Monday, July 30, 2012

G-FEST XIX: Kaiju U. "Greeting the Guests"

Akira Takarada and Bin Furuya take the stage

The excitement gradually builds again on Friday evening, after the first wave of Dealers Room access, opening panels and catching up with friends crashes over. It was simply a thrill to see Mr. Takarada and Mr. Furuya together on the platform; it was everything a fan could have anticipated from the moment the announcement of their visit was made. As you can see, Mr. Furuya came dressed for the occasion in his suit from Ultraseven, complete with communicator and ray pistol. How fascinating it was to consider that this was the man who brought Ultraman to life--Ultraman, who I watched daily thirty-five years ago on Detroit TV, while getting over the chicken pox. Unbelievable.

Seeing Mr. Takarada again was a real treat. Something about the repsonse he has recieved from Western fans seems to have struck a chord within him. Perhaps that's reaching a bit, but it certainly appears that he enjoys his time here, and, after all, he not only came back, but was instrumental in attracting Mr. Furuya to attend. Here is where the seemingly tireless legwork of Brett Homenick must be acknowledged. He has been able to build bridges to the men and women of Japanese film, and his rapport with the likes of Mr. Takarada is key to their being willing to come to a fan festival in Chicago, Illinois. Many thanks, Brett!

Andy with Bin Furuya, the one and only Ultraman

The above picture is one of my favorites from this year's FEST. That's not my son's practiced camera smile; that's a smile of pure fan happiness. That's a nine-year-old thinking, "I'm getting my picture taken with ULTRAMAN." And maybe, in the end, that's why I love G-FEST so much. Not only does it make my son smile like that; but I can be a nine-year-old too, with no explanations or apologies.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Andy was given a unique task on Friday. After checking in at the "G-Fans Helping G-Fans" table, our first-ever G-pal and charitable giving organizer Dave Nunes offered Andy the chance to wear the only kid's sized "G-Fans Helping G-Fans" t-shirt in existence as a way of raising awareness for the adult t-shirt raffle. As you can see, Andy happily complied. "G-Fans Helping G-Fans" is one of the the most meaningful elements of G-FEST, in which funds are raised to assist families dealing with autism (and other medical conditions). It's fun to try to win stuff, but win or lose, it is good to be part of something altruistic. I'm not sure other such conventions create an opportunity like this.

And then it was time for the Dealer's Room to open. We used our volunteers-only early entry pass to good advantage (G-FESTers, take note: there are definite benefits for volunteering!) by securing the first three autograph tickets for Sunday. We also were able to say a quick hello to our friend and Cuyahoga Kaiju Club co-founder Tom Tvrdik, as well as our pal Matt Evangelista, the Kaiju Modeler himself. The Gorosaurus you see here is his handiwork.

There's nothing that compares to the sensory overload of the G-FEST Dealers' Room. Even for those who are being careful with their cash, there is so much to look at; so much to absorb and process, that it takes multiple trips through the store to really see what you're seeing. Even then, you have to act fast, as you may come across something you will never encounter again, at least here in the U.S. We were fortunate in our first foray to snag an in-box Ultraseven pull-string figure for an extremely reasonable price. (Yes, those can be found in the Dealers' Room, for those blessed with patience and a little luck.) Friday at G-FEST is so great, because the party is just getting started!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

G-FEST XIX: Kaiju U. "Grampy's First G-FEST"

Between Thursday's Flicks

     G-FEST XIX was special for many reasons, but none so special as having my dad on hand all weekend. He had heard us recount the previous three G-FESTs, and finally decided to experience the fun for himself.

     His first taste began upon check-in at the hotel, as he was sporting the above GMK t-shirt. Those who were there for G-FEST noticed his wise sartorial choice, and helped him feel "in the know." Then came the double-double feature and his first exposure to the Pickwick Theater (and our first chance to enjoy the brand new rocker seats). It should also be mentioned that my mom stayed for all four movies on Thursday too--what a trooper!

Friday morning brought with it the opportunity to give Grampy his first exposure to the tokasatsu room, where dreams of making one's own daikaiju movie come true. It was pretty neat to see his eyes get wide at the scope of the production and the detail of the costumes. His verbal reaction: "I could stay here all morning." This was a very good sign.

     But I believe the deal was truly sealed when he attended Tim Price's 8mm movie-thon on Friday afternoon. Not even the lure of the opening of the Dealer's Room could pry him away from seeing 8mm versions of "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot," "Varan the Unbelievable," "Destroy All Monsters," and more. When we met up afterwards, I could tell he was not just participating; he was into it. And it wasn't even time for the special guests to be introduced.

     Dad took me to see "Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster" and "Godzilla on Monster Island" (known as "G. vs. Mechagodzilla" and "G. vs. Gigan" today) back in the late seventies when we lived in the Detroit area; having him with me at G-FEST XIX was a "full-circle" thing that words fail to totally capture.

     And I'm happy to say that his intially cool reaction to the Dealer's Room was broken Sunday afternoon with the discovery of gashopon (capsule toys). I was starting to worry.

Monday, July 23, 2012

G-FEST XIX: Kaiju U. "Movie Marathon"

Thursday's double-double feature is always an excellent experience: one has the great fun of four monster movies in a real theater (with other monster fans), while the entire G-FEST experience is still to come.

