Destroy All Planets 2010

Destroy All Planets 2010
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Monday, May 22, 2017

STEVEN SPIELBERG X ULTRAMAN?! Are You Ready for Spielberg's Ready Player One?

Could Ultraman soon join forces with Steven Spielberg? Photo by Brett Homenick. 

An interesting bit of Ultraman news was brought to my attention today, although it has apparently been making the rounds among Ultra-fans.

Anyway, Steven Spielberg is set to release his film adaptation of the 2011 science fiction novel Ready Player One on March 30, 2018. As pretty much everything else in production these days, it seems the book (which I naturally haven't read) is overflowing with pop culture references from the 1970s and '80s (video games, movies, TV, etc.).

At some point in the novel, the hero, Wade Watts, transforms into Ultraman, complete with a Beta Capsule. Fighting ensues. Again, not having read the book, I have no idea what else happens or how important this aspect of the story is to the plot (to the extent there is one).

Spielberg and his team could very easily replace Ultraman with another character or eliminate the scene entirely. But, given that the point of the novel seems to be specific pop culture references to things a lot of us grew up with, why make the movie without them? Will they remove Ultraman but leave in Pac-Man?

We'll certainly find out in less than a year one way or the other, but I have to admit it's pretty interesting to think about a director as talented as Steven Spielberg taking a crack at Ultraman.

By the way, according to the film's Wikipedia page, British actress Hannah John-Kamen has been cast in the film. Let the speculation about the inclusion of a female Kamen Rider begin.

A RETURN TO THE MOVIES! Seeing Toho Flicks Again in Asagaya!

Tickets for tonight's double feature. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It's Monday, so that must mean I went back to the Laputa Asagaya for another double feature. On tonight's menu was a pair of Toho features, which couldn't be any more different from each other. One was the screwball romantic comedy The Dangerous Kiss (1960), and the other was the eerie vampire tale Lake of Dracula (1971). 

Prior to the screenings, another audio recording by none other than Shinichi Yanagisawa was played, describing the background of The Dangerous Kiss. It's always a treat to hear Yanagisawa-san's familiar voice. 

 A poster for The Dangerous Kiss (uh, the one on the right). Photo by Brett Homenick.

The Dangerous Kiss stars Akira Takarada, Reiko Dan, Ichiro Arishima, Sachio Sakai, and several other Toho regulars (most of whom didn't appear in the studio's monster films). It's a lighthearted, over-the-top comedy that doesn't take itself seriously for one second. Takarada-san plays a popular, handsome boxer named Akira Takada (get it?) who, after a car collision, is photographed by the paparazzi trying to revive a high school student (played by Reiko Dan) using an unusual combination of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and ramen broth. The photo (looking more like a make-out session than a life-saving attempt) ends up on the cover of a gossip magazine and causes all sorts of shenanigans among the multiple women in Takada's life.

There's a lot happening in this film, everything from a food-fight sequence to a stage show at a nightclub featuring a guy in a yeti suit menacing a dancer. (The suit looked a bit like the one used in Half Human but, to my eye, was demonstrably different.)  Takarada-san was at his most charismatic here, and the entire cast was obviously having a lot of fun with the material.

Poster art for Toho's Lake of Dracula. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

After The Dangerous Kiss, it was time for a movie about a different kind of dangerous kisses -- you know, the kind vampires give you when they're trying to eat. Lake of Dracula was screened in all its glory, and it has obviously never looked better. I've never seen it in 35mm before, but the detail of the images was fantastic. Watching Shin Kishida's death scene at the end was quite intriguing. I never noticed before that the makeup used on Kishida's face during his death scene wasn't applied to his neck, making it plainly obvious to the viewer that it's all just a touch-up job.

And so ends another eventful Monday night. I'll be back at the Laputa Asagaya soon, but on a different night from my usual routine. Why the change? Stay tuned to this blog for the exciting answer!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

TSUBURAYA PRO IN DA HOUSE! Ultra-Alums Please Their Fans!

Return of Ultraman suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After spending the day with various Toei heroes and villains, it was off to Jimbocho for an evening with Tsuburaya Productions alumni! Two of the biggest guests on hand were old favorites of mine.  

