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|Henshin!Headlines for 2002:
|SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: THE MOVIE
Discovering the Roots of STAR BLAZERS
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: Voyager Entertainment DVD Release
In the history of Japanese animation, few series or movies have influenced the genre more than the seminal SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (Uchusenkan Yamato). From the first series, through the subsequent sequels and movies, YAMATO has become a classic in the world of anime and has extended its effect from Japan to Hollywood and beyond. The surface of this phenomena has only been scratched in the US. All that is about to change now with new DVD releases from Voyager Entertainment.
|Voyager Entertainment's Latest Release, the DVD of Space Battleship Yamato. © 2002 Voyager Entertainment, Inc.
Before we look at Voyager's releases, we must first go back three decades to see where all this started. In October of 1973, final planning began on a television series about a space-faring WWII Japanese Battleship, the Yamato, based on designs by up and coming manga artist Leiji Matsumoto and conceived by veteran producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki. What set this series apart from animated shows that came before it was that the entire run would consist of a single, episodic storyline. Whereas other anime at the time had a consistent plot running in the background and usually wrapped things up by the end, the episodes were not necessarily in a certain, predetermined order. For SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, each episode would further the storyline along to the end in a continual arc.
Even though the Yamato itself provided the name for the series, most of the emphasis would be focused on the crew of the space cruiser and how they dealt with the long voyage from Earth to Iscandar and back in a race against time.
In the year 2199, invaders from the planet Gamilus are attacking Earth. Bombarding it with lethal, planet bombs, the invaders soon turn the Earth into a smoldering, radioactive wasteland. The Human Race is forced to move underground where it builds an entire subterranean civilization. However, the radioactivity is slowly seeping down into the Earth. The population only
has about a year to live.
A message comes from Stasha of the planet Iscandar, offering a device that would cleanse the world of the radioactivity and allow humans to return to the surface and continue their lives. The message, delivered by Stasha's sister, before her untimely death on Mars, also contains plans for a Wave Motion Engine that would make the long journey to Iscandar, 148,000 light years away, possible. Using the shell of the Japanese battleship, the Yamato, which sunk in a furious battle against US forces in World War II, a powerful space voyaging craft is created and a crew is assembled to save the
Earth. However, they have to make the long journey there and back in less than one year. At the same time, they must brave encounters along the way with Gamilus forces and their allies, as well as the rigors of space travel, homesickness, frayed nerves and the mystery of the great unknown.
The series debuted on the Yomiuri TV Network on October 6, 1974. The ratings, at a low of 6%, were less than impressive and the series was cut short, lasting only 26 episodes. The series went somewhat unnoticed by the general Japanese television audiences, since it was up against the highly-rated anime series, HEIDI: GIRL OF THE ALPS (Heiji Arupusu-no Shojo). After Nishizaki convinced the network to rerun the series, a loyal following started to grow, small fan clubs sprang up across Japan.
September 10, 1975: reruns of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO began showing on Hokkaido Sapporo TV and the fan clubs started to become epidemic. Also in 1975, Nishizaki and crew edited together episodes of the series into a 98-minute feature film for international audiences retitled SPACE CRUISER YAMATO and in some territories, simply SPACE CRUISER. An English-language voice track was recorded in Hollywood and the feature showed in theaters throughout England, France, Italy, Germany and Holland.
Following the international success of STAR WARS, and to beat the American hit into Japanese Cinemas, a longer feature was put together for Japanese release, featuring the series' original ending. Coming in at a more respectable 130-minutes, the SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO movie was released to Japanese theaters on August 6, 1977. Released by Toei Motion Picture Company, the feature played through October 28. During that run, it attracted a staggering 2,300,000 moviegoers! On the day before its premier, lines of anxious Yamato fans wrapped around the block at many theaters. Yamato-mania had begun, and launched the enormous Anime Boom of the late 1970s, the fallout of which is still being felt to this day.
The success of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO would lead to two more series, a made for television movie, another TV movie compiled from episodes of the second series and three theatrical features. Each incarnation pushed the boundaries of animation and affected changes in styles and formats in the Japanese animation industry on more than one occasion.
In the wake of the Stateside windfall created by STAR WARS, Claster Productions picked up the first two series for television syndication, renaming the series STAR BLAZERS. As STAR WARS paved the way for YAMATO in the US, it was a strange twist of fate, as many influences from YAMATO can be noted in the STAR WARS movies. Not the least of which was George Lucas' self proclaimed "invention" of outer space dogfights between jet-like space ships. Another glaring similarity can be noted between the trashcan shaped R2D2 of STAR WARS and the YAMATO robot, Analyzer (AKA IQ9). Due to these and other similarities, STAR BLAZERS was looked on in the US by some as a series copying STAR WARS, when it could be argued that the reverse was true.
YAMATO producer Nishizaki launched Voyager Entertainment, Inc. in 1989 with the express purpose of bringing STAR BLAZERS and YAMATO to US home video (at the time, VHS). The two original STAR BLAZERS series were released, as well as a third series (consisting of the series YAMATO III). Also released on VHS were the YAMATO feature films and the TV movie, YAMATO: THE NEW VOYAGE.
