Sunday, April 30, 2017

MORE SHOTS! The GMK Reunion Rocked the House!


Screenwriter Keiichi Hasegawa and suitmaker Fuyuki Shinada study the GMK Godzilla, built by Shinada-san.


Fuyuki Shinada recalls the process of making the Godzilla suit for GMK.


Actor Takashi Nishina smiles for the camera.


Yours truly poses with Takashi Nishina.


A happy moment: Having a blast with Keiichi Hasegawa and Fuyuki Shinada.


A great time with some great company!


Even Godzilla seems happy to be there, too!

GMK! Cast and Crew from the Millennium Godzilla Series Favorite Reunite!

Screenwriter Keiichi Hasegawa, suitmaker Fuyuki Shinada, and actor Takashi Nishina discuss their work on GMK. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I attended a screening of the movie GMK: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001). It was the first time I'd seen the movie in many years. If I recall correctly, the last time I saw the film was at a screening at USC in January 2004. So it'd been over 13 years, and I'd imagine it was a good time to revisit it. Even though GMK was the source of a lot ridiculous and over-the-top fan wars in the early 2000s, I was finally able to watch the flick on its own merits and separate it from all the fan-generated nonsense of that era.

It has its pros and cons. Many scenes are well directed and show real flair. Some of the actors are quite good. It's certainly an ambitious film that tries its best to tell an intriguing story. To that extent, it undoubtedly has merit. On the other hand, however, there are still several glaring flaws. The SFX don't hold up very well, the story bogs down in too much spiritual mumbo jumbo, the monsters just don't look very good and aren't given much to do when they battle, etc. I won't go into all the problems I had with the picture because there really isn't much need, and I don't feel like nitpicking the film. To be honest, I enjoyed the movie more this time than I ever had in the past. I'm glad I saw it again with a fresh mindset. I can appreciate the positive while at the same time acknowledging the negative.

Now, on to the event itself. 

Fuyuki Shinada. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Three special guests joined the event to reminisce about their work on the film. First up is suitmaker Fuyuki Shinada. He built Biollante in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989), Godzillasaurus in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Legion in Gamera 2 (1996), Irys in Gamera 3 (1999), and the title monsters in GMK, among many other creatures for both film and television.

Keiichi Hasegawa. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Also on hand to discuss the film was co-screenwriter Keiichi Hasegawa. A veteran of Tsuburaya Productions, Hasegawa-san has written many episodes of Ultraman Tiga (1996-97), Ultraman Dyna (1997-98), Ultraman Gaia (1998-99), Ultraman Cosmos (2001-02), Ultraman Nexus (2004-05), Ultraman Mebius (2006-07), Ultraseven X (2007), Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle (2007-08), Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle: Never Ending Odyssey (2008-09), and Ultraman Ginga (2013). Hasegawa-san has also written for Toei programs, such as Kamen Rider W (2009-10), Kamen Rider Fourze (2011-12), Kamen Rider Drive (2014-15), and Kamen Rider Ghost (2015-16). 

Takashi Nishina. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Takashi Nishina was another featured guest. Nishina-san played BS Digital Q assistant director Aki Maruo. He was also an extra in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), a soldier in Gamera 3 (1999), as well as appearing in Ring 2 (1999). In terms of TV, he can be seen in the Tsuburaya Productions series Ultra Zone (2011-12) and Ultraman X (2015).


As I said above, I'm glad I gave GMK another go because I have a new appreciation for it. That doesn't mean it's a new favorite of the franchise, or even of the Millennium series. But I quite liked it this time around, which was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

ZONE FIGHTER REUNION! Two Alumni from Toho Tokusatsu Join Forces in Shinjuku!

Fumio Ishimori holds a Zone Fighter DVD. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a talk given by screenwriter Fumio Ishimori (a.k.a. Shiro Ishimori). Ishimori-san penned many screenplays for Shochiku and Nikkatsu, including Toshio Masuda's Monument to the Girls' Corps (1968). Genre fans might know Ishimori-san as co-screenwriter of the Toho horror film Crest of the Wolf (1973) with Jun Fukuda. He also penned numerous episodes of Kamen Rider (1971-73), along with episodes of Ultraman Ace (1972-73) and Zone Fighter (1973).

Actress Sachiko Kozuki listens intently to Fumio Ishimori's memories. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Also on hand was Takarazuka Revue legend Sachiko Kozuki, who also has made many appearances in film and television over the years. She had a recurring role on Zone Fighter (1973) as Mrs. Sakimori, the mother of the three main characters. She has also appeared in episodes of Mirrorman (1971-72), Ultraman Taro (1973-74), Ultraman Leo (1974-75), and Kamen Rider W (2009-10).


The two seemed to enjoy themselves as they reminisced about Zone Fighter and other topics. It was certainly a lot of fun to see.


