"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

Monday, February 27, 2012

August Ragone Garners Three Big Nominations

The coveted "Rondo Award" statuette, sculpted by Kerry Gammill.

Forget the inanity of the Academy Awards® and those flaccid Oscars© — it's time to voting for this year's nominees in 10th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards! Another year has past, and I've again been humbled in being nominated thrice this time around! First, for my interview with Godzilla himself, Haruo Nakajima, appearing in Famous Monsters of Filmland #256 (an "All Japanese Monsters" issue in which I also served as Associate Editor). Then, another for my blog, The Good, The Bad, and Godzilla (which you are currently reading), for a fourth consecutive nomination! And last, but not least, for Mr. Nakajima's stage appearance at the Monsterpalooza convention last April, for which I presented and moderated (although I am not named on the ballot). There's a lot of competition every year, so please take the time to vote, because we have quite a few other deserving nominees, as always!

Here are the categories I'm running in for this year's Rondos:

14. BEST INTERVIEW (Award goes to the Interviewer): "Haruo Nakajima: The Man of a Thousand Monsters," by August Ragone. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #256. The man who played Godzilla, Rodan, Gargantua and many others recalls the hot suit, the staged battles and the work ethic.

18. BEST BLOG OF 2011: "The Good, the Bad and the Godzilla", August Ragone's G-blog is wise among giant monsters. (Although my blog is not limited to Japanese monster flicks, or giant monster movies, or even Japanese films, in general.)

20. BEST FAN EVENT OF 2011: "They Called Him Godzilla". Hauro Nakajima talks about wearing the Godzilla suit. Monsterpalooza in Burbank. (If this takes the win, despite the stiff [no pun intended] competition, I will present this Rondo to Mr. Nakajima, himself!)

I should also chime in that 15. BEST MAGAZINE FILMBOOK, THEME OR SPECIAL CONTENT has a "Write In" option; and I would strongly suggest writing in, "Famous Monsters #256: Colossal Kaiju Invasion" (All Japanese Monsters) Issue!

Thanks for indulging me and I hope you'll vote in my favor (because I never win anything; and it would be cool to win a Rondo)! For a full listing of this year's nominees, your ballot, and how to vote, please visit the link below: All ballots must be received by Midnight on Sunday, April 1, 2012! Good luck to all of this year's Nominees!

The 10th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards Ballot!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

12 New Shots Not Seen In Previous Trailers!


Gamilas Planet Bombing creates poisonous mutant plants! An element hinted at, but ultimately dropped from the original 1974 series.

The United Nations Cosmo Navy's last fleet gathers for a decisive battle at Pluto against the Gamilas! Notice the incredible detail on the ships, established by conceptual designer Junichi Tamamori.

Admiral Okita and his crew stand ready for battle at Pluto! Gamilas ships can be faintly seen reflected in the windscreens.

The Gamilas Fleet prepares to engage the Earth's UNCN forces at Pluto! The classic designs have been mostly retained, proving that they still stand the test of time.

"Tell them they're 'nuts'!" Admiral Okita sends the same famous message that General McAuliffe made in reply to the German's surrender ultimatum at the Battle of the Bulge.

The Gamilas response is swift... and fatal!

Mamoru Kodai, Captain of the Missile Destroyer Yukikaze, makes a fateful maneuver...

Meanwhile, Susumu Kodai and Daisuke Shima find a strange message device clutched in the hand of a beautiful, but deceased, extraterrestrial woman whose ship crash lands on Mars.

The inscription reads: "Here Lies a Messenger from a Faraway Star."

Back on Earth, Section 9 Com Officer, Yuki Mori, meets Kodai for the first time — and chews him out for not following proper procedure! Meanwhile, Shima keeps his distance.

So, what does Kodai do the first chance he gets? Commandeers a Cosmo Zero, without authorization, to pursue a Gamilas spy plane!

Science Officer Shiro Sanada and Captain Hijikata wait as the mysterious message capsule brought back from Mars is being analyzed. Little do they realize that the very salvation of Mankind and the Earth is contained within...

Stay tuned to this blog and the official Star Blazers website for more news and information on SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: 2199 as they develop — and soon, we'll be off to outer space, one more time!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Watch the new 3'45" Promotion Video, Now!


Prepare to be totally blown away... SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: 2199 • CHAPTER 1: THE LONG JOURNEY, directed by Yutaka Izubuchi, opens in ten theaters across Japan on April 7th. The DVD and BD of Volume 1 drops on May 25th!

