Thursday, July 30, 2009

G-Fest Day Two: A Handshake with Mr. Sahara

Before I go any further, I would like to gratefully acknowledge my wife Sue for her willing assistance throughout G-Fest 16. Whether it was running Dealer's Room treasures up to our room, going off-site to get us food, or just enduring a non-stop barrage of kaiju craziness, she was the ultimate trooper. (And if there was any eye-rolling, I didn't see it--just kiddin', sweetie!)

With minds still blown from the Dealer's Room, we found a place at the Opening Ceremonies. At that time, J. D. lees introduced the guest of honor, Mr. Kenji Sahara. What an incredible sensation it was to see Mr. Sahara in person! Consider his resume: Thirteen Godzilla movies alone (including the "bookends" of the series, Godzilla (1954) and Godzilla: Final Wars), as well as starring turns in Rodan and The Mysterians. In addition, Mr. Sahara was one of the leads in Ultra Q, the television program that preceded Ultraman, and has appeared in several Ultra-series. Most recently he served as a t.v. news commentator in Great Decisive Battle: Super 8 Ultra Brothers.

A great highlight reel had been assembled, showcasing Mr. Sahara in many of these roles. Then, after making some comments through an interpreter, he made his way down the center aisle, right by our seats. With minimal cajoling, Andy walked right up to Mr. Sahara with a big smile on his face and respectfully shook hands with the dignified actor, who was also beaming. In a weekend filled with incredible happenings, that moment will likely stand as our most touching G-Fest memory. I hope Mr. Sahara takes my son's smile home with him as an emblem of all the enjoyment his work has brought to young (and young-at-heart) fans throughout the world.

Toybox Treasure: Bandai Minya

All hail Minya! Yes, I am one of "those people" who gets a little misty-eyed at the end of Son of Godzilla when the snow begins to fall on Sollgel Island. I will not apologize for that!

Anyway, straight from G-Fest 16, here is our 1991 Bandai Minya, in very decent shape, ready to blow a smoke ring your way if you mess with him.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

G-Fest Day Two: Vinyl Valhalla

After the first sessions concluded, it was only a matter of minutes until the opening of the Dealer's Room. This is almost certainly the most intensely anticipated event at G-Fest. The line, which began forming hours beforehand, snaked through the cafe out into the main lobby. While waiting, we were visited by a costumed Jet Jaguar with realistic sound effects. Also helping to break (or add to) the tension was the announcement of the Dealer's Room Raffle--the lucky winners of which were allowed to enter the ultimate toy store a half-hour before doors officially opened. Alas, our numbers were not called.

But then, seemingly without warning, the line actually began to move. It became apparent that we were going to get in fairly quickly. And after about three stops and starts, the door opened, and we were in.

A tidal wave of sights and sounds enveloped us; fortunately I had a mission to keep me focused so I didn't stand there dumbfounded. Earlier in the day I had seen a flyer advertising back issues of G-Fan at a discounted rate, so I quickly located the G-Fan booth and starting poring through the stacks. That gave me time to get my bearings; enough that Andy and I could begin our exploration in full.

Like awestruck kids on Christmas morning we made our way past table after table of action figures, movie posters, trading cards, gashopon (vending machine, or capsule figures), DVDs, T-shirts, plush characters, model kits, and much more. There were many classic toys I had only seen in collectible guidebooks, and many more that I had never seen anywhere before. It finally became so busy that we decided to return in the morning when it would hopefully be a bit less hectic. Our first taste of the Dealer's Room had only whetted our appetite for a more prolonged repast.

In one sense, this was the culmination of a two-and-a-half year wait. In another sense, it represented about a thirty year wait for me--to be able to walk into a room filled with hard-to-find Japanese monster toys and memorabilia was nothing less than a dream realized.

Now Playing: Ultraman Gaia: The Battle in Hyperspace

I do not pretend to totally understand every Ultraman movie I've ever seen, but that rarely prevents me from enjoying them. Ultraman Gaia: The Battle in Hyperspace would fall into the category of those Ultra-movies that strain credulity yet have so much heart that, by the end, all is forgiven, forgotten, and enjoyed. In this story, dimensional travel makes it possible for Gamu/Gaia to become real in Tommy's world (Tommy is the requiste Ultra-loving younster). How does it work? Who cares? The plot basically exists to set up a three-on-three brawl between the King of Mons three "parts" and Ultramen Gaia, Tiga, and Dyna (the latter two appear solely for the purpose of laying the smack down) and it does so effectively. Indeed, there is a story element that is fairly compelling--a red globe grants great power to the person who has possession of it--not unlike the Ring of Power in "The Lord of the Rings"--with the twist that ones wielding that power are not grown-ups, but kids.