Striking a pose with Eiichi Kikuchi.

First was Return of Ultraman (1971-72) suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi, who also played Ultra Seven in the King Joe episodes of Ultra Seven (1967-68). Not only that, but he battles Sean Connery in the James Bond actioner You Only Live Twice (1967) as a henchman. (Yes, James Bond and Ultra Seven have tussled onscreen.) A resume doesn't get much cooler than that!  

Ultraman director Toshihiro Iijima. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The other great guest was director Toshihiro Iijima. Iijima-san directed episodes of Ultra Q (1966), Ultraman (1966-67), Ultra Seven, and other Tsuburaya Productions series, in addition to the feature film Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972). In Japan, he is probably best known as the director of episode 2 of Ultraman, which saw the debut of Baltan Seijin.

Iijima-san is a very kind gentleman, and whenever he appears at an event, I always try to attend to pay my respects. All in all, it was a great way to end the day. Now's the time to rest!

SUPER SENTAI TO THE RESCUE! Toei All-Stars Fight Bad Guys!

From left to right: Ryosuke Sakamoto, Koji Unoki, Toshimichi Takahashi, yours truly, Hitomi Yoshii, and Kenju Hayashi.  

Today, I had the privilege of attending a special event that included a Q&A session and even a couple of dramatic readings hosted by a slew of Toei actors from the '70s and '80s. There's a lot of folks to talk about, so let's get right to it!

With Ryosuke Sakamoto. 

The first actor I'll discuss is Ryosuke Sakamoto. Sakamoto-san starred as Red One in Choudenshi Bioman (1984-85) and has appeared on other tokusatsu programs over the years, such as Kamen Rider Black (1987-88). As many Super Sentai fans know, Sakamoto-san had a major health scare last year, as he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It was wonderful to see Sakamoto-san in such great spirits.

With Lisa Komaki. 

Also there 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). Komaki-san is always someone I look forward to seeing at these shindigs.

With Toshimichi Takahashi. 

Toshimichi Takahashi is an actor and suit actor who appears in numerous films and TV productions from Toei and other studios, including: Wolf Guy (1975), Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977), Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995), the Toho superhero series Megaloman (1979), and numerous Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Metal Hero series, beginning with Goranger. In this photo, I'm holding his High Priest Baraom mask from Kamen Rider Black.

Koji Unoki, Hitomi Yoshii, yours truly, and Kenju Hayashi.

As if that weren't enough, Hitomi Yoshii was another featured guest. She began her career acting in the late 1970s and acted movies for Toei and Toho, but here she is best known for playing the villainous High Priestess Bishium on Kamen Rider Black.

Koji Unoki, holding his Dyna Blue helmet, was likewise in attendance. He played Dyna Blue (both in and out of the suit) on Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84).

Last but not least was Kenju Hayashi, who has appeared on Battle Fever J, Nebula Mask Machine Man (1984), and Kamen Rider Black. His biggest tokusatsu credit is portraying Prince Megiddo on Dynaman.

Whew! So much to talk about. Everyone was very nice and a lot of fun to see. A great mixture of heroes and villains!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

SHOJI MORI TALKS! The Film and TV Actor Comments on Edo Life!

Actor Shoji Mori makes a point about Edo culture. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I attended another presentation hosted by actor Shoji Mori, again focusing on Edo-era culture. Mori-san hosts these lectures about once a month, and I attend when I can.

As I've written previously, Mori-san's credits include: Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman (1971), Woman Gambler's Iron Rule (1971), Zatoichi in Desperation (1972), and Slaughter in the Snow (1973). When it comes to TV, Mori-san can be seen on episode 3 of Kamen Rider Super-1 (1980-81), and episode 3 of the third season of the Shin Zatoichi TV series (1979). Of course, his other acting credits are quite extensive, going back to the mid-1960s.

As usual, it was quite a fascinating experience and a real departure from my usual activities, but very enjoyable all the same. Many thanks to Mori-san for making it happen!

Monday, May 15, 2017

A GREAT TOHO DOUBLE FEATURE! Returning to the Laputa Asagaya!

