"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 23, 2008

ROCKET TO LA JOLLA!
The San Diego Comic-Con International or Bust!



"Excuse me, Miss... is there booze on this crazy moon flight?"

This weekend, I will be attending the massive and monstrous Comic-Con International aka the San Diego Comic Con, to sign copies of EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS. This year's event is going to be the biggest in their history with the show sold out in advance for the first time, and record attendance estimated to be in excess of 150,000. So, to paraphrase Charlton Heston in PLANET OF THE APES, "This is a going to be a Madhouse!"

So, where will be you be able to find me in all of the chaos and madness? I will be at the Chronicle Books booth in the Exhibitors Hall (where, if you look from one side of the hall to the other, you can almost see the curvature of the Earth) from 3:30 pm on Saturday July 26th and from 2:00 pm on Sunday July 27th. If you don't already have a copy, we will be selling them throughout the show — if you already have a previously-purchased copy, don't fret, because I'll sign them, too (although that may devalue it). In the Comic-Con Exhibitors Hall, Chronicle Books can be found at Booth #1637.

So, we hope to see you there — stop by and say "hey"!

Friday, July 18, 2008

"EIJI AND THE TALE OF TWO GODZILLAS"
GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)

「三大怪獣・地球最大の決戦」より


Tsuburaya takes a break to pose with a Godzilla costume and prop during the shooting of Seiji Maruyama's RETREAT FROM KISKA (1965).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

EATING STEAKS WITH GODZILLA!
And Other Great Memories of G-FEST XV

ゴジラは私達が付いているステキを食べた!


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?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EIJI TSUBURAYA!
July 10, 1901-January 25, 1970

円谷英二への誕生日おめでとう!


Tsuburaya at the official press junket for ULTRAMAN, 1966.

The “Father of Japanese Special Visual Effects” was born on July 10, 1901 as Eiichi Tsuburaya in the town of Sukagawa, Fukushima. As with his life, even his date of birth is steeped in legend — official sources have often listed that Eiji Tsuburaya was born on July 7th — a date of fortune in the celebration of Tanabata (meaning “Seven Evenings”), a Japanese star festival derived from the Obon (a celebration of ancestors). Tanabata is usually celebrated on July 7th or August 7th, to commemorate the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair).

Tanabata originated from the Chinese Festival to Plead for Skills (Oi Xi), which came to Japan in the Heian Period (795-1192), and spread to the public during the Edo Period (1603-1867), where it was then combined with Obon traditions. From the Edo Period, girls wished for better sewing and craftsmanship skills, while boys wished for better calligraphy skills, by writing wishes on strips of tanzaku paper, which were hung on bamboo trees. This tradition is still practiced today in Japan.

Even if Eiji Tsuburaya was not born on July 7th, the myth of being born on the Tanabata certainly was apt, because Tsuburaya would become famous for his multiple artistic and practical skills, which he had in spades — and eventually, the name Tsuburaya would become world-renown with the production of GODZILLA (1954).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"MECHAGODZILLA, DESTROY THEM UTTERLY"
Bandai's Amazing RC-Operated Titan of Terror!

RCメカゴジラがやってきた!


Bandai's amazing RC Mechagodzilla! Photo: CScout Japan

The iconic Mechagodzilla, the bionic double of the King of the Monsters, was created in 1974 for the 20th Anniversary Godzilla film, Jun Fukuda's GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, and proved so popular, he was brought back the next year for Ishiro Honda's TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. Since then, as a character, Mechagodzilla has endured in popularity for more than three decades, and has been re-envisioned in several more recent Toho films, such as GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) and GODZILLA: TOKYO SOS (2003). Despite the updates, the first version of the character still captures the imagination of fans everywhere.


