Wednesday, June 24, 2020

New Displays at the Godzilla Store Tokyo!

Godzilla is ready for summer in Tokyo. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today, I stopped by the Godzilla Store Tokyo and was quite amused by the new displays. Fortunately, I had my camera with me, so I'm able to share them with you. Enjoy!

Shinjuku at Dusk!

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Here's another view of the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building (on the right) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building taken in the evening. Both buildings have been prominently featured in the Godzilla series. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Tokusatsu Is Back!

Teruyoshi Nakano. Photo by Brett Homenick.

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted, events in Japan are slowly but surely starting to come back. It will still be a long while before things get back to normal, but I'll take what I can get. Tonight, the first tokusatsu-related event in a couple of months was held, and naturally I had to attend.

The guest of honor was legendary SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano, no stranger to such events. Many precautions were taken to ensure that the coronavirus would not spread, and given Nakano-san's age, I was relieved to see that. The other special guest was Takashi Naganuma, a veteran Toho model maker.

Takashi Naganuma. Photo by Brett Homenick.

One interesting thing was that I got to see clips from a Japanese SDF PR film (made with the cooperation of Toho) that featured the late Shigeo Kato as a fisherman thrown overboard during a storm, who was rescued by the SDF. I was also surprised to see that a few shots from the film were used as stock footage in Godzilla 1985. (The shots in question were the ones in which the SDF is searching for Godzilla at sea.) 

Safety first!

As usual, lots of fun and many laughs were had during the evening. It was great to return to the events after a couple of months. Hopefully, things will continue to open up and get better.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Seven Samurai's Shigeo Kato Passes Away at 94

Shigeo Kato in Kamakura in March 2017. Photo by Brett Homenick.

According to Japanese media reports, veteran Toho actor Shigeo Kato passed away at his home at 7:00 a.m. on June 14, just days shy of his 95th birthday on June 16. A private funeral was held with his daughter Yuko as chief mourner. 

Mr. Kato puts flowers on the final resting place of Akira Kurosawa. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I had gotten to know Mr. Kato quite well over the years. We were put in touch by screenwriter Wataru Mimura, and I first met Mr. Kato in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, in the summer of 2014. I last visited Mr. Kato in late October of last year with my friend Jacob. Due to COVID-19, I was reluctant to visit Mr. Kato this year.

With Mr. Kato in January 2016.

Mr. Kato's credits are too numerous to list. He is most likely the last surviving cast member of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), and he has appeared in countless Godzilla and other monster movies for Toho. You can read the first interview I conducted with Mr. Kato last year to give you more of an idea of his career. I should have the second interview (that focuses more on his acting career) ready to publish in a few days.

Shigeo Kato was one of the kindest people I've ever met, and I'll always cherish the generosity he showed me over the years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Kato.

UPDATE (6/20): My followup interview with Mr. Kato has been published at Vantage Point Interviews.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Day with Tsuburaya's Script Supervisor!

Atsuko Tanaka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Despite the unpleasant weather (that's Tokyo's rainy season for you), I had another enjoyable visit with former Tsuburaya Productions script supervisor Atsuko Tanaka today. It was a wide-ranging conversation that lasted a few hours.  

Even though it had been about three months since our last visit, it felt like it was almost yesterday. Time sure does fly. Tanaka-san is a very friendly lady, and I look forward to our next visit.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Hal Foster, an Actor with a Minor Role in Godzilla 1985, Passes Away

 Hal Foster in June 2016. Photo by Brett Homenick.

American freelance journalist and former actor in Japanese entertainment Hal Foster Jr. passed away in Idaho on Wednesday afternoon, June 10, following a massive heart attack and stroke that occurred about a month ago, according to his daughter. 

Hal appears briefly in Godzilla 1985 (1984) during the meeting between the Russian and American ambassadors and Prime Minister Mitamura (played by Keiju Kobayashi). Hal plays an American diplomat seated to the right of U.S. Ambassador Rosenberg ("He's right!"). Hal wrote about the experience in this 2013 article, which is how I found out about him.

About his part in Godzilla 1985, Hal would write:
In the scene I’m in, the ambassadors of the three countries and their deputies are in a big conference room engaged in a lively discussion about whether to unleash the first nuclear weapons against a “hostile” since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their deputies, including me, are looking on stone-faced with concern. It’s not a great scene for those playing the deputies to show off their acting abilities. 
But I did a great job of following the director’s instruction to look worried. A true artiste, I told myself. 
By the way, the actor playing the Soviet ambassador looks like a scraggly Lenin. Talk about type-casting. If memory serves me, he wasn’t Russian, either.

I got to know Hal quite well in 2016, which is when he moved back to Japan. We met several times, and we talked about his various exploits in Japan during the 1980s. Naturally, very little was about Godzilla, but his memories were rather amusing. By the end of 2016, Hal had already moved on to another country. He never seemed able to remain in one place for very long.

