Sunday, July 30, 2017

ULTRA-HEROES, UNITE! A Great Gathering of Tsuburaya Veterans!

 Director Kazuho Mitsuta (left) and actor Bin Furuya (right). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following the Masaru Sato concert, I switched gears and joined an event with more of a focus on Tsuburaya Productions. Although there was certainly a Toho connection, this event was, well, Ultra-good! 

Actor Yasuhiko Saijo gives a thumbs-up! Photo by Brett Homenick.

One of the guests on hand was Yasuhiko Saijo, whose best-known role was that of Ippei Togawa on Ultra Q (1966). However, Saijo-san can also be seen in such Toho genre classics as Secret of the Telegian (1960), Gorath (1962), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), War of the Gargantuas (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967), and Destroy All Monsters (1968). 

Director Kazuho Mitsuta. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It was my first time to meet veteran Tsuburaya Productions director and producer Kazuho Mitsuta. Mitsuta-san has directed episodes of Ultra Q, Ultraman (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), Kaiju Booska (1966-67), Mighty Jack (1968), Fight! Mighty Jack (1968), Operation: Mystery! (1968-69), Mirrorman (1971-72), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Horror Theater Unbalance (1973), Dinosaur War Izenborg (1977-78), and Ultraman 80 (1980-81), among many other credits. 

As you can imagine, it was fun just to hang out...

... until we saw a monster!

Seriously, it was a great time. I enjoyed catching up with Saijo-san. (It had been too long!) Even though Mitsuta-san turns 80 this August, he certainly seemed in great shape to me. In fact, he attended Bin Furuya's birthday celebration in Okinawa, so that ought to tell you something!

To top everything off, Bin Furuya (Ultraman himself) made a surprise visit. It's always a joy to hang out with Furuya-san, so his appearance elevated the proceedings to the next level. Many thanks to everyone for the great evening!

MASARU SATO IN CONCERT! Attending an Excellent Performance of the Maestro's Movie Music!

Shibuya Cultural Center Owada, site of the Masaru Sato concert. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In the past several years, there's been a slew of Akira Ifukube concerts in Japan. And why not? He was an excellent composer, whose influence goes well beyond his movie music. On the other hand, concert performances of Masaru Sato's compositions have been frustratingly scarce, especially for someone who actually prefers his music to Ifukube's.

The man of the hour. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On July 30, Shibuya Cultural Center Owada's Sakura Hall hosted a two-hour concert dedicated to Masaru Sato's film scores. The Sato family, Kihachi Productions, and Toho Music all cooperated with the concert, making it about as official (and authentic) as it could possibly get.

The program started off with comments by former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano, who directed the special effects for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), music from which closed the concert. After Nakano-san spoke, Kihachi Okamoto's widow, Mineko Okamoto, addressed the audience and spoke about her late husband. After that, it was time for the music!

SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano during intermission. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Things kicked off with Yoji Yamada's The Yellow Handkerchief (1977), followed by selections from several Kihachi Okamoto films, namely Desperado Outpost (1959), The Human Bullet (1968), and Tokkan (1975). From there, it was on to the Akira Kurosawa films, which were The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), and Red Beard (1965). Of all these performances, Red Beard was my favorite (followed closely by The Hidden Fortress).

Mineko Okamoto speaks from the stage. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There were a couple of breaks during the performance. A couple of times, Shin Godzilla co-director Shinji Higuchi went onstage and spoke about the movies and music that were being honored. After the Kurosawa selections, it was time for intermission. In the lobby, I bumped into a few old friends and familiar faces, including Teruyoshi Nakano and artist extraordinaire Yuji Kaida.  

Attendees milling about and shopping for CDs. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following the 20-minute intermission, the concert resumed. The rest of the performance focused on Sato's contributions to the Godzilla series. The first film was Godzilla Raids Again (1955), which unfortunately didn't give the orchestra much to work with (except for the opening title, which was very well done). This score isn't one of Sato's better ones, unfortunately.

Thankfully, things kicked into high gear with Son of Godzilla (1967). Numerous tracks were performed, and they were all about as close to perfect as any orchestra could get without Sato himself conducting and arranging the music. The ending theme, in particular, was very moving.

The energy was maintained (if not surpassed) with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), which sounded nearly identical to the original recording most of the time. I've always loved this score, and to hear so many of its highlights performed live by a full orchestra was a real treat.

