"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 18, 2009

Shinji Higuchi Unleashes GEHARA!!


Mock movie poster for GEHARA in Old Skool-style. ©NHK 2009

Cult writer/Artist/Painter Master Jun Miura has teamed up with visual effects wizard Shinji Higuchi to create a 15-minute monster short for the NHK network's late-night series PLAY TV: PERFORM! (Tereasobi Pafoo!). The mini-movie, entitled GEHARA: THE LONG-HAIRED GIANT MONSTER (Chohatsu Daikaiju Gehara), will be broadcast as part of a 50-minute special on February 24th at 12:10 AM (Japan time). Over 325 entries were submitted to the producers when the project was announced last year.

Miura's plot features the monster-beleaguered nation of Japan being invaded by a bizarre colossal beast, with flowing black locks, and a newspaper reporter following the unfolding story. What makes this creature unique among Godzilla kith and kin, is that Gehara’s origins are rooted in traditional Japanese ghost stories, such as “The Black Hair” (Kurogami) featured in Masaki Kobayashi’s KWAIDAN (1964) and Sion Sono’s EXTE (2007).

But, this will not be a straight monster movie, rather, this mini-movie is yet another parody of the genre — on the heels of Minoru Kawasaki’s MONSTER X STRIKES BACK (2008) — in fact, one of the Self Defense Force plans to stop Gehara is called "Operation: Perm" (!), which features a Maser Cannon-like mobile weapon, looking suspiciously like a giant hair dryer on tank treads. Even though this is not being played straight, the involvement of Miura, who created and wrote the film, and Higuchi, who was the visual effects wizard behind the 1990s Gamera trilogy, should prove for interesting viewing.

Gehara raises it's shaggy head. ©NHK 2009

Directing his first professional feature is visual effects designer Kiyotaka Taguchi, whose low-budget indie kaiju eiga, simply titled “G”, has been wowing Youtube viewers with several clips and trailers, and is now on its way to make rounds at film festivals, starting next week at the world-renown Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in Hokkaido, Japan. While the jury hasn't come in on the relative directorial talents of Taguchi, apparently, Higuchi, Miura and NHK are banking on him with GEHARA, which will also be screening at Yubari.

In the original treatment, the mysterious creature Gehara (the name is an anagram from the Japanese word “hige” or “beard” and “Ra” from “Gojira”) comes ashore during a monstrous typhoon, and begins to wreck havoc upon Tokyo. Eventually, the hairy beast is seemingly stopped by the Self Defense Forces’ Operation: Tokyo Drain. As a result, the beast is sucked into the city’s sewer system, but it begins to clog the works with its long hair, and ends up in a culvert. Left for dead, Gehara begins to revive, absorbing massive amounts of water beneath the streets of Tokyo’s fashionable Shibuya Ward, and it's long hair begins to grow… In the film, the monster attacks the city of Kanezawa.

Gehara tangles up Tokyo's usually reliable train system. ©NHK 2009

Higuchi and Miura have assembled an impressive cast for GEHARA: Ken Osawa (SAMURAI FICTION) as Newspaper Reporter Hideo Akihara, San Diego-born Mina Fujii as Momoko Akihara, Mitsuko Oka (VIRUS) as Tsuruko Akihara, Shiro Sano (GODZILLA 2000) as Professor Mikami, Tomorowo Taguchi (BULLET BALLET) as the Shrine Priest, Kanji Tsuda (GAMERA THE BRAVE) as Kubo the Fisherman, Hiroyuki Watanabe (ULTRAMAN GAIA) as JSDF Commander, Pierre Taki (ALWAYS: SUNSET ON THIRD STREET) as the Tank Commander and producer/commentator Terry Ito. While the film's score is credited to Akira Ifukube!

Will GEHARA: THE LONG-HAIRED GIANT MONSTER grow to become a fan favorite, or will it be cut to ribbons by critics?

• UPDATE 03/06/09: Watch the first eight minutes of GEHARA here! Then watch the last thee minutes (plus previews for the "next episode") here!

Link: NHK’s Official GEHARA Website
Link: Clip from NHK's 『テレ遊び パフォー!』(Play TV: Perform!)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 27th-March 1st • San Francisco

Commemorative Bob Wilkins poster by Mr. Lobo.

