Sunday, July 31, 2016

A RETURN TO TAC! Hanging and Singing with Mitsuhiro Sano!

Ultraman Ace star Mitsuhiro Sano salutes the cameraman. Photo by Brett Homenick.

 Tonight, I ventured down to Shinjuku with one goal in mind. I wanted to hang out with Ultraman Ace actor Mitsuhiro Sano (TAC member Kozo Yoshimura) at his bar! We were joined by a few other Japanese patrons who were surprised that an American was so familiar with Sano-san.

We sang karaoke, and Sano-san did another rendition of "Massachusetts," which has become almost a tradition by now. For the first time, I sang "Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen, and I have to add that to my playlist. That was a lot of fun!

HANGING WITH THE ULF-MAN! Paying Another Visit to the East Side of Tokyo!

Actor Ulf Otsuki poses with his bonsai tree. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I spent another afternoon at Ulf Otsuki's home. We watched another MGM musical, Anchors Aweigh (1945), with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. It was my first time to see it, and it was very enjoyable.

After that, our group went to a nearby restaurant for steak and pasta. We enjoyed talking about current events on both sides of the Pacific. Ulf-san has battled Godzilla twice (in Godzilla vs. Megalon and episode 15 of Zone Fighter), but he's the coolest guy you'd ever want to meet. Many thanks again!

IN YOUR HOUSE! The Toho Cult Classic Is Revived for a Special Screening!

House screenwriter Chiho Katsura (left) joins actress Ai Matsubara (right) to discuss their memories of making this cult classic. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On July 30, I was privileged to attend a screening of the Toho cult classic House (1977), for which two luminaries from the film join us. Screenwriter Chiho Katsura joined actress Ai Matsubara (who played the bespectacled Prof) to discuss the behind-the-scenes facts of the flick.

Screenwriter Chiho Katsura recalls writing House. Photo by Brett Homenick.

House, I must admit, is a movie that I never fully warmed up to. I first tried to watch an unsubtitled copy circa 2002 or '03, but after watching about half of it, I stopped, fully intending to finish it another day. (I never did.) At the time, very little information was available about the film, and I suppose I was expecting a more straight-forward horror film. When I realized that the movie was more confusing than anything else, it got indefinitely put on the shelf.

It wasn't until late 2010 or early 2011 (right before I moved to Japan) when I purchased the Criterion DVD that I finally watched the film in its entirety (with subtitles). Suffice it to say, I was still underwhelmed. I guess I never found the film as interesting as it wanted me to. Movies that try too hard to shock me almost always fall flat. Your mileage may vary.

Actress Ai Matsubara shares her memories of playing Prof. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Still, I was quite motivated to see the film in 35mm, and I was very interested to meet the guests of honor. I did enjoy the movie more this time around, but I still have some quibbles with it. While it can be a fun flick, it does run out of steam too often, and some of the gags just don't work for me. A little of the strangeness goes a long way. Despite that, I'm glad I saw it again.

I really enjoyed meeting and speaking with Chiho Katsura, who surprised me by speaking quite a bit of English! He told me he studied English for many years because he loves America. He saw the movie Easter Parade (1948) during his youth and was really inspired by it. (Remember the next time you watch House that the man who wrote it loves Judy Garland musicals!) Katsura-san also wrote the Nikkatsu thriller Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976), which actor Yutaka Hayashi considers probably to be his best film. When I mentioned several Japanese directors I liked, I rattled off the name Masaki Kobayashi (Kwaidan). Katsura-san grimaced and said he didn't like him. He didn't elaborate, but I certainly found that tidbit fascinating.

Ai Matsubara was a very lovely lady. She even sang a karaoke for us! (She works mostly as a singer now.) Her other acting credits include Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980) and Shogun (1980), which are rather impressive. Matsubara-san was not aware that her character's name in English was "Prof," so when I told her that, she lit up. She loves the name, so I think it's going to stick!

Another great event with wonderful guests has wrapped. I can't wait for the next one!

VISITING THE ART AQUARIUM! A New Way to Look at Sea Creatures!