Now, all are getting face-lifts and are being released on DVD for the first time in the US, with all the trimmings. So far, the two series of STAR BLAZERS have been released (QUEST FOR ISCANDAR and THE COMET EMPIRE), with the third series coming in 2003. Each disc contains extras not available on the VHS versions, including maps of the Yamato's voyages, crew biographies and interviews with some of the voice actors. All the series are dubbed in English.
Just released from Voyager is the first feature film that sparked the fire, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: THE MOVIE. The movie is in Japanese with English subtitles for the Japanese impaired. Mastered from the same source as the VHS release, the DVD is sharp and clear and contains some very interesting extras that no fan of YAMATO or STAR BLAZERS will want to miss.
The DVD is presented in standard, 4:3 ratio and is not letterboxed. This is a disappointment as the Japanese version is 16:9. The picture quality is sharp, the source print taken from the same master used for the VHS release. The image is equivalent to similar releases such as Rhino's BATTLE OF THE PLANETS or GIGANTOR. However, the Japanese version, being digitally remastered from the original negatives, has a cleaner, sharper image.
The movie is in Japanese with English subtitles. The subtitles are not removable, since they were permanently added to the original video master. This was done for the VHS release. Since it the same source was used, it was not changed for the DVD.
The original Japanese trailer for the feature is included with English subtitles. This seems to be a prerequisite for DVDs these days. However, there are also some other great additions:
According to the DVD notes, when the movie was first shown on Japanese television in 1978, it had to be shortened for broadcast. A new, condensed version of the encounter with Stasha on Iscandar was created specifically for this showing. Other sources have stated that this version was shown in smaller Japanese theaters, which wanted a shorter version, known as a "Roadshow Version". This version was created in 1975 and was further altered to create the English version used for overseas export.
In the alternate ending, instead of meeting face to face with their benefactor, Stasha appears as a hologram, since she has already died, giving them the radioactive neutralizing agent and sending them on their way as the crew of the Yamato gives her a 21-gun salute. This drastically changed the ending of the film, which originally contained a reunion between first mate Susumu Kodai and this lost brother, who was thought to have been killed in a battle with a Gamilus fleet near Earth, and his brother's subsequent decision to remain with Stasha on Iscandar. This new sequence is presented in its entirety on the DVD.
A page by page reproduction of the original program book is also part of the extras. As you click through the pages, you can also check out closer details or select a text option that presents an English translation of all the materials.
Finally, a YAMATO Promotional History is featured. It includes reproductions of all the posters and promotional materials associated with the feature, as well as a 14-part textual history of the movie from the 1973 inception of the television series through the theatrical release and its first showing
on Japanese TV in 1978.
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: THE MOVIE is a glimpse into a big part of the history of Japanese animation. The film itself, being a condensation of 26 half-hour episodes into one, two-hour and ten minute movie, seems a bit rushed at times as it tries to detail the long voyage through space. However, the drama, action and character development are still there from the original series and in watching this, fans can detail the changes and differences between the original SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO and its US incarnation, STAR BLAZERS.
In addition to VHS and DVD releases, other STAR BLAZERS merchandise is becoming available through Voyager Entertainment as they continue to bring Matsumoto and Nishizaki's classic universe to fans throughout the world. Check out what's available at www.starblazers.com.
Through these and future releases from Voyager Entertainment, we're off to outer space!
|Kadokawa Daiei Motion Picture Co., Ltd. to produce GODZILLA VS. GAMERA!
Translation & additional information: August Ragone
Source: Evening Fuji Online
This past July, Kadokawa Publishing, which is no stranger to film production, purchased the world-famous Daiei Motion Picture Company. Kadokawa has produced films in the past, usually based on its own publications, which have been some of the biggest scale productions ever made in Japan. The impressive roster of films includes the box-office hits LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI (Satomi Hakken Den), VIRUS (Fukkatsu-no Hi) and HARMAGEDDON (Harumagedon).
|Could the "King of Monsters" battle the "Friend to All Children?" According to sources in Japan, the answer may be yes!
This month, Kadokawa Publishing's head, 58 year-old Maihiko Kadokawa, launches his own film studio -- the "Kadokawa-Daiei Motion Picture Company." To assist him in this new venture, Kadokawa has hired 65 year-old Kazuo Kuroi, President of Kinema Jumpo, as the company's Chairman. Kinema Jumpo is Japan's oldest and most respected film critique magazine.
The Evening Fuji tapped Chairman Kuroi for his comments, "Every year, we will aim to produce two to three large-scale films [in addition to smaller productions]." One of the first of these large-scale productions, the new company plans on remaking one of the original Daiei hits, DAIMAJIN. It was also revealed that they are in negotiations with the Toho Motion Picture Company to co-produce GODZILLA VS. GAMERA.
The original Daiei Motion Picture Company was founded in 1942 as "The Greater Japan Motion Picture Company," under President Masaichi Nagata. Together, they produced a number of hits both domestically (with such series as ZATOICHI) and internationally (with award-winning films such as RASHOMON and THE GATE OF HELL -- the first Japanese film shot in color).
Due to lax business policies and mismanagement, the studio closed its doors in 1971. Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company purchased the studio, and its remaining holdings, in 1974, and limited production began anew. A year after the passing of Tokuma's president, Yasunari Tokuma (who loved the old Daiei films), the publishing giant transferred the property and holdings to Kadokawa.
