Monday, April 30, 2018

GODZILLA 2000! The Behind-the-Scenes Staff Reunites for a Special Screening!

Takao Okawara, Kenji Suzuki, and Yoshiaki Kondo gather to discuss Godzilla 2000. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier today, I was able to view a special screening of Godzilla 2000 (1999) in 35mm. I honestly have no idea when the last time I saw the movie was. It's never been one of my favorites, but given the rare opportunity to see this film (as well as a chance to mingle with the guests), it was a chance I couldn't pass up.

Takao Okawara. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Takao Okawara began his career as an assistant director on Submersion of Japan (1973), Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980), and Godzilla 1985 (1984). After becoming a director at Toho, Okawara-san helmed the SFX productions of Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon (1994), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), and Godzilla 2000.

Kenji Suzuki. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Before joining Toho, Kenji Suzuki was a freelance SFX director who did some work at Tsuburaya Productions, most notably Ultraman 80 (1980-81). At Toho, he served as an assistant SFX director on The Imperial Navy (1981) and Sayonara Jupiter (1984). On Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994), Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), Mothra (1996), and Mothra 2 (1997), he served as the chief assistant SFX director under Koichi Kawakita. On Mothra 3 (1998), Godzilla 2000, and Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), he was the SFX director. In the 2000s, Suzuki-san returned to Tsuburaya Productions and lent his talents to various Ultra-projects.

With Yoshiaki Kondo.

Yoshiaki Kondo worked as an assistant director on Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Mothra (1996), and Godzilla 2000.

Ultimately, my view on the film hasn't changed much at all. I still think it feels like leftovers from the Heisei series, the film gets completely bogged down by about the halfway point, Orga is a boring enemy for Godzilla, and the SFX don't hold up particularly well.

While I have more than my share of issues with Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), one thing I can appreciate about that movie is that it gives the Millennium series its own identity. Godzilla 2000 didn't quite seem to know how to break away from the previous era.

While I may not be the movie's biggest fan, I had one heck of a good time tonight. I really enjoyed everything about the day. Even though I was wiped out by the end, it was tremendous fun, and the guests couldn't have been friendlier. Let's do it again!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

It's Jet Jaguar, You Moron!

Jet Jaguar is all smiles upon learning he won't be sued by the producers of Pacific Rim. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I know I shouldn't bother. I know it's a waste of time. But I have to do it. There are some things you just can't ignore, and for me, this was one of them.

A few weeks ago, I read an American writer's contention that we've had it wrong all along. The flying robot's name in Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) was never Jet Jaguar, you see. According to him, it's really Jet "Jaeger." And, luckily for the rest of us, he was the first one to figure it all out.

Sounds strange, doesn't it? I mean, no reference book in either Japan or the U.S. has ever referred to the character by that name. And the katakana ジャガー sure sounds nothing like the German word "Jaeger."  

Knowing full well he was wrong, I went ahead and did some research, anyway. I consulted work colleagues, my students, and even a veteran of the production of Megalon for their input. Long story short: The writer in question simply doesn't know what he's talking about.

Some of this seems to be attributable to a misunderstanding of Japanese culture and history. The writer asserts that Japanese often use German words in science and medicine. Yes and no. During the Meiji period (which took place from 1868 until 1912), it is true that many German words were indeed adapted into Japanese, but not all of them were borrowed for medical (or scientific) purposes. The Japanese アルバイト, for example, is borrowed from the German "arbeit," but it refers to a part-time job. Hardly scientific. In any case, other languages were also extensively borrowed from during the Meiji period, particularly French.

But that was then. In modern (postwar) times, English is by far the language most borrowed from today, especially in the scientific realm. You might be surprised to learn that when the Japanese need to coin a new scientific word, their first instinct isn't to shout, "Quick! What do the Germans call it?!" Thus, no scientist in 1973 would have felt obligated to give his invention a German name just because.

In the world of monster movies at least, the Pacific Rim films provide what is certainly the best-known use of the word "Jaeger." So how is Jaeger rendered in the Japanese release of Pacific Rim Uprising? Is it anything like the katakana of Jet Jaguar (ジェットジャガー)? Well, take a look at the image above. As you can see, it's much closer to the actual pronunciation of "Jaeger" and is demonstrably different from the katakana rendering of  ジャガー. 

