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!