Friday, May 31, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla: King of the Monsters ballyhoo outside the Toho Cinemas near Osaka Station. Photo by Brett Homenick.

How's this for a headline? Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is the best Godzilla film since Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).

Granted, that in and of itself isn't a major accomplishment, as everything else released after Final Wars with Godzilla's name on it has been terrible. But King of the Monsters is genuinely entertaining, and I'd give it a full-throated recommendation.

The movie just works. I was interested in the story, I laughed in the right spots, and I enjoyed the references. (Not only are there the obvious Godzilla references, but there are more than a couple to John Carpenter's The Thing.) What's more, the scope of the movie is truly outstanding. The filmmakers used the worldwide locations to their fullest potential. What can I say? I'm not sure I enjoyed a summer blockbuster so much since the late '90s. 

That said, the movie isn't perfect. The biggest flaw is that the monsters are, for the most part, just big monsters. You get very little sense of personality (though they certainly tried with Ghidorah's three heads). I wish more would have been done with Mothra and especially Rodan. Also, the CGI battles seemed a bit generic and basically what I would have expected. 

I have to admit that my moviegoing experience was probably helped more than a little by the clever marketing campaign. It's been a lot of fun seeing all the signage and assorted ballyhoo all over Japan. (In contrast, when the 2014 Godzilla came out over here, I remember seeing a few posters in the subway and not much else.) When I walked out of the movie, I was able to buy Godzilla socks in the theater lobby. Who wouldn't want a pair of Godzilla socks?

In summary, Michael Dougherty got it right where Gareth Edwards got it so woefully wrong. The 2014 Godzilla was one of the driest, dullest, and blandest movies I've seen in a while. The most interesting characters (to the extent there were any) were killed off far too soon. The marketing campaign was oddly misleading, making it seem as if it were Godzilla (and not the MUTOs) sending us back to the Stone Age. Suffice it to say, Legendary Pictures and Michael Dougherty took note of the many ways in which the previous film failed and made a winner. 

Oh, and Bear McCreary knocked it out of the park with his versions of Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki's music. Again, this team just nailed it.

By the way, there's a nice tribute to Yoshimitsu Banno and Haruo Nakajima at the end of the credits (right before the obligatory post-credits sequence). It's well worth seeing.

My verdict: It's the Godzilla movie we've been waiting for since 2004.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

YOU'LL GET CAUGHT IN THE CROSS FIRE! Taking in the Millennium-Era Toho Thriller!

 From left to right: Shusuke Kaneko, Toshio Miike, and Hajime Matsumoto. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I had the good fortune of attending a screening of the Toho thriller Cross Fire (2000), which was also attended by no fewer than three major guests. I hadn't see Cross Fire since the early 2000s, so I was glad to approach the film with a fresh perspective.

Toshio Miike. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I wasn't a fan of the film when I first it around 2002, and I have to admit that my opinion hasn't changed much. That's not to say that it's a bad film, but I still find the bad guys too over-the-top and the main character (Junko Aoki) not all that sympathetic. I also felt the movie was a bit too long for the material. That said, I'm glad I saw it again, and there's no better way to experience it than in 35mm.

The guest list was quite impressive. Toshio Miike is a veteran SFX art director and production designer who's worked on: Gunhed (1989), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Zeiram (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995), Gamera 2 (1996), Gamera 3 (1999), GMK (2001), Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002), Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), and Shin Godzilla (2016).

Hajime Matsumoto. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

It was my first time to meet Hajime Matsumoto, who has enjoyed a varied career as both a screenwriter and a VFX specialist. His screenwriting credits includes co-writing Zeiram, Zeiram 2 (1994), and Moon over Tao: Makaraga (1997) with director Keita Amemiya. His VFX credits include Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera 2, Gamera 3, Cross Fire, GMK, and Godzilla against Mechagodzilla.

I have to admit that I didn't realize until Matsumoto-san told me so that he had co-written Zeiram (or any other films with Keita Amemiya) until he told me so. As a big fan of those movies, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Shusuke Kaneko. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last (but not least) was the film's director, Shusuke Kaneko, whom I'm pretty sure at this point needs no introduction. If you're not familiar with his credits by now, I'd highly suggest using the Google machine yo familiarize yourself.

And that's a wrap! What a fun day it was. It's always impressive to be in the same room with so much Toho (and Daiei) history. Many thanks to all who made it possible!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Seeing Aoki-san Onstage!

Hidemi Aoki. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

On Friday, May 24, I immediately headed out to Ikebukuro to catch a play that Hidemi Aoki was appearing in. Although I arrived a bit late, I still was able to catch the bulk of it.

Among her credits, Aoki-san plays Sumi in Seven Nights in Japan (1976), co-starring Michael York and Charles Gray (directed by Lewis Gilbert of You Only Live Twice fame). She also portrays Kyoko Osawayama in episodes 2-7, 9, 11-13 of Toho's tokusatsu TV series Diamond Eye (1973-74).

