Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Seeing 'Kwaidan' in 35mm!

Kwaidan at the Shin Bungeiza. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Wednesday, August 30, I went to the Shin Bungeiza theater in Ikebukuro to catch a screening of the Oscar-nominated classic Kwaidan (1964) in 35mm. Not only was it my first time to see it on the big screen, it was my first time to see it in about 20 years. Despite that, my memory of the proceedings was surprisingly strong, and I remembered what happens in every segment -- except one.

The segment I forgot about was "The Woman of the Snow." While the opening scenes of the snowstorm remained rather vivid in my mind, I couldn't recall anything that happened after it, even how the story concluded. Given how flat the ending to that segment was, though, I guess it shouldn't be so surprising.

The film print looked good, and it was great to see this film on the big screen. You could say it's a flawed masterpiece. I've always felt the "Hoichi the Earless" segment runs too long -- almost like a movie within a movie. It damages the pace of the overall film, and the fact that the final segment is so short in comparison has always been a bit puzzling to me. 

But those are the blemishes. I like pretty much everything else about it. I think the best segment overall is "The Black Hair," but the opening snowstorm scenes of "The Woman of the Snow" might be my favorite part of the film. 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

All the Drama You Can Take at a Dramatic Reading!

Masanori Machida. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier tonight (Sunday, August 27), I went to another dramatic reading with Masanori Machida. It'd been a while since I last saw him at one of these readings, and as always it was a lot of fun. Not much else to say, really, so let's look at the highlights.

Ultraman Along the Seibu Shinjuku Line!

An extraordinarily amazing year! Photo by Brett Homenick.

While using the Seibu Shinjuku Line today, I photographed some Ultraman-related signage for Seibuen Amusement Park in Seibu-Shinjuku Station. Too bad the Seibu Line phone app stamp rally (see the photo below) ends tomorrow -- I really wanted to collect some digital stamps!

A Return to Kadokawa Daiei Studios!

Kadokawa Daiei Studios. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday, August 26, I paid a visit to Kadokawa Daiei Studios for the first time in about a year. I thought dusk would be a nice time to take some photos, so that's exactly what I did. And here they are!

A Celebration of the Life of Wataru Mimura

Director Masaaki Tezuka shares his memories of working with Wataru Mimura. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In the afternoon of Saturday, August 26, I attended a special memorial celebration in honor of screenwriter Wataru Mimura. Mimura-san passed away on August 26, 2021, after a years-long battle with multiple system atrophy. Due to the pandemic, no such events were held in the wake of his passing, but, given the recent end of the pandemic, the event was finally held.

Mimura-san wrote or co-wrote the screenplays or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Orochi the Eight-Headed Dragon (1994), Godzilla 2000 (1999), Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), Godzilla against Mechagodzilla (2002), and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). While he doesn't seem to get much credit for it, it's really impressive just how much of the Millennium series was written in Mimura-san's voice.

Hiroshi Kashiwabara. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The event, which was called "Gathering in Memory of Wataru Mimura" by the organizers, was held on the 12th floor of the Chofu City Cultural Hall Tazukuri. The location was quite apropos, given that Mimura-san helf many of his P-LABO FILMFES events there. In attendance were many of Mimura-san's colleagues from his days at Toho and beyond. Among the luminaries were producer Shogo Tomiyama, director Masaaki Tezuka, screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara, kaiju suitmaker Shinichi Wakasa, assistant director Toshifumi Shimizu, production designer Toshio Miike, and director Takao Okawara.

With Yasutaka Ito (left) and Hiroshi Kashiwabara (center).

Due to my work schedule (how often do you hear me say that?) I arrived rather late -- maybe about an hour or so into the proceedings. Given that the celebration was scheduled to last only two hours, I ended up missing about half of it. But I certainly wanted to take part in any way I could.

With Toshifumi Shimizu. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Even though I submitted my reservation to join, I guess it never got delivered, as my name wasn't on the list. (Don't you hate when that happens?) No worries, though. All I had to do was write my name on the guest list, pay the entrance fee, and I was all set. Many thanks to Kashiwabara-san (who also served as a staff member for the event) and my friend Hitomi, who was very close to Mimura-san, for helping to square things away.

Shogo Tomiyama. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Many speakers talked about their memories of Mimura-san, and, as you could imagine, they sometimes got quite emotional. It was very moving to see how much Mimura-san affected people's lives in such a positive way. Shogo Tomiyama essentially acted as emcee and did a tremendous job keeping things moving along. The event ultimately finished right on time, and the last speaker, scriptwriter Yasutaka Ito, finished his remarks basically on the dot.

With Shogo Tomiyama. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Of all the luminaries on hand, I spent the most time speaking with Kashiwabara-san, who is one the nicest personalities I've met in Japan. A couple of weeks ago, he sent me a message about the event, but by then I'd already submitted by reservation (which, as we know by now, wasn't received). During our online chat, I told Kashiwabara-san that The Great Escape (1963), one of his all-time favorite movies, would be screening at the Shin-Bungeiza theater. The timing didn't work out, unfortunately, as Kashiwabara-san would be out of town during that time. 

