Monday, February 29, 2016

Remembering George Kennedy

I woke up this morning and found out that George Kennedy, an Academy Award-winning actor whose presence in a movie always took it to the next level, has passed away at age 91. For many years, I was fascinated by Mr. Kennedy's appearance in the Japanese end-of-the-world tale Virus (1980), and for a long time I tried to arrange an interview with him. My persistence eventually paid off, and in late 2011, we finally began communication.

I had just woken up early in the morning in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, to prepare a long trip to Tokyo to take part in a special Mechagodzilla event at the long-gone Cine Pathos Theater in Ginza in November 2011. Before leaving, I checked my e-mail and was floored to find one from Mr. George Kennedy himself, accepting my request for an interview.

We set up the date not long after that, and I called him up to ask my questions. Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy was rather hard of hearing at this point, and his wife had to assist us with the questions. Just before Mr. Kennedy asked his wife to help, he said in passing that this interview was important to him, so he wanted to make sure he understood my questions. Suffice it to say, I was amazed that a man I grew up watching in countless films would say that about an interview with me, but Mr. Kennedy was truly an amazing man.

Japan was very special to him, and I think my interview gave him a chance to talk about it. He was interested in my life and experiences there, so we ended up swapping stories. After the interview, we stayed in contact, and I was very honored that he accepted my Facebook friend request.

I have posted my interview with George Kennedy on Vantage Point Interviews, so I'd encourage anyone interested in his life and career to read it. I'd also strongly recommend picking up a copy of his autobiography Trust Me, which is a great read.

Rest in peace, Mr. Kennedy. I'll always remember and appreciate the kindness you showed me.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

ULTRAMAN TAKES YOKOHAMA! The Broadcast Library Hosts the Hero from M78!

Yokohama's Broadcast Library hosts a special Ultraman exhibit that runs until early April. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Running from February 19 until April 3, the Broadcast Library in the Yokohama Joho Bunka Center is hosting a special exhibit that focuses on the history of the Ultraman series, with special emphasis on the original Ultraman (1966-67).

Among the items on display are original props from the series, as well as detailed replicas of the monster suits. There's even a special screening area where episodes (mostly of Ultraman and Ultra Seven, but other Tsuburaya programs are featured as well) are shown. Naturally, there's a gift shop with everything from toys to Ultraman toothbrushes for sale.

Today, I went to the Broadcast Library to check out the exhibit. Unfortunately, pictures weren't allowed (except for the Ultraman statue just outside the entrance of the exhibit), so I can't share any of the sights here. However, as enjoyable as it was, the setup was much smaller than some of the other galleries I've visited. Still, it's worth checking out, especially since it's 100% free to get in!

Given that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the Ultra-series, I'd expect many more such exhibitions and events will be held in Japan. Naturally, Japan is the place to be for anything Ultra-related, so stay tuned to this blog for all the coolest happenings.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

MORE PHOTOS! Yasuhiko Saijo's 77th Birthday Bash!

Yasuhiko Saijo and Hurricane Ryu onstage!

A closer look at Saijo-san's extra-special birthday cake!

Hiroko Sakurai and Yashiko Saijo pose for the cameras.

Yours truly with Machiko Naka and Nami Tamura.

With Yasuhiko Saijo.

With Machiko Naka.

Teruyoshi Nakano talks shop with Hurricane Ryu.

With Machiko Naka (again!).

Yasuhiko Saijo at the after-party in Ikebukuro.

Do you think he can drink it all?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YASUHIKO SAIJO! The Ultra Q Star Celebrates His 77th with a Bang!

Nami Tamura, Hiroko Sakurai, Machiko Naka, and Yasuhiko Saijo (all Ultra-series veterans) pose with Saijo-san's birthday cake. Photo by Brett Homenick.

February 20 marks Ultra Q star Yasuhiko Saijo's 77th birthday, and on the very same day, a special event was held on the 58th floor of Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro to celebrate the occasion. While there are several birthday events throughout the year to honor various Toho/Tsuburaya personalities, they are seldom held on the honoree's actual birthday (as this one was).

Yasuhiko Saijo and SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano sing a karaoke rendition of "We Are Space Pilots" from Gorath. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The event was star-studded, and it was great to see some guests appear who don't often do shows in Japan.

Heisei series suit actor Hurricane Ryu addresses the crowd. Photo by Brett Homenick.

One surprise was seeing suit actor Hurricane Ryu, whom I'd only met once before (at Koichi Kawakita's memorial event at Toho Studios). Hurricane Ryu played King Ghidorah in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Battra in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Baby Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), and Godzilla Junior in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995). He also portrayed Guilala in Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit (2008). For much of the event, he actually served as emcee.

Minoru Kawasaki celebrates the birthday of a tokusatsu legend. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Director Minoru Kawasaki was also on hand, and he talked about his fondness for Saijo-san and his role on Ultra Q. Kawasaki-san, of course, is well known for being a huge fan of tokusatsu and for using many actors from the genre in his own films.

