Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rhodes Reason: Cherished Memories

Rhodes Reason reenacts his improvised "Marlon Brando-ism" from King Kong Escapes with yours truly.

Rhodes Reason has passed away at the age of 84. I'm having a difficult time trying to find the proper words to convey my thoughts. There's a lot to say, so I hope the following blog post will do at least some justice to Rhodes Reason and the impact he had on my life.

I first contacted Rhodes through his wife Jeri in early 2006. At the time, I had just started conducting interviews with people connected with Toho kaiju films, and given that Rhodes was the star of one of my favorites, King Kong Escapes (1967), I was eager to speak with him.

Rhodes has always shunned publicity and never liked interviews. Fortunately, however, Jeri passed my request on to Rhodes. Shortly thereafter, I found out that Rhodes wanted to talk with me. Suffice it to say, I was nervous. I'd never spoken with an actor (let alone star) from Toho's Showa era, so it would be a first for me. I remember sitting in my recliner waiting for his call, feeling about as excited as I was anxious.

With Rhodes Reason in Palm Springs, October 2009.

When Rhodes got on the phone, we spoke for a long time and had a great chat. At this point, the details were hazy, but I remember being struck by Rhodes' deadpan sense of humor. He loved to tell jokes and make people laugh, completely at odds with his serious and authoritative screen persona.

During this time, we had a series of telephone conversations, and it became clear that Rhodes and (especially) Jeri were interested in attending G-FEST. J.D. Lees was delighted to have Rhodes headline the convention, so we agreed to wait until 2007 to bring Rhodes as the convention's guest of honor.

Not only did Rhodes grant very few interviews, he rarely attended conventions. Aside from G-FEST, he only ever guested at a show geared toward Westerns, which was held in North Carolina in 2000. Rhodes never charged for his autograph, and happily answered through-the-mail autograph requests for his fans, but he almost never attended public events. G-FEST would be a major exception for him.

Rhodes and Jeri Reason pose for a photo with fellow G-FEST 2007 guest Shelley Sweeney. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I met Rhodes and Jeri in person for the first time at G-FEST. Although J.D. intended to pick the couple up from the airport (while I assisted Shelley Sweeney, who would be arriving at about the time), J.D. came back to the Crowne Plaza without the Reasons. He couldn't find them at the terminal. Sometime thereafter, the Reasons arrived at the Crowne Plaza on their own. I instantly recognized them when they entered, and I went up and introduced myself. I'd get to know them very well throughout the weekend.

I finally got to interview Rhodes about King Kong Escapes during our panel discussion. Damon Foster edited together a tongue-in-cheek introductory video that Rhodes seemed to enjoy quite a bit. During the interview, Rhodes used his acerbic wit to entertain the audience about his memories of KKE. I was happy to play along when I could. When it was over, Jeri told me that Rhodes and I made a great team.

Rhodes Reason with his former co-star, showing his comedic side that he rarely got to display in his more dramatic movie and TV roles. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier, on Friday night, King Kong Escapes screened at the Pickwick. When Rhodes made his way down the aisle to take his seat, the audience spontaneously broke into applause. I was later told that this unscripted sign of admiration really touched him.

A major highlight for me happened during the awards luncheon. When J.D. introduced Rhodes to the audience, he stood up and acknowledged his fans. Everyone in the hall stood as well. I was standing next to Rhodes, applauding like everyone else, when Rhodes suddenly brought me closer to him and planted one on my cheek. I don't think I've ever been told "thank you" in a better way.

On Sunday evening, I spent several hours in the Reasons' suite, listening to Rhodes' stories about his time in Hollywood. I truly enjoyed ever moment of it, and I'll treasure those memories forever.

With Rhodes Reason in Palm Springs, March 2011, just before I left for Japan.

After G-FEST, I kept in touch with Rhodes and Jeri by phone and e-mail. In 2008, the Reasons left Portland and moved to Palm Springs. As coincidence would have it, I ended up in the same area about a year later, and I was able to see the Reasons a few times. I loved asking Rhodes' opinions of whatever new movies were out at the time. If a movie had a political edge to it, chances are he liked it.

I tried to see the Reasons when I visited California in July 2012, but Rhodes' health wouldn't allow it. I was disappointed to have missed the chance, but I had no idea it would be my final opportunity. I last spoke to Rhodes on the phone a few months ago. He seemed to be doing fairly well, even though his health was not so great. He was interested in hearing about my meeting with Mie Hama and asked me to e-mail the photo I took with her, which I did. That would be my last direct communication with Rhodes Reason.

Lunch in Palm Springs with Rhodes and Jeri, October 2009. 

I miss you already, Rhodes. You were always great to me, and I hope I was able to show how much you meant to me. I'll always remember you. With all my love.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A BUSY DAY IN TOKYO! Some Highlights From This Cold December Day!

