Sunday, March 26, 2023

Clark Kent Comes to Tokyo? No, It's Machida-san!

Masanori Machida. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier tonight (Sunday, March 26), I attended another dramatic reading featuring the great Masanori Machida. Actually, I arrived late to the show, but I was quite surprised to find that the show was literally wrapping up as I entered! I was particularly surprised because last month's performance went on much longer than I expected. Perhaps the heavy rains kept a performer or two away -- in any case, it was interesting that the show ended so soon.

Masanori Machida. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I had a few screen grabs on my phone from The Green Slime (1968), in which Machida-san played one of the aliens. I wanted to confirm that he played the very first alien that we see in the film in its full form -- the one writhing on the floor next to the "Danger High Voltage" sign that Robert Horton wants to shoot with a laser gun before he's talked out of it. (A net is fired on in instead.) Machida-san looked at the grabs and confirmed that was him.

I told Machida-san that he looked cool in his costume and that he looked like a detective. He told me that, in today's story, he played a character who wants to become Superman, so he dressed like Clark Kent. I thought that sounded great, and it made me regret that I missed his performance. 

Despite the miserable weather, it was a fun evening. Many thanks to Machida-san!

Evangelion x Shin Kamen Rider Sakaba Opens in Shinjuku for a Limited Time!

A Shin Kamen Rider advertisement near the new toku tavern. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

While walking in between train stations earlier tonight (Sunday, March 26), I happened upon the newly-opened Evangelion x Shin Kamen Rider Sakaba in Kabukicho, Shinjuku. Don't get your hopes up about this new establishment, though. It will only be open from March 10 until May 28. 

I didn't enter it, however, because 1) I had no time, and 2) I wasn't that interested. But I thought it was worth blogging about, so here you go.

Friday, March 24, 2023

'Shin Kamen Rider' (2023)

Shin Kamen Rider at Toho Cinemas Roppongi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't think I'd even see Shin Kamen Rider (2023). There didn't seem to be much buzz around it -- certainly not among the circle of Toho/Tsuburaya fans I know. The ones I've talked to expressed virtually no interest in it, whether it was due to a lack of familiarity with the Kamen Rider franchise, a lack of interest in the director's work, or a combination thereof. Seemed like a bad sign, but, given all the hype for director Hideaki Anno and his passion project, there had to be something there, right?

The main thing that jumped out at me was how small the production felt. You rarely see more than four characters onscreen at a time. There are barely any extras. There's a lot of location shooting, and what tokusatsu sets we do get are hardly elaborate or memorable. It's minimalist filmmaking. I get that it was shot during the pandemic, and there were (and, in some ways, still continue to be) strict COVID rules in Japan, but plenty of other Japanese films are coming out that don't look like they were shot with a cast you could fit in a phonebooth.

The CGI is bad. SHOCKER member Koumori Augment-01 (an evil human-bat hybrid who moonlights as a scientist) looks downright embarrassing when he flaps around by way of the most unconvincing computer graphics this side of Xena: Warrior Princess. It was so bad that it reminded me of a gif I saw about a year ago from the Mel Brooks flop Dracula: Dead and Loving It, in which Leslie Nielsen's head is poorly superimposed onto a flying bat (before it crashes into a window, to much comedic effect). But at least the Brooks film was trying to go for comedy.

I'm not exactly sure what Shin Kamen Rider or Hideaki Anno were trying to do. It's faithful to the source material -- almost to a fault, much like last year's Shin Ultraman. But it doesn't bring anything new to table. There are a couple of government agents in dark suits, but none of the political commentary of Shin Godzilla (whatever you thought of that film's commentary).

Free Shin Kamen Rider swag given out by the theater staff. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Even as a copy -- or a "love letter" -- it misses the mark. The action is dull and lacks energy. It looked to my eye that Anno was more concerned with how to shoot the fights rather than their choreography. To the extent we see Kamen Rider battle SHOCKER agents, there just isn't anything particularly special here. As usual, they politely wait their turn to get vanquished by the titular hero.

The hero himself leaves a lot to be desired. When I first saw photos of Sosuke Ikematsu as Takeshi Hongo, I couldn't understand why he was cast. I just didn't see it. He didn't seem equipped to fill even a single shoe left by Hiroshi Fujioka, let alone two. And -- wouldn't you know it -- there are no surprises there, either. Ikematsu simply lacks any charisma or screen presence. Toward the end of the movie, Ikematsu has to convey extreme heartbreak and sadness, but it just doesn't work. His acting left me cold. In fact, he gets overshadowed at times by his co-star, actress Minami Hamabe (playing Ruriko Midorikawa), who sometimes seems to be driving the story more than our actual hero. 

As with the other entries in the Shin series, this film is talky. Lots of dialogue and exposition. All the wide-angle lenses in the world can't make that interesting. Show, don't tell. Film is a visual medium. 

That's about all. Speaking anecdotally, it's interesting to me how little impact this movie seems to be having. You couldn't get away from Shin Godzilla or even Shin Ultraman for weeks (if not months) when they were released. It's only been days since this one has been out, and it feels like everyone has already moved on. It's only been hours since I've watched it, and I already have.

Cherry Blossoms Along Meguro River!

Cherry blossoms along Meguro River. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Tokyo, and I had the occasion to check them out up close and personal along Meguro River, one of Tokyo's most popular (and busiest) viewing spots. Here's what I saw. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

DEEP DIVE: So How Did Godzilla Get His Name, Anyway?