This year's films were chosen in a new and different way. Rather than featuring Godzilla, they each represented either a predecessor or a contemporary of the Big G. The first movie to be screened was 1933's "King Kong." We watch Kong at least a couple times a year, yet this was the first time we have seen it in a movie theater, and it was impressive. Even in a crystal clear digital format, there was nothing "fakey" about the special effects. They suit--and create--the world of Skull Island and Kong perfectly. Willis O'Brian's effects were made for the silver screen, and they just work.

Kong's battle with the T. Rex is, of course, a highlight of the story for most monster fans. It is still breathtaking to behold. What stood out at this screening is that Kong's famous "flapping-his-opponent's-jaw-to-see-if-he's-really-dead" move elicited a fresh laugh from the crowd. Certainly most people watching the movie knew that was coming, and yet it is rendered in such a believable way that the viewers reacted in the moment with delight. The other thing that struck me is how Kong does truly horrible things, yet by the end, the audience sympathy is squarely on the side of the giant ape. Volumes have been written about this, so I won't rehash it here, expcept to say that it never fails--I always hate to see Kong take that limp tumble off the Empire State.

Next up was "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms." We are Ray Harryhausen nuts here, so this was another treat. "The Beast" featured some very atmospheric set pieces, especially the ice fields of Act One and the fiery roller coaster ending. Harryhausen's stop-motion work in the film is exceptionally smooth, and the scene where the Beast capsizes a ship is outstanding in the way it realistically portrays the buoyancy of the sinking vessel. The story and acting are competent, and one can see how this served as an influence on the story that would become "Godzilla."

After supper, "Gorgo" was shown, a monster movie that I have become increasingly fond of over the past couple years. What sets "Gorgo" apart for this viewer is that the acting is above average and the story, while examining themes common to the science fiction genre, plays as a parable against human greed in a satisfying way. It does so, however, while hanging on to some ambiguity; for example, one partner in bringing baby Gorgo over to London drowns his guilt in drink, while the other partner (whose greed has led to the destruction of London) risks his life to save a young boy from the monster's rampage. It's not really a redemptive act, but it's more than you would expect from this character. Again, there was a pleasant sense of surprise on the part of the audience when Mama Gorgo showed up to get her young'un, a testament to the inventive story and pacing of the film.

Finally, there was "Gammera: the Invincible." Evidently it had been a long time since I had seen this particular version of the movie, which, a la "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," inserts footage of American actors into the flow of the original film. Unlike GKOTM, however, this footage is decidedly, intentionally campy, and at this point in the day, the levity was welcome. In any form, the first Gamera movie is a great riff on the daikaiju theme, and the cool thing about being in the presence of other knowledgable G-fans was seeing the warm round of applause that was reserved for director Noriaki Yuasa's name. Mr. Yuasa was a beloved past G-FEST guest, who has since passed away (2004), but his memory was saluted at the Pickwick Theater, and his work made for a crowd-pleasing close to the day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

G-FEST XIX: Kaiju U. "Dr. AC is in the House"

Aaron "Dr. AC" Christensen of HorrorHound magazine was on hand for G-FEST XIX. I met him after giving my "Diary of a Kaiju: All Godzilla's Movies in 30 Minutes" presentation in the kids' thread. He's written a fantastic blog post at the link you see below. He really nails the spirit of G-FEST, and it was intriguing to get his take on things I wasn't able to see. So what are you waiting for? Click the link!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

G-FEST XIX: Kaiju U. "Bittersweet Beginnings"

This was our fourth G-FEST, which doesn't seem possible. This picture was taken just steps from the box office of the Pickwick Theater, the grand movie house where G-FEST movies are screened. There is always a thrill at seeing the Pickwick's distinctive facade, yet for us it is also bittersweet.

In 2008, we were literally at the entrance to the Pickwick, gearing up for our first ever G-FEST double-double feature, when we received word that my mother-in-law was in her final hours. We immediately got back in the car and drove straight to Cleveland, and were able to be with her when she passed away. When G-FEST organizer J.D. Lees found out about our situation, he was very gracious to us, which only cemented our desire to return the following year.

Standing under the marquee of the Pickwick Theater with mere minutes to go before the first feature produces a complex swirl of emotions--everything from warm memories of Mom Long to simple (if somewhat selfish) hopes that "everything works out" this year. There was one year it didn't. That's life.

This year it did. That's what you'll be reading about in the posts that lie ahead, and we're looking forward to sharing it with you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

G-FEST XIX--Kaiju U. "Our Alma Mater"

Another remarkable G-FEST has come and gone. This year's Godzilla gathering was made especially memorable for a wide variety of reasons, which we will detail in coming posts. We earned advanced degrees in fun at Kaiju University, as this photo with screen legend Akira Takarada suggests.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Ready for Kaiju University

I just put the finishing touches on our G-FEST kids' presentation, "Godzilla: Diary of a Kaiju." It covers all of Godzilla's movies in thirty minutes. It will be offered on Saturday morning, part of an awesome lineup of offerings just for children.

First up at 9:00 a.m. is J.D. Lees with a session on monster names. Then at 9:30, artist extraordinaire Tom Tvrdik gives pro coloring tips (and some groovy art supplies to use). At 10:00, super-fan Tim Bean talks about Ultraman toys, and at 10:30 is "Godzilla: Diary of a Kaiju."

Whether you are a kid, or just young at heart, you'll have no problem acquiring an advanced degree in fun at G-FEST XIX. If you're there, I hope you check out the kids' thread, taking place in the Haneda room!