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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

GODZILLA 1985: Production Notes on the Last Great Americanization

Director R. J. Kizer reads a copy of G-FAN magazine in 2007. Photo courtesy R. J. Kizer.

While looking through some of my old files, I discovered a few notes on the production of Godzilla 1985 that director R. J. Kizer sent me around the time I interviewed him for G-FAN magazine in 2007. As I recall,  none of this made it into G-FAN, and while I always intended to do something with it, other projects kept coming up and needed my attention. So I'm reproducing those notes below. Enjoy!

June 8, 1985 - Breakfast meeting with Tony Randel. Set to meet at Nick's Restaurant at corner of Westwood and National. Nick's was closed. Didn't open until 11:30. We go to Hamburger Hamlet at National and Sepulveda. Tony offers me the "chance for immortality."

June 28, 1985 - My last day as film editor on "A Dollar a Day," later released as "Planet Rage."

July 1, 1985 - I watch "Godzilla, King of the Monsters"

July 2, 1985 - I watch "The Philadelphia Experiment" (Tony has some extra footage from that film that he wants to use in "Godzilla, 1985")

[[July 2 -- ADR programming of Japanese sequences begun]]

July 8, 1985 - I officially start work on "Godzilla, 1985" Casting starts; casting director = Danny (Goldman)

July 24, 1985 - Pre-light Stage One, Raleigh Studios; 6:30 pm Dinner meeting with Raymond Burr at Le Mondrian Hotel, Sunset Blvd

July 25, 1985 - 1st day of shooting -- all shots involving Raymond Burr

July 26, 1985 - 2nd day of shooting -- rest of the shots

July 27, 1985 - 3rd day of shooting -- Dune Creek Ranch, 6238 Bonsall Drive, Malibu (camera truck gets lost, we don't start shooting until close to sunset)

July 29-30 -- ADR at Ryder Sound, Vine Street, Hollywood

Aug 8-9, 1985 -- Final Sound mix -- Ryder Sound, Vine Street, Hollywood

August 23, 1985 -- Theatrical release

"Professor Hiyashida" Yosuke Natsuki (English voice = Paul Wilson)
"Goro Maki" Ken Tanaka (English voice = Tony Plana)
"Naoko Okumura" Yasuko Sawaguchi (English voice = Lara Cody)
"Hiroshi Okumura" Shin Takuma (English voice = Andy Goldberg)

English dialogue for Japanese sequences = Lisa Tomei and Tony Randel
American scene script = Straw (Weisman) 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

GODZILLA VS. MEGALON: A Weekend with One of My Favorite Films!

Teruyoshi Nakano and yours truly. Nakano-san directed the SFX for Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), the first Godzilla movie I ever saw.

I first saw Godzilla vs. Megalon around 1986. My brother and I were looking around a video store for a movie he wanted, and during our search I happened upon the Goodtimes Home Video release of Megalon on a double feature with The Snow Creature (1954). I knew the name Godzilla, but never had seen any of the films. I was curious. So I asked if we could purchase the film, which our mom graciously did.

While most fans know Kenpachiro Satsuma as the Godzilla suit actor from 1984 through 1995, it's his portrayal of Gigan in Godzilla vs. Megalon that is of most interest to me.

The movie, of course, launched a lifelong interest in Japanese SFX films, something none of us could have foreseen back in the mid-'80s. Heck, it's the reason I'm living in Japan! Who knew a VHS tape could be so influential?

 With my good friend Ulf Otsuki. His most notable role to tokusatsu fans in the West is that of the bearded Seatopian agent in Godzilla vs. Megalon

Over the three-day weekend (October 5-8), I stayed in Tokyo with a lot on my itinerary. It just so happened that Godzilla vs. Megalon would feature so prominently in my plans. No fewer than four key players from that film were a part of my plans. It was a total coincidence, but a most welcome one!

With Yutaka Hayashi (a.k.a. Hiroshi Jinkawa) in Roppongi, Tokyo. He was one of my first heroes!