Poster art for The Vampire Doll on display at the  Laputa Asagaya. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As you've probably surmised by now, I returned to the Laputa Asagaya tonight for yet another evening of Toho films. One was quite familiar to me, but the other was completely new.

Promotional material for Toho's Pigs and Goldfish. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The first film I saw was Pigs and Goldfish (1962), a light Toho comedy with some romance mixed in. The film stars Ken Uehara in a rare (at least for me) comedic turn. I mostly know him from his stoic performances in Mothra (1961), Gorath (1962), and Atragon (1963) in which he oozes authority. But here he plays things largely for laughs, even getting water tossed on him (off-camera) several times. The movie also stars Akiko Wakabayashi, who is absolutely radiant here. She is given quite a bit to do, and she runs with it. To top it all off, there are literal pigs and goldfish in the movie, too. A goldfish gets eaten by a sneaky black cat (off-camera), and a pig becomes a rock star (well, sort of). How does it all unfold? See the movie to find out!

Promotional material for Toho's The Vampire Doll. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Next up was The Vampire Doll (1970), a Toho horror film that I'd imagine most readers here are rather familiar with. As "luck" would have it, I actually watched a subtitled copy of this film just a few weeks ago. Still, even having just seen the movie, I enjoyed it immensely on the big screen -- a first for me.

The Vampire Doll is an all-around excellent horror film, right down to Riichiro Manabe's score that the New York Times called "stately" in its review. Can't argue with that. Yukiko Kobayashi is also downright chilling as the vampire. Great stuff to see on a rainy night. (Unfortunately for me, the weather was perfect. Oh, well.)

All in all, it was a very enjoyable night. I will almost certainly return next week. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

In Honor of Yoshimitsu Banno

Today, funeral services for director Yoshimitsu Banno were held in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. I attended the funeral, which was very moving. There was a small display of photos from Banno-san's career, mostly related to his involvement with Legendary Pictures' Godzilla (2014). He was very proud to have been part of the movie. Below are some of the items that were on display.

Rest in peace, Banno-san.


GODZILLA SPOTTED IN JIMBOCHO! Finally the King of the Monsters Has Come Back to Tokyo!

While in Jimbocho, I decided to take a look around the nearby Jimbocho Theater, as the venue often programs some intriguing and rarely-seen titles. However, I wasn't expecting to see this guy...

It's Godzilla! And he's just hanging around! I hope he bought a ticket before entering. Otherwise, that's just rude.

I guess the Jimbocho Theater will let just about anyone in these days. Oh, well. I just hope he doesn't burn the place down.

HEROES COVERGE IN JIMBOCHO! Toei Alumni Discuss Their Heroic Pasts!

Actor Osamu Sakuta and actress Hiroko Saito discuss working on superhero television productions during the 1970s and '80s. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I made my way to Jimbocho to attend a special event with two TV stars from the '70s and '80s. The guests were Hiroko Saito and Osamu Sakuta.

Actress Hiroko Saito. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I've blogged about Hiroko Saito before. She's appeared in Kamen Rider (1971-73), Kamen Rider V3 (1973-74), Kikaider (1972-73), Barom-1 (1972), Inazuman (1973-74), Kamen Rider X (1974), Star Wolf (1978), Toei's Spider-Man (1978-79), and Ultraman 80 (1980-81). However, in the West, she would be best known for her role on Tsuburaya Productions' Time of the Apes (1974-75) as Yurika. 

Actor Osamu Sakuta. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Osamu Sakuta starred as the titular character in Nebula Mask Machine Man (1984) from Toei Studios. Prior to that, he could be seen in guest appearances on Spectreman (1971-72), the original Kamen RiderBarom-1, and Kikaider. He also appears in the Toho war epic The Imperial Navy (1981) and the Ken Takakura film Kaikyo (1982).

It was very nice to see Saito-san again just a week after last seeing her. As always, she was very kind and friendly.

