Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Godzilla Series Actor Akira Nakao Passes Away at Age 81

A 2018 Godzilla-themed event at which Akira Nakao appeared as a special guest. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The Japanese media is reporting that Akira Nakao, best known for playing Commander Aso in the Heisei Godzilla series, as well as Prime Minister Igarashi in the Millennium series, passed away due to heart failure on May 16 at the age of 81. A private funeral has already been held. 

While I don't have any photographs proving it, I briefly met Nakao-san on November 2, 2018, at an event I blogged about two years ago. The event itself was rather underwhelming, as attendees were given the opportunity to shake Nakao-san's hand as they passed him in line and not much else. I was able to express my admiration for his work in The Vampire Doll (1970), which seemed to amuse him, but that was it.

Nakao-san's demise was falsely reported two years ago (among some American fans, naturally), but this time it has unfortunately been confirmed by reliable media sources.

Rest in peace, Nakao-san. 

Monday, May 13, 2024

REVISITING GODZILLA FANZINES FROM THE SEVENTIES! A New 'Japanese Giants' Compilation Promises to Bring Your Blood to a Boyle!

 

Bradford Grant Boyle, the second editor of the fanzine Japanese Giants after Stephen Mark Rainey gave up the reins, has just published a compilation of his '70s-era Godzilla 'zine output. This new tome is called Early Kaiju Fandom; Fanzines by Brad Boyle, and it features reproductions of Japanese Giants #2 through #4, as well as the Japanese Giants Fan Letter #1 through #10. There's also an appendix which, among other tidbits, features my interview with editor Brad Boyle.

I'm also proud to have been the very first person thanked at the beginning of the book, which is quite an honor for me. I'd like to take this opportunity to Bradford Grant Boyle for his friendship and support of my efforts with Vantage Point Interviews, which is greatly appreciated. Now let's support Bradford's work and order a copy of his new book today!

Sunday, May 12, 2024

New 'Megalon' Q&A on Vantage Point Interviews!

Yutaka Hayashi in February 2024. Photo by Brett Homenick.

My interview with Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) star Yutaka Hayashi, who played race car driver Hiroshi Jinkawa, is now available. The article features many rare photos provided by Mr. Hayashi from his personal collection.


This  February 2024 Q&A was my first interview conducted in person with Hayashi-san. In 2008, Hayashi-san and I did an interview via correspondence, which you can read here. One reason I wanted to do the second interview was to cover more aspects of Hayashi-san's acting career.


If I may say so myself, it's a great interview. I'm also pleased that I've conducted in-person interviews with each of the three leads of Megalon -- a rare feat! Each interview, of course, is available on Vantage Point Interviews where content is king!

Monday, May 6, 2024

Benign Svengoolie

"It's comiiiiiing!" Svengoolie seems to be saying to the cameraman in 2012. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Ever since my return to the U.S., I've been catching up with Svengoolie on MeTV. I'd never seen the show prior to my return, though I'd seen clips here and there. Overall, I'd say it's fun stuff. It's also refreshing to see that Svengoolie refrains from making overly cynical comments about the movies he shows, which you can't always say about the various horror hosts out there.

The line waiting to meet Svengoolie. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In case you're wondering what the title of this blog post might mean, there is an explanation. Although it doesn't seem to be available online (in any form that I can access, anyway), it refers to a line spoken in the Ed Wood documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The 'Plan 9' Companion (1992).  

Svengoolie poses with a fan. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In the documentary, written by the late Mark Carducci, the narrator describes Wood as being a "benign Svengali" to his stock company of actors, such as Conrad Brooks. I thought that was a rather interesting expression, but also figured that a documentary featuring Forrest J Ackerman among its participants might want to make things even more monsterrific by likening Wood to a "benign Svengoolie."

Svengoolie signs autographs. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Well, I thought it was amusing, anyway. But all this did remind me of the (very brief) time I met Svengoolie. It all happened in July 2012 at a convention in the Chicagoland area. Svengoolie was not an official part of this particular show, but he had a table set up there from which he signed autographs and posed for photos. I knew very little about "Sven" at the time but was rather impressed by the crowd he drew. (See the picture elsewhere in this blog post.) 

I did get Svengoolie to pose for the photo at the top of the post, even though I wasn't even waiting in line. I thought that was quite cool of him, and, while it may seem like a small gesture, you'd be surprised how many convention guests won't even give you the time of day unless you put a fifty-dollar bill on their table.

While I can't say that I'll post a review of every Svengoolie show (that seems like a task more suitable for Agent X7), I certainly plan to watch as many shows of his as I can. I look forward to it!