I should make special mention of Yutaka Hayashi. He and our mutual friend Akio sat down and had a lengthy chat on Sunday night, October 7. We talked about his acting career and a host of other topics. It was hard to believe I was having such a casual chat with the hero of the film I endlessly watched as a child. As I told Hayashi-san, Megalon not only made me a Godzilla fan, it made me a fan of the movies. It's the first movie I remember seeing that I actually liked!

I understand there's a lot of controversy concerning the film back in the U.S. I'll let others worry about that. Me, I'm just going to sit back and cherish the wonderful memories I got from this past weekend.

TOHO STUDIOS AND ULTRAMAN TOWN: A New Look at Setagaya's Most Intriguing Locations!

 Happy Halloween from Ultraman Town in Setagaya, Tokyo!

Soshigaya-Okura Station (on the Odakyu Line) offers fans of the hero from M78 a lot to see. Not only is it at the heart of Ultraman Town, but Toho Studios is a (relatively) short walk from the station. I've covered Ultraman Town in a previous blog post, so I won't go into much detail here, except to say that I enjoyed seeing the Halloween theme so prevalent among the regular Ultra-sights. Moreover, I noticed a couple of changes at Toho Studios when I stopped by for a visit, but I'll let my photos do the talking. Enjoy!

NOTES ON NIISAN TAKAHASHI: The Gamera Scribe Discusses His Adopted Christian Name

On Monday, October 8, I ate lunch with Showa-era Gamera screenwriter Niisan Takahashi. The meeting was arranged by my friend Yasushi. Takahashi-san wrote all the scripts for the Gamera films between 1965 and 1980. At 86 years old, he's in good spirits and quite active!

The most fascinating thing I learned is that Mr. Takahashi has a middle Christian name. No, he wasn't born with it, but he took it on after a tragic event happened in his life. On December 31, 1982, his wife passed away after a lengthy illness. She was a Christian, so Takahashi-san researched notable Christians who also passed away on New Year's Eve. One he discovered was Pope Sylvester I, who died on December 31, 335. Takahashi-san decided to make Sylvester his adopted middle name in honor of his wife.

On a much lighter note, I asked Mr. Takahashi about the process of writing screenplays for the Gamera series. On average, they took about 10 days to write (which was the length of time it took him to write Gamera vs. Viras). The first draft was always the shooting script. Mr. Takahashi never rewrote a Gamera script. However, the director may, in some cases, have elected to change the script due to budgetary concerns. But those changes never came from Mr. Takahashi. 

The meeting lasted about three hours. Takahashi gladly signed autographs and answered every question posed to him. We'll likely be doing a formal interview sometime in the future. Stay tuned!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NAKANO-SAN! The Famed SFX Director Celebrated his 77th Birthday in Style!

Nakano-san tries on his new birthday present at the Grissom Gang's movie theater in Kawasaki, Kanagawa.

Despite a flurry of Facebook and message board postings to the contrary (which erroneously listed his birthday as October 1), Teruyoshi Nakano celebrates his birthday on October 9. How do I know? On Saturday, October 6, the Grissom Gang hosted an all-day event, celebrating the 77th birthday of one of Toho's most celebrated SFX directors.

The event began with a series of trailers, including the coming attractions for Godzilla 1985 (yes, the American version), Godzilla '98 (no "GINO" references, please), and Godzilla 2000 (the American version again). Following that, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster played to an appreciative audience.

My friend Yasushi gets an autograph from Nakano-san.

After the movie, Gaijin Channel interviewed Mr. Nakano about his lengthy SFX career. During the interview, I was surprised when Nakano-san picked me out of the audience and mentioned our e-mail correspondence. Suffice it to say, I didn't see that coming!

After the interview wrapped, it was off to a nearby sauna, which has become a tradition for Nakano-san's birthday events at the Grissom Gang. There each attendee gets to wash the back of Mr. Nakano before he enters the water. To say the least, it was an interesting experience! I've been to more than one onsen in Japan, so I'm familiar with the routine, and the initial "shock" has all but worn off.

