Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Akira Takarada drops by the neighborhood

Akira Takarada and Brett, about to enjoy a traditional Japanese dinner.

I got the surprise of the year when I had a phone conversation with Akira Takarada (Godzilla '54, Monster Zero, King Kong Escapes) the other day. He told me he was coming to Nakatsugawa, Gifu, to film a drama for NHK. What's so special about Nakatsugawa, you ask?

Well, it's where I live.

Mr. Takarada sits next to his former acting student (and current co-star) Yuuki Chiho.

I can't remember the last time my luck was this good! I met up with Mr. Takarada in downtown Nakatsugawa, and we went to a nearby restaurant with the rest of the cast and crew for dinner.

Much to my surprise (there's that word again!), Mr. Takarada introduced me to everyone in attendance. Suffice it to say, it was a little overwhelming!

They usually don't get celebrities in Nakatsugawa! Mr. Takarada mingles with the locals.

Mr. Takarada and I spoke about many topics, and I came away from the evening with a lot of hope for the future. If a fraction of what we talked about comes to pass, 2012 will prove to be quite a year!

That's all, folks! Goodnight from Nakatsugawa!

It's not every day that the Godzilla series' biggest star drops by your town, which made this particular meeting all the more special. With 2011 almost at an end, I can't wait for 2012 to arrive, which promises to be an even more exciting year than this one!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Akira Kubo to Kyoto: 'Veni, vidi, vici'

Toho star Akira Kubo (Matango, Destroy All Monsters, Monster Zero) answers questions about his career during an all-night film festival in Kyoto, Japan.

Text and photos by Brett Homenick

On December 10, 2011, the Kyoto Minami Kaikan hosted an all-night film festival that celebrated the Golden Age of kaiju eiga. On tap for the evening were special showings of Monster Zero (1965), Majin Monster of Terror (1966), and Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967). The first film began at 1:10 a.m. (technically on December 11), with the final film screening at 4:50 in the morning. Truth be told, all-nighters aren't my idea of a good time (I love sleep too much), so when I initially received the tip from August Ragone that this film festival would be taking place, I was a little unsure. However, one thing sealed the deal for me.

Can you say "game-changer"? Akira Kubo's appearance at the film festival immediately put to rest any doubts I may have had.

By far, the biggest draw of the evening for me was Akira Kubo's advertised appearance. As any good G-fan knows, Mr. Kubo has headlined such Toho classics as Destroy All Monsters, Gorath, Matango, and Son of Godzilla, among others, and he remains one of Toho's most popular actors of all time. That he would be signing autographs and pressing the flesh was all the motivation I needed to hop on the shinkansen bound for Kyoto.

Toho tales: Akira Kubo shares his experiences at Japan's greatest movie studio with an enrapt audience.

Having attended the Shinepatosu Mechagodzilla film event in Ginza last month, I thought I knew what to expect. However, I must say that the Kyoto Minami Kaikan's staff far exceeded my expectations. Fans in attendance were allowed to have more face time with Mr. Kubo than with any of the guests at the Ginza event. (In some instances, we didn't get any face time with the guests!) Also, a staff member ensured we could get photographed with Mr. Kubo. (This touch was painfully absent from the Shinepatosu event.) What can I say? I came away overwhelmed!

Now that's what I call a memento! Yours truly with one of his childhood idols, Akira Kubo.

After Mr. Kubo was finished signing autographs, composer Yasuhiko Fukuda took the stage to do some live demos of his (and other composers') monster movie music. (For more on that, go here.) Following the live music, it was on to the flicks!

Naturally, it was a treat to see three great mid-'60s kaiju eiga on the big screen. I made it all the way through Monster Zero without any problem. As we got into Majin Monster of Terror, however, my eyelids got a little too heavy, and -- yes -- I had to conk out for a while. I was back up in time for the climax, so at least I got to see the good stuff. By then, I felt more awake, and watched Gamera vs. Gyaos in its entirety.

A happy moment...

I must give the Kyoto Minami Kaikan full marks for a job well done. If they do a similar event in the future, I'll do what I can to go. Let's just hope their next event is an all-day film festival! (I sure would appreciate the sleep...)

For an even better idea of what Mr. Kubo's appearance was like, please watch the videos below. It's almost as good as being there!


Yasuhiko Fukuda puts his Kyoto fans in a Neci-Coma!