Overall, it was a great concert, but the Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla performances were the true knockouts for me. I usually don't go to concerts, and live music isn't that much of a priority for me, but this has to be the biggest exception of all time. If only I could go back and relive it all again...

Gotta get the CD!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

TORIAEZU! Nogata's Tokusatsu-Oriented Tavern!

Mirrorman and Gamera welcome you to Toriaezu! Photo by Brett Homenick. 

In my travels in and around Nogata Station, I've passed by a small restaurant-bar with various tokusatsu items on display. It's caught my eye more than once, but for one reason or another, I always took a pass and planned to go there the next time. Well, I finally stopped by today, and I must say that Toriaezu is a lot of fun.

No, it's not owned by a former tokusatsu star, and the matsuri masks are only there for the summer. But there's a wide variety of cool items on display as you sip your drink or munch on your yakitori. Here's a sample of what can currently be seen there. Enjoy!

THE GODZILLA BUS! Hopping a Ride Toward the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku!

Godzilla's footprints lead the way! Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today saw pouring rain in Tokyo (despite the recent announcement that the rainy season was over), and while in Shinjuku, I happened to pass the Godzilla bus at a bus stop. I'd seen them before from the street, but had never actually gotten on. Since it was going in my direction (toward Toho Cinemas), I figured I'd hop aboard and check it out. Suffice it to say, the interior was just as amusing as the exterior. Enjoy!

SPIDER-MAN: Tokyo Homecoming!

Hey, look, it's the Spider-Man from the YouTube! Photo by Brett Homenick.

Okay, confession time. I'm not a Marvel fan. In fact, I'm not a comic book fan. At all. This stuff doesn't interest me. At all. Now, with that said, I stopped by the Toho Cinemas in Shinjuku today, and saw this setup. I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Do you think the "mayor" of Tokyo will see the new Spider-Man? Photo by Brett Homenick.

A lot of the summer blockbusters that have been playing in the U.S. for weeks (and even months) are starting to open in Japan. August will be a big month for these types of movies. Not sure yet if I'll see any of them, but I'll certainly keep an eye out for anything interesting.

SCARY TOKYO STORIES! Attending a Dramatic Reading of Spooky Tales!

Actor Masanori Machida. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended an event featuring various actors giving spooky dramatic readings, featuring spooky sound effects, music, lighting, and the whole nine yards. Obon is fast approaching, so these types of scary stories are quite appropriate for this time of year in Japan.

One of the actors reading stories was Masanori Machida, who played the boy Saki in Gappa the Triphibian Monster (1967). I brought my DVD sleeve signed by Gappa star Tamio Kawachi for Machida-san to sign, as well.

It had been several months since last seeing Machida-san; in fact. I don't think I'd seen him all year. I hope to have a chance to see him again soon.

Monday, July 24, 2017

TOKUSATSU TONIGHT! Meeting Actress Hitomi Miwa!

Actress Hitomi Miwa. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I was privileged to meet actress Hitomi Miwa for the first time. While her name may not be very familiar to Western tokusatsu fans, her acting credits ought to be. She has appeared in a wide variety of movies and TV programs (genre and non-genre), and she continues to act to this day.

She guested on Ultraman Tiga (1996-97) episode 37 as a Manon alien and Ultraman Cosmos (2001-2002) in episodes 13 and 14 as Leni. She was also a semi-regular on the Super Sentai series Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger (2002-03) as Lady Gozen, as well as Kamen Rider Kabuto (2006-2007) as Rena Mamiya. She also acts in the horror movie Eko Eko Azarak: Misa the Dark Angel (1998) as Mami Mizushima. Other credits include the movie Mirrorman Reflex (2006) ... and many more!

I met Miwa-san at the Tokyo-area restaurant-bar Bonne Eau, and I found her to be a very open and friendly person. She truly enjoyed herself, and all the folks in the restaurant did, too. Many thank to Miwa-san for her generosity!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

MORE SHOTS! Ultraman Festival 2017!

For your viewing pleasure, here are even more shots I took at Ultraman Festival 2017. Enjoy!

ULTRAMAN FESTIVAL 2017! Celebrating 50 Years of Ultra Seven!

If it's July, and if it's Tokyo, that means it's time for the annual Ultraman Festival held in Ikebukuro's Sunshine City. This year's Ultraman Festival just opened, and today I made my way over to Ikebukuro to give it a look-see. As far as I'm concerned, Gomes stole the show. Have a look for yourself. Enjoy!