Monday, August 31, 2009

Mad Scientist Magazine #8 "Destroy All Monsters"

Thanks to eBay, I recently came into possession of Mad Scientist #8, which is no longer available as a back issue. Published by Martin Arlt, this high-quality fanzine was digest-sized at this point in its history.

Issue 8 is a kaiju fan's dream come true, beginning with the front cover, a nice pen and ink illustration by Martin Arlt, in which the announcer of Destroy All Monsters is finally proven right in his assertion that Baragon is attacking Paris!

The introductory page is a winsome rationale for the Mad Scientist "kaiju issue." Then it is right into a mammoth eleven-page feature on "Half Human" by Peter H. Brothers. What I find most impressive about Mr. Brother's writing is that there is no redundancy between this article and the one that appears in G-FAN #69, and yet they both have volumes to say about the best Yeti film ever made. The accompanying lobby cards, stills, and artwork by Mark Jiro Okui (Calling Monster Island) enhance the article perfectly.

Next, Martin Arlt offers his picks for the "Top Ten Kaiju Battles." It is a strong list, including monster skirmishes from every era. I had to chuckle at the inclusion of Guiron vs. Space Gyaos, because I had just watched that Gamera movie again, and it is a truly audacious bout. I was pleasantly surprised that Godzilla vs. Baragon (GMK) was ranked so highly (#3) and I would not disagree with its placement near the top. The only change I would "argue" for would be the addition of one of Godzilla's dust-ups with the '74 Mechagodzilla--in particular when Mecha lets loose with every missle and beam at his disposal.

The issue continues with a filmbook of Destroy All Monsters, also by Martin Arlt. Many worthwhile insights are offered, such as Ishiro Honda's original vision of a more scientifically comprehensive Monsterland. I also "second" Arlt's aprreciation of the outstanding musical score, composed by Akira Ifukube. Again, the photos are excellent, especially the production stills.

Rounding out issue 8 is a tantalizing article about a promotional Godzilla vs. Megalon comic book that has the distinction of being the first liscensed Godzilla comic book produced Stateside. I had never heard of it before--and that, my friends, is the beauty of the fanzine. There is always something new to discover and consider.

I picked up my first Mad Scientist at this year's G-Fest and I am sure glad I did. Martin Arlt is to be commended for creating an incisive 'zine for fantastic film lovers everywhere.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Toybox Treasures: Ultraman Mebius & Friends/Foes

Straight from the Space Garrison of Nebula M-78 comes Ultraman Mebius, whose feature film (Ultraman Mebius and the Ultraman Brothers) is required viewing for anyone who has an interest in the long, somewhat convoluted Ultra Saga. He poses here with three unidentified Ultra Foes; the most specific information I can give you is that the astounding mushroom-headed parrot monster you see on the far right actually appeared on Ultraman Cosmos. Each monster figure was made by Bandai in the mid-to-late 90's and early 00's and were available at G-Fest 16 for bargain prices. The Mebius figure, also located at G-Fest, is dated 2006.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Now Playing: Gamera vs. Guiron (MST3K edition)

Gamera vs. Guiron is so lovably goofy that it hardly needs embellishment. The guys from the Satellite of Love give it the MST treatment anyway, and the results are consistently amusing.
Poking fun at the monster action is virtually unnecessary, since it is so "over the top" to begin with; the real humor is found when Joel and the robots goof on some of Guiron's most perplexing elements, such as Akiyo's continued inclusion of "traffic accidents" in his list of the world's greatest problems; Akiyo and Tom's mothers' stilted "Hello...Thank you" conversation; and the deep Midwestern twang of the aliens' voices.
But what really captures the MSTies imagination is Gamera's theme song. Their version, which includes the lines "Gamera is really neat/he is filled with turtle meat/we are eating Gamera!" stands as one of the most inspired moments in MST history. The gag is taken to a different level at the end of the show, when "Michael Feinstein" (Michael J. Nelson, series writer and eventual host) reminisces about the composition of "The Gamera Song" before crooning "Gamera's the latest thing/he fills the world with Spring, Spring, Spring..." Postmodern and absurd (and at times extremely obscure), MST3K finds a perfect foil in Gamera vs. Guiron, providing fun-loving kaiju fans with a whole new way to enjoy the kooky classic.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Now Playing: Ultra-Nostalgia

In honor of our Jiras figure's recent arrival, I re-watched episode ten of Ultraman, "The Secret Dinosaur Base." It's the story of a truly mad scientist and his prize creation--a gigantic, frilled monster that bears an eerie resemblance to Toho's biggest star (and is, in fact, made up of Goji parts--see the "Toybox Treasures" post below).

