Monday, November 28, 2016

GROUP SHOT! Takashi Naganuma's Book Party!

The commemorative photo taken at Takashi Naganuma's launch party.

Takashi Naganuma just e-mailed me the commemorative group photo from Sunday's event. It features all the guests from the event (except director Tom Kotani, who left a bit early). Once again, it was a fantasic event. Many thanks to everyone who made it such a special occasion!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

MORE PHOTOS! Takashi Naganuma's Launch Party!

Nobuyuki Yasumaru addresses Shinji Higuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I attended the launch party for Takashi Naganuma's new book on Toho SFX. It was a private celebration, and it was a lot of fun. Here are some other highlights.

Director Tom Kotani and suit builder Nobuyuki Yasumaru enjoy each other's company.

A group shot with yours truly, Tom Kotani, and Takashi Naganuma. This was taken shortly after I was invited to address the audience on the microphone. I offered praise to the SFX luminaries in attendance, and asked everyone to give director Kotani a round of applause. Kotani-san stood up and hugged me!

My photo of Toho cyclorama painter Fuchimu Shimakura.

Yours truly with Shimakura-san! Personality-wise, Shimakura-san was extremely youthful and had a wonderful sense of humor. I really hope to have a chance to meet him again.

A group shot with director Shinji Higuchi, Takashi Naganuma, and others in attendance.

Meeting suit builder Nobuyuki Yasumaru. Shinji Higuchi is directly seated behind us.

Nobuyuki Yasumaru points out the details in a photograph to Shinji Higuchi.

Yours truly with Shin Godzilla co-director Shinji Higuchi.

A selfie with Yoshikazu Ishii, a Toho SFX expert.

TAKASHI NAGANUMA'S BOOK PARTY! SFX All-Stars Turn Out for The Celebration!

Takashi Naganuma addresses the audience of fans and pros. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Sunday, November 27, a private party was held in Yokohama Chinatown to celebrate the launch of a new book by Takashi Naganuma, detailing Toho's tokusatsu history from the 1970s and beyond. 

Godzilla stands above Yokohama Chinatown. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was invited by Naganuma-san when I saw him a week ago. Naturally, when I heard about this party, I jumped at the chance to attend. I'm very glad I did. There were several Toho tokusatsu staff members in attendance, many of whom I'd never met before. There was even a big surprise in store for us!

Director Tsugunobu "Tom" Kotani waits in the green room. Photo by Brett Homenick.

When I arrived, I greeted Naganuma-san, who was busy setting up. I then joined director Tsugunobu "Tom" Kotani in the green room. Kotani-san still speaks quite a bit of English, though he tells me he used to be even more proficient. He reminisced about working with Richard Boone on The Last Dinosaur (1977). According to Kotani-san, he and Richard Boone got along very well, and Boone even helped communicate some of his directions to the rest of the cast. Kotani-san said that Boone was like an honorary assistant director in that sense. 

Toho SFX expert Yoshikazu Ishii. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Among the tokusatsu pros in attendance was Yoshikazu Ishii, the first assistant director of SFX on Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), among a lot of other film and TV work. Ishii-san's English has come along very well since I first met him back in 2003. He helped translate my conversation with Toshiro Aoki later in the evening. Many thanks to Ishii-san for his help!

Tom Kotani greets fellow Toho director Shinji Higuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The above photo ought to give away the surprise. Fresh off the success of Shin Godzilla, co-director Shinji Higuchi attended the launch party. Naturally, Higuchi-san is well acquainted with the Toho alumni in attendance, and their respect for Higuchi-san was quite evident.

Nobuyuki Yasumaru discusses his work at Toho. Photo by Brett Homenick.

A big highlight for me was getting the chance to meet Toho suit builder Nobuyuki Yasumaru. His work on Toho SFX dates all the way back to Mothra (1961), but he is best known for his work building the suits for most of the '70s Toho monsters as well as the '84 Godzilla suit and Pulgasari. His work on Toho monster suits began with Gorosaurus on King Kong Escapes (1967).

Fuchimu Shimakura recalls his Toho days. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Artist Fuchimu Shimakura was also on hand, and while most fans aren't familiar with his name, they know his work. Shimakura-san painted the cycloramas and backgrounds seen in many classic Toho films and Ultraman programs. In other words, if you saw Mount Fuji in the background of a monster fight scene during the 1960s, he painted it. When I spoke with Shimakura-san, he told me that he began work at Toho in 1959 (!), which would have made him about 19 years old at the time. According to Shimakura-san, his first tokusatsu works were The Three Treasures (1959) and Battle in Outer Space (1959).