Godzilla is just as curious as you are to know how he got his name. Photo by Brett Homenick.
Most of us have heard the stories about how Gojira got his name. It's a combination of the Japanese words for "gorilla" and "whale," and may have been the nickname of a rather imposing Toho employee (though there is plenty of reason to doubt that anecdote).

But what about the name Godzilla? Much less has been written about it over the years. The basic rundown we usually get is that it was named by Toho, not the American distributors, and that it was likely chosen because it's an approximation of the Japanese name Gojira, with "God" suggesting the creature's divine-like power, and "zilla" suggesting its reptilian origin. (I specifically remember reading this hypothesis in Jim Harmon's The Godzilla Book back in the mid-1990s.)

But it turns out that there's quite a bit more to the story than what usually gets told. So, without further ado, let's jump right in.

Since Toho wanted to export its ambitious 1954 monster epic overseas, Toho head of production Iwao Mori asked producer Tomoyuki Tanaka to create a name for the overseas title. Tanaka had several meetings with the advertising department and proposed three possible titles to Mori. These titles were GOJIRA, GOZILA, and GODILA. Tanaka's recommendation was the third name, as it combined Gojira with the English word "god."

However, Mori advised adding two "l's" because the English "r" doesn't have the same sound as the Japanese "ra." Mori was quite familiar with foreign countries, considering he had traveled in Europe and the United States from December 1925 through April 1926 to learn about the film industries there, on top of having read a lot of Western books following the end of World War II. (Moreover, according to Mori's Japanese Wikipedia page, he had just returned from another tour of the U.S. prior to becoming Toho's head of production in 1952.)

Mori also suggested replacing the "j" of Japan after "God" with the "z" of the Z flag and asked a foreigner he knew to check the pronunciation of the name he had just concocted. As a result, Godzilla (pronounced and spelled the way we all know it today) was born.

So where did I find this information? Do I have a super-secret contact at Toho? Did I unearth Iwao Mori's personal diary? Was I in the room when it was all decided?

Surprisingly enough, the answer to all the above questions is no. I actually found this information in Osamu Kishikawa's liner notes for Toho's LaserDisc release of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). I was at a gathering of tokusatsu fans in Tokyo for which the attendees brought rare items to pass around and share with their fellow devotees.

While checking out the LaserDiscs that one of the attendees brought, I was stunned to find the explanation of how Godzilla got his name staring right back at me. It was an amazing find, and one I discovered quite by accident. 

Still, I have to agree with William Shakespeare, who once famously wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a gorilla-whale by any other word would swat as many jets.”

A Legendary Shochiku Actress in Concert!

Yoko Takahashi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Actress Yoko Takahashi held a fun event earlier tonight (Wednesday, March 22) in Daikanyama. It was something of a mini variety show, as she not only sang and played the guitar but also acted in a comedy skit and talked about her acting career.

Yoko Takahashi sings and plays the guitar. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The bulk of the event, of course, featured Takahashi-san singing and playing the guitar. I wasn't all that familiar with the songs she sang, but she did perform one by Kyu Sakamoto, and at least I know he is!

Yoko Takahashi as a cat! Photo by Brett Homenick.

The highlight for me was the skit that took place just after the intermission. Takahashi-san played a cat that communicates with a space alien using telepathy! It was just as silly as it sounds. The alien sure seemed surprised to hear about milk!

For those of you not aware, Takahashi-san starred in the Shochiku classic Journey into Solitude (1972), which was followed by turns in the Oscar-nominated film Sandakan 8 (1974), as well as Kon Ichikawa's The Devil's Ballad (1977).

After the performance, Takahashi-san signed autographs and posed for pictures with the audience. I was lucky enough to get a couple of photographs, as well as exchange a few words with her. I should mention that she came out to greet members of the audience before the show started, and she hung out with my friend (who's also a tokusatsu fan) and me for a few minutes. So I came away from the event more than satisfied.

Many thanks to Takahashi-san for such a wonderful evening!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Night of Tokusatsu!

Hironobu Hagimae and Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight (Sunday, March 19), I attended another tokusatsu event headlined by two familiar faces: Toho SFX crew member Takashi Naganuma and motorcycle stuntman Hironobu Hagimae.

Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I spent most of the evening with Naganuma-san, who told me he enjoys seeing my reactions to his jokes and wordplay. Well, his jokes are always full of surprises, so I'm sure my reactions are as interesting as he says. Once again, there was very little tokusatsu talk; it was mostly about other things, especially about language (both Japanese and English).

Tonight was one of the few times I accompanied Naganuma-san outside for his smoke break (along with another attendee). After the show, the three of us walked back to the station together. They asked me if I wanted to join them for coffee, but I elected to go home instead. It was fun, but I was pretty exhausted.

Hironobu Hagimae. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Stuntman Hironobu Hagimae was also on hand. I overheard his answer to someone else's question about retakes of motorcycle stunts with explosions. He said that there usually would be and that there could be as many as four takes sometimes. So it wasn't always just a one and done. 

I didn't have much of a chance to talk to Hagimae-san this time. But I did learn that he had some involvement with the motorcycle stunts in The Last Days of Planet Earth (a.k.a. Prophecies of Nostradamus, 1974). Gotta find out more about that someday!

It was another fun, informal event, and I look forward to doing it again soon!