"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, April 30, 2008

Whatever You Are...

Countess Bathory rises again from LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS (1970).

From Wikipedia: Walpurgisnacht is derived from Pagan spring customs. In the Norse tradition, Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen." It commemorates the time when Odin died to retrieve the knowledge of the runes, and the night is said to be a time of weakness in the boundary between the living and the dead. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then.

In Germany, Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning Witches' Night) is the night when allegedly the witches hold a large celebration on the Blocksberg and await the arrival of Spring. In some parts of northern coastal regions of Germany, the custom of lighting huge Beltane fires is still kept alive, to celebrate the coming of May, while most parts of Germany have a derived Christianized custom around Easter called "Easter fires".

Walpurgis (sw: Valborgsmässoafton or Valborg) is one of the main holidays during the year in Sweden, alongside Christmas and Midsummer holiday. One of the main traditions in Sweden is to light large bonfires, a custom which is most firmly established in Svealand, and which began in Uppland during the 18th century.

Today in Finland, Walpurgis Night (Vapunaatto, Valborgsmässoafton) is, along with New Year's Eve and Juhannus, the biggest carnival-style festivity that takes place in the streets of Finland's towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages.

In Estonia, Volbriöö is celebrated as one of the main reasons to party across the country. Influenced by German culture, the night originally stood for the gathering and meeting of witches. Nowadays some people still dress up as witches and wander the streets in a carnival-like mood. The following day (May 1) is known as Kaatripäev (Hangover Day, derived from the German word 'Kater' meaning 'Hangover').

Whatever April 30th means (or doesn't mean) to you, please have a safe and sane, Walpurgisnacht!

Monday, April 28, 2008

It's the Ultimate War of the Colossal Beasts!

何だ? 大魔神たけし対大怪獣ギララ!?

Coming to your galaxy this summer!

While the details surrounding Minoru Kawasaki’s upcoming MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT (Girara-no Gyakushu Toyako Samitto-no Kiki Ippatsu), a spin off of the Shochiku Studio’s one-shot monster movie from 1967, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (Uchu Daikaiju Girara), keep getting stranger and stranger — it’s also becoming bizarrely sublime in both the casting and the unveiling of a new colossal character to combat the giant space monster. But, is that any surprise coming from a Kawasaki film?

Actor/Singer Kazuki Kato.

Under the radar of most people outside of Japan are the starring roles, filled by two veteran tokusatsu television actors. 24 year-old actor-singer Kazuki Kato plays a photojournalist caught up in covering the onslaught of the monster Guilala. The popular Kato rose in fame playing Keigo Atobe in the stage presentations based on "The Prince of Tennis" manga and his television role as Daisuke Kazama/Kamen Rider Drake in KAMEN RIDER KABUTO (2006-07). He most recently played Shiro Kazami/Kamen Rider V3 in Ryuta Tasaki’s KAMEN RIDER: THE NEXT (2007).

Actress/Model Natsuki Kato.

His love interest in the film is a plucky news reporter played by 22-year old actress (and professed anime fan), Natsuki Kato, who first appeared in BURN! ROBOCON (1999-00) and was prominently featured in Kenta Fukasaku’s BATTLE ROYALE II: REQUIEM (2003). She can also been seen in Naoyuki Tomomatsu's STACY (2001) and Atsushi Muroga's GUN CRAZY 4: REQUIEM FOR A BODYGUARD (2002). Kato is also notable for playing the first official female Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider Femme, in Ryuta Tasaki’s KAMEN RIDER RYUKI: EPISODE FINAL (2002).

Recent photo of actor Susumu Kurobe.

Kawasaki has also sprinkled in a couple of old veterans, who are no strangers to fans around the world — Susumu Kurobe, who is best remembered as Hayata from the original ULTRAMAN series from 1966 has a prominent role as a military official (Kurobe also appeared in similar brief cameos in the recent series of Godzilla films). Kurobe also recently reprised his role as Hayata in the ULTRAMAN MOEBIUS television series and two feature film spin-offs, the latest of which, Takeshi Yagi's DECISIVE BATTLE! THE SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS, opens in Japanese theaters this September. Mr. Kurobe has always been one of my heroes.

Recent photo of actor Yosuke Natsuki.

