Tuesday, April 16, 2013


A recent photograoh of Mr. Nishizawa. (Source: Nishizawa-san's blog)

On April 11, 2013, actor Toshiaki Nishizawa lost his battle with bladder cancer. He was 77.

Nishizawa-san was born on January 20, 1936, in Hokkaido. The actor began his professional career in 1961 and is best known to Godzilla fans as playing the treacherous Kubota in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). Until his passing, Nishizawa-san continued to work as an actor.

Where are you, Kubota?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

SONNY CHIBA'S HEART WILL GO ON: A Look at Chiba-san's Dinner Banquet Celebration

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you; that's me interviewing Sonny Chiba, just before the start of his dinner banquet.

On April 7, the RIHGA Royal Hotel in Waseda, Tokyo, hosted a banquet in celebration of Sonny Chiba's being awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater, Nippon Sport Science University. And, even though his birthday is January 23, it also served as a 74th birthday party for the legendary Toei star (complete with a Marilyn Monroe-esque "Happy Birthday" routine). All in all, it was a celebration of Sonny Chiba, and I think we can all get behind that!

First, I had the distinct honor of interviewing Chiba-san. When he came out for the interview, he shook my hand and told me (in English), "Nice to see you again!" We didn't have a lot of time for questions (understandably so), but Chiba-san was quite energetic during our talk. He gave me a great quote about director Hajime Sato (Terror Beneath the Sea, The Golden Bat) which I can't wait to share!

Greatest of all, however, was seeing the interview reported on Chiba-san's blog after it was over! Seriously, folks, how cool is that?

Sonny Chiba addresses the banquet hall in style.

Many VIPs from Chiba-san's university addressed the audience, sharing their memories of his college years. Some vintage footage of Chiba-san performing gymnastics was shown, and it was amazing to see what a gifted athlete he was. The Street Fighter doesn't give you the whole picture of his abilities!

Interestingly, during this time, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic was played on a constant loop, which inspired the title of this blog post. I found it a little amusing, seeing that Chiba-san's filmography is the very antithesis of that song!

Father and daughter: Sonny Chiba shares the stage with his daughter, actress Juri Manase.

Many movers and shakers from the entertainment industry in Japan were on hand for this event. I met some folks with rather impressive resumes.

In the above photo is Yumi Kinoshita. She became a Sonny Chiba fan with the hit series Key Hunter. She speaks great English, and we got along very well.

Tsuburaya Productions suit actor Kazuya Shimizu was in the house, too, as were a number of Japan Action Club members.

Suffice it to say, Chiba-san was mobbed everywhere he went. Still, he handled it like the pro he is and treated his fans respectfully. He cheerfully posed for pictures and signed autographs.

Would you like to look this good when you're 74?

Toward the end of the evening, I got to chat with Chiba-san's daughter, Juri Manase, who's best known to fans in the U.S. from her role in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1. She speaks quite good English, and I enjoyed having the chance to speak with her.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable event. I did more networking at this celebration than at any other time since I've been in Japan. I'd like to extend my thanks to Sonny Chiba, Seiji Iwahori, Yumi Kinoshita, and everyone else who helped make this event one for the ages.

HOW I SPENT MY SPRING VACATION! Friends and Fun in Tokyo

A chance meeting with actress Anna Nakagawa (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) was just the first of several surprises during my most recent sojourn to Tokyo.

I must say that I had an enjoyable spring break. It's certainly one of the benefits of being a teacher. During my most recent visit to Japan's capital, I was able to stay for the longest time I've ever spent in Tokyo. So, of course, I was able to accomplish quite a lot. Here are some highlights:

I met screenwriter Wataru Mimura for dinner and coffee. Coincidentally, we ran into each other the day before at Shinjuku Station! It was the same day I met Ms. Nakagawa by chance on the train, which has to be a record for me!

On April 1, I met and interviewed actor Katsuhiko Sasaki. The interview was translated by my friend Yasushi. We both enjoyed Sasaki-san's company, and he shared many fascinating stories.

Yasushi also directed me to a cafe owned by the husband of Ultraman Ace actress Keiko Nishi. Ms. Nishi works at the cafe and is happy to chat with Ultraman fans who come wandering in. Even though the language barrier prevented deeper conversation, I was glad to meet her.

It's become something of a tradition to meet Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster director and Godzilla (2014) executive producer Yoshimitsu Banno for coffee and dinner. I always enjoy Banno-san's company, as we talk about a wide range of topics.

Another highlight was getting to meet and interview Goro Mutsumi from the Showa Mechagodzilla movies. We held the interview at English Avenue Daikanyama, and it was translated by Asako Kato. As always, she did a tremendous job. Mutsumi-san is a gentleman of the first order, much different from the villainous roles he's played on the screen!

Hangin' with America's newest movie star, Akira Takarada. Takarada-san showed me some photos from his recent trip to Vancouver (to film a certain movie). It was also my first time seeing his office. I was quite happy to meet Takarada-san's secretary in person, Kogure-san. We've spoken on the phone for years but never met! We ended up having Chinese food for dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Tokyo as seen from the observation deck of Mori Tower in Roppongi.

Godzilla vs. Megalon star and former Village Singers member Yutaka Hayashi and our mutual friend Akio got together at Hayashi-san's night club Abbey Road for a birthday party. Whose birthday, you might ask? Mine! It was quite a surprise. I had no idea it was coming, but I was quite grateful for the experience (to say the least).

Interviewing Gamera series screenwriter Niisan Takahashi near his home in Chigasaki, Kanagawa. Yasushi once again provided the translation for this wide-ranging interview. Many anecdotes were revealed, and it was truly an eye-opening conversation. Takahashi-san was great to spend time with. I'm still flattered that Gamera's creator called me "ikemen"!

CHERRY BLOSSOMS, TOHO-STYLE: Photographing the Sakura at Japan's Greatest Film Studio

In late March, the cherry blossoms began blooming in Tokyo, and given how much I've always wanted to see and photograph the blossoms at Toho Studios, I made it a point to snap a few shots during my latest trip. The results are self-explanatory. Enjoy!

Monday, April 8, 2013

THIS RONDO'S FOR YOU! J.D. Lees Inducted into the Monster Kid Hall of Fame!

G-FAN editor and G-FEST organizer J.D. Lees (right) hangs with Richard Pusateri (left) and yours truly (center) at G-FEST XIX, July 2012.

The annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards have just been announced, and the first inductee into this year's Monster Kid Hall of Fame is none other than J.D. Lees!

As any good G-fan knows, J.D. edits and publishes G-FAN magazine, which recently celebrated its 100th issue. This year will mark G-FEST XX, with guests Shinichi Wakasa and Tsutomu Kitagawa from Japan. J.D.'s hard work has finally been honored by the Rondo Awards.

G-fans have spoken, and their Rondo choice was J.D. Lees! Thanks to all who supported him!