Thursday, April 30, 2015

DAIMAJIN STRIKES BACK! Spending an Evening with Actor Riki Hashimoto!

Actor Riki Hashimoto discusses his career at Daiei Studios and beyond. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After getting a private tour of Daiei Studios, our guide Kawahara-san arranged for an impromptu meeting with the legendary Riki Hashimoto. Hashimoto-san is a former professional baseball player who is best known in the West as the actor who played Daimajin in all three of the movies from Daiei Studios. Hashimoto-san went on to play the villainous demon Daimon in Spook Warfare (1968) and a sinister alien in Gamera vs. Viras (a.k.a. Destroy All Planets, 1968). Internationally, Hashimoto-san is best remembered for battling Bruce Lee in The Chinese Connection (1972).

Hashimoto-san was in very good spirits, despite some recent health setbacks. I was told ahead of time that a meeting like this is extremely rare, and that Hashimoto-san was making a special exception for me. Suffice it to say, I was truly honored to have an audience with Daimajin himself.

Early on in our meeting, Hashimoto-san asked the gathered crowd (Kawahara-san and my friends Tanaka-san and Ogawa-san) if they knew which famous international figure was the inspiration for Daimajin's distinguished chin. No one in our group had any idea, but if we're talking about an international figure with a notable chin, I reasoned it must be Kirk Douglas. Hashimoto-san was surprised by answer and confirmed that Daimajin's chin was indeed based on that of Kirk Douglas! He then proceeded to give me a round of applause, which naturally was pretty incredible.

I got several things signed by Hashimoto-san (including a gift for a friend). Since the meeting was scheduled on short notice, I didn't bring any Daimajin items with me, and we couldn't find any of the DeAgostini Daiamjin releases available at any local bookstore. I did find a copy of Spook Warfare, though, and got the items contained therein signed.

Before leaving, I shook Hashimoto-san's hand and called him a hero. He truly is. I can't thank Kawahara-san and Hashimoto-san enough for making this day possible!

TOURING DAIEI STUDIOS! Getting an Exclusive Look at the House That Gamera Built!

Former Daiei actor Sadafumi Kawahara points out that the area around Keio-Tamagawa Station all used to be part of Daiei Studios during its heyday. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today was nothing short of spectacular. First, I enjoyed a private tour of Kadokawa Daiei Studios, and later in the evening I met a legendary actor whose career touched both Japanese and Hong Kong cinema.

Inside Shop Majin at Kadokawa Daiei Studios. I'm wearing my trusty guest pass!

I was later told that tours Kadokawa Daiei Studios just aren't done, and that even former actors usually not permitted to enter the studio. So this kind of tour is extremely rare, and suffice it to say that, while I was able to take pictures behind the studio gates, I was asked not to share them online. So only photos taken in public spaces could be shared. As much as I'd like to show you the photos I took, the powers that be asked me nicely not to!

We got pretty much full access to the studio and were shown around. We got to step inside old soundstages and even Kitchen Cafe Gamera, which can be viewed from outside the studio. Everything was very impressive!

I must thank Kawahara-san, Tanaka-san, and Ogawa-san for their help in making this a day for the history books. I know I'll never forget it!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

THE MAESTRO'S HOUSE! Stopping by the Former Home of Composer Akira Ifukube!

The front entrance of the former home of the late composer Akira Ifukube. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Thanks to a tip from the webmaster of Akira, I was able to pay a visit to the home of Maestro Ifukube and take some photos. Naturally, I wasn't actually able to enter the home, but just to view an important piece of musical history from the outside was quite impressive.

As it turns out, the house still stands in a neighborhood that's not too far from where I live. Currently, plans are under way to sell the house and tear it down, so it may not exist for much longer.

If and when that happens, a big piece of musical history will go with it, but at least the house has been documented in photos, especially on Akira Stay tuned to the official English-language Ifukube site for any further updates.

HANGING WITH AN ULTRA-ICON! Coffee and Conversation with Child Actor Sojiro Uchino!