"Cross Attack Beam, fire!" Photo: GA Graphics

While the original version of the alien super robot has been rendered in various forms of vinyl, resin, diecast and injection mold plastic, kaiju fans and Japanese toy collectors, alike, thought that they saw the zenith figure of their favorite space titanium-alloy monster issued in spectacular — and ultimate — form as part of Bandai's best-selling "Soul of Chogokin" line a couple of years ago. Released in both 1974 and 1975 versions, this diecast figure was one of the many releases in the popular revival of their "Chogokin" brand (or "Super Alloy," a term coined from Go Nagai and Toei Animation's MAZINGER Z). No one could have imagined that it could get any better. Until now.


"Initiate, Defense Neo-Barrier!" Photo: GA Graphics

At the 2008 Tokyo Toy Show on June 21st and 22nd, produced by the Japan Toy Association, the largest toymaker in Japan, Bandai, previewed a prototype of their latest, and arguably, greatest idea. Ever. Bandai unveiled their upcoming 20" Radio Controlled 1974-type Mechagodzilla! This ultimate in robot toy decadence is radio operated via a remote control box, ala Gigantor, and promises full walking action (forward, reverse, right and left), flashing lights to simulate weapons firing (spinning hands for the Finger Missiles, opening chest plate for Cross Attack Beam, etc.) and defensive capabilities (spinning head to simulate Neo Barrier generation) — replete with corresponding sound effects.


"His power is in your hands!" Photo: GA Graphics

According to the Japanese website, GA Graphics, who were in attendance at the Tokyo Toy Show, the prototype "RC Mechagodzilla 1974" (tentative name) was on display in a glass case at the Bandai booth, and while it demonstrated several of its special features (including lights that flash to simulate missile firing and eyes that change from amber to blue), the walking function was not demoed for either the buyers or the public at the show. With this being a prototype, it is likely that Bandai is still busy working on getting this ultimate toy for big boys ready for its scheduled December release date.

Because of the declining birtrate in Japan, toy manufacturers have been refocusing their marketing squarely at adults with highly detailed items that were previously the realm of the so-called niche "Garage Kit" market, spawned by independent, Cottage Industry manufacturers. One recent example is Bandai's full-scale, and functional, Kamen Rider Henshin Belt, which surpassed all expectations in sales to this new — and growing — demographic.

While manufacturer's suggested retail price was not announced at the Tokyo Toy Show, those interested in picking this badass piece up will have to expect it to be in the triple digits — so start saving your pennies, now. This is truly a toy that is guaranteed to be worth its weight in Space Titanium.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

H-MEN, MOTHRAS & SPACE BATTLES, OH MY!
Sony Home Video issuing Toho classics to DVD


Should you shelve your Toho Video R2 DVDs or keep them? Read on.

To quote Dr. Immelman from THE MYSTERIANS, "Good news! Good news!" The intrepid Ian Freidman of the HK Film News DVD blog has scored another exclusive interview with Michael Schlesinger of Sony Home Pictures Entertainment, called Return of the Classics. And while they discuss a lot of exciting news about upcoming releases (please check out the site for the complete interview), there is some exciting official news regarding the Columbia-held titles, THE H-MAN (1958), BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959) and MOTHRA (1961). Here are some excerpts:

IF: "So what is the word on releases of dual US/Japanese versions of MOTHRA, THE H-MAN, and the BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE? The grey market has been filled with wide and subbed copies of the Japanese versions, but the English language version has only appeared on badly duped copies from 16MM, making them a desired inclusion."

MS: "The set is penciled in for ’09. It will contain those three plus REBIRTH OF MOTHRA 3 (1998), which somehow got overlooked for DVD. The intent is to have the uncut versions with Japanese tracks as well as the English dubs. MOTHRA and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE are done; THE H-MAN is proving to be a bit trickier, but it should be completed in time."

IF: "Many fans have hoped that the actual US versions (in terms of credits and US version has opposed to the dub being placed over the Japanese version) will be released; do you think this will be possible?"

MS: "Probably not, since it would require twice as many discs. Besides, why would anyone want the cut-up versions? You don’t see people buying ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and then saying, “Aw, crap, I wanted the version that was 90 minutes shorter and re-edited in chronological order by some studio hack.” That’s a rather extreme analogy, but you get my point."