Ultraman Gaia is unapologetically intended for children who would love nothing more than for Ultraman to become part of their reality and protect them, and in that respect it successfully delivers the goods. With surprisingly snazzy spfx and a lot of good will, Ultraman Gaia: The Battle for Hyperspace is a seventy-four minute Saturday afternoon smile-maker.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Now Playing: Half Human, Ultraman, and Red Baron

"Half Human" is a hidden Toho gem, a superbly crafted Yeti picture directed by renowned director Ishiro Honda. The American scenes, clumsily inserted into the story, only serve to show how well done the original Japanese production is. I mean, it's the creative team of Godzilla 1954 presenting a father/son Yeti story! Count me in! "Half Human" hereby moves into heavy rotation in our household.

The Ultraman episode "Cry of the Mummy" features a creepy alien mummy (!) and one of the more unusual monsters of the series, the dragon-horse Dodongo. "Cry of the Mummy" earn cool points for revealing how Ultraman transforms back into human Hayata. It earns double cool points for the appearance of Akihiko Hirata (Dr. Serizawa in Godzilla 1954) as a scientific consultant, who would occasionally collaborate with the Science Patrol.

Super Robot Red Baron's "The Three Robot Brothers of the Iron Alliance" offers a heartbreaking double-cross AND villians wearing silver-painted Frankenstein masks. What's not to love?

G-Fest Day Two: Voyage to the Center of the Kaiju Universe

We eased into Day Two with the help of channel 19 (a.k.a. G-Fest TV) and were treated to episodes of Ultraman Tiga and the movie "Warning From Space." Then, with great anticipation, we went downstairs. I helped Andy and Sue locate Minya's Place, then I was off to G-Fest orientation with J.D. Lees. Being a veteran church conference-goer, I knew that your best bet is always to digest the conference program booklet and plan accordingly; even so, it was neat to listen to J.D. opine on various topics.

The first presentation I attended was Kevin Horn's "Deleted Scenes of Kaiju." It was a straight hour of clips (including bloopers) with lots of informed commentary by Mr. Horn. What a great start!

Next came "Godzilla in the Grindhouse," an offbeat salute to the days when it was not just difficult to view a G-film in a theater, but downright dangerous to your personal well-being. (And I thought it was bad during the pre-VHS era!)

Then I went to retrieve my family from Minya's Place, and was blown away by the quality and variety of kaiju arts and crafts provided by Ron Lipecky. It looked like so much fun, I had to make my own brown-bag Ebirah puppet! (By now I was clearly living in a dream world.)

After lunch I happened into a portion of "Godzilla: the Essentials" and was pleased to see August Ragone among the panelists. (Mr. Ragone has written the definitive English-language biography of Eiji Tsuburaya.) No surprises here--I have seen the essentials (and the non-essentials too)!

The last session I attended was presented by Stan Hyde, and it combined true film analysis with a thematic consideration of Godzilla movies patterned after "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," supported by a wonderfully rendered Powerpoint presentation.

The first afternoon's sessions were engaging and entertaining, revealing many facets of G-fandom. And there I was-- the proverbial kid in the proverbial candy store.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Toybox Treasure: Combat Joe Gamera

One of my favorite acquisitions from the G-Fest 16 Dealer's Room was the Medicom Gamera you see here. In addition to it looking like it just stepped out of a movie, it has an "Combat Joe" figure that fits inside like a suitmation actor! Combat Joe even has a couple out outfits to change into, including a Gamera T-shirt (that's what you see at the bottom right of the photo). Way cool!

Also appreciated was the friendly service provided by Chibi Goji Toys. Visit to see more of their fantastic merchandise.

Andy says about this item: "It's cool--wow--awesome--incredible--all at the same time!" Dad agrees!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

G-Fan Magazine Issue # 88 "Tokasatsu Playground"

G-Fan #88 strikes a thoughtful tone with well-researched and finely written articles throughout. Of particular interest were articles by Jeromy Van Paassen on "Yokai and Obakemono" folklore of Japan and Allen Debus' "Komodo--Ancestral Kaiju?" Both articles had me happily saying "I never heard that before," and lend depth to the human desire to tell scary stories to each other, sometimes involving really big creatures!
The highlight of the issue is totorom's interview of Ryuji Honda, son of renowned Godzilla director Ishiro Honda. Detailed and expansive, it offers a glimpse into the Toho backlot that most fans can only dream about. It was especially intriguing to get a sense of Ishiro Honda's personality from his son's perspective. His insights regarding his father's moviegoing habits and relationship with Akira Kurosawa were of great interest and could really not have come from another source besides a family member. Interviews are normally not the first thing I turn to in G-Fan, but this article represents the fanzine at its best. This article was absorbing from beginning to end and well worth the price of a subscription (yes, I meant subscription).

