"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, February 27, 2008

New SF Crime Drama is More Than Meets the Eye


Miike (left), Shimatani (center) and Kubota (left). ©Mainichi News

Acclaimed director Takashi Miike (GREAT YOKAI WAR), is now hard at work as the Supervising Director on a new 51-episode science fiction television series for the TV Tokyo network, CELLPHONE INVESTIGATION 7 (Keitai Sousankan 7). Produced by WiZ and Production I.G., the series will feature episodes directed by such noted genre filmmakers as Mamoru Oshii (GHOST IN THE SHELL) and Shusuke Kaneko (DEATH NOTE).

The story of CELLPHONE INVESTIGATION 7 concerns the adventures of Kieta, a High School Freshman, played by 19 year-old actor Masataka Kubota, who becomes the seventh member of "Anchor," an organization formed to bring a hi-tech internet criminal organization to justice. He is bestowed with a special automaton, Phonebraver 7, which — shades of Transformers — morphs into a cellphone.

The supporting cast features Mickey Curtis (AGITATOR), Yuko Ito (BUBBLE FICTION), Kanji Tsuda (JAPAN SINKS), Natsuki Okamoto (ARCH ANGELS), Satoshi Matsuda (KAMEN RIDER RYUKI), and Nao Nagasawa (HURRICANGER). The opening theme song is sung by Hitomi Shimatani, who said, "If my schedule is open, I've told Director Miike that I'm interested in acting." Shimatani had previously acted in Yuichi Abe's PRINCE OF TENNIS (2006).

The series begins airing Wednesdays at 7:00 PM starting April 2nd. Later that month, SoftBank Mobile will launch a promotional tie-in with special cellphones modeled after the robots in the series.

SoftBank's prototypes for Phonebraver 7 (left) and Phonebraver 01 (right).

Mainichi News
Official Tokyo TV Page
Official Series Page

Out from the Shadow of Chaiyo Productions


Man, I had a great time, but I'm still decompressing from this year's WonderCon; but just to tide you over in the meantime, here's some Ultra Good news from Thailand:

Ultraman Entering a New Era:
Media Network Signs Japanese Superhero

Woranuji Maneerungsee
Bangkok Post, February 26, 2008

TOKYO -- Ultraman may not save the world, but he could bring Samart Chuasiriphattana a fortune.

Mr. Samart's Media Network Retail Co, which operates 150 home entertainment outlets and a similar number of kiosks in hypermarkets nationwide, recently signed a four-year contract with Japan's Tsuburaya Productions for the rights to the Ultraman Mebius character.

"The timing was good because the dispute over licence rights for Ultraman between Tsuburaya and Thailand's Chaiyo Productions, which had dragged on for more than a decade, was finally settled in early February when the Thai Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Japanese firm. The court agreed that a 1976 contract used by Chaiyo's Sompote Saengduenchai was a forgery.

The movement opens a new chapter for Mr Samart's business, as he can now grant licences as well as distribute CDs, VCDs and DVDs.

Also, it will open a new chapter for Japanese superheroes in Thailand.

Media Network won the rights for 50 episodes of ULTRMAN MEBIUS, which is scheduled to air on Channel 9 for the first time this July. VCDs will be launched in the beginning of April. The company may show new Ultraman movies, and it also hopes to gain lucrative income from granting licences for merchandise manufacturers.

It has set aside 25 million baht for a four-year marketing plan to raise awareness, and anticipates 100 million baht in sales revenues from all Ultraman Mebius products by 2011.

Mr. Samart, the managing director, said the company was interested in the Ultraman character because Japanese superheroes showed good prospects for growth. Since 2002, no marketing activities have seriously promoted such characters locally. Granting licences for merchandise would generate lucrative revenues, he said.

"As for marketing in the home entertainment business, it is necessary to think about a total solution, which includes merchandise. We would like to make them legally," said Mr. Samart.

He said the company was in talks with about 10 merchandise manufacturers, including makers of stationery, IT accessories and apparel.

Atsushi Saito, international sales manager for Tsuburaya Productions, said Tsuburaya would work with Media Network in Thailand.

"Until last year, Thais had not seen any legal products in the market. From now, we want to infiltrate the Thai market with legitimate products from our company,"said Mr Saito, who declined to mention the legal disputes, saying he was not authorised to talk about them.

Tsuburaya is looking forward to increasing sales in potential markets such as Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. The company would like to see more merchandises in those markets as they can freely license all the characters and anticipated more sales of VCDs, DVDs and merchandise.