Episode Ten has loads of off-kilter charm, such as the insanely crazy car the lady reporter is riding in, not to mention her nighttime fishing trip with Ito. (How come neither of them had fishing gear? Hmm.) It is also interesting to see how Loch Ness is used as a cultural touchstone in this tale. The main attraction, however, is the climactic battle between Jiras and Ultraman. It is marvelous--and in true Tsuburaya style, in includes whimsical flourishes such as a giant boulder skeet-shooting contest and Ultraman playing matador with Jiras' forcibly removed frill. Given the jaunty nature of this clash of titans, Jiras' death is handled with a surprising level of diginity--an implicit acknowledgement, perhaps, of his true identity. Episode Ten also shows what happens to Hayata immediately after activating the Beta Capsule--he is enveloped by a corkscrewing beam of light in the instant before he transforms. The original series gives little tidbits and details like that along the way, rewarding careful viewers.

Part of what makes Ultraman Max such a fun series to watch is its deliberate connection to the Ultra-series of the past, including the original. Susumu Korobe, who played Hayata in that first series, (and who is shown here with his daughter Takami Yoshimoto, who starred as Rena in the magnificent Ultraman Tiga series) has a recurring role as Chief Tomioka, and his character takes center stage in Episode 23 of Ultraman Max, "The Return of Youth." Hiroko Sakurai--Fuji from the orginal series--is featured throughout Max as Professor Yoshinaga. However, what adds a charge to this episode is the appearance of Masanari Nihei, who provided much of the Science Patrol's comic relief as Ito in the first Ultraman series. In Max, he is a UDF scientist and inventor whose submarine/airplane eventually subdues the mutant flying fish Flaigular. His jovial prescence and comedic timing are still very much intact (as my son succintly put it, "he's still funny,") and it is just a hoot to see "Hayata, Fuji, and Ito" together again onscreen (although their backstory in Max is somewhat different--they refer to their shared past as "fighter pilots"). There is a great scene in which Chief Tomioka (Korobe) resolves to pilot the submarine/airplane and do battle against Flaigular, and you just know that "Hayata" is going back into action. Tsuburaya Productions does a wise thing in honoring and celebrating its own past, and in this episode they really give a valentine to Ultra-fans.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just Arrived: Icons of Sci-Fi: The Toho Collection and Space Amoeba

They came in the mail on Monday: Space Amoeba (featuring Kenji Sahara) and the Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection. I started watching Mothra and I can tell you the film looks outstandingly vibrant, crisp, and colorful! the other two movies are The H-Man (almost like sci-fi film noir) and Battle in Outer Space (which I have heard described as a loose follow-up to the Mysterians). Lots of great viewing ahead!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Definitive Word on Ultra Q

The other day I was surfing the 'net and I ended up at the official Tsuburaya Productions Website. I was pleased to discover that they have an English page; not quite as pleased (but still amused) to find it reported the air times of Ultraman programs being shown around the world...and that's about it. However, they did have a "contact us" e-mail this is what I wrote...

Greetings! My son and I love Ultraman! This summer we had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kenji Sahara at G-Fest 16 in Chicago. Could you tell me if Ultra Q will ever be released on DVD in the United States? If it is, I promise to buy
it! Thank you.

Well, I figured that was it--I had sent my little missive out, and that would be the end of it. So imagine my surprise when I checked my e-mail and saw:


Hi Mark,

Thank you for your inquiry.

Unfortunately, we do not have any plans of releasing Ultra Q in the United States.

Best Regards,

International Business Affairs

So there you have it: the definitive word on an American release of Ultra Q--the word is "no." Nuts.

But I must admit it was pretty cool to see TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS in my Inbox!

Monday, August 24, 2009

G-FAN Magazine #69 "Half Human; All Good"

The best issues of G-FAN strike a balance between film analysis, topical, well-researched articles, reporting on actual events and film releases, fan fiction, art, and reaction (via letters), reviews, collectible showcases, model-making intructionals, and more that I am probably forgetting. Issue 69 gets that balance exceptionally right.
One of the first thing that grabs the reader's attention is the monster concept art for Godzilla: Final Wars. With the advantage of hindsight, one can see that the concepts and the finished products were remarkably close.
Tom Tvrdik begins a four-part series describing the process of creating the first American Greetings/Carlton Godzilla ornament.
Armand Vaquer's account of the G-Tour of Japan was awe-inspiring. Any one day of G-Tour would have held the thrill of a lifetime for G-fans. Could there be a G-Tour 2?
"A Monster for All Seasons" by David Annandale does as good a job as I've seen of analyzing the symbolic value of Godzilla, which successfully explains the negative reaction to Zilla/GINO.
The centerpiece of the issue is Peter H. Brothers' "Abominable Snowman/Half Human" article. It is an exhaustive, definitive treatment of a truly hidden classic, and is accompanied by production stills as well as stills from the film itself.
Brett Homenick interviews Loren Coleman, with respect to his stated appreciation of "Half Human." In fact, Mr. Coleman credits "Half Human" with sparking his interest in cryptozoology, which he has since introduced into popular culture with more gusto than any other author or researcher. This is a special article for me, because I have been a Loren Coleman fan ever since picking up a copy of Mysterious America in the late 1980s and learning that we are both from Decatur, Illinois.
"Battles of G-Fantis" is dynamic and imaginative, Steve Agin ushers us through his hall of toy treats, and David McRobie's "The Globe Meter" is a whirlwind trip around the world of kaiju-related viewing.
And there is even more intriguing reading to be found in issue 69, such as a spotlight on Chibi Goji Toys, a heavily illustrated wrap-up of G-Fest XI, a Gorgo article by the always-cogent Allen A. Debus, artistic work by Joylon Yates and a rebuttal to Roger Ebert's dismissive review of Gojira (Godzilla 1954) by M.G. Keller.
G-FAN 69 is J.D. Lees and friends "firing on all cylinders" to deliver intellegent, horizon-expanding coverage of the Godzilla phenomenon in all its permutations. There is no filler whatsoever in this great 82-pager, and it would serve as an excellent introduction to G-FAN for the uninitiated.

