lack of Japanese. Takahashi-san, who plays Saki Kitagawa as a young woman, was present for the screening, and was very friendly and approachable. A Japanese friend of mine gave me a couple of stills from the film for Takahashi-san to sign for me. Many thanks! Takahashi-san stayed at the event quite late, and when it was finished, I was invited to ride in the taxi with her to the station, and we even rode the train together part of the way home. Suffice it to say, it was quite a day.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

ANOTHER AFTERNOON WITH ULF! Japanese and American Movie Classics!

Ulf Otsuki poses with his copy of The Invisible Man. Photo By Brett Homenick.

I spent another afternoon at the home of actor Ulf Otsuki. Today, we watched the Frank Capra classic Meet John Doe (1941), which was rather enjoyable. While there, Ulf signed my DVD sleeve of the Toei all-star war film Port Arthur (1980), in which he plays a Russian officer. 

Ulf-san has amassed quite a collection of classic films on DVD, one of which is The Invisible Man. You can never go wrong with the classics! After all the movie talk, we went out for Indian food. Suffice it to say, another fun day was had!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

AN EVENING WITH MASAKO IZUMI! The Nikkatsu Starlet Is Back!

Actress Masako Izumi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I just returned from a great evening with Nikkatsu starlet Masako Izumi, who starred in numerous Nikkatsu films during the 1960s. Most of her filmography is unknown in the West, but she has appeared in such films as Each Day I Cry (1963) and Seijun Suzuki's Tattooed Life (1965).

Posing with Masako Izumi under some of her movie posters. 

This was my third evening with Izumi-san, and she was as warm and funny as ever. She's unlike many other actresses, who can be a bit fussy (to say the least). Izumi-san is anything but. If only all movie stars could be like her!

She practiced her English with me, and she did quite well. At the end of the night, we rode the train together with our group until we had to go our separate ways. Many thanks to Izumi-san for making my day!

THROWBACK SATURDAY! Almost Forgot I Had These!

 Actor, rakugo performer, and filmmaker Shinpei Hayashiya poses for the camera. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last March, I attended a rakugo performance by Shinpei Hayashiya, the independent filmmaker behind Gamera 4: The Truth and Reigo the Deep-Sea Monster vs. the Battleship Yamato. He also had a small role in Godzilla 1985 (1984). 

After the performance, our group went to dinner at a nearby restaurant. A fun evening was had by all. I was reminded of this evening the other day. I never posted the photos, so here they are!