Sunday, May 28, 2017

MORE PICS! Rodan Takes to the Skies!

Sadao Iizuka and Toshio Miike discuss Toho special effects.

Toshio Miike points out SFX staff members from a group photo on the set of Rodan (1956).

Sadao Iizuka recalls the SFX of the final scene of Rodan.

Sadao Iizuka listens to a question.

Iizuka-san draws his version of Godzilla for a lucky fan.

Sadao Iizuka draws Godzilla.

In between Toshio Miike and Sadao Iizuka.

Toshio Miike shows off his piece of birthday cake.

With Toshio Miike.

With Sadao Iizuka.

RODAN FLIES AGAIN! The Monster of the Sky Takes Wing in 35mm!

Sadao Iizuka (left) and Toshio Miike (right) discuss SFX, Toho-style. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today, I attended a 35mm screening of the kaiju classic Rodan (1956). It was quite obviously the Japanese version, and I can't begin to remember the last time I watched the Japanese version. (I know the U.S. version like the back of my hand.) Based on this screening, I can't say I was missing very much after all these years. I still prefer the U.S. cut.

Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick.  

The guests on hand were optical effects creator Sadao Iizuka and Heisei-era production designer and art director Toshio Miike. Iizuka-san worked on the original Godzilla (1954) and many of the studio's kaiju movies through most of the 1960s. Miike-san's credits are varied, and he recently worked on the international hit Shin Godzilla (2016).

Toshio Miike. Photo by Brett Homenick.  

May 26 marked Miike-san's birthday, and in celebration of the recent event, a birthday cake was prepared for him. Having had a slice of the cake myself, I can confirm that it was delicious.

Toshio Miike holds his birthday cake while Sadao Iizuka poses with him for a picture. Photo by Brett Homenick.  

One of the many highlights was the stories that Iizuka-san shared from his Toho days. For example, he revealed that, as the person who designed and animated King Ghidorah's birth scene in Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964), he was inspired by the special effects seen in the MGM classic Forbidden Planet (1956). Another anecdote involved Eiji Tsuburaya himself. According to Iizuka-san, Tsuburaya rarely went out drinking with his staff after work. However, Iizuka-san was fortunate to get invited one day to go out drinking with Tsuburaya with a small group. They went to a Japanese snack bar (which is much different from what the name would suggest to most Westerners), and the snack bar staff greeted Tsuburaya warmly with an affectionate, "Welcome, Tsubo-chan!" Tsuburaya's group was rather surprised to find that Tsuburaya was apparently a regular at such an establishment! (By the way, Tsuburaya was nicknamed Tsubo-chan, as opposed to Tsubu-chan, because it rolls off the tongue better.)

And that's a wrap! It goes without saying that this was another fantastic evening with many laughs to be had. Rodan flies again!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

THEY'RE BACK! Teruyoshi Nakano and Takashi Naganuma Return!

Godzilla series SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After work was finished, I was able to join another dinner with the great Teruyoshi Nakano and Takashi Naganuma. Nakano-san was the SFX director for the Godzilla series from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) through Godzilla 1985 (1984). He also worked under the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya as an assistant SFX director on many Toho classics. 

Nakano-san is always a lot of fun to talk to, and he seems to enjoy having a chance to use a few English phrases. I particularly enjoyed talking with him about Toho's Bloodthirsty trilogy, a particular favorite of mine.

Toho model-maker Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1947, Takashi Naganuma began his Toho SFX career with Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and finished with Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). His work at Toho focused on mechanical miniatures, and he produced all the JSDF weaponry seen in Godzilla 1985.  

Like Nakano-san, Naganuma-san is a always a blast to hang out with. It was certainly great to see these two gentlemen again. Let's do it again soon!

Monday, May 22, 2017

STEVEN SPIELBERG X ULTRAMAN?! Are You Ready for Spielberg's Ready Player One?

Could Ultraman soon join forces with Steven Spielberg? Photo by Brett Homenick. 

An interesting bit of Ultraman news was brought to my attention today, although it has apparently been making the rounds among Ultra-fans.

