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02/10/06:
NEW DVD LABEL LAUNCHES JAPANESE LINE WITH ULTRAMAN!
BCI Secures DVD License From Chaiyo Productions
Author: August Ragone
Chaiyo's art for ULTRAMAN" © 2006 Tsuburaya Productions/Licensed by Tsuburaya-Chaiyo. Courtesy BCI Eclipse.


Henshin! Online recently sat down with Cliff MacMillan, formerly with Ventura Distribution, who is one of the unsung champions of Japanese action cinema, who has worked hard to release such films as KARATE FOR LIFE (Karate Baka-Ichidai, 1977) and SHIKOKU on DVD in the US. Today, he is working at BCI Eclipse and has some big plans for the future of Japanese television shows and movies on R1 DVD.

H!O: Cliff, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. I'd first like to ask you: was your work with Ventura Distribution/Adness America your initial start in releasing Japanese films on DVD, starting with some classic Sonny Chiba titles, such as KARATE BULLFIGHTER [Kenka Karate Kyokushin-Ken, 1975] and THE KILLING MACHINE [Shorinji Kempo, 1975]?

CM: Yes, though I had been a fan for many years, my first releases came during the time I worked for Ventura when we did a distribution deal with Adness.

H!O: What was your goal working with Adness/Venture? You certainly released a diverse range of older Japanese titles - titles from Toei, Daiei and Kadokawa - the aforementioned and beautifully presented Chiba action films, big studio productions such as LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI [Satomi Hakkenden, 1983], NEVER GIVE UP [Yasei-no Shomei, 1978], G.I. SAMURAI [Sengoku Jieitai, 1979], RESURRECTION OF THE GOLDEN WOLF [Yomigaeru Ginrou, 1979], and some recent J-Horror titles, specifically the TOMIE series. So, you've got some experience under your belt, now.

CM: Hmmmm... Goal?... Heck, I had no real goal... I'm a fan and I wanted to see these films too [laughs]. Actually, I wanted to give the other Japanese film fans some cool titles on DVD - many for the first time in the US... or the first time in their original versions.

But in the case of the Sonny Chiba films, I wanted to give the Chiba fans a chance to see these films in Anamorphic Widescreen and to hear them in Japanese. I have been a long time STREETFIGHTER [Gekitotsu! Satsujin-Ken, 1974] fan, having seen the film on VHS when it was released by MGM in the 1980s. Once I saw that x-ray head crushing shot, I was a Chiba fan.

H!O: Who wouldn't become a fan? [laughs]

CM: Some of these films weren't even available in Japan on DVD (and still are not). We had to create all new film to tape transfers for most of the films. I'm really proud of the Chiba release but I sure wish we had been able to get Chiba involved in the making of the discs. I wasn't completely happy with the version of G.I. SAMURAI we released. We didn't have access to the stereo tracks for the film.

Recently Kadokawa Pictures re-mastered the film for a DVD release in Japan, so Adness will re-release the film someday from the new 5.1 Master.

H!O: Can you explain what the process is involved to acquire these Japanese films for the North American market?

CM: Well, the owner of Adness did most of the acquisition work with the Japanese film companies. I picked the titles from a list of what was available.

H!O: Why did you leave Ventura for BCI Eclipse?

CM: I've been good friends with the people from BCI Eclipse, back when it was Brentwood, and they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. It was hard to leave the label [Adness America] I helped develop, but I am working again with Adness to acquire new products.

H!O: Can you explain what BCI Eclipse is and what their current goals are?

CM: BCI was originally a company called Brentwood that originally dealt in public domain and budget films and special interest programs.

As they grew, they began to license content. They licensed a group of Bob Hope films from Freemantle, and after he passed away, the sales were monstrous. That was when they really started to grow into a real independent licensed label. The Navarre Corporation, a huge music, video and computer software distributor purchased Brentwood a few years ago.

So, with the backing of a major company, BCI began to acquire exclusive product full-time and move away from the PD business once and for all. So now BCI is working to acquire properties that have a wide fan base and are collectible properties, and so Navarre Corporation recently acquired Funimation, one of the largest Japanese Anime labels in the US and also most of the Filmation Studios library [not to be confused with Funimation], which includes HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, SHE-RA, THE GROOVY GHOULIES and many other animated favorites.