We last communicated via Facebook on May 21, after he had suffered his heart attack. He seemed in good spirits and expected to recover. We discussed an interview about his memories. Unfortunately, his health would soon take a turn for the worse.

Hal Foster in June 2016. Photo by Brett Homenick.

According to his LinkedIn page, Hal earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, a master's degree in journalism from Ohio State University (in Columbus), and a Ph.D. in journalism from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. For more of his background, here's Hal's summary of his professional career from his LinkedIn page:
I've been lucky enough to be a journalist at some terrific news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Pacific Stars & Stripes in Tokyo, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Portland Oregonian, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, and the Omaha World-Herald. 
I've also been a journalism professor in the United States, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Moldova. Two of my teaching positions were endowed chairs, and another was a Fulbright professorship. 
I wrote about the Ukraine war in 2014 for USA Today, which asked me to report from there because of my four years as a journalist, professor and media consultant in the country. I've done freelance writing and editing in two dozen countries in Europe, Asia and the former Soviet Union. 
I've also been a media consultant in Japan, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, Bosnia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. And I judged the multimedia category of the Hong Kong-based Society of Publishers in Asia's Annual Journalism Excellence Awards competition.  
For almost two decades I have been helping journalists in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who have been under duress because of their work. A new wrinkle in my journalist-advocacy work is helping open anti-fake-news centers in Romania and Moldova.
I hope to get more details about Hal's life from his daughter. When I have more to share, I'll post an update. Thank you very much for your friendship, Hal. RIP.

UPDATE (8/9/20): Hal Foster's son Daniel recently got in touch with me to share additional information about his father. His comments have been reproduced below with permission:
My father was born on January 10, 1945, in Panama City, Florida. However, he grew up mostly on Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, and stories from classmates about East Asia sparked his interest in the region; many had spent time in Japan with military parents on assignment there.  
Although my father loved adventure and learning about the world, he was most passionate about journalism, freedom of the press, and teaching aspiring journalists the nuts-and-bolts of writing and editing, as well as journalism ethics. He also loved helping others: he once fund-raised to pay for an operation to save the eyesight of a journalist that was attacked and he also had a major daily donate a printing press to a paper in Ukraine. And he started a journalism scholarship at the University of Nebraska in honor of a former mentor.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Catching Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe on the Big Screen!

Poster art for Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (1995) at Shibuya Humax Cinema. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I went to Shibuya Humax Cinema to catch an evening screening of Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (1995). I haven't been back to a movie theater since they closed back in April, and it's always fun to take in a kaiju movie, so I decided to check it out.

The only downside is that it wasn't a 35mm print. Instead, a 2K digital print (from a 4K remaster) was shown, and it looked great on the big screen.  

The skyline around Shibuya Station has changed quite a bit in recent months. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

I can't remember the last time I saw the film in its entirety, but it might have been the late 1990s. While the Heisei Gamera trilogy has long been a fan favorite, with many fans declaring the it some of the best (if not the best) Japanese monster movies of all time, I never felt the same. That said, despite not having seen it for years, I'd always considered G:GOTU my favorite of the three, so I was curious to see if my opinion of the film would change.

A familiar location from the Godzilla and Gamera series. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Overall, I would say that it didn't. I still consider it my favorite of the three. It was well made by director Shusuke Kaneko, and while the SFX are quite ambitious for their time, a lot of them just don't hold up very well at all. While I'm offering some criticism, I should add that none of the principal characters was all that interesting or compelling. I also started to get a little bored in the second half of the film when the monsters weren't onscreen.

Those points aside, I still enjoyed the movie. (I just don't rate it as highly as most others.) Anyway, I'm glad to have had the chance to see it on the big screen, which is really the only way to see these flicks. 

Shibuya Humax Cinema is also screening Shin Godzilla (2016), but that was an easy pass for me. Haven't seen it since it opened and don't plan to change that any time soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

On the Trail of the Footbridge from Godzilla's Revenge!

On Wednesday, June 3, I went out to Kawasaki to check out the footbridge from Godzilla's Revenge (1969) again, the first time in a little more than five years. Not much had changed in the intervening years, and it was just as dirty as I remembered.

It's definitely very cool to see where the opening scene of Revenge was shot, even if the physical location itself leaves a lot to be desired. The filmmakers certainly picked a good area to showcase the unpleasantness of Japan's industrialization.

It was a humid day, too, so the conditions weren't exactly ideal. At least it was overcast, so the heat was kept to a minimum.

And there you have it. Despite what I wrote above, it was fun seeing this location again in person.

Revisiting the Ibuki House!

On Wednesday, June 3, I paid another visit to the Ibuki house from Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), my first visit there in almost exactly five years. Given how much I've admired Megalon during my years, I'm a bit surprised it took me so long to return.

Naturally, it's a private residence, so I can't divulge its location to anyone who asks. I think we can all agree that the last thing we want is hordes of Godzilla fans annoying the owners.

That said, it's one of my favorite filming locations in Japan, and I'm so glad it survived through the years. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed paying it another visit.