Want more Loren Coleman info? Visit for breaking news and analysis of our weird world and the hidden creatures that inhabit it!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Toybox Treasure: Godzilla Raids Again

From renowned kaiju sculptor Yuji Sakai comes this exquisite minature diorama from Godzilla Raids Again/Gigantis, the Fire Monster. It is part of a larger set depicting pivotal moments in Godzilla's most famous flicks, which was probably my favorite acquisition from G-Fest 16's Dealer's Room. The climax of the film is rendered here--Godzilla/Gigantis is about to be buried under tons of snow and ice, to await his bout with King Kong. No more than three inches tall, these dioramas nevertheless deliver big excitement to the Godzilla collector.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Toybox Treasure: It's Jiras!

Did you know that Ultraman duked it out with Godzilla on Japanese T.V. in 1966? It's true! Well, kinda...

What actually happened for the tenth episode of Ultraman is that Tsuburaya Productions took the Godzilla suit from Godzilla vs. the Thing/Mothra vs. Godzilla and attached it to the Godzilla head from Monster Zero/Invasion of Astro Monster, put a big dino frill around his neck and called him Jiras! Jiras gets a few licks in, but ultimately suffers a (bloody (!)) defeat at the hands of Ultraman.

This particular Jiras was made by Bandai in 1995. I found it on ebay after searching for a Jiras at G-Fest and coming up empty-handed. He just arrived in the mail today! By the way, Godzilla would return to the small screen in another show called Zone Fighter, produced by Toho. This meant that other Toho monsters would make appearances on Zone Fighter, such as King Ghidorah and Gigan. Their inclusion is a commentary on how television "changed the game" forever for giant monster movies. Whether it changed the game for good is another story. Anyway, enjoy Jiras--a unique sidebar to Godzilla's biography!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Now Playing: Godzilla vs. Biollante

Godzilla vs. Biollante is a film that I want to like much more than I actually do. It isn't that Biollante is terrible; it's just that the story is much better in theory than in execution. According to Steve Ryfle's "Japan's Biggest Mon-star," the plot was submitted by a dentist who had also happened to have written scripts for the Return of Ultraman T.V. series. That makes sense to me--Biollante would've made for a killer half-hour Ultraman episode. As it is, the movie suffers from lots of padding, a ponderous first-half pace, and an odd lack of dramatic tension.

Fortunately, the scenes featuring the titular characters make one forgive and forget such deficiencies. The "Bio-goji" suit is expressive, exuding power as well as thoughtfulness. The overall quality of the special effects is very high. Most impressive is Biollante herself, whose appearance goes through a number of changes throughout the film, setting a "transforming" trend that would play out in each of the Heisei/1990's movies. The final stage Biollante, with huge, gaping maw and immense size seems to be a fan favorite, and is, by any standard, visually arresting. The monster battles (and Godzilla's city-stomping) are so well staged that they seem to inhabit a movie of their own, which is a tribute to the abiltites of special effects director Koichi Kawakita, who cut his teeth on shows such as Ultraman Ace, Zone Fighter, and Godzilla vs. Hedorah/The Smog Monster.

A streamlined plot may have been able to push Godzilla vs. Biollante onto the short list of the Big G's greatest outings. At any rate, Biollante signalled that the new G-films were going to be ambitious, and the most important element--the kaiju themselves--would be quite memorable.

Incidentally, our copy of Godzilla vs. Biollante is part of a six-movie Video Compact Disc box set that I stumbled upon at a Half Price Books store in North Olmsted, Ohio. Distributed by Mei Ah Laser Disc, a Hong Kong based company, it includes Monster of Monsters, Ghidorah; Destroy All Monsters; Godzilla vs. Gigan; Return of Godzilla; and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah; as well as two super-deformed Godzilla figures. What a find!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Toybox Treasures: Big Bandai Bash

These big guys (Kiryu/Mechagodzilla stands 12" tall, Godzilla 11") were widely available at toy stores throughout the U.S. These fellows were acquired at our local Toys R Us. The Kiryu figure in particular is very detailed and true to the movie design. The Godzilla figure most closely resembles the suit from Final Wars, although it is not an exact replica. Affordable and attention grabbing, one can only hope that Bandai America continues to release figures of this quality. Let the battle begin!

