Sunday, June 9, 2019

Chargeman Ken! in Concert!

This concert was a just a bit tongue-in-cheek. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Really, I just wanted to hear some Tsuburaya Productions theme songs. That's all. I really didn't expect to be sucked into the world of Chargeman Ken! (1974) so completely. Chargeman Ken! is a low-budget anime from Knack Productions, which in the last 10 or so years has become something like The Room for anime fans. I was totally unaware of this cartoon or its reputation prior to the concert. As I said, I just came for the Tsuburaya stuff, so suffice it to say, I was caught off-guard by what was to come.

Despite the humorous presentation, there was nothing funny about the quality of the music. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today's concert was held at Shibuya Cultural Center Owada's Sakura Hall. The show started off with a performance of the theme songs from Ultraman (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), and Mighty Jack (1968). Admittedly, that was the sole reason I came. The concert also included several cues from Gundam and Dragon Ball Z, which were well performed, but I didn't recognize them at all. Hey, I'm just not into cartoons. Chumei Watanabe's "Laser Blade Medley" from Toei's Space Sheriff series was also performed, and in the house was Watanabe-sensei himself. I was pleased that I got a chance to greet him at the concert.

Chargeman Ken stands guard at the entrance of the concert. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The real fun started when it switched to Chargeman Ken! The concert suddenly became almost Rocky Horror-esque in its presentation. Voice actor Noboru Sato, who voiced the villainous General Maou and other characters in the series, voice-acted live from the stage during the concert, as episodes of the series played on a giant screen. Then various cosplayers would come onstage and perform various bizarre antics that left the audience howling with laughter. I was mostly bemused, but certainly interested. 

The evil General Maou attempts to block tokusatsu fans from entering the concert. Photo by Brett Homenick.

And yes, it was quite interesting. Another tokusatsu luminary in the house was director Minoru Kawasaki. As I was looking for my seat, I passed his and exchanged a brief greeting with him. I was expecting a pretty straightforward concert of tokusatsu and anime music, but things didn't quite turn out that way. I'm still digesting what I saw. The juxtaposition of seeing an orchestra decked out in fine evening wear performing alongside yelling and screaming cosplayers in funny outfits was not what I had in mind. It was fun, for sure.

Godzilla in the Subway!

Signage for Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the subway in Osaka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

When I was in Osaka at the end of May, I saw this great ad for Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the subway. But given how much there was to do after I returned, I completely forgot to post it on the blog. I'm a little late, but here it is.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

BACK TO 1966! Bin Furuya and Masao Nakabori Reflect on Ultraman!

Suit actor Bin Furuya and cameraman Masao Nakabori reminisce about the original Ultraman (1966). Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, June 1, I headed my way to a special event with original Ultraman suit actor Bin Furuya and cameraman Masao Nakabori, the theme of which was the original Ultraman series (1966-67). Despite being exhausted from my trip to Osaka (and the fact that I'd just finished work), I wasted no time in taking part in the event.

The event centered mostly around the two guests talking about the making of the original Ultraman. Many of the stories had the attendees in laughter. Of course, the life of a suit actor is anything but easy!

I can't remember the last time I'd seen Furuya-san, but suffice it to say it'd been too long. Naturally, he was constantly swarmed by his fans, making it a bit difficult to get a word in edgewise. Still, I was happy with the chance to see him again.

Nakabori-san is a cameraman whose credits include Ultra Seven (1967-68) and Ultraman Taro (1973-74). His other tokusatsu works are such programs as Silver Kamen (1971-72), Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (1988), Ultra Q: The Movie (1990), and the decidedly non-toku Maborosi (1995). Luckily, I was able to spend more time with Nakabori-san, as he was much less swamped with admirers. I just hope next time I won't be running on fumes!

A Trip to Odo Island

Could this be the hill from which Godzilla first emerged in 1954? Photo by Brett Homenick.

On May 29, I paid a visit to Toba, Mie Prefecture, for a very simple reason. I wanted to visit some of the shooting locations used for the Odo Island scenes in Godzilla (1954). My first stop was Ijika Port, which was used as the location when Godzilla emerges from behind the hill. 