While his last role in a visual effects film was more than two decades ago, as Professor Hayashida in Koji Hashimoto’s RETURN OF GODZILLA (1984), Yosuke Natsuki has been cast in a featured role in the new film. Under contract with Toho in the late 1950s, Natsuki was a popular young actor whom appeared in everything from comedy programmers to dramatic war films, as well as action potboilers and period dramas, such as Kengo Furusawa’s SIEGE ON FORT BISMARCK (1963) and Hiroshi Inagaki’s CHUSHINGURA (1962). He also appeared in two classic monster movies directed by Ishiro Honda, GHIDRAH: THE THREE-HEADED and MONSTER and DOGORA: THE SPACE MONSTER (both 1964). Natsuki recently played Shibahara, the Karate Master in Shunichi Nagasaki's excellent BLACK BELT (Kuro-obi, 2007).

But wait! There’s more!

Japanese press sources have just announced that world-renown actor and director, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, is appearing in the film as “Takemajin” (pronounced “tah-kay mah-gene”) — a guardian deity who grows to enormous proportions to take on the intergalactic interloper. Loosely based on the deity Fudomuyo-Oh, the new character first appears in the film as a 50 cm edifice (holding an umbrella in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other). But, when things look their darkest, the statue comes to life as a 50-meter tall, 10,000-ton colossus. Kitano will actually don the suit of Takemajin.

Early design for Takemajin.

Director Kawasaki thought that this would be a perfect role for Kitano, who is no stranger to comedy or elaborate costuming, since he used to play the Ultraman-like character, “Take-chan Man,” on the old “Ultra Quiz” game show, as well as wrote and starred in the “Uchimura Seven” sketches, which were parodies of the old ULTRAMAN television series. Kitano is also known by Japanese audiences for his penchant for dressing up in wacky costumes on the most inconspicuous (or inappropriate) occasions.

Kitano's mug on the statue of Takemajin.

In the story, the mystery surrounding Takemajin — which is also a take-off of Daiei Studio’s beloved DAIMAJIN trilogy from the 1960s — is at the center of the drama, and the avenging deity will make his dramatic appearance at the climax of the film. Kawasaki teased, “This is the culmination of Takeshi-san’s professional career... and in the last scene, there will be a shock similar to [the final duel] in Akira Kurosawa’s SANJURO.”

Who will prevail? Takemajin or Guilala?

MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT goes into nationwide release in Japan this July. Personally, I can’t wait to see this film — it’s either going to be glorious or a glorious mess!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Giant Against Giant... The Ultimate Battle!

On Saturday, April 26th @ 2:00 pm, I will be appearing with author, columnist, filmmaker and former "Creature Features" host, John Stanley at Clayton Books in Clayton, California, for a monstrous double-feature book signing event. It's giant against giant in the ultimate struggle for supremacy of the world!

As a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. John Stanley covered the science fiction, fantasy, and horror scene for more than thirty years, and has authored a fistfull of books, including several editions of the lauded "Creature Features Movie Guide," which Leonard Maltin called "A must", even as Fangoria magazine called John, "The Leonard Maltin of Horror."

John will be appearing to bask in the glory of his recent magnum opus, "I Was a TV Horror Host" — a star-studded overview of the radio, film and television horror host, highlighted by a detailed behind-the-scenes look at his own journey on "Creature Features." As the legendary Ray Bradbury so aptly put it, "Everybody should read this book! EVERYBODY!"

And that means YOU!

Clayton Books is located at 5433 D Clayton Road, Clayton, CA 94517 (just past Walnut Creek on Ygnacio Valley Road). Call 925-673-3325 for more information.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



The World Premiere Benefit Screening of WATCH HORROR FILMS — KEEP AMERICA STRONG for the Bob Wilkins Foundation will be screening on Thursday, May 15th at 7:00 PM & 10:00 PM at the historic Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Avenue Oakland, California.

Produced by Tom Wyrsch (author of "Bob Wilkins Scrapbook") and written and directed by Michael Monahan (Associate producer of "American Scary"), WATCH HORROR FILMS — KEEP AMERICA STRONG is a new, feature-length documentary blending newly filmed interviews with crew, family and fans, with rare footage unseen since originally aired, celebrating the unique and lasting contributions of legendary "Creature Features" hosts Bob Wilkins and John Stanley to San Francisco Bay Area broadcasting.