I enjoyed seeing and chatting a bit with Aoki-san again. She even gave me a small gift for coming, which I wish all actors would do for those who attend their performances!

Talkin' Tokusatsu

Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Wednesday, May 22, I spent a great afternoon with Toho SFX veteran Takashi Naganuma. I learned a lot about the films he worked on. Suffice it to say, he's enjoyed a fascinating career behind the scenes!

Kurosawa Producer Yoichi Matsue Passes Away at 88

Yoichi Matsue (far left) with Akira Kurosawa (next to him) in the Soviet Union for Dersu Uzala.

Frequent Akira Kurosawa collaborator Yoichi Matsue passed away on March 9 of this year in Hachioji, Tokyo, of pneumonia, his family has announced. He was 88.

Mr. Matsue was born on October 26, 1930, in Ishikawa Prefecture. He joined Toho Studios in 1955 as an actor, appearing as one of the convicts in Godzilla Raids Again (1955).

It was behind the camera, however, that Mr. Matsue would achieve his greatest fame working with Akira Kurosawa -- first as an assistant director on such films as Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1963), and Red Beard (1965), and later as a producer on Dodeskaden (1970) and Dersu Uzala (1975).

When Dersu Uzala won the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film in 1976, it was Mr. Matsue who gave the acceptance speech, making him the only actor from a Japanese Godzilla film who's delivered an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. The video is below:

Through our mutual friend, I contacted Mr. Matsue last year about interviewing him, but unfortunately he declined my proposal. 

Rest in peace, Mr. Matsue.

Monday, May 20, 2019

After a Long Absence, TAC Is Back!

Keiko Nishi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While on a work break, I made a trek to Keiko Nishi's cafe, and with a bit of luck on my side, she was there. (The last few times I visited the cafe, she wasn't.) It was great to see her again. The last time was almost exactly two years ago! I hadn't planned such a long gap; things just worked out that way.

For those of you not in the know, Nishi-san played TAC member Noriko Mikawa in Ultraman Ace (1972-73). Recently, she's been spending more time away from her cafe, so the timing has to be perfect in order for you to see her there. Thankfully, that's the way it was for me today.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Roll with the Changeman!

 From left to right: Jun Fujimaki, Mai Oishi, and Shiro Izumi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I'm not the world's biggest Super Sentai fan, but even I know when such an event is just too good to pass up. Today's Showa Hero event was just that. The focus was Dengeki Sentai Changeman (1985-86), and the presence of one guest in particular was more than enough to motivate me to attend.

Jun Fujimaki. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

That guest was Jun Fujimaki. Fujimaki-san played Kogenta Sarumaru in Daimajin (1966), Yasutaro Oki in 100 Monsters (1968), JGSDF officer Okazaki from Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), and Commander Yui Ibuki in Changeman. Suffice it to say, that is an impressive list of credits,  and Fujimaki-san's appearance is what put it over the top for me.

I brought a few items for him to sign. One was a foldout poster of 100 Monsters (already signed by composer Chumei Watanabe), and after he signed it, he spent a few moments taking a close look at it. When I brought out my DVD sleeve of the Daiei flick The Falcon Fighters (1969) for him to sign, he was pleasantly surprised and commented on how nostalgic it was for him. He also signed a DVD sleeve of 100 Monsters, which I previously had signed by the female lead, Miwa Takada. Fujimaki-san was a total gentleman, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to meet him.

Mai Oishi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The next guest was Mai Oishi, who starred as Change Phoenix on Changeman. Even though I hadn't seen year for a while, she remembered me from the previous time we met.

Oishi-san is a great lady, and it's the fine folks like her who've made me more interesting in checking out Super Sentai.

Shiro Izumi. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

The final guest was Shiro Izumi, who was Change Pegasus from Dengeki Sentai Changeman and Dragon Ranger from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger (1992-93).

And that's a wrap! It was another fun event, and a great way to spend an afternoon. Many thanks to the hard-working staff who made this event possible. Looking forward to the next one!

An Animated Adventure!

Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I spent the afternoon and evening at an event with optical effects master Sadao Iizuka. I've attended similar events for years, and there's always a lot of fun.  

Let's do it again soon!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Spotted on the Train...

I saw this advertisement on the train as I was coming home. Yup, I'd say the ballyhoo is in full swing. Will the pyro be too far behind?

Godzilla: King of the Monsters!

The ballyhoo (but not pyro) for Legendary Pictures' upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters has hit Tokyo, and the construction site for Tokyo Tokiwabashi 2027 is its latest victim. When it's all said and done, will we be Godzilla's pet? Or will Godzilla just be an Internet pet sensation, whatever that might mean? See the movie and find out!

Entering the Time Slip!

From left to right: Jun Eto, Kyohei Nakaoka, yours truly, and Toshiyuki Nagashima.