Anyway, Steven Spielberg is set to release his film adaptation of the 2011 science fiction novel Ready Player One on March 30, 2018. As pretty much everything else in production these days, it seems the book (which I naturally haven't read) is overflowing with pop culture references from the 1970s and '80s (video games, movies, TV, etc.).

At some point in the novel, the hero, Wade Watts, transforms into Ultraman, complete with a Beta Capsule. Fighting ensues. Again, not having read the book, I have no idea what else happens or how important this aspect of the story is to the plot (to the extent there is one).

Spielberg and his team could very easily replace Ultraman with another character or eliminate the scene entirely. But, given that the point of the novel seems to be specific pop culture references to things a lot of us grew up with, why make the movie without them? Will they remove Ultraman but leave in Pac-Man?

We'll certainly find out in less than a year one way or the other, but I have to admit it's pretty interesting to think about a director as talented as Steven Spielberg taking a crack at Ultraman.

By the way, according to the film's Wikipedia page, British actress Hannah John-Kamen has been cast in the film. Let the speculation about the inclusion of a female Kamen Rider begin.

A RETURN TO THE MOVIES! Seeing Toho Flicks Again in Asagaya!

Tickets for tonight's double feature. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It's Monday, so that must mean I went back to the Laputa Asagaya for another double feature. On tonight's menu was a pair of Toho features, which couldn't be any more different from each other. One was the screwball romantic comedy The Dangerous Kiss (1960), and the other was the eerie vampire tale Lake of Dracula (1971). 

Prior to the screenings, another audio recording by none other than Shinichi Yanagisawa was played, describing the background of The Dangerous Kiss. It's always a treat to hear Yanagisawa-san's familiar voice. 

 A poster for The Dangerous Kiss (uh, the one on the right). Photo by Brett Homenick.

The Dangerous Kiss stars Akira Takarada, Reiko Dan, Ichiro Arishima, Sachio Sakai, and several other Toho regulars (most of whom didn't appear in the studio's monster films). It's a lighthearted, over-the-top comedy that doesn't take itself seriously for one second. Takarada-san plays a popular, handsome boxer named Akira Takada (get it?) who, after a car collision, is photographed by the paparazzi trying to revive a high school student (played by Reiko Dan) using an unusual combination of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and ramen broth. The photo (looking more like a make-out session than a life-saving attempt) ends up on the cover of a gossip magazine and causes all sorts of shenanigans among the multiple women in Takada's life.

There's a lot happening in this film, everything from a food-fight sequence to a stage show at a nightclub featuring a guy in a yeti suit menacing a dancer. (The suit looked a bit like the one used in Half Human but, to my eye, was demonstrably different.)  Takarada-san was at his most charismatic here, and the entire cast was obviously having a lot of fun with the material.

Poster art for Toho's Lake of Dracula. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

After The Dangerous Kiss, it was time for a movie about a different kind of dangerous kisses -- you know, the kind vampires give you when they're trying to eat. Lake of Dracula was screened in all its glory, and it has obviously never looked better. I've never seen it in 35mm before, but the detail of the images was fantastic. Watching Shin Kishida's death scene at the end was quite intriguing. I never noticed before that the makeup used on Kishida's face during his death scene wasn't applied to his neck, making it plainly obvious to the viewer that it's all just a touch-up job.

And so ends another eventful Monday night. I'll be back at the Laputa Asagaya soon, but on a different night from my usual routine. Why the change? Stay tuned to this blog for the exciting answer!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

TSUBURAYA PRO IN DA HOUSE! Ultra-Alums Please Their Fans!

Return of Ultraman suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After spending the day with various Toei heroes and villains, it was off to Jimbocho for an evening with Tsuburaya Productions alumni! Two of the biggest guests on hand were old favorites of mine.  

Striking a pose with Eiichi Kikuchi.

First was Return of Ultraman (1971-72) suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi, who also played Ultra Seven in the King Joe episodes of Ultra Seven (1967-68). Not only that, but he battles Sean Connery in the James Bond actioner You Only Live Twice (1967) as a henchman. (Yes, James Bond and Ultra Seven have tussled onscreen.) A resume doesn't get much cooler than that!  