Composer Yasuhiko Fukuda performed live kaiju music at the Kyoto Minami Kaikan on December 10, 2011.

A name with which most Western kaiju eiga enthusiasts are likely unfamiliar is that of Yasuhiko Fukuda. No surprise, as Fukuda's tokusatsu credits are rather sparse. That said, even if most U.S. fans haven't heard his name, they most certainly know his music.

One of the last honest-to-goodness giant monster movies to come from Japan in recent years was Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit (2008), Minoru Kawasaki's feature-length parody of the kaiju eiga genre. While the film is mostly held in low regard by practically everyone who's seen it, one aspect of the movie has tended to fare a bit better.

That would be the infectious Take-Majin chant ("Neci-Coma, Neci-Coma, Neci-Coma!"), which is probably going to be Monster X's enduring legacy (if such a word can apply to a movie like that!).

Attendees at Kyoto Minami Kaikan's December 10 kaiju all-nighter got a rare treat. Composer Yasuhiko Fukuda, who penned the music to Monster X Strikes Back, was invited as a special guest, and he performed various bits of monster movie music. This included a live performance of that catchy Take-Majin chant, which I was able to record. The video of the performance is below:

I also captured other parts of Fukuda's talk show/musical demonstration, and those videos are included for your viewing pleasure!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shaolin vs. Frankenstein: Damon Foster's latest opus!

Independent filmmaker Damon Foster clowns around in Rancho Mirage, CA, while working on one of his many movie projects.

Poor Hyung-rae Shim.

Not only does it seem that the South Korean auteur's filmmaking career has reached an ignominious end, but everyone's favorite Kaiju Kut-up Damon Foster has spoofed three of Shim's Younggu films in a new comedy compilation called Shaolin vs. Frankenstein.

If the title sounds familiar, that's because Damon released Shaolin vs. Terminator in 2004. Although unrelated, Shaolin vs. Frankenstein is every bit as funny as the previous entry in his "Shaolin" series.

The film features appearances of Yongary (from 1993's Younggu and the Dinosaur Juju, not Shim's better-known CG-fest Yonggary from 1999/2001), Golden Bat, and a bevy of Universal horror icons (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man) whose likenesses are so poor that they'd make Paul Naschy giggle.

As seen in Shaolin vs. Frankenstein: Yongary rampages in South Korea!

Overall, Damon does a commendable job in weaving together three unrelated Younggu movies and making the story lines intersect. The plot is actually pretty easy to follow, which can't always be said about other patchwork movies imported to the U.S., such as Mighty Jack and Time of the Apes.

Believe it or not, he looks worse in the CGI version.

The one major criticism of Shaolin vs. Frankenstein I can make is that, despite condensing three separate movies down to their most interesting parts, it still manages to be pretty boring at times. This is not so much a criticism of Damon's work but of the source material. The movie comes alive when it's parodying the juvenile onscreen antics. When it's (more or less) playing things straight, my attention wandered. Shim's man-child schtick wears thin quickly, and when Damon isn't poking fun at it, the proceedings get a bit agonizing.

You can see for yourself whether Shaolin vs. Frankenstein would be up your alley by watching the trailer here. It does have its share of colorful action scenes, wacky characters, and funny jokes (all courtesy of Damon), so it's worth a peek. It's certainly no Hot Dogs on the Run, but it's not trying to aim that high.

So please visit the official Damon Foster Web site and buy, buy, buy!

(Note: As of this posting, Shaolin vs. Frankenstein isn't listed for sale, so contact Damon directly to order your copy.)

Reporting from P-LABO FILMFES 2011

Signage welcoming attendees to P-LABO FILMFES 2011!

Shortly after returning from the Ginza Mechagodzilla celebration in early November, I received an e-mail from screenwriter Wataru Mimura (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla 2000), inviting me to attend his film festival at the end of the month.

Having read about this film fest in the pages of G-FAN, I was interested in attending, and soon I made plans to see it for myself.

Screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara hosts a talk show, following the screening of his samurai-era short film.

One of the guests I wanted to meet was Hiroshi Kashiwabara, notable to Godzilla fans as the screenwriter of Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, Godzilla 2000, and Godzilla x Megaguirus. Mr. Kashiwabara screened his short film "The Man Who Waits," which takes place during feudal Japan.

Hiroshi Kashiwabara meets me for the first time. Many thanks to Mr. Mimura for introducing me to him.