It was quite fun to meet Sakuta-san for the first time. We had a brief chat, and he seemed interested in getting to know me. I look forward to seeing him again.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

100 YEARS OF JAPANESE ANIMATION! Classic Japanese Cartoons Now in English!

Doraemon is a little too new-school for Japanese Anime Film Classics. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Japanese animation (or anime) isn't really my bag, but here's a Web site that ought to appeal to connoisseurs of both Japanese history and pop culture. The National Film Center of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, has just launched an English-language site called Japanese Animated Film Classics on which you can watch some of the earliest cartoons from Japan.

The best part of the Web site? The cartoons are subtitled in English!

It's all part of the 100th anniversary of animation in Japan, which (near as historians can tell) likely began in 1917. 

Better hurry, though, as the site will likely cease operation by the end of the year. Don't miss your chance to check these rarely-seen classics out for yourself!

MOTOYOSHI ODA FACE REVEAL! The Camera-Shy Director Can Finally Be Seen in All His Glory!

Director Motoyoshi Oda (left) and SFX director Eiji Tsuburaya (center) on the set of Toho's The Invisible Man (1954). The Invisible Man © 1954, Toho Co., Ltd. 

In the wake of Yoshimitsu Banno's passing, I was having a discussion with some Godzilla fans in the U.S., and the subject of Motoyoshi Oda came up. It turns out that photographs of the Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and The Invisible Man (1954) director are pretty hard to come by. In fact, one fan-generated collage of Godzilla directors that was circulated a couple of years ago presented Oda as a literal shadow.

Motoyoshi Oda (far right) confers with his cast on the set of The Invisible Man. The Invisible Man © 1954, Toho Co., Ltd. 

After the discussion, I decided to dig around and try to find any photos I might have of Motoyoshi Oda. One source in my collection had two pictures (from the set of The Invisible Man), and in order to put a face with the name at long last, I'm sharing the photographs here.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Remembering Yoshimitsu Banno

Director Yoshimitsu Banno at a Q&A event in 2014. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Advanced Audiovisual Production, Inc., has announced that writer-director Yoshimitsu Banno passed away on May 7 at the age of 86. Banno-san directed the cult classic Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and was an executive producer on Legendary Pictures' Godzilla (2014). He served as an assistant director to Akira Kurosawa on four films: Throne of Blood (1957), The Lower Depths (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958), and The Bad Sleep Well (1960). He co-write and assistant-directed the Toho disaster film The Last Days of Planet Earth (a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus, 1974).

I'd been in touch with Banno-san since I first met him in the U.S. in July 2005. When I moved to Japan in March 2011, he was one of the first people (if not the first) to share his cell phone number with me. When I visited Tokyo for the first time in May 2011, he was the very first person I visited.

Yoshimitsu Banno poses with Akira Takarada in May 2011. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Banno-san and I would regularly meet at the Cafe Chat Noir near Mukogaoka-Yuen Station in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. There he would often talk to me about his latest projects. He always had boundless energy and was determined to make another movie. I was sure he would.

A group shot from May 2013 with composer Riichiro Manabe (front row, middle) and Yoshimitsu Banno (front row, right).

Last year, when we met at the cafe on my birthday, Banno-san told me that he was planning to give me a Godzilla figure that he owned, but his wife balked at the idea, as she believed Godzilla was protecting him. Who could ask for a better protector?

Yoshimitsu Banno with his autobiography. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Last year, he finally published his autobiography in Japanese. He wanted to publish it in English, but I'm not sure what, if anything, will come of those plans. When I met him for the last time on November 20 last year, he gave me a copy of his autobiography and signed it for me. Suffice it to say, I was glad to receive it.

When we met in November of last year, Banno-san seemed a bit weaker than his usual self. I didn't think much of it, as it didn't seem to impact his passion for future projects. This past week, I reached out to Banno-san via e-mail, asking if he'd like to get together soon. The date I pitched, in a truly strange coincidence, was Sunday, May 7. The next day, May 3, Banno-san called me and left a voice message, saying that he wasn't feeling well, but that we'd meet another time. I tried calling him back and left a voice message, acknowledging his phone call. Banno-san called me back on May 4 and left me another voice message. Suffice it to say, I regret not being available to take his final calls to me.

I'll always be grateful to Banno-san for his constant support and fellowship.

Rest in peace, Banno-san.