An affectionate tribute to a special time and place, and to the special people who entertained and inspired a generation of entranced viewers, WATCH HORROR FILMS — KEEP AMERICA STRONG recalls a strange and wonderful era of locally-produced television. To this day, KTVU’s "Creature Features" (1971–1984) remains the most-loved, best-remembered local program in Bay Area history. “Watch Horror Films — Keep America Strong!” was the rallying cry of host Bob Wilkins as he lured unsuspecting audiences into viewing the type of film usually found clinging to the bottom of the cinematic barrel. After eight years, Bob passed the torch onto San Francisco Chronicle film critic, John Stanley.

Special guests attending the gala premiere of WATCH HORROR FILMS — KEEP AMERICA STRONG will include "Creature Features" host John Stanley, Sally Wilkins (the wife of Bob Wilkins), Bob Shaw (associate producer of "Creature Features"), Ernie Fosselius (the genius behind "Hardware Wars"), August Ragone (author of "Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters") – with more special guests to be announced.

In recent years, Bob Wilkins has struggled with the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Proceeds from WATCH HORROR FILMS — KEEP AMERICA STRONG will go directly to the Bob Wilkins Foundation to assist in his care. The event is being presented by Creatures At Large.

This is a great cause, Bob Wilkins was a big part of my young life and I was lucky to be a part of his, and so I urge all those who ever wanted to thank Bob for all those great years of "Creature Features" and "Captain Cosmic" to attend, as well as anyone who fondly remembers the "Good Old Days" of San Francisco Bay Area television.

Plus, you get to roast me for my rambling and mumbling interview in the film! Now, you have no excuse to not attend!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Legendary Japanese Tokusatsu Magazine Returns


Reborn with new logo by director Kieta "Zeiram" Amemiya.

It's here! I have been waiting three years for its return, but have grown anxious since the official announcement last fall... and now, it's here! The legendary Uchusen (or "Spaceship") magazine has been reborn like a mythical phoenix! I feel like a kid waiting for his new issue of Famous Monsters to arrive in the mail. Some of you might be asking, "what's all of the fuss about?"

Originally launched in 1980 by Tokyo-based Asahi Sonorama publishing house, Uchusen was the premiere source for Japanese genre fans to learn about the latest in news from Japan and abroad on upcoming productions and extensive retrospectives — with an emphasis on classics of tokusatsu eiga and television. From the first issue, with Kaida's evocative cover — seen below and revisited in the cover of the relaunch seen above — readers were hooked. For 25 years, I was hooked, too, and couldn't wait to get my hands on the latest issue — each and every issue was a proverbial treasure trove of stills and information.

Premiere Issue, 1980 with Yuji Kaida cover and title design.

I first met the original editor, Saki Hijiri, at WesterCon 32 in San Francisco during the summer of 1979, when he and his crew (including now-famed illustrator Yuji Kaida) were putting together the first issue. During the convention and I was privy to see — as were fans in Chicago — some of Kaida's amazing cut-away drawings for famous SF automatons, such as Robby the Robot, which would appear in the premiere volume. Because of this fortunate meeting, I got my teenage mug in that very first issue promoting my Godzilla Fan Club and met many great people though that ad, at home and abroard, including the late Guy Tucker (author of Age of the Gods: The History of the Japanese Fantasy Film).

Over the years, American fans and professionals who were visited by Saki-san and Co. during their annual sojourns, were generously given copies of the latest issues, each packed with amazing photos and graphics. Uchusen also celebrated and exposed the outside world to the phenomenon of Garage Kits. Even though many people outside of Japan have never heard of Uchusen magazine, the influence it made on those in the Hollywood visual effects community, old and new, has yet to be told. Even I was impacted in strange ways. One day, I received a call at work from Saki-san who desperately needed someone to pick them up from San Francisco International Airport. My boss refused to let me leave early, so I walked. That job blew anyhow.

Fantastic Collection No.13: Gammera (1979).

Initially, the magazine grew out of a series of one-shot publications called Fantastic Collection, each covering a specific topic from SCIENCE NINJA TEAM: GATCHAMAN to GODZILLA, which were aimed at the young adult and adult fan, and were met with enthusiastic response and sales. So, Asahi Sonorama offered Saki-san and Co. a magazine of their own, as long as they continued working on Fantastic Collection series as well. Uchusen started out as a quarterly, and saw highs and lows right from the beginning (it was almost canceled when sales of #6 hit rock bottom, and was fortunately saved by the strong sales of the following issues), but managed to always be there, as it went to bi-monthly and back again to quarterly. Then, back to bi-monthly for the remainder of its run. Fans of Uchusen, such as myself and other readers around the world, had always relied on it to be there.

