Tuesday, December 25, 2012

JANUARY 1: A Big Day for Two Toho Icons!

Your humble blogmeister poses with actress Kumi Mizuno at Shimo-Kitazawa Station in Tokyo, May 2012.

January 1 is almost upon us, and aside from ushering in the year 2013, it marks the birthdays of two of Toho's most popular alumni: Kumi Mizuno and Haruo Nakajima.

Yours truly with Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima, October 2012.

Nakajima-san turns 84 on January 1. As all of us ought to know by now, Nakajima-san played Godzilla from 1954 to 1972 and also portrayed a number of other kaiju, including: Gaira, King Kong (in King Kong Escapes), Gezora, and Baragon, among countless others.

Also on New Year's Day, Kumi Mizuno turns 76. Mizuno-san remains Toho's most popular actress, having starred in such films as: Gorath, Matango, Monster Zero, War of the Gargantuas, and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster.

Please join me in wishing these two icons of the silver screen a happy and healthy birthday on January 1!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

THE FANTASTICKS IS FANTASTIC! Akira Takarada Returns to Nakatsugawa in Style!

Your humble blogmeister poses with the poster art for The Fantasticks in Nakatsugawa.

Tonight (December 11) marked the end of this particular run of The Fantasticks in Japan. After traveling all over Japan (including Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kyushu), the stage musical ended its run in my town of Nakatsugawa. Suffice it to say, I made sure to be there!

A photo from the 1971 production of The Fantasticks. Even 41 years later, Takarada-san was excellent as El Gallo!

For sale at the event were a couple of CDs, including a 1964 recording of Annie Get Your Gun (which, naturally, starred Mr. Takarada) and a slick program booklet, which featured some great photos from the '71 run of The Fantasticks. Looking through them, I was surprised to see Hideyo (King Kong Escapes, Godzilla's Revenge) Amamoto among the '71 cast! I snapped these up in a hurry.

Swag from the performance!

The play was an absolute delight. However, I must say that the absolute highlight was when Takarada-san called my name from the stage. After the performance wrapped, Takarada-san thanked the cast and crew and then introduced some folks from the audience, in whose company I was surprised to find myself! Once I stood up and waved to him, Takarada-san mentioned the school I work for (!) and, well, basically left me in amazement. As the theater was emptying, Mr. Takarada's assistant brought our group (including Michael Field) backstage for this meeting. Good times!

Yours truly, Michael Field, Mike's friend Tom, and Takarada-san pose backstage for the obligatory photos!

Takarada-san signed all of our program books, discussed his next production, and just proved once again how much he cares about his fans. Takarada-san never ceases to amaze me!

Although The Fantasticks was the first stage play I've seen in Japan, I certainly hope it isn't the last. And if it stars Akira Takarada, I'll do whatever necessary to attend. Arigato gozaimasu, Takarada-sama!

Monday, December 10, 2012

VIVA CHIBA! Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba Wows Them in Tokyo!

The great Sonny Chiba ponders a question posed to him at a talk show event held on December 9 in Tokyo.

The Honey Trap gym isn't likely to sound familiar to you, but the name Sonny Chiba certainly will. Chiba-san, Japan's most popular action star of all time, answered questions, signed autographs, and posed for pictures at the aforementioned Honey Trap gym in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

For two hours, Chiba-san discussed such varied topics as his popularity in America and ways to stay in shape. He even showed the crowd of fewer than 30 people (we were a lucky group, folks!) several action stunts with the help of a fellow Japan Action Club member. There's nothing quite like seeing Sonny Chiba kick butt mere feet in front of you!

At the end of the presentation, attendees were encouraged to choose whichever foam picture of Chiba-san we wanted and pull it off the wall (!) for the star himself to sign. I chose the foam Invasion of the Neptune Men poster. Tokusatsu will always be my preference!

Chiba-san was incredibly generous and patient with his fans. Though he didn't speak much English, we were able to communicate fairly well. He is the very embodiment of genki. Having seen him crack skulls (and worse!) in movies, I couldn't help but be pleasantly surprised at how warm a personality he has.

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In the shot above, my foam poster is getting signed. I can't be quite sure, but this is probably when he was asking me the spelling of my name. He personalized each autograph, including mine.

What can I say? Here I am, shaking hands with movie history. What a moment!

And there you have it! I have to give Chiba-san's management a lot of credit for being extremely helpful. Daimon-san couldn't have been nicer, and Yokoya-san, with her impressive English proficiency, helped me find the gym in the first place! Arigato gozaimasu!

