Sunday, December 10, 2017

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, IIZUKA-SAN! The Toho Optical Effects Legend Turns 83!

Sadao Iizuka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a screening of the classic Toho kaiju caper Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (1964) in glorious 35mm. Naturally, it's one of my favorite Godzilla movies, and despite having seen it countless times over the years, it still holds up extremely well. 

The guest of honor for the screening was Sadao Iizuka, the legendary optical effects technician who worked under Eiji Tsuburaya. At age 19, Iizuka-san worked on the miniatures used in Godzilla (1954) as a part-time job, but the experience ultimately led to a decades-long career in SFX at Toho and beyond. In 1957, Iizuka-san started working on the optical side of SFX, animating (by hand) numerous beams, rays, and just about everything else there was to draw in Toho's science fiction films.

Although it isn't quite his birthday yet, the event was billed as a birthday celebration for Iizuka-san, who turns 83 this month. I'm very happy to see that Iizuka-san remains as healthy and active as ever. When Ghidrah began screening, Iizuka-san pointed out (from the back of the theater) that he created the "TohoScope" logo seen at the beginning of the film. Later on, during his Q&A session, he pointed out that King Ghidorah's gravity ray was originally intended to be straight, but that this proved unworkable in terms of keeping King Ghidorah's randomly-moving heads up with all the explosions.

A wonderful evening it was, spent in the company of a true legend of the genre. Another highlight of the evening was getting Iizuka-san to write "TohoScope" on his autograph for me, which drew chuckles from some of the other folks in attendance. But why not? After all, that logo was his creation!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Remembering Conrad Brooks

Word is beginning to circulate that cult movie actor Conrad Brooks (Glen Or Glenda?, Plan 9 from Outer Space) has passed away. Few details are available, but those who knew Conrad are aware that his health took a sharp decline in the last year, from which he never recovered.

I first met Conrad in March 1996 in San Diego when he was the guest at an all-day sci-fi movie screening. Around 2007, I was able to reconnect with Conrad via his official website, and from then on, we regularly spoke on the phone. Conrad was one of the most positive people I'd ever known, and our phone conversations were always a lot of fun. Even after moving to Japan, I always made sure to give Conrad a ring on a routine basis.

I last spoke to Conrad a few weeks ago. His daughter Connie was very helpful in arranging the conversation. Due to his severe health issues, Conrad couldn't say much, but I appreciated having the chance to speak with him again after such a long time. It was to be the last time we'd ever speak.

Conrad was the real deal -- a true friend who genuinely cared about the people in his life. I remember when news of the tsunami broke right before I moved to Japan, Conrad called me up and wanted to know how the disaster might affect my plans. He wasn't sure I should go, but I assured him I would be fine.

That's the kind of guy he was, and that's the person I will miss.

Rest in peace, Conrad.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

MOTHZILLA ATTACKS! A Japanese TV Parody of Godzilla from 1983 Surfaces!

Thanks to social media, I discovered this very interesting television parody of the Godzilla series from circa 1983. It prominently features Akihiko Hirata (Serizawa from Godzilla '54) and Yoshiko Tanaka (Godzilla vs. Biollante), and is a lot more amusing (not to mention authentic) than most Godzilla parodies out there. The above clip was taken from the variety program What a Fantastic Night!, which was broadcast in Japan during the 1980s and hosted by Japanese comedian Tamori.

While the YouTube video in question calls the monster "Modzilla," it's probably more accurate to call it "Mothzilla." Why, you might ask? Just watch!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

GODZILLA SHOW SPACE! Checking Out Godzilla's History Up Close and Personal!

With special thanks to a friend of mine who gave me a ticket to this exhibit, I made plans to view Godzilla Show Space in Yurakucho today. Unlike most other exhibits I've attended in Japan, photography was allowed in all areas. In fact, you were even allowed to touch some props from the Godzilla films! It doesn't get any fan-friendlier than that. Anyway, with all that out of the way, let's get on to the photos!

The Case of the Missing Godzilla Statue

Notice anything missing? Photo by Brett Homenick.

While in Hibiya today, I decided to stop by Hibiya Chanter to take another look at the Godzilla statue, and to my surprise, it wasn't there! The entire square is under renovation, and it seems things won't return to normal until late March 2018. So, if you're booking a trip to Japan and want to see the Godzilla statue in Hibiya, keep this in mind.

It certainly was strange to see Hibiya Chanter in such rough shape. It almost looked like Godzilla broke loose from the statue and razed the area!

Friday, December 1, 2017

SUPERHEROES CONVERGE ON TSUKIJI! The Toei All-Stars to the Rescue!

Tsukiji Hongan-ji. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I attended a play near Tsukiji Hongan-ji, but the true highlight is what happened afterward. I was quite fortunate to attend a special dinner with several stars from the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series.