Then there's that annoying axiom, "All good things must come to an end." Over the last decade, the fandom-lauded magazine seemed to be losing its edge. There were fewer and fewer retrospective articles on Toho's Golden Age, and there was an overall feeling lacking with newer issues. Another problem also reared its ugly head — competition from similar upstart periodicals such as Newtype the Live (Kadokawa Publishing) and Toei Hero Max (Tatsumi Publishing), who were pulling away Uchusen's waning readership. While the magazine saw several editors at the helm after Saki-san departed, for better or worse, it began improving in content and interview subjects in 2004 — but, the inevitable could not be avoided.

Final issue with Asahi Sonorama, 2005.

Due to declining sales, Asahi Sonorama felt that the magazine was "old fashioned," and therefore should go on hiatus, and when/if it returned, Uchusen would be completely re-imagined, said then-Chief Editor, Akihiro Fukuba in #119 (July 2005)... Uchusen's "last issue." While Newtype the Live and Toei Hero Max have continued successfully, the void left by their forerunner's impact was immeasurable. Sadly, there were no signs that the magazine would return, and it seemed as though the statements by Asahi Sonorama were a polite way of telling their readers, "Uchusen has left the building."

Things were looking especially dark last year, when Asahi Sonorama decided to call it quits. During their nearly fifty years in business, the publisher launched hundreds of successful magazines and specialty books — especially during the "Monster Boom" of the mid-to-late 1960s — and they were also the progenitors of the "Sonosheet" (or "flexi disc") record phenomenon in Japan. Today, the evocative art of their books and Sonosheet EPs give many Japanese fans in their 40s and 50s warm, fuzzy feelings, causing them to involuntarily sigh, "Natsukashii!" (akin to saying, "Ah, memories!").

ULTRAMAN Sonosheet storybook EP, circa 1966.

Then, like an Angel swooping down from the heavens, rescue came the in form of the perennial and vastly popular Hobby Japan Co., which publishes — you guessed it — Hobby Japan magazine. The publishing company purchased the vast holdings to Asahi Sonorama's back catalogue, including their considerable tokusatsu materials and titles, including Uchusen magazine. Soon afterwards, it was announced online and via Hobby Japan that the re-birth of everyone's favorite "Space Mag Controlled by [the] Visual Age" was nigh. Now, it's back — and it's about time!

Do yourself a favor and grab yourself a copy of Uchusen #120 from Amazon Japan and see what all of the fuss it about!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Haruo "Godzilla" Nakajima Invades G-Fest XV

この夏、中島春雄は「G-Fest XV」 のためのシカゴで上陸する!

Nakajima on the set of GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966)

G-Fest XV, the annual convention devoted to Japanese monster movies and fantasy films will be held from July 4th through July 6th, 2008, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare. This year's Guests of Honor will include:

HARUO NAKAJIMA - From Ishiro Honda's GODZILLA (1954) to Jun Fukuda's GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), Nakajima was the primary Godzilla "suit actor" who also played the major monsters during the original run of Toho's Fantasy Films, such as Honda's RODAN (1956) and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). Mr.Nakajima also appeared in numerous films produced at Toho Studios, including Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). Mr. Nakajima will be meeting and greeting with attendees and will also receive G-Fest's "Mangled Skyscraper Award" for 2008.

G-Fest XV's other guests will include former UFC fighter-turned-actor DON FRYE, who played the prominent character of "Captain Douglas Gordon" in Ryuhei Kitamura's GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004). This is Frye's first appearance at G-Fest.

ROBERT SCOTT FIELD, who played "Android M-11" in GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH (1991), returns once again to moderate live programming translations, as well as host his own sessions at G-Fest XV.

G-Fest XV's movie line up at the Pickwick Theatre this year will see the North American theatrical premiere of Kazuki Omori's GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989), as well as screenings of Honda's MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE (1963), DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968), Fukuda's GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972), Takao Okawara's OROCHI: THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (1994), and Masaaki Tezuka's GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002).

For more information, go to the official website at G-fan.com