"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And Other Great Memories of G-FEST XV


Haruo Nakajima entertained us with stories during the private dinner.
Photo: Clawmark Toys

It’s kind of a blur right now. As I get ready to head out to the San Diego Comic Con, memories of G-Fest XV two weeks ago are still swimming in my head. I can’t tell you how much of a great time I had in Chicago — or rather Rosemont — I met some really cool folks, signed a lot of books (we sold out on Saturday morning, and Tom from Clawmark Toys had to buy out another dealer so we could have more to sign!). People were really receptive to my presentations, and it was great to be in on some other sessions, notably having the honor of interviewing Haruo Nakajima on stage — with Brett Homenick and Robert Scott Field — who was really amused by the slides we projected of him on set and in cameo roles. The closing panel celebrating the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS 40th Anniversary on Sunday afternoon was great fun, too — and even special effects wizard Greg Nicotero came to G-Fest as an attendee with his son (a rabid Godzilla fan)!

Danny Tokarz talks with the man they called... Godzilla!
Photo: Armand Vaquer

There were a lot of laughs in hanging out with some folks whom I’ve communicated with for years, but never got the chance to meet in person — above and beyond was Danny Tokarz, who is like my Siamese Twin separated at birth (or as Danny said, “You know, the BASKET CASE Siamese Twin”). Danny and his old buddy, Joey, treated me to some serious Chicago-style pizza (“Not that thick crust shit that the Chicago Tourism Board wants you to believe is Chicago Style!") and some serious baked clams, which were awesome — garlic never tasted so good. Needless to say, those guys killed me, and we were all in hysterics, with everyone constantly being ripped on by former UFC fighter Don Frye (star of GODZILLA FINAL WARS) — and he liked it being dished right back at him, too. Don had me in stitches during the long autograph sessions, and was extremely down-to-earth with no pretense — he ripped on himself, too — and hung out with fans all weekend, holding court in the hotel bar. Over the course of the weekend, all of the guests seemed to be having an awesome time, and so were we.

Danny and Brett share some laughs with Don "Fire Missiles!" Frye.
Photo: Brett Homenick

A fantastic and unexpected capper to the weekend was being invited by the unrivaled Tom and Diane Dougherty of Clawmark Toys to attend a private Sunday night dinner with Haruo Nakajima at a local stake house. In attendance was Mr. Nakajima’s charming daughter, Sonoe, Tom, Diane, Robert Scott Field, G-Fest organizer Brett Homenick, and Silent Charity Auction Winners Chris Eddings and Matt Harris (who were in visible awe at being in Mr. Nakajima’s presence). For three hours we ate, laughed, asked questions and listened to amazing stories, poor Robert was hardly able to eat his steak, as Mr. Nakajima really kept him on his toes (I helped a little, too). I also finally got to ask Mr. Nakajima: Which scene could he be spotted in Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI? And he related, in great detail, that it was the scene where Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) and Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) ambush the three bandit scouts at the tree — Mr. Nakajima was the proverbial monkey in the middle, who is chased and cut down in the panning shot by Kyuzo. Needless to say, it was a great night, and special thanks go out to David Nunes for setting it up.

Signing books in the hotel lobby. Photo: Armand Vaquer

It’s funny; when you travel a long way, you expect to hook up with people and see the sights, or get in contact with local friends of friends, but there just aren't enough hours in the day. I was in the Chicago area for five (the first was mostly crashing out after checking into my room, then stumbling down to the bar and having drinks with Don, Mr. Nakajima and the gang), and it still wasn't enough time. Between my sessions at the event, pressing flesh and signing my books, I hardly left the hotel. I feel bad that I didn't get to meet — or even call — some Chicagoans I had promised to catch up with. I still had a great time in spite of that because of the hospitality of Danny, Joey and Brett (and many others at the show). It was also humbling and touching when kids stopped me to ask me questions, especially when they kept apologizing for taking up my time, to which I replied, “I came here to meet you. So please, ask away!” It all flew by so fast. But, there’s always next year, right? (I didn't even get into Chicago proper until the day after the convention ended, where I had the worst spaghetti, ever. But, that's another story.)