Now Playing: Ultraman Tiga's "The Ultra Star"

My favorite episode of the consistently entertaining Ultraman Tiga series is "The Ultra Star." In it, Daigo/Tiga follows a time-traveling alien back to the mid-1960's, where the Charlie Chaplinesque extra-terrestrial (!) attempts to purchase monsters from a fledgling studio called...Tsuburaya Productions.
Meanwhile, Tsuburaya's head screenwriter is battling a serious case of writer's block, which threatens to derail the new company. Eiji Tsuburaya gives the writer a jewel (the Ultra Star) and reveals that it was given to him by a certain red and silver fellow from Nebula M78.
Later, when Tsuburaya witnesses Tiga's near defeat at the hands of the monster Yanakagi, his will to help releases a familiar red sphere that become the original Ultraman. Yanakagi is no match for the combined power of the two titans, and Tsuburaya has the inspiration his production needs: an otherworldly hero.

"The Ultra Star" is a sentimental, mythologized tribute to the imagination of Eiji Tsuburaya. It is a perfect way to introduce children to the Master of Monsters, while giving the knowledgable grown-up much about which to smile. From the concept sketches of Ultra Q kaiju visible in the office, to the inclusion of sound effects and musical cues from the original series, the viewer is transported back to the time when Ultraman existed only in the daydreams of a select few. The closing credits offer conclusive proof that Tsuburaya made his dream come true, while honoring the Tiga series as a continuation of that dream. "The Ultra Star" is nothing less than a slice of self-referential, smart, and sweet T.V. magic.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Kaiju Book Review: "Classic Movie Monsters"

It is hard to imagine a more comprehensive overview of the silver screen's most iconic monsters than this masterwork by Donald Glut. Featuring chapters on the Wolf Man, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, Quasimodo, the Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, King Kong and Godzilla, Glut effortlessly relates his encyclopedic knowledge with the passion of a true fan.
"Classic Movie Monsters" distinguishes itself from more standard treatments of the topic in a number of ways, beginning with the introduction by Curt Siodmak. Mr. Siodmak wrote The Wolf Man for Universal Pictures in 1941, and he reveals the origin of the famous four-liner that is emblematic of the film (the one that mentions "wolfbane").
Each chapter offers not only a synopsis of every film related to the given creature (some extremely obscure) but also connects the dots with pop culture tie-ins and photographs that I have seen nowhere else. For example, the chapter on King Kong boasts fifteen pages alone devoted to Kong-inspired stories, television programs, comic books, and music, and includes excellent stills from Mighty Joe Young, King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes.
Of greatest interest to readers of this blog would likely be the chapter on Godzilla. What makes this chapter all the more remarkable is that Mr. Glut was reporting this information in 1978--decades before the advent of instantaneous communication. Mr. Glut writes with a contagious enthusiasm about each entry in the Godzilla series to that point, consistently offering fresh perspectives on each. I was pleasantly surprised byMr. Glut's appraisal of Godzilla's Revenge, which he calls "one of the finest children's monster fantasies ever made" (an assessment with which--for what it's worth--I happen to agree).
In addition to all the Godzilla information, this section also includes what certainly must have been one of the first English language guides to Daiei's Gamera series (keep in mind this appeared in print thirty-one years ago). I kept wondering as I read this, "How did he do it--before the era of home video?"
"Classic Movie Monsters" is a tour de force, written with affection, good humor, and a profound understanding of the genre. It belongs on every monster fan's bookshelf.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Toybox Treasures: Mecha King Ghidorah Puzzle

In the G-Fan issue that came out just prior to G-Fest 16, it was revealed that Far East Monsters was going out of business. That was sad, because their products were top of the line. Case in point: the puzzle you see here. Andy and Grampy can both attest that it was more challenging of a puzzle than it looks, due to the stylish jagged edge. Included in the box was a durable, full color poster of the puzzle design. All hail the King!

Friday, August 14, 2009

G-FAN Magazine # 41 "Millenial Magnum Opus"

G-FAN #41 is loaded with fresh insights, creative illustrations, and an enthralling look back at G-Fest '99. From the opening pages, which are wall-to-wall stills from Godzilla 2000 (at this point, it was still unclear if G2K would be released theatrically) there is absolutely no letdown in quality. The greatness begins with an incredible interview with Akira Ifukube, the composer who gave Godzilla musical life. I will not spoil it for you--but look for Mr. Ifukube's recollections regarding his "first meeting" with Eiji Tsuburaya. You won't believe it! Also answered conclusively is the question: Did or didn't Mr. Ifukube see footage of Godzilla before composing the musical score? Thanks to Steve Ryfle and company for this one-of-a-kind conversation.
The fun continues with a reproduction of a hand-written letter sent by director Shusuke Kaneko, who describes what it was like to witness the reaction of western kaiju fans to Gamera 3. All I can say is I wish I had a time machine!
Next is Stan Hyde's G-Fest Diary--a perfect pairing of awesome event and winsome author, supplemented with photos that make it seem like you were there.
Norman England offers his own take on G-Fest '99, and his unique perspective as a resident of Japan makes for a truly interest-holding read.
Richard Pusateri's "Hidden Meanings" delivers the final word on whether or not Godzilla can be considered a symbol of America. This is well-reasoned and well-written analysis.
Believe it or not, there is much more to enjoy in G-FAN #41, including Skip Peel's fiction, book reviews (including a review of Steve Ryfle's "Japan's Favorite Mon-Star"), and an eye-catching comic by Gabe McIntosh. Finishing this issue, one thing is clear: 1999/2000 was an excellent time to be a G-Fan!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Now Playing: Godzilla vs. Gigan