WonderCon returns to the Moscone Center in San Francisco, brought to you by the madmen behind the massive San Diego Comic Con International! This year, I will be hosting my usual Japanese Superheroes Now! presentation, as well as a behind-the-scenes journey to the Golden Age of Toho's kaiju eiga with Godzilla and the Master of Monsters. I also will be sitting in on a presentation on the late Horror Host Bob Wilkins, and there will be a special screening of the documentary Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong. Hopefully I can squeeze a book signing in, too!

• Friday, February 27th
For 14 years (1971-1984) Creature Features was one of the most popular programs in San Francisco Bay Area television history, hosted by the late Bob Wilkins for eight years (followed by John Stanley for another six). Wilkins' sharp wit and unusually droll humor and Stanley's celebrity interviews and encyclopedic knowledge are all part of Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong, a feature-length documentary illuminating a bygone era of local television. Watch Horror Films also features interviews with Wilkins, Stanley, and other key figures — not to mention classic clips from the show! Room 220

• Saturday, February 28th
Author August Ragone (Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters) returns for his 15th anniversary roundup of the latest superhero and kaiju productions from Japan: Kamen Rider Decade, Samurai Task Force: Shinkenger, Superior 8 Ultra Brothers and Ultra Galaxy: Giant Monster Battle Neo. Plus, see clips from recent stateside DVD releases, including Gamera the Brave, Inazuman, Super Robot: Red Baron, Kitaro, and more! Room 236/238

• Sunday, March 1st
Join John Stanley, Bob Shaw, Rob Wilkins, Mr. Lobo, Ernie Fosselius, Tom Wyrsch and August Ragone for an information-packed journey through the life and career of the late Bob Wilkins, host of the Bay Area's mega-popular Creature Features horror movie show (1971-1979). The panel will share personal memories about Wilkins and show rare video clips and photos, as well as introduce scenes from the newly released DVD documentary, Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong, which examines the history of one of the Bay Area's most beloved television legends. Room 220

Author August Ragone (Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters) presents a visual tribute to Japan's Master of Monsters, Eiji Tsuburaya, the man who created the special effects for Godzilla and invented the kaiju eiga (giant monster movie) genre. See over a hundred rare, behind-the-scenes photographs from some of his major films, such as Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra, all in one big presentation! Room 220

Check out the WonderCon link for a full listing of their guests, events and programs.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Monster of the Month
Doruge Demon: FRANKERUGE

ドルゲ魔人 フランケルゲ 「超人バロム・1」より

©Saito Productions/Toei Company

Height: 2.2 meters • Weight: 150 kilos • Origin: Abashiri, Hokkaido • Original Appearance: SUPERHUMAN BAROM-1 (1972) Episode 2 “Cursed Mutant: Frankeruge" • Design: Norio Maezawa • Fabricator: Keizo Murase • Voice Actor: Teiji Omiya

The evil Doruge facilitates the escape of a convicted murderer, Tetsu Kurosato, en route to prison, to convert him into a Dorugeman No. 2. Infected with the sinister Doruge Virus, spliced with the DNA of a Ligia oceanica (or Sea Slater), Kursato is mutated into the insidious Frankeruge. Carrying a police revolver stolen from Detective Kido in his escape, and his left arm alive with a one million-volt current, this grotesque agent of evil goes on a murderous rampage. Only Kentaro Shiratori and Takashi Kido, transforming into Barom-1, can stop the fiendish Frakeruge, whose only weakness is water.

Another of the bizarre "Agents of Evil" from BAROM-1, Frankeruge garnered his moniker from Mary Shelly's "Modern Prometheus"—the Frankenstein Monster—but save for their alchemic creation, the similarities end there. What really sells this monster for me is, not only Norio Maezawa's insane design, but also his human host, played by heavy Kyoichi Sato. A veteran of Toei's Yakuza eiga, Sato began his career as a bit player in several Toho films, including THE H-MAN (1958), but made his first notable appearance as a villain in Hideo Gosha's SWORD OF THE BEAST (1965).

But, at the end of the day, I don't know who's scarier, Frankeruge or Sato.