Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A Toho Legend Celebrates His 85th Birthday!

Yasuhiko Saijo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today (Wednesday, February 28), I was privileged to spend a couple of hours in the company of former Toho actor Yasuhiko Saijo. Saijo-san is best known for his co-starring role in the Tsuburaya Productions series Ultra Q (1966) as Ippei Togawa, though he also plays Suzuki in Son of Godzilla (1967) and a Moonlight SY-3 crew member in Destroy All Monsters (1968). (Japanese sources seem to disagree about his character name in DAM, with some books naming his character Fujita while others dub him Tani.)

Saijo-san celebrated his 85th birthday on February 20, so he and his wife took a two-day trip to Hakone. In fact, he would be just returning from the trip when meeting up with me, which ended up leading to a bit of a delay.

It turns out that the train Saijo-san was using encountered an accident along the way, which caused him to arrive quite late. Thankfully, he asked a friend of his to meet me at Bishamonten Zenkoku-ji Temple, our usual meeting spot. We then went to the cafe together where Saijo-san would eventually join us.


A bit more than an hour later, Saijo-san and his wife entered the cafe. I was worried that, after such a lengthy return trip, he would be completely worn out. Thankfully, though, that would prove not to be the case at all, and he was still full of energy. All those unforeseen delays did nothing to hamper the enjoyment of the afternoon.

One interesting tidbit was, despite the cold and extremely windy weather Tokyo had experienced in the last couple of days, Saijo-san said Hakone's weather was just fine, which is the opposite of what you might expect, given its climate. I told him he was lucky because the weather in the city was just awful!

Saijo-san's wife was surprised to see how young I was. (Well, looks can be deceiving there.) I wish she would have stayed longer, but she left a bit early, which is understandable since she was literally just returning home from a trip.


After that, Saijo-san discussed his acting career for more than an hour. As usual, it was fascinating stuff. He was also kind enough to sign a few things for my collection, including a DVD sleeve of Gorath (1962), which looks especially good with his signature on it.

I brought Saijo-san two omiyage boxes as birthday presents, but I also insisted on paying for our drinks at the cafe. Saijo-san protested and even seemed a little upset that he wouldn't pay, but I felt it was the least I could do -- not only because of his recent birthday but because he went above and beyond for me today. It was my privilege.

Saijo-san is sort of like the boss of the neighborhood. It's amazing how many locals know who he is. I called him shacho, which seemed to amuse him.

Saijo-san and I walked together for a bit as I was headed toward the station, and he was heading home. Before we parted ways, he said, "Come back to me," in English, which I certainly hope to do in the future. Many thanks to Saijo-san for all his kindness today!

Vantage Point Interviews: Big in Finland?

A screen capture of the Ilta-Sanomat article that cites Vantage Point Interviews.
 
While perusing the Internet last night, I made a rather intriguing discovery. My interview with Shogun (1980) director Jerry London was cited on a Finnish website called Ilta-Sanomat in an article that covers the original TV miniseries, as well as the 2024 remake starring Hiroyuki Sanada.

What kind of publication is Ilta-Sanomat? According to Wikipedia:

Ilta-Sanomat (Finnish for 'the evening news') is one of Finland's two prominent tabloid size evening newspapers and the second largest paper in the country.

As I've been saying since 1994, "Suomi yksi!" 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Hibiya Meets Godzilla, Take Three!

Hibiya Meets Godzilla. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While stopping by Toho Cinemas Hibiya after work today, I decided to check out the Hibiya Meets Godzilla display one more time, especially to see how it would look at night. It certainly didn't disappoint -- it was quite impressive! Here's what I saw.








'Argylle' Comes to Toho Cinemas!

Argylle (2024) is coming to Japan. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While at Toho Cinemas Hibiya earlier today, I spotted this display for the upcoming (in Japan) release of the action-packed flop Argylle (2024). Notably, it's been placed in the exact same spot where the Godzilla Minus One (2023) statue held court in the theater for so long, so whether it's an upgrade or not remains to be seen.

I can't say I'm all that enthused about Argylle (despite a rave review from a U.S.-based Shin Godzilla alum who swears up and down that it's true cinema or whatever), but I thought it was an interesting set-up, so here you are.

Um, this thing can't be any worse than Kingsman (2014), can it?


Friday, February 23, 2024

Attending an Event with a Legendary Nikkastu Actress!

Makiko Aoi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight (Friday, February 23), I braved freezing-cold temperatures to attend an event with former Nikkatsu actress Makiko Aoi. I'd previously met Aoi-san only once before, and -- believe it or not -- it was almost exactly five years ago in February 2019. Time sure does fly, doesn't it?

Even though today was a national holiday in Japan, I still had to work, so I arrived much later than everyone else. But I still got to spend nearly two hours at the venue, which was more than sufficient. Actually, things went much better than I could have expected! 

