Friday, June 23, 2017

TAKING IN SOME LIVE MUSIC! Seeing Tayama-san Live and in Concert!

Singer Masami Tayama. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I attended another live performance by singer Masami Tayama. He performed many of his familiar tunes -- songs I've heard so many times I can almost sing them myself! Tayama-san sings straight from the soul, and you can feel his passion in all his songs.


I last saw Tayama-san in April, and tonight's show was very similar to that one. Still, it was a great time, a perfect way to close out the week. (Well, I have to work tomorrow, but close enough.)


Many thanks for another great evening! Can't wait to do it again soon!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

FUJIKO HEMMING IN CONCERT! Seeing the Latest Performance of One of Japan's Most Famous Musicians!

 
Classical pianist Fujiko Hemming shares a photo with the cameraman. Photo by Brett Homenick.

It is no exaggeration to say that Fujiko Hemming is one of Japan's most famous classical musicians. Whenever I meet an actor, director, or anybody from show biz, and the subject of Ulf Otsuki comes up, the person may not know Ulf, but if you explain that he is the brother of pianist Fujiko Hemming, he or she will certainly know who that is. I've never met a person in Japan who wasn't familiar with Fujiko Hemming when her name was mentioned.


Tonight, I had the privilege of attending Fujiko Hemming's concert at the Sumida Triphony Hall. The concert hall holds some 1,800 seats, and nearly all of them were filled this evening. The concert consisted solely of Fujiko Hemming's playing the piano. That's all she needs to give the performance her fans enjoy. It was quite interesting to see how many avid fans she has, and how young many of them are.


Given that I was invited by Ulf to join the concert, I didn't have a ticket, but Ulf invited me to sit on the stage next to him during the concert. Suffice it to say, it was a unique way to see the show! Of course, Fujiko Hemming's performance was perfect, and I enjoyed hearing many familiar classical tunes.


I got to meet and speak with Fujiko Hemming backstage after the concert, and after that, I went to dinner with Ulf, his family, and a couple of friends. A great time was had by all. What an evening!

ULF OTSUKI'S STATUE IN NARA! The Godzilla Series Actor Is Immortalized in Bronze!

Actor Ulf Otsuki served as the model for this statue outside the Nara Prefectural Museum of Art. Photo by Brett Homenick.

We all know of the various Godzilla statues and other attractions in and around Tokyo, but did you know there is a statue of a Godzilla series actor in Japan? It's true. Actor Ulf Otsuki (the bearded Seatopian agent from Godzilla vs. Megalon) has his very own statue in Nara.


When Ulf was 19 years old (and a member of the acting troupe Haiyuza), he was selected as the model for this statue by Japanese artist Yasuo Sugawara, an old friend of Ulf's mother. The statue is currently at the entrance of the Nara Prefectural Museum of Art, and one can view the statue without buying a ticket to enter the museum.

When I visited Nara at the end of May, I stopped by the museum to photograph the statue. Ulf had told me about it several times, and it was something I intended to see for myself. Suffice it to say, it is quite interesting!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

THE GUILALA GUY IN CONCERT! Shinichi Yanagisawa Sings Jazz!

Shinichi Yanagisawa on the drums. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Earlier tonight, I went to the HUB Asakusa after work to catch actor-singer Shinichi Yanagisawa's live jazz show. As always, it was an excellent show, and his All-Stars proved once again that they are a great jazz band.


I mentioned to Yanagisawa-san that I heard several of his announcements he recorded for the Laputa Asagaya, in which he talks about upcoming films that would be playing at the theater. He got a big kick out of that. I'm sure he didn't expect that!


For those of you not in the know, Yanagisawa-san played Miyamoto in The X from Outer Space (1967), which is easily his best-known film in the States. It's always a blast to see him live and in person, and I'm jazzed to do it all over again in the future!

Monday, June 19, 2017

CURSE OF THE DOG GOD! An Oddity from '70s-Era Toei!

A poster for the Toei horror thriller Inugami no Tatari (1977). Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I made my way to the Laputa Asagaya for what will likely be the last installment of the Into Nightmares late-night screenings that I will see. (The program will continue, but I'm not particularly interested in the remaining titles.) Tonight's show was a film I'd actually never heard of before. It was a Toei production called Inugami no Tatari (1977), which can be translated as "Curse of the Dog God." The movie is just about as strange as that title would suggest, but unfortunately it's not as entertaining.


The movie has a pretty simple setup. A group of engineers from a mining company searching for uranium in a rural area in Japan (at least when they're not staring at naked female swimmers in a nearby river) accidentally destroys a small shrine in their truck on an unpaved forest road and runs over a dog owned by a young boy. These actions set in motion a series of bizarre events, resulting in the deaths of the protagonists' two colleagues. (One goes crazy and jumps off the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building; the other is killed by a pack of vicious German Shepherds.) The main character's bride (whom he marries shortly after the dog is run over and the shrine is destroyed) even becomes possessed by the dog-god, despite the fact she had nothing to do with the accident.