Yasuhiko Saijo sports dresses up in character for the occasion! Photo by Brett Homenick.

During the event, there were many chances for mingling among the attendees. Kyoko Ifukube, daughter of Akira Ifukube, was there, and I sat at her table. She was there with several of her friends, and we had a great chat together.

The band gets back together: Yuriko Edogawa (Hiroko Sakurai) and Ippei Togawa (Yasuhiko Saijo) gear up to hunt for monsters! Photo by Brett Homenick.

After all the comments were made, and after everyone had eaten lunch, it was time for pictures and autographs.

In between Machiko Naka (left) and Nami Tamura (right), two Toho actresses who appeared in the Ultra-series.

I had a blast seeing Machiko Naka (Godzilla's Revenge, the Young Guy series) and Nami Tamura (Terror in the Streets, Kill!) again. Naka-san is always very energetic, and Tamura-san is also very friendly. While most fans at the event were largely familiar with them for their guest appearances on Ultra Seven, I'm fascinated by their movie roles at Toho. 

With suit actor Hurricane Ryu.

It was a great surprise to get to see Hurricane Ryu again, but this time I was finally able to get a photo op with him. I found him to be a very friendly fellow, but alas we didn't have much time to chat!

With Yasuhiko Saijo.

What else can I say? Saijo-san is great, and he's one of the friendliest celebrity guests I've ever met. I love his enthusiasm!

With Kyoko Ifukube and a friend.

Naturally, it was also a joy to sit and chat with Kyoko Ifukube, the daughter of the legendary composer.

With Hiroko Sakurai.

Despite being in demand for many picture and autograph requests, Sakurai-san made time to pose for one with me. Thank you very much!

Yasuhiko Saijo, Makoto Inoue, and Teruyoshi Nakano hang out at the after-party. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After the event itself wrapped, I was invited to the after-party at a nearby izakaya. Saijo-san and Nakano-san joined us, as did composer Makoto Inoue. We stayed there a couple of hours (!) before calling it a day.

DINNER WITH ULTRAMAN! Bin Furuya Holds Court in Kichijoji!

Ultraman suit actor Bin Furuya signs an Ultraman mask for a lucky fan in Kichijoji. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Friday, February 19, I hightailed it to Kichijoji, Tokyo, after work to attend a dinner with Ultraman suit actor Bin Furuya. Several fans were in attendance, and a great time was had by all. When I arrived, I was invited to sit next to Furuya-san, so he and I got to chat quite a bit throughout the evening.

Only the Controller of Planet X could come up with a signature like this! Photo by Brett Homenick.

One fan brought several Toho pamphlets from the '60s, and there was a montage of many familiar Toho stars with their autographs. Yoshio Tsuchiya's signature was so interesting that I had to photograph it. Take a look for yourself!

As always, Furuya-san was extremely outgoing and fan-friendly, going out of his way to make sure I was eating enough food. (I ate enough and then some!) I particularly enjoyed throwing out the names of Toho/Tsuburaya actors and getting his memories of them. Furuya-san has worked with so many legends!

This is what fandom is all about, and I can think of no better place to celebrate it than Japan. Many thanks to Furuya-san and my fellow tokusatsu fans for making Friday night one for the history books!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

YOSUKE NATSUKI INTERVIEW! Vantage Point Interviews Is on a Roll!

Yours truly with actor Yosuke Natsuki after completing our interview in February 2013.

Vantage Point Interviews just keeps 'em coming! My interview with Toho star Yosuke Natsuki has been added to the site. It's a wide-ranging talk, and Natsuki-san gives in-depth answers. So head on over to VPI and read the interview!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

TERRY FARNSWORTH INTERVIEW! The Ultra Seven Actor Speaks for the First Time!

Terry Farnsworth, Shoji Nakayama, Linda Hardisty, and Yoshio Tsuchiya watch Ultra Seven duke it out with King Joe. Photo courtesy of Terry Farnsworth. Ultra Seven © 1967-68, Tsuburaya Productions.

In episodes 14 and 15 of Ultra Seven (1967-68), Terry Farnsworth guest-stars as Melvin Webb, a mysterious Secret Service agent. Mr. Farnsworth's appearance on the show is remembered fondly by Ultra Seven fans in Japan, but very little information was available about him or his acting career. Until now.

Once again, Vantage Point Interviews has the scoop with many never-before-seen photos from the set of Ultra Seven and The Green Slime (1968). You won't find this stuff anywhere else, so stop by Vantage Point Interviews and read all about it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

THE ALL-STARS KICK OFF THE NEW YEAR! Shinichi Yanagisawa Makes His 2016 Return!

Yours truly with actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa at the HUB in Asakusa. 

Tuesday, February 16, saw the All-Stars return to the HUB in Asakusa for their first show of the year, It was another great performance, with many of the same familiar jazz fans in attendance. Naturally, Shinichi Yanagisawa, as the band's vocalist and drummer, was the main attraction for me.