Karlos Borloff meets Godzilla! Photo: Armand Vaquer

A big surprise was getting to meet D.C. area horror host, Karlos Borloff of Monster Madhouse-fame — and he was thrilled to meet Mr. Nakajima (what Monster Kid wouldn't want to meet the man who was Godzilla?) — and I met lots of other great people all weekend. Far too many to mention (you know who you are!). I do have to stop and thank Jay Johnson for breaking the two year hiatus of the annual "Godzilla Blood Party" — that stuff'll kill ya! More thanks and shout outs must also go out to event producer J.D. Lees, his right-hand man Armand Vaquer, the diligent Brett Homenick, the omnipresent Robert Scott Field for the warm welcome, and anyone else I may have left out (including A.V. wizards Andy Steele and Jeff Horne — you, too, Butch! Did you get enough autographs from Mr.Nakajima?) I'm still kind of drained, but I hope that I will be invited back to G-Fest as a guest next year (although I’d still attend as a fan)!

Maybe we'll see you there next year, too?


Stop Motion and Beyond said...

Well, I guess Ill chime in here on this subject. I have not been to a G-Fest in 8 years so this one was special too me. Knowing Mr. Nakajima was making another appearence after all these years was one of the main reasons I attended this year. The other reason was I just wanted to hang out with and meet the G-Fest crowd. I don't get to do this often, so it was really cool. Meeting Armand, Brett, Dutch and the rest of the G-Fest Fandom made it worth it. The Blood party was great, and yes I had alittle of it. Im not a drinker but I survived. Mr. Nakajima was a stud. Signing all those autographs for 3 hours straight the first day was incredible.'' And Yes, I tried to score as many signatures as I could. I am a huge fan and it was an Honor to receive them.. I truly hope he makes it to another one someday. God bless him. He's almost 80 years old. One of the last of the Toho Greats..! Butch.

August Ragone said...

You'll be more impressed to hear that Mr. Nakajima signed autographs for not three, but four-and-a-half hours (originally scheduled as a two hour session). As you know, they had to turn people away and schedule for another two hours the following day, so everyone could be accommodated (and they were).

Yes, there's no doubt that Mr. Nakajima, despite his recent health issues, is a still a dynamic powerhouse with an iron grip of a handshake. He was a stalwart trooper and is a tremendous person — not to mention a priceless treasure. He received a lot of love at the Sunday Luncheon, too (and after that touching message from Toho, he should be receiving more well-deserved respect on that side of the pond).

Hopefully, at future events the organizers will circumvent this minor hiccup by interspersing the autograph sessions over the course of the event — this would be better than one marathon autograph session, and would be easier on the older Guests of Honor.


Allen Westenbarger said...

It was a pleasure meeting you at G-Fest, and getting my book signed. I read it on the flight out from Denver. I really like your attitude of "I came to meet you." This was my first G-Fest, and certainly not my last.

The slides you had of Mr. Nakajima's cameos out of the suit were great, and it was nice to see him laughing at them as well.

The 4 1/2 hour autograph session was crazy. I made it through the line just about at the end of the scheduled 2 hour window. The people ahead of me were afraid they would shut it down before they got to meet everybody. I agree with you that next time, additional autograph sessions should be scheduled. I was amazed to see the signing continuing after I made a pass through the dealers room, took the haul back to my room, and had lunch.

Chuck said...

August, meeting you was great and your seminars were brilliant. I appreciated your academic take on the subject matter and you took G-Fest's credibility up a notch. Hope you make it out of San Diego alive.


PS - Link the Shock if to Me site to your blog.

August Ragone said...

Allen & Chuck,
Thanks for all of the kind words -- it's very much appreciated!