Monday, November 30, 2015

FLASHBACK! Meeting a Godzilla Series Composer!

Millennium series composer Michiru Oshima enjoys coffee and conversation in June 2012. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Going through my archives recently reminded me that I never shared my photos from meeting Godzilla series composer Michiru Oshima in June 2012. I was privileged to spend a late morning with her, discussing her musical career. It was certainly an enjoyable day.

Many thanks to Oshima-san for her kindness and friendliness. It was an excellent way to start the day!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

DINNER WITH A SCREENWRITING LEGEND! Hiroyasu Yamaura Joins His Fans for Supper!

Yours truly with Hiroyasu Yamaura (left) and tokusatsu fan Toshiyuki (center) at a Japanese restaurant near Shin-Yurigaoka Station.

Pop quiz: What do Ultra Q (1966), Ultraman (1966-67), Space Giants (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), Mighty Jack (1968), Spectreman (1971-72), Kamen Rider (1971-73), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Ultraman Taro (1973-74), Jumborg Ace (1973), Ultraman Leo (1974-75), Ultraman 80 (1980-81), Tokyo Blackout (1987), and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) all have in common? If you answered Hiroyasu Yamaura, you'd be correct!

On Saturday, November 28, I left work and immediately headed to Shin-Yurigaoka to join a dinner party that scriptwriter Hiroyasu Yamaura was throwing for his close friends and fans. I was invited to join the event, and I was excited to be a part of it.

Thankfully, when I arrived, there were still a good two hours left of the dinner, so I was able to enjoy most of it. Everyone was in excellent spirits, and many laughs were had. It was another reminder of why I love living in Japan so much!

BRUCE LEE FETED IN SHINJUKU! An All-Star Event in Shinjuku Features Several Japanese Celebrities!

Yours truly with the special guests at the Bruce Lee special birthday event in Tokyo. 

Sunday, November 29, saw a special Bruce Lee celebration take place in Shinjuku that I was fortunate enough to be invited to. There were several celebrity guests on hand who had strong connections not just with Hong Kong cinema but with Japanese tokusatsu.

Actor Daiki Kato has appeared in several 1970s-era Japanese SFX movies and TV programs. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

One of the guests I was particularly interested in meeting was Daiki Kato (whose real name is Hisashi Kato). Kato-san is both an actor and a suit actor. As a suit actor, he played Goliath in Tsuburaya's Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972), Silver Kamen in Silver Kamen (1971-72), and Iron King in the TV series Iron King (1972-73), As an actor, he appears in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Iron King, Super Robot Red Baron (1973-74), and Super Robot Mach Baron (1974-75).

Actor Shinzo Hotta addresses the audience and talks about his experiences making action movies and TV series. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Prolific actor Shinzo Hotta was another featured guest, and he was another I was excited to meet for the first time. His acting roles date back to the mid-1960s at Toei Studios. Among many others, his credits include: Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972), Iron King (1972-73),  Ninja Captor (1976-77), and Message from Space: Galactic Wars (1978-79).

The legendary Riki Hashimoto recalls his memories of working with Bruce Lee. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

As great as the other guests were, the main attraction for me was Riki Hashimoto. Hashimoto-san portrayed Daimajin as a suit actor in all three of the classic Daiei films from 1966. He went on to portray the villainous demon Daimon in Spook Warfare (1968), and one of the aliens (in human form) in Gamera vs. Viras (a.k.a. Destroy All Planets, 1968). In 1972, Hashimoto-san battled Bruce Lee onscreen in The Chinese Connection (1972). I met Hashimoto-san last April, and when he was me at the event, he recognized me and pointed at me.

All the special guests were given their own birthday cakes at the event. Photo by Brett Homenick.

During the Q&A, I asked Hashimoto-san about his memories of Daiei producer Masaichi Nagata. He said that he had great respect for Nagata-san and that Nagata-san always took care of his needs. (Interestingly, Gamera series screenwriter Niisan Takahashi held the opposite opinion of Nagata-san.)

After the guests talked about their careers and their various connections with Hong Kong cinema, attendees could get items signed, pose for pictures, and generally mingle with the guests. I brought all three of my Daimjin DVD covers for Hashimoto-san to sign. Suffice it to say, they look great!

Yours truly with Riki Hashimoto, a true living legend of Japanese and Hong Kong cinema.

I also took photos with Daiki Kato and Shinzo Hotta, who were both very friendly and personable. During the event, I met several new friends and reconnected with one I've known for a while. Since there were no designated photographers at the event, I began assisting Hashimoto-san with taking photos for his fans. He thanked me for my efforts, but the pleasure was all mine.

Shaking hands with Daiki Kato. a suit actor for many enjoyable movies and TV programs.

As things were winding down, Hashimoto-san invited me to sit down next to him and chat. We could only communicate on a very basic level, but it was such a joy to be sitting and hanging out with Daimajin that I ate up every second of it. After a while, a helpful bilingual fan joined us and assisted with the communication. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Japanese fans are the best in the world.