Former child actor Sojiro Uchino holds a copy of his brand-new book, Gotochi Kaiju, featuring original kaiju that represent local areas in Japan. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Yesterday I enjoyed coffee and a pleasant chat with Sojiro Uchino, a former child actor who appeared in several kaiju movies and TV series during the 1960s. He most notably appeared in episode #18 of Ultra Q ("The Rainbow's Egg") and episode #15 of the original Ultraman ("Terrifying Cosmic Rays"). He was also a boy scout in Gamera vs. Viras (a.k.a. Destroy All Planets, 1968) and appeared in an episode of Tsuburaya Productions' Kaiju Booska (1966-67).

Uchino-san is busy promoting his new book Gotochi Kaiju, which features original kaiju in new adventures around Japan. The theme of the book is that the various kaiju represent local areas in Japan, and he is working with local governments around Japan to help promote the project. A book is just the beginning of this effort, so let's wait and see what comes next!

Monday, April 27, 2015

ANGILAS STOMPS INTO YOKOHAMA! A Kaiju Suit Actor Makes a Rare Appearance!

Toho SFX technician and Angilas suit actor Tadaaki Watanabe holds a copy of a production still from the set of Destroy All Monsters (1968), as he emerges from the Angilas suit. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Just a week after its successful event focusing on Espy (1974), Cinema Novecento returned to the mid-'70s with a screening of Conflagration (1975). Joining the event again was SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano.

SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano poses with posters of some of his most famous works. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As an aside, I actually met Nakano-san on the way to the event. As I boarded the Keikyu Line at Yokohama Station, I noticed Nakano-san standing in the same train car just a few feet away! When we got off at Tobe Station, I greeted him. We spent the next 10 minutes walking to the venue. In the best Japanese I could muster, I asked him questions about his career and his thoughts on a few movies. It was a rare opportunity to have a one-on-one audience with a Showa-era SFX director, and one that I certainly appreciate.

Watanabe-san and Nakano-san tell the audience what it was like to blow Toho Studios up during the 1970s. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The other guest at the event was longtime SFX technician Tadaaki Watanabe, who joined Toho in the 1950s and worked on films into the 2000s. In 1968, Watanabe-san was asked to play Angilas in Destroy All Monsters for some of the scenes, making this a rare public appearance of a Showa-era suit actor not named Nakajima or Satsuma! It was quite exciting to meet Angilas in the flesh.

Meeting Angilas for the first time. He was just as good-hearted as he is portrayed in the movies.

It was enjoyable to see a 35mm print of Conflagration, even if it was showing signs of wear. After the film, Nakano-san and Watanabe-san shared their memories of the movie, as well as their respective Toho careers.

It's always great to hang with Teruyoshi Nakano, one of the true masters.

At one point, Nakano-san pointed me out in the audience and told the story (written elsewhere on this blog) about how I caught that the Toho production logo for the print of Espy was actually taken from The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974), which nobody else in the group noticed. Naturally, it was an honor to be recognized by the master.

Afterward, obligatory photos were taken and autographs signed. We all had a delicious dinner together, over which many Toho tales were told. I'll be returning to Cinema Novecento this Saturday for yet another event, this one Godzilla-centric. Watch this space for a report.

Friday, April 24, 2015

SHINJUKU'S GODZILLA: Up Close and Personal!

Signage in the Shinjuku Toho Building points visitors in the direction of the massive Godzilla head overlooking Kabuki-cho. Photo by Brett Homenick.

April 24 marked the opening of the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, which is most notable to readers of this blog for its 12-meter Godzilla head on the 8th-floor terrace and for the specialized Godzilla rooms it offers its guests. I was able to get an advance look at the enormous Godzilla head on the 8th floor and snap take some photos, which are below. A picture is worth a thousand words, so let's get to the good stuff!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

CATCHING UP: Random Updates from Japan's Capital!

Returning to the special Godzilla-themed set-up outside Shinjuku Station's East Exit, touting the opening of Kabuki-cho's brand-new Toho Cinemas. 

I'd like to share a couple of random photos and updates, the first of which is at the top of the screen. On Tuesday, April 21, I went to the HUB in Asakusa to see Shinichi Yanagisawa perform live jazz, as I usually do every other month.

Actor/singer Shinichi Yanagisawa entertains the audience at the HUB in Asakusa. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It's always a treat to see Yanagisawa-san perform live. Regular readers of this blog no doubt are aware that I interviewed Yanagisawa-san a few months ago, and the interview can be read here. It also contains some exclusive photos that you just won't see anywhere else!