Source: Amazon Japan's SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: 2199 page!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

1st Look: Kato, Starsha, Dessler, Domel & More!


Three of yesterday's giveaways from the YAMATO: 2199 at the Youmiuri Hall in Tokyo, including the new 2199 brochure (left), which reveals the first publicly released images of several characters! Source: A Collector's Soliloquy

Among the previously revealed characters, Juzo Okita (Captain Avatar), Daisuke Shima (Mark Venture), Shiro Sanada (Sandor), Mori Yuki (Nova), and Dr. Sakezo Sado (Dr. Sane), is the first reveal of ace fighter pilot, Saburo Kato (Conroy). Also featured, on the bottom left, is the Yamato's new fighter, the Cosmo Falcon (a retooling of the original Black Tiger) and the Type-100 Scout Plane (bottom right).

Left to right: Susmu Kodai (Derek Wildstar) and first revealed image of the Queen of Iscandar, Starsha!

Left to right: The first look at the pride of the Gamilas Empire, the "Wolf of Space": General Domel (Lysis) and his high Emperor of Gamilas and her provincial territories: Leader Dessler (Desslok)! Above them is a re-imagined Gamilas flying wing, now designated DWG229 "Meranka" Attack Fighter!

The Gamilas Fleet! On the left, is a classic Gamilas Destroyer, seen in the YAMATO: 2199 trailer, now designated as a "Destria Class" Destroyer. Next, is the first reveal of a "Hyzeraad Class" Battleship. Finally, is an update of the iconic Tri-Deck Carrier, now a Quad-Deck, designated a "Gyperon Class" Multi-deck Carrier!

Stay tuned to this blog and the official Star Blazers website for more news and information on SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: 2199 as they develop — and soon, we'll be off to outer space, forever!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coming to Japanese BD & DVD on May 25th!

『宇宙戦艦ヤマト2199』DVD/BD 5月25日発売!

Vol. 1 DVD jacket ©Emotion/Yamato 2199 Production Committee

As I first wrote back in November, the long-anticipated return to the hugely popular SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO series, known in the US as STAR BLAZERS, was building steam with an animated feature follow-up to 1983’s FINAL YAMATO, entitled SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: RESURRECTION (2009), and the big-budget live action film by Takeshi Yamazaki, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010), and then came the exciting, official word of a new, 26-episode half-hour series, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: 2199, a remake of the groundbreaking 1974 production. It was also announced that YAMATO: 2199, which had been in various stages of development for several years, would be helmed by Yutaka Izubuchi (RahXephon). A fellow, unabashed Yamato fan, Hideaki Anno (Evangelion) had originally been attached as chief director, but would still end up contributing to the series by designing the storyboards for the opening credits sequence, which were then finalized by Izubuchi.

Admiral Okita's Battleship, Kirishima, at the Battle of Pluto!

Word got even better when it was announced that Izubuchi and the producers, including the adopted son of the late Yamato creator, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, were sticking close, if not exactly, to the design parameters of the original YAMATO, by hiring Junichiro Tamamori (Scarecrowman) as lead Mechanical Designer, who came to their attention through his website, "Yamato Mechanics" (and several notable Yamato fanzines). While the look of YAMATO: 2199 was rooted firmly in the past, the character designs would be completely updated for modern sensibilities, while still remaining familiar to longtime fans, under the pen of Nobuteru Yuuki (Space Pirate Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey). Likewise, YAMATO: 2199 would benefit from the latest animation techniques and 3DCG rendering under the auspices of Xebec (Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne) and A.I.C. (Mankind Has Declined). I feel that if these techniques were available in 1974, that they would have been fully implemented at the time, in making the original series.

The Kirishima's captain holds fast, as Okita makes a difficult decision!

Then came the announcement of music composer, and since the late Hiroshi Miyagawa's indelible scores would be a hard act to follow, they simply hired his son, Akira Miyagawa (Shin Mazinger), to rearrange his father's compositions, and pen his own. And when you didn't think it could get any better, legendary vocalist, Isao Sasaki, was also tapped to record a new version of the theme song he made famous 38 years ago, while Aira Yuki (True Tears) is performing the ending theme song, "In the Eternal Light of the Stars". But, despite the veritable all-star line-up of talent, promising that YAMATO: 2199 would be a sure-fire hit, the networks weren't biting when it was originally pitched (according to some industry sources). Whether this is rumor or fact, in this new digital age, television is not the end-all-be-all, and it was decided to cut together the episodes into a series of seven feature films, screened in select theaters through Shochiku (Japan's oldest motion picture company), beginning on April 7th with "The Long Journey" (Episodes 1 & 2) and followed by "Desperate Battle in the Heliosphere" (3 through 6) on June 30th.