This evening, I attended a fun dinner event with a big surprise. I knew that actor Jun Eto and screenwriter Kyohei Nakaoka would be on hand for the festivities, but what I didn't know until I showed up was that there'd be an additional guest -- and a big one, at that.

Jun Eto, Kyohei Nakaoka, and Toshiyuki Nagashima. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The surprise guest was actor Toshiyuki Nagashima, who has more than his share of genre and tokusatsu credits under his belt.

His film appearances include: Virus (1980) as Akimasa Matsuo, Deathquake (1980) as reporter Masayuki Hashizume, The Imperial Navy (1981) as Eiichi Hongo, Station (1981) as Michio, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) as Isao Iinuma, Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) as Seiichi Yamamoto, Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996) as Yusuke Watarase, Cross Fire (2000) as Yoshihiro Hasegawa, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000) as Takuya Miyagawa, and Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002) as Lieutenant Miyagawa. Whew!

Had I known he would be there, I would have come prepared. Oh, well. Let's hope for a next time!

Actor Jun Eto. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On the other hand, I was prepared for Jun Eto. Eto-san appeared in G.I. Samurai (a.k.a. Time Slip, 1979) as Nobuhiko Ken and Godzilla against Mechagodzilla as a special executive. He also appeared in episode 23 of Ultraman Cosmos (2001-02).

Aside from his genre credits, Eto-san starred in Preparation for the Festival (1975) and co-starred in Tora-san's Tropical Fever (1980).

Screenwriter Kyohei Nakaoka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last (but not least) was screenwriter Kyohei Nakaoka. Nakaoka-san co-wrote the screenplays for Eizo Sugawa's River of Fireflies (1987) and the Shintaro Katsu-directed feature Zatoichi (1989).

Overall, it was a great evening with three luminaries from the world of Japanese cinema. Not bad for just one night!

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Actress Mio Ota Passes Away at Age 70

Mio Ota. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

May 1 saw Japan enter the Reiwa era. It was also the day that actress, chanson singer, and artist Mio Ota suddenly passed away at age 70.

Mio Ota was born in Azumino, Nagano, on February 17, 1949. Among genre fans, her best-known credit is Toho's vampire thriller Evil of Dracula (1974) in which she plays student Yukiko Mitamura. She also appeared as Blue Jaguar on the TV series Giant Iron Man 17 (a.k.a. Daitetsujin 17, 1977) from episode 22 through 35. In more recent years, she performed under the stage name Izuhi Higashioka. (Her real name was Chieko Ota.)

I had the distinct privilege of meeting Ms. Ota in June 2018. I got to spend quite a bit of time around her at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno. She signed some Evil of Dracula items for me, and we even had a discussion about (of all things) politics. (She held strong opinions about both American and Japanese political topics.)

She and I had been connected for years prior to that on social media, and I always enjoyed getting a like or a comment from her. Suffice it to say, I'll always remember her kindness.

Rest in peace, Mio Ota.

Special thanks to Archie H. Waugh for the graphics assistance.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Toho: Old and New!

Teruyoshi Nakano with Legendary's Godzilla. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, May 11, I attended yet another dinner event with Teruyoshi Nakano and Takashi Naganuma. As often as they happen, they're always a lot of fun.

I spent the bulk of the evening chatting with Naganuma-san about his career. He has numerous credits of particular interest to me, and I plan to learn a lot more about his career very soon.

Naturally, those in attendance are anticipating the release of Legendary's upcoming Godzilla movie at the end of the month. It'll be a hot topic of discussion once it comes out.

A Very Daiei Evening!

Shin Minatsu. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Friday, May 10, I attended a play in which two former Daiei actors appeared. They are both veterans of the Gamera series, and given how few opportunities there are to meet Showa Gamera alumni, I jumped at the chance.

The first actor I met was Shin Minatsu, who appears in Gammera the Invincible (1965), Gamera vs. Barugon (1966), and Gamera vs. Gyoas (1967) in small roles. In Gyoas, he plays the reporter who gets eaten by the titular creature toward the beginning of the film. He went on to appear in Gamera vs. Zigra (1971) as Mr. Yamada, the mustached dolphin trainer at Kamogawa Sea World.

Junichiro Yamashita. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

After I met Minatsu-san, I was also privileged to meet Junichiro Yamashita. Yamashita-san stars in Gammera the Invincible as  Aoyagi and Daimajin Strikes Again (1966) as Shohachi. He also appears in Zatoichi's Cane Sword (1967).

The meetings were pretty brief, as the actors had many other attendees with whom to mingle. But as someone who's enjoyed the Showa Gamera series almost as long as the Godzilla series, it was wonderful to meet two Daiei stars who were always quite recognizable to me.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Godzilla in Shinjuku

Pretty self-explanatory, I think. The hype for Godzilla King of the Monsters continues to build. I look forward to seeing it at the end of the month.

I'd imagine this is not how King Ghidorah looks in the new Legendary Pictures flick, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.