According to Kadokawa Publishing, Daimajin could be stomping his way onto the screen again! Despite the scandals caused by the controversial original president of Kadokawa Publishing, Haruki Kadokawa, the company continued to move forward in film production. As a result, the company moved its film production division from the main branch to subsidiaries "Asmic Ace Entertainment" and "Tosca Domain." Now, Kadokawa moves the new Daiei company to the forefront.
"We will strive to develop as a real force in the motion picture business," announced CEO Maihiko Kadokawa at the press conference on the new company, and with Chairman Kuroi, this movie maverick is looking to move fast and furious within the first month of business, and is not wasting any time.
The foundation of the policies concerning operation are, according to Chairman Kuroi:
1. Make the Kadokawa Group the number one film production company in Japan and produce two to three lavish and large-scale films per year, released nationwide, in addition to three or four more modest productions for smaller releases.
2. The productions of original made-for-video release, as well as programs and movies made-for-television.
3. Acquisition and distribution of foreign films for the Japanese market.
4. Business management of Daiei Motion Picture Studios in Chofu, Tokyo.
"Following in the footsteps of Nagata's Daiei and Tokuma's Daiei, we are positive in our forward momentum, based on the former's great successes. It was also the late President Tokuma's desire to bring back DAIMAJIN, to experience the many successes that Toho's Godzilla, and Daiei's Gamera franchises have enjoyed. We also hope to produce a lavish movie spectacle, in which those two monsters will finally meet in battle."
Back in 1990, former President Tokuma announced the planning of a new DAIMAJIN film at the Yubari Film Festival, to be co-produced by Golden Harvest and starring Kevin Costner [source: Kinema Jumpo magazine]. As unlikely as that seemed, it was almost a reality, until Golden Harvest backed out (Daiei licensed the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES films for Japan from Golden Harvest). Fortunately, for all of mankind, this version of DAIMAJIN was never produced.
Now, with Japanese special effects masters like Shinji Higuchi, such a new version of DAIMAJIN could be realized like never before. Backed by Kadokawa-Daiei's promise of large-scale spectacles, with lavish budgets, this could become a reality faster than a dethroned princess can evoke the evil side of Shino. But, will such a film be as powerful as the original films without the music of Akira Ifukube? If the new Daiei follows through, we shall see.
As for the proposed GODZILLA VS. GAMERA, at the time of publication, representatives from Toho were not tapped for comments on the proposed match of the century -- could GODZILLA VS. GAMERA be the 50th Anniversary Godzilla film for 2004? One must wonder if Shusuke Kaneko's phone isn't already ringing...
Meanwhile, Kadokawa-Daiei is not wasting any time, the infant motion picture company has already acquired several foreign films for Japanese distribution, including new Chinese and French films (for release this coming year's Golden Week celebrations). Also, commencing this coming March, the entire Daiei Studios will be completely renovated, to meet with today's standards in motion picture production.
"The Kadokawa-Daiei Motion Picture Company will be the final word in visual production. With the active personnel interchange throughout our Kadokawa Group of companies, we will maintain a fresh and active stance, which is not currently evident in the [Japanese] film industry."
But still, with the current non-ambitious nature of the current Japanese film industry, the abilities of Chairman Kuroi will be under harsh scrutiny from this point forward. Can the new Daiei raise the bar, for not only itself, but for the Japanese film industry as a whole? Will Daimajin march again? Will Gamera finally challenge Godzilla? Only time will tell.
Special thanks Aaron Smith from Monster Zero News and to Kayo Misawa Holden for bringing the original article to our attention.
|REVIEW: GODZILLA against MECHAGODZILLA
More Potential than is Realized
Author: John Lipartito
Source: Monster Zero News
This weekend I was lucky to attend my second Tokyo International Film Festival in what is now my second year living in dreamland Japan! Why do I say "lucky?" That’s because advance tickets to this one sold out in the first three days they were available! Tickets became on sale on a Saturday, and unlucky me decided to go buy them the following Monday night. Fortunately, my far too kind girlfriend (sorry for the shameless kissing-up) found several tickets being auctioned on Yahoo Japan. So I was able to score a pair of tickets in the dead center of Shibuya’s Ochard Hall for me and my otaku (otaku=obsessed, loyal fan) buddy Hiro for the slightly inflated price of 2300yen a piece. PHEW!
As always at TIFF, before the film showing was a stage appearance by Cast and staff including producer Shogo Tomiyama, director Masaaki Tezuka, VFX supervisor Yuichi Kikuchi, actors Akira Nakao, Shin Takuma, and idol star Yumiko Shaku. Like last year, everyone talked a little about their involvement in the film and shared their hopes that we would enjoy their work. The last actor to speak was Nakao (best known to fans as General Aso from the Heisei series) and before he stepped back, the MC was bold enough to ask him if there would be another Godzilla film after this one, to which he replied, "I hope so," an answer that commanded a full house of wild applause.
To read the rest of this story at Monster Zero News, click here!
|Tokyo International Film Festival
Godzilla X MechaGodzilla November 2, 2002
Author: Norman England
For Godzilla fans living in Japan there is but one date circled on the calendar - that of the Tokyo International Film Festival. The biggest film event in the nation, featuring a bevy of motion pictures from not only Japan but around the world, it's under this auspicious setting that Toho unveils its latest Godzilla effort. And as an international event, Western Godzilla fans get the added benefit of a subtitled screening, making it all the more memorable.