As if that weren't enough, I recently had the opportunity to speak with a member of the SFX crew of Megalon for his take. Unsurprisingly, he rejected the "Jaeger" name. But he also denied "Jaguar," too. He said that the name doesn't mean anything (in the same way that the name Godzilla doesn't mean anything). So it seems that something like "Jagger" would be more appropriate. It would also explain why the name is sometimes rendered as "Jet Jagger" in official Toho materials. 

That said, the Hong Kong dub makes the name Jet Jaguar a legitimate name to call the character, and that's exactly what I will continue to do. On the other hand, "Jet Jaeger" is total nonsense based on ignorance. 

One other thing. This same guy also tried renaming Infra-Man's Princess Dragon Mom something else (it's not important what), asserting the "Mom" part of her name must be a misinterpretation that everyone who has ever seen the movie has carelessly made. However, Professor Chang also refers to the character as Ma Demon at a certain point in the film. Both names sound pretty motherly to me. So I don't think I need to fly to Hong Kong to debunk this one.

The upshot? Nothing's changed. It's still Jet Jaguar (or Jet Jagger), just as it always has been. Same with Princess Dragon Mom. Other than that, the whole world could wake up and live again. 

ZERO! Talkin' About a Japanese War Epic!

Takashi Naganuma thumbs through a copy of the script to Zero (1984). Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I attended a talk event with Takashi Naganuma, a veteran of Toho SFX, whose career spans from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. The focus on the event was the Toho war epic Zero (1984), directed by Toshio Masuda. Naganuma-san worked on the film and brought along a few goodies for the evening.

One of the fighters from Zero. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On top of bringing in the shooting script, Naganuma-san brought along one of the actual Zero fighters used in the film. Now this is something you don't see every day. It was great to have a chance to look a close look at this prop. Incredible!

After all that, it was picture time. Naganuma-san is great, and I always enjoy myself when I'm in his compant. Let's do it again soon!

SUPER FESTIVAL 77! Returning to Tokyo's Premier Toy Show!

Kikaider star Daisuke Ban signs autographs. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today, I made a special trip to Super Festival 77, and while it was nice to do a bit of looking around, once again I found the experience a bit lacking. Naturally, I showed up in the afternoon (no way am I waking up early on a Sunday morning for toys!), so it's entirely possible that I missed all the good stuff by the time I wandered in. Still, I was in and out in what seemed like record time. Other than bumping into director Minoru Kawasaki and a few others, gone were most of the familiar faces I'm used to seeing there. Ah, well. Maybe the next one will be more to my liking. Anyway, here's what I saw.

Keizo Murase: Master Monster Maker!

Keizo Murase holds one of his earliest Toho colleagues. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Wednesday, April 25, I had the distinct privilege of spending several hours at the workshop of Keizo Murase, the master kaiju suitmaker whose contributions to the genre date all the way back to Varan the Unbelievable (1958) and still continue to this day.

We had a wide-ranging conversation about a variety of topics, and I'm pleased to report that the interview will be published soon. Stay tuned to Vantage Point Interviews for the full Q&A!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sizing Up Sazer X

Kazuki Omori and Hiromi Eguchi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

For the first time, I took in a screening of Sazer X: The Movie (2005), which reunited the talents of Kazuki Omori in the director's chair and Koichi Kawakita handling the SFX. The 35mm print looked great, but I wish I could say the same about the movie. It reminded me less of the Heisei Godzilla series and more of random Sunday morning Super Sentai programs.

 Kazuki Omori. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The event brought together director Kazuki Omori and one of the film's stars, Hiromi Eguchi. Eguchi-san is probably best known for playing Shion in Keita Amemiya's Garo: Red Requiem (2010), as well as having appeared in episodes of various Garo TV series. She also acts in episode 29 of Ultraman Max (2005-06). She's also one of the few guests I've met at such events who is actually younger than I am.