The HE-MAN TV series has been one of BCI's biggest releases, and recently won best '80s TV series on DVD at the recent DVD Conference, beating out major studio releases. We will be quite a force in independent DVD publishing in the years ahead.

H!O: I dig the GROOVY GHOULIES! There are a lot of very nostalgic titles in the Filmation Studios catalogue, including the STAR TREK animated series...

CM: Unfortunately, any shows with rights to a character(s) held by another company, like STAR TREK (Paramount) or BATMAN (DC Comics and Warner Bros), are unavailable to us from the license holder of the Filmation library.

H!O: While they sound similar, Funimation's catalogue includes the DVD rights to the subtitled ULTRAMAN TIGA [Urutoraman Teiga, 1996-97] series, licensed through 4Kids Entertainment; does this mean that BCI will be re-issuing these, or will they be discontinued? If it's the latter, some fans might want to rush out and pick these up, if they haven't already.

CM: I will have to talk to Funimation about that.

H!O: So you also decided to carry over your Japanese film list over to BCI Eclipse from Ventura and what is your aim?

CM: Yes. Some of the properties I had been looking into at Ventura have followed me to BCI including the original ULTRAMAN [Uruotraman, 1966-67] series. We are developing a new Asian label called Ronin Entertainment, which will be focused on films and television series from Japan. Our first release will be the Sonny Chiba television series SHADOW WARRIORS [Kage-no Gundan, 1980].

Sonny Chiba as Hattori Hanzo stalks evil doers from a scene from the SHADOW WARRIORS series © 2006 Toei Co., Ltd. Courtesy BCI Eclipse.
H!O: There's quite a bit of buzz about both series, but before we discuss ULTRAMAN, I am sure that you are aware that there are five seasons of SHADOW WARRIORS. What are your plans for this release and can you leak any specs? Additionally, if sales of the first season are successful, do you have the option to the following seasons - or other Chiba series, such as THE YAGYU CONSPIRACY (and it's sequels) - and can I hold out for a stateside release of THE GORILLA 7 or THE BODYGUARDS? [laughs]

CM: For starters, we will be releasing the first season of SHADOW WARRIORS in a big, 7-disc box set. We do have the option to pick up the rest of the series. We will have to see how the first set sells.

It's an expensive property to pick up and a lot of subtitles have to be created... and that's not a cheap thing to do for a 27-episode 55 minute television series. I would like to release THE YAGYU CONSPIRACY [Yagyu Ichizoku-no Inbo, 1978-79]. The feature version, SHOGUN'S SAMURAI [Yagyu Ichizoku-no Inbo, 1978] is the best selling Adness title to date, so it would be great to release the series, too. But, SHADOW WARRIORS will have some cool extras, which I can't talk about right now... but fans will want to get this box set.

H!O: Sounds great, Chiba fans are really looking forward to this. Now, about ULTRAMAN, are you a fan yourself?

CM: Big Time! I grew up watching ULTRAMAN. It was my favorite show as a child... and SPEED RACER [Maha Go Go Go, 1966-1967], so it's really a dream come true to be able to release the show on DVD.

H!O: When did you decide to pursue ULTRAMAN, and were you aware of the on-going problems between Tsuburaya Productions of Tokyo and Chaiyo Productions of Thailand?

CM: ULTRAMAN first was brought to me from a sales rep when I was at Ventura, but they told me that the first six series were in litigation and were unavailable. Since those were the shows that I knew the fans really wanted, I didn't pursue the Tsuburaya Productions library while at Ventura, though I did think real hard about doing ARMY OF THE APES [Saru-no Gundan, 1974-75].

H!O: Amazing. I'm sure that it would find a following besides the MST3K fanbase who froth over the Sandy Frank movie version: TIME OF THE APES; you'd also have fans of the original PLANET OF THE APES as possible buyers... The series was recently remastered for DVD release in Japan - it would be cool to see this eventually released in the States.