This year marked my fourth T.I.F.F. attendance. Starting with GODZILLA 2000, through both GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS and GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK, and now onto GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA, I've enjoyed every Godzilla screening. Each year is unforgettable for different reasons and each holds its own set of special memories. Almost as important as the screening is that it's also a chance to mingle with both fans and filmmakers. Scores of Godzilla fans from around Japan make the trek to Tokyo. In many cases this is the only time we get to see each other. So while I may be deprived of those great Chiller type shows that I used to frequent when living in the US, I have T.I.F.F. - and by God I make the most of it!
|The 15th TIFF show is advertised at Shibuya Station. Photo: Norman England
T.I.F.F. is held in the Tokyo ward of Shibuya at Bunka-mura Hall. The screening itself is given inside Orchard Hall, a 2,000 plus capacity auditorium. With the doors set to open at 2:30 pm and Shibuya a five-minute train ride from my local station, I was able start the day off leisurely with a few Godzilla CDs to get myself in the mood. Weather wise, things started great. The morning sky was a fine blue with clean white clouds whisking high above. Yet while beginning fine, by the start of the show the sky had grown overcast, which is typical of Tokyo's schizophrenic weather.
Arriving to Shibuya at noon, I met up with friends John and Hiro at the famous Hachiko statue. The story of Hachiko, about a dog that waited faithfully for his master, is something of a local legend. For kaiju fans the statue is noted by its appearance in the Shibuya GAMERA 3 battle scene when it's seen engulfed in flame. On this day the small dog was shrouded in a banner advertising the T.I.F.F. show.
T.I.F.F. normally operates on a first come first serve seat basis, but this year tickets were assigned seating. Despite this, hours before the show there was a long line in front of the theater. There, I bumped into fans from the Godzilla Supporters Group, notably Hico and Iwai. One of the most zealous Godzilla fans in the world, Hico runs a large Godzilla website. Iwai, another fan of the first order, is usually in charge of organizing events, such as the after screening party on this night.
|The famous Hachiko statue sports a new wardrobe. Photo: Norman England
Milling around the Hall's overhanging entrance and decked out in a snazzy new suit was longtime Godzilla producer Shogo Tomiyama. I hadn't seen Mr. Tomiyama in two months and welcomed the chance to catch up on things. He was looking fit and much more relaxed than during production this past summer.
Checking in with the Toho publicity people, I received my comp ticket. Normally I'm let in early to pick my own seat, and I always choose some no nonsense one like front and center. Because of this year being assigned seating I was tossed upstairs on the second tier balcony.
At 2:15, I joined a group of twenty or so reporters. Led into the empty theater by a Toho publicist, we received a run down on the show, which actors would be present, and the order of their presentation. While staking out spots around the stage, the general audience was let in.
With my photo taking spot secure, I went to drop my bag on my seat. Walking upstairs, I noticed a couple of friends standing inside the second floor café. In the group were kaiju artist Yuji Kaida and FX film critic Morihiko Saito (who wrote the GMK making of book published by Sonorama last year). Here too were GMK FX director Makoto Kamiya, Gamera FX director Shinji Higuchi, Gamera / GMK FX cameraman Satoshi Murakawa and his GMK assistant camera person Yoko Itakura. I hadn't seen Yoko in a year. The last time we spoke she was planning to move to NY City to further her camera studies, but alas, she said that the World Trade Center incident has put this plan on hold.
Director Higuchi looked his usual beatnik self. He mentioned he is making the final changes on his first directorial effort, a movie featuring teen idol singing group Mini-Moni, an offshoot of the hugely successful Morning Musume.
Breaking away, I dashed up another flight only to be greeted by the shocking sight of GXMG assistant directors Shimizu and Okamoto decked out in spiffy suits. A big switch from the scruffy look they sport during filming. They were acting as greeters for the staff.
The second tier was filled with GXMG staff and industry people. I found my spot, thrilled to find that I was seated next to Mizuho Yoshida, Godzilla suit actor in GMK, and Akira Ohashi, Ghidorah in GMK. It was a good chance to catch up on recent events. With my bag dropped off, I dashed back downstairs.
|GXMG producer Shogo Tomiyama. Photo: Norman England
As I recovered my spot against the lip of the stage, the final bell rang signaling the start of the show. It was 3 pm on the nose. Taking the stage were the two women who have been emceeing the event since G-2000. After their welcome they announced the show's special guest presenters. Under loud applause, the guests walked on stage. From let to right, they were producer Shogo Tomiyama, FX director Yuuichi Kikuchi, actors Shin Takuma, Yumiko Shaku, Akira Nakao, and director Masaaki Tezuka. First up to deliver his greeting was Mr. Tomiyama.
Here are clips from each address:
"The Godzilla film we aimed for is a monster movie that is not just cool looking, but one that will move your heart. I'd like to thank the people from the self-defense force, and also the Godzilla Supporters who ran really hard at Hakkeijima on that super hot day."
"I heard it was very difficult to get tickets to today's show. All you fans who love Godzilla, it is you who supported us and made it possible for us to finish this film."