As Dr. Yamane and his entourage ascend the hill, you can see Ijika Port in the background of the shot. Naturally, the hill is a bit more difficult to identify. However, one Japanese location hunter picked out the hill at the top of the blog post as the most likely candidate during his own trip to the location four years ago. I was able to find the spot and photograph it. It's probably impossible to get a full confirmation, but it does seem to match what we see in the film (though it has obviously changed in the last 65 years).

After taking in the sights of Ijika Port, I moved on to Kata Shrine, which is where the traditional Odo Island ceremony scene was filmed. Kata Shrine is photographed below.

As you can see, the location has changed a lot in the last 65 years, but it was quite interesting to see it in person.

Actually, there are even more locations to visit, but I didn't have enough time. I hope to return in the future and check them out. And when I do, you'll read all about it here!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Conquers Osaka!

Just part of a huge Godzilla: King of the Monsters ad campaign in Osaka's Umeda Station. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Part of the fun for me in seeing Godzilla: King of the Monsters in Osaka was being surrounded by all the ballyhoo (but no pyro) for the film. There was a mini poster gallery in Umeda Station that featured all the Godzilla movies (minus the anime ones), a statue just outside the Toho Cinemas just across the street from the station that played Bear McCreary's interpretation of Ifukube's Godzilla theme from a speaker, a Wendy's promotional tie-in, and of course signage inside Toho Cinemas itself. All of these can be seen below. Enjoy!

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Another destination during my recent excursion to Osaka was a quick trip to Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, to take a look at Himeji Castle. I'd been wanting to see this castle in person for quite some time. I'd considered visiting it during my last Osaka trip two years ago, but there was no time. This time, however, I was just barely able to squeeze it in, and aside from the bit of rain we got that eventually went away, I'm very glad I did. Here's a sample of what I saw.

The Tower of the Sun

In front of Taro Okamoto's massive Tower of the Sun.

During my recent trip to Osaka, I made sure to pay a visit to the 70-meter-tall Tower of the Sun sculpture in Expo '70 Commemorative Park, just outside the city. Aside from just being visually interesting, it was featured during the opening credits of The Last Days of Planet Earth (a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus, 1974), which gave me an added incentive to visit it. The Tower of the Sun is an impressive piece of art, and I'd fully recommend it to anyone who might be interested in checking it out.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla: King of the Monsters ballyhoo outside the Toho Cinemas near Osaka Station. Photo by Brett Homenick.

How's this for a headline? Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is the best Godzilla film since Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).

Granted, that in and of itself isn't a major accomplishment, as everything else released after Final Wars with Godzilla's name on it has been terrible. But King of the Monsters is genuinely entertaining, and I'd give it a full-throated recommendation.

The movie just works. I was interested in the story, I laughed in the right spots, and I enjoyed the references. (Not only are there the obvious Godzilla references, but there are more than a couple to John Carpenter's The Thing.) What's more, the scope of the movie is truly outstanding. The filmmakers used the worldwide locations to their fullest potential. What can I say? I'm not sure I enjoyed a summer blockbuster so much since the late '90s. 

That said, the movie isn't perfect. The biggest flaw is that the monsters are, for the most part, just big monsters. You get very little sense of personality (though they certainly tried with Ghidorah's three heads). I wish more would have been done with Mothra and especially Rodan. Also, the CGI battles seemed a bit generic and basically what I would have expected. 

I have to admit that my moviegoing experience was probably helped more than a little by the clever marketing campaign. It's been a lot of fun seeing all the signage and assorted ballyhoo all over Japan. (In contrast, when the 2014 Godzilla came out over here, I remember seeing a few posters in the subway and not much else.) When I walked out of the movie, I was able to buy Godzilla socks in the theater lobby. Who wouldn't want a pair of Godzilla socks?

In summary, Michael Dougherty got it right where Gareth Edwards got it so woefully wrong. The 2014 Godzilla was one of the driest, dullest, and blandest movies I've seen in a while. The most interesting characters (to the extent there were any) were killed off far too soon. The marketing campaign was oddly misleading, making it seem as if it were Godzilla (and not the MUTOs) sending us back to the Stone Age. Suffice it to say, Legendary Pictures and Michael Dougherty took note of the many ways in which the previous film failed and made a winner. 

Oh, and Bear McCreary knocked it out of the park with his versions of Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki's music. Again, this team just nailed it.