The man and his wife eventually return to the village where she eventually dies. At this point, the movie loses focus and begins to get bogged down in characters and subplots that just aren't very interesting. The supernatural elements take a backseat to the human drama, and (with few exceptions) they don't return until the last 20 or so minutes of the film.

But those last 20 minutes are a doozy. We're treated to a lot of strange imagery, including (but not limited to) disembodied flying dog heads. While the early supernatural scenes seemed to take things somewhat seriously, there is no such effort made here. It's almost as if writer-director Shunya Ito saw a screening of House (1977) and decided it wasn't outlandish enough for him.

Overall, the movie is a mixed bag. When the movie is supernatural, it's interesting and enjoyable. When nothing ghostly is happening, well, let's just say things can get a little slow. And a lot slow, too. I do love the cinematography of the rural landscapes, though. At least the film is visually appealing when the story isn't.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

NIKKATSU IN THE 1970S! An Evening with Two Nikkatsu Alumni Who Were There!

Nikkatsu director Koretsugu Kurahara. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a special dinner event featuring two prominent alumni from Nikkatsu Studios during the 1970s. I attended a similar dinner earlier in the year, but with the addition of another fascinating guest, namely director Koretsugu Kurahara, I was quite interested to join.


Born in 1935, Kurahara-san became a director at Nikkatsu in 1971 and made several of the risque films that Nikkatsu was famous for during that period. I enjoyed speaking with Kurahara-san about California (particularly La Jolla!) and even American politics (including our current president). Suffice it to say, it was a fun and lively discussion.

Nikkatsu actress Mari Tanaka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The other featured guest was Nikkatsu actress Mari Tanaka, who made her name in many of the controversial Nikkatsu films of the 1970s. Born in 1951, Tanaka-san joined Nikkatsu in the late 1969, but she didn't appear in the studio's more erotic films until 1971, which is where she made her name.


She also guested on several of Japan's most popular TV series at the time, such as Key Hunter (1968-73) and G-Men '75 (1975-82). As I wrote just after meeting Tanaka-san for the first time earlier in the year, it's hard for me to believe that she starred in anything remotely controversial. Still, that just makes her story all the more intriguing.

SUPER SENTAI HEROES GATHER AGAIN! A Great Reunion of Toei Talent!

From left to right: Ryosuke Sakamoto, Lisa Komaki, Koji Unoki, Kenju Hayashi, yours truly, Yumiko Tanaka, Sayoko Hagiwara, Sumiko Tanaka, and Hitomi Yoshii. 

Today, I attended another dramatic reading performed by veterans of the Super Senati and Kamen Rider series from Toei Studios. While most names are familiar, some will be new to this blog, so let's get cracking and review who was there!

With Lisa Komaki (left) and Sayoko Hagiwara (right). 

Lisa Komaki played Peggy Matsuyama on Himitsu Sentai Goranger (1975-77). Following that experience, she went on to be the suit actor for and voice of actress Diane Martin as Miss America on Battle Fever J (1979-80).

Sayoko Hagiwara played Ryoko Hoshi, Yullian's human alter ego, on Ultraman 80 (1980-81), beginning with episode 43 of the series, and Dyna Pink in Kagaku Sentai Dynaman (1983-84). She also later appears on Choushinsei Flashman (1986-87) as the villainous Leh Nafel.

With Ryosuke Sakamoto and Sumiko Tanaka. 

Here are a couple of stars from Choudenshi Bioman (1984-85). Ryosuke Sakamoto, of course, portrayed Red One, and Sumiko Tanaka played Yellow Four II from episode 11 until 51 of the series.

With Yumiko Tanaka. 

Yumiko Tanaka starred in Kamen Rider Super-1 (1980-81) as Harumi Kusanami, but she also appears in Godzilla (1984). (A genuine Godzilla movie cast member was in attendance!)

With Kenju Hayashi, Koji Unoki, and Hitomi Yoshii.

Hitomi Yoshii was again there. She played the evil High Priestess Bishium on Kamen Rider Black (1987-88). Yoshii-san made me laugh out loud when she said, "We are the dark side!" in English right before this picture was taken.

Also on hand was actor Koji Unoki. He played Dyna Blue (both in and out of the suit) on Dynaman. Furthermore, Kenju Hayashi returned as well, and he would be best known as Prince Megiddo on Dynaman.

Once again, there was so much to talk about! It was another great afternoon. Can't wait to do it again soon!

Friday, June 16, 2017

TAC IS BACK, JACK! Paying a Visit to Ultraman Ace's Mitsuhiro Sano!

Ultraman Ace's Mitsuhiro Sano poses with an old friend. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I visited the bar owned and operated by Mitsuhiro Sano (a.k.a. Koyo Sano) again tonight. Sano-san played TAC member Kozo Yoshimura on Ultraman Ace (1972-73). Given that it was Friday evening, more people than usual were in the bar, which added to the fun of the proceedings. It's pretty safe to say that we all enjoyed ourselves.