Armand Vaquer's articles about the Diet Building (a magnet for kaiju activity) and Bireley's orange soda (glimpsed in Mothra) provide wonderful background information to the casual and hardcore fan alike. With no Godzilla film on the horizon, G-Fan continues to deepen and broaden our appreciation of this special movie genre.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Library's Link to Giant Monsters

Growing up in the late seventies and eighties, the local library was a vital link to all things Godzilla. Before the internet era, information about the movies that would air from time to time on our local independent station were hard to find. They simply didn't exist anywhere I knew of--except for the library.

Pictured above is "Godzilla" by Ian Thorne, which during my second grade year became a precious tome--the archive of all monster archives. I have distinct memories of reading Thorne's book in a laundromat in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and being the happiest kid on earth. Even though some of the information is of dubious quality, it is still jam packed with amazing still photographs, and I use inter-library loan to borrow it for my son and me. It is mind-blowing to consider how very little Godzilla information was out there for a youngster to find in those days, in contrast to everything that is available now. The lack of "hard data" allowed the imagination to fill in the blanks, and resulted in homemade stories, self-drawn pictures, and the like. There was an exotic quality to Godzilla--it was as if you were always "on the hunt" to find a sign of him in American culture. That spirit of liking something that barely registers with your peers--that He is your little (gigantic) secret--goes a long way in explaining my continuing enthusiasm for the kaiju realm.

So here's a tip of the cap and a hearty thanks to those libraries that kept our Godzilla daydreams alive. Where they were a lifeline before, they are a treasure trove now, and they're there for us and our communities to enjoy. The Imperial Godzilla (1985) that you see here is an active member of our children section's hands-on dinosaur collection. And I am happy to report that our library has a dog-eared copy of J.D. Lees' "Official Godzilla Compendium" that is often checked out (not necessarily by me). That is a good sign for G-fandom, don't you think?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

G-Fest Day One: First Night at the Pickwick

Thursday afternoon we received word that we would be able to pick up our registration information that evening. It was amazing to get our hands on the official convention booklet and see everything that awaited us. I don't mind telling you my mind was racing, trying to absorb it all and figure out an optimal plan of attack. During this time we also became acquainted with Dave Nunez, who runs the raffle/fundraising end of the convention. He was very personable and especially made Andy feel welcome. In our registration packs we also found our G-Fest badges, which would become treasured items for a reason you will learn in a later post.

That night, Andy and I made our first late-night trek to the Pickwick Theater, a grand old movie palace in nearby Park Ridge, Illinois. The movie of the night was "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah; Giant Monsters All Out Attack." I was very excited to see this film on the big screen for a number of reasons. First of all, "GMK" is the G-film that pulled me back into active fandom. A few years ago, my wife kindly recorded it for me off of the SciFi Channel (she is a great satellite TV searcher) and as I started to view "GMK" I became totally enthralled. The only Millenium series film I had seen up that point was "Godzilla 2000," and that movie was hard for me to watch because of its proximity to 9/11. (More about that in a later post.) I was awestruck by GMK's style and visual wizardry, so much so that it transcended the "real world" issues that were still very much in play, and made it feel OK to watch a monster movie again.

Secondly, I was keenly interested in seeing how the incredible effects work played out on the big screen. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. This Godzilla suit is one of my absolute favorites--in conveys a mass and power and deadly intent that closely corresponds to the Godzilla of my childhood imagination. The scene where he comes ashore and knocks a construction crane over with a belligerent swipe of the hand seemed to have lept out of my grade-school daydreams and onto the screen. A scene that come soon afterwards depicts a man looking up through his car's windshield at Godzilla, and it is a perfect example of Shusuke Kaneko's expert use of street-level perspective to enhance the realism of a huge creature entering an urban setting.

