Friday, July 31, 2015

AN EVENING AT LA SHION! A Great Time with Actor Shunichi Okita!

Actor Shunichi Okita and yours truly strike a familiar pose in Tokyo's La Shion.

I just returned home from an enjoyable evening at the La Shion bar in Tokyo. As readers of this blog will recall, it's owned and operated by actor Shunichi Okita and his wife. Okita-san starred as TAC member Ichiro Yamanaka in Ultraman Ace (1972-73) and has appeared in several films, such as Tokyo Drifter (1966), Red Lion (1969), and Battle of Okinawa (1971).

After checking out the incredible Genesis of Ultraman 1966-1980 exhibit in Yokosuka, I bought the commemorative book that was on sale at the gift shop, which includes photos of the props on display as well as copies of the production designs, among other cool photographs.

I showed the book to Okita-san and his wife, who were both impressed. Naturally, I asked Okita-san to add his signature to the book. I'm sure it is the first of many to come.

Thank you very much for a great evening, Okita-san!

A DAY AT THE KACHIDOKI BRIDGE! Godzilla Demolished It in 1954!

The Kachidoki Bridge, which stands over the Sumida River, was the scene of destruction in the original Godzilla movie. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today I visited a cafe in Ginza that I enjoy, but since I still had some time left over, I decided to walk over to the Kachidoki Bridge, which pedestrians and drivers alike use to cross the Sumida River.

Of course, my main area of interest was the bridge's use in Godzilla (1954), in which the King of the Monsters destroys the structure. 

A bridge with a view! Looking out over the Sumida River. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Although I have visited the bridge a couple of times in the past, it had been almost two years, and since I've upgraded my camera in the interim, I decided it would be worthwhile to snap some new shots.As expected, the searing summer heat left me sweating profusely, but it was nonetheless a fun afternoon.

Another beautiful view from the other side of the Kachidoki Bridge. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Godzilla aficionados from around the world have visited this bridge for its association with the Godzilla series. It's certainly worth a look for any tourist with an interest in the Big G.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Tribute to Ultra Seven Actress Linda Hardisty, 1947-1986

American actress Linda Hardisty, as she appeared in the popular Japanese TV series Ultra Seven (1967-68). Screen capture by Brian Bankston

One of the more elusive American actresses who worked in Japan during the 1960s was Linda Hardisty. Her best known credit in the West was playing one of the nurses in The Green Slime (1968), but in Japan she is rather famous in Ultra Seven fan circles for her role as Dorothy Anderson in episodes 14 and 15 of the celebrated series from Tsuburaya Productions.

For many years, Ultra Seven fans in Japan have been attempting to find Linda in an effort to bring her to Japan to reunite her with the cast of the show and to introduce her to her Japanese fans. In particular, actress Yuriko Hishimi (Ultra Seven's Anne Yuri) expressed interest in seeing her old colleague again. Ultra Seven fan Yasushi Shiroi recruited me to help find her, but it had seemed nearly impossible for a long time.

Earlier today, I received a promising tip that would seem to lead me directly to Ms. Hardisty. After giving it a go on my own, I recruited super sleuth Mike Barnum (a contributor to Scarlet Street and other excellent genre publications) to help in the search. Unfortunately, what Mike was able to find turned out to be the worst possible news.

Linda Lee Hardisty, born on June 5, 1947, in Boise, Idaho, died on August 28, 1986, in Battle Ground, WA. She was 39. In 1970, she earned a Bachelor's degree in English from Boise State College (which is now Boise State University). Thus far, no obituary or cause of death has been uncovered, but we are still searching.

In fact, that remains all that's known about her. If anyone has information that he or she could share, please contact me. Any additions or corrections would be most welcome. If you were related to Linda, please contact me.

Linda died much too young, but her memory lives on with Ultra-fans around the world. RIP, Linda Hardisty.

UPDATE (7/31): Actress Yuriko Hishimi uncovered (or came into possession of) this yearbook photo from Boise State College. It is undoubtedly the same Linda Hardisty who appeared in Ultra Seven.

UPDATE (8/5): This obituary confirms her identity. 

UPDATE (12/22/2022): After going through some of my old correspondences, I came across my brief notes on my telephone conversation with Linda's last surviving sister in August 2015. During our conversation, she informed me that Linda died of a perforated ulcer. At the time I spoke with her, Linda's sister seemed open to doing an interview, but she ended up changing her mind much later on in the process. Because I was expecting to publish a full interview with her eventually, I never revealed Linda's cause of death. Since that interview will almost certainly never happen, I've decided to share that information here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

MONSTER ZERO LOCATION! Here They Fled from Godzilla!

The Kanda River in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, was barely spared destruction in Monster Zero (1965). Photo by Brett Homenick. 

