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.