Director Shinji Higuchi speaks to the audience. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Shinji Higuchi was also among the speakers, and he turned out to be the most popular guest among the fans and professionals. It's not hard to see why. Shin Godzilla was a massive success at the Japanese box office. Higuchi-san did not have to attend an event like this, but his respect for the SFX technicians in attendance speaks for itself.

SFX art director Toshiro Aoki talks tokusatsu. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Another luminary in attendance was SFX art director Toshiro Aoki. Aoki-san's career as an art assistant dates back to 1959 with The Three Treasures, but he went on to work on Mothra, Gorath (1962), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964), among many other titles. In the 1970s, Aoki-san became SFX art director for films like Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). Aoki-san worked in the same position for Tsuburaya Productions on Return of Ultraman (1971-72), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), and Ultraman Taro (1973-74). 

Yours truly with Toho SFX art assistant Jiro Shirasaki.

Jiro Shirasaki was among with many other SFX alums, and he likewise worked on many classic Toho films in the SFX art department.

All in all, it was a tremendous party, but as is often the case, there's a lot more to say. Stay tuned!


The one and only Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Sunday, November 27, saw another special event with Sadao Iizuka, the optical effects wizard who began his tokusatsu career with the original Godzilla (1954) and continued throughout much of the Showa era.

Due to a previous engagement, I had to miss the Q&A part of the evening, but I was able to join the dinner portion. It was a lot of fun hanging out with Iizuka-san, who always has new stories to tell.

Shinji Nishikawa and Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

A surprise guest at the event was kaiju designer and illustrator Shinji Nishikawa. Nishikawa-san has worked on countless tokusatsu films from the Heisei and Millennium eras, so all three timelines were well represented tonight.

It was great to see Iizuka-san and Nishikawa-san again, but I hope to be able to join the next event in its entirety. We'll see how it goes.

Sadao Iizuka poses with an old friend. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Many thanks to everyone who made my return to Sagamihara so much fun!

ULTRA ONE-MAN SHOW 2016! Meeting the VIPs!

With Bin Furuya.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there is much more to talk about from the Ultra One-Man Show 2016. So let's get to it!

With Nami Tamura.

One of the highlights for me was seeing actress Nami Tamura again. Although she is best known for her guest appearances in Ultra Q (1966) and Ultra Seven (1967-68), she was a Toho actress who appeared in numerous films for the studio, including the thriller Terror in the Streets (1970) along with a bevy of Kihachi Okamato actioners. 

With Minoru Kawasaki. 

Also on hand was Minoru Kawasaki, the director who created Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit (2008). Kawasaki-san was there promoting his new film, Daikaiju Mono (2016), and he took part as an emcee of some of the Q&A sessions.

With Hiroyuki Takano. 

Hiroyuki Takano co-starred in the Toei superhero series Barom-1 (1972) as Kentaro Shiratori. Takano-san has also appeared in episodes of Ultra Seven, Fight! Mighty Jack (1968), Operation: Mystery (1968-69), Spectreman (1971-72), Return of Ultraman (1971-72), Kamen Rider (1971-73), Silver Mask (1971-72), and Submersion of Japan (1974-75). Takano-san attended the show as a friend of Furuya-san.

Sojiro Uchino. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While there, I bumped into former child actor Sojiro Uchino, who appeared in episodes of Ultra Q, Ultraman, and Kaiju Booska (1966-67). I hadn't seen Soji-san since the summer, so I enjoyed chatting with him again.

With singer Grace Mika. 

I've gotten to know Grace Mika since last year, and I always enjoy her company. As always, it was a blast talking with her.

With Atsuko Tanaka. 

I met Tsuburaya Productions scripter Atsuko Tanaka at last year's Ultra One-Man Show, and I was fortunate enough to see her again. She thanked me for sending her photos from last year's event.

With Eiichi Kikuchi.

Last, but certainly not least, was Eiichi Kikuchi, the Return of Ultraman suit actor. He's a gentleman who always makes time for his fans.

And that's a wrap from the Ultra One-Man Show. What a great time it was!

ULTRA ONE-MAN SHOW 2016! Bin Furuya and Friends Return to the Stage!

Bin Furuya strikes his traditional Specium Ray pose at the Ultra One-Man Show. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, November 26, I attended the third (and reportedly final) Ultra One-Man Show in Tokyo. Hosted by Ultraman suit actor Bin Furuya, the event is essentially a live variety show that mixes Q&A interviews with musical numbers, video montages, and dramatic readings. 