The 1970s mean many things to many people. To Godzilla fans, the 70s are the era of polarization; one camp is downright resentful that the Big G became kiddie fare, and the other camp--the camp that constituted the targeted kiddies--has a special appreciation for the 70s flicks. I can do no other than freely admit that I fall into the latter camp, to the degree that as one of those kiddies I saw these movies in the theater with my dad and loved them.

Although no one would confuse Godzilla vs. Gigan with a Great Film, it has a kooky appeal and moments of visual flair that make a positive contribution to the G-universe. One obvious example would be the introduction of the space monster Gigan. He looks mean as all get-out; he sounds chillingly robotic; he's got the belly-saw going; he's a force to be reckoned with! When Gigan's profile is illuminated by refinery fires late in the film, the message is sent that Godzilla is facing a formidable foe. Not until Final Wars would Gigan actually be destroyed--and even then, at his own hand (or should I say flying saw-disc). I also like the quirky cast, and it is worth noting that Godzilla was getting it handed to him by the Godzilla Tower laser cannon until the humans blew it up! I'm of the opinion that the Godzilla/Anguirus duo is fun to watch, and their gang-up on King Ghidorah is pure kaiju teamwork--Anguirus making the most of his spiky anatomy, and Godzilla working the power slam.
It is only fair and right to point out that Godzilla vs. Gigan does suffer from "recycling" that was going on at Toho in those days, and it is disheartening to see poor-quality stock footage inserted into the battle and rampage scenes. My six-year-old son impressed me mightily by identifying battle footage from Destroy All Monsters, and because of the inserts, the Godzilla suit obviously changes at least three times. The thing is, the movie would have been fine without the filler. I don't know if they were trying to hit a given running time or what--but from my point of view, the inclusion of the stock scenes was simply unnecessary. The savvy listener will similarly be able to pick up on the recycled nature of the musical score. Those who wish to build a case against Gigan admittededly have plenty of material with which to work, especially if they want to get into the whole "talking monsters" thing. (The Japanese version, with the cartoon thought bubbles, at least related to the comic book theme...oh, never mind.)

So, yes, Godzilla vs. Gigan has some glaring flaws, and if there is something in you that resists the idea of space monsters doing a synchronized loop-de-loop on their way to destroying the Earth, you should probably stay far away from this movie. But that "anything can happen" spirit fed my early G-fandom, and I'm still more than willing to go along for the ride.

Monday, August 10, 2009

G-Fest Day Four: The Best for Last

The final day of G-Fest 16 began with an in-room screening (G-Fest TV, you had me at "hello") of "The Manster," an unnerving, genre-blending thriller. Good stuff! We headed downstairs to visit the Dealer's Room one more time, but on the way we discovered that Kenji Sahara was signing more autographs. (He was only scheduled to sign on Saturday.) After a twenty minute wait, we had our small audience with Mr. Sahara. With nothing in hand, we asked him to sign the back of our G-Fest badges. We also posed for a quick photo with him--a moment of special excellence, because it had happened so spontaneously.

It also led right into our next activity--August Ragone's interview of Mr. Sahara with the focus on Ultra Q. It was for panels like this that I had come to G-Fest, and Mr. Sahara and Mr. Ragone provided an engrossing hour of information and recollection. The clips of the original Ultra Q were exciting and Mr. Sahara was eager to speak about his experiences in this groundbreaking series. Mr. Sahara even hinted that an Ultra Q anniversary release might be a possibility. (Could you imagine an Ultra Q series box set?) It was heartwarming to hear how Ultra Q made Mr. Sahara an instantly beloved figure among children in Japan. The panel concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation for a true living legend.

Still enjoying the positive vibe generated by the autograph session and panel, we found a spot in the Midway room for Kevin Horn's "Varan: Still Unbelievable." I found Mr. Horn to be a good-natured, generous and knowledgable presenter. In addition to tracing the history of the production of Varan and the (kaiju-sized) differences between the Japanese and American releases, Kevin explained the nuances of DVD regions and the region-free quality of Blu-ray technology. Numerous questions were asked in a courteous, conversational manner. This session was more than worthwhile for casual and hardcore fans alike.

As soon as the Varan panel was over, it was time for the Awards Luncheon. The meal was good, the company at our table was enjoyable, and the serving staff kindly gave Andy some special attention. We were pleased to see Mr. Sahara seated at the table next to ours, and looked forward to his award presentation.

