Wednesday, September 30, 2015

YUREI IZAKAYA! Kichijoji's Watering Hole for Yokai Lovers!

An outside view of Yurei Izakaya, located just a few minutes from Kichijoji Station. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In my recent visits to Kichijoji, I have been reminded of an intriguing Japanese eatery that revels in the traditional ghosts and spirits of Japan. It's called Yurei Izakaya, and if you've ever seen any of the yokai movies from Daiei Studios, then you already have a good idea of what to expect from this establishment.

As you walk by, a recording of ghostly sounds and creepy sound effects (much like what you'd find on one of those old Halloween audiotapes they used to make when we were kids) constantly plays, helping to draw the attention of curious passersby.

As you can see, the theme of the izakaya is the yurei and yokai that have been the stuff of legends for years. While these creatures may not mean a lot to Westerners, those who have seen these ghosts and goblins depicted in the movies ought to be more than a little interested in checking out this restaurant. I know I was.

Be a bit careful, though. To enter the restaurant, you have to descend some stairs, and at some point the lights go out. (Need I explain why?) Actually, you have to figure out how to enter in the dark, and suffice it to say, that's not entirely obvious. Still, I was able to enter after only a few seconds of total confusion.

The wait staff was very friendly, and one waitress in particular took me to my seat. She had a good command of English, and explained to me the details of how to order. It turns out you have to lightly strike the bowl at your table to make it ring, and then wave the disembodied hand around to get the attention of the wait staff.

If you're not exactly well versed in Japanese, don't worry! English menus are available for you curious gaijin who want to experience Yurei Izakaya in all its glory.

I must say that being in the restaurant feels like you've stepped onto the set of one of Daiei's yokai films from the Showa era. It's well decorated with lots of creepy props, ranging from goofy to gory. Some of the sights there were a little shocking to see in such a fun restaurant, but it is a celebration of the dead after all.

If you're in the Kichijoji area, be sure to give Yurei Izakaya a look. I can't say that I've ever been to another place in Japan quite like this. It has a unique feel, and while it's not officially associated with any film or film studio, the connections to the old Daiei yokai flicks are obvious.

Why, there's even an Onibaba (1964) reference! If you like to eat Japanese food, but you don't like to pay too much for it, and if you like the weird and macabre, Yurei Izakaya is most definitely a place you should check out!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

DINING AND TOKUSATSU TALK! Meeting an Old Friend for Food and Fun!

Hiroshi Yamamoto holds a copy of the tokusatsu actioner 8 Man (1992), on which he served as producer. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last night I enjoyed dinner with Hiroshi Yamamoto, a true gentleman who was worked on numerous tokusatsu films and TV programs. I first met Yamamoto-san at the Sonny Chiba birthday celebration in April 2013, and we've stayed in touch since then.

Yamamoto-san shows off his coveted Ultraman ring, a rare memento only given to those lucky few who work for Tsuburaya Productions, as he did. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Yamamoto-san worked on such films as Message from Space (1978), Gamera Super Monster (1980), Time Slip (1979), and numerous Toei superhero programs, lending those projects his company's expertise in video techniques. For example, he helped with the SFX for the scene in which the heroes are swimming in space in Message from Space, as well as the opening shot of Gamera Super Monster in which the Zanon spaceship does its best Star Wars imitation.

Aside from his professional accomplishments, Yamamoto-san is a kaiju eiga fan, much like myself. We talked a lot about the Toho classics from the 1950s and '60s, with which he is very familiar. Many thanks to Yamamoto-san for such an enjoyable dinner!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

SUPER FESTIVAL 69! The Long-Running Event Comes Back to Tokyo!

Actor Takumi Tsutsui signs autographs for fans at Super Festival 69. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today saw Super Festival 69 held at the Science Museum in Chiyoda, Tokyo. Many guests, dealers, sculptors, and fans were on hand for the event, which seems to get slightly bigger every time I go.

Monster Attack Team (MAT) uniform and Arrow 2 from Return of Ultraman (1971-72). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Among the luminaries on hand were suit builder Keizo Murase (who was signing copies of his new book and being assisted by Shinichi Wakasa), designer and illustrator Shinji Nishikawa, and artist Yuji Kaida. Return of Ultraman suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi was also on hand, but by the time I arrived, his interview and autograph session had already finished.

Daimon conquers all in this dynamic model of Daiei's Spook Warfare (1968).

Of course, part of the fun of Super Festival is walking around and taking in the sights. Given that it's much closer to me than Wonder Festival, it's a nice alternative for me when I feel like seeing the handiwork of talented modelers.

Now there's a trio you don't see every day! Photo by Brett Homenick.

Ultimately, I couldn't help myself and purchased a couple of inexpensive books related to Godzilla. I enjoyed thumbing through them at an Italian restaurant when I was finished. 

Return of Ultraman scripts on display at Super Festival. Photo by Brett Homenick.

 In honor of Eiichi Kikuchi's appearance at the event, a very interesting Return of Ultraman display was set up, featuring all kinds of memorabilia, including design sketches, scripts, and props from the show. Any self-respecting Ultra-fan would have gone ga-ga!