"I think that in this film the passion and energy of the creators really comes across."
"I play the role of Akane Yashiro, a special agent in the defense army. I hope that you can enjoy and feel the strength of the woman that I play."
"I was in a Godzilla film in 1984. It's been 18 years since then and I really felt my age!"
"This is my fourth Godzilla film; seven years since the last one. Now I am playing the prime minister of Japan. Recently we haven't had too many good prime ministers, so I play him as a decision making, courageous man. Unfortunately, because I play him, he comes across as rather slack. But enjoy the film anyway!"
I don't want to sound sexist or anything, but Yumiko Shaku looked fantastic! Her snug black sweater fit perfectly, and she was cheerful and exuberant at all times. Yumiko's a real gem of a woman.
For whatever reason, each actor was asked to make some comment concerning baseball player Hideki Matsui's appearance in the film and give his or her impression of the then rumor that he's to play in New York next season. As a non-sports fan I was a bit annoyed to see special attention given to such an obvious publicity gimmick.
Following the speeches was a special appearance by Godzilla, and the King of the Monsters lumbered onto the stage to thunderous applause. Ok, so it was just an event suit, but it looked good (events suits have gotten so much better in the past few years) and with mist blasting from his mouth it was just plain fun. Annoyingly, Godzilla was outfitted with a baseball bat, trying harder than ever to cash in on Matsui's popularity and the fact that he uses "Gojira" as his nickname.
|Godzilla checks his breath against the first row audience. Photo: Norman England
A moment later, from behind Godzilla came MechaGodzilla. As the silver and blue kaiju snuck up, the emcee yelled for Godzilla to be wary of the approaching adversary. Just when MechaGodzilla was to strike, he accidentally toppled over. In a flash Yumiko rushed to his aid. It was hilarious to see this petite beauty struggling to lift the large MG suit. Quickly, others jumped to action, righted the suit, and the battle was back on! This was followed by the obligatory group photo session. Once done, I high tailed it back to my seat.
Before going any further, I should point out that the purpose of this article is to report on the show. It's not a film review per say. Why? As someone partially involved with the production (I was on hand for 40 of the film's 60 days of shooting), it's difficult for me to assess the film impartially, I think. But to be fair to readers who want to know something of the film, I should pass along some thoughts and information. So, with that in mind, here goes:
First, this is the basic plot of GXMG:
Since the original Godzilla attack on Japan (where he was done away by the Oxygen Destroyer), the nation has been ransacked from time to time by giant monsters such as Mothra and the Green Gargantua (shown in clips from the original films). To combat them, the Japanese nation established a special division of the armed forces called "Anti-Megalosaurus". Key to their arsenal is the maser weapon, a super laser cannon. Highly successful, it vanquished many giant monsters. When Godzilla mysteriously returned in 1999, it was deployed again. But the weapon proved no match for Godzilla, and the kaiju could not be stopped. Fearing another return of Godzilla, the government assembled a team to create "Kiryu" (which means "machine dragon" in Japanese), or, as nicknamed by its builders, MechaGodzilla.
The movie's human drama centers on Akane Yashiro (Yumiko Shaku). Once in charge of the maser tank, she caused an accident during Godzilla's 1999 raid that resulted in the death of several members of her squadron. Reduced in rank and given a desk job, she must work hard to prove herself fit for duty once again.
Necessary to the creation of Kiryu is Tokumitsu Yuhara (Shin Takuma), a scientist who has perfected a method of grafting DNA with mechanical apparatus. He is recruited by the government to transform DNA recovered from the left over skeleton of the original Godzilla. With him is daughter Sara (Haruna Onodera), who, due to the loss of her mother, wants all fighting and death making ceased - including the tactics against Godzilla, a creature who's existence she blames on adults and their desire for war. The movie follows the creation of MechaGodzilla and its deployment against Godzilla.
As for the film, for starters, it's short - just 88 minutes (and 6 seconds) total. As Mr. Tomiyama said during his opening speech, "Don't blink or you'll miss it!" While this keeps things moving briskly, it ultimately works against the film. I felt that none of the characters were developed as well as they should have been. Not to say that the characters are bad, some of them are very good, just that they are not given ample breathing space.
|The GXMG team. Photo: Norman England
The establishment of Yashiro's mishandling of the maser tank is well done and the character is provided with a good backdrop. Unfortunately, it quickly gets bogged down in tripe when after joining the elite squad of Kiryu (the name is also used for the team assigned to pilot MechaGodzilla) one of the members openly challenges her because his brother was killed in the accident she caused. It was obvious right away how this plot point would play itself out and, disappointingly, did so as expected.
Shin Takuma's performance as Professor Yuhara was natural and enjoyable. On the set Takuma was always kidding around and seemed hardly serious about the production. I was expecting this to come through in his performance. Thankfully it didn't. While his personality is carefree and playful, his work is that of a pro. Thus, his character enjoys a sense of humor while being serious at the same time. In this regard, the film is bolstered by his performance.
