Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ULTRAMAN FESTIVAL 2012: 45 Years of Ultra Seven!

This year's Ultraman Festival in Ikebukuro focused on the 45th anniversary of Ultra Seven (1967-68). In attendance on August 10 was Koji Moritsugu, who starred as Dan Moroboshi (Ultra Seven's alter ego) in the series. Not only did I meet Mr. Moritsugu, but I also met his daughter, Aya, who was there to assist him. Aya was very friendly and spoke very good English, having lived in the U.S. for some time. It was a fun event, so I'll let the photos speak for themselves!

TOKUSATSU: Tokyo's Museum of Contemporary Art's SFX Exhibit

Ulf Otsuki and I ravage Tokyo at the city's (temporary) tokusatsu museum.

Much has been written online about Tokyo's Museum of Contemporary Art's tokusatsu exhibit. For some more info, go here. I'm not going to regurgitate the details already posted elsewhere; I'm just going to share my photos! Ulf Otsuki (Godzilla vs. Megalon, Rainbowman, Daitetsujin 17, etc.) attended with me. Most of the museum is off-limits to shutterbugs like yours truly, but there is one area in which pictures are allowed. Here are the highlights.

Tokyo: A Weekend Recap

Hanging with actress Shelley Sweeney, one of my favorite people in Tokyo!

Okay, folks, here's a quick recap of some of my activities over the weekend.

I had a great dinner with Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster director Yoshimitsu Banno. He discussed some of his recent projects, his life growing up, and a few other things.

I also got to meet Tora-san in Asakusa!

Well, actually, I saw the Toho war epic The Imperial Navy (1981) on the big screen. It was made even more interesting by occasional bickering in the audience by older Japanese men!

Hanging with my buddy Ulf Otsuki. If you don't know him by now, read more of this blog!

At the Cine Pathos in Ginza with director Yoshikazu Ishii and William Ferguson of Neptune Media. We attended a Kumi Mizuno film event, which screened Matango (1963) and War of the Gargantuas (1966). Ms. Mizuno then was interviewed onstage and gave out signed copies of her new book to the crowd. She and her manager recognized me and greeted me warmly. Definitely a highlight of a fun weekend with friends!

KAIJU-YA: Shibuya's Hidden Tokusatsu Bar

The entrance to Kaiju-ya, a cool tokusatsu-themed bar just outside of Shibuya Station.

What can I say? Since no one else is covering these cool places that Godzilla fans can visit in Japan, I might as well pick up the baton. Veteran Tsuburaya Productions suit actor Toshio Miyake owns a restaurant/bar just outside of Shibuya Station called Kaiju-ya, and when you're in the area, any self-respecting kaiju fan ought to check the place out!

A kaiju suit from MM9 is just one of the cool attractions visitors can see.

First, a word about Toshio Miyake. Miyake-san's suit-acting credits include: Gridman, Ultraman Zearth, Ultraman Tiga, Ultraman Dyna, Ultraman Gaia, Ultraman Cosmos, MM9, Death Kappa, and many other credits. One of his most notable roles was Golza in Ultraman Tiga, but suffice it to say that Mr. Miyake has more than 150 kaiju roles to his credit!

Toshio Miyake holds a VHS copy of Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad, the American adaptation of Tsuburaya's Gridman. Miyake-san plays the role of Kilokahn (in his fight scenes) and Dyna Dragon in the program.

Sure, the space is a little cramped, but find a bar or restaurant in Shibuya that isn't! Otherwise, it's certainly a place to check out. The kaiju-oriented decor certainly makes it all worthwhile.

I give Kaiju-ya full marks. When in Tokyo, stop by!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MAJOR SPIELBERG MEMORIES: Daniel Kahl Remembers Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

 "You can tell your son about it when he's born..." sez Kent Gilbert (left) to Daniel Kahl in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).

Originally published in G-FAN #76

The name Daniel Kahl may not register with many G-fans, but his memorable role in 1991’s Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah certainly does. In the film, Mr. Kahl played Major Spielberg, a naval officer during World War II, whose sighting of the Futurians’ time machine would inspire his son to change the cinematic world forever. Fifteen years after filming it, Mr. Kahl discussed his role with G-FAN’s Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: Please tell me about your background before you moved to Japan.
Daniel Kahl: Born in Southern California in 1960. Been intrigued by Japan since I was a kid. Had several Japanese-American friends. Started learning karate after watching Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. This experience especially got me hooked on Japan.