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Classical Pianist Fujiko Hemming Passes Away at Age 92

Fujiko Hemming in June 2017. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Famed pianist Fujiko Hemming passed away on April 21 of pancreatic cancer. She was 92. A private funeral has already been held by her family.

The older sister of prolific tokusatsu actor Ulf Otsuki, Fujiko Hemming was born on December 5, 1931, in Berlin and achieved fame and success not just in Japan but also in Europe and the United States. While she had been performing as a pianist since the 1950s, it wasn't until a February 1999 NHK documentary on her life and career called Fujiko: The Trajectory of a Pianist was broadcast that she became famous in Japan, which led to the release of her hit classical-music album La Campanella in August of that year. She became so well known that she even performed at Carnegie Hall in June 2001.

Fujiko Hemming in June 2017. Photo by Brett Homenick.

In fact, she may actually have been the most famous person I've ever met in Japan. I knew people in Japan who had no idea who Toshiro Mifune was, but everyone seems to know Fujiko Hemming. 

With Fujiko Hemming and actress Kikuko Nishikawa (left).

The first time I met her was in May 2012 at the cafe owned by her brother Ulf. She came to the cafe for reasons I don't remember, but I was able to give her flowers, to which he told me that she'd always wanted to marry an American.


I interviewed Kumi Mizuno the next day (as I recall) in the same cafe. There was a room above the cafe where Fujiko sometimes practiced the piano. After the interview, Fujiko started practicing again, and, even though you could only hear her music and not actually see her perform, Ms. Mizuno and her manager hung around for a while listening to her performance, while Ms. Mizuno's manager took photos of the room in which Fujiko was performing.

With Fujiko Hemming in June 2017.

Through Ulf, I was able to attend two of her performances at the Sumida Triphony Hall -- one in June 2015 and the other in June 2017. During the 2017 performance, Ulf invited me to sit on the stage (off to the side, of course) while she performed in what I assume was a sold-out concert hall. I didn't want to do it, but Ulf insisted, so I did. It was pretty awkward having an entire concert hall looking at you while the most famous pianist in the country was performing, but it also makes for a fun story to tell.


The last time I saw Ulf  before he passed away was also because of Fujiko. She was holding a concert in June 2019, and Ulf, who had suffered a massive stroke the previous year, wanted to attend, so his family needed me to help. By the time I arrived at Ulf's home, the family had decided Ulf shouldn't attend because it was raining, so we just hung out and watched movies. Ulf would pass away the next year.

My meetings with Fujiko were always brief, so I don't have many other anecdotes to share, but, given her level of popularity in Japan, that was expected.

According to news reports, Fujiko fell at her home in November of last year, which caused her to cancel all future performances. She was then diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March while undergoing treatment for the fall, which would end up taking her life the following month.

Rest in peace, Fujiko.

UPDATE (May 1, 2024): Fujiko's birth year was previously listed as 1932, but Japanese Wikipedia has updated it as actually being 1931, citing a book as its source. Since it's consistent with her age being 92 years old at the time of her passing, I've updated this blog post with 1931 as her birth year.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Hong Kong Voice Actor Q&A Added to Vantage Point Interviews!

Saul Lockhart.

If you're a fan of the old Hong Kong dubs, you'll want to check out my interview with HK-based voice actor Saul Lockhart, whose voice can be heard in such films as: Gamera vs. Barugon (1966), Yog Monster from Space (1970), Battle of Okinawa (1971), Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971), and Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972).

Vantage Point Interviews continues to prove that it is the place where content is king!

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Notes on the New 'Gunhed Completion' Compendium by Hobby Japan!

 

The day before I left Japan, my friend Yasushi gave me a copy of the updated edition of the Gunhed Completion book released by Hobby Japan that had literally just been published, just in time for the movie's 35th anniversary. My 2005 interview with the film's female lead Brenda Bakke was translated into Japanese by Yasushi and included in the book. Suffice it to say, this one's a keeper!

Naturally, I received credit as one of the book's staff members. Not too shabby! Of course, you have to be able to read katakana in order to see the credit, but, if that's not something you're able to do, I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.


It's a great tome with plenty of illustrations, photos, and lots of other things to hold your interest, even if you can't read a lick of Japanese. It comes highly recommended and not just because I contributed to it, though that certainly doesn't hurt.

Friday, April 12, 2024

'Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire' (2024)

A Godzilla x Kong poster on display at the theater. Photo by Brett Homenick.

"Welcome to my world..."

Last night, I finally was able to catch a screening of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024). To say that my expectations were rock bottom would be the understatement of the year. I didn't enjoy Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) at all and found all the praise it received at the time as a "fun" monster romp completely baffling. Still, I guess I'm obligated to see these things, so that's exactly what I did.