The other night, I was invited to join a friend at the Art Aquarium, right outside Mitsukoshi-mae Station in Tokyo. The exhibition combines sea life with art, and the results were quite fascinating.

Most of the fish on display were various kinds of goldfish, so there wasn't a lot of variety. However, that's not the point. It's all about enjoying these sea critters in an artistic way.

I've never seen anything like this before, and I'm very glad I went. It was an evening well spent. The area around Mitsukoshi-mae Station itself is beautiful, and the photos below can attest to that.

Friday, July 29, 2016


In October 1995, following the main-event match at WWF In Your House 4: Great White North between WWF champion Big Daddy Cool Diesel and The British Bulldog, company owner Vince McMahon reportedly threw down his headset and declared, "Horrible!" Completely disappointed with the quality of the match, Diesel's title reign would come to an end the following month.

That was my immediate reaction to seeing Godzilla Resurgence (a.k.a. Shin Godzilla), though I think my exact quote was more along the lines of, "Stupid!"

Some spoilers will be contained herein, but really, this movie is so devoid of surprises or excitement that I'm not sure it's even possible to spoil this thing.

Where to begin? Well, for starters, I suppose if you like government bureaucrats with no backstory, no character development, and very little to set them apart from each other aside from their taste in neckties, you might find some enjoyment here. Because that's what the movie is: When Godzilla is not onscreen, the bureaucrats talk to each other. Then they walk down a corridor to resume their talking elsewhere. To spice things up, director Hideaki Anno puts his wide-angle lens to work in order to film extreme closeups of the bureaucrats as they talk -- in case we wanted to see the worried looks on the bureaucrats' pores.

But I really must touch on the absolute worst moment in not just this movie but the entire series. (That is no exaggeration, by the way.)

When Godzilla is attacking Kamata (the site of the first teaser trailer that was released late last year), it's revealed to be an early form of Godzilla. This form of Godzilla looks like a googly-eyed Muppet that got kidnapped from the Sesame Street prop department. It hurriedly crawls around on all fours (!) like a demented hamster in search of a wheel big enough to handle its girth. My jaw literally dropped when I first saw it, but not in the way the filmmakers intended. Of course, given the folks who worked on the film, it too looks like it went to the same plastic surgeon Jack Napier visited in Batman (1989). Suffice it to say, it was hideously stupid and laughably ridiculous. Later on, it transforms into the version we're all now familiar with from the trailers.

If it weren't for his legs or tail, Godzilla would almost never move. He just plods around Tokyo, looking like he had nothing better to do with himself. There's no sense of wonder or awe. There's no sense of what people on the ground must be dealing with. Godzilla's victims are all faceless extras. Everyone we get to know is some bureaucrat who's doing his or her best to look stoic. Trust me, it gets old real quick.

The movie further degenerates from there. Godzilla has the ability to fire lasers from pretty much all parts of his body, and after our first light show, Shin G suddenly decides to go into hibernation until the climax. The military defeats Godzilla in a preposterous way (which even involves the use of commuter trains!), and then it ends.

That's it. There's no story. There's no beginning, middle, or end. It just happens, and then it's done. To say the very least, it's not a satisfying movie-going experience.

To make matters worse, there's constant use of old-school, Tsuburaya-era sound effects throughout the film. So, even though the visuals we're seeing onscreen are meant to recall the real-life horror and devastation of the 3/11 tsunami, the sounds we hear recall the imagination and joy of the Showa Godzilla series. Way to mix your message, guys.

My verdict? It's the worst of the series. Yes, worse than Godzilla '98. But, even more surprisingly, worse than Godzilla (2014), whose biggest crime was simply being bland and boring. This was completely misguided from start to finish, and the lack of a strong producer (like Tomoyuki Tanaka or Shogo Tomiyama), who guided the series for years between different directors and screenwriters, was felt in a big way.

I had a feeling this would be the outcome. I hoped against hope I'd like it, but in the end, my fears that this "visionary filmmaker" (i.e., cartoon director) would end up delivering a stinker were unfortunately confirmed. Let's hope Shin Goji is the last of its kind.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

BATTLE OF OKINAWA! Kihachi Okamoto's Classic Is Screened in Yokohama!