CHRISTMAS, TOKYO-STYLE! Fun Holiday Activities in the Land of the Rising Sun!

Merry Christmas from Kadokawa Daiei Studios in Tokyo!

Christmas is quickly approaching, and while Japan doesn't celebrate the holiday the same way the U.S. does, its presence is felt wherever you go. Kadokawa Daiei Studios has even gotten in on the fun, as its two Majin statues are (temporarily, of course) made up to look like Santa Claus and Rudolph (that red nose is a dead giveaway)!

If you've been naughty, beware! You don't want this guy (um, the taller one!) sliding down your chimney this holiday season!

On December 8, a group of us wanted to see the Majin statues' new clothes up close and personal. And, after taking in the sights at Kadokawa Daiei Studios, we headed to Chofu's tourist information center (more info on that can be found here) to show the members of our party (including SFX director Yoshikazu Ishii, G-TOUR 2011 guide Hidesada Shimazaki, and globe-trotting Godzilla fan Michael Field) the cool movie memorabilia to be seen there.

Michael Field clowns around with a Gamera attraction display.

While Shop Majin at Kadokawa Daiei Studios was closed when we visited, the tourist center offered many of the same items (shirts, Majin cookies, etc.) for sale, which gave Michael an opportunity to pick up some cool souvenirs.

SFX director Yoshikazu Ishii is haunted by the specter of Sadako in Chofu, Tokyo!

The evening also saw us visit a couple of Tower Records in Tokyo for (what else?) more shopping. We ended up eating some tasty ramen for dinner, which we then followed up with Subway sandwiches a bit later. Mm, yummy!

Yours truly with Yoshikazu Ishii in Shibuya.

To close the night, our slightly smaller party (Hide-san and Ishii-san called it a night a bit earlier) stopped at Kaiju-ya in Shibuya. Suit actor Toshio Miyake was in the house, and he was a perfect host for us American tokusatsu fans. All in all, a great evening was had by all!

Toshio Miyake holds court in Kaiju-ya, by far the coolest bar in Shibuya!

The next evening, Daiei's 1956 sci-fi classic Warning from Space screened at Yurakucho's Kadokawa Cinema. This screening was part of the current 70th anniversary tribute to Daiei Studios taking place this month. Even though the print was faded and scratchy, it was a rare treat to see this film on the big screen. And some friends showed up!

Gamera crashes the party...

... and he brought Majin with him!

But wait! That's not all ... not by a long shot. More to come soon!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

KAMEN RIDER OR KAMEN READER? Two Tokusatsu Stars Promote G-FAN Magazine!

Actor Kazuki Kato poses with yours truly following our interview in January 2012.

G-FAN #100 has been published, and among its contents are interviews I conducted with two of the more recent Kamen Rider stars. Kazuki Kato (Kamen Rider Kabuto, Kamen Rider: The Next, Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit) and Keisuke Kato (Kamen Rider Kiva) provided fascinating stories about their careers, but what surprised me most is the amount of interest they showed in me and G-FAN magazine.

In fact, they've even updated their respective blogs with information (and pictures) of the current issue!

Kazuki Kato's blog entry can be read here. I took the photo used on Kato-san's blog. I'm very proud to say that my apartment's carpeting appears on his blog!

Your humble blogmeister shakes Keisuke Kato's hand after conducting our interview in January of this year.

Keisuke Kato's blog entry can be seen here. Naturally, he provided the photo in this blog post himself!

To order your own copy of G-FAN #100, go here.

(Special thanks to Asako Kato of English Avenue Daikanyama!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

GODZILLA AT 58: Ginza Celebrates the Big G's Big Day in a Big Way!

Posters at the Cine Pathos Theater in Ginza, advertising the Godzilla birthday celebration and Gunhed event.

Saturday, November 3, was a big day for kaiju fans lucky enough to be in Tokyo. The Cine Pathos Theater played host to not one but two big events for fans of tokusatsu. Appropriately enough, the first event focused on Godzilla's birthday. Thus, attendees were treated to screenings of Destroy All Monsters (1968), Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).

Let the Yuki Special shine a light on me! A toy replica of Space Godzilla's Yuki Special was offered for free to all attendees.