Kaiju design sketches from Return of Ultraman. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I ran into a couple of friends I usually see at such events and exchanged greetings with them. It's always nice to see familiar faces at places like this.

Ultra Seven saves the day! Photo by Brett Homenick.

One unexpected highlight was getting a chance to meet actor Takumi Tsutsui, the star and titular hero of Toei's Sekai ninja sen Jiraiya (1988-89). He was very friendly and happy to meet his fans.

Yours truly with actor Takumi Tsutsui, one of Toei's vaunted Metal Heroes!

All in all, I had a lot of fun. I got to see some old friends, buy a couple of books, and meet a cool actor. Not bad for a lazy Sunday!

SADAO IIZUKA RETURNS! The Toho SFX Tech Talks Mysterians!

SFX guru Sadao Iizuka holds court outside DeNs Cafe in Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, September 26, I returned to DeNs Cafe in Sagamihara, Kanagawa, to attend a dinner with Sadao Iizuka, the optical photography veteran who worked on the SFX of many classic Toho films, beginning with the original Godzilla (1954).

Unfortunately, I missed the Q&A portion of the event. (I have to work, you see.) To make matters worse, the focus was on The Mysterians (1957), one of my favorite of all Toho SFX films! But, to make up for missing it, I did get to see a demonstration of how Mogera's eye beams were animated in the film. Fascinating stuff!

Toward the end of the evening, I joined Iizuka-san on the patio of the cafe, and he and I talked about Toho SFX. I only wish I could have understood a lot more than I did! Still, it's always a blast to speak with someone who made my favorite childhood movies. Thank you again, Iizuka-san!

SCENES FROM TOKYO! Fall Has Finally Arrived!

Fall has become rather evident in Tokyo's Kitanomaru Park. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today I was out and about in Tokyo, and my travels took me to Kitanomaru Park and some of the surrounding areas of the Imperial Palace. Fall was most certainly in the air, and I snapped some pictures of what I saw. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

GORO MUTSUMI'S MEMORIES! Toho's Go-To Villain of the 1970s Opens Up!

Following a great interview with Goro Mutsumi, we posed for a couple of photos.

Vantage Points Interviews strikes again with an excellent Q&A with Toho actor Goro Mutsumi, best remembered for his villainous roles as the alien leader in classic films like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), and The War in Space (1977).

Goro Mutsumi ponders a question during our interview in April 2013. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Our interview covers a wide range of aspects of Mutsumi-san's life and acting career. While his memories of his tokusatsu roles have faded over the years, his other recollections are as sharp and as interesting as you'll find in any other interview. Check it out for yourself!

A light-hearted moment with a legend of the Japanese silver screen in April 2013. 

It's all there on Vantage Point Interviews. Don't miss it, be there!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

KING KONG ESCAPES TO YOKOHAMA! Haruo Nakajima and Teruyoshi Nakano Come to the Rescue!

Suit actor Haruo Nakajima (left) and SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano (right) answer questions about the popular Toho classic King Kong Escapes (1967). Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I attended a screening in Yokohama of the Toho monster romp King Kong Escapes (1967), starring Rhodes Reason, Linda Miller, Mie Hama, and Akira Takarada. The film has been one of my favorites for a long time, and to see a 35mm print of this classic kaiju film on the big screen was a real treat. But it gets even better than that.

Haruo Nakajima demonstrates his suit-acting techniques for the audience. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The guests of honor for the screening were none other than Haruo Nakajima (who portrayed King Kong in the film as a suit actor) and Teruyoshi Nakano (who worked as an assistant SFX director under the great Eiji Tsuburaya). The two held a lengthy Q&A, signed autographs, and posed for photos.

Teruyoshi Nakano gives a detailed explanation about the SFX of King Kong Escapes. Photo by Brett Homenick.

When I arrived at the train station, I first made my way to the men's room. As I was just about to enter, I passed Nakano-san. We greeted each other, and I continued on my way inside. Once I left the restroom and approached the ticket gate, however, I saw Nakano-san waiting for me so that we could walk to the theater together. To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised, but given Nakano-san's warmth and generosity, it should have been anything but a surprise to me. That's just the type of person he is.

Teruyoshi Nakano discusses SFX director Eiji Tsuburaya's work on King Kong Escapes. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After about a 10-minute walk, we arrived at the theater, and we started catching up with many familiar faces. Just before the movie was scheduled to start, Haruo Nakajima arrived, and the guests of honor joined us as we watched the film. The 35mm print was absolutely gorgeous, and seeing Rhodes Reason on the big screen reminded me how much I miss him. Rhodes definitely would have gotten a kick out of this screening!

Yours truly with Teruyoshi Nakano, one of the coolest people in all of Japan!

After the film, Nakajima-san and Nakano-san took the stage and answered the questions posed to them by the moderator. The two spoke at length about their King Kong Escapes memories, but other subjects were broached, such as working for Akira Kurosawa.

Between Haruo Nakajima and Teruyoshi Nakano, two very friendly gentlemen!