Miyoko Yoshimoto. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Although she wasn't officially part of the festivities, actress/singer Miyoko Yoshimoto was on hand. She appears in Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey (2000) as Camearra (a.k.a. Kamila), but she's certainly much nicer in person than her character in that film.

All in all, I enjoyed my time at the event, and it's always worthwhile visiting Kazuki Omori. Many thanks to all those who made today's event one for the history books!

Takin' It Easy with Two Japanese Cinematic Legends

Shoichi Maruyama. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday night (April 21), I attended a dinner event with two special guests. One guest was completely new to me: screenwriter Shoichi Maruyama. Maruyama-san has enjoyed a lengthy and successful career as a screenwriter. Among his scriptwriting credits are The Beast to Die (1980), The Last Hero (a.k.a. Dirty Hero, 1982), Kinji Fukasaku's The Triple Cross (1992), Rex: A Dinosaur's Story (1993), and Quill (2004).

Maruyama-san also wrote the screenplay for Kazuki Omori's Take It Easy (1986), which was the centerpiece of the evening's event. Also in attendance was director Omori, and while the theme of the evening had nothing to do with his Godzilla films, it was still quite enjoyable.

In particular, I found Maruyama-san to be very kind. When I mentioned to him that I'd seen The Last Hero, he was genuinely surprised that I'd seen his work. We bumped into each other again on the train platform after the event, and he told me what a great time he had had that evening. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed meeting Maruyama-san and hope to get a chance to see him again in the future.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Jazzy Night with Shinichi Yanagisawa!

Shinichi Yanagisawa on the drums. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On April 17, I returned to the HUB Asakusa to attend the latest performance by Shinichi Yanagisawa and the Swing All-Stars. It was another great evening of classic jazz tunes.

Shinichi Yanagisawa sings jazz. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Yanagisawa-san played Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), and later this year, he will return to the big screen in a family drama with Choei Takahashi (the star of Toho's Lake of Dracula). I'm sure I'll have more to say about it in the months to come.

Many thanks to Yanagisawa-san for another great evening of entertainment. Can't wait to see him again at the next show!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Comedy Has Come Back to Asakusa!

Fumio Ishimori. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I paid a visit to the Asakusa 21st Century Comic Theater to attend a stage play written by Fumio Ishimori. Ishimori-san is a prolific screenwriter whose credits include the Toho horror film Crest of the Wolf (1973), along with a myriad of TV productions, such as Kamen Rider (1971-73), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), and Zone Fighter (1973). 

The play was a 007 parody with a lot of broad, over-the-top humor. There was even a Kamen Rider reference in the show. (Take that, Shocker!) Definitely fun stuff. I certainly had fun seeing Ishimori-san again, who is always very friendly. I'm already looking forward to his next production!

Ultra-Guests Assemble on Friday the 13th!

Ultraman Jack himself, Eiichi Kikuchi, strikes his trademark pose. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On the night of Friday the 13th, I was able to attend an Ultra-cool event in Tokyo. This event featured no fewer than four special guests, all related to the Ultra-series in one way or another.

The first guest was none other than Eiichi Kikuchi, who is principally known as Ultraman Jack's suit actor in Return of Ultraman (1971-72). Kikuchi-san also donned the Ultra Seven suit in Ultra Seven (1967-68) for two episodes (14 and 15). He also tussles with Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967).

Shigemitsu Taguchi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Another major guest was Shigemitsu Taguchi. Taguchi-san has written episodes of Return of Ultraman, Mirrorman (1971-72), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), Jumborg Ace (1973), Ultraman Taro (1973-74), Ultraman Leo (1974-75), among many others.

I've met Taguchi-san a couple of times before, and he's always a warm and friendly gentleman. His credits in television are oustanding, as he had in just about all the best programs from Tsuburaya Productions in the 1970s.