Following the screening, Mr. Kashiwabara hosted a talk show and fielded questions from the audience.

Sandwiched between the creators of many of the recent Godzilla flicks, Hiroshi Kashiwabara and Wataru Mimura.

After the talk show, several short, independent movies were screened, many of which were quite good. I was (pleasantly) surprised at how many of them I enjoyed. One was even subtitled in English! (If only all of them were...)

Godzilla's boss, Shogo Tomiyama, addresses P-LABO FILMFES 2011.

The end of the event saw longtime Toho producer Shogo Tomiyama take the stage for a 60-minute speech on the trials and tribulations of filmmaking. Mr. Tomiyama's comments were well-received, and I just hope that the aspiring filmmakers in attendance were taking notes!

Yours truly with Tomiyama-sama. Thanks again to Mr. Mimura for introducing us!

The highlight of the speech (for me) was when Mr. Tomiyama pointed me out to the audience and addressed me from the stage. It was totally unexpected, but most welcome!

That's all, folks! Messrs. Mimura, Kashiwabara, and Tomiyama compare notes as the film fest winds down.

Suffice it to say, I had a great time. The films were (by and large) fun and well-made, and I enjoyed meeting the special guests. I also made friends with a Japanese filmmaker named Takahide Ubutaka, who speaks very good English. Not only that, he loves American wrestling! It truly is a small world!

If there's a P-LABO FILMFES 2012, count me in!

Stopping by Kadokawa Daiei Studios

Majin, Monster of Terror, stands guard against those who would dare enter Kadokawa Daiei Studios without proper ID!

On my most recent trip to Tokyo, I paid a visit to Kadokawa Daiei Studios. Having seen photos of the studio's front gate for years, I've since wanted to see the incredible Majin statues that adorn the entrance up close and personal.

Of course, the impressive Majin statues aren't the only area of interest for visiting kaiju fans.

Near the cafeteria area is a Gamera 3 display that is nothing short of eye-popping. Although I wanted to take a closer look, this part of the studio is cordoned off from the general public.

About as close as you'll get to the Gamera 3 set-up without gaining entrance to the studio!

Whatever you do, DON'T look behind you! A self-portrait with a scary-looking monster-god lurking in the background.

All in all, it was a fun little jaunt to the studio. (It better have been; I had to switch trains seven times from Asakusa just to get there!) If you're a monster fan who's making the trip to Tokyo, definitely add this to your itinerary!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Swag from the MG event

The vintage Toho booklets I purchased at the Shinepatosu theater in Ginza, one from 1964 and one from 1983.

Now that you've read about the event itself, here's a quick rundown of my purchases. Below are two of the autographs I acquired.

My Goro Mutsumi and Reiko Tajima signatures.

Now how's this for a lucky find? In the 1964 Toho booklet, I discovered this newspaper clipping tucked away.

It's dated March 7, 1964, and the rest, well, should be self-explanatory!

Certainly a nice addition to my collection, and the only one that was totally free!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A star-powered Mechagodzilla event in Ginza

Meeting Masaaki Tezuka, director of Godzilla x Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla x Mechagodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003). My thanks to screenwriter Wataru Mimura to introducing us via the magic of e-mail prior to the event.

How did you celebrate Godzilla's birthday?

On November 3, 2011, an event was held at the Shinepatosu theater in Ginza, Tokyo, celebrating not only Godzilla's 57th birthday, but also the films of arguably The Big G's greatest foe: Mechagodzilla.

The event was built around the screening of three Mechagodzilla films, all of which had (basically) the same title. The 1974, 1993, and 2002 versions of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla were shown on the theater's big screen, making these the first (but hopefully not last) G-films I've seen theatrically in Japan.

Fans line up in anticipation of the event.

One of the coolest aspects of the event was a free souvenir each attendee received just for showing up. In this case, it was a toy replica of Professor Miyajima's "powerful pipe" from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). How long will this toy stay in its plastic? Forget "collectibility"; I want to play with it!

Finally, a toy I actually want! How about fewer vinyl figures and more stuff like this?

As great as it was to see Godzilla movies on the silver screen, celebrity guests are always the highlight of any such event for me. The first guest was Reiko Tajima, who played G vs. MG's heroine in the 1974 version.

