Monday, October 31, 2016

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM SHIBUYA! The Return of a Familiar Character!

A sign hanging in Shibuya. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I spent a couple of hours in Shibuya to celebrate Halloween. This year, I decided to dust off the old President Ted Thomas costume from last year and wear it again, and I'm glad I did. The President (based on a character from some grade-Z independent film) was a lot of fun to play again this year.

Shibuya 109 surrounded by throngs of Halloween merrymakers. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The main roads around Shibuya Station were closed to traffic, allowing the costumers free rein to roam around. Even though there was plenty of people mingling about, it felt a lot less crowded than last year.

"Mah fellow Americans," sez Prez Ted Thomas.

So why did I drag out this obscure character to play again? The main reason is that a fellow Godzilla fan wrote to me earlier in the year (he's apparently a little slow on the uptake) and complimented me on my selection, saying, "Nice Halloween costume." After such a warm and sincere pat on the back, I felt obliged to give it another go! 

There was a wide variety of costumes on display. Many were familiar characters like Heath Ledger's Joker, Spider-Man (seen above -- twice!), Dracula, Mario and Luigi, etc., and others were random zombies and assorted whatsits.

Even Godzilla was (sort of) there! Photo by Brett Homenick.

It was quite amusing to people-watch and just take everything in. But, as fun as it was, by the end I was totally beat. I was falling asleep on the train on the way home. I left all my energy in Shibuya. I'm surprised I'm able to write this blog post!

With one of the young ladies who stopped me for a photo. 

Interestingly, I seemed to attract even more attention this year. A lot of people thought I was supposed to be Mr. Bean (just like last year), but of course, Mr. Bean's hair is nothing like my wig. Still, more people asked me for photo ops than last year. I even got a few "kawaiis" and a couple of "ikemens."

Who needs to go to an alien con when the real deal is right in front of you? Photo by Brett Homenick.

This year's Halloween was probably a bit more enjoyable than last year, if only for the increased amount of space in which we were allowed to move.  

Still, by the end, I was completely spent. I'm sure not getting enough sleep the night before also played a role, but I was happy to go back home.

Thanks for the memories, Shibuya! Let's do it again next year!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

KUROSAWA AND MIFUNE! Visiting a Special Exhibit in Kamakura!

With actor Shigeo Kato at the Kamakura City Kawakita Film Museum.

Today I traveled to Kamakura to visit Japanese Film Legend: Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Running from September 16 until January 15 at the Kamakura City Kawakita Film Museum, the special exhibit boasts many rare and interesting items.

Shigeo Kato at the Kamakura City Kawakita Film Museum. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I was fortunate to attend with veteran Toho actor Shigeo Kato, who himself has appeared in numerous Kurosawa films, going all the way back to Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954). It was quite an experience to walk around the exhibit with an actor who has worked with Kurosawa and Mifune many times.

Shigeo Kato meets his old friend Ultraman again! Photo by Brett Homenick.

On hand at the exhibit were many posters for Kurosawa films (both domestic and international), several rare photographs (such as a shot of Toshiro Mifune with Charlie Chaplin and a photo of Mifune visiting the set of Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala), and even a few of their personal effects. For example, a medal awarded to Mifune by UCLA in the mid-1980s was on display, as was a coat Mifune himself made from a blanket he received shortly after leaving the military. Some of Mifune's own shooting scripts from his collaborations with Kurosawa could also be seen.

Kurosawa's memorial message to Mifune (written shortly after the actor passed away) was also on display, as was the Golden Lion award given to Rashomon by the Venice International Film Festival. Additionally, some of Kurosawa's personal art supplies (with which he drew up storyboards) were on hand, along with some of his other belongings, like his binoculars. 

It was a fascinating display filled with Toho history. I was lucky enough to take it all in with a man who was there for most of it. Many thanks to Kato-san for a wonderful afternoon!

Friday, October 28, 2016

ANOTHER COINCIDENCE! A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work!

With actress Tomoko Ai in Chicago during the summer of 2014.

During my years in Japan, I have met several actors and filmmakers by sheer coincidence, usually on trains or in train stations. In most cases, I'd already met them, so they already knew who I was.

Today was another such coincidence. After I got on the train and sat down on the way to work today, I looked up and noticed none other than actress Tomoko Ai, the star of Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), sitting across from me. It was my first time seeing her in a long time, and shortly after I noticed her, she spotted me, and invited me to sit next to her.

We talked until I had to get off at my stop. It was certainly great to see Ai-san again, and we both had a good laugh over the amazing coincidence.

I've bumped into both stars of Terror of Mechagodzilla in my neighborhood this year alone. What are the odds?! 

SYMPHONIC FURY! The Music of Japanese Monsters!