IF: "The reason I ask about the US versions is that Classic Media, put both the US and Japanese versions on one disc, if that's not possible, will the US credit sequences be included perhaps as an extra."

MS: "I'm sure some method will be worked out. We certainly don't expect people to try and read Japanese credits!"

IF: "Since some of the US versions were sequenced different and had different music, how will the dubs sync up with the Japanese tracks (do you have separate music, sound effects, and dialog tracks?"

MS: "That is an issue, and one that's holding up THE H-MAN. Again, much of the Toho business might be better posed to Grover [Crisp Head of Sony’s Restoration]."

While this is really exciting news, and it's about time that these films received a DVD release in North America, I'm a bit hesitant about making "hybrid" versions of the films. If Sony's Godzilla releases are any indication, we are not going to get the original Japanese credit sequences. For example, the original Japanese credit sequence for THE H-MAN is far superior than the US version — and longer — with the credits over a montage of a derelict fishing trawler, ending on the ship's wheel, which eerily seems to be steering without a pilot...

Additionally, again going by their earlier Godzilla releases, we will also not see the original Japanese Toho Scope logos at the start of each film — which will be replaced by a modern English version of the logo. This would be akin to cutting out the Shaw Brothers logo and replacing it with one in CGI. No one complained that the Classic Media DVDs contained the Toho logos or the original Japanese credit sequences (although the did drop the pre-logo "Thanks to the Maritime Safety Agency" card from GODZILLA) — nor has anyone complained of such for any other Toho releases by Media Blasters, Animeigo, Criterion, etc.

Actually, we want to have the original Japanese versions. Complete and uncut. Including logos and credits. Personally, I don't understand the need for creating these hybrids (except for possible television airings). While it may be too early to call foul at this point, we've been waiting for a decent release of these films for so long, that perhaps we're being a a little too nitpicky. For now, we're just going to have to wait and see if this is the case, or it's all much to do about nothing.

In meantime, keep checking back when more news breaks on either this blog or HK Film News DVD. Ian says that he's working on a follow-up interview with the man in charge of these restorations.

Thanks go out to Ian Freidman and Brad Thompson for passing this along to me, and Michael Schlesinger for pushing these releases through — salute!

UPDATE 07/09/08: When the major differences in the U.S. and the Japanese versions were brought to his attention, Michael Schlesinger responded thusly: "After the interview was published, I was informed that THE H-MAN and MOTHRA were not merely shortened but had scenes rearranged and some alternate footage. So yes, it would be best if both versions were included on those two. I'll be bringing this up when the time comes."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Monster of the Month
GOMORA: The Ancient Monster

古代怪獣ゴモラ 「ウルトラマン」より


©1967 Tsuburaya Productions

Height: 40 meters • Weight: 20,000 tonnes • Origin: Johnson Islands, South Pacific • Original appearance: ULTRAMAN (1966-67) Episode 26 & 27 "The Monster Prince"

One of the mightiest creatures to ever live, Gomora possessed massive strength, and while generally docile, could be provoked into extreme, unstoppable rage. With powerful arms and claws, and enormous horns crowning its head, Gomora could burrow into the earth and traverse long distances underground at incredible speeds. Besides using its horns as defensive and offensive weapons (based on the dinosaur, Triceratops), Gomora could also wield his tremendous 40 meter-long tail to stun or kill his enemies. A true prince among monsters!

Gomora is not only my favorite of all the Ultra Monsters, but also one of my favorite Japanese monsters of all time (and I still treasure my Bullmark figure of him I bought as a kid). Gomora was the creation of screenwriter Tetsuo Kinjo, who conceived the creature, art director Tohru "Tohl" Narita, who realized him, sculptor Ryosaku Takayama, who built the monster suit, and suit actor Kunio Suzuki, who brought him to life. Gomora has remained popular for over 40 years and has returned several times, including the recent mini-series ULTRA GALAXY: GIANT MONSTER BATTLE.

Simply put, Gomora rules!

•Link Wikipedia: Gomora