Yanagisawa-san was one of the stars of the cult classic The X from Outer Space (1967). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Some big events are coming soon, so watch this space for some rather interesting news and photos!

JAPAN MUMMY MYSTERY! The American Star of a Japanese Mummy Series IDed!

Flipping through a book on obscure Japanese hero programs that I bought today, I found a show called Kyofu no Miira (1961), which was a short-lived horror drama about a mummy.

What really caught my eye, though, was that the mummy was played by an American! His name (which was rendered in katakana) is Bob Strickland, and once I realized that I could actually speak to Kharis' Japanese counterpart directly, I made a mad dash to try to find him.

It turns out he owned a rather famous steakhouse in Kyoto with his Japanese wife, and once I got the number, I gave the restaurant a call. I spoke with his wife Tokiko who informed me that Bob died last year.

While I was certainly let down by the news, Tokiko was a sweet lady, and I enjoyed speaking with her. But it looks like the mystery of the Japanese mummy will live on forever...

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Former Toho SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano signs a shikishi board for a lucky fan. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I just returned from a movie event in Yokohama with famed special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano. It was a small and intimate gathering hosted by Cinema Novecento, and the theme of the event was the Toho action film Espy (1974).

A 35mm print of Espy was screened, and while it was very enjoyable, I have to say that the most interesting part of the screening happened right at the beginning. Instead of the Espy theme music playing during Toho's production logo, Isao Tomita's opening music from The Last Days of Planet Earth (1974) suddenly blared from the speakers! Suffice it to say, I was surprised and wondered if we were going to be treated to a secret screening of this "banned" film.

After the production logo, however, there was an abrupt cut, and Espy began. I mentioned this to the group after the screening, but no one -- not even Nakano-san himself, who watched the film with us -- noticed anything different. However, my friend Yasushi and I asked the projectionist to look at the actual film, and sure enough there was a splice after the Toho production logo. Not only that, but the projectionist noticed that there was a sudden change in the soundtrack by comparing the film before and after the splice. Moreover, everyone in our group noticed that some of the more "risque" scenes were trimmed from the film.

So what happened? Our group hypothesized that, during the film's initial run, perhaps there was damage to the film print during the production logo, and Toho decided to slap on the logo from The Last Days of Planet Earth, which had already finished its theatrical run, to replace it. As for the other trims, perhaps they were done by an overly cautious theater manager. In any case, the differences were fascinating to see!

Nakano-san was in great spirits, as usual. He told the story of how author Sakyo Komatsu wanted actress Kaoru Yumi to star in Submersion of Japan (1973) but was unsuccessful. Afterward, he got her cast in the spin-off TV series.

Overall, it was a great event, and another one will take place next week. I look forward to attending it.

Friday, April 17, 2015

TOHO CINEMAS OPENS IN SHINJUKU! Godzilla Stomps Kabuki-cho!

Godzilla stands guard against enemy monsters in Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho district. Photo by Brett Homenick.

April 17 marks the opening of the Toho Cinemas in Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho district (just outside the station's East Exit), and I paid a visit to the theater to take some snapshots. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to see the terrace and view the Godzilla head up close, but I hope to do so soon.

"Hasta la vista, Goji!" The Terminator was on hand for the opening of the new theater. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I did manage to look around the crowded theater lobby, and while the outside has a decided Godzilla theme, indoors it was all about the upcoming Terminator movie. Suffice it to say, what was going on outside was more to my taste, as you can see in the photo below.

There was also an interactive Godzilla setup outside the East Exit of Shinjuku Station, heralding the opening of Toho Cinemas. If you pressed the button, a recording plays that features Godzilla's stomps and trademark roar and an announcement of the new theater. Steam billows out from the exhibit. See the embedded YouTube link below for the video.

I look forward to visiting the 8th floor terrace sometime in the near future, but for now today's experience was satisfying. It was very easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement of today, and seeing the full-size Godzilla head up close will be something to look forward to. I can't wait to do it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

IT'S ULTRA-GOOD! Hanging Out with Ultraman Ace Stars!

Spending time with retired actress Keiko Nishi, one of the stars of Ultraman Ace.