The Symphonic Fury CD set has been released, and thanks to conductor John DeSentis, I have received a copy. Symphonic Fury was an enormously successful concert held in Chicago's Pickwick Theater in July 2015. The first part of the concert featured a live performance of Kow Otani's music from all three of the Heisei Gamera series films as well as GMK (2001). Kow Otani himself was in the audience for this performance. The second half of the concert focused on Akira Ifukube's works, specifically Kishi Mai (1943) and Symphonic Fantasias No. 1-3 (1983). The CD set also contains a booklet that features John DeSentis' full-length interview with Kow Otani.

Want some Symphonic Fury stuff? Here's how to get it!

Just like the Ifukube 100 concert in 2014, this is another amazing performance. John DeSentis once again worked tirelessly to hire, organize, and lead a full orchestra to perform some classic kaiju compositions. Erik Homenick of was instrumental (no pun intended) in providing information and material to the effort. These concerts are the first of their kind in the U.S., and it's easy to see why they have quickly become a fan favorite.

Symphonic Fury/Ifukube 100 CDs and swag are available, and if you're interested in supporting a fan-oriented group that offers professional services and a product worthy of support (trust me, there aren't many around), please consider purchasing some items. 

John DeSentis knocks it out of the park again. Full marks!

SYMPHONIC FURY! A Beloved Heisei Gamera Series Actor Signs Autographs!

Yukijiro Hotaru poses with a signed Symphonic Fury foldout. Photo © 2016, CES, Inc.

Recently, conductor John DeSentis, the mastermind of the successful Symphonic Fury concert in Chicago, asked me to help secure some signatures on foldouts for the concert's biggest backers. After pounding some pavement, I am pleased to reveal that actor Yukijiro Hotaru, whose roles in the Heisei Gamera trilogy were standouts, has added his signature to these foldouts for some very lucky fans.

Yukijiro Hotaru signs a Symphonic Fury foldout. Photo © 2016, CES, Inc.

I would like to thank Mr. Hotaru and CES, Inc., for their help in making this possible. I have a feeling that they made the day (and then some!) of some very fortunate Gamera fans in America. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

MEETING MISAKO WATANABE! The Kwaidan Cast Member Recalls Her Acting Career!

Actress Misako Watanabe at a recent event. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I just returned from a special event with actress Misako Watanabe. Debuting in 1953, Watanabe-san has enjoyed a long, award-winning acting career that extends to this day. During her career, Watanabe-san was primarily an actress at Nikkatsu Studios. Appropriately, one of her films from the studio was screened today, the stylish drama Don't Bet on Human Beings (1964).

I was interested in her mainly because of her role as the second wife in the "Black Hair" segment of Kwaidan (1964), a longtime favorite of mine. She also appears in episode 1 of Tsuburaya Productions' Unbalance (1973) and is featured in Kon Ichikawa's The Devil's Ballad (1977).

I enjoyed dinner with Watanabe-san, who sometimes threw in some English phrases into the conversation, such as, "Let's eat!" She also talked to me about the presidential election. She said that she watched the presidential debates with Japanese subtitles and even quoted (in English) Trump's repeated "Wrong!" interruptions. Suffice it to say, I never thought I'd be discussing presidential politics with a cast member from Kwaidan, but it's certainly one of the most memorable experiences of the year.

Another great evening was had by all. Let's do it again soon!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

SONNY CHIBA RETURNS! The Street Fighter Cleans Up Oimachi!

With actor Sonny Chiba. 

Tonight I attended a special event in Oimachi with actor Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba in attendance. I arrived late finishing work, but when I entered the reception area, Chiba-san was there and greeted me when he saw me. We took the above photo after he signed his book for me.

Also in attendance was Olympic wrestler Osamu Watanabe, who is a Guinness World Records holder for his unblemished record as a grappler. I first met Watanabe-san in May, and it was nice to catch up with him.

Pancho Kagami (of Pinky & Killers fame) was also on hand, and it was a lot of fun to see him again (as you can see from the above photo!).

Despite arriving late, I had an incredible time, and I hope we can all do it again soon!

SHINICHI YANAGISAWA LIVE AND IN PERSON! The Legenedary Performer Has Come Back to Asakusa!

Actor/singer Shinichi Yanagisawa in concert. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Tuesday, October 18, I went down to Asakusa to see Shinichi Yanagisawa perform live. I've been going to his live shows for the last two years, and I enjoy it every time I go. 

Of course, regular readers of this blog know that Yanagisawa-san starred as Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), which is one of my favorite characters in any kaiju film. I also conducted an excellent (if I may say so myself) interview with him about his career.

As always, it was great to see and speak with him again. Can't wait for the next show!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

MEETING SAYOKO HAGIWARA! An Actress Whose Career Includes Ultraman and Super Sentai!

Yours truly with actress Sayoko Hagiwara.

Today I attended a special event in Tokyo and was able to meet actress Sayoko Hagiwara.

Hagiwara-san played Yullian in Ultraman 80 (1980-81) and Dyna Pink in Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84). She also later appears in Choushinsei Flashman (1986-87). Hagiwara-san spoke some English, and we were able to have a nice conversation. I found her to be extremely friendly, and she was one of the nicest people I've met in Japan. 