But movies turned out to be a small portion of what was on tap. Advertised to appear were screen (and scream!) legend Kenji Sahara, Space Godzilla star Jun Hashizume and director Kensho Yamashita, Final Wars SFX director Eiichi Asada, and longtime Toho SFX director Koichi Kawakita. Little did any of us know that these guests were just the tip of the iceberg!

Kenji Sahara reminisces about Destroy All Monsters following the screening of the film!

The first guest was none other than Kenji Sahara, who entered the theater immediately after Destroy All Monsters played to a packed house. Sahara-san clearly enjoyed sharing his memories from the set of DAM as well as other Toho features. After Mr. Sahara's talk show wrapped, he signed autographs for the fans in attendance.

Following Kenji Sahara's appearance, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla was screened. Not having seen the film for a number of years, I was particularly interested in seeing it again. I found it enjoyable for the most part, but the "climactic" battle at the end was badly paced and bored me to distraction.

Director Kensho Yamashita and actor Jun Hashizume talk Space Godzilla.

Once Space Godzilla ended, two new guests took the stage: Kensho Yamashita and Jun Hashizume. The pair (naturally) recalled their work on Space Godzilla. At one point, Hashizume-san mentioned that he's a fan of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, which I found quite interesting. (Hashizume-san went on to work with Sea Monster star Akira Takarada in Godzilla: Final Wars).

Jun Hashizume and Kensho Yamashita sign autographs.

Even before the Space Godzilla interview ended, more special guests joined the lineup! SFX director Eiichi Asada appeared along with Godzilla suit actor Tsutomu Kitagawa and kaiju suit maker Shinichi Wakasa. They signed autographs for fans with the Space Godzilla guests.

Godzilla himself signs his name for his adoring public!

In preparation for the screening of Godzilla: Final Wars, Messrs. Asada, Kitagawa, and Wakasa held a Q&A session about the making of the film. After that, the film screened. Unfortunately, Don Frye (and the other English-speaking actors) were dubbed into Japanese. Noticeably, the crowd had practically no reaction to any of Don Frye's lines. Something must definitely be lost in translation!

Eiichi Asada listens to his fellow interviewees recount their Final Wars memories.

Overall, I still enjoy the movie immensely, but it would benefit greatly from a bit of editing. The movie really bogs down once the principal characters are taken aboard the spaceship. Aside from that, I had a blast watching it, but I missed hearing Don Frye's line readings!

Shinichi Wakasa, Tsutomu Kitagawa, and Eiichi Asada tell you all you need to know about monster fights!

After the Final Wars credits rolled, Koichi Kawakita was introduced to the audience. His appearance was no surprise, as he was an advertised guest. But it was the night's final surprise guest who really surprised me!

Yukiko Kobayashi and Koichi Kawakita talk Godzilla on the Big G's big day.

Destroy All Monsters leading lady Yukiko Kobayashi made her way into the theater after being introduced by the emcee. This came as a complete surprise to me, especially since her movie was screened at the very beginning of the event! But I'm not complaining; it was great to meet her at long last!

What an event it was. Last year's Mechagodzilla event was great fun, too, but I'd have to give the edge to this year's shindig. The guests were more accessible, which in my book is always a big plus. Full marks!

Monday, November 5, 2012

GUNHED: Toho's High-Concept SFX Film Is Feted in Tokyo

Open your wallets, folks, there's plenty of opportunities to buy, buy, buy!

November 3 may have been Godzilla's birthday, but the festivities were shared with another Big G from Toho Studios. Following the events of Godzilla's birthday celebration (which -- I promise! -- I will eventually get to), a bonus event celebrating Koichi Kawakita's upcoming Gunhed book (due out in January) took place at the Cine Pathos Theater in Ginza.

I had to resist my immediate urge to buy this Gunhed shirt. Say what you will about the movie, but that's one cool shirt!

Prior to the screening of the film, a talk show featuring SFX director Makoto Kamiya, Gunhed composer Toshiyuki Honda, and Koichi Kawakita (who directed the special effects for Gunhed) was held. One thing I noticed that I certainly wasn't expecting was that the crowd for the Gunhed event was a bit larger than the one for Godzilla! The Big Guy just can't catch a break in Japan.

Makoto Kamiya, Toshiyuki Honda, and Koichi Kawakita talk about all things Gunhed.

An interesting bit of Gunhed history was briefly on display. Honda-san brought with him the master tape of the Gunhed soundtrack, a picture of which is below.

The talk show lasted quite a while, which was followed by an autograph signing. By this time, I had already gone over-budget, so I didn't purchase any autographs. During this time, I went with my friend Yasushi to an Italian restaurant for some food before the film started.