At the time, I asked Mr. Nakano if he had ever had his back washed by a foreigner, which he hadn't. During dinner, he revealed that he actually felt quite honored that I, a foreigner from a different culture, would show him such respect. He said it would be a memory he'd take with him to heaven. I didn't know what to say. I was speechless.

Meeting Jim Ballard and J.R. Lipartito of Gaijin Channel. 

The dinner went very well, with Nakano-san teaching us gaijin the proper way of drinking sake. He was also amazed that several Westerners attended his birthday celebration. I'm glad we were able to make his birthday party an international experience!

Teruyoshi Nakano recounts one of many stories during dinner.

All in all, it was an absolutely memorable event. I feel extremely privileged to have been part of it. As someone who was introduced to the world of Godzilla through Godzilla vs. Megalon, I couldn't have asked for a more fulfilling experience. While we were there to honor Nakano-san, I think we all felt honored to be a part of it!

This was only the beginning of an eventful weekend, but it was a tremendous kickoff. My sincerest thanks to Teruyoshi Nakano and the Grissom Gang for their generosity and hospitality!

Yours truly and Nakano-san at Shimo-Kitazawa Station.

Here's to you, Teruyoshi Nakano!

THREE GODZILLAS?! WHAT DOES IT MEAN? It Means Super Festival 60 Is in Ruins!

Toys, toys, and more toys! Super Festival offers kaiju toy collectors an array of figures to choose from.

On October 7, 2012, Super Festival 60 was held in Tokyo's Science Museum, a stone's throw from the Imperial Palace. Much was packed into the day's events, including the appearance of the three most prominent Godzilla suit actors.

It's Ultraman Zero to the rescue at Super Festival!

Aside from whatever toy sales might have been going on (which, quite frankly, don't interest me), the first event of the day was Hiroshi Fujioka's talk show. Mr. Fujioka was not only the first Kamen Rider, but he went on to star in such Toho SFX films as Submersion of Japan (1973), Espy (1974), Conflagration (1975), and Zero Fighter (1976). The audience for Fujioka-san's talk show sprawled out the door, as the legendary actor talked about his Kamen Rider days. He ended by performing his iconic "henshin" pose, which drew cheers from the enthralled audience.

The three Godzillas in a more thoughtful state: Tsutomu Kitagawa, Kenpachiro Satsuma, and Haruo Nakajima describe the differences between their approaches to Godzilla.

Immediately after Hiroshi Fujioka's interview, The Men Who Played Godzilla took the stage to recall their days of city-stomping. Each actor described his style of suit-acting, as members of the audience eagerly snapped photos of the meeting of the monsters. I should note that the audience for this session was about half the size of Hiroshi Fujioka's. Kamen Rider may be obscure in America, but it's one of the most popular franchises in Japan. Godzilla seems to have met his match.

Destroy all monsters! The Men Who Played Godzilla pose for the paparazzi. 

Following the Godzilla talk show, it was autograph time. Attendees could purchase a shikishi board that all three Godzilla suit actors would sign, which is what I did. I also purchased an extra autograph from Nakajima-san for my DeAgostini Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster DVD, whose signature joins those of Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, and Teruyoshi Nakano.

Nakajima-san was first. Of course, Mr. Nakajima is getting on in years, so he didn't recognize me until I sat down next to him. When he saw me, well, the above photo speaks for itself! (Yes, this pose was his idea!)

Kenpachiro Satsuma was next. It was actually my first time meeting him. I found him to be personable and gregarious. Wish I could have spent more time in his company, but that will have to wait for next time!

Who says Japanese fans are all shy and reserved? I think the above photo explodes that myth!

The Millennium series suit actor Tsutomu Kitagawa was last, but like Messrs. Satsuma and Nakajima, he proved to be a friendly and classy gentleman.

I also met Koichi Kawakita again and purchased a couple of items from his table. Even on a budget, I was able to purchase a few mementos!

And there's my shikishi board with the signatures of the Godzilla series' three main principal suit actors. Too cool for words, so the picture will have to do.

Below is some video I shot of the suit actors' talk show. Enjoy!