Kodai & Shima are about to set out on a pivotal mission!

In addition to the theatrical screenings, the uncut episodic versions of YAMATO: 2199 are to be issued on DVD & Blu-ray (BD), starting with Volume 1 on May 25th. This initial volume will contain the first two episodes of the series, "The Messenger of Iscandar" and "We're Off Into the Sea of Stars", both written by Izubuchi and directed by Akira Enomoto (Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files). Special features will include a special outer slipcase featuring stunning art by famed illustrator Naoyuki Kato (with the case sleeve featuring Yuki's art, seen above), a facsimile of Anno and Izubuchi's Storyboards for the Opening Title sequence, an insert booklet, the Clean Opening sequence (Acapella Version), and an Audio Commentary for Episode 1, featuring writer-director Izubuchi and voice actors Daisuke Ono (Susumu Kodai) and Houko Kuwashima (Yuki Mori). Subsequent volumes in the series, from Bandai Visual, will feature four episodes per disc. Now available for pre-order on Amazon Japan (with an April 15th cut-off), the BD for Volume 1 has already placed #15 on their Best Seller's list.

Kodai & Shima discover the wreck of the Battleship Yamato!

Meanwhile, for those who can't wait that long, advance copies of the BD for Volume 1, sold exclusively at theaters screening "The Long Journey", will contain a special bonus booklet of Izubuchi's complete storyboards for the "The Messenger of Iscandar" (sporting a cover featuring Sasha of Iscandar, illustrated by Yuuki). The movies will also be streamed simultaneously, as Video On Demand, on Hikari TV, part of the NTT Plala network, which will also preview "The Long Journey" for six days, starting on March 23rd. Yes, "Yamato Fever" is rising in Japan, and not just among the older fans who were raised on the franchise; this may be the first recent Yamato project to break through to those under 30, the hardest demographic to crack. While the synopses of first two episodes read very close to the original, the addition of new supporting characters to the story, especially the female crew members, should draw a much younger audience to YAMATO: 2199. And don't worry, Dessler is still an imperious, blue-skinned, Gamilas Dandy in this version!

As for me, personally, I can hardly wait for curtain call at the 'ol Shinjuku Piccadilly theater this April!

Stay tuned to this blog and the official Star Blazers website for more news and information on SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: 2199 as they develop — and soon, we'll be off to outer space, one more time!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Daiei's Modern Leading Man of the '60s

お誕生日おめでとう、本郷功次郎様 !

As Shiro Tsutsumi in GAMERA VS. GYAOS (1967) ©Kadokawa Pictures

Kojiro Hongo was born February 15, 1938 in Okayama, the eldest son of a hardware store owner. Hongo became intensely interested in Judo from an early age, and it became his passion. His father was acquainted with Hideo Matsuyama, a producer at Daiei’s Kyoto Studios, who happened to see a photo of the 20-year old Hongo (in his Judo uniform), belonging to his mother. After seeing this photo, the president of Daiei, Masaichi Nagata, immediately insisted on meeting the young man.

Daiei had been producing several Judo films, and they were interested in the handsome Hongo, who was also actually adept at the martial art. Hongo said, “Then, I met with Mr. Matsuyama, the director, and actor Raizo Ichikawa. I didn’t know Ichikawa’s name, let alone his face, as at the time, I recall thinking Japanese films were really boring. I still remember having no interest in becoming an actor, but everyone I knew kept telling me to do it. I thought, ‘Well, at least it’s a Judo movie’, and that is how it all started, and I made my film debut in THE SUN RISES OVER THE KODOKAN (1959).”

Before his career had even taken off, two huge stars gave him advice: Raizo Ichikawa (star of SHINOBI-NO MONO said, “It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you remember the script.” Shintaro Katsu (best known for ZATOICHI), on the other hand, told him, “The script never matters; it’s all about the acting.” This caused Hongo some considerable confusion early in his career, getting such contradictory suggestions from two of Japan’s biggest stars. But, eventually, Hongo got the hang of it.

