Thursday, December 29, 2022

Steven D. Greene, the Baltonian Prime Minister in Toho's 'Espy,' Passes Away at Age 91

Steven Greene (right) poses with actor Yuzo Kayama during the filming of Espy (1974). Photo courtesy of Steven Greene. Espy © 1974, Toho Co., Ltd. 

Steven D. Greene, the American actor who played the prime minister of Baltonia in the Toho actioner Espy (1974), passed away peacefully on November 12, according to his son. He was 91 years old.

Prior to his acting role at Toho, Mr. Greene was an Army veteran who worked as a deep-sea diver and newspaperman throughout his varied career. He covered the 1971 Hakone Aphrodite music festival for Pacific Stars and Stripes, at which Pink Floyd was the headlining act. He spent three days there with his family, covering the event. Mr. Greene's article, courtesy of Mr. Greene's son, can be seen below.

Photo © Steven E. Greene.

I was privileged to interview Mr. Greene about his remarkable career, as well as his appearance in Espy, in January 2021. It's well worth a read, as he had many fascinating stories to tell. 

After the interview, I called him to wish him a happy birthday in September 2021. He was still doing well and told me about the great evening out he'd had with his family. I couldn't reach him in September of this year, but now I understand why. I wish I could have spoken to him one last time.

Rest in peace, Mr. Greene.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

GODZILLA RETURNS TO MONSTER ISLAND: The '74 Godzilla Suit Actor Retires from Public Life

Isao Zushi in February 2017. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Wednesday, December 28, Godzilla suit actor-turned-restauranteur Isao Zushi permanently closed his izakaya. The 72-year-old Mr. Zushi is one of the handful of Showa-era Godzilla suit actors who played the King of the Monsters in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), as well as on the tokusatsu TV series Zone Fighter (1973).

"Two Godzillas -- what does it mean?!" Heisei-era Godzilla suit actor Kenpachiro Satsuma talks shop with Mechagodzilla '74 Godzilla suit actor Isao Zushi in July 2020. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Mr. Zushi and his wife Kiyoko opened his restaurant/bar in 1977 in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. In fact, the name of the restaurant, Seasonal Cuisine Kiyohama, is a portmanteau of Kiyoko and Yokohama. The name of the establishment perfectly encapsulates the family-oriented theme of the izakaya.

Isao Zushi in June 2017. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was fortunate to visit the restaurant numerous times over the years, starting in May 2016. My visit in July 2020, during which Godzilla series suit actors Kenpachiro Satsuma and Hurricane Ryu also attended, was the last time I would see Mr. Zushi there. The next time I returned, sometime in 2021, Mr. Zushi was surprisingly absent, and he would never return.

The facade of Seasonal Cuisine Kiyohama in December 2022. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Mr. Zushi's health has apparently declined in recent times, although no details are available. Kiyoko and the couple's son Teru continued to run the restaurant after Mr. Zushi stepped away, but the family has ultimately decided to close the restaurant. 

Kiyoko and Isao Zushi behind the counter of the restaurant, presumably in the late 1970s. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In order to attend the last evening before closing, you needed to make a reservation ahead of time, so I decided to visit the restaurant on December 27, the izakaya's penultimate evening in business. It also was a much better fit for my schedule. As usual, Kiyoko and Teru were making the food and the serving the drinks. (To my knowledge, the restaurant has never employed workers outside the family.)

Godzilla watches over Kiyohama in December 2022. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I had a nice time chatting with them. Teru in particular was interested in a 10-DVD set of classic horror movies that I happened to pick up at Book Off earlier in the day. He commented that he appreciates the handmade quality of older films, as opposed to the overuse of CG today. 

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla memorabilia was always proudly on display, as it was here in December 2022. Photo by Brett Homenick.

After I ate my dinner, I said my farewells to Kiyoko and Teru. It was truly sad to see the restaurant close, but, after 45 years in business, the family has more than earned the right to call it a day. I wished them well and thanked them for their years of hospitality.

Meeting Mr. Zushi for the first time in May 2016.

But what about Isao Zushi himself? Well, much to my regret I never got to do a proper interview with him. Believe me when I say it wasn't for lack of trying. In January 2019, he sent my translator a postcard in which he agreed to answer written questions about his career. That January proved to be a particularly busy time for Mr. Zushi and his family, as they welcomed their first grandchild on New Year's Day. 

With Isao Zushi in August 2018.

Of course, I was overjoyed that Mr. Zushi accepted my request, but, regrettably, I would never receive those answers. 

Isao Zushi in August 2018. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Despite being a warm and welcoming gentleman, and, despite his obvious affection for his suit-acting days, he was never interested in doing personal appearances at events or other forms of publicity. Many have tried to convince him otherwise, and all fell flat on their faces in failure. That simply was never going to happen, much to the chagrin of greedy promoters who wanted to profit from him.

With Isao Zushi in February 2018.