As I wrote about in my previous blog post, today I went to the Fujisan Sengen Shrine in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, which is at the foot of Mt. Fuji. Even though I enjoy seeing shrines and other sites of historical value, the main reason for my visit was that the area was a filming location in Monster Zero (a.k.a. Invasion of Astro Monster, 1965).

The Mitarashi Bridge, which stands over the Kanda River, was the likely site of fleeing crowds in Monster Zero. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

When the Xians unleash Godzilla and Rodan on Japan in Monster Zero, Godzilla ravages the area around Mt. Fuji. At one point, townspeople near the mountain can be seen running alongside a river, and they can also be seen running across a bridge with red railings. These scenes were shot right next to Fujisan Sengen Shrine in Fujinomiya.

Could this bridge have been used in the shot in which the police car accompanies the evacuees? Interestingly, there's a koban (police box) right next to the bridge. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Even though the location is certainly the Kanda River, it is difficult to say with 100% accuracy if the bridges seen in the film are the same ones that stand today. For example, they both are noticeably different, and even the red railing of the Mitarashi Bridge is different from what we see in the movie. Was the bridge restructured? Was it a different bridge entirely? A lot can happen in 50 years, but I feel confident that the Mitarashi Bridge is what we see in the film.

I should point out that Fujinomiya is extremely far from Tokyo, so if you decide to check this filming location out for yourself, be sure not to have much else planned for your day. I'd also like to mention that, as in Monster Zero, you can normally see Mt. Fuji in the background of Fujisan Sengen Shrine and the surrounding area. However, lousy weather prevented Mt. Fuji from being visible in any of my shots.

Yours truly, standing where hordes of people once ran, pointing to where Godzilla once rampaged.

All in all, I had a great time checking out a new filming location from the Godzilla series. Monster Zero is a classic from the Showa era that seems to get even more popular as time goes on, and part of the excitement of living in Japan is having the time to visit these out-of-the-way places that tourists simply do not have.

Atami Castle, one of the more famous locations from the Godzilla series. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On the way home, I had to change trains at Atami Station, and from the platform I could see Atami Castle in the distance. Of course, Atami Castle was destroyed by the dueling kaiju in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), just prior to the end of the film. As a bonus, I took its picture, too.

FUJISAN SENGEN SHRINE! A Great Place to Visit at the Foot of Mt. Fuji!

Fujinomiya Sengen Shrine in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I paid a visit to Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, near the foot of Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, however, the weather decided not to cooperate with me, and despite my hours (and hours!) of traveling, I couldn't see Mt. Fuji at any time during my journey. Even though I didn't experience any rain today, the sky was completely opaque, thanks to the storm clouds blocking the view. I suppose I should just be thankful that I avoided a major storm!

While in Fujinomiya, I stopped by Fujisan Sengen Shrine (or Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, as it's known in Japanese). For a bit more about the location, please follow this link.

I had a great time walking around the grounds of the shrine and photographing the area. As you can see from the pictures, it truly is a beautiful location.

Naturally, I am disappointed that the weather prevented Mt. Fuji from appearing in the shots. The shrine (obviously) looks much more impressive when Mt. Fuji is visible in the background. Perhaps I will eventually go back to the area to see the shrine in its full glory (when the weather is more cooperative, of course).

That said, it is very far from Tokyo, as anyone who has actually been to Mt. Fuji knows quite well. My ride to Fujinomiya took about four hours (!) all together, given that I had to wait anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes more than once for my connecting trains to arrive. The return trip was a bit more convenient, but it also exceeded three hours.

I would certainly recommend Fujisan Sengen Shrine to any visitor who is near Fujinomiya City. It is also worth a look for having been a filming location in a classic Godzilla movie, but more on that in the next blog post.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

THE GENESIS OF ULTRAMAN 1966-1980! A Temporary Ultra Exhibit in Yokosuka!

Signage outside the Yokosuka Museum of Art, advertising its special Ultraman exhibit. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The Genesis of Ultraman 1966-1980 is a special exhibit hosted by the Yokosuka Museum of Art, which runs between June 27 and August 30, 2015. This exhibit has been touring around different parts of Japan for the past few years, but it has recently come to the Tokyo area (though it's technically taking place in Kanagawa Prefecture) earlier this summer.

Ultramen assemble! One of the (very) few parts of the exhibit in which photography is allowed. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was very impressed by the exhibit. I have seen other Ultraman-related exhibits in Tokyo, but this was by far the best. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of original props on display (everything from original Science Patrol uniforms to masks of the various Ultra Brothers), as well as the various creature designs that patrons could view.

Kanegon stands on guard, ready to confiscate your camera if you sneak any photos! Photo by Brett Homenick.

