Sunday, July 21, 2019

Remembering JFFJ Editor Greg Shoemaker (1947-2019)

Greg Shoemaker meets Akira Takarada in 2010. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The editor and publisher of the Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, the first and perhaps the best Godzilla/tokusatsu fanzine in the U.S., passed away on July 19.

In late 2009, I was pleased to conduct an interview with Greg about the history of JFFJ. The interview can be found here. To be honest, I was shocked that no one else tried to document the history of this ground-breaking fanzine (despite all the lip service many in the fan community paid to it), but I was honored to be the one to do it.

Yours truly with Greg Shoemaker in 2010.

I was also privileged to meet Greg in person in July 2010. I was able to introduce Greg to Akira Takarada when I was assisting Mr. Takarada during his first con appearance in the U.S. I had a few moments to share with Greg, but I wish I had many more. 

However, I'm pleased to report that the JFFJ legacy lives on. In February of this year, I was contacted by the clearance coordinator for a new Netflix series that wanted to feature issues of JFFJ in the series but wanted permission from Greg to use them. Naturally, I provided his contact information. I certainly hope permission was granted and that JFFJ will be exposed to a whole new generation of fans.

Rest in peace, Greg. Thank you for paving the way for the rest of us. 

MOTHRA FLIES AGAIN! But Was the Third Time the Charm?

Kenji Suzuki. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I took in a screening of Rebirth of Mothra III (1998) in glorious 35mm. I don't think I'd seen the movie in close to 20 years, and I'd only seen it once before. I basically remembered only two things from the film -- that King Ghidorah captures children, and the less-than-convincing dinosaur puppets. 

Overall, I found the film a bit too slow for my liking. I'd rank it as my least favorite of the late '90s Mothra trilogy (with the first Rebirth of Mothra being my favorite). The only characters who stood out were the returning characters from the previous entries: Moll, Lora, and Belvera. The rest were instantly forgettable. It was nice to see the ubiquitous Koichi Ueda in a small role, but that's about all. It's not a bad film, but it is a something of a let-down.

The special guest of the screening was SFX director Kenji Suzuki. Before joining Toho, Suzuki-san was a freelance SFX director who did some work at Tsuburaya Productions, most notably Ultraman 80 (1980-81). At Toho, he served as an assistant SFX director on The Imperial Navy (1981) and Sayonara Jupiter (1984). On Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), Rebirth of Mothra (1996), and Rebirth of Mothra II (1997), he served as the chief assistant SFX director under Koichi Kawakita. On Rebirth of Mothra III, Godzilla 2000 (1999), and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), he was the SFX director. In the 2000s, Suzuki-san returned to Tsuburaya Productions and lent his talents to various Ultra-projects.

And that's about all. I had an enjoyable afternoon. I'm glad I saw the film again, and despite my misgivings, I can recognize the film's positive aspects. It's been great to reevaluate the entire Mothra trilogy this year.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A National Holiday in Japan, Toho-Style!

Naomi Hase. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Given that today, Monday, July 15, is a national holiday in Japan, there was a special event with screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara and actress Noami Hase that I attended. Naturally, I had to work today, but when I was finished, I made sure to stop by.

Naomi Hase is an actress and singer who started her career in 1974. In Japan, she still has a lot of fans from her role on the TV series Howl at the Sun! (1972-86). For me, however, her most interesting credits are Oshare daisakusen (1976), director Kengo Furusawa's last film, and Clash! Young Guy (1976), directed by Tom Kotani. Interestingly, however, when I asked her about director Kengo Furusawa, she didn't seem to remember him at all!

Hiroshi Kashiwabara. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Kashiwabara-san was the other guest at the event. He, of course, wrote the screenplays for Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), Godzilla 2000 (1999), and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000). For more information about Kashiwabara-san's career, check out this interview with him.

As usual, it was great to see Kashiwabara-san again, though this time we didn't talk about American movies -- well, not very much, anyway! It was another fun time.

Getting into Focus with Nakabori-san!

Masao Nakabori answers questions. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Sunday, July 14, I attended a talk event with cameraman Masao Nakabori. He has truly seen and done a lot in the realm of tokusatsu for Tsuburaya Productions, but his credits extend well beyond just tokusatsu.

Masao Nakabori. Photo by Brett Homenick.

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).

The recent news from Mill Creek about the Blu-ray releases of Ultra Q and Ultraman was reason enough to celebrate, but truthfully, I take any opportunity I can to visit with Nakabori-san.

An Evening with Old Pros from Toho and Tsuburaya!

From left to right: Teruyoshi Nakano, Tom Kotani, and Takashi Naganuma (admiring his birthday cake). Photo by Brett Homenick

On Saturday, July 13, I left work to attend another special event with former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano. Also on hand was longtime Toho SFX crew member Takashi Naganuma. This time, however, they were joined by director Tom Kotani.

Teruyoshi Nakano. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Teruyoshi Nakano served as SFX director for Toho's Godzilla series from 1971 through 1984. However, that just scratches the surface of his career in special effects. If you'd like to read more about his non-Godzilla tokusatsu work, check out this interview with him.

Nakano-san is a true living legend, and I never miss an opportunity to see him. Despite being a veteran of such events, he always seems as enthusiastic to be there as any of his fans.

Tom Kotani. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The other headlining guest was director Tom Kotani. Kotani-san directed The Last Dinosaur (1977), The Bermuda Depths (1978), and The Ivory Ape (1980) for Tsuburaya Productions and Rankin-Bass. Prior to that, Kotani-san helmed several movies for Toho, including It's My Sky! Young Guy (1970) and Wild Cop (1973).

I last visited with Kotani-san near his home sometime last fall. I was glad to have the opportunity to catch up with him again. I hope to visit him again sometime later this year.

Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last but not least was Takashi Naganuma, whom I spent the most time chatting with. Even though it's not quite his birthday yet, the event served as a birthday celebration for him. All of us in attendance were pleased to wish him a happy birthday.

The Shinjuku Eye Sheds a Tear

The damaged Shinjuku Eye. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While in Shinjuku on Wednesday, I passed the Shinjuku Eye, which had recently been damaged. The fame sculpture is having a pretty lousy 50th anniversary so far. (It was created in 1969.) I certainly hope they catch the vandals responsible. 

A Nice Meal with Even Nicer People

Yours truly with Kyoko Ifukube (second from the left) and her friends.  

Last Wednesday, July 10, I was quite privileged to be invited to have dinner with Kyoko Ifukube, daughter of Japanese composer Akira Ifukube. She brought some of her friends with her, so it was a lively discussion.

Kyoko Ifukube. Photo by Brett Homenick.

We ate at a Chinese restaurant in Shinjuku, right next to the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building. It was a lot of fun, and it was the longest I've ever spoken with Ifukube-san. Let's do it again soon!