With a clear business picture in the Thai market this year, the company is optimistic that licence fees would reach US$1 million, about 10 times more than last year.

Tsuburaya will continue to support local licensees in Thailand and will introduce a Japanese style of merchandising and providing advise for Thai manufacturers.

Though more than 40 years old, Ultraman characters are recognised in many countries. About 90% of the revenues come from Japan, with the rest from the international market. China is the company's largest market, while Thailand ranks third.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Crimson Phoenix! "SUPER ROBOT: RED BARON"
Coming to DVD This April From BCI/Ronin!


Awesome jacket design by Dan Wheelan.

At long last, I finally completed work on BCI/Ronin Entertainment's upcoming release of the 39-episode visual effects television series, SUPER ROBOT: RED BARON. Parts of the process were waylaid with personal life issues, which knocked me off the the rails for a couple of months, and caused me to ask — again — how can people can be so self-absorbed that they end up being deeply cruel to others? It still causes me to shout to the Heavens,"WTF!?"

Once I was able to pull myself out and get my head straight, I needed some time to reflect on what's really important. Honesty, integrity and commitment. I still can't understand why people spend so much energy being deceitful, when it's far easier — and respectful for both parties — to just be straight up. Apparently some people just don't have the intestinal fortitude to be honest. They just don't have it in them. So, now that RED BARON is "in the can," so to speak, you think that it would be time for me to take a deep breath and celebrate (or at least, get smashed), right?

Well, maybe I can squeeze in a deep breath, before I start work on the next gigs I've already lined up — more DVD projects — not to mention the upcoming signings of my book at WonderCon this weekend (I will also be hosting a presentation on Sunday at 11:30 am), and the Clay Theater's Toho Double Feature of MOTHRA (1961) and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959), dedicated to Visual Effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya. Well, what can you do? It's feast or famine. So I guess that I shouldn't be complaining (idle hands are the work of the Devil, after all, no?). Well, I do have a long put-off vacation coming up in the spring — far away from here.

Getting back to the blog at hand, SUPER ROBOT: RED BARON was originally produced by Senkosha & Nippon Modern Planning in 1973, and was a hit on Japanese television. Now, the series is coming to North America for the first time, and I was really excited to jump at the chance to contribute to this presentation. My work included, standardizing names and terms, editing the English subtitle scripts, compiling and translating series credits and episode titles, providing ad copy, and compiling and penning the liner notes booklet.

This liner notes booklet covers the background and production details in bringing the show to life; the personnel involved, as well as biographies for the cast and guest stars who populate RED BARON, all wrapped up in beautiful booklet and packaging design by Dan Wheelan (see accompanying images). What's RED BARON all about? Here's my copy from the jacket:

Terror strikes an international exposition, showcasing giant robots from around the world, when it is suddenly attacked by the mysterious Iron Alliance, who seizes all of the nations’ automatons. But Dr. Deviler (Hiroshi Ikaida), a mad despot who plots to overthrow mankind, fails to capture Red Baron, a super robot built by Kenichiro Kurenai (Nobuhiko Ishida). When Kenichiro is captured, he entrusts Red Baron to his younger brother, Ken (Yosuke Okada), a member of the S.S.I. (Secret Science Investigation) organization. Now, Ken pilots Red Baron to fight against the Iron Alliance’s mechanical hordes to protect the future of the human race!

Super Robot: Red Baron is an action-packed series produced by the same creative team responsible for Ultraman and Iron King, featuring wall-to-wall action, colorful miniature effects, imaginative production design, endless city-stomping excitement, and a wild score by Bob "Gatchaman" Sakuma. Created during the height of the Tokusatsu (special effects) Boom on Japanese television, Super Robot: Red Baron delivers the all of massive spectacle of clashing colossi, in the tradition of Godzilla, in every episode. Presented for the first time in North America, this presentation features all 39 episodes fully subtitled in English!

"SUPER ROBOT: RED BARON The Complete Series" will be streeting on April 8th and with an MSRP of $59.95, or you can order it online from Deep Discount DVD for the super price of $36.44 - that's only 93¢ an episode, so you have no excuse not to pick this one up!

A peek at the 20-page booklet on the series.