The event was organized by fans of the late Nikkatsu actor Keiichiro Akagi, who is often called the James Dean of Japan. Akagi was at the height of his popularity when he died in a car accident at the age of 21 in 1961, and he still has a dedicated fan following in Japan to this day.

But what about the evening's guest of honor? Born on May 26, 1940, Aoi-san started her acting career in the late 1950s. She soon joined Nikkatsu Studios, and her acting credits include Seijun Suzuki's The Boy Who Came Back (1958), the genre-ish The Woman from the Sea (1959), and I Hate But Love (1962) with Japanese superstar Yujiro Ishihara.

Even though it's not something I usually do at such events, I presented Aoi-san with a box of chocolates shortly after I arrived. She was quite surprised and told me she happens to love chocolate, so I guess it was a smart move on my part after all! Aoi-san wasn't sure whether she should accept it, though, as it was from a famous brand, but I assured her it was my privilege to give it to her, so she ultimately put it in her backpack. 

During the evening, I asked Aoi-san if she had any memories of director Suzuki to share, but she told me she didn't remember working with him. Of course, actors and actresses were extremely busy in those days, and oftentimes movie productions would blend together.

When the topic of tokusatsu came up (as it usually does when I'm in the conversation), I was surprised to see that Aoi-san knew the Mothra song as sung by The Peanuts, even singing a couple of lyrics of it. But she wasn't familiar with the movie itself, which, again, is understandable.

A small photo album was passed around during the evening, which featured many photos from Aoi-san's life and career. Some were production stills from her Nikkatsu heyday; others were personal photos taken during the 1980s and '90s, featuring the likes of fellow Nikkatsu performers Akira Kobayashi and Tamio Kawachi. 


At one point, when Aoi-san was about ready to eat her dinner, she accidentally dropped her chopsticks on the ground. So I immediately got up and brought her a new pair. Hey, it was the least I could do for her!

As if all that weren't enough, I was invited to ride in the taxi with Aoi-san, her assistant, and another attendee to the station after the event. Suffice it to say, it was an offer I couldn't refuse. Afterward, I tried to contribute my share of the taxi fare but was declined. What kindness!

It also so happened that we would all get on the same train, though we would eventually change at different stations. But, as we were waiting to get on the train, Aoi-san's assistant said the other attendee and I were their bodyguards. Now there's a job I'd certainly take!

All in all, the evening far exceeded my expectations, and I'm glad that an unexpected schedule change allowed me to attend. It was certainly one for the history books!

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Yoko Yamamoto, Star of Nikkatsu's Kaiju Feature 'Gappa,' Passes Away at Age 81

A 1977 portrait of actress Yoko Yamamoto on display at the Yamamoto Noriten shop in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Actress Yoko Yamamoto passed away on February 20 at a hospital in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture (where she had been living since turning 70), at the age of 81. The exact cause of her passing has not been disclosed, with most sources simply reporting that it was due to an illness. Notably, she appeared on the television talk show Tetsuko's Room on February 2, and, according to media reports, her passing was sudden and unexpected by those who knew her. The same articles indicate that a funeral has not yet been held.

Yoko Yamamoto welcomes you to the Yamamoto Noriten shop in Nihombashi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Yoko Yamamoto was born on March 17, 1942, and joined Nikkatsu Studios in 1963 (debuting in 1964) as part of the studio's 7th New Face class. While never quite reaching the levels of stardom attained by some of her contemporaries like Sayuri Yoshinaga, she went on to star in Nikkatsu's sole kaiju outing, 1967's Gappa the Triphibian Monster (a.k.a. Monster from a Prehistoric Planet). Also in 1967, Yamamoto signed a contract with Yamamoto Noriten, a company that specializes in seaweed products.

The Guinness World Records certificate om display at the Yamamoto Noriten shop in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Almost 60 years later, Yamamoto remained the face of the company. In November 2009, she was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as being the longest-serving house model for the same company. In 2023, she celebrated her 60th anniversary in the entertainment business.

A 1975 portrait of actress Yoko Yamamoto on display at the Yamamoto Noriten shop in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In March 2018, I visited the Yamamoto Noriten shop in Nihombashi and took some photos relevant to Ms. Yamamoto's career, which you can see in this blog post. While I never had the privilege of meeting Ms. Yamamoto in the flesh, I've always enjoyed her performance in Gappa, which is a perennial favorite of mine.

A 1975 portrait of actress Yoko Yamamoto on display at the Yamamoto Noriten shop in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

RIP, Yoko Yamamoto.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

New Content on Vantage Point Interviews!

 

If you like the South Korean monster mash Yongary Monster from the Deep (1967), you'll want to check out my mini interview with one of its English-language voice actors, Dan Keller. Keller played the young boy Icho, who befriends the towering beast in the film. It's a breezy read, so you have no excuse not to give it a look!