Ultimately, I arrived back a bit late, so I missed the first few minutes. Overall, I was impressed by the SFX (they've held up very well over the years), I enjoyed the soundtrack, and Brenda Bakke did an excellent job as Sgt. Nim. That said, I still have no idea what the heck is going on in this movie! Granted, I did miss the beginning, but I've never been able to follow the story in any of the times I've seen it. If I'm not mistaken, I think this is the first time I've watched the movie in its entirety (more or less) since the late '90s. It's a very flawed film, but there is interesting stuff in there.

LIVING ON TOKYO TIME: Friendly Faces in Japan's Metropolis

My buddy Derrick (Godzilla vs. Biollante, Lady Battle Cop) Holmes in Kabukicho! 

While attending the Godzilla birthday event in Ginza took the majority of my recent trip to Tokyo, I did manage to spend some relaxing time with my friends in the area.

While walking around Asakusa, I got a call from my friend Derrick who was hanging out near the Shinjuku area. I quickly changed my plans and met him for a nice chat and a tour of the area.

We ended up in a Starbucks in Shinjuku Station (I needed a break after carrying all my luggage!). All in all, it was a great time with a good friend. We ought to get together more often!

When worlds collide! Biollante's Derrick Holmes meets Godzilla vs. Destroyah's Jon Gallock!

I was then scheduled to meet another friend, Jon Gallock. Derrick saw me off shortly after meeting Jon himself. I made sure to snap a photo to preserve the moment for posterity!

Jon and I headed over to Krispy Kreme for some donuts and, surprisingly enough, a discussion about politics and the current state of the world. I usually don't get to talk politics with friends in Japan, so this was an intriguing change of pace.

My meeting with Jon was relatively brief, about 40 minutes. I had another (!) appointment to keep, as did Jon. We said our goodbyes, but hopefully we'll see each other again soon enough.

The day ended with my meeting director Yoshimitsu Banno for coffee and a great discussion of Toho history. Mr. Banno is one of my favorite folks with whom to speak in Japan, and I'm relieved he speaks great English! I was fascinated by hearing stories of Akira Kurosawa, Toshio Masuda, and Kihachi Okamoto by someone who was there. Amazing!

My next blog posts will focus more on the event in Ginza. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

THE VAMPIRE DOLL STRIKES AGAIN! Actress Yukiko Kobayashi Celebrates Godzilla's Birthday in Ginza!

Your humble blogmeister meets actress Yukiko Kobayashi in Ginza, Tokyo.

November 3 marks Godzilla's birthday, and this year the Cine Pathos Theater in Ginza celebrated The Big G's big day in style. An all-day film festival was held, which I was very happy to attend. More on that event in the coming days, but I wanted to make special mention of a very special guest.

Yukiko Kobayashi shares her memories of Destroy All Monsters with a packed crowd at the Cine Pathos Theater.

None other than Yukiko Kobayashi was a surprise guest. Even though Destroy All Monsters (in which she played Kyoko Manabe) was screened much earlier in the day, Kobayashi-san made her appearance following the screening of Godzilla: Final Wars. Her appearance was a complete surprise to me; in fact, she was a surprise guest! I've wanted to meet her since coming to Japan, and I finally got my opportunity!

Ms. Kobayashi and SFX director Koichi Kawakita discuss Godzilla on the Kaiju King's birthday.

As any good tokusatsu fan knows, Kobayashi-san also appears in Yog Monster from Space (as Saki) and The Vampire Doll (as the titular character). She also notably guest-stars in episode 9 of Ultra Seven.

Ms. Kobayashi proved to be a wonderful and generous individual. She graciously agreed to pose for a photo with me once my friend Yasushi asked her (even though she didn't pose with anyone else). Suffice it to say, I came away very impressed, and I hope to meet her again very soon!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

THE RETURN OF AKIRA TAKARADA! The Celebrated Movie Star Has Come Back to Nakatsugawa!

He's back! Akira Takarada takes the stage once again in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan.

Saturday, October 20, held the 90th anniversary celebration for Nakatsu Commercial High School in Nakatsugawa. Among the festivities, famed Toho actor Akira Takarada was invited as a guest of honor. His stay was brief. Takarada-san came from Tokyo and back on the same day, mere hours apart! Mr. Takarada once again sang the theme song to Toho's The Green Mountains (1957), video of which is at the bottom.