Monday, May 8, 2017

BACK FOR MORE! Another Monday Night at the Movies!

Tickets for tonight's show! Photo by Brett Homenick. 

It was that time again. I returned to the Laputa Asagaya to take in some more films. Tonight's lineup featured two movies that were brand-new to me.

The poster for Toho's Hakone-yama. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

First up was Hakone-yama (1962), a black-and-white Toho drama that is sort of a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. The film stars Yuzo Kayama and Yuriko Hoshi as the young lovers, but their blossoming romance is complicated, Shakespeare-style, by the conflicts of two competing Japanese inns during an explosive period of growth in Hakone's tourism industry.

Black Rose's poster. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following Hakone-yama was the Kinji Fukasaku-directed Black Rose (1969), a pseudo-sequel to Fukasaku's Black Lizard (1968), from Shochiku Studios. I'd never seen Black Rose before, despite knowing of its existence for nearly 20 years. Honestly, I've never seen it available anywhere, officially or unofficially. This was my first opportunity to see the film. What did I think of it? I'll get to that in a moment. But let's return to Hakone-yama first.

While there is something to be said for the merits of Hakone-yama, I must admit that it bored me much of the time. Of course, this isn't entirely the movie's fault, as it's to be expected when you're watching an unsubtitled drama in a foreign language, but so much of the movie moved at a glacial pace that I must ding it for that. Still, the performances were strong, and I do hope to have the chance to see the film subtitled someday.

Black Rose was a much more dynamic and interesting film, even with no subtitles. That said, it is a much less ambitious and much less of a genre picture than Black Lizard, and it has virtually nothing to do with its predecessor, aside from the fact that male actor Akihiro Maruyama returns as a female character. In fact, some actors from Black Lizard return here, but in completely different roles. The camp you'd expect from a film like this is certainly evident, but in much less quantities. Overall, I enjoyed it, and I appreciated the fact that it didn't try to rehash the first film.

WHO'S WHO IN HIBIYA CHANTER! Identifying the Japanese Actors!

 The Godzilla statue in Hibiya Chanter. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Hibiya Chanter is known to fans in the West for its Godzilla statue, which was erected there in 1995. There's also an area very similar to Hollywood's Walk of Fame, which honors several Japanese actors. But who are they? Which ones might Westerners want to see? Here's a handy guide.

Akira Takarada -- the star of Godzilla (1954), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), Monster Zero (1965), and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966).

Yosuke Natsuki -- the star of Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), Dogora the Space Monster (1964), and Godzilla 1985 (1984).

Toshiro Mifune -- the star of numerous Akira Kurosawa films, as well as The Three Treasures (1959), The Lost World of Sinbad (1963), Adventure in Kigan Castle (1966), and Princess from the Moon (1987).

Izumi Yukimura -- the Japanese singing star who appeared in many films for Toho, including the genre-ish The Princess of Badger Palace (1958) and Ichimatsu Travels with Ghosts (1959).

Keiju Kobayashi -- one of the stars of Submersion of Japan (1973) and Godzilla 1985.

Ken Takakura -- one of Japan's most popular leading men, whose yakuza films are still widely seen in Japan.

Tadao Takashima -- the star of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Atragon (1963), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), and Son of Godzilla (1967).

Ken Uehara -- one of Japan's leading men in the 1930s, but better known in the West for his supporting roles in Mothra (1961), Gorath (1962), and Atragon.

Hisaya Morishige -- one of Toho's most bankable actors during the Showa era, starring in the long-running Shacho series. He appears in Sayonara Jupiter (1984) as the Earth Federation President.

Yuzo Kayama -- the handsome star of Toho's Young Guy series, who also appeared in several war films with SFX by Eiji Tsuburaya.

Yuriko Hoshi -- the female lead of The Last War (1961), Godzilla vs. the Thing, and Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster.

Frankie Sakai -- a successful comedy actor who Westerners would know best as the star of the original Mothra.

Yasuko Sawaguchi -- Godzilla 1985's leading lady, who also had turns in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon (1994).

Kyoko Kagawa -- one of the stars of Yasujiro Ozu's seminal Tokyo Story (1953) and the sci-fi classic Mothra.