Wednesday, June 21, 2017

FUJIKO HEMMING IN CONCERT! Seeing the Latest Performance of One of Japan's Most Famous Musicians!

Classical pianist Fujiko Hemming shares a photo with the cameraman. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It is no exaggeration to say that Fujiko Hemming is one of Japan's most famous classical musicians. Whenever I meet an actor, director, or anybody from show biz, and the subject of Ulf Otsuki comes up, the person may not know Ulf, but if you explain that he is the brother of pianist Fujiko Hemming, he or she will certainly know who that is. I've never met a person in Japan who wasn't familiar with Fujiko Hemming when her name was mentioned.

Tonight, I had the privilege of attending Fujiko Hemming's concert at the Sumida Triphony Hall. The concert hall holds some 1,800 seats, and nearly all of them were filled this evening. The concert consisted solely of Fujiko Hemming's playing the piano. That's all she needs to give the performance her fans enjoy. It was quite interesting to see how many avid fans she has, and how young many of them are.

Given that I was invited by Ulf to join the concert, I didn't have a ticket, but Ulf invited me to sit on the stage next to him during the concert. Suffice it to say, it was a unique way to see the show! Of course, Fujiko Hemming's performance was perfect, and I enjoyed hearing many familiar classical tunes.

I got to meet and speak with Fujiko Hemming backstage after the concert, and after that, I went to dinner with Ulf, his family, and a couple of friends. A great time was had by all. What an evening!

ULF OTSUKI'S STATUE IN NARA! The Godzilla Series Actor Is Immortalized in Bronze!

Actor Ulf Otsuki served as the model for this statue outside the Nara Prefectural Museum of Art. Photo by Brett Homenick.

We all know of the various Godzilla statues and other attractions in and around Tokyo, but did you know there is a statue of a Godzilla series actor in Japan? It's true. Actor Ulf Otsuki (the bearded Seatopian agent from Godzilla vs. Megalon) has his very own statue in Nara.

When Ulf was 19 years old (and a member of the acting troupe Haiyuza), he was selected as the model for this statue by Japanese artist Yasuo Sugawara, an old friend of Ulf's mother. The statue is currently at the entrance of the Nara Prefectural Museum of Art, and one can view the statue without buying a ticket to enter the museum.

When I visited Nara at the end of May, I stopped by the museum to photograph the statue. Ulf had told me about it several times, and it was something I intended to see for myself. Suffice it to say, it is quite interesting!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

THE GUILALA GUY IN CONCERT! Shinichi Yanagisawa Sings Jazz!

Shinichi Yanagisawa on the drums. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier tonight, I went to the HUB Asakusa after work to catch actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa's live jazz show. As always, it was an excellent show, and his All-Stars proved once again that they are a great jazz band.

I mentioned to Yanagisawa-san that I heard several of his announcements he recorded for the Laputa Asagaya, in which he talks about upcoming films that would be playing at the theater. He got a big kick out of that. I'm sure he didn't expect that!

For those of you not in the know, Yanagisawa-san played Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), which is easily his best-known film in the States. It's always a blast to see him live and in person, and I'm jazzed to do it all over again in the future!

Monday, June 19, 2017

CURSE OF THE DOG GOD! An Oddity from '70s-Era Toei!

A poster for the Toei horror thriller Inugami no Tatari (1977). Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I made my way to the Laputa Asagaya for what will likely be the last installment of the Into Nightmares late-night screenings that I will see. (The program will continue, but I'm not particularly interested in the remaining titles.) Tonight's show was a film I'd actually never heard of before. It was a Toei production called Inugami no Tatari (1977), which can be translated as "Curse of the Dog God." The movie is just about as strange as that title would suggest, but unfortunately it's not as entertaining.

The movie has a pretty simple setup. A group of engineers from a mining company searching for uranium in a rural area in Japan (at least when they're not staring at naked female swimmers in a nearby river) accidentally destroys a small shrine in their truck on an unpaved forest road and runs over a dog owned by a young boy. These actions set in motion a series of bizarre events, resulting in the deaths of the protagonists' two colleagues. (One goes crazy and jumps off the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building; the other is killed by a pack of vicious German Shepherds.) The main character's bride (whom he marries shortly after the dog is run over and the shrine is destroyed) even becomes possessed by the dog-god, despite the fact she had nothing to do with the accident.

The man and his wife eventually return to the village where she eventually dies. At this point, the movie loses focus and begins to get bogged down in characters and subplots that just aren't very interesting. The supernatural elements take a backseat to the human drama, and (with few exceptions) they don't return until the last 20 or so minutes of the film.

But those last 20 minutes are a doozy. We're treated to a lot of strange imagery, including (but not limited to) disembodied flying dog heads. While the early supernatural scenes seemed to take things somewhat seriously, there is no such effort made here. It's almost as if writer-director Shunya Ito saw a screening of House (1977) and decided it wasn't outlandish enough for him.