But first, other awards were given to contest winners, and door prizes were raffled off. We held our tickets with bated breath, but no luck. No big deal, because then it was time for Mr. Sahara to receive the Mangled Skyscraper Award, and it was a moment remarkable in its sincerity. Visibly moved by the recognition of his work, Mr. Sahara took the microphone and spoke in confident English, "Thank you for your kindness." That was all he said, and all that needed to be said.

After the luncheon came to an official close, Andy and I approached J.D. Lees with a drawing Andy had made for him. No surprise--J.D. accepted it graciously, and asked if we were enjoying ourselves. We assured him that we were.

It occured to me that I had one more set of raffle tickets left--a set I had purchased at the Kaiju Modeler table. Andy and I headed back to the Dealers Room for what would be the final time on our trip. We went straight to the Kaiju Modeler table and saw that indeed, the winning number had been posted right next to the grand prize: A Paradise Mosugoji Godzilla. I took the small stack of tickets out of my wallet and checked the first number I saw against the winner. Incredibly, our number was within ten digits of the winner! Unfurling the roll, I determined within seconds that we held the winning ticket--but I double and triple checked in order to be positive! I finally handed the ticket over to the guys at Kaiju Modeler, and they confirmed we had won, and explained how the model fit into the wooden base and how best to transport it--and then, Mosugoji was ours! It all had happened so quickly that it seemed unreal--but if I needed proof, all I had to do was look down at the beautifully detailed, deceptively light model I was carrying. My feet were floating above the ground as we left the Dealer's Room, with just enough time to score some seats in J.D. Lees' "G-Fan & G-Fest" panel.

It ended up being standing room only, which is understandable: thanks to J.D., there is a G-Fan to read and a G-Fest to which to come. During his time he revealed the date and location of next year's Fest: July 9--11, 2010, at the Wyndham O'Hare. We were relieved to hear that it will still be held in the Chicago area. We were also happy to hear that there is a decent chance of matinee movies next year--a much better set-up for younger fans. J.D. also spoke candidly about how G-Fan remains a hobby (albeit a rewarding one) in light of professional responsibilities and family concerns--and I found much in those comments to which I could relate. He fielded a question from yours truly regarding the publishing schedule of G-Fan, and from his response, it sounds certain that it will remain a quarterly. I was encouraged to hear that.
After the session was over, J.D. was kind enough to pose for a picture with Andy, Mosugoji and me. It was a fitting, friendly finale to the weekend's festivities and was much appreciated. The overall cordial atmosphere we experienced was an unexpected yet welcome element of G-Fest.

At this point, it was all over but the singing. You read that right: presenter Stan Hyde leads a kaiju sing-along that can only be understood if you love these movies enough to love their music, too. Andy and I definitely do; but we could not stay. It had been such an intensely enjoyable day that we were done, even if we were not ready to be. And just like that, G-Fest 16 was over.

We took Mosugoji up to our room and headed out to sample some Giardano's pizza and rehash our newly minted memories, with visions of kaiju dancing in our heads.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the G-Fest Convention Committee and Session leaders for all they did to make G-Fest 16 an overwhelmingly positive experience. It exceeded my dangerously high expectations in every way. My family and I will be talking about things that happened at G-Fest 16 for the rest of our lives, and if it is up to us, this was just the first of many excursions to the center of the kaiju universe. Thanks again to each of you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Toybox Treasures: Bandai Baltans

Baltan has been making the Science Patrol's life miserable ever since the second episode of the original series. Simple in design, yet threateningly impersonal and alien, Baltan is the perfect fighting foil for Ultraman, possessing both humanoid qualities and special powers. This Bandai set, acquired at G-Fest 16, shows the variations in Baltan suits down through the years, including the "Baby Baltan" that appears in the Ultraman Cosmos films. Whenever you're in the mood for a little world domination (and, come on--when aren't you?) the Baltan family is ready to lend a lobster claw appendage!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kaiju (Books) Sighted in Cleveland!

Located in the heart of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Public Library boasts a staggering collection of every type of media. We decided to search for monster movie-related material, with an eye for Godzilla and friends. We were not disappointed. Once we found the appropriate section (...not used to Library of Congress catalogue...more of a Dewey system guy...) our choices were many, especially in terms of all monster/horror/scifi cinema. But here's what we found specifically: The CPL carries three copies of David Kalat's "A Critical Filmography...", two copies each of Steve Ryfle's "Japan's Biggest Mon-star" and William Tsutsui's "Godzilla on My Mind", and single copies of William Schoell's "Creature Features" (a big disappointment--in the dedication he calls Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster both "awful" and "atrocious"(!)), a quirky self-published tome called "Giant Monster Movies" by Robert Marrero, and, the "find" of the day, Donald Glut's "Classic Movie Monsters," with excellent chapters on King Kong and Godzilla. The CPL is a great destination for kaiju readers! What's at your library?