BH: What made you decide to come to Japan?
DK: I wanted to find out what made Japan tick. I knew that Japan was becoming an economic powerhouse, so I thought I'd come and see how. Maybe it would lead to an interesting career. I first came as an exchange student to a high school in Nara Prefecture. I wanted to continue learning karate there, but most Japanese high schools don't have karate teams. So I did judo instead which, as all its practitioners are aware, is also a great sport.

BH: How'd you get your start in acting there?
DK: Long story. After Nara, I lived in several different places around Japan -- all way out in the country. I learned Japanese the hard way. No teachers, just picked it up from the locals. So my Japanese is -- how shall I describe it -- nuanced. I guess you could say my Japanese is considered very rural, with a definite twang. Very few foreigners living here have spent as much time out in the countryside as I did. And even fewer have picked up the dialects.
Anyway, I started working as a TV reporter for several of the Japanese networks. Mainly human interest stories -- food, travel, etc. Somehow, my funny Japanese clicked with the viewers, and I've been working on TV now for 18 years. It's hard to explain why I have been so lucky and have such a fun job. But if you imagine a Japanese guy who learned all his English in Alabama, you might be able to approach my "image.” The incongruence of the face and the accent just makes people smile. Acting, as in the Godzilla flick, however, is very much a sideline to my main work. Things are a bit different in the TV industry here.
        There are lots of full-time and fully dedicated "movie actors" in Japan, but on TV, dramas usually throw in a few famous personalities (pundits, celebrities, talents, or whatever you would call the "famous for being famous" crowd). I've been in half a dozen TV drama series where I usually play a character very similar to my actual self -- a sort of clueless but funny foreigner who speaks hopelessly messed up (yet still perfectly correct) Japanese. Godzilla (vs. King Ghidorah) was a totally different experience for me. Number one, all my lines were in English. I seldom use any English at all in my regular work. Number two, it was a movie, made for theaters. Real celluloid versus the video technology I always work with. Hence, very bright lights, heavy make-up, CG (where you can't actually see the UFO flying overhead), and lots and lots of waiting around for the sun to be at the right angle.

Major Spielberg (Daniel Kahl) ponders what to tell his son, Steven, about his sighting a UFO.

BH: How'd you land your part in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah?
DK: The Godzilla series also often uses famous personalities from Japanese TV. One day, my agent got a call. Kent (Gilbert) and I were in the same agency at that time. I strongly suspect that they wanted Kent real bad, and I got thrown in to sweeten the pot, like the whistle in the Cracker Jack box.

BH: What was your reaction to the infamous "Major Spielberg" line when you first read it?
DK: What an honor! It blew me away.

BH: What was it like on your day of shooting? What happened that day?
DK: It's pretty much a blur now. We traveled by train down to Yokosuka Naval Base, south of Tokyo. Got there about eight in the morning, I think it was. After being admitted to the base, one of the staff directed us to board a destroyer of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces. In the hold, we changed into uniforms and got made up. Mind you, this is on a destroyer, so there is not a lot of room, and you have to watch your head everywhere you go. Hatch door frames are pretty low. Not much of a problem for me, but Kent is pretty tall. Anyway, we were ready to roll by eight-thirty. Didn't start shooting till maybe four that afternoon. Spent a lot of the day exploring the destroyer. That was cool. Ate in the mess, talked to the sailors. I'd never been on one before, so I made the most of it. Kent did, too.

BH: How was Kazuki Omori as a director?
DK: Hm. That's a toughie. I only "worked” with him for less than an hour, and he had a lot on his mind right then. Of course, the guy is a pro and thinks of everything. Like most Japanese directors, he's pretty obsessed with perfection. But when you're working with guys like Kent and me, you have to make exceptions. He did, and everything was over quickly.

BH: The movie made waves in the West for allegedly being anti-American. What do you think about that?
DK: As I'm sure all your readers know, every Godzilla movie is anti-American. That 's what makes them so much fun. But Japanese artistic anti-Americanism is like French artistic anti-American. They do it because it's chic, not because they hate Americans. Japanese people like America and Americans just fine. They may not be too happy about the Iraq situation and would definitely have done it differently, but hey, they've got troops there. That's loyalty. That's friendship. But thumbing your nose at America is almost a prerequisite to get any movie produced nowadays, especially in America. Because filmmakers at least have to appear as though they have some political integrity, they take their jabs at America, and the masses pronounce it cool. It's pretty sly when you think about it. Movie-makers don't have to make tough, real decisions in life. But it is oh so easy to appear like you are serious about an issue. Nuff said.