CM: Yeah, I really would have loved to release the series... When I got to BCI, I had a friend talk to Tsuburaya about the original ULTRAMAN series. He was told that the US video rights were now with a Thai company. We had a friend in Thailand locate the company and we began talks on acquiring the series.

H!O: Because of this on-going dispute, what kind of checking into the rights was performed and who was responsible for these procedures?

CM: Well, the litigation between the two companies concerned us. As a public company, we didn't want to acquire something that would end up in further litigation, so we had our lawyers and the sales agent that acquired the title from Chaiyo read all the documents from the courts in Japan.

H!O: Are your lawyers who read these documents located in Los Angeles or Thailand?

CM: Our lawyer is in Los Angeles, and the person who read all the Japanese court documents speaks fluent Japanese.

H!O: How do you feel about Tsuburaya Productions' situation in all of this?

CM: I would much rather be working with Tsuburaya. No doubt about it.

I think our release would be more complete having the creators of the show work with us to create our DVD release. I think it's unfortunate that the creators of the show do not have the rights to their creation, but as a fan of the show, I wanted to see it get a Region 1 release and the people that had the rights were Chaiyo.

H!O: Now, I'd like to talk about some technical aspects that fans might be keen on; what source are you using for the video masters for BCI's release of ULTRAMAN?

CM: Chaiyo has furnished us with masters. I am assuming the master originated from Tsuburaya, but I really don't know for sure. They look pretty good.

H!O: Are these discs going to be dual language?

CM: Yes, we will have the original Japanese language version with new subtitles and the English dubbed track.

H!O: What kind of restoration work is being done in regards to the original English soundtrack?

CM: The English track was hard to find. We are working to clean it up a bit, but the original tracks no longer exist in the United Artists' vaults. We looked for them.

H!O: Just for the record, in the early 1990s, when United Artists Television's rights elapsed, Tsuburaya Productions' former Los Angeles office, Ultracom Inc., located all of the original masters and returned them to the Tokyo office. These included the English, Spanish and French tracks produced by Peter Fernandez at Titra Studios. If I remember correctly, the English tracks were transferred to DAT by Brad Warner of Tsuburaya Productions' International Department.

CM: Yes, I know Tsuburaya has the dubs, but I doubt they will give them to us.

H!O: How will the series be presented and when can consumers expect to see them in retail shops?

CM: We are going to split the 39 episodes into two releases to make it more affordable. There are so many cool releases on DVD these days, it's hard to buy everything you want, so I thought if I split it into two sets, it would make it easier on the fan's DVD budget. I know I can't afford everything I want to buy these days. I'm sure some fans would rather have the whole thing in one box set but the releases will only be 60 days apart.

The first set will be released in July around the time of the San Diego Comic Con and the second release will hit stores in September.

Both sets will have some bonus features and each set will contain two collectible art cards like our HE-MAN sets. As I mentioned, it would have been awesome to work with Tsuburaya on this release, but unfortunately, the rights exist with Chaiyo and the two sets won't have all the cool stuff on the Japanese releases, but we will still try to create something that the fans will appreciate. This is the only way a Region 1 release was ever going to happen and we will still create something better than the bootlegs available here in the US, which can be found all over the internet.

H!O: Do you have plans to include the introductory special, "Ultraman is Born" [Urutoraman Tanjo] in this DVD set?

CM: Those rights are not available to us. We only have access to the episodes themselves.

H!O: What do you have planned for the future?

CM: In addition to SHADOW WARRIORS, we have several exciting titles we are releasing, including GOLGO 13: KOWLOON ASSIGNMENT [Gorugo 13 Karuun-no Kubi, 1977], Akira Kurosawa's THE QUIET DUEL [Shizuka-naru Ketto, 1949] with Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura - released for the first time on home video in the US...

H!O: ...it's also the only Kurosawa film scored by Akira Ifukube, who scored dozens of films, including the original GODZILLA [Gojira, 1954].

CM: Yes. We also have the SISTER STREETFIGHTER Quadrology coming this year - starring Chiba's protÈgÈ Etsuko Shiomi. There.s some other titles, but we have to wait until the ink dries on the contracts...