Yup, that's your humble blogmeister in a big frog mask at the Shop Majin booth near Chofu Station.

Today was a busy with many events happening all over Tokyo. After visiting Kadokawa Daiei Studios, I visited the Shop Majin booth near Chofu Station.

The shop's booth was not just selling its usual Gamera/Daimajin merchandise, but was also highlighting some spooky yokai creatures as part of an exhibit that's currently being held in Chofu. I was able to get in on the fun by wearing an enormous frog mask they had on display!

Just some of the merchandise available at the Shop Majin booth.

Even though I could barely see (or even hear) anything while I had the mask on, it was a fun experience, and the photos turned out quite well.

You talkin' to me?

Some of the masks were intriguing designs I'd never seen before (see below). My interest in yokai more or less ends with the trilogy of films Daiei produced in the late 1960s, but it was cool to be exposed to another side of Japanese monsters.

While I was walking around Ningyocho, I stumbled upon a restaurant called Mifune. At first glance, I thought it was an interesting coincidence, but no, it really is a Toshiro Mifune-themed restaurant!

I didn't go in to sample the food, so I'll do that another time. It's a good thing I remember how to get there!

After making that discovery, I went to a live house called Akasaka Graffiti for a Christmas concert of sorts. The program was made up of various singers who took turns signing (mostly) Christmas songs, karaoke-style. While I enjoyed the bevy of singers who sang familiar Christmas tunes, I came specifically to see Maria Theresa Gow.

Tokusatsu fans may know Ms. Gow from her turn as GUARD member Georgie Leland in Ultraman Gaia (1998-99). She's always very friendly, and it was a blast to see her again. Naturally, she did an excellent job onstage!

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM DAIEI! The House That Gamera Built Wishes You Happy Holidays!

Every December, Kadokawa Daiei Studios in Chofu, Tokyo, gets into a festive mood and decorates its Daimajin statues in Santa and Rudolph regalia. Today I stopped by the studio and snapped some photos, which are presented here. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

FORTY YEARS OF MECHAGODZILLA! Celebrating Mecha-G's Major Milestone with Two of His Makers!

SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano signs my Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla DVD sleeve, which has already been signed by a couple of other Toho luminaries. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I just returned from a memorable Mechagodzilla event in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. There were two guests of honor: SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano and screenwriter Hiroyasu Yamaura. Both gentlemen worked together on the genre classic Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2014. However, the pair also worked together on a lesser known sci-fi effort, Tokyo Blackout (1987).

Yours truly poses with an original copy of the Mechagodzilla script with the man (Hiroyasu Yamaura) who wrote it!

I was pleased to add the signature of Nakano-san to my Mechagodzilla DVD sleeve, which has already been signed by Yamaura-san and designer Akihiko Iguchi. I sat next to Yamaura-san for the event, and after speaking with other fans and attendees, Nakano-san joined our table for a discussion.

Lucky me: Sitting between two of the original Mechagodzilla's godfathers.

It was rather cool to have Nakano-san share his memories of Eiji Tsuburaya and then have Yamaura-san translate them to me in English! While Yamaura-san isn't fluent, his English is much better than my Japanese, so he was able to explain some of the stories that were told. For one, Nakano-san said that Eiji Tsuburaya would make his own suits himself! I guess he really loved creating all sorts of things!

It was a great night with great people, honoring a great film. I'm glad to have been a part of it.

NEW AND OLD FRIENDS IN TOKYO! A Brief Update from the Land of the Rising Sun!

With Tom Dolan, who appears in two Heisei-era Godzilla films, in Shibuya Station.

December has been a busy month, and I've had a lot on my plate. With that said, I'm condensing a couple of blog updates into one.

First, last Thursday night, I had a chance to meet and eat dinner with Tom Dolan, an American actor living in Japan who appears in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) as John Connor, a member of G-Force, and Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994) as McKay, the head of the Mafia. Tom's a pleasant guy, and I enjoyed chatting with him. I look forward to meeting him again soon.

The next day, on Friday morning, I had a wonderful meeting with Natsuki-san. I met him at his office for a few hours, and we talked about a wide variety of topics. As always, he was a gracious host.

Natsuki-san was kind enough to sign a few items for me and pose for a few photos. We also enjoyed a delicious pizza lunch.

I'm sure I've said it countless times, but it bears repeating: I truly cherish my visits with Natsuki-san. He's as warm and friendly as they come. Arigato gozaimasu, Natsuki-sama!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A VERY YANAGISAWA CHRISTMAS! Japan's Jazz Singer Performs Christmas Songs Live!

Yours truly poses with actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa in Asakusa, Tokyo.

I just returned home from another live performance by the Shinichi Yanagisawa All-Stars at the HUB in Asakusa, Tokyo. Since Christmas is quickly approaching, an entire set was devoted to famous Christmas songs, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and several others. Naturally, these songs were done in a jazzy style that was very enjoyable.