I'd like to publicly thank Ronin Entertainment's Cliff MacMillan for the opportunity to work on these releases! Next up, Yasuaki Kurata's 26-episode series FIGHT! DRAGON (1974) and Akio Jissoji's SILVER MASK (1971). There's also a new DVD release coming from Generation Kikaida later this year... I can't divulge the title of the series at this time, but it will be officially announced in May. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 8, 2008

It's Not Nice to Mess with Sonny Chiba...

Do you have the guts to bother this man? © Joy E. Scheller/LFI.

Some action stars fade away. Not Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba, one of my screen heroes, and the dynamic star of such films as Shigehiro Ozawa's THE STREET FIGHTER (Gekitotsu! Satsujin-ken, 1974) and Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003). Even at 69 years young, Chiba, who recently retired from acting to step behind the director's chair, still proves that he's not going to take crap from anyone.

Former action star, Shinichi Chiba, was involved in a brawl around 6:20 pm on Wednesday night, February 8th (Japan time), with an unnamed male acquaintance. Tokyo Metropolitan Police have taken statements from both men and are investigating the incident.

The 49 year-old man, was at the NTV Tower plaza in Higashi-Shinbashi that evening. Mr. Chiba was at a nearby restaurant, when a friend told him that the man was spreading rumors about Chiba having financial problems. The former action star took offense, and confronted the man in the plaza. Chiba struck him once in the face, and also hit him on the back of the head, after knocking him to the ground. Both men reportedly suffered minor injuries.

Police are determining who initiated the violence, and whether either of the men were drinking. Most likely, the matter will be settled out of court.

After suffering an incredible financial collapse in the late 1980s, and losing most of his considerable business interests, including the Japan Action Club (now Japan Action Enterprises), which ended his rock-solid marriage to actress Yoko Nogiwa, I can understand why he would be so upset at such slander. The real question here is, was such violence justifiable? That's for all of you to decide for yourselves.

But, I've got to hand it to him, he's still one real mean bastard.

Reported by Tokyo Graph from a story appearing on Sanpo Sports online.

Jonathan Ross interviews Sonny Chiba for the BBC's "Japanorama."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Or "That's the Way the Thai Cookie Crumbles"

Celebrations all around! At least for the time being...

It's finally over. After more than a decade of slings and arrows, Tsuburaya Productions has won. Thai-based Chaiyo Films' strong-armed attempt to steal the Ultraman franchise by defrauding and defaming Tsuburaya Productions (the company founded by Eiji Tsuburaya Productions in 1963), has really come to an end. Now, there will be no holding back on Tsuburaya Productions' hopes to market their properties in the US and beyond.

In short, the whole sordid and nasty story began in 1997, when Chaiyo's founder, Sompote Saengduenchai, filed a lawsuit against Tsuburaya Productions over a "contract" allegedly signed by the late CEO Noboru Tsuburaya in 1970s, handing over all of the rights to the then-existing Ultraman franchise to Chaiyo in exchange for a financial loan.

What made this business uglier is that Sampote continually claimed that he and Eiji Tsuburaya were close friends - and even displayed a large portrait of Tsuburaya in his living room, further underlining the deceit of their lawsuit. But now that the dust has settled, Tsuburaya Productions has indeed prevailed, much like their silver and red superhero.

Eiji Tsuburaya can now rest easy...

With that being said, here's the report on the final nail in the coffin for these reprehensible intellectual pirates:

Final Ruling in "Ultraman Case"
Published in Bangkok's The Nation on February 6th, 2008:

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled in favour of Tsuburaya Productions of Japan by finding Sompote Saengduenchai was not a co-inventor of Ultraman as he had claimed in a legal battle that started in 1997, said a lawyer for the Japanese firm.

Manu Rakwattanakul, a Baker and McKenzie Thailand partner representing Tsuburaya Productions, said the Central Intellectual Property Court yesterday read a Supreme Court ruling that said there was no circumstantial evidence to support claims that Sompote Saengduenchai co-invented the popular television superhero.

The ruling means Sompote and his company, Tsuburaya Chaiyo, must stop profiteering from Ultraman. Sompote had for many years earned significant revenue from producing Ultraman television shows, colouring books and T-shirts, as well as other merchandise using the character. However, the Supreme Court told Sompote to end such activities within 30 days from the date of ruling.

The case started in 1997, when Tsuburaya Productions filed a lawsuit against Sompote. He had earlier said that as co-inventor, he was entitled to sell Ultraman products. The court also ruled the transfer of Ultraman rights to Sompote was invalid, and the decision ends Sompote's bid to continue his enterprise. Tsuburaya Production lost its case earlier in the First Instance Court but made an appeal and finally won in yesterday's ruling.