H!O: Sounds excellent - these are all really great films that need more exposure. I know that I'll be putting those on my waiting list.

Once again, thanks for your time and best of luck with your 2006 releases and I look forward to more great titles in the years to come - and more Chiba!

 
02/06/06:
KING KONG vs. GODZILLA SOUNDTRACK
Akira Ifukube's Thunderous Score Finally Heard in the States!
Author: Richard Pusateri
Source: La-La Land Records


La-La Land Records' jacket art for the rarely heard stereo soundtrack to KING KONG VS. GODZILLA! Art © 2006 La-La Land Records/Godzilla © Toho Co., Ltd. 1962/2006.
LA-LA LAND RECORDS has announced the shipping date of their KING KONG vs. GODZILLA soundtrack release as February 7, 2006. They are accepting pre-orders now.

This follow-up to La-La-Land Records 2004 GODZILLA 50th Anniversary Edition is greatly anticipated as it is stereo. Many details are still not announced, but most of the running times of the new CD's tracks appear to be nearly the same as those on the stereo disc 2 of the 50th Anniversary GODZILLA Soundtrack Perfect Collection Box #1, which were different from the mono recordings. Presumably this indicates they were recorded in stereo, not "re-channeled" mono versions. More authoritative information is expected soon, so keep watching Henshin!Online.

The La-La-Land Records web site includes one minute preview clips of six tracks.

The press release announces the good news:

KING KONG vs. GODZILLA
Music By Akria Ikufube
LLLCD 1041

Remastered in Stereo!
First time ever on CD in North America! Presenting the original motion picture soundtrack to the classic 1962 Toho Studios monster thriller "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." Legendary composer Akira Ifukube ("Godzilla") fashions a spellbinding orchestral score to chronicle this one-of-a-kind battle between two of filmdom's most beloved creatures. Remastered in stereo from Toho Studio Vault elements, with bonus tracks and featuring exclusive liner notes, this is the definitive release of Ifukube's amazing score. Godzilla celebrated his 50th Anniversary in 2004 with many worldwide events and King Kong has seen a resurgence of interest with the new Peter Jackson film in theaters and a new DVD release of the original movie.

TRACK LISTING:
1. Main Title (2:02)
2. Series of World Wonders (0:09)
3. The Sparkling Iceberg / Pashin Commercial (1:20)
4. Fujita & Fumiko (4:30)
5. The Seahawk in Crisis / Great News Gathering Team Departure (4:33)
6. The Seahawk's S.O.S. (1:58)
7. Faro Island (0:47)
8. The Natives (0:57)
9. Southern Island Tale (1:50)
10. Thunder and the Devil / Fumiko's Misgivings (2:18)
11. Godzilla's Resurrection (1:42)
12. The Cry of the Devil / A Prayer to the Rolling Thunder (2:12)
13. The Devil of the South Seas / Drums of Battle / Giant Octopus vs. King Kong (4:57)
14. The Sleeping Devil (3:13)
15. The Terror of Godzilla (3:36)
16. The Invincible King Kong / Preparation for Operation "Burial" (1:00)
17. King Kong vs. Godzilla I (2:42)
18. Preparations for Operation "One Million Volts" (0:24)
19. Operation "Burial" (0:53)
20. Operation "Burial" Fails (0:13)
21. Operation "One Million Volts" I (0:59)
22. Operation "One Million Volts" II (2:13)
23. Kong Shows Up in Tokyo (2:05)
24. The Plan to Rescue Fumiko I (2:17)
25. The Plan to Rescue Fumiko II (2:44)
26. The Plan to Transport King Kong (2:13)
27. King Kong Advances on Fuji (2:07)
28. The Confrontation at Fuji (2:07)
29. King Kong's Resurrection (1:41)
30. King Kong vs. Godzilla II (1:59)
31. Ending (0:21)

BONUS MATERIAL:
32. Main Title (mono) (2:02)
33. Main Title (a cappella) (3:44)
All music composed by AKIRA IFUKUBE (except #4 & 9)

 

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