Ultraman director Toshihiro Iijima. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The other great guest was director Toshihiro Iijima. Iijima-san directed episodes of Ultra Q (1966), Ultraman (1966-67), Ultra Seven, and other Tsuburaya Productions series, in addition to the feature film Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972). In Japan, he is probably best known as the director of episode 2 of Ultraman, which saw the debut of Baltan Seijin.

Iijima-san is a very kind gentleman, and whenever he appears at an event, I always try to attend to pay my respects. All in all, it was a great way to end the day. Now's the time to rest!

SUPER SENTAI TO THE RESCUE! Toei All-Stars Fight Bad Guys!

From left to right: Ryosuke Sakamoto, Koji Unoki, Toshimichi Takahashi, yours truly, Hitomi Yoshii, and Kenju Hayashi.  

Today, I had the privilege of attending a special event that included a Q&A session and even a couple of dramatic readings hosted by a slew of Toei actors from the '70s and '80s. There's a lot of folks to talk about, so let's get right to it!

With Ryosuke Sakamoto. 

The first actor I'll discuss is Ryosuke Sakamoto. Sakamoto-san starred as Red One in Choudenshi Bioman (1984-85) and has appeared on other tokusatsu programs over the years, such as Kamen Rider Black (1987-88). As many Super Sentai fans know, Sakamoto-san had a major health scare last year, as he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It was wonderful to see Sakamoto-san in such great spirits.

With Lisa Komaki. 

Also there was Lisa Komaki. Komaki-san played Peggy Matsuyama on Himitsu Sentai Goranger (1975-77), the original Super Sentai series. She was also the suit actor for and voice of actress Diane Martin as the heroine Miss America on Battle Fever J (1979-80). Komaki-san is always someone I look forward to seeing at these shindigs.

With Toshimichi Takahashi. 

Toshimichi Takahashi is an actor and suit actor who appears in numerous films and TV productions from Toei and other studios, including: Wolf Guy (1975), Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977), Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995), the Toho superhero series Megaloman (1979), and numerous Super Sentai, Kamen Rider, and Metal Hero series, beginning with Goranger. In this photo, I'm holding his High Priest Baraom mask from Kamen Rider Black.

Koji Unoki, Hitomi Yoshii, yours truly, and Kenju Hayashi.

As if that weren't enough, Hitomi Yoshii was another featured guest. She began her career acting in the late 1970s and acted movies for Toei and Toho, but here she is best known for playing the villainous High Priestess Bishium on Kamen Rider Black.

Koji Unoki, holding his Dyna Blue helmet, was likewise in attendance. He played Dyna Blue (both in and out of the suit) on Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84).

Last but not least was Kenju Hayashi, who has appeared on Battle Fever J, Nebula Mask Machine Man (1984), and Kamen Rider Black. His biggest tokusatsu credit is portraying Prince Megiddo on Dynaman.

Whew! So much to talk about. Everyone was very nice and a lot of fun to see. A great mixture of heroes and villains!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

SHOJI MORI TALKS! The Film and TV Actor Comments on Edo Life!

Actor Shoji Mori makes a point about Edo culture. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I attended another presentation hosted by actor Shoji Mori, again focusing on Edo-era culture. Mori-san hosts these lectures about once a month, and I attend when I can.

As I've written previously, Mori-san's credits include: Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman (1971), Woman Gambler's Iron Rule (1971), Zatoichi in Desperation (1972), and Slaughter in the Snow (1973). When it comes to TV, Mori-san can be seen on episode 3 of Kamen Rider Super-1 (1980-81), and episode 3 of the third season of the Shin Zatoichi TV series (1979). Of course, his other acting credits are quite extensive, going back to the mid-1960s.

As usual, it was quite a fascinating experience and a real departure from my usual activities, but very enjoyable all the same. Many thanks to Mori-san for making it happen!

Monday, May 15, 2017

A GREAT TOHO DOUBLE FEATURE! Returning to the Laputa Asagaya!