In short, Godzilla x Kong was silly, minor, and ... not terrible? I enjoyed it much more than I did Godzilla vs. Kong, and I'd probably consider it my second-favorite of the MonsterVerse (yes, with the capital "v" -- sorry, Wikizilla) series. (For those keeping score, 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters is still of my favorite.)

Maybe it was the low expectations, but the movie made me smile throughout. There were several fun moments, a couple of funny lines, some interesting action set pieces, and a satisfying ending. On a personal level, it was fun seeing Joker (2019) alum Brian Tyree Henry rattling off a bunch of Toho kaiju names. (I know, not the most objective reason in the world, but that was my genuine reaction.)

A random King Kong (1933) poster on display at the theater. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There were also some amusing needle drops. (I'm starting to sound like Patrick H. Willems over here.) When "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring started playing, I couldn't believe I was watching a Godzilla movie with that song in it -- in a good way. And that battle in the pyramids? Fun stuff!

Was the movie a total success? Definitely not. There wasn't enough Godzilla to my liking. The fight scenes seemed rush. There wasn't enough of a build to the inevitable team-up between the two titular characters. The non-Toho Titans were too generic and forgettable. I'm also not over the moon about the handling of Godzilla.  

But perhaps the film's biggest triumph was getting me interested in King Kong as a character. This is the first Kong flick since 1967 to get me even slightly invested in the pride of Skull Island. So I'll give director Adam Wingard credit where it's due.

A bit of a mixed bag, but Godzilla x Kong was a big improvement over the previous entry that literally almost put me to sleep. I'll go ahead and say it: Godzilla x Kong is a better time at the movies than Godzilla Minus One (2023). I'd still think so even if the director started bringing a plastic Tiamat toy with him everywhere he went.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

See You Later, Japan!

One last look at the old neighborhood. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Well, folks, my 13-year journey in Japan has officially come to an end. I'm writing this blog post back home in the good ol' USA. It's still hard to believe it's over, but I'm looking forward to new adventures and opportunities. Needless to say, I truly enjoyed my time in Japan, especially my 10 years in Tokyo. 

Of course, I still plan to update the blog whenever I have something relevant to share, but suffice it to say that content will be noticeably different going forward. (I mean, it's not like I can do any more firsthand reporting from Japan.) I'm also guessing that I won't be posting nearly as often as I did in the Land of the Rising Sun, but that remains to be seen. 

However, I do believe some cool things will be in store, so stay tuned for that. In any case, it was an incredible run, and, if you followed the blog during those years, I'd like to thank you for your attention. Glad I could share the fun times with an audience.

As for Japan, don't worry, folks. I'll come back ... someday!

Before I Forget...

 

March was a very busy month for me -- so busy, in fact, that I missed several details and had very little time to stop and smell the flowers. Without saying too much else, here are some cool photos I just had to share before moving on to new things. I think you can tell just how hectic things were that these items got left out! In some cases, calling a celeb someone who needs no introduction rings quite true, and these cases are no exception. Enjoy!






Viewing the Cherry Blossoms Along Meguro River!

In between Kyoko Ifukube (right) and her friend Akiyo.

On my last full day in Japan (Saturday, March 30), I met with Kyoko Ifukube and her friend Akiyo. We met at a Saizeriya restaurant in Nakameguro and then proceeded to view the cherry blossoms (well, what little there were at the time) along Meguro River. The evening lasted about two hours and was a lot of fun. I hope we can meet again in the near future!









Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Joining a Tsuburaya Pro Legend for Dinner!

Akihide Tsuzawa. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight (Wednesday, March 27), I enjoyed the company of former child actor Akihide Tsuzawa with whom I ate dinner at a Jonathan's family restaurant near his home. Tsuzawa-san played Hoshino in the original Ultraman (1966-67) TV series, which makes me wish we could have met at a Hoshino Coffee instead!

I was surprised to find that Tsuzawa-san had another present for me. It was a pamphlet-size photobook of pictures his mother took on location during the shooting of Ultra Q (1966) and Ultraman. Apparently, this book will be on offer at an upcoming event in Japan, but I'm certainly privileged to have been given my own copy.

Akihide Tsuzawa. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There are a mixture of color and black-and-white photos in the booklet. Some of the photos were originally taken in color, while others were colorized for the pamphlet. 

We hung out for just under two hours and talked about many things, including Tsuzawa-san's interest in Japanese MLB players throughout the years (especially Otani and Nomo), my reaction to Godzilla Minus One (2023), which Tsuzawa-san hasn't seen, his recent trip to Lake Okutama (which I pointed out was a location in 1961's Mothra, which he didn't know), his busy professional life that left him little time to stop and smell the flowers, and many other things. 