Unfortunately, either she or her management stipulated that no photographs could be taken, which was a bit of a disappointment. Still, she gave out (pre-signed) autographs to attendees, and I had the pleasure of speaking with her in English. (She seems to speak it pretty well, but our conversation was rather brief.)

After Mechagodzilla '74 was screened, a surprise guest entered the room...

Straight from the Third Planet of the Black Hole, Kuronuma (and Mugar!) conquers Ginza with his alien technology!

The great Goro Mutsumi, who played the alien leader in both Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Terror of Mechagodzilla, gave an interview onstage about his career. The interview touched on such subjects as The War in Space and Espy, making me really regret not understanding Japanese!

Although I didn't have a chance to meet him, something did happen that (almost) makes up for that. When Mr. Mutsumi took the stage, he shouted to the audience, "Alpha!" I was the first to yell back, "Centaurus!" (Mr. Mutsumi did the same thing at the end of his interview.) It doesn't get any cooler than that!

In case you still aren't satisfied with the amount of special guests on hand, here's SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano, along with G-series directors Takao Okawara and Masaaki Tezuka.

The parade of Godzilla celebrities continued with the arrival of Teruyoshi Nakano (SFX director from 1971-1984), Takao Okawara (director of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla '93, Godzilla vs. Destroyah, and Godzilla 2000), and Masaaki Tezuka (Millennium series G-director). These three gentlemen discussed their respective Mechagodzilla movies to the enjoyment of those present.

But wait! There's more!

Shinji Nishikawa, Akihiko Iguchi, Teruyoshi Nakano, Takao Okawara, Masaaki Tezuka, Wataru Mimura, and Wataru Fukuda pose for audience photos.

Even more guests took the stage and signed autographs. Kiryu designer Shinji Nishikawa, Mechagodzilla '74's designer Akihiko Iguchi, MG '93 and '02 screenwriter Wataru Mimura, and MG '93 suit actor Wataru Fukuda joined the impressive roster of talent on hand and were happy to meet their fans.

Wataru Mimura, Shinji Nishikawa, and Akihiko Iguchi wait for the next batch of fans to come by.

More talk-show interviews followed, including an impressive look at the designs of '70s-era Toho kaiju, including Mechagodzilla, King Seesar, Megalon, and others!

How they made Mechagodzilla: The secrets were revealed by designer Akihiko Iguchi!

All in all, it was a very impressive event. The only downside was that the guests didn't mingle with the audience much at all (and, in some cases, not at all), which was disappointing. The autograph lines were cramped and rushed, and even then it was impossible to pose for photos with guests. Still, it was a great event, and, considering all the autographs and books I came home with, I'm very glad I went.

Making a new friend at Hibiya's Godzilla statue.

Following the event, I paid a visit to the nearby Godzilla statue in Hibiya. Two female G-fans from the MG event arrived shortly after I did. One of them spoke English fairly well, and we exchanged phone numbers. We can say we met at the Godzilla statue!

Oh, and if you'd like to see video of the event, you're in luck! I captured some of the highlights on my video camera, and they are linked below.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

At 99, Kaneto Shindo calls it a day

Director Kaneto Shindo at a press conference during the Tokyo International Film Festival held in Roppongi Hills in October 2010. Source: here.

The director of such Japanese horror classics as Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968) has made his final film.

Released nationwide in Japan in August 2011, Shindo's Post Card is an antiwar saga that draws on the veteran director's lifetime experiences. According to the Japan Times:

The film hopes to portray "the absurdity of war," he told the audience at the film's premiere at a cinema in Shinjuku, Tokyo, on Aug. 6, the 66th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. The film also began showing on Aug. 6 in Hiroshima, and on Saturday nationwide.
The movie "will remain even after I die," Shindo said from his wheelchair, to applause from the audience.
The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2010.
Director Shindo was born on April 22, 1912. Beginning his film career in 1934, he would enjoy enormous success as a film director and screenwriter, amassing numerous awards throughout his career.

But the best may be yet to come.

Eiren (the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan) has selected Post Card to be its official entry in the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film category. You can read more about it here.

If Post Card gets nominated, I know which film I'll be rooting for!

To view the trailer (which contains snippets from Shindo's press conference), follow the link below:

Edogawa Rampo rampages in English!

Acclaimed mystery writer Edogawa Rampo ponders black lizards, malformed men, and blind beasts. Just another day at the office for this prolific Japanese author... Source: here.