Teruyoshi Nakano, Takashi Naganuma, and Kensho Yamashita pose with a Battle of Okinawa poster. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I attended a screening of Kihachi Okamoto's Battle of Okinawa (1971). It was my first time to see the film in 35mm, and it's never looked better. The movie remains a powerful anti-war statement more than 40 years after its original release. I was privileged to sit next to Nakano-san during the screening.

After the screening, SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano and assistant director Kensho Yamashita held a Q&A session in which they talked about their experiences. Given Nakano-san's expertise in explosions, he naturally described how many of those shots were accomplished.

Assistant director Kensho Yamashita focused more on the dramatic side of things. He even brought a scrapbook with him, which contained many behind-the-scenes photos from the set. There were many rare shots of Okamoto-san directing the action. Yamashita-san was also an assistant director on Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) and Blue Christmas (1978) and went on to direct Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994).

Following the talk, it was dinnertime! Many of us gathered around separate tables and broke bread with the guests of honor. In particular, I talked with Naganuma-san about the model work on Godzilla (1984), a personal favorite of mine.

I always enjoy seeing Naganuma-san, as he is among the friendliest Toho alumni you could meet. It's always fun asking about many of the classics from the '70s, as he still has vivid memories of them.

Kensho Yamashita is also a lot of fun, and he seems to enjoy these events as much as anyone else.

And that's a wrap! There's always something happening in my neck of the woods, so stay tuned for the latest (and coolest) happenings in the world of Toho movies!

GORO IBUKI IS BACK! Eating Dinner with a Toho Leading Man!

Actor Katsuhiko Sasaki in Omotesando. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday night, my friend Yasushi and I were privileged to be invited to dinner by actor Katsuhiko Sasaki, the star of Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Sasaki-san is a busy actor, and we don't get to see him as much as we'd like. But when we do, it's always a blast.

Sasaki-san took us to a yakitori restaurant that he enjoys, and we all enjoyed a delicious meal. We spent a couple of hours there, and we covered many topics. Sasaki-san was very impressed with the job Yasushi and I did of taking care of him during his visit to Chicago a couple of years ago, so we've stayed in touch ever since. Here's hoping we can get together again soon!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

FIFTY YEARS OF ULTRAMAN CONTINUED! The Next Day of This Star-Studded Event!

Tsuburaya Productions director Toshihiro Iijima during a Q&A session. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today I attended another Ultraman event in Yokohama. The guest of honor again was director Toshihiro Iijima, who directed many episodes of Ultra Q (1966), Ultraman (1966-67), and Ultra Seven (1967-68). Episode 2 of Ultraman, which was directed by Iijima-san, was screened for attendees.

Actor Kai Shishido always keeps a friend in his shirt pocket. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Also on hand was actor Kai Shishido. If his surname sounds familiar, yes, he is the son of acclaimed Nikkatsu star Joe Shishido (Branded to Kill). Shishido-san portrayed Captain Shigeru Hijikata on Ultraman Max (2005-06), and a two-parter featuring Baltan Seijin from the series was screened in conjunction with his appearance.

While Ultraman was indeed the focal point of the day, I have to admit that a special surprise diverted my attention elsewhere.

Shintoho actress Kyoko Yashiro smiles for the camera. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I found out yesterday during the previous day's event that Iijima-san is married to Shintoho actress Kyoko Yashiro, who accompanied him on both days. Yashiro-san worked with acclaimed horror director Nobuo Nakagawa on The Lady Vampire (1959). She also appeared in Vampire Bride (1960) and The Ghost of the Girl Diver (1960). Suffice it to say, I was blown away -- in a good way!

Yashiro-san was very sweet and spoke to me about her career at Shintoho. I seemed much more interested in her career than anyone else was at the gathering, but I'm used to that by now!

All in all, it was a great day spent in great company. Many thanks to Iijima-san and Yashiro-san for their kindness and generosity.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

FIFTY YEARS OF ULTRAMAN! Celebrating the Hero from M78 with Some of his Longtime Friends!