While also delivering a solid performance, the biggest disappointment for me was Yumiko Shaku. Though I don't fault Yumiko, rather the not fully developed script. Like Kiriko in GXM, hers is a two-dimensional military type. Though some dialogue is present to flesh out the character, it's more like something dropped in and is hardly evident on screen. But then this could be attributed to her character being a military type. Ones like Takuma's are given the chance at being human. Military types are always having to posture, and huff around. Too bad. Yumiko was one of my favorite people on the set of GXMG. She is warm and kind, and has one of the most insanely funny laughs I have ever heard in my life. It's a shame these qualities weren't captured in the film.
Surprisingly, the performance that stood out most for me is that of child actress Haruna Onodera in the role of Yuhara's daughter Sara. Since the film's message is carried by Sara, the character and its portrayal are pivotal to its success. Though the message is somewhat bungled (as I'll explain), the material is handled well by Haruna. More often than not, child actors come across as stiff or else try too hard. Haruna does all her scenes well, turning in a performance as good if not better than Mayu Suzuki's (Io from G-2000), which I also rate high.
|The after screening party getting wild. Photo: Norman England
GXMG is chock full of cameos. GMK FX director Makoto Kamiya can be found near the beginning. G-2000's Takehiro Murata is seen picking up dropped cans in a scene when the maser tank rolls through Shinagawa. In the maser cockpits are suit actors Kitagawa and Ishigaki, as well as FX director Kenji Suzuki. And of course director Tezuka makes his now traditional end-of-film appearance.
Tezuka's direction is just a notch up from his work on GXM. Another disappointment, as I expected more. However, one scene came across quite effective. As it involves a major turning point for Yumiko's character, I'm not going to describe the scene, but it is emotional and does shows that Tezuka is growing as a director.
The FXs, while terrific in spots, are often sub par. There is constant matte matching problems and on several occasions the elements themselves don't fit proportionately. That is, when something is flying away, the background doesn't match the increase or decrees in the size of the matted object. And before people start screaming that they should have brought back the GMK team (a film whose FXs are superior) it should be pointed out that the GXMG team is essentially the same team. However, some key men were not asked back. Conspicuously absent is Hajime Matsumoto, who is without a doubt the finest FX supervisor in Japan today. GXMG sorely misses his talented guidance, which his work on the Gamera series/CROSSFIRE/The Ring series/GMK and many others prove.
So, what is the problem with GXMG's FX sequences? Nothing unusual to Godzilla: a lack of time and budget. GXMG has just enough to show that the staff is on the right track but because of various restrictions, the staff is denied the chance to truly strut their stuff.
But there is some good stuff here. I particularly like the scenes of Godzilla in the rain, and though they were hell to film, looked terrific on screen. Also, the maser tank is a sight to behold. With its design nearly identical to the original, it's a good example of the phrase, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Another key element to a Godzilla film is its music. While I'd like to comment on it, I feel I shouldn't. Orchard Hall has some of the worst acoustics I've encountered and it would be cruel to judge Ms. Ohshima on what I heard this evening.
Probably the biggest problem with the film for me is that its message comes through too garbled. And worse, as with GXM, it is heavy handed in the way that message cartoons aimed at kids are. As a boy there was nothing I hated more than a bunch of adults trying to teach me something for my own good. It was always obvious that they were duping me by taking something I love (in this case Godzilla) and injecting it with some "dumb" grown-up concern.
|Haruo Nakajima and Shinichi Wakasa. Photo: Norman England
I'm not saying messages are unimportant. They are. But it's how you do them. Take the original STAR TREK series. One of its themes is how mankind, if getting its act together, will enjoy a harmonious civilization in the future. While Captain Kirk occasionally goes over the top with hammy monologues, the theme is shown in his and other characters' attitude and in how they carry themselves. Not some "lesson" where everything stops and you find yourself lectured at. This is how I felt when GXMG went into its "life being precious" bit.
Another problem I had is that Godzilla is never clearly defined. Its nuclear origin is there, but who this new Godzilla is and what his motivation is, I couldn't figure out. He just comes ashore, raises hell, and then leaves. Maybe I missed something, but its connection to the original Godzilla eluded me. Even during the production when I found myself puzzled over certain story elements, staff members I drilled were unable to explain. For otaku fans, this is hardly a problem, I think, as they can just fill in the blanks with their own take on Godzilla. But even so, the ones I spoke to after the screening said they were unable to connect with the Godzilla they saw on the screen this night. But this might be because, in truth, GXMG focuses more on MechaGodzilla than Godzilla; it's essentially the story of MechaGodzilla.
Tsutomu Kitagawa's performance as the Kaiju King is surly his best to date (lack of character definition not withstanding). One scene that stood out for me is when Godzilla is taking hits off a maser weapon. By the reaction, it looks like he really is being blasted. This is because not only is the FX convincing, but also because of the way Kitagawa performs in the suit. I also like how prior to Godzilla's ray blast, the fins "spark" and a loud popping sound charges the air. It is a nice rethinking of a traditional element.
And do I really need to go into how glad I am to see the return of Kumi Mizuno?
In the end, I have to rate GXMG a mid-level entry in the series. Depending on your taste, it will fall either just above or just below Tezuka's GXM.
As for the inevitable comparison to GMK, I feel that, like comparing GXM to GMK, it is something better left to the fanboy press. The two filmmakers, Masaaki Tezuka and Shusuke Kaneko represent two takes on the Godzilla legacy. Neither is right, and neither is wrong.