Ishimori-san was just as friendly as he always is. After the Q&A session, Ishimori-san invited me to join him and his group at a nearby cafe, which is an invitation I was eager to accept.


And there you have it. I wasn't expecting the extra level of hospitality I received from Ishimori-san, so it was a very pleasant surprise.

HE'S BACK IN TOWN! Tayama-san Returns for Another Excellent Gig!

Masami Tayama addresses the audience. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I was privileged to attend another live performance by singer Masami Tayama. He played many familiar tunes, both on his acoustic guitar and keyboard. It was quite enjoyable.


The show lasted two hours, and I was seated next to Tayama-san's friends and family. Having attended several performances in recent years, I'm quite well acquainted with many of them, but I still met some new faces tonight.


Tayama-san's next show will be in the next couple of months, so I'm already looking forward to it. I fully expect him to knock it out of the park again!

YOTSUYA-SANCHOME! Could It Really Be an Android from the Future?


Today's business brought me to Yotsuya-Sanchome Station on the Marunouchi Line. Even though I've blogged about it before, there's something about this station that makes me laugh every time I visit it or pass by. Can you guess what it is?


The image above should be a big hint. Insert your own jokes here. (And there are many to be made!)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

AN EVENING WITH ULTRAMAN GAIA! Takeshi Yoshioka Rocks!

Ultraman Gaia's alter ego Takeshi Yoshioka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After a long day at work (can't you tell from the photos?), I made my way to the drinking establishment owned and operated by actor Takeshi Yoshioka, best known for playing Gamu Takayama, Ultraman Gaia's alter ego, on Tsuburaya Productions' Ultraman Gaia (1998-99).  


Yoshioka-san very recently made his return to the world of Ultraman by guesting on the Amazon Prime Video series Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga (2016-17) as the same character he played in Ultraman Gaia.


I hadn't seen Yoshioka-san since last year, so I enjoyed seeing him again. I really ought to visit more often, but life often gets in the way of those plans. Anyhow, it was a great time, and I look forward to doing it again soon.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ULTRA FATHER REIGNS OVER SHIBUYA! He Saved the Galaxy So You Can Save Your Hair!

Ultra Father hawks hair tonic in Shibuya. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Now here's something you don't see every day. Ultra Father appears on a huge (and I mean huge) advertisement for Chap Up hair tonic in Shibuya. Suffice it to say, I was surprised to see it, as Ultraman (and his extended family) rarely make appearances in Shibuya.


I don't know about you, but I feel the need to buy some hair tonic! I mean, who are we to argue with Ultra Father?!

AN AFTERNOON WITH A SHOWA STAR! Having Lunch with a Japanese Icon!

Retired Toho actor Tatsuyoshi Ehara. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I was privileged to have a great Japanese lunch with Toho actor Tatsuyoshi Ehara. Ehara-san was the guest star of episode 1 of Ultra Q (1966), but he has done so much more. He began his career as a child actor at Shochiku Studios in the late 1940s, eventually moving to Toho Studios in the '50s where his career thrived.


Ehara-san can be seen in Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro (1962) and Red Beard (1965), and he was a fixture in Toho's Young Guy series with Yuzo Kayama. I could write several blog posts about Ehara-san's career. If Toho made it in the 1950s or '60s, there's a good chance Ehara-san is in it.


Many thanks to Ehara-san for spending the afternoon with me. He's a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A NIGHT AT THE FLICKS! Asagaya Is the Place to Be!

Signage outside the Laputa Asagaya in Tokyo, announcing its two-month-long Toho program. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The Laputa Asagaya is running two concurrent programs of great interest to me (and readers of this blog). The main program (featured above) is the Toho Bungei Eiga ("Toho Literary Movie") program, which will feature all kinds of classic Toho films from the Showa era. No tokusatsu or genre pictures are on tap, but there are several intriguing movies that will be screened that I hope to catch.

The other program only runs at night, and it's called "Into Nightmares." As you'd expect, the focus is on horror and other strange films, covering a 20-year span (1968 through 1988). Everything from Shochiku's The Living Skeleton (1968) to Toho's Bloodthirsty trilogy will be screened in the upcoming weeks at 9:00 p.m.

My tickets for tonight's films on top of a program booklet. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I took in two films. The first one is called Zou (Elephant, 1957). It's a Toho drama directed by the legendary Kajiro Yamamoto (who mentored Akira Kurosawa and Ishiro Honda) and helmed The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942). A bevy of Toho regulars appear in the film, including Keiju Kobayashi, Momoko Kochi, Sachio Sakai, and several others. The setting is the Tokyo Ueno Zoo, and most of the drama centers around an elephant named Tonki (who's very popular among the locals) and an old zookeeper who's grown attached to the animal. Sadly, the animals at the zoo eventually become casualties of war. It's a real tear-jerker that would make any animal lover a little weepy. An interesting touch was that, in one scene, the elephant starts roaring like Toho's King Kong! Nice to find a tokusatsu connection in a film as far removed from fantasy as this one. Also a shout-out to the cute baby lion featured in the film named Katrina (whom some young schoolchildren repeatedly refer to by name).