Actor Sandayu Dokumamushi recounts his Ultra-experiences. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The main attraction for the event was the appearance of Ultraman (1966-67) and Ultra Seven (1967-68) cast member Sandayu Dokumamushi, who has made few personal appearances at such events in recent years. As expected, Dokumamushi-san was warmly greeted by the audience, and his jokes often brought down the house.

Ultra-alums Sandayu Dokumamushi (left) and Hiroko Sakurai (right) share a laugh during the event. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Joining Furuya-san and Dokumamushi-san onstage were actress Hiroko Sakurai and Ultra-series director Toshihiro Iijima. The four recalled their memories of working on the original Ultraman, which was most certainly a great way to celebrate the 50th anniversary. 

Sandayu Dokumamushi, Hiroko Sakurai, and Toshihiro Iijima at the Ultra One-Man Show. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

During the course of the event, Furuya-san made several wardrobe changes. So if you're looking through the photos and are wondering why Furuya is wearing different shirts and jackets, now you know why!

Bin Furuya and Sandayu Dokumamushi celebrate 50 years of Ultraman. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Many other familiar faces were also in attendance. Eiichi Kikuchi, the Ultraman Jack suit actor from Return of Ultraman (1971-72) joined Furuya-san onstage several times. They even staged a mock battle in period clothes, which left the crowd cheering. It's always cool to see these two Ultraman suit actors performing together.

Ultraman Jack suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Of course, what really brings out the cameras are when the two strike the Specium Ray pose. In fact, I think I took a picture of that myself!

Bin Furuya and Eiichi Kikuchi are Ultramen! Photo by Brett Homenick, 

I mentioned that the show featured dancing, and that was no exaggeration. Furuya-san joined forces with singer Grace Mika to do a tap dance that was just as good as any old-time Hollywood star could do.

Grace Mika and Bin Furuya cut a rug at the Ultra One-Man Show. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The Ultra One-Man Show had just about everything. There truly was something for everyone. From what I understand, Bin Furuya plans this to be the last one, given that three is a lucky number in Japan. Still, while the Ultra One-Man Show may not return, Bin Furuya most certainly will, and I can't wait to see what his next event will be.

But wait -- there's more! That's right, so much happened at the Ultra One-Man Show that I couldn't possibly fit it all into one blog post. Stay tuned for more details!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

TAC TAKES TOKYO! An Evening with an Ultraman Ace Cast Member!

Actor Mitsuhiro Sano poses with an old friend. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight I paid a visit to the bar owned by actor Mitsuhiro Sano, who plated TAC member Kozo Yoshimura on Ultraman Ace (1972-73). It had been a few months since I my last visit, so I was particularly keen on returning there.

As usual, we sang quite a few karaoke songs. One of the tunes I sang was "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits, the lyrics of which seemed to amuse Sano-san. For his part, Sano-san did another rendition of "Massachusetts" (an old favorite of his) as well as "Can't Help Falling in Love" by a certain chap from Mississippi. As always, it was a lot of fun!

YOSHIMITSU BANNO LAUNCHES HIS NEW MEMOIR! A Rare Look at the Making of Godzilla and Kurosawa Films!

Writer-director Yoshimitsu Banno with his new memoir. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On July 30, Yoshimitsu Banno's 240-page memoir of his filmmaking career was published in Japan. The tentative English-language title is Why I Let Godzilla Fly: 85-Year-Old Creator Yoshimitsu Banno, and so far it is only available in Japanese. It can be purchased on Amazon Japan here

It should be noted that there are few photos in the book, and the text (naturally) is all in Japanese. But it contains a wealth of information, detailing the making of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) as well as Banno-san's memories of working with Akira Kurosawa on four films. 

The book would be an inexpensive addition to your Godzilla collection. So what are you waiting for? Pick up your copy today!

AN AFTERNOON WITH A TOHO DIRECTOR! Discussing a Variety of Topics with One of Godzilla's Directors!

Director Yoshimitsu Banno. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today, November 20, I met with director Yoshimitsu Banno. Our get-together started with a surprise. Banno-san presented me a copy of his new book, the tentative English title of which is Why I Let Godzilla Fly. Banno-san signed it and handed it to me. Suffice it to say, it was an excellent surprise!

During the meeting, we talked about his book and a few other projects in the works. I assisted Banno-san with the necessary English translations. All in all, it was an enjoyable time.

Many thanks to Banno-san for the unexpected gift. I'm certainly glad to add it to my collection!


Shin Godzilla is on the prowl at the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Until December 2, this Shin Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla Resurgence) display can be seen on the 8th floor of the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. To my eye, it's pretty much identical to the others that have been making the rounds in Tokyo and other locales during the summer. But if you haven't seen it yet, it's well worth checking out. But you'd better get there soon!