Overall, the movie is a mixed bag. When the movie is supernatural, it's interesting and enjoyable. When nothing ghostly is happening, well, let's just say things can get a little slow. And a lot slow, too. I do love the cinematography of the rural landscapes, though. At least the film is visually appealing when the story isn't.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

NIKKATSU IN THE 1970S! An Evening with Two Nikkatsu Alumni Who Were There!

Nikkatsu director Koretsugu Kurahara. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a special dinner event featuring two prominent alumni from Nikkatsu Studios during the 1970s. I attended a similar dinner earlier in the year, but with the addition of another fascinating guest, namely director Koretsugu Kurahara, I was quite interested to join.

Born in 1935, Kurahara-san became a director at Nikkatsu in 1971 and made several of the risque films that Nikkatsu was famous for during that period. I enjoyed speaking with Kurahara-san about California (particularly La Jolla!) and even American politics (including our current president). Suffice it to say, it was a fun and lively discussion.

Nikkatsu actress Mari Tanaka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The other featured guest was Nikkatsu actress Mari Tanaka, who made her name in many of the controversial Nikkatsu films of the 1970s. Born in 1951, Tanaka-san joined Nikkatsu in the late 1969, but she didn't appear in the studio's more erotic films until 1971, which is where she made her name.

She also guested on several of Japan's most popular TV series at the time, such as Key Hunter (1968-73) and G-Men '75 (1975-82). As I wrote just after meeting Tanaka-san for the first time earlier in the year, it's hard for me to believe that she starred in anything remotely controversial. Still, that just makes her story all the more intriguing.


From left to right: Ryosuke Sakamoto, Lisa Komaki, Koji Unoki, Kenju Hayashi, yours truly, Yumiko Tanaka, Sayoko Hagiwara, Sumiko Tanaka, and Hitomi Yoshii. 

Today, I attended another dramatic reading performed by veterans of the Super Senati and Kamen Rider series from Toei Studios. While most names are familiar, some will be new to this blog, so let's get cracking and review who was there!

With Lisa Komaki (left) and Sayoko Hagiwara (right). 

Lisa Komaki played Peggy Matsuyama on Himitsu Sentai Goranger (1975-77). Following that experience, she went on to be the suit actor for and voice of actress Diane Martin as Miss America on Battle Fever J (1979-80).

Sayoko Hagiwara played Ryoko Hoshi, Yullian's human alter ego, on Ultraman 80 (1980-81), beginning with episode 43 of the series, and Dyna Pink in Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84). She also later appears on Choushinsei Flashman (1986-87) as the villainous Leh Nafel.

With Ryosuke Sakamoto and Sumiko Tanaka. 

Here are a couple of stars from Choudenshi Bioman (1984-85). Ryosuke Sakamoto, of course, portrayed Red One, and Sumiko Tanaka played Yellow Four II from episode 11 until 51 of the series.

With Yumiko Tanaka. 

Yumiko Tanaka starred in Kamen Rider Super-1 (1980-81) as Harumi Kusanami, but she also appears in Godzilla (1984). (A genuine Godzilla movie cast member was in attendance!)

With Kenju Hayashi, Koji Unoki, and Hitomi Yoshii.

Hitomi Yoshii was again there. She played the evil High Priestess Bishium on Kamen Rider Black (1987-88). Yoshii-san made me laugh out loud when she said, "We are the dark side!" in English right before this picture was taken.

Also on hand was actor Koji Unoki. He played Dyna Blue (both in and out of the suit) on Dynaman. Furthermore, Kenju Hayashi returned as well, and he would be best known as Prince Megiddo on Dynaman.

Once again, there was so much to talk about! It was another great afternoon. Can't wait to do it again soon!

Friday, June 16, 2017

TAC IS BACK, JACK! Paying a Visit to Ultraman Ace's Mitsuhiro Sano!

Ultraman Ace's Mitsuhiro Sano poses with an old friend. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I visited the bar owned and operated by Mitsuhiro Sano (a.k.a. Koyo Sano) again tonight. Sano-san played TAC member Kozo Yoshimura on Ultraman Ace (1972-73). Given that it was Friday evening, more people than usual were in the bar, which added to the fun of the proceedings. It's pretty safe to say that we all enjoyed ourselves.

Karaoke was, of course, part of the festivities. This time around, I mostly let everyone else do the singing. Sano-san, however, invited me to do a duet of the Bee Gees song "Massachusetts," which is an old favorite of his. To be honest, Sano-san is the only reason I even know of the song, but I've heard him sing it so many times now that I know it pretty well. It was great fun!

Given that I have to get up for work tomorrow, I headed out a bit earlier than I would have liked. But when you've got bills to pay, you gotta go to work.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for more fun from the Land of the Rising Sun!