By the way, there's a nice tribute to Yoshimitsu Banno and Haruo Nakajima at the end of the credits (right before the obligatory post-credits sequence). It's well worth seeing.

My verdict: It's the Godzilla movie we've been waiting for since 2004.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

YOU'LL GET CAUGHT IN THE CROSS FIRE! Taking in the Millennium-Era Toho Thriller!

 From left to right: Shusuke Kaneko, Toshio Miike, and Hajime Matsumoto. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I had the good fortune of attending a screening of the Toho thriller Cross Fire (2000), which was also attended by no fewer than three major guests. I hadn't see Cross Fire since the early 2000s, so I was glad to approach the film with a fresh perspective.

Toshio Miike. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I wasn't a fan of the film when I first it around 2002, and I have to admit that my opinion hasn't changed much. That's not to say that it's a bad film, but I still find the bad guys too over-the-top and the main character (Junko Aoki) not all that sympathetic. I also felt the movie was a bit too long for the material. That said, I'm glad I saw it again, and there's no better way to experience it than in 35mm.

The guest list was quite impressive. Toshio Miike is a veteran SFX art director and production designer who's worked on: 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).

Hajime Matsumoto. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

It was my first time to meet Hajime Matsumoto, who has enjoyed a varied career as both a screenwriter and a VFX specialist. His screenwriting credits includes co-writing Zeiram, Zeiram 2 (1994), and Moon over Tao: Makaraga (1997) with director Keita Amemiya. His VFX credits include Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2, Gamera 3, Cross Fire, GMK, and Godzilla against Mechagodzilla.

I have to admit that I didn't realize until Matsumoto-san told me so that he had co-written Zeiram (or any other films with Keita Amemiya) until he told me so. As a big fan of those movies, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Shusuke Kaneko. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last (but not least) was the film's director, Shusuke Kaneko, whom I'm pretty sure at this point needs no introduction. If you're not familiar with his credits by now, I'd highly suggest using the Google machine yo familiarize yourself.

And that's a wrap! What a fun day it was. It's always impressive to be in the same room with so much Toho (and Daiei) history. Many thanks to all who made it possible!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Seeing Aoki-san Onstage!

Hidemi Aoki. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On Friday, May 24, I immediately headed out to Ikebukuro to catch a play that Hidemi Aoki was appearing in. Although I arrived a bit late, I still was able to catch the bulk of it.

Among her credits, Aoki-san plays Sumi in Seven Nights in Japan (1976), co-starring Michael York and Charles Gray (directed by Lewis Gilbert of You Only Live Twice fame). She also portrays Kyoko Osawayama in episodes 2-7, 9, 11-13 of Toho's tokusatsu TV series Diamond Eye (1973-74).

I enjoyed seeing and chatting a bit with Aoki-san again. She even gave me a small gift for coming, which I wish all actors would do for those who attend their performances!

Talkin' Tokusatsu

Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Wednesday, May 22, I spent a great afternoon with Toho SFX veteran Takashi Naganuma. I learned a lot about the films he worked on. Suffice it to say, he's enjoyed a fascinating career behind the scenes!

Kurosawa Producer Yoichi Matsue Passes Away at 88

Yoichi Matsue (far left) with Akira Kurosawa (next to him) in the Soviet Union during for Dersu Uzala.

Frequent Akira Kurosawa collaborator Yoichi Matsue passed away on March 9 of this year in Hachioji, Tokyo, of pneumonia, the family has announced. He was 88.

Mr. Matsue was born on October 26, 1930, in Ishikawa Prefecture. He joined Toho Studios in 1955 as an actor, appearing as one of the convicts in Godzilla Raids Again (1955).

It was behind the camera, however, that Mr. Matsue would achieve his greatest fame working with Akira Kurosawa -- first as an assistant director on such films as Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1963) and Red Beard (1965), and later as a producer on Dodeskaden (1970) and Dersu Uzala (1975).

When Dersu Uzala won the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film in 1976, it was Mr. Matsue who gave the acceptance speech, making him the only actor from a Japanese Godzilla film who's delivered an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. The video is below:

Through our mutual friend, I contacted Mr. Matsue last year about interviewing him, but unfortunately he declined my proposal. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Matsue.