The other film I watched was Kinji Fukasaku's Black Lizard (1968), a very bizarre film that almost defies description. I watched it many years ago (circa 2002), and it had such little impact on me that I hardly remembered anything of it! So it was basically like watching a brand-new movie tonight. It was certainly very stylish, perhaps the most stylish Fukasaku film I've ever seen. But it's very campy and outlandish, without being too laughable. Again, it's hard to describe. But it's an entertaining film, and I'm glad I gave it a second look. 

I'll definitely be back for more!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

TERUYOSHI NAKANO! The Great Toho SFX Director Is Back!

Teruyoshi Nakano talks SFX. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a small gathering with Teruyoshi Nakano, and as usual, it was extremely entertaining. There were a variety of topics, ranging from Nakano-san's almost being hired to work on Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong (1976) to the Century II felt-tip pens that Donald Trump uses to sign his executive orders (seriously).


After Nakano-san answered questions about his career, we all had dinner for a couple of hours and continued the discussion. A good chunk of the conversation focuses on the giant octopus scene in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962).


Believe it or not, I still had a few items for Nakano-san to sign. Even he was amazed by it. These were an Espy (1974) DVD sleeve and a Godzilla 1985 (1984) program book. I've had both for a couple of years.


And that's a wrap! I got home not too long ago, and I'm exhausted. It'll be great to get some rest after a long day.

MORE SUPER FESTIVAL 74 SHOTS! Toys Galore and More!


Sanda and Gaila -- even uglier than you remember!


Some Ultra-masks on display.


Gamera crawled a long way to make it to Super Festival on time.


Godzilla battles Hedorah again, a good 46 years later!


Takeshi Sasaki strikes a Kamen Rider pose.


Eiichi Kikuchi and yours truly strike an Ultra-pose of our own!


Ultraman Powered looks pleased at his recent Blu-ray release in Japan.


Congratulating Ultraman Powered on a job well done.


Hey, who let the Fink (or should that be "Knif"?) into the show?


Well, I guess it's no longer a "secret"!

SUPER FESTIVAL 74! The Toys Are Back in Town!


April 23 saw Super Festival 74 stomp into the Science Museum in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. As someone who has now attended this event for several years, I don't really have that much else to say about it. It was fun, but the show never seems to change that much.


Of course, many toys, models, DVDs, and various other kinds of memorabilia were offered for sale. If you look hard enough, some real bargains could be found. But I'm not much of a collector, and I certainly never touch any toys or models. Just not my bag, and I don't want to be encumbered by it all.

Ultraman Powered swoops into action! Photo by Brett Homenick.

Ultraman Powered (a.k.a. Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero) was featured at Super Festival, due to the recent release of the series on Blu-ray in Japan. Toshio Miike was on hand to talk about the series and sign autographs. 

Takeshi Sasaki (a.k.a. Kamen Rider 2) finishes his interview session at Super Festival. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The headlining guest at Super Festival was Takeshi Sasaki, the man who replaced Hiroshi Fujioka on the original Kamen Rider (1971-73) series and then teamed up with him when Fujioka recovered from his on-set injury. The autograph line for Sasaki was quite long (as to to expected), which goes to show how popular Kamen Rider remains in Japan.

 Producer Toshinori Nishida promotes LEDX at Super Festival. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While wandering around the halls, I spotted producer Toshinori Nishida, whose independent kaiju film LEDX was recently released. I met Nishida-san in March during a screening of LEDX, and we've been in touch ever since. It was certainly great to see him again.


Hey, look, it's that total performer himself, Pee-wee Herman! I remember when this doll was being sold in toy stores across America, and it was pretty funny to see it randomly for sale today. I hope no birds were around to interfere with this high-wire act this time.

Yours truly with Yuji Kaida. 

I also ran into artist Yuji Kaida again, whom I last saw in late February. He and his wife, Aya, were selling various merchandise. The Kaidas are always wonderful to see.

Ultraman Jack suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

It just wouldn't be Super Festival without Eiichi Kikuchi, the Return of Ultraman (1971-72) suit actor who makes just about every show and was helping promote LEDX.


Those are about all the highlights. I'm sure the hardcore toy collectors could tell you all about what figures were on sale, who manufactured them, what kind of paint was used, etc., but I can offer no such details. I'm a fish out of water at toy shows like this, and I only come to meet guests and see friends.


Still, it's always cool to take photos of interesting figures and models, but that's all I need to take with me. You can keep the rest!