Wednesday, February 18, 2015

THE FIRST HALF OF FEBRUARY IN REVIEW! The Month Isn't Over Yet, But Here Are Some Highlights!

The month of February is moving at a rapid pace, and while the month is drawing to a close, it's not quite there yet. Still, I wanted to share of the highlights of the month that I haven't covered elsewhere, so here we go.

First, I spent Sunday, February 15, with my friend Jon Gallock in Tachikawa. Jon appeared in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), among countless other movie and TV appearances in Japan. We had a great time catching up on many topics. Actually, it was the first time I got to see Jon since moving to Tokyo last year!

On February 17, I got to visit actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa at the HUB in Asakusa. Yanagisawa-san and his band often perform jazz music there, and it's always a treat to go there and visit. I was able to hand Yanagisawa-san a copy of his recently published interview, and he was excited to receive it. Many thanks to Kyoichi Watanabe for his translation and his friendship!

Yanagisawa-san is a great man, and I think it's wonderful he still performs on a regular basis. I hope to see many more shows during my time in Tokyo. I feel very fortunate that I've gotten to know Yanagisawa-san as well as I have. As one of the stars of The X from Outer Space (1967), it has certainly been my privilege to know him.

That's all for now. Stay tuned to this blog for further updates!

SHIGEO KATO TELLS HIS STORIES! The Ubiquitous Toho Extra Regales Us with His Memories!

Actor Shigeo Kato is all smiles as he remembers his days working as an extra in Toho films. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On February 8, my friend Yasushi and I had the privilege of paying visit to Shiego Kato. Kato-san is a retired actor who lives in Kamakura, and his filmography is absolutely amazing. From Ikiru (1952) to Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), from Seven Samurai (1954) to Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), Kato-san has just about seen and done it all in the Japanese film industry.

Since I was accompanied by Yasushi, I finally had a chance to find out more about Kato-san's life and career. It wasn't an interview per se, but I did take notes on the conversation, and I hope eventually that an article will come of it. Before that happens, I'd like to have more conversations with Kato-san. He is one of the most fascinating people I've ever met!

When we met, I gave Kato-san a copy of his filmography from Japanese Wikipedia. He told me that it was the first time he'd ever seen his filmography. Naturally, he spent a great deal of time studying it. Surprisingly, Kato-san gave me three DVDs of movies he made in the 1970s. All three were directed by Yasuzo Masumura (director of Blind Beast), and all three are decidedly non-tokusatsu. I've watched one movie so far, which is Domyaku Retto (1975), which is a similar story to Toei's Bullet Train (1975) but more of an adult drama.

All in all, we had a wonderful time, and I can't wait to see Kato-san again!

ULTRA SEVEN SIGHTED IN SHIMBASHI! A Promotional Statue Kept Travelers Safe on the Yamanote Line!

As part of a promotion that was taking place in January, an Ultra Seven statue on was put on display in Shimbashi Station in Tokyo. While it was there, I visited the station and took some photos. Here they are. Enjoy!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Riichiro Manabe, 1924-2015

It has been announced that Godzilla series composer Riichiro Manabe has passed away at age 90 on January 29. Manabe-san wrote the scores for Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), among many other film works.

The photo above was taken on January 2. I was able to visit Manabe-san at his retirement home in Yugawara, Kanagawa, bringing a couple of boxes of manju as a gift. I sensed that Manabe-san seemed weaker than usual, but he seemed in fairly good health. As I was leaving, I assisted Manabe-san (along with a nurse on staff) in walking as I headed toward the elevator and gave him a hug. I remember waving to him as the elevator closed and went down. I still hoped for future visits, but it is not to be.

Riichiro Manabe and Yoshimitsu Banno share memories in Tokyo, May 2013. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In May 2013, I first met Manabe-san at a concert which celebrated Akira Ifukube's 99th anniversary. There Manabe-san was reunited with Smog Monster director Yoshimitsu Banno. It was my first time to meet Manabe-san, but I would be very fortunate in having several more meetings. I tried to interview Manabe-san a few times, but he was not interested in discussing his career.

I feel very fortunate I had the chance to meet him and tell him about my admiration for his music. I will miss him. Please rest well, sensei.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

HONORING KOICHI KAWAKITA: Toho Studios Hosts a Memorial Ceremony for the Late SFX Director

With actor Koichi Ueda at the Koichi Kawakita memorial celebration, taking place at Toho Studios.

I've just returned home from a moving celebration honoring the life and career of Godzilla series SFX director Koichi Kawakita. For me, things got started on the Odakyu Line platform at Noborito Station. There I happened upon Heisei series director Takao Okawara, who was also waiting for the train to arrive. After we entered, Millennium series SFX director Eiichi Asada boarded the train, wearing a surgical mask. I watched as Asada-san approached Okawara-san and introduce himself. The two talked until getting off at Seijo-gakuen-mae Station, at which point I shook hands with the gentlemen and introduced myself. Both were surprised that I recognized them and knew who they were!

Former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano poses in front of the memorial. Nakano-san gave a moving speech, honoring his colleague.

When I arrived at Toho, screenwriter Wataru Mimura was also making his way there. I also ran into my friend Yasushi. The celebration was a veritable who's who of Toho, including: Godzilla suit actors Haruo Nakajima and Kenpachiro Satsuma, directors Yoshimitsu Banno and Kazuki Omori, producer Shogo Tomiyama, SFX directors Teruysohi Nakano, Kenji Suzuki, and Eiichi Asada, actor Koichi Ueda, Shinichi Wakasa, Hurricane Ryu, Yoshikazu Ishii, Hiroshi Sagae, and many others.

As you can see above, Godzilla was even on hand, smashing a city. It was an appropriate tribute to a man who had directed the Big G in many such situations.

With writer-director Kazuki Omori, who wrote and directed Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991).

Before the ceremony got under way, attendees met and mingled with one another. It was quite nice to see old friends and colleagues excitedly coming up to one another and reminiscing about old times. I walked around the studio and caught up with a number of old friends and acquaintances.

With Millennium series SFX director Eiichi Asada.

I introduced myself to actor Koichi Ueda, who was in numerous Heisei and Millennium Godzilla films, not to mention the original version of Shall We Dance? (1996). Ueda-san was very friendly and a pleasure to speak with.

Hanging out with a man who needs no introduction, Haruo Nakajima.

After the memorial began, Teruyoshi Nakano, Kazuki Omori, and Shogo Tomiyama addressed the audience and paid tribute to Kawakita-san. Nakano-san's speech in particular was quite moving. When he finished by saying "Kawakita-kun, sayonara," the finality of Kawakita-san's passing swept through the studio.

Director Masaaki Tezuka, the most prolific of the Millennium series directors.

Following the speeches, when I was taking pictures around the studio, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Sonoe Nakajima, Haruo Nakajima's daughter. We said hello, and of course I greeted Nakajima-san himself, who was in great spirits.

SFX director Kenji Suzuki and screenwriter Wataru Mimura.

As I was leaving, I got another tap on the shoulder. This time it was Shogo Tomiyama, who thanked me for coming. What better way to end the evening?

Suit actors Hurricane Ryu (left) and Kenpachiro Satsuma (right) reminisce about their Toho days.

When the event finished, Wataru Mimura, Yasushi, and scenario writer Fuko Takano went to the Italian restaurant Saizeriya for dinner. The food was delicious, and the mood was light. I think we all needed to lighten the mood after the attending the ceremony.

Rest in peace, Kawakita-san. Thank you for the memories and the movies.