Sunday, May 8, 2011

I love Tokyo!

Surprise! A Takarada fan (the woman to the left of Akira Takarada) was shocked to see a superstar of Japanese cinema walking right in front of her. Naturally, pictures were taken!

Text and photos by Brett Homenick
Although many Godzilla fans from the U.S. have visited and toured Tokyo over the years, I think I can safely say that no one has had the Tokyo experience that I've had. Many fans are accompanied to the Land of the Rising Sun by friends, others meet up with Japan-based buddies during their trek, and still others do the whole trip by themselves. While seeing Tokyo is fun, no matter how you do it, I was privileged to be taken around Tokyo by the biggest star in the Godzilla series.

The visual definition of "self-explanatory." Akira Takarada poses with the Godzilla statue in Hibiya.

As you can imagine, I had been planning a trip to Tokyo ever since I moved to Japan in late March. For someone who has never visited this fabled metropolis, it certainly was an exciting proposition. But I wanted to do it right or not at all. I had to make sure enough pieces would be in place before purchasing my shinkansen (bullet train) tickets. (A roundtrip visit to Tokyo on the shinkansen can add up to about $300 from my town, so you can see why I took care to ensure a smooth and fun vacation!) Once everything was in place, I turned my attention to Japan's capital city!

With Yoshimitsu Banno, after our fine Japanese dinner.

I arrived on May 3 and spent the evening with Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster director Yoshimitsu Banno. He took me to a Japanese restaurant and shared many stories about his career. We also talked about movies, including his admiration for Stanley Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The conversation eventually turned to the deleted French plantation scene from Apocalypse Now. (Talk about obscure!) We were two movie buffs, shooting the breeze on our favorite films, from both the East and the West. Suffice it to say, it was a lot of fun.

Yours truly with the Godzilla statue. After wanting to see it for years, I finally accomplished that mission.

The next day began as I did some DVD-shopping around Akihabara. I found a DVD set of an old tokusatsu series called Space G-Men for very cheap (about 1,500 yen). For a deal like that, why not take a chance?!

I was picked up from my hotel at 1:00 p.m. by Mr. Takarada. It was an unexpected (but certainly pleasant!) surprise to find out that he would be my tour guide for the day, taking me to various places around Tokyo. He was, without a doubt, a master monster tour guide.

Mr. Takarada and I pose with the Godzilla statue.

The first order of business was to see the Godzilla statue in Hibiya. Mr. Takarada drove us there, but, as it was in the middle of Golden Week, parking proved to be difficult. Undaunted, Mr. Takarada pulled into the Imperial Hotel parking area at the front of the hotel and said a few words to an attendant directing traffic. Within moments, the attendant removed a couple of cones from an otherwise empty parking space and pointed the way for Mr. Takarada to park there! That's clout, baby!

The Godzilla statue was an incredible sight to behold. Seeing it for the first time with the star of the first film (among several of its sequels) made the experience that much more exciting.

Mr. Takarada poses with his hand print and signature in Hibiya's answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

While pretty much all Godzilla fans are aware of the Godzilla statue in Hibiya, they likely aren't as knowledgeable of the "Walk of Fame" that also decorates the very same square as the statue. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Takarada has his own entry in the "Walk of Fame." Fortunately for me, my "tour guide" pointed it out to me!

G-fans, take note! Your trip to Hibiya isn't complete without giving a virtual high-five to Mr. Takarada!

After taking in the Godzilla statue, it was time to eat! Thankfully, there was an American-style restaurant right around the corner that suited my needs.

Mr. Takarada and I are about to enjoy some burgers at The Beat Diner.

Please follow this link for more on The Beat Diner.

Mr. Takarada and I pose in front of the Wako Department Store in Ginza, an iconic location from the original Godzilla movie.

With our bellies full, the two of us headed out to explore neighboring Ginza. Given this was Golden Week, some of the streets were closed down, which made walking a bit easier for pedestrians. Mr. Takarada pointed out many of the notable buildings to me, including the Wako Department Store above.

It was also during this walk that Mr. Takarada was recognized the most. A good number of the people who recognized him were too shy to approach him (and instead stopped in their tracks and stared at him, mouths agape). Others, however, were a bit more adventurous and asked for photos with him, for which he was happy to oblige. I snapped all such pictures for Mr. Takarada's hometown fan base.

At one point, I came across a poster hanging on a wall that depicted several iconic scenes from various American movie classics. I asked Mr. Takarada which movies he knew. I was floored that he recognized most movies (including Roman Holiday, Forrest Gump [more on that later!], The Untouchables, and others). As I recall, the only one he didn't recognize was Ghost (1990), but hey, who could blame him?

The two travelers stand in front of the Diet Building, a memorable location from many kaiju films.

While on our way to Tokyo Dome City for dinner, the Diet Building came into view. I was caught off-guard and asked if we could pull over for some pictures. The above photo should tell you what happened next.

When worlds collide: Yoshimitsu Banno and Akira Takarada meet for the very first time.

We decided to eat dinner at Tokyo Dome City's Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant (which, as I'm sure you know, is inspired by the Oscar-winning movie Forrest Gump). A special guest would join our meal, none other than Yoshimitsu Banno, who himself was very excited to meet Mr. Takarada. (Who wouldn't be?)

After devouring the spawn of Ebirah, we posed for an obligatory photo.

At the dinner, the conversation turned to movies again, mostly focusing on the Japanese movie industry, everyone from Kihachi Okamoto to Senkichi Taniguchi. I'm still pinching myself after being in the presence of such film history!
It was truly a great time, but like all good things, it came to an end. I can't wait to go back to Tokyo. With so much more to explore, and so many more people to meet, I'll be kept busy for a long time!


  1. OMGosh, Brett, I am so envious! What a magnificent day you had, almost like a dream day! So nice to know that Akira Takarada is such a grand person and to have the two directors finally meet, how wonderful!

    Thanks for sharing this journey! Maybe you can someday spend a day shopping with Kumi Mizuno and Yuriko Hoshi!!

  2. Fantastic Brett. Glad you had a great time.

  3. My pleasure, Michael. You know, that would be great! :)

  4. Say, are you the fellow that inteviewed Mr. Takarada in the recent G-fan?

    Great stuff!

  5. That was Fabien Mauro, actually. But I interviewed Mr. Takarada at G-FEST. What a great guy!