After the questions, the audience got a chance to get autographs and photos taken. The final event of the evening was dinner with the guests. I sat at Nakano-san's table, and he regaled us with many stories from the Toho lot. 

Another great evening has come to an end, but the next event isn't too far off. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 18, 2015

G-1: Dinner with Godzilla Suit Actor Kenpachiro Satsuma!

Suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma gave a lively talk in Kichijoji, Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight I returned from the monthly Godzilla fan club meeting in Kichijoji, Tokyo, and the guest of honor was once again Heisei Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma. Satsuma-san started his Godzilla series suit-acting career as Hedorah and Gigan in the Showa era and later took on the role of Godzilla between Godzilla (1984) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).

What could be better than hanging out and having fun with Godzilla himself! 

As usual, Satsuma-san was in great spirits. He showed me a piece of paper with English written phonetically in katakana that he's used for introductions at American conventions in the past. I helped Satsuma-san read it, and while some of it was a little difficult to make out at first, we were able to figure out what it all meant. My favorite part of the introduction was his saying that Godzilla survives on nuclear fuel and that for him it is like eating a hamburger.

Say cheese! A group shot of all the enthusiastic and friendly Godzilla fans. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There will be another meeting next month, but I'm not sure yet whether I can attend. I certainly hope that I can. These get-togethers are always a lot of fun!

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Koji Moritsugu and Hiroko Sakurai talk to the audience about the Ultra-memories. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, September 12, I traveled to Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture to attend a talk show event hosted at Joli Chapeau. Actor Koji Moritsugu (Ultra Seven's Dan Moroboshi) and actress Hiroko Sakurai (Ultra Q's Yuriko Edogawa and Ultraman's Akiko Fuji) were scheduled to sign autographs and meet their fans at a special event with limited attendance.

Koji Moritsugu remains one of the most popular alumni from the entire Ultra-series. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Actors from Ultraman (1966-67) and Ultra Seven (1967-68) tend to be the most popular from the decades-long series among Japanese fans, and it is always a treat when actors from the two shows share the stage. It also means it's usually difficult to see, as tickets for such events sell out extremely quickly.

Actress Hiroko Sakurai was in great spirits, often laughing with Moritsugu-san. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The event started with autograph signings, and it's always interesting to see the memorabilia that Japanese fans bring to get signed. I brought in my trusty The Genesis of Ultraman 1966-1980 book for both guests to sign. Moritsugu-san signed another page of the book (he signed it elsewhere last month), and Sakurai-san added her signature to it.

Coming to the rescue! Photo by Brett Homenick.

I also asked Sakurai-san to sign my DVD sleeve of the Toho comedy Aloha 3 Gents (1963), directed by Shue Matsubayashi. Along with Machiko Naka (Godzilla's Revenge), Sakurai-san plays one of Hisaya Morishige's daughters. Sakurai-san was quite surprised to see the DVD sleeve and commented on how nostalgic it made her feel.

After that, the guests sat down and had a free-flowing conversation. They compared it to manzai, a two-person form of Japanese comedy, and after seeing it, that's not a bad description at all! Sakurai-san could not keep a straight face, as she was laughing most of the time. Moritsugu-san is quite a jokester, and he kept Sakurai-san in stitches.

Once the two guests had finished their interview, it was time for pictures to be taken. If you thought I was kidding about Moritsugu-san's comedic antics, well, just look at the photo below. I think a picture really is worth a thousand words!

Overall, I had a fantastic time. Moritsugu-san is always a blast to hang out with, and Sakurai-san is always a joy to see. As usual, more cool things are in the works, so keep it here for all the inside info!

MEETING BANNO-SAN! Movies and Other Topics Were on the Agenda!

Writer-director Yoshimitsu Banno during today's meeting. Photo by Brett Homenick.

A few days ago, I received a surprise e-mail from Yoshimitsu Banno, director of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and executive producer of Legendary Pictures' Godzilla (2014). Banno-san requested my assistance for some company-related work.

Director Banno in black and white. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After the "business" portion of the meeting ended, we talked about movies and other subjects. Today's meeting was a bit shorter than usual, but it's always enjoyable to spend time with Banno-san.

BACK IN TOWN (AGAIN)! Masamitsu Tayama Returns to Akebonobashi!

Back in Town in Akebonobashi is the live house which hosted Masamitsu Tayama for his concert. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On Friday, September 11, I was able to catch a good portion of Masamitsu Tayama's concert at Back in Town in Akebonobashi after leaving work. As readers of this blog ought to know, Tayama-san played Shinji Chujo in the original Mothra (1961) as a child actor but eventually became a successful singer.

Masamitsu Tayama plays guitar and belts out a Japanese tune in style. Photo by Brett Homenick.

This was my second time at Back in Town, the previous time was almost exactly a year ago for another concert with Tayama-san. As always, he was a big hit with the crowd, and he gave it his all.

Even though many fans were all vying for Tayama-san's time after the show, I was able to talk with him for a few minutes. Tayama-san isn't sure when his next concert will be in Tokyo, so I'll have to wait for word from the man himself.

Many thanks to Tayama-san for putting on an excellent concert and for being a true gentleman. Hope to see you again very soon!