Shogo Tomiyama addresses the attendees. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I only got to say a quick word to director Okawara as he was leaving (we both just said "thank you" to each other for coming), but I went up to Shimizu-san to praise him for his work on The Mysterians' (1957) 4K restoration. I told him it looked fantastic, which he was happy to hear. I also talked for a bit with Tomiyama-san and congratulated him on a job well done.

With Hiroshi Kashiwabara.

I hadn't seen Hitomi for several years, so it was great to see her again. Around 2015, we used to go out for karaoke, but life got in the way, and we more or less lost touch. Out of all the attendees there, I hung out with her the most, and it was wonderful to see her again. 

And that's a wrap. It was a great way to celebrate the life and career of Mimura-san, who had been one of the kindest people to me essentially ever since I stepped off the plane in Japan. The news of his untimely passing was devastating, but I'm grateful for the time I had in his company. I think this celebration gives all of us a sense of closure.

Friday, August 25, 2023

DEEP DIVE: Godzilla (1985) Redacted?

The cover of the script for the Toho-produced PR film The Sea, Wings, and Tomorrow (1977).

For those interested in the history of the cooperation between Toho and the Japan Self-Defense Forces, one of the most intriguing examples is The Sea, Wings, and Tomorrow (1977), a 26-minute Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force PR film produced by Toho Eizo Co., Ltd. (It should be noted that the script is dated 1976, but most sources state the movie is a 1977 production.)

The Sea, Wings, and Tomorrow was directed by Hideyuki Inoue (born on September 4, 1947), who joined Toho in 1969. Prior to helming this film, Mr. Inoue worked as an assistant director on Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and went on to work as chief assistant director under Masato Harada on Gunhed (1989) and Kazuki Omori on Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). 

The SFX, to the extent there are any, were directed by Teruyoshi Nakano, the longtime special effects director at the studio. In addition, the music was composed by Akira Ifukube ... well, sort of. The music is all stock music, just like in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). Some of the stock cues heard in the film are the Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) march (which was also used in Gigan), the Monster Zero (1965) march, and a few others.

So what does this have to do with the Godzilla series? Several shots from this movie were used as stock footage in Godzilla 1985 (1984) during the scene in which the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is searching for Godzilla. While researching this topic, I also discovered on Japanese Wikipedia that stock footage was also used in Godzilla vs. Biollante during the Uraga Channel scene. 

I saw the film in June 2020 at a fan gathering shortly after actor Shigeo Kato passed away. In the film, Mr. Kato plays the part of a fisherman thrown overboard during a storm, who gets rescued by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, so this rarity was shown in honor of his life and career.

Most of the movie plays more like an NHK documentary than a scripted drama. It's really not flashy or exciting -- except during the sea rescue scene with Mr. Kato. 

So there you have it. Another piece of the puzzle in the history of Toho's working relationship with the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

A Fun Birthday Celebration with Ultraman Jack!

Eiichi Kikuchi poses with two of his alter egos. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On the evening of Friday, August 18, I joined a birthday celebration for suit actor Eiichi Kikuchi, best known for portraying Ultraman Jack in Return of Ultraman (1971-72), as well as Ultra Seven in episodes 14 and 15 of Ultra Seven (1967-68). Kikuchi-san was born on August 21, 1942, so we were a bit early with the celebration, but the timing worked out well for all attendees.

Suffice it to say, Kikuchi-san was in great spirits, and I don't think I've ever seen him so animated at such a gathering before. He was making jokes and having fun the entire evening, which was wonderful to see. Hard to believe he was on the cusp of turning 81!

Kikuchi-san even poured drinks for some of the attendees, who were in awe of the fact that Ultra Seven and Ultraman Jack was giving them such an honor. When I jokingly offered my glass (I'm a lifelong teetotaler, to say nothing of the fact that my glass was the wrong type to be receiving such an alcoholic beverage), he was amused and said I'd make a good manzai partner for him. Now that's what I call an honor!

Later on in the evening, when Kikuchi-san was demonstrating an action scene, he stopped suddenly in the middle of his demonstration to ask me how to say "action" in English. It was another memorable moment from the evening. 

Kikuchi-san passed around some memorabilia from his collection, including a photo album of pictures he took on the set of Ultraman Mebius (2006-07) when he made a guest appearance on the show.

When we were all heading back to the train station, Kikuchi-san asked me how old I was, and, when I told him, he seemed surprised and responded that I was young. All I can say is, I hope to be as young as Kikuchi-san is when I reach his age.

What a fun celebration. I'd never seen Kikuchi-san happier, which in turn made me over the moon for him. Below are just some of the snapshots I took. I think his enthusiasm comes across quite well in them.

Out and About in Shinjuku!

A Godzilla vs. Mothra-themed manhole cover in Shinjuku. Photo by Brett Homenick.

While out and about in Shinjuku yesterday, I visited the regular spots in and around Toho Cinemas Shinjuku and the Hotel Gracery. I don't know if these were new additions, but I never noticed the two Godzilla-themed manhole covers seen in this blog post. (Maybe I should remember to look down more often!) Anyway, there was a lot to see, so let's get to it!