Tsuzawa-san told me that his favorite director to work with on Ultraman was Toshihiro Iijima. He also drew a map on a napkin of where Toho was in relation to Tsuburaya Productions. I asked Tsuzawa-san if he watched any of the tokusatsu scenes being shot, but he said he didn't due to how hectic the drama side's shooting schedule was. While shooting took place at Tsuburaya Productions, the dubbing apparently took place at Toho.

Tsuzawa-san also talked about his nostalgia for old American TV shows like Lassie, Rawhide, and Superman. In fact, he wanted to see a photo of the Superman he grew up with, but, when I showed him a photo of George Reeves in costume, he said that wasn't it. So I thought maybe he was thinking of Kirk Alyn, but no dice. It wasn't until I showed him a photo of Reeves with Noel Neill as Lois Lane that it finally clicked.


Of course, we also touched on real-life issues, such as careers, relationships, the cost of health insurance, and other things like that. When it was all said and done, I paid for both our meals. Hey, it was the least I could do!

I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to hang out with Tsuzawa-san so soon after our last meeting in January. During the evening, Tsuzawa-san remembered the first time we met in 2016. All these years later, I'd say that's a tremendous feat. When I pulled out my phone to take Tsuzawa-san's photo, he beat me to the bunch by taking my picture first on his camera. (I won't remind you about what I always say about VIPs and guests who take photos of you.)

What a fun evening! Many thanks to Tsuzawa-san for his kind hospitality!

A Night at the Flicks Takes Us Back to the '80s!

Stand by Me (1986) at the Shin Bungeiza. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Tuesday night, March 26, I decided to take a break from all the craziness going on in my life right now to catch two flicks I'd never seen before. The films in question were Stand by Me (1986) and St. Elmo's Fire (1985). The screenings took place at the Shin Bungeiza in Ikebukuro, and unfortunately they were apparently Blu-ray projections, although the picture quality for both films was surprisingly good.

The first movie was Stand by Me, and I have to admit that I didn't care a whole lot for it. For all the complaints about unlikable characters that the evening's other film has received over the years, I think Stand by Me certainly has it beat in that department. If the kids weren't obnoxious, they were unpleasant. The only thing that made the audience root for them is that they were up against a gang of older (and even worse) ne'er-do-wells.

Watching the flick did seem to bring back an old memory that I had long forgotten, though. I'm pretty sure sometime in the sixth grade that the campfire discussion the kids have about what kind of creature Goofy is sparked a similar debate in my class. (I guess the movie must have been shown on cable or whatever, and some of my classmates watched it.)

Otherwise, I found the movie mostly unremarkable.

St. Elmo's Fire (1985) at the Shin Bungeiza. Photo by Brett Homenick

St. Elmo's Fire, on the other hand, was pretty good. I enjoyed quite a bit of the film's humor, and there were story lines that I couldn't predict. There aren't any easy answers for the characters, and they don't always get what they want, but the movie ends in a happily-enough way for them. I definitely wouldn't say it's a great work of art or some kind of masterpiece, but it held my attention much more than the other flick. See it if you haven't.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Revisiting an Okamoto Classic with a Classic Screenwriter!

Hiroshi Kashiwabara. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight (Monday, March 25), I paid another visit to screenwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara at his cafe. The topic of the evening was originally scheduled to be Catch-22 (1970), which is what I was expecting when I entered the venue. However, when I arrived, I discovered that the plans had changed due to the recent passing of actor Minori Terada.

 

Instead, the topic was Kihachi Okamoto's The Human Bullet (1968), which stars Terada. There are things to admire in The Human Bullet, but I can't say it's a great film or even completely successful. The story does drag at times, and I think it could have easily been tightened. It's not a bad film by any means, just an imperfect one. 


I've seen Catch-22 twice. The first time was back in 1997 when I hadn't yet read the book, so the film basically went completely over my head and made no sense to me. The second time was around 2019 on DVD when the film was much more understandable. I think a better film could have been made from the source material, but there are great moments in it. (Hey, that sounds like exactly what I wrote about The Human Bullet!) 


After that, there was the usual conversation among the attendees, and the subject of tokusatsu was naturally on the agenda. It was fun chatting with the various folks about the movies and TV shows they watched as kids.


As I was saying goodbye to some people, Kashiwabara-san pulled out his phone and took a couple of photos of me, which he later sent to me. (You know what I say about VIPs who take pictures of you.) A big thanks to Kashiwabara-san for tonight. I hope our next meeting won't be too far in the future.