Shinichi Yanagisawa played Miyamoto in Shochiku's The X from Outer Space (1967), and he has also starred in a myriad of other films for Japan's biggest studios. I was privileged to interview Yanagisawa-san for Vantage Point Interviews in 2014, and you can read the discussion here.

After the performance, I had a nice discussion with Watanabe-san, the band's saxophonist. His English is great, and his assistance in translating Yanagisawa-san's interview was invaluable. I can't wait for the April show!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

UNPACKING HARUNA FUJI! Getting to Know Actress Keiko Sawai!

Posing with Toho actress Keiko Sawai in Yokohama.

In Monster Zero (1965), Astronaut Glenn (Nick Adams) quips that his partner, Fuji (Akira Takarada), should have left his sister packed in ice before leaving for Planet X. On February 14, a few lucky fans had an opportunity to unpack Haruna Fuji and get to know actress Keiko Sawai.

Keiko Sawai poses for pictures. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Aside from Monster Zero, tokusatsu fans will remember her as the doomed girl in the hospital whom Nick Adams comforts at the beginning of Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and her appearance in episode 8 of Ultra Q (1966). She also had a turn in the quirky comedy Konto 55: Space Adventure (1969), which was also a tokusatsu film in its own right.

Despite being initially shy, it certainly seemed that Sawai-san got into the spirit of the event and began to enjoy herself immensely. She went out of her way to be friendly to me, which I appreciate. Sometimes actresses can be aloof (and understandably so), but that was not the case with Sawai-san.

I had a blast meeting Keiko Sawai. Hopefully I'll get another chance down the line. All of us in attendance are lucky to have "unpacked" Haruna Fuji and met the real Sawai-san!

A SPECIAL MONSTER ZERO EVENT COMES TO YOKOHAMA! MZ Vets Gather to Disucss This Popular Kaiju Romp!

Actress Keiko Sawai and assistant SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano host a panel discussion about Monster Zero (1965) following a screening of the film. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Sunday, February 14, was a memorable day for several reasons. First, it was Valentine's Day. Also, it was unseasonably warm. Seriously, it felt like late spring, and even though I dressed light today, it still felt hot. Third, and most important, today marked a special event in Yokohama that centered around the Toho classic Monster Zero (1965).

Actress Keiko Sawai, still as lovely as ever, smiles as the gathered fans take her picture. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Keiko Sawai (who played Haruna Fuji) made a rare appearance at the event, and even though she appeared rather shy at first, she seemed to warm up quickly to the fans in attendance. I'm happy to say that she seemed to show special interest in me. During a break, she was standing with her manager, but once we made eye contact, she approached me, and we began talking. I gave her a present I had prepared for her (a box of chocolates) since it was Valentine's Day. She was quite pleased to receive it.

Standing between Keiko Sawai and Teruoyoshi Nakano, following their panel discussion.

Teruyoshi Nakano was in attendance as well, and he adds liveliness to any event he attends. Besides, it's always a lot of fun whenever he says (in English), "Nice boy!"

Optical effects expert Sadao Iizuka helped bring King Ghidorah to life. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Sadao Iizuka also appeared, and given that he animated King Ghidorah's gravity ray, it was most appropriate. Iizuka-san is a kind gentleman and is always happy to meet his fans.

The 35mm print of Monster Zero was excellent. One detail I noticed for the first time was that, in Akira Kubo's bedroom scene toward the beginning of the film, there's a rolled-up poster for 007. Who knew there was a James Bond reference in the Showa series?

The event also gave me a chance to catch up with my fellow fans. There are some cool things in development, and naturally they'll be reported on this blog when they happen.

The event was another smashing success, and I cannot wait for the next one. Fortunately, the wait won't be a long one!

Two legends, Sadao Iizuka and Teruyoshi Nakano, share a laugh in Yokohama. Photo by Brett Homenick.

See you next time!

AN ANIMATING DISCUSSION! Meeting Animator-Designer Minoru Kujirai!

Minoru Kujirai at a restaurant in Hino, Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, February 13, I was pleased to have a chance to spend an evening with animator-designer Minoru Kujirai, whose work has been featured in many classic TV show and films. He began his career as an animator at Toei Studios, working on many cartoons that the studio produced.

In the 1970s, he turned his attention to live-action tokusatsu, and not only continued to work for Toei (on the Kamen Rider series) but eventually went to Tsuburaya Productions. At Tsuburaya, Kujirai-san worked on the Ultra-series (namely Ultraman Taro and Ultraman Leo), designing the beams for Ultraman and his kaiju foes. He later worked on movies like The War in Space (1977) and Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (1988).

Yours truly with Kujirai-san, following dinner and a lively conversation.

It was a wonderful experience to get to know not just an unsung hero of tokusatsu, but also a fellow fan. I can't thank Kujirai-san enough for his kindness and hospitality. Let's meet again soon!