Following the screening was the traditional in-front-of-the-theater hang out. On the way downstairs I passed on some comments to GXMG star Yumiko Shaku. Yumiko was, as I said, in top form this evening. That black outfit being the clear-cut winner if you compare the past Godzilla heroines' dress at T.I.F.F.
|Tezuka wonders if he shouldn't have included Angilas in GXMG. Photo: Norman England
Sara actress Haruna Onodera was also on hand, and she took a moment to stop and offer me a proper military salute. This was her "thing" on the set of GXMG. One afternoon Shin Takuma taught her the correct way to salute and after that it was how she occupied all her free time. Haruna was with her mom, a quiet woman, one atypical of the crafty image associated with stage moms.
Hitting the lobby, I bumped into live-action cameraman Masahiro Kishimoto. His fourth Godzilla production, Kishimoto is one of the most outgoing men I know in Japan and is extremely passionate about his profession. He went on about having recently given his approval to the mastering of the TV version of GMK, which is to air later this month in Japan (sans 9 minutes of footage).
Millennium series/Gamera series FX scripter Junko Aoki was in typical form. With a wide smile offsetting her tired eyes (scripter is one of the most mentally demanding jobs on the set, doubly so for FX) she quietly complained about the short, hectic preproduction time allotted GXMG. A hand on the shoulder drew my attention to GMK/GXMG actor Takeo Nakahara, who wanted to introduce me to his wife. In GMK he played the captain of the Aizu Battleship and in GXMG he is a high level military official. Up next was Kyoko Kitahara, music producer for Toho. During a visit to the GXMG set by both she and composer Michiru Ohshima, she extended an invitation to the film's scoring session. She took this time to apologize because at the last moment the session was rescheduled to Russia.
Just as I was about out the door, I turned to find the lovely Misato Tanaka decked out in a silky black dress. We'd last met at the GXMG wrap party where we shared a beer and a chat. In GXMG she has a small cameo as a nurse, playing along side Toshiyuki Nagashima, her commanding officer who was slain in the beginning of GXM. Despite her recent car accident (which wasn't much of anything), she looked radiant. She has incredible eyes and great cheek bones.
|Kikuchi hopes Wakasa won't be angry to see him with a GMK Godzilla. Photo: Norman England
The front of the theater was a madhouse. Director Tezuka was surrounded by fans clamoring for autographs. I began talking with Kikuchi, but this proved impossible. In no time, a cue formed in front of the first time FX director. Suitmaker Shinichi Wakasa and producer Tomiyama worked the crowd as well, signing heaps of the special program pamphlets passed out before the show. I chided G-2000/GXM FX director Kenji Suzuki over his small cameo in GXMG. The former male model acted surprised that I was able to find him in the film. I introduced my friends John and Hiro to Yoshida and Ohashi, and the two drooled typical fan boy praises over the suit actors GMK and Gamera appearances. group this meant it was time to travel over to Shinjuku's Kabukicho for the after screening party. A small get-together given by Mr. Iwai of the Godzilla Supporters group, it was an invitation only dinner held in a private room of an upscale restaurant. Arriving at seven, we were seated with Tezuka, Kikuchi and several GXMG ADs and designers.
With another film scheduled for Orchard Hall, the T.I.F.F. staff forced everyone to leave the area. For my group this meant it was time to travel over to Shinjuku's Kabukicho for the after screening party. A small get-together given by Mr. Iwai of the Godzilla Supporters group, it was an invitation only dinner held in a private room of an upscale restaurant. Arriving at seven, we were seated with Tezuka, Kikuchi and several GxMG ADs and designers. The entire evening was a let-your-hair-down-and-revel-in-the-fact-that-a-new-Godzilla-film-has-just-entered-into-our-lives type of night. Spirits were high, and people talked with wild fervor. Other guests included original suit actor Haruo Nakajima, Shinichi Wakasa and scriptwriter Hiroshi Kashiwabara. As usual, the aging Mr. Nakajima was a ton of fun, laughing it up and talking to anyone who cared to engage him.
|Nakajima embraces an unidentified foreign party crasher. Photo: Norman England
During the night Tezuka asked how I felt about his including me in a shot of an early evacuation scene. Yeah, I was happy. Though quick, I could just pick myself out before the scene switched. I asked about his daughter Arisa. "I worked her in three times!" He boasted. Accusing him of nepotism, Tezuka let out a large laugh.
It wouldn't be a Japanese party without a game, and we were submitted to a round of bingo. Godzilla related presents were lumped on a table near the front and with cards in hand we did our best to win something. But with more gifts than guests, everyone was guaranteed to win something. Tezuka's prize was a small Bandai Angilas and Kikuchi picked out a GMK Godzilla. As a writer, I took a box of Godzilla pencils.
I spent much of the evening talking to Tezuka's first AD Kaneshige about the positive and negative aspects of working at Toho and going over the merits and demerits of the newest film. We were later joined by FX AD Shimizu and his wife. She has small roles in both GMK and GXMG. A real life TV announcer, in GMK she plays the reporter announcing the coming of the Mothra egg in Kyushu. In GXMG she has a small scene in the beginning playing (what else?) a reporter.