I always knew getting an interview from Mr. Zushi was an unlikely prospect, and -- admittedly -- I got further with it than I ever expected I would, but I can't say I'm surprised it never happened. He wasn't after publicity, and you have to respect his decision.

Isao Zushi in July 2017. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I looked all over for any notes I may have taken after my visits with Mr. Zushi, and I just couldn't find any. Maybe I never took any notes. Since (obviously) no recording was made of the conversations, and I (apparently) didn't take contemporaneous notes, please forgive my incomplete memories. But I will try to present some information about Mr. Zushi that (to the best of my knowledge) is accurate. 

With Isao Zushi in June 2017.

Isao Zushi was born on August 15, 1950. He scored the role of Godzilla after being recommended for it by Koichi Kawakita, who worked with Mr. Zushi on Ultraman Ace (1972-73). Mr. Zushi said that he did not wear the Godzilla suit for the scenes with the imposter Godzilla in Mechagodzilla so that its movements would be noticeably different from those of the real Godzilla. 

With Isao Zushi in February 2017.

He also said that Godzilla's unique walk was based on movements he did as a judo practitioner. Moreover, according to this blog, Mr. Zushi shot his scenes as Godzilla in 10 days. 

Isao Zushi, with a photo from his suit-acting days, in December 2016. Photo by Brett Homenick.

An appropriate grain of salt might be necessary for the above information, since it's so hard to verify. I wish I could present something more comprehensive and detailed (and, perhaps, accurate), but this is all I've got. 

With Isao Zushi in August 2016.

I'm grateful I got to spend several evenings with the suit actor who portrayed one of my favorite Godzillas. When you're able to walk into a restaurant and hang out with one of your favorite Godzilla suit actors, you start taking it for granted, and it seems like it'll be that way forever. This is a stark reminder that nothing could be further from the truth.

Isao Zushi in October 2019. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I'll close by reiterating what I told Kiyoko and Teru last night -- that I appreciate their hospitality over the years. I only found out recently that the restaurant would be closing for good, so it was a huge shock to me. I was confident that Mr. Zushi would eventually return to the izakaya once his health recovered, but it simply isn't to be. All I can say is that I'm grateful for the memories I have.

Isao Zushi in April 2019. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In the 1970s, Isao Zushi was the King of the Monsters. But he traded in that prestigious title to live a quiet and rewarding life as a restauranteur, which he did successfully for 45 years. It's a retirement well earned.

With Isao Zushi in April 2019.

Thank you, Zushi-san, for your kindness, and I wish you all the best in the future.

Paul Mason, Co-Writer of the American Version of 'King Kong vs. Godzilla,' Passes Away at 92

Paul Mason poses for a photo with his dear friend Hachi.
According to producer Vicki Shigekuni Wong, Paul Mason, who co-wrote the American version of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) with Bruce Howard, passed away on December 26 at the age of 92. 

Ms. Wong posted the following on Facebook:

Paul Mason, my dear friend and mentor for the film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, passed away peacefully at home on December 26th. He was 92 years old. I had the pleasure of seeing Paul and his beloved wife Kyong (Lee) at my home this past year. He looked younger than ever, with his trademark thick wavy hair! 
A respected film/tv executive, Paul supported my dream of making the film. A bigger-than-life personality, I will forever be indebted to his generous help as Lee, family & friends celebrate his incredible life. Cheers Paul!

In 2012, I interviewed Paul Mason about his work on King Kong vs. Godzilla. While there were no major revelations about the making of the film, it was a fun experience, and Mr. Mason was extremely helpful. Rest in peace.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas with Tokusatsu Legends!

Eiichi Asada (left) and Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier tonight, I attended a special Christmas event with two luminaries of the tokusatsu world. I couldn't think of a better way to spend Christmas Day.

The event wasn't just about Christmas, of course. It also served as a special birthday event for optical effects wizard Sadao Iizuka, who turns 88 on December 26. I gave Iizuka-san a birthday card in honor of his upcoming milestone.

Iizuka-san held court and shared many stories of his relationship with Eiji Tsuburaya and his work at Toho. I was familiar with just about all of them from my two interviews with him from about two years ago. 

Eiichi Asada. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Eiichi Asada was just as fun as ever to talk with. I followed up with him on something he mentioned in our interview last year. Asada-san talked about how he would go to Ginza and buy making-of books (usually translated into Japanese) about Hollywood blockbusters made in the late 1970s and '80s. He cited the book on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as one book that was particularly enlightening.

Asada-san also mentioned that he read in one of the books that the American SFX crews could blow up miniature buildings and rebuild them, which Asada-san was surprised to read, as that was something Toho SFX crews couldn't do.

After that, I showed Asada-san a picture of the pro wrestling tag team Demolition, but he wasn't familiar with them. In fact, he thought they were the band KISS, so I told him they were a team of Road Warrior imitators. Since Asada-san once compared the wrestler Sting to the members of KISS, I wanted to show him wrestlers who looked a lot more like the band!