He moved up the ranks quickly in films like Yoshio Inoue’s KAMIKAZE SQUADRON (1960), and was soon cast second-billed to Ichikawa in Kenji Misumi’s three-part screen adaptation of “Daibosatsu Toge”, SATAN'S SWORD (also made by Kihachi Okamoto as SWORD OF DOOM). The next year, Hongo was the top-billed star of Misumi’s BUDDHA (1961), a 70mm spectacle produced to rival Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956), in which he was cast as Prince Siddhartha. Several other spectacles followed, such as Shigeo Tanaka’s THE GREAT WALL (1962), as well as playing Sanshiro Sugata in Shunkai Mizuho’s EAGLE OF THE KODOKAN (1964).

It was during the height of his meteoric rise as a star, when Hongo was chosen for the part of Keisuke Hirata in GAMERA VS. BARUGON (1966). Much like the American Studio System, the actors were contracted to the studios as employees, and as employees, the producers and directors assigned them to their jobs. The actors could not turn down the parts, whether they liked them or not. Being produced as an A-Picture, Nagata wanted Hongo to star in the film, much to his consternation. “I was sort of taken aback that someone thought that I was suited to star in a monster movie. When the part was announced, I guess that the other actors had scurried away, and that left me holding the bag. At first, I really thought that they were crazy to choose me for this project.”

Originally, considering himself a serious actor, Kojiro Hongo felt as if he was stuck with making this movie, and tried to get out of it any way he could, confessing: “The truth is, I faked an illness, and delayed the shooting for a month. I’ll never forget that. I remember calling from my hotel in Osaka saying that I was horribly ill. They assumed I was lying and decided to pay me a visit. Both the production manager and section manager were coming to see me. So, I called over a doctor and nurse that I knew, and begged them to give me some cold shots. I told them that I needed to look as sick as possible, so please just give me anything; I think they gave me a placebo.

Then, we placed lots of bloodstained gauze in the wastebasket; I got under the futon, and pretended I had the chills, moaning over and over. I remember the producer came in, saw how ‘sick’ I was, called the studio, and said ‘Wow, Hongo’s really ill,’ and they said they’d wait until I was back on my feet. Then, I realized there was no way out of this, and felt really awful about it. I feel nervous even talking about it now!

I remember receiving the screenplay for BARUGON, but never bothered reading it. I thought, there was limited acting involved, since my fellow actors were monsters, and I decided that I didn’t need to prepare for it beyond, ‘So, the monsters are a few hundred meters over there?’ Initially, I wasn’t instructed further than where the monsters were supposed to be. ‘The buildings are going to be destroyed this much’ or ‘The monsters are peering over from that direction’, is about all I was ever told.

That’s pretty much the only instruction I got from Director Yuasa, so at the time, I didn’t think there was much acting going on. But, I hadn’t realized that there were two directors, one for the visual effects and the other for the acting scenes! So, when Director Yuasa had to handle both chores on GAMERA VS. GYAOS (1967), I realized that it must have been very hard for him." Hongo received top-billing in three Gamera films, total, concluding with Yuasa's GAMERA VS. VIRAS (1968), as well as Misumi's THE RETURN OF DAIMAJIN (1966).

"I’ve said this many times since then, that I’m extremely grateful for having been a part of all of this. Of course, I never thought that these films would’ve been around long as they have. Sometimes, when I have a profile written about me, generally, they fail to include the Gamera or Daimajin films, but I make sure to include them in my own filmography. I believe that it was my good fortune to have been involved with them, and I’m proud to be a part of the Gamera legacy.”

Hongo appeared in over fifty films at Daiei, including Satsuo Yamamoto's THE BRIDE FROM HADES (1968), Kimiyoshi Yasuda's ALONG WITH GHOSTS (1969), and Tokuzo Tanaka's THE HAUNTED CASTLE (1969), before switching gears to television following after the studio's bankruptcy in 1971, where he continued with an extremely successful and prolific career. Perhaps his biggest television role was his incredible run as Detective Takeshi Tachibana in a whopping 457 hours (Episodes 53-509) of the long-running, all-star Toei crime drama, SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: FRONTLINE (1977-87). His series co-stars included Hideaki Nitani, Hideji Otaki, Hiroshi Fujioka, Toshiyuki Nishida, Yusuke Natsu, Naoya Makoto, and Shigeru Araki.

While he slowed down his career in the 1990s, Hongo continued to act on stage, television, and in films, including a cameo in Shusuke Kaneko's GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995), until he retired completely from show business in 2003.

The following was excerpted and amended from the Rondo Award-nominated audio commentary for Shout! Factory's release of GAMERA VS. BARUGON, by the author and Jason Varney.