As the name of the exhibit would suggest, it covers the years 1966 through 1980, so everything from Ultra Q (1966) through Ultraman 80 (1980-81) is covered. At the end of the exhibit, there is some memorabilia, highlighting Ultraman's iconic status, but since my interest is limited to the production of the shows (and not the merchandise that gets pumped out), I just briefly glanced at what was on display.

Overall, I highly recommend The Genesis of Ultraman 1966-1980 to any Ultra-fan lucky enough to be in the Tokyo area this summer. The artifacts and history on display was awe-inspiring, and it is by far the best array of props and memorabilia from the Ultra-series I have ever seen.

Gettin' in on the action! Could there be room for another Ultra Brother?

For more information, follow this link. A word of advice: The Yokosuka Museum of Art is very far from Yokosuka Station. Be prepared for a very expensive taxi ride to the museum and/or to stand in the blistering summer heat of Japan for a long time while you wait for the bus. (I speak from painful experience on both counts.) In any case, definitely check it out while you can.

RETURN TO KURIHAMA FLOWER WORLD! Revisiting the King of the Monsters!

The King of the Monsters stands tall in Kurihama Flower World! Photo by Brett Homenick.

During my day trip to Yokosuka, I paid a visit to Kurihama Flower World, which many Godzilla fans will recognize as the home to the enormous (nine meters high, 10 meters long) Godzilla slide in the park's Adventure Land section.

Welcome to Kurihama Flower World! Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Given that it had more than three years (hard to believe it's been that long!) since my first trip there, I decided to give it another look. My decision was made much easier by the fact that I had other business in Yokosuka, so the trek to Kurihama would be much shorter than it otherwise would be.

Godzilla stands just a few feet down the road. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Despite the blistering heat, I made the hike up Kurihama Flower World and looked forward to seeing the slide again. One thing I wanted to do this time was actually to go down the slide. During my first visit, a typhoon had just blown through Tokyo, leaving the slide a muddy mess. This time, however, the weather was about as sunny as it could get.

It's Godzilla! Photo by Brett Homenick.

The sun began to set, giving an interesting lighting to the photos I took. It also posed a few problems, as I couldn't really photograph the slide from certain angles. Still, I think the pictures turned out extremely well.

The Godzilla slide, as seen from behind. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After snapping some pictures, I decided to give the slide a try. Unfortunately, I ended up having to force myself down the slide, since nothing happened when I first tried! It turns out that the slide is much better to look at than to use.

After spending a few minutes with the King of the Monsters, it was time to turn around and go home. Considering all the hiking I did in the sweltering summer heat, I feel like I've done enough exercise to last me the rest of the year. So I think I'll take it easy until around New Year's!

It was great to see Godzilla again in all his glory. Perhaps another trip might be in the cards in the near future, but we'll have to wait and see what happens.

SCENES FROM YOKOSUKA! Spending an Afternoon by Tokyo Bay!

Ready for battle! The U.S. Navy stands on guard in Tokyo Bay. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I went to Yokosuka, Kanagawa, to do a couple of things. (More on that in upcoming blog posts.) As soon as I got off at Yokosuka Station, I made my way toward Tokyo Bay to photograph the U.S. Navy vessels in the bay.

Although I've visited Kanagawa several times, I've never stopped by Yokosuka Station. It was quite impressive to see the U.S. Navy ships and submarines.

I spent a few minutes looking around and snapping photos, but then it was on to the business of the day. (And there was plenty of it!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Ultraman Ace actor Mitsuhiro Sano poses with his famous co-star at his bar in Shinjuku. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight I paid a visit to a bar in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district called Poppo. What makes this particular bar stand out from the countless others in the area is that it is owned and operated by Mitsuhiro Sano, who played Terrible Monster Attacking Crew (TAC) member Kozo Yoshimura on Tsuburaya Productions' Ultraman Ace (1972-73). Sano-san also appeared in Tsuburaya's TV series Star Wolf (1978), as well as Toei's Kamen Rider Ryuki (2002-03) and Kamen Rider Decade (2009).

Yours truly with Sano-san, enjoying a great evening in his bar.

At first, Sano-san had no idea that I was an Ultraman fan and that I might have known who he was. Suffice it to say, he was quite surprised when he found out I wasn't just some random customer! I told him that I saw him at Bin Furuya's recent birthday celebration, which is the first inkling I had that Sano-san might be accessible to Ultra-fans. After receiving a helpful tip from a friend, I was able to locate his bar in Kabukicho.

Some Ultra-related toys on display in the bar. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Aside from some casual conversations wth Sano-san (with an assist from a helpful bar patron), I sang karaoke as Sano-san played bongo drums in accompaniment. So, the next time you watch Ultraman Ace, remember that TAC member Kozo Yoshimura has heard me sing "Uptown Girl" by Billy Joel and "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club!