G-Fest Day Three: Kaiju Costume Photos

Here are a few more shots of the spectacular costumes we sighted this year at G-Fest 16.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

G-Fest Day Three: Kaiju on Parade

We assembled at 7:00 p.m. for two events that get at the heart of G-fandom: the G-Pardy final and the Costume Parade. G-Pardy is literally Godzilla Jeopardy, with J.D. Lees in the Alex Trebek role, and the arcane knowledge evidenced here was jaw-dropping. Among my peers I am considered a Godzilla "expert"--yet I freely admit that it would take months of intense study for me to even come close to being competitive with the likes of these contestants (one of whom, Skip Peel by name, is responsible for the bulk of the fan fiction that has appeared in G-Fan). Sue, Andy and I were all captivated by this impressive showing.

Then came the Costume Parade! The anticipation in the air was palpable, and from the first moments, when a group of young suitmation actors reenacted the hatching of Minya (from Son of Godzilla), my son was totally into it (and in the spirit of full disclosure, so were we!) There were Godzilla suits, a lifelike (!) Ultraman and a charming Jet Jaguar. Two junior entries cornered the market on cute: a teeny Godzooky and a walking G-Fan issue! I marveled at the beauty of the Mothra costume worn by another young entrant, and yet another succeeded in "creeping out" my son by appearing as the two-headed "Manster," in trenchcoat and all.

The most raucous cheers were reserved for Sanda and Gaila from War of the Gargantuas. We all wanted to see them rumble, and they happily obliged. One can only imagine how much time and effort went into the preparation of these costumes--the Costume Session ballroom display helps the layman gain a better appreciation of the craftsmanship involved (and also serves as a museum of absolutely incredible entries from past parades).

Rounding off the festivities were the amateur videos--the standout here was the continuing adventures of Ultraman Sorta. One of the episodes had been filmed at a past G-Fest, which won the viewers over instantly.

I am tempted to try making a Big Statement here about a "creative response to Godzilla" being a kind of "common denominator" tying together an otherwise "disparate group" of people--but I will resist that impulse, and instead simply say that Saturday night at G-Fest was a blast!

One more significant decision was made--to stay home from the Pickwick, for reasons having to do with a severely sleep-deprived six-year-old. Thanks to Channel 19 (ah, Channel 19) this was a fairly easy conclusion to reach. I had great intentions of staying up to watch Gamera 3: Revenge of Iyrs (which I have yet to see), but a day of monster chasing caught up with me. I cannot confirm this, but I believe I fell asleep with a big, toothy, Gamera grin on my face.

G-Fan Magazine # 36 "Monsters & MST3K"

Issue 36 is a time capsule of sorts: the G-Mail section is heavy on Deanzilla (pro and con); new VHS releases are being touted; and there is an entire article devoted to Mystery Science Theater 3000. I have very happy memories of watching MST3K with my dad during the show's heyday (it was "appointment viewing" for us before the phrase was coined) and the enjoyment was multiplied whenever the Satellite of Love received an honest-to-goodness monster movie. (Whether or not a film like Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster qualifies as "cheesy" is a matter of valid debate--and it also falls outside the scope of this review.) I always felt the MSTies took an affectionate (rather than a derisive) approach to the movies it roasted, and the article herein seemed to support my point of view. I mean, if the Gamera song that Joel and the 'bots come up with doesn't make you at least chuckle, you and I probably wouldn't get along very well. Also included in Issue 36 is a "you are there" report from the set of Gamera 3 and a thorough analysis of the "Powers of Godzilla" by G-Fan editor and publisher J.D. Lees. Of great interest to the literary-minded: the letters section features an in-depth description of the origin and writing process of Random House's "Official Godzilla Compendium." The abundance of fan art, as well as two well-reasoned CD reviews, help make this an issue that encourages repeat reading.

Monday, August 3, 2009

G-Fest Day Three: Decisions, Decisions

Saturday began with our first exposure to Space Giants on good old channel 19. (By now I was beginning to grow very attached to this station!) But an important value decision was looming: Hit the Dealer's Room, or take in Kenji Sahara's interview? Banking on the scheduled Sunday panel in which August Ragone was set to interview Mr. Sahara regarding Ultra Q, the decision was made to spend as much time as we needed in the Toys R Us of our dreams, and made our way downstairs.

As we waited in the relatively short line, costumed Godzilla and Kamacurus strolled by, and Gojigirl Linda Conrad passed out inflatable paper beach balls to the shoppers--a nice gesture! In no time, we were back inside the hallowed halls of the Dealer's Room.

It soon became evident that we had chosen wisely. The pace was slow; there was plenty of elbow room; we were able to take our time at each booth and wonder at the rare collectibles before our eyes. All the dealers were pleasant and there were plenty of affordable treasures to be had. Another momentous decision was made--I purchased a set of raffle tickets at the Kaiju Modeler table (more about that later).

After a cafe lunch (with Gamera vs. Barugon playing on the TV over my shoulder--how cool is that (?)) Andy and I headed to Ballroom 3 for a panel on "Japanese Superheroes." The presenters had done their homework and it showed in an information-packed, fast-paced hour--especially appreciated were the slides that depicted each Ultra series. Lenell Bridges' enthusiasm for the subject matter didn't hurt, either. The insider info on series like Starman, Inframan, Kamen Rider and Zone Fighter were fascinating. I would have gladly stayed put for another hour or two.