If the name Edogawa Rampo sounds a bit like Edgar Allan Poe to you, then 1) you're quick on the uptake, or 2) you're already familiar with the work of author Taro Hirai (1894-1965), who took the aforementioned pen name as a nod to one of his main influences.

And, if you're already familiar with the name of Edogawa Rampo, it's likely through the movies based on his writings, such as Kinji Fukasaku's Black Lizard (1968, featuring fellow author Yukio Mishima), Teruo Ishii's Horrors of Malformed Men (1969), and Yasuzo Masumura's Blind Beast (1969).

While the above titles have been written about and discussed by fans of Japanese genre films, how many of these fans have actually read the source material? What's that, you say? They're not available in English?

Ha! Ha, I say!

"Eh," sez Edogawa Rampo to fellow writer (and Black Lizard actor) Yukio Mishima. "If they made a movie about my life, I'd so get more than four chapters." Source: here.

Thanks to a couple of book publishers who specialize in translating Japanese fiction into English, you now have your chance!

Kurodahan Press has translated Black Lizard into English, and it can be purchased here. Meanwhile, Shinbaku Books has done the honors for Blind Beast, and that title can be bought by following this link.

And, for something not-so-completely different, Tuttle Publishing has translated Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan into English, which will have you howling, "Kowai!" It can be purchased here.

With Halloween on the horizon, the time is right to crack open a few of these books! Break out those reading glasses today!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hangin' with Akira Takarada

Sometimes a photo says it all: Akira Takarada drives me around Asakusa, Tokyo.

One person I alwaus love seeing in Tokyo is the one and only Akira Takarada. I've had the great fortune to meet up with this legend of the silver screen every time I've visited Tokyo. I've come to know him quite well ever since I assisted him during G-FEST 2010 in Chicago, and it never ceases to amaze me how close I've become to one of my childhood heroes.

Out and about: Mr. Takarada checks out some items for sale on the sidewalk.

During this visit, we searched out a suitable place to eat dinner. After strolling around Asakusa for a good while, we decided on a Korean restaurant we found. Mr. Takarada enjoys that particular style of food, and I decided to give it a go.

Gettin' ready to eat, Korean-style!

One of the delicacies on the menu, which threw me for a loop, was tongue. Yes, tongue. I'm not that adventurous when it comes to sampling new foods, so I was, to say the least, a bit apprehensive about taking part. However, given whose presence I was in, I went for it. It wasn't bad, but I don't think I'll make it a regular part of my diet!

Cooking up something interesting...

After our meal, we strolled around a bit more. Mr. Takarada kept me up to date with the latest news about his acting career, and I shared some of my teaching experiences. It was a great evening, and the soon-to-be fall air was a nice touch.

Thus ended my evening with Akira Takarada. As always, it was truly an honor to spend time with him. If only every star treated his fans with such respect.

Beware the Ulf-man!

Former Seatopian operative Ulf Georgii-Hemming (whom you may know under his alias Wolf Otsuki) strikes a pensive pose inside the Danish restaurant Scandia in Yokohama, Japan.

If you're a loyal reader of this blog (and, hey, who isn't?), you may remember this blog post from May of this year. I paid tribute to one of the coolest dues in Japan, Ulf Georgii-Hemming.

Ulf and Brett, about to chow down in Yokohama.

I had the opportunity to meet up with Ulf again during my last trip to Tokyo. Unlike our first meeting, this was a one-on-one affair, and I was surprised to learn that Ulf wanted to take me to Yokohama!

Look at all that ice cream! I'm getting a brain freeze just looking at it!

He took me to Scandia, one of his favorite restaurants in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. It serves Danish food, which, thanks to my good friend Ib Melchior, I'm already a little accustomed to. Although I'll always be a burgers-and-pizza kinda guy, I did enjoy the food served to us.

It also marked my first time in Yokohama. From one of the buildings upper floors, I managed to take a couple of photos of Cosmo Clock 21, the well-known (to kaiju enthusiasts, anyway) location seen during Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). More impressive, however, was the sight of Tokyo Bay. Even though I've seen it featured in many Japanese films (most notably Toho's 1975 actioner Conflagration, with Hiroshi Fujioka and Tetsuro Tanba), you simply must see it in person to appreciate its sheer size.

That's all, folks!

A big thank-you to Ulf for driving me around Tokyo and Yokohama. Let's do it again!