Hopefully, I'll have a chance to meet her again the future. I'd certainly love to have the opportunity. 

OUT AND ABOUT IN SHINJUKU! Tokyo Gets in the Halloween Spirit!

Halloween decorations of the eighth floor of the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I made my way to Shinjuku today and photographed a few things during my trip. I went inside the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku and noticed that the Halloween deocorations were out in force. It was quite cool to see.

A nearby store advertises Shin Godzilla masks. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Godzilla fires his atomic ray (or a less destructive version of it!). Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Keeping a watchful eye over the city. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

TOKYO BLACKOUT! Teruyoshi Nakano's Birthday Blowout Features a Screening of This Obscure Sci-Fi Flick!

Teruyoshi Nakano celebrates his 81st birthday. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

October 9, 2016, marked Teruyoshi Nakano's 81st birthday (despite the persistent misinformation in the West that his birthday falls on October 1), and on his birthday, many of Nakano-san's fans gathered to take in a screening of the rather obscure sci-fi epic Tokyo Blackout (1987). 

Model maker Takashi Naganuma discusses his work. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Although it was directed by Toshio Masuda (The Last Days of Planet Earth) and based on a novel by Sakyo Komatsu (Submersion of Japan), the film remains little known outside Japan (and even within Japan!) among tokusatsu fan circles. It's not a bad film by any means, but it's a little slow and has a tendency to be a bit melodramatic. In any case, I enjoyed seeing it in 35mm. I doubt I'll ever have another chance to see it that way!

After the film, its SFX director (and the day's guest of honor) Teruyoshi Nakano discussed his work on the film, and model maker Takashi Naganuma also added his expertise to the proceedings.

After the Q&A session ended, we ate dinner with the guests, and then Nakano-san's birthday cake was brought out. As you'd expect, Nakano-san blew out the candles. No word on what he wished for.

An unexpected treat was a special showing of a TV interview from circa 1981, featuring Teruyoshi Nakano, Tomoyuki Tanaka, and Tsuburaya Productions' Koichi Takano. The trio discussed tokusatsu movies, and at one point Nakano-san was paired with an interesting Godzilla attraction suit that I've never seen before. (Eleking appeared alongside Takano-san for his scenes.) There was also some behind-the-scenes footage taken inside Tsuburaya Productions' office, and in the background was director Noriaki Yuasa, who was working on Ultraman 80. Very cool stuff!

All in all, it was a great day spent in great company. Let's do it again soon!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Bill Warren: 1943-2016

 Author Bill Warren (in the Hawaiian shirt) chats with Tim Smyth at Don Glut's house. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The news of Bill Warren's passing at age 73 was unfortunately expected, given his declining health, but it is major loss for fans of classic sci-fi and horror films. Bill wrote numerous books and articles on the genre over the decades, and his association with the Forry Ackerman and Famous Monsters (the real one, not the pale imitation of recent years) speaks for itself. Not many classic horror fans can say that they met Boris Karloff, but Bill Warren could.

I met Bill Warren once. In August 2010, I visited Don Glut's home where he was throwing a party for various local monster movie fans. Among the folks in attendance were Ted Newsom, William Winckler, Perry Martin, Tim Smyth, and of course Bill Warren. At one point, I asked Bill to tell the story about his attempt at interviewing Teri Garr on the set of a movie, which had the group in stitches. (I'd read the story before on the Classic Horror Film Board.) Among other awkward moments, when Bill asked her about Close Encounters, she retorted, "That's not science fiction, that's Steven Spielberg's VISION!"

Bill Warren, Tim Smyth, Perry Martin, Don Glut, William Winckler, and Ted Newsom talk about all things horror. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Toward the end of the afternoon, the conversation turned toward some of the drama unfolding on the CHFB. Bill, despite his reputation for being "irascible," offered a level-headed assessment of the events. I wouldn't have blamed him at all for being upset at the way he was treated, but he actually seemed unfazed by it all and took it in stride. I was impressed.

My favorite Bill Warren moment? As the party was preparing to move to a nearby pizzeria, Bill (and his wife Beverly) were planning to return home. As we were about to say our goodbyes, Bill flashed a playful smile and asked me, "So [insert egomaniac's name here] lets you be a Godzilla fan, eh?" Given that I was on somewhat friendly terms with said individual at this point, I had to play it safe, but even then I had a good laugh over Bill's question. I always enjoyed his sense of humor.

RIP, Bill.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

THE ULF-MAN IS BACK! A Great Day with a Showa-Era Actor!

The great Ulf Otsuki gives a thumbs-up to the camera. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I spent another nice day at Ulf Otsuki's home. We watched the James Stewart movie The Glenn Miller Story (1954) before heading out for another delicious Indian food dinner.

A fun time was had by all. Many thanks, as always, to Ulf for all his hospitality!