Sayoko Hagiwara, Yumiko Tanaka, and Koji Unoki pose for pictures. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The three luminaries on hand were Sayoko Hagiwara (Dynaman's Dyna Pink), Yumiko Tanaka (Harumi Kusanami from Kamen Rider Super-1, as well as Godzilla 1985), and Koji Unoki (Dyna Blue from Dynaman). 

To say it was a fun evening would be the understatement of the year. I had a blast. There's nothing like hanging out with people as cool as this. To top it all off, it was Hagiwara-san's birthday. That made the evening all the more special. Many thanks to all involved!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Day with Ulf

Actor Ulf Otsuki. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

It'd also been a long time since I last visited Ulf Otsuki, but today I finally had another chance. I visited him at his home, and we took in John Wayne's last movie, The Shootist (1976). It was my first time seeing the film, and while I'm hardly a John Wayne aficionado, I enjoyed the picture. Ulf was certainly very impressed by it.

After the movie, we went out for Indian food. Suffice it to say, it was a great time. Can't wait to do it all over again!

A TAC ATTACK! Returning to Okita-san's Restaurant!

Actor Shunichi Okita. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Last night, I went to the bar owned and operated by actor Shunichi Okita, best known as TAC member Ichiro Yamanaka from Ultraman Ace (1972-73). Before that, he got his start at Nikkatsu Studios and even appeared in a couple of Kihachi Okamoto movies at Toho. 

It has been a while since I last visited the restaurant, and I had a wonderful time. Hopefully, I won't wait so long to return!


Ho ho hodad! Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Last night, I went to Futako-Tamagawa to take in some of the sights at Rise, the shopping center just outside the train station. As you can see, it's already the Christmas season here in Japan!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

CELEBRATING TERUYOSHI NAKANO'S CAREER! Fans and Colleagues Turn Out to Salute the Toho SFX Director!

SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano and Toho actress Machiko Naka. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The main event of the day was a special celebration of Teruyoshi Nakano's career as a Toho SFX director. Another featured guest was Toho actress Machiko Naka, who played the mother in Godzilla's Revenge (1969) and was a regular in the successful Young Guy and Company President series.

Things began with a special performance of "Save the Earth" performed on a koto, which was (to say the very least) an interesting way to hear the song. It was obviously played at a much slower tempo than the original, but it was very enjoyable.

The music only continued from there, as Teruyoshi Nakano (and his backup singers!) performed the "We Are Space Pilots" song from Gorath (1962). Of course, longtime readers of this blog know that this wasn't the first time Nakano-san has performed this song at a similar event.

Noriko Sato (left) and Kyoko Ifukube. Photo by Brett Homenick.

There was also a big musical connection with two other guests in attendance. Akira Ifukube's daughter Kyoko was on hand, as was Noriko Sato, who of course comes from the family of the Godzilla series' other major composer, Masaru Sato. 

I had a great time speaking with a lot of the folks there. I was fortunate to sit next to Naka-san for an extended period, as we discussed her career, and I showed her photos of some of her old colleagues from Toho, particularly Tatsuyoshi Ehara, who (like her) was also a regular on the Young Guy series.

Teruyoshi Nakano, Machiko Naka, and yours truly. 

Even though I'd attended the Masaru Sato concert in July, I didn't have a chance to meet Noriko Sato, who was at the event, but this time I most certainly did, and I got to know her quite well. Masaru Sato is actually my favorite Japanese composer.

The event was held on the 58th floor of Sunshine 60 in Ikebukuro, and as you can see from the picture above, we were rather high up. This was an extremely fun event with a lot of variety and friendly people. I hope we can all do it again soon!

MECHAGODZILLA PROPS ON DISPLAY! Now I Know What It's Like on the Third Planet of the Black Hole!

 "I want the statue!" Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today, I attended a special event with Godzilla series SFX director Teruyoshi Nakano. In celebration of Nakano-san's career, some props from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) were on display, most notably the King Seesar (a.k.a. King Caesar) statue, Professor Miyajima's powerful pipe, and a alien ray guns from both films. The Mechagodzilla films have long been favorites of mine, and while it was cool enough to look at them, it was something else to hold them. Quite cool, indeed!

MEETING A NIKKATSU DIRECTOR! Breaking Bread with the Man Who Directed Strada 5's Pilot Episode!

Director Yukihiro Sawada. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Tonight, I was privileged to meet Nikkatsu director Yukihiro Sawada, who specialized in directing some of the studio's more erotic output during the 1970s. I must admit that I'm rather unfamiliar with his work in that area, but one of his credits that is of interest to me is the 13-episode TV series Strada 5 (1974), of which he directed only the pilot episode.

It's not every day that one has the chance to meet the director of an obscure Super Sentai-esque TV series (although it predates Super Sentai by a year), so I was sure to seize the opportunity. I'm glad I did!