Posing with veteran Toei actor Shinzo Hotta. Even though he's adept at playing bad guys, he's as nice as they come!

All in all, it was an excellent event, and it far exceeded my expectations. I feel very fortunate to have been invited to this event, and I hope to join others in the future!

The only way the event could have been any better is if Bruce Lee himself joined us. But I have to believe he was smiling down on us from above. The love and admiration he was shown was second to none. Many thanks to everyone involved!

GODZILLA LOOMS OVER SHINJUKU! A Different View of the King of the Monsters!

The colossal Godzilla head atop of the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was walking around Shinjuku last night when I spotted this view of the Godzilla head that overlooks Kabukicho near Shinjuku Station. It was such a cool view that I couldn't help but to get out my camera and snap a couple of photos.

I suppose this is as close as we'll ever get to seeing Godzilla on the prowl in Tokyo!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SETSUKO HARA: 1920-2015

Japan's biggest female motion picture star of all time, Setsuko Hara, died of pneumonia in Kanagawa Prefecture on September 5. She was 95.

The late actress often collaborated with celebrated filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu and starred in such pictures as Late Spring (1949), Tokyo Story (1953), Late Autumn (1960), among other works. Hara can also be seen in the Toho classics The Three Treasures (1959) and Chushingura (1962).

She announced her retirement from acting around the time Yasujiro Ozu passed away in 1963, after which she lived a reclusive life in Kamakura, Kanagawa. Not much was known about her life in the 50-plus years since her retirement, and the fact that the media in Japan are only learning about her death now says it all.

Rest in peace, Setsuko Hara.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

P-LABO FILMFES 2015! Toho Power Players Turn Out for the Film Festival!

Yours truly with Wataru Mimura, the mastermind behind P-LABO FILMFES.

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation by e-mail from screenwriter Wataru Mimura (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla 2000) to attend the latest P-LABO FILMFES on November 22. Suffice it to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The last I had talked to Mimura-san about it, it seemed he had decided to put the film festival on indefinite hiatus.

Former Toho President Shogo Tomiyama addresses the audience. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

This year, however, it came roaring back to life! Guest speakers included Shogo Tomiyama (producer for the Heisei and Millennium series of Godzilla films) and screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara (Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus).

Yours truly with Godzilla's former boss, Shogo Tomiyama, at P-LABO FILMFES.

Many short-subject films were screened at the festival, and they varied widely in style and genre. One was a zombie comedy, and another was a rather tragic tale of a young scientist who builds a perfect female robot. All were V-cinema (i.e., shot on video), and the zombie comedy reminded me of the type of movies Conrad Brooks made a few years ago. (And I mean that in a good way!)

Hiroshi Kashiwabara discusses his latest action project. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It was great to see Kashiwabara-san again, as I hadn't seen him in over two years. We had a nice chat, but given that things were moving quickly, it had to be kept brief. Here's hoping I'll see Kashiwabara-san again in less than two years.

I must thank Mimura-san again for inviting me to the festival. Many of the films were enjoyable, and it is always a blast to catch up with familiar faces. Here's hoping there will be a P-LABO FILMFES 2016!

JAPANESE HEROES WALK THE MIRACLE MILE! A Who's Who of Fandom Celebs Attends a Jazz Concert!

Bin Furuya, Mari Shimizu, and Hiroyuki Takano pose for photographers during intermission at a jazz concert in Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Saturday, November 21, saw a jazz concert take place at Hotel Molino near Shin-Yurigaoka Station. Mirai Miracle performed a number of jazz songs for a lively audience. In fact, toward the end of the show, most of the audience was dancing and singing right along with the music. It was truly a sight to behold!

Mirai Miracle sings jazz songs in both English and Japanese. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Although I've attended many jazz shows in Japan, the aspect that stuck out the most for me was the presence of several notable Japanese genre celebrities. Bin Furuya, Yuriko Hishimi, Hiroyuki Takano, and Mari Shimizu were all in attendance. I've talked about these folks so many times on this blog that introducing them all again seems beyond redundant. Still, if you'd like info on their careers, you'd do well to check this blog's archives.

Yours truly with the original Ultraman suit actor, Bin Furuya.

During the show, I was seated at Bin Furuya's table, and joining us were many familiar faces in Japanese fandom. We shared many laughs and great conversations.

Actress Yuriko Hishimi gets in on the fun as the audience starts dancing with the music. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As I mentioned earlier, the concert got especially fun when most of the people in the crowd began dancing and even singing with the music. That certainly never happened at any of the other jazz shows I've attended!

Japanese heroes Bin Furuya and Hiroyuki Takano shake hands and agree to save the world once again. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was especially pleased to get to know actress Grace Mika. Even though I saw her perform on the stage last year alongside Bin Furuya, this was my first time to talk with her. She was born in Hawaii and speaks English very well (despite being raised in Japan).