Today I got a few autographs for a friend of mine who's a big fan of the Showa Ultra-series. Specifically, I got him the signatures of two Ultraman Ace (1972-73) stars. The first was Keiko Nishi, who played TAC member Noriko Mikawa. It was great to see Nishi-san again after the event with Koji Moritsugu. We talked about that and several other topics in her cafe.

With Ultraman Ace regular Shunichi Okita at his bar in Futako-Tamagawa. 

After that, I got the signature of Shunichi Okita, who portrayed TAC member Ichiro Yamanaka on the show. It had been a few months since I last saw Okita-san, but I was happy to catch up with him. I'm sure my friend will be quite excited to receive his Japanese-style shikishi board with the signatures in the mail!


Heisei and Millennium Godzilla series screenwriter Wataru Mimura poses for a photo in Shibuya. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I have posted my interview with Wataru Mimura on Vantage Point Interviews, so be sure to stop by and give it a look! It was conducted in 2008, but it provides a rare glimpse into the creative process of making Godzilla movies.

I had coffee with Mimura-san today, and we discussed posting his interview on my site. He readily agreed. To read the interview, follow this link.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

MORE GODZILLA'S REVENGE FILMING LOCATIONS! The Opening Scene's Footbridge Has Been Found!

The Hamacho footbridge in Kawasaki, Kanagawa, the location for opening sequences in Godzilla's Revenge (1969). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I visited another filming location used in Godzilla's Revenge, and it is used in arguably the most scene in the entire movie. At the beginning of the film, Ichiro and his friend are crossing a footbridge when they hear the screeching of a car that's making a sharp turn. Ichiro compares the sound to Minya's cry, and the rest is history.

The location is the Hamacho footbridge in Kawasaki, about a 10-minute walk from Hama-Kawasaki Station. It was instantly recognizable as the filming location for Godzilla's Revenge. I walked around the bridge and snapped several photos, and I must say it was very cool to walk around such an iconic location (to us Godzilla fans, at least).

The bridge itself has not fared so well over the years, as it was rather dirty and seemed to be falling apart. But I guess that's in keeping with the theme of the movie itself.

But that's not all! Just down the road from the Hamacho footbridge is Kanagawa Prefectural Road 101, which was also seen in the opening of Godzilla's Revenge! So you get two locations for the price of one!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

GODZILLA'S REVENGE FILMING LOCATION! Photos from the Actual Rail Yard Seen in the Film!

The rail yard as seen in Godzilla's Revenge (1969), which still exists today. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While perhaps not one of the more popular entries in the series, Godzilla's Revenge (a.k.a. All Monsters Attack, 1969) boasts a few memorable locations. As they are so integral to the look and feel of the film, the sprawling railroad tracks and towering smokestacks usually stand out in the mind of anyone who watches it.

The rail yard is called Kawasaki Kamotsu Station, and all these decades later, it still exists in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. But don't let the fact that it's a train station in Japan mislead you -- this station's for freight trains only. Actually, it's quite a distance from the nearest commuter train station (Kawasaki Station), so I would not recommend going there on foot. I took a taxi to the location and hopped on a bus bound for Kawasaki Station on the way back.

The rail yard itself seems to have changed very little since 1969, although the surrounding area does not seem to have fared so well. Most of the empty fields seen in the film have been replaced by even more buildings and assorted clutter. What's more, the billboard that comes into play toward the end of the movie seems to have been removed. (At least it wasn't apparent in the places I looked.)

I should also point out that this rail yard was easily the scariest place I've visited in Japan. It seems a small shantytown was set up next to the tracks, and while at first I decided to walk along it in order to see if I could spot some specific locations from the movie, I quickly decided that was a bad idea and turned around. That said, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, so I must say it was only "scary" by Japan standards. If you're planning to check out this location for yourself, though, forewarned is forearmed.

The day I visited was pretty dreary, and it was lightly raining as I walked around, which made it rather unpleasant to trudge my way through. Still, it was a fascinating experience, and it's always great to walk through an actual location used in the Godzilla series (as opposed to, say, famous landmarks like Tokyo Tower which are usually just recreated as miniatures in the films).

I plan to visit even more locations in the coming weeks and months, so keep it here for further updates.