Kazuya Konaka. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Kazuya Konaka was on hand, not just as a guest, but also as an emcee. Konaka-san has directed episodes of Ultraman Dyna (1997-98), Ultraman Cosmos (2001-02), Ultraman Nexus (2004-05), Ultraman Mebius (2006-07), Ultraseven X (2007), Ultraman Ginga S (2014), and Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga (2016-17). As for films, Konaka-san directed Ultraman Zearth 2 (1997), Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna (1998), Ultraman Gaia: The Battle in Hyperspace (1999), Ultraman (2004), Mirrorman Reflex (2006), and Ultraman Mebius and Ultra Brothers (2006).

Masahiko Shiraishi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last but not least was Masahiko Shiraishi, an author and researcher who has recently written books about the early Ultra-series. Shiraishi-san is himself a veteran of the world of tokusatsu, as he worked under SFX director Koichi Kawakita on the Heisei Godzilla series.

And that's a wrap! What a fun evening it was.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Memorial Celebration of Yosuke Natsuki

Toward the end of March, I received an invitation in the mail to attend a memorial celebration of Yosuke Natsuki. Naturally, I immediately decided to attend, and so I made the necessary arrangements.

The celebration was held today (April 12) at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu in Nagatacho, Tokyo. Many of Natsuki-san's colleagues from his acting days were in attendance, and there were a few I got to meet for the first time.

Many of Natsuki-san's personal items were on display in the entrance, but once you got to the main ballroom, it was filled with about 320 people who knew Natsuki-san onscreen and off-.

Many familiar faces were on hand, and it was certainly great to see them again. Below, I will talk about some of my personal experiences and encounters at this memorial event.

Yasuhiko Saijo. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The first person I ran into was actor Yasuhiko Saijo, a supporting actor at Toho and one of the stars of Ultra Q (1966). While on my way to the main ballroom, I had a (very brief) encounter with Toho actress Yoko Tsukasa. After entering the main ballroom, I encountered director Tom Kotani and had a brief chat with him.

Machiko Naka. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Toho actress Machiko Naka was also in attendance, as were a number of folks I hadn't met before. Director Minoru Kawasaki came up to me to say hello, and I later bumped into producer Shogo Tomiyama.

Akira Takarada and Yoko Tsukasa. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Many of the event's VIPs spoke in honor of Natsuki-san. While Akira Takarada and Yoko Tsukasa's comments struck a lighter tone, Tom Kotani's comments underscored the sadness of Natsuki-san's passing.

With Akira Wakamatsu. 

Early on in the event, I approached Toho actor Akira Wakamatsu, whom I met for the first and only time three years ago. I was surprised to find that he immediately recognized me. He came all the way from Fukushima to attend.

With Daijiro Harada. 

I had an amusing chat with Natsuki-san's G-Men '75 (1975-82) co-star Daijiro Harada. He's better known in the West as Mechagodzilla's pilot in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993). We had a fun chat about the English he spoke in the film. We snapped the above photo right before Harada-san had to leave to be interviewed by the Japanese media.

With Yumi Mizusawa. 

One actress I met for the first time was Yumi Mizusawa, one of the regulars on Natsuki-san's popular TV series What Is Youth? (1965-66). She was selected as a member of Toho New Talent's 5th class in 1965 (along with Son of Godzilla's Bibari Maeda) and went on to become a prolific television actress and singer. While her credits are mostly non-genre, she appeared in episode 91 of Kamen Rider (1971-73) and episode 16 of Iron King (1972-73). Her most notable film appearance is in Kihachi Okamoto's Epoch of Murder Madness (1967).

During the event, a slide show was projected onto a big screen that featured many photos from Natsuki-san's life and career. One interesting photo was of Gene Hackman's visit to the set of a period piece with Natsuki-san and Toshiro Mifune. Another notable shot was a candid of Natsuki-san (in full Professor Hayashida garb) and Yasuko Sawaguchi that was taken (presumably with Natsuki-san's personal camera) on the set of Godzilla (1984). One of the final photos in the presentation was one that I took. You can see it above. Suffice it to say, it was quite an honor that one of my photos was used in the tribute to Natsuki-san's life.

Overall, it was an excellent event, and the organizers did a top-notch job. While the reason we gathered in this hotel ballroom was especially sad, the warmth and  kindness of those in attendance truly made this a celebration of a great man.