Yours truly with actress-singer Grace Mika, who has co-starred with Bin Furuya onstage.

When all was said and done, many of us went to a nearby karaoke place and sang a variety of songs. We were briefly joined by Yuriko Hishimi, but Hiroyuki Takano stayed until the end and probably had more energy than the rest of us combined!

Hiroyuki Takano belts out the theme to Barom-1 during a karaoke after-party. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

As for me, I sang "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel. Takano-san later told me that his favorite Billy Joel song is "New York State of Mind." 

It was a great evening in so many ways, and I'm very glad to have attended. I'm also glad to have caught the train home in time! We were out so late it seemed entirely possible I could have missed it!

CHRISTMAS IN TOKYO! The Holiday Is Fast Approaching!

It's not even December yet, but train stations all over Tokyo are already getting into the holiday spirit. Last night, I spotted the scenes just above and below in and around Shin-Yurigaoka Station.

The photos below were taken just outside of Mizonokuchi Station. As you can see, the Japanese love Christmas!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

OUT AND ABOUT IN ODAIBA! Visiting the Famous Fuji TV Building!

Today I visited Odaiba for the first time in a while. The main reason was to celebrate a friend's birthday. Afterward, we took a tour of the Fuji TV Building. Although I've seen it from the outside many times, this would be my first time to go inside and look around.

Before entering, I snapped some photos of the replica Statue of Liberty and the Rainbow Bridge. These sights are always worth checking out!

While approaching the Fuji TV Building, I took this photo. It looked a bit like a futuristic city to me (especially a 1960s interpretation of the future), which I found captivating.

The view from the Fuji TV Building's observation deck was breathtaking. It's certainly no Tokyo Skytree, but the view of the Rainbow Bridge is stunning.

Tokyo Tower looms over the Rainbow Bridge. Only in Odaiba can you see such sights!

Ultra-kaiju were well represented at the Fuji TV Building!

This photo was snapped on the set of a TV program that airs on Fuji TV. I should've auditioned!

Wait, did I get the part anyway? No, that's just me behind a cardboard cutout, but it sure looks convincing, doesn't it?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT! Toho SFX Giants in Yokohama!

Teruyoshi Nakano and Kenpachiro Satsuma react to a comment from the audience.

Kenpachiro Satsuma listens to Teruyoshi Nakano's detailed explanations.

Teruyoshi Nakano is all smiles as he recalls his career in special effects.

The gang's all here! Eiichi Asada, Teruyoshi Nakano, and Kenpachiro Satsuma have a blast as they remember the past.

Yours truly with Eiichi Asada.

Good times with Godzilla suit actor Ken Satsuma!

Spending an evening with Takashi Naganuma always brings a smile to my face.

TOHO SFX GREATS CONVERGE! Yokohama Is the Site of the Event!

Eiichi Asada, Teruyoshi Nakano, and Kenpachiro Satsuma discuss their career in SFX. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Saturday, November 14, saw a fun and lively event in Yokohama that hosted several notable names from the world of Japanese special effects. Teruyoshi Nakano (Godzilla series SFX director from 1971-1984), Kenpachiro Satsuma (Godzilla suit actor from 1984-1995), and Eiichi Asada (Godzilla series SFX director from 2003-2004) were on hand to talk shop about tokusatsu.

Teruyoshi Nakano makes a point as Ken Satsuma listens intently. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The three SFX giants talked a great deal about the making of Pulgasari (1985), one of the more fascinating monster epics ever made. One interesting bit of information was told to me by Toho model-maker Takashi Naganuma. He told me that the name of Pulgasari refers to a starfish and that, like a starfish, Pulgasari cannot be killed.

Eiichi Asada shares his memories with an intrigued audience. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following the talk, it was dinnertime! All four of the guests sat with the fans and mingled with the crowd. Everyone was welcome to get pictures and their items signed. It was also a chance for fellow fans to catch up with one another. Many great discussions were had this evening.

Ken Satsuma shows off his Pulgasari shirt. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I had a particularly fascinating with Eiichi Asada, who told me about his work on Godzilla vs. Megalon. He operated the clapperboard and told me about the proper techniques for using it. After clapping the board, the user should whisk it out of frame as quickly as possible and bring it against his chest in order to reduce noise.

Sharing a happy moment with Eiichi Asada.

He also told me about the chalk dust that would often invade a scene once a clapperboard had been used. In order to keep chalk dust from rising (and interfering with the scene), Asada-san told me that he would apply moisture to the chalk to ensure it wouldn't come off the board.

Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma signals his approval of this photo.

Given that all four of the guests had worked on Godzilla vs. Megalon, I brought a mini poster for them to sign. It turned out extremely well, and I'm very proud to add it to my collection.

Spending time with Toho model-maker Takashi Naganuma, as Shin Kishida looks over our shoulder.

It was another excellent event, the only kind one can experience in Japan. The month is stacked with many great events, so keep watching this space!