The Shinichi Yanagisawa All-Stars perform Christmas music in front of an appreciative audience. Note Yanagisawa-san on the drums. 

In between sets, I was visited by Yanagisawa-san, who signed my Blu-ray sleeve of The X from Outer Space (1967), in which he plays Miyamoto. Yanagisawa-san's signature joins that of co-star Itoko Harada, whom I met last week.

Yanagisawa-san perfectly signs English-language Christmas songs for the packed crowd.

The music certainly put me in the mood for Christmas, as did Yanagisawa-san's kindness. I presented him with a Christmas card during the evening, which he was happy to receive. Being a fan of Yanagisawa-san's acting has led to my becoming a fan of his singing, and I eagerly anticipate seeing his next live performance in Asakusa!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

HIROYASU YAMAURA'S NEW PLAY! Shin-Yurigaoka Hosts the World War II-Era Saga!

Yamaura-san and his wife are all smiles prior to the start of the play. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I just returned from a play written and narrated by Hiroyasu Yamaura, the principal screenwriter for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), as well as several notable tokusatsu programs. The play was essentially a one-woman performance, and the star, Fumiko Narisawa, did an excellent job, despite her later telling me how nervous she was.

Star Fumiko Narisawa and writer Hiroyasu Yamaura address the audience following the performance. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The play, entitled Lili Marlane, is a dramatic story that takes place in Europe during World War II. The audience was packed and gave the cast and crew a big round of applause at the end. During Yamaura-san's closing narration, he says the line (in English), "Life is beautiful." As he said it, he looked at me and smiled. Suffice it to say, the smile was returned.

Following the performance, I was invited by Yamaura-san to the after-party. The after-party lasted several hours and was a lot of fun. I thanked Yamaura-san many times for his hospitality. I will be seeing him again very soon!

Congratulations on a great play, Yamaura-san!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Koichi Kawakita: Giant Among Giants

Special effects director Koichi Kawakita poses with some friends at the Godzilla tokusatsu exhibition in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in August. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On December 5 (which, as it turns out, was his birthday), longtime Toho SFX director Koichi Kawakita suddenly passed away at the age of 72. A ubiquitous presence at various fan gatherings in Japan, Mr. Kawakita was a special guest at G-FEST this July in Chicago. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kawakita was a beloved figure on both sides of the Pacific.

Mr. Kawakita flashes his familiar smile while addressing fans in Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As most Godzilla fans know, Mr. Kawakita directed the SFX scenes for every Godzilla movie from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).

Mr. Kawakita joined Toho in the early 1960s, working on the lavish sci-fi epic Gorath (1962), among many other films. In the 1970s, he worked on a variety of films and television programs, such as Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Zone Fighter (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974), Zero Pilot (1976), The War in Space (1977), and the Shaw Brothers' Mighty Peking Man (1977). In the 1980s, Mr. Kawakita directed the dazzling effects in Sayonara Jupiter (1984) and Gunhed (1989). Following his retirement from Toho, Mr. Kawakita founded his own production company, Dream Planet Japan.

Akira Takarada and Yuriko Hoshi join Koichi Kawakita onstage at a signing event in celebration of Godzilla's 60th anniversary. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I've been fortunate to meet Mr. Kawakita at several events in Japan. We even rode together on the same flights to and from Chicago last summer for G-FEST. (On the way to Chicago, Mr. Kawakita and his family sat just a row or two behind Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, and me. Because I was busy with the other guests at G-FEST, I didn't have a chance to talk with Mr. Kawakita at the show until the Sunday night convention staff dinner. With my friend Yasushi's assistance, I was able to ask Mr. Kawakita many questions about his career.

Thank you for the wonderful memories, Mr. Kawakita. May you rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

MEETING ITOKO HARADA! Guilala's Gal Remembers Her Famous Starring Role!

Meeting former Shochiku Studios actress Itoko Harada in Funabashi, Chiba. 

Today I was very pleased to meet Itoko Harada, a former actress at Shochiku Studios during the late 1960s. Although she decided to leave the entertainment business by the end of the '60s, Harada-san is remembered by kaiju eiga fans all over the world for her leading role in The X from Outer Space (1967).

These days she is involved in pottery, but Harada-san still has fond memories of her acting career. When I brought her my Blu-ray sleeve of the film for her to sign, she enjoyed looking at it and showing it to her friends before adding her signature to it.

On top of having a successful singing career, Harada-san is also notable for starring as one of the members of the all-female spy team in Shotaro Ishinomori's Flower Action 009-1 (1969), in which she appears alongside Kaoru Yumi (Espy, Prophecies of Nostradamus).

Harada-san was very friendly, and I enjoyed having the chance to meet her. It certainly was flattering being called "ikemen" by the star of one of my favorite monster romps! I hope for other such meetings in the future!