Karaoke was, of course, part of the festivities. This time around, I mostly let everyone else do the singing. Sano-san, however, invited me to do a duet of the Bee Gees song "Massachusetts," which is an old favorite of his. To be honest, Sano-san is the only reason I even know of the song, but I've heard him sing it so many times now that I know it pretty well. It was great fun!


Given that I have to get up for work tomorrow, I headed out a bit earlier than I would have liked. But when you've got bills to pay, you gotta go to work.


That's all for now. Stay tuned for more fun from the Land of the Rising Sun!

KABUKICHO'S GODZILLA HEAD! There Goes Shinjuku!


Earlier this evening, I returned to Shinjuku, and while there, I photographed the Godzilla head atop the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku during dusk. As you can see, Toho Cinemas is heavily promoting the upcoming release of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Anyhow, enjoy!






Sunday, June 11, 2017

FUMIO ISHIMORI IS BACK! The Longtime Screenwriter Returns to Asakusa with a New Play!

Screenwriter Fumio Ishimori. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Today, I went to Asakusa to see the latest play written by screenwriter Fumio Ishimori (a.k.a. Shiro Ishimori). Ishimori-san, as noted several times on this blog, has written many movies for Shochiku and Nikkatsu. One of his most significant credits is his screenplay for Toshio Masuda's Monument to the Girls' Corps (1968). He also co-wrote the Toho horror film Crest of the Wolf (1973) with Jun Fukuda, as well as writing episodes of Kamen Rider (1971-73), Ultraman Ace (1972-73), and Zone Fighter (1973).


The play itself was a comedy, and it had the audience in stitches. One amusing incident occurred when the backdrop suddenly fell apart, causing the actors to improvise while the crew put everything back together again. Everything was back on track within a few minutes. All in all, it was an enjoyable show, and it's always a treat to see Ishimori-san.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

WALKING WITH A FRIEND! Two Toho Veterans Talk About Their Film Together!

Choei Takahashi (left) looks on as Koichi Ueda (right) signs an autograph. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I was pleased to attend a special dinner event with two special actors. The event followed a screening of their film Walking with a Friend (2013), which I had to miss due to my work schedule. But the dinner event was well worth attending.

Actor Choei Takahashi. Photo by Brett Homenick.

I was particularly eager to meet actor Choei Takahashi. Takahashi-san played the lead role in the Toho thriller Lake of Dracula (1971), the middle entry in the great Bloodthirsty trilogy. Actors from that film are especially difficult to meet, so the chance to meet the film's star was one I couldn't pass up. I brought a couple of Lake of Dracula stills for him to sign.

Actor Koichi Ueda. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Also on hand was Koichi Ueda, a prolific Japanese actor whose career still thrives to this day. Most tokusatsu fans in the West probably know that Ueda-san appeared in every Godzilla movie from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) through Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). (He told me that his role in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah was his favorite of all his Godzilla appearances.) His other SFX and fantasy credits include: Kaiju Booska (1966-67), Ultra Seven (1967-68), Ultraman Taro (1973-74), Jumborg Ace (1973), and Barom-1 (1972). However, his best-known credit of all would likely be Shall We Dance? (1996).


I especially had a great time speaking with Ueda-san, who is extremely approachable and friendly. I certainly hope to have another chance to visit with him some day. Likewise, I hope to have another chance to see Takahashi-san again. I'd sure love to hear his stories from the set of Lake of Dracula!


That's all for now. Stay tuned to this blog for all the latest happenings!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

STARMAN FIGHTS THE INVADERS! Shintoho's Superhero Flies into Shibuya!

Poster art for Shintoho's Invaders from Space. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I returned to Shibuya Cinemavera to catch a screening of the two-part Starman movie known in the U.S. as Invaders from Space (1957). The two-parter was released to television in the U.S. in the mid-1960s, well after its theatrical run in Japan. 

Unfortunately, the screening was digital (i.e., not a film print). That said, the picture quality wasn't bad, and it exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. I haven't watched a Starman movie in many years, so I'd forgotten much of the action.

All in all, it was fun stuff. Great to revisit Starman after so many years!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

KAIJU SAKABA SHIMBASHI! Checking Out the New Restaurant from Tsuburaya Productions!


Tonight, I paid a visit to the new Kaiju Sakaba establishment in Shimbashi, Tokyo. It just opened on May 21, so I decided to give it a look-see.

I've only visited the Kawasaki location once, and that was right after it opened in early 2014. Instead of simply waiting in line for your turn (as was the case in Kawasaki), this location allows you to take a number, and when it's your turn, they'll give you a call. (Of course, you have to enter your phone number into the machine before you can take a number.) This gives you the freedom to go shopping instead of waiting an hour (or more) for your seat.

The photos are below. As with the Kawasaki location, there's the Roman Holiday-inspired Jamila display that lights up and roars when you put your hand in it. There are several noticeable differences, too. I'll let the photos do the talking. Enjoy!