Finally, I knew Andy was looking forward to the Baragon/Godzilla battle, which fortunately (due to the late hour) takes place relatively early in the film. That battle is preceded by one of the most humorous scenes in any Godzilla movie--one in which a tourist races to get her photo taken with Baragon approaching in the background, and gets a rather large surprise! The battle scene that follows is everything a G-Fan could ask for, including an extremely explosive blast of Godzilla's renowned atomic breath. Not long after that portion of the film wrapped up, Andy was fast asleep. (We came equipped with pillow in hand.) Carrying my sleeping G-Buddy back to the car and then up to the hotel room, I knew we had just experienced something special--and this was just a prelude of the fun to come!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Now Playing: Godzilla Raids Again and Ultraman Max

Yesterday, my son Andy chose to watch "Godzilla Raids Again" during his afternoon down time. I was only able to catch about the first fifteen minutes with him, but during that time, he asked a number of insightful questions. "Is that Monster Island?" "Why are they fighting?" "Godzilla is really an Angurisaur?""Why is Anguirus' roar coming out of Godzilla's mouth?" Good questions all. I was impressed that he stayed with it, and ended up watching the whole film at one sitting. He likes the ice burial of Godzilla/Gigantis at the end, and was appropriately saddened by the untimely death of pilot Kobayashi. For my part, I really like the Godzilla suit in this film. It has a streamlined look (that, no doubt, helped Mr. Nakajima move and fight more easily) that is fierce and appealing. The first Anguirus is menacing and extremely cool, too. Of all of Godzilla's films, this was the one that I waited the longest to see, not viewing it until the Classic Media edition came out. While certainly not the greatest G-film ever, it has a mood of its own and enough visual dazzle to put it firmly in the "under-rated" category.

Later last night I watched two randomly selected episodes from the 2005 series "Ultraman Max." This show just looks good on the screen, and features Susumu Korobe (the original Hayata) and Hiroko Sakura (the original Fuji) in recurring roles--I love the fact that they are still involved in the telling of Ultra-tales.

The first episode I saw was "The Prophecy of Varaji," and the real star of the show is a fantastic updated version of Antlar, a humongous beetle that made his debut in the original Ultraman series. I was surprised to see Ayako Fujitani, the young star of the Gamera trilogy, in a guest starring role, but then discovered that her director in that series was the director of this episode--Shusuke Kaneko (who also directed one of my fave G-films, "GMK"). I began to suspect something when Antlar's sand destroyed a "Kaneko Oil" gas station in the opening scenes. That makes the first shot a real hoot--two little kids are playing "Gamera vs. Godzilla" in a sandbox!

The second episode was the next in the series, "The Supersonic Attack." This light-hearted story centers on a Japanese heavy-metal band, "The Bad Scanners," and they are the scariest thing we see on screen! (Their "hit song" is admittedly catchy. I have no idea if they are a real band or not.) And the supersonic bird-monster's name? Halen! Ultraman Max rocks!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

G-Fest Day One: The Ultimate TV Station

When we arrived at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Thursday, our first G-Fest surprise awaited us. At the base of the elevators, the sign you see to the left had been posted. When we got up to our room, sure enough: A 24-hour monster movie station was set up by the G-Fest organizers through an in-house, closed circuit hotel channel! We immediately plopped down to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of "Gamera vs. Zigra." The convention booklet included a page reminiscent of the good old days of TV Guide, with one fabulous twist: each and every show was kaiju-related--everything from Space Giants and Johnny Sokko to Gamera (including the three most recent films) to all kinds of Ultraman (including the first episode of Tiga, one of my favorites). Between programs were movie trailers and retro commercials, such as one that I remembered featuring the Shogun Warriors Godzilla (which I still have--in "battle damaged condition").
The element of surprise added to the enjoyment, but it did pose some dilemmas: there were plenty of programs that I have only heard about but never seen ("The Green Slime," "The Manster,"Go! Go! Godman") you go to the panel discussion, the dealers room, or watch the movie? These are the tough value decisions one must make at G-Fest. Making the discovery of G-Fest TV got things started on a monstrously great note.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome to Monsterland Ohio

This new blog is about one thing: fun! And my idea of fun is watching Godzilla and friends with my son. There will be no systematic approach to my posts; my main objective is to chronicle films we've watched, look for signs of kaiju life in popular culture, and of course, talk about some really cool toys and collectibles.

In the very near future, I will post my reflections on G-FEST 16, which my family attended this summer in Chicago. (G-FEST is the premier Godzilla fan convention in North America.) Keep your eye on Monsterland Ohio and share the fun of monster fandom with me!