As you can no doubt see, it was a lot of fun, and a perfect way to spend Christmas Day. January promises to be a busy month for me, so I'm enjoying the slower pace of December. See you next year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

GO, RODIE BABY, GO! Attending a Screening of 'Rodan' at Toho Cinemas!

Signage for Rodan just outside the theater screening room. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tuesday, December 20, proved to be a rather unusual morning. Just before 9:00 a.m., I arrived at Toho Cinemas Nihinbashi to take in a 4K screening of the kaiju classic Rodan (1956), remastered from the original camera negative. 

I'm not so sure a movie from 1956 counts as "new." Photo by Brett Homenick.

The quality, of course, was top-notch. Rodan has truly never looked better, and I could spot a lot of details that I never could before. I had a lot of fun trying to read the signs and billboards during Rodan's attack, but the scene would usually cut away before I could finish reading them. Yumi Shirakawa was absolutely radiant (when is she not?), I never noticed that Haruo Nakajima was in that much of the movie as an extra, and the ending still packs one heck of a punch. I was moved all over again.

After the showing, I sat in one of the comfy leather chairs that were available to patrons (never seen these before at a Toho Cinemas) and had a blast messing around on Facebook with my buddies. It sure made the mad dash to the movie theater battling the morning rush hour worth it. I'm still kicking myself for not checking out the remastered Mothra (1961) screenings last year, but I'm glad I didn't repeat that mistake with Rodan

Can't wait for this one to come out on Blu-ray!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Attending a Screening of 'Evil of Dracula' at the National Film Archive of Japan!

A poster for Evil of Dracula on display at the National Film Archive of Japan. Photo by Brett Homenick.

This afternoon (Wednesday, December 14), I took in a screening of the Toho horror classic Evil of Dracula (1974), one of my favorite horror films. The screening was part of the Film Archive's program called "The 90th Anniversary of Toho: A Film History of Modernization and Innovation [Part 2]," which ends on December 25. This will be the only film of this program that I'll see, but what a film it is to see!

This wasn't the first time for me to see it theatrically in 35mm, and hopefully it won't be the last. It's incredibly atmospheric with a great performance by Shin Kishida as the titular vampire. The late actress Mio Ota (a.k.a. Izuhi Higashioka) also gave an excellent performance as student-turned-vampire Yukiko Mitamura, and I especially enjoyed seeing her work on the big screen. I was privileged to meet her about a year before her sudden passing, and she was as big a sweetheart as I've ever met. 

The film has some minor flaws, but they aren't really worth mentioning, as they don't affect the overall quality of the film. I wish Toho made more gothic horror movies like this one, but we'll just have to cherish the ones we have. 

I was particularly pleased to discover that more sci-fi/horror screenings will be happening early next year, which is the perfect way to kick off the New Year. I can't wait to attend those screenings, too, which I will post about here when they happen.


The National Film Archive of Japan. Photo by Brett Homenick.

 Earlier today (Wednesday, December 14), I visited the National Film Archive of Japan and took in its special exhibit, "History in Posters Part 4: Horror Films." The gallery featured posters and other memorabilia (shooting scripts, promotional pamphlets, etc.) from horror films from all over the world. The horror movies went as far back as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and covered the much more recent J-horror films of the late 1990s and beyond. Shooting scripts for Japanese classics like The Invisible Man (1949) and Portrait of Hell (1969) were on display, as were assorted posters and press sheets for a variety of other great titles. I wish I could have photographed it all, but photography was limited to a specific corner of the gallery. Anyhow, here's just a taste of what I saw. Enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2022

Tokusatsu/Anime Singer Ichiro Mizuki Passes Away at Age 74

Legendary tokusatsu and anime singer Ichiro Mizuki passed away on December 6 due to lung cancer. I was fortunate enough to interview Mr. Mizuki in 2008 about his contributions to the genre, which you can read here. Rest in peace, Mr. Mizuki.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

SHOWA HERO EVENT! A 'Zyuranger' Reunion!

Reiko Chiba. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a special event in Nakano Sunplaza, featuring a reunion of several Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger (1992-93) actors. The series was shortly thereafter Americanized as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

The guest of honor (for me, anyway) was Reiko Chiba, who played Mei (Ptera Ranger) on Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. Even though I'd only met her twice before, and the last time was pre-pandemic, she recognized me when she saw me. I was rather amazed by that! Our interaction was brief (as it was with all the guests this event), but Chiba-san's friendly and warmth made it all worth it. 

Shiro Izumi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Another guest was Shiro Izumi, who portrayed Change Pegasus in Dengeki Sentai Changeman (1985-86) and Burai (Dragon Ranger) in Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.

Izumi-san is a cool guy, and I would have liked more of a chance to interact, but, at events like these, you just don't get the opportunity.

Takumi Hashimoto. Photo by Brett Homenick.

A surprise guest who wasn't advertised was Takumi Hashimoto. Hashimoto-san played Boi (Tiger Ranger) on the series. 

And it was certainly a surprise to see him there! I was expecting only two guests but was lucky enough to get three. It was definitely a great way to cap this cool afternoon.