Thank you again very much for the great evening, Sano-san! See you again soon!

KABUKICHO'S KAIJU STREET! Another Location for Godzilla Fans to Check Out!

One of the sights to behold on Kaiju Street in Kabukicho. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Not far from the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku in Kabukicho is Kaiju Street, a Kabukicho art project that ought to have kaiju fans taking notice.

A few kaiju-related artworks can be seen along this street, making it yet another destination for traveling kaiju fans who want to check out the new Godzilla sights in Shinjuku.

Godzilla's dominance in Tokyo continues to be felt!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

GODZILLA VS. MEGALON REUNION! Two of the Film's Stars Join Fans in Yokohama!

Actors Katsuhiko Sasaki (left) and Hiroyuki Kawase (right) reunite to celebrate Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I attended a great event in Yokohama that saw a small Godzilla vs. Megalon reunion take place with two of the film's stars, namely Katsuhiko Sasaki (Goro Ibuki) and Hiroyuki Kawase (Rokuro Ibuki).

The event kicked off with a screening of an excellent 35mm print of Godzilla vs. Megalon. I've never seen the film look better, and I was able to notice small details I've never noticed before. Of interest, the "Action!" blooper that found its way into the American release was absent from this print.

If it's July, I must be hanging out with Katsuhiko Sasaki!

After the film screen, Sasaki-san and Kawase-san sat together and reminisced about the movie with the help of two interviewers. They discussed their memories of director Jun Fukuda, co-star Yutaka Hayashi, and some of the various locations used in the film.

 Meeting Hiroyuki Kawase again after director Yoshimitsu Banno introduced us a few weeks ago.

Following the Q&A session, the special guests signed autographs for the fans. I had a couple of items signed, but seeing the goods brought in by the other attendees made me feel completely unprepared! I saw some pretty incredible posters, production stills, and lots of other cool items in tow.

Sasaki-san and Kawase-san sign autographs for lucky fans. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Once folks had their swag signed, it was time to eat dinner with the guests. Everybody enjoyed gabbing with the guests, who were completely friendly and accessible, which is the way it should be.

Thanks to everybody who made this event one for the history books. On to the next one!

ON HOLY GROUND! The Ibuki House from Godzilla vs. Megalon Today!

The House That Goro Built still stands in Tokyo to this day. Photo by Brett Homenick.

One of the most interesting and memorable filming locations in the entire Godzilla series was the house used for inventor Goro Ibuki (played by Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his much younger brother (played by Hiroyuki Kawase). I've been asked about it in the past, but with no information available at the time, it seemed just about impossible to find it (if it even still existed).

Well, I'm pleased to say that it does exist to this day. As a matter of fact, it looks largely the same as it did in the movie (just without all the paintings). The biggest change I noticed is that the house now sits in the middle of a bunch of other houses in a residential area. In the film, the house appeared to be rather isolated, out in the middle of a field.

The stairs that Hiroshi Jinkawa (Yutaka Hayashi) ran down, as they appear today. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The house is still used as somebody's private residence, and as such I was politely asked not to divulge any info regarding its specific location. That's fair enough; I certainly wouldn't want to trouble the owners by directing a bunch of crazy fans their way.

Of all the locations I've visited in Japan, I would have to rank this one as my favorite. I honestly thought I'd never get to see it in person for myself. I've never been happier to be wrong!

Friday, July 17, 2015

GODZILLA SIGHTED IN KICHIJOJI! Kenpachiro Satsuma Joins His Fans for a Special Dinner!

Heisei-era Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma gets his revenge on the Super X2, which mercilessly attacked him in Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight I returned from a fun evening in Kichijoji. A group of Godzilla fans get together there once a month, and the guest of honor for the meeting was Heisei Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played the King of the Monsters from 1984 through 1995.

Ken Satsuma (left) and SFX technician Masahiko Shiraishi (right) pose with a photo from the set of Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992) in which they both appear. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Such notable fans as Saki Hijiri (the first editor of Uchusen magazine) and Masahiko Shiraishi (who was an SFX staff member on Godzilla films like Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla: Final Wars) were in attendance. Many laughs were had and funny stories shared. Everybody was in great spirits, and Satsuma-san in particular was having a great time.

Yours truly with Ken Satsuma, the Heisei Godzilla (as well as Hedorah and Gigan)!

Even though I arrived late (I had to work, after all), Satsuma-san invited me to sit next to him, and we spent much of the evening doing our best to communicate. Thankfully, we had an assist from Hijiri-san, who speaks English and was happy to help.

Fun times were had by all. Let's do it again soon!