BH: What did you think of the film?
DK: I wish I had had a more involved part. But just being Mr. Spielberg's dad for a day was a story I will tell my grandkids.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Your humble blogmeister sandwiched between two of the genre's biggest icons: Bin (Ultraman) Furuya and Akira (Ogata) Takarada at Narita International Airport.

G-FEST XIX (2012) is in the history books, and by all accounts we had the biggest turnout of all time. According to Jeff Horne, more than 1,800 fans crammed the Crowne Plaza O'Hare in Rosemont to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event!

 Ultraman and I prepare to go through Customs at Narita Airport. Photo by Akira Takarada.

I met up with G-FEST's two honored Japanese guests at Narita International Airport the morning of July 12 (Japan time). Mr. Takarada was in the process of printing out his e-ticket when I saw him. Mr. Furuya didn't join us until Mr. Takarada and I had our tickets in hand and our luggage checked.

One interesting side note is that Mr. Takarada discovered that he had misplaced his passport a few days beforehand! He ultimately had to order a new one, which arrived only the day before we left. How's that for luck?

Now how's this for coincidence? With about an hour or so before landing in Chicago, I happened to look at what the Japanese gentleman was watching for his in-flight entertainment. It turns out he was watching a TV drama featuring Akira Takarada! I quickly stopped what I was watching and found the TV drama in question. It also was apparently the drama that Mr. Takarada came to Nakatsugawa to film last December (which was when this year's G-FEST plans were initially hatched). See, folks? It all comes full circle!

Two masterpieces give each other the once-over at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After arriving at O'Hare, it was off to the Crowne Plaza to get the guests checked in. After check-in, they elected to rest in their rooms for about an hour and a half before our next appointment. All I had time for was a quick shower before I made sure that all the pieces were in place for our next stop: the Art Institute of Chicago. Pam and Martin Arlt of Mad Scientist magazine took us to our next destination.

 Just outside the Art Institute with the city of Chicago behind us.

Hiroko Saito of the Art Institute gave our guests a Japanese-language tour. Even to non-fans, Messrs. Takarada and Furuya must stick out, as I was asked by a patron of the museum who the two gentlemen were. I suppose they must have looked like "somebody," so I explained their careers in Japan to the lady.

The Wolfman meets Ultraman: Danny T. meets a childhood idol of his, Bin Furuya!

After the guests had toured the Art Institute, we returned to the hotel. From pretty much this point on, the guests were mobbed by fans all weekend. They couldn't walk two feet without getting stopped for a photo or an autograph. Luckily, however, they managed to get picked up for a dinner held by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Chicago.

About to eat dinner with Tom Korzeniowski, who himself had spent many years living and working in Japan.

While Mr. Furuya and Mr. Takarada were having dinner, Frontier Enterprises voice actor Tom Korzeniowski stopped by the hotel to meet me. I interviewed Tom for G-FAN two years ago, and this was our first face-to-face meeting. Coincidentally, the only movie he remembers dubbing for Frontier is The Last War (1961), which stars Akira Takarada! He also appears onscreen in 1968's The Green Slime. We swapped stories about Japan and other things. It was great to meet Tom, and we'll be sure to meet up next time I'm in Chicago.

 Tsukioka swoops in for an autograph from Akira Takarada! 

The guests retired for the evening after having dinner. The rest of the night was devoted to meeting and mingling with fellow fans, some of whom haven't been to G-FEST in many years.

 J.D. "Da Chief" Lees hobnobs with his favorite San Fernando Valley kaiju fan, Richard Pusateri. I hope no one reading this is too jealous!

It certainly was great to talk to a myriad of G-fans. But that was enough fun for one night. Gotta save my energy. Three days were left!

On Friday morning, we organized the toys that Mr. Takarada shipped to G-FEST for sale. While in his hotel room, some obligatory photos were snapped, this time with the webmaster of, Erik Homenick.

A side of G-FEST's Opening Ceremonies that you usually don't see!

For most of Friday, Mr. Takarada and Mr. Furuya were taken on a cruise on Lake Michigan. Despite the unexpected downpour that took place the same day, a good time was had by all. The guests returned in time for Opening Ceremonies, during which they greeted G-FEST attendees, posed for pictures, and signed autographs. Afterward, it was time for dinner.

A motley crew joins Akira Takarada and Bin Furuya (not in the shot) as the Crowne Plaza shuttle takes us to Giordano's. 