Former child actor Akihide Tsuzawa poses for a picture. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following work, I was able to join a celebration of Ultraman's 50th anniversary in Yokohama with some luminaries from the series' history. 

Akihide Tsuzawa was one of the special guests, and he was of particular interest to me. He played the young boy Hoshino, who was a regular on the original Ultraman (1966-67) TV series. Although I've met many of the alumni from the original series, this was my first time to meet Tsuzawa-san. I found him to be gregarious and a great storyteller. He even has a credit in another major SFX production. He played a young islander in the original Mothra (1961)!

Ultra-series director Toshihiro Ijima. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Another true legend of the Ultra-series was in attendance, and that was director Toshihiro Iijima. Iijima-san helmed numerous episodes of Ultra Q (1966), Ultraman, Ultra Seven (1967-68), and other Tsuburaya Productions series. He also directed the feature film Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972).

Iijima-san is truly one of the pioneers who shaped the Ultra-series into what it has become. He had a guiding hand in the pivotal first three Ultra-series (and beyond). It's always exciting to meet an individual of Iijima-san's caliber.

Takeshi Yagi, a director of some of the more recent Ultraman adventures, was also there, sharing his memories about making the latter-day episodes of the franchise.

It was a great evening, but the fun resumes tomorrow. I can't wait!

GODZILLA IN SHINJUKU! Godzilla Resurgence Is Set to Surge!

The other night I went to Shinjuku and snapped some photos. The movie poster hanging just below Godzilla's claw is particularly apropos. The other photos here are rather self-explanatory.

This last photo is from Shibuya, as you get off the JR Yamanote Line and head for the Hachiko Exit.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Yumi Ito, 1941-2016

Actress/singer Yumi Ito, one half of the popular singing duo The Peanuts, passed away on May 18 at the age of 75, although the news has only now been reported. Emi Ito passed away almost exactly four years ago in 2012.

Happiness weeps again. May both sisters rest in peace.

UPDATE: A great photo too cool not to share. Source:

AKIRA IFUKUBE IN CONCERT! An Incredible Performance Thrills the Audience in Kawasaki!

A celebratory bouquet of flowers stands at the entrance of Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall in honor of the Akira Ifukube concert. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On July 10, I was privileged to be invited to attend an Akira Ifukube concert held at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall. Thanks to Erik Homenick, the webmaster of, I was able to reserve a ticket for the performance. And what a performance it was!

Yours truly with Kiwami Ifukube, the late composer's son.

Before the concert started, and during the intermission, I was fortunate to meet all three of Akira Ifukube's children. (I'd met Kyoko Ifukube at several other events over the years, but this was my first time to meet Kiwami and Reiko). All three of the Ifukube children were extremely polite. Kiwami happily snapped pictures throughout the day.

Kyoko Ifukube poses with her daughter, Itsumo. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

As for the concert itself, it was extraordinary. Admittedly, I don't know a fraction of the information that Erik knows about Ifukube and his music, so I'd leave any critique to him. But he was impressed with the concert, touting it as even better than the previous one two years ago. That's certainly good enough for me.

Posing with Reiko Ifukube.

After the concert, I was invited to attend a dinner with Kiwami Ifukube, Erik, and a few other VIPs. The dinner lasted a few hours, and a great time was had by all. Kiwami certainly seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

Kiwami Ifukube during the VIP dinner. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Following that dinner, Erik and I joined concert pianist Reiko Yamada (who wowed the audience with her performance) and Heisei Godzilla series conductor Satoshi Imai for drinks at a nearby cafe. 

 Satoshi Imai (second from the left), Erik (third from the left), Reiko Yamada (third from the right), and yours truly pose for a group photo.

After that, Erik, Reiko, and I wandered around Kawasaki. We even stopped by Kaiju Sakaba, but unfortunately it was already in the process of closing. Maybe next time!

Erik poses with Kiwami and Toru Ifukube. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I must give a big thanks to Erik, without whom I could not have attended the concert or joined the VIP dinner. Many thanks also to all three of Ifukube's children (Kiwami, Kyoko, and Reiko) who were all generous with their time. Congratulations to Reiko Yamada for another outstanding performance!