Manu said, "It was a long case, involving many documents and witnesses." He said the decision meant Tsuburaya Productions was the sole copyright owner. Sompote was ordered to pay 10.7 million Baht ($343,984 U.S. dollars) plus interest at the rate of 7.5 % a year starting from December 16, 1997, when the original lawsuit was filed.

(Special thanks to James Ballard for altering us to the good news!)

Related stories and information:

"Sampote Loses Ultraman Case" Bangkok Post, February 6th, 2008

"Top Court Rules Ultraman is Not Thai" AFP, February 6th, 2008

"Tsuburaya Wins Ultraman Case" The Nation, April 5th, 2007

"Ultraman Licensing Rights Dispute" on Wikipedia

Friday, February 1, 2008

Guilala Strikes Back for Director Minoru Kawasaki

川崎実監督の「ギララの逆襲 洞爺湖サミット危機一発」登場!

The infamous Giant Space Monster and Director Kawasaki (right).

TOKYO: After 40 years, he's back! The extraterrestrial creature Guilala from Shochiku’s infamous 1967 feature GIANT SPACE MONSTER GUILALA (Uchu Daikaiju Girara), better known as THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, will be featured in an all-new film from director Minoru Kawasaki, GUILALA STRIKES BACK: CRISIS AT THE LAKE TOYA SUMMIT (Girara-no Gyakushu Toyako Samitto Kiki Ippatsu, 2008). While the original film, directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu, is somewhat of a "forgotten" title in Japan, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE was a frequent staple of US television syndication for two decades via American International Television. Currently, the North American rights are currently held by Janus Films/Criterion (maybe its time for "Criterion Collection" special edition?).

On January 29th, Shochiku held a press conference to announce the production of GUILALA STRIKES BACK: CRISIS AT THE LAKE TOYA SUMMIT with Director Kawasaki (pictured above, right) and several of the cast members in attendance. In this new kaiju eiga (monster movie), the greatest scientific and political minds in the world gather at the G-8 Summit at Lake Toya in Hokkaido, Japan -- but disaster strikes when a Red Chinese spacecraft plummets to earth, carrying spores of the space monster, and crashes near the city of Sapporo. Soon, Guilala grows, rising from the wreckage, and begins to terrorize the countryside, threatening the G-8 Summit. Kawasaki declared his hopes to ignite a new Kaiju Boom and help spawn the revival of the Japanese monster movie genre.

Director Kawasaki is a lifelong kaiju fanatic, and has directed a number of independent low-budget features, all of which were infused with his own brand of humor, such as IKO-CHAN: THE EARTH DEFENSE GIRL (Chikyu Boeigun Shojo Iko-chan, 1987) and the long-running DEN ACE series. More recently, he has been garnering global attention via international festivals with his left-of-center comic sensibilities in titles such as THE CALAMARI WRESTLER (Ika Resurâ, 2004), EXECUTIVE KOALA (Koara Kachô, 2005) and THE CRAB GOALKEEPER (Kani Gôrukîpâ, 2006) -- of the latter, Kawasaki said, "It's like Forrest Gump, but with a crab." Shochiku decided to let him have a go at reviving their Guilala after seeing his parody of Shinji Higuchi's THE SINKING OF JAPAN (Nippon Chinbotsu, 2006), THE WORLD SINKS EXCEPT JAPAN (Nihon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu, 2006).

Not one to waste time, Kawasaki has already cast members of the "Social Satirical Short Story Group," The Newspaper: Matabei Watabe, Akira Matsushita and Hide Fukumoto, who are already quite familiar to the Japanese for their satirical impersonations of real-life Japanese politicians. Matsushita (pictured above, left) will be reprising his famous "Prime Minister Junsaburo Koizumi," a parody of the real former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi. Watabe and Fukumoto are also aping real-life Japanese politicos attending the film's summit when Guilala strikes. Kawasaki himself shares his name with a member of the House of Councillors, so could this film be a personal statement?

Forget CLOVERFIELD, GUILALA STRIKES BACK: CRISIS AT THE LAKE TOYA SUMMIT commences lensing in March with an eye for a nationwide release in July (to coincide with the real-life G-8 Summit at Lake Toya). But, will a real monster crash the party at G-8? Can life imitate art? Ah, only in the movies...