By now the model display had opened, so we headed downstairs to observe the handiwork. I knew the model "thread" was its own arm of G-Fest and kaiju fandom--a creative subculture, if you will--but I was unprepared for the level of artistry we encountered. The photos you see here are no substitute for the real deal. Most breathtaking was a diorama of the complete kaiju cast of Destroy All Monsters. It was enough to make one consider a new hobby. Hmmm.

After some more spirited fun in Minya's Place (again, I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work of Ron Lipecky--your drawings and crafts are collectibles in their own right) I ducked into the back of the "Underrated Kaiju Classics" panel. This was a Dream Team of commentators, each of whom were informed and immersed in the subject at hand. However, I was a bit surprised when one presenter came on pretty strong, excoriating those present who had never seen a non-Godzilla kaiju film. I understood his point, which was basically "broaden your horizons, people" but a less abrasive, more persuasive approach may have been all that was necessary. Then again, he knows his audience better than I do. The bottom line is that his point was irrefutable: see as many tokasatsu films as possible! I'm on board with that!

G-Fan Magazine # 77: "Ultra Cool"

It has been pretty Ultracentric around these parts lately--so what better time to review G-Fan #77, which includes 20 pages of coverage of "our hero, Ultraman"?
Issue 77 starts strong with an incredibly detailed (almost play-by-play) account of the making of Godzilla-Tokyo S.O.S.
Brett Homenick clocks in with four interviews of dubbing/voiceover actors and the results are of great interest to anyone who has ever wondered about that infamous process.
The centerpiece of the issue is the Ultraman 40th anniversary section, with a comprehensive and intelligent consideration of "new school" Ultra series by Robert Hood. Supplementing his article is a treasure trove of photos that help put a name with an Ultra-face.
The recap of G-Fest 13 was enjoyable (moreso now that we've been to one) and the G-Fantis comic is one of my son's favorites. I would be remiss if I did not mention Steve Agin's pulse-pounding collectibles column, illustrated in glorious full color, and another one of Armand Vacquer's insightful "kaiju geography" pieces.
G-Fan #77 is not just a great issue, but for my son and me it has become a valuable reference tool in our ongoing quest for Ultra-fun.

Now Playing: Ultra-Movie Marathon

Here's how you make the best of a lousy summer cold: have an Ultra-Movie marathon!

First up was Ultraman Cosmos 2: The Blue Planet, a very likable entry in the Ultra saga. The Blue Planet of the title is really a "Blue Area" beneath the sea, where a race of mer-beings struggle for survival. In a welcome twist, they can transform into huge sea creatures to fight alongside Ultraman Cosmos and Ultraman Justice. The Blue Planet is an attractive, colorful film that makes the most of its aquatic setting. And in case you were wondering, yes, there is an Ultraman Cosmos 1--The Blue Planet is set about 15 years after the events of movie #1 and follows the same characters.
Next was Ultraman Tiga: the Final Odyssey, which picks up where the television series left off. It is great to see the cast of Tiga reunited--the GUTS team always had a special chemistry. We learn in The Final Odyssey that Tiga was once a malevolent titan that chose good over evil, infuriating his companions. Other highlights include the introduction of villainess Ultrawoman Kamila and the Christian marriage (!) of Daigo and Rena. True Tiga nuts will dig the extended version of "Take Me Higher" that plays while the closing credits roll.
Last but not least was Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna, a nifty take on the ubiquitous Ultra-theme, "never give up hope." Asuka is vulnerable and immature for an Ultra-hero, but that seems to make him a fairly realistic character to watch. Again, it is always nice to see the Tiga cast members make an appearance, even if only as a cameo. Don't miss the English audio track--it is one of the more bizarre dubbing jobs I've ever heard, with lots of unnatural pauses, repeated phrases, and curious discrepencies between the emotion of the scene and the tone of voice used to speak the dialogue. For example, when someone is shouting onscreen, you would not expect the dub track to have someone speaking in a conversational tone of voice--but that's what happens here. Truth be told, I find it weirdly compelling--but you may just want to turn on the subtitles.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

G-Fest Day Two: Back to the Pickwick

Sue came with us to the Friday night screening of The Mysterians. I am learning just how much these movies were made to be seen on a real movie screen--and The Mysterians is a good case in point. It was introduced by its star, Mr. Kenji Sahara, who revealed that he and co-star Akhiko Hirata, in friendly rivalry, pushed each other to do their best in their respective roles.
There are so many winning elements to The Mysterians that it is tough to be complete. Most memorable for me is Moguera's all-too-brief rampage and the Mysterians' "request" for earth women (with a specific short list to get things started). Of course there is also the appearance of the iconic Markalite ray machines; Ifukube's score; one could ramble on and on. The creativity on display was a delight to behold.

It must be said that taking in a G-Fest film at the Pickwick is just flat-out fun. You know you're among kindred spirits when the Toho logo appears on the screen and the crowd breaks out in enthusiastic applause!