Given its close proximity to the hotel, we chose to go to Giordano's for one of the funniest and most interesting dinners of all time. Danny T. had an ongoing "dialogue" with the woman he dubbed "Grandma," our ostensibly surly waitress who really seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth. And Grandma was right -- it wasn't cheesecake!

Damon Foster speaks with Akira Takarada, who had fond memories of Damon from two years ago.

We returned from the dinner, and the guests were once again met with autograph and photo requests! I've never seen guests at G-FEST mobbed to such an extent. Well, that's all for Friday. Saturday was up next, and what a day it turned out to be!

 Interviewing Takarada-san: Onstage with the Big Boss himself.

Saturday began with my interview with Akira Takarada. The interview went extremely well, and Mr. Takarada answered questions from many in the audience. The interview surprisingly had a strong emotional side when Mr. Takarada discussed his postwar experiences.

Cease and desist? Naw, come and listen! In this session, I discussed my experiences in Japan, using photos I took myself for illustration. All content contained therein was (obviously) my own.

Despite some attempted outside interference from a goofball who didn't have a clue what he was talking about, my session on the things I've done and people I've met in Japan went as smoothly as I could have hoped. The only snag was that my session was delayed a few minutes, as Mr. Takarada was (what else?) signing autographs and posing for pictures near the stage. Once everything was moved outside to the hallway, I began my presentation. My friend Danny joined me onstage to throw in his two cents when necessary. It was laid-back and informal, just as I envisioned it. I got compliments throughout the weekend, which certainly gave me a boost. I hope someone videotaped the session!

 Damon Foster interviews Bin Furuya about Ultraman and Ultra Seven.

While Damon Foster interviewed Bin Furuya onstage, Jeff Horne alerted me to the fact that radio host Mancow was in the audience. Jeff asked me to assist Mancow, as Jeff was too busy wrangling the massive line for Svengoolie. I quickly made my way to Mancow's seat and quietly introduced myself.

Yours truly with Mancow (and Ultraman).

Mancow is a genuine Ultraman (and Johnny Sokko) fan. Once he found out that Bin Furuya would attend G-FEST, he got in touch with the convention to become a part of it. I made sure that Mancow got to interview Furuya-san for his radio show. G-FEST and Mr. Furuya could use some national exposure!

A happy moment: Following the interview, Mancow poses for pictures with one of his heroes.

The interview lasted about 10 minutes and was conducted behind closed doors. Hiroko Saito and Yoshiko Urayama of the Chicago Shimpo newspaper were also on hand. Following the interview, Mancow had his Ultra-memorabilia signed by Furuya-san. While all that was wrapping up, I got to chat with Mancow about another passion we both share: pro wrestling!

It's coming! National horror host Svengoolie drew hundreds of fans to G-FEST, helping make this convention the biggest G-FEST of all time!

Svengoolie's line was truly remarkable; it was as long as the Dealers Room gets on Friday afternoon! Although he was only at G-FEST for two hours, Svengoolie gave the show a big bump which was truly appreciated.

My attention quickly turned to the autograph line, during which I was placed in charge of hawking the toys Mr. Takarada sent to G-FEST. Most of the toys sold, I'm happy to say.

Hangin' out is what it's all about! Bin Furuya with some of his biggest fans anywhere in the world!

After the events of Saturday ended, it was time for more partying. As you can see, a great time was had by all! 

Bin Furuya shows off a replica gun from Monster Zero.

Sunday morning brought Bin Furuya's interview on his non-Ultra career. Everything from his Toho career (as an extra in many kaiju films) to his recent role in Monster X Strikes Back was covered. But the highlight of Mr. Furuya's weekend was still to come...

Akira Takarada presents Bin Furuya with the Mangled Skyscraper Award.

What a magical moment this turned out to be. I'm just glad I was able to cover it, as I not only was using my camera, but I was also taking shots with Furuya-san's camera at the very same time! Not an easy feat by any stretch!

A picture is truly worth a thousand words. Mr. Furuya was genuinely touched by the award. It certainly helped that Mr. Takarada, who partly inspired Mr. Furuya to become an actor in the first place, presented him with the award.

That's all, folks! Well, almost. I only touched upon a fraction of what took place. For instance, Mark Jaramillo presented several minutes of the elusive fan film "Wolfman vs. Godzilla" for the first time to a Western audience. (Though I missed the session itself, thankfully Mark showed me the clips he brought the day before his impromptu presentation.) There were plenty of other notable sessions that I missed. For another perspective, I wholeheartedly recommend this report.

G-FEST by any measure was a great success!