Poster art for The Vampire Doll on display at the  Laputa Asagaya. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As you've probably surmised by now, I returned to the Laputa Asagaya tonight for yet another evening of Toho films. One was quite familiar to me, but the other was completely new.

Promotional material for Toho's Pigs and Goldfish. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The first film I saw was Pigs and Goldfish (1962), a light Toho comedy with some romance mixed in. The film stars Ken Uehara in a rare (at least for me) comedic turn. I mostly know him from his stoic performances in Mothra (1961), Gorath (1962), and Atragon (1963) in which he oozes authority. But here he plays things largely for laughs, even getting water tossed on him (off-camera) several times. The movie also stars Akiko Wakabayashi, who is absolutely radiant here. She is given quite a bit to do, and she runs with it. To top it all off, there are literal pigs and goldfish in the movie, too. A goldfish gets eaten by a sneaky black cat (off-camera), and a pig becomes a rock star (well, sort of). How does it all unfold? See the movie to find out!

Promotional material for Toho's The Vampire Doll. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Next up was The Vampire Doll (1970), a Toho horror film that I'd imagine most readers here are rather familiar with. As "luck" would have it, I actually watched a subtitled copy of this film just a few weeks ago. Still, even having just seen the movie, I enjoyed it immensely on the big screen -- a first for me.

The Vampire Doll is an all-around excellent horror film, right down to Riichiro Manabe's score that the New York Times called "stately" in its review. Can't argue with that. Yukiko Kobayashi is also downright chilling as the vampire. Great stuff to see on a rainy night. (Unfortunately for me, the weather was perfect. Oh, well.)

All in all, it was a very enjoyable night. I will almost certainly return next week. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

In Honor of Yoshimitsu Banno

Today, funeral services for director Yoshimitsu Banno were held in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. I attended the funeral, which was very moving. There was a small display of photos from Banno-san's career, mostly related to his involvement with Legendary Pictures' Godzilla (2014). He was very proud to have been part of the movie. Below are some of the items that were on display.

Rest in peace, Banno-san.


GODZILLA SPOTTED IN JIMBOCHO! Finally the King of the Monsters Has Come Back to Tokyo!

While in Jimbocho, I decided to take a look around the nearby Jimbocho Theater, as the venue often programs some intriguing and rarely-seen titles. However, I wasn't expecting to see this guy...

It's Godzilla! And he's just hanging around! I hope he bought a ticket before entering. Otherwise, that's just rude.

I guess the Jimbocho Theater will let just about anyone in these days. Oh, well. I just hope he doesn't burn the place down.

HEROES COVERGE IN JIMBOCHO! Toei Alumni Discuss Their Heroic Pasts!

Actor Osamu Sakuta and actress Hiroko Saito discuss working on superhero television productions during the 1970s and '80s. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I made my way to Jimbocho to attend a special event with two TV stars from the '70s and '80s. The guests were Hiroko Saito and Osamu Sakuta.

Actress Hiroko Saito. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I've blogged about Hiroko Saito before. She's appeared in Kamen Rider (1971-73), Kamen Rider V3 (1973-74), Kikaider (1972-73), Barom-1 (1972), Inazuman (1973-74), Kamen Rider X (1974), Star Wolf (1978), Toei's Spider-Man (1978-79), and Ultraman 80 (1980-81). However, in the West, she would be best known for her role on Tsuburaya Productions' Time of the Apes (1974-75) as Yurika. 

Actor Osamu Sakuta. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Osamu Sakuta starred as the titular character in Nebula Mask Machineman (1984) from Toei Studios. Prior to that, he could be seen in guest appearances on Spectreman (1971-72), the original Kamen RiderBarom-1, and Kikaider. He also appears in the Toho war epic The Imperial Navy (1981) and the Ken Takakura film Kaikyo (1982).

It was very nice to see Saito-san again just a week after last seeing her. As always, she was very kind and friendly.

It was quite fun to meet Sakuta-san for the first time. We had a brief chat, and he seemed interested in getting to know me. I look forward to seeing him again.