The party ended at ten. The group stumbled outdoors to find that it had begun to drizzle. I thanked Iwai and Hico for the fun evening, and then thanked Tezuka and Kikuchi for all their kindness during the film's shoot. I arrived home close to eleven completely worn out.
And there you have it, another great T.I.F.F. premier, another Godzilla film. As is the case every year, no one knows at this time whether the series will continue or not. I hope it does. T.I.F.F. has become an annual tradition for me and I just don't think life in Japan will be the same without it.
More Exclusive photos from Norman England:
Bunka-mura Hall, site of TIFF.
The lull before the storm.
Tomiyama takes the mic.
Yumiko Shaku and Akira Nakao share a smile.
Director Masaaki Tezuka.
FX Supervisor Yuichi Kikuchi.
Actress Yumiko Shaku.
Actor Shin Takuma.
Actor Akira Nakao.
The 'cool' table.
Hiro explains to Kashiwabara why G vs SG is the greatest Godzilla epic of all time.
The Shimizus looking fit with one more Godzilla production to their names.
|"Just Imagine... A Japandroid!"
JINZONINGEN KIKAIDA comes to Region-1 DVD!
Author: August Ragone
Source: Generation Kikaida/JN Productions & The Honolulu Advertiser
Riding astride his sidecar superbike, Jiro, a young man clad in blue denhim with a guitar slung across on his back, swings his arms and transforms into a red and blue combat android known as Kikaida. The yin-yang patterned android, with exposed circuitry flashing under his glass-domed head, smashes through hordes of monstrous automatons in order to save the children of Dr. Komyoji, the scientist who created him.
|Kikaida Collector's Edition DVD! © Ishimori Productions/Toei
Kikaida's mission: to reunite Mitsuko and Masaru with their fugitive father, and bring down the sinister Dark Destruction Corps. This underground organization comprised of monster androids, is masterminded by the evil Professor Gill, who plots to take over the world through violence and subversion. Only Kikaida stands in his way. But, like all legendary heroes, Kikaida has a flaw: an incomplete "Conscience Circuit," which keeps him from being the "perfect android" -- a flaw that Professor Gill can exploit...
Created on the heels of KAMEN RIDER, SUPERHUMAN BAROM-1 and HENSHIN NINJA ARASHI, by Ishimori Productions and Toei Studios, JINZONINGEN KIKAIDA (Kikaider: The Android of Justice) was a 43-episode smash hit during the "Henshin Boom" on Japanese television in the early 1970s. Not long after, KIKAIDA was broadcast with English subtitles on Stateside Japanese-language stations in Honolulu, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In Hawaii, the series became a massive success, akin to the "Batcraze" caused by the original BATMAN series in the 1960s. Thousands of fans came out for personal appearances by the characters and stars of the series. The KIKAIDA LP record sold thousands of copies. This caused a flood of similar shows to be imported and subtitled by KIKU-TV during the 1970s. But none of them captured the hearts and minds of Hawaii's children like KIKAIDA did. Why?
While KIKAIDA didn't have the budget to realize the ambitions of Ishimori's Dark Destructoid designs, as was achieved with KAMEN RIDER, KIKAIDA still had as much action, spirit and kinetic energy as its sister series. But, KIKAIDA had something more important: a plot that was full of heart and soul, well-defined characters (whom you cared about), engaging subplots, and an amazing score by Michiaki "Chumei" Watanabe.
So, its no wonder that scores of children around the world who saw KIKAIDA, loved the show unconditionally, warts and all. Many of them have waited more than two decades, hoping to see their red and blue hero again. While Toei Video in Japan released the series on both VHS and laserdisc in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, non Japanese-speaking fans have had to settle for funky, fuzzy, muddy and mis-translated grey-market tapes. But, no more!
JN Productions, who have been providing Japanese programming for Honolulu's legendary KIKU-TV for more than three decades, has recently brought back Toei's legendary superhero teleseries KIKAIDA (1972-1973) and KIKAIDA-01 (1973-1974) to resounding success on Hawaiian airwaves. Not only are the kids who grew up watching back in the 1970s becoming fans again, but their children have also taken to the show as they did, almost thirty years ago.
Hawaii's new "Kikaidamania" has exploded across the islands, resulting in personal appearances by the original stars, Daisuke Ban (who played "Jiro") and Shunsuke Ikeda (who played "Ichiro"), promotional events, a TV special, new and original KIKAIDA merchandise, and an official website "Generation Kikaida" (generationkikaida.com). KIKU-TV and JN Productions are currently re-running the original KIKAIDA series weekday afternoons, while there are two back-to-back episodes of KIKAIDA-01 on Sunday nights. KIKAIDA is everywhere! Or so it would seem in Hawaii...
Mainland fans who also watched the series as children, might moan "That's great and all, but I don't live in Hawaii... So, how can I see KIKAIDA again?" Well, it's time to prepare for the best news yet: JN Productions is producing and distributing the original KIKAIDA series on Region-1 DVD, painstakingly remastered by JN Productions from Toei's original 16mm prints -- and those outside of Hawaii can purchase their very own copies, direct from the Generation Kikaida Online Store website, which opened for business on October 15th.
"It always surprises me how many Kikaida fans are out there," JN Productions' Joanne Ninomiya told the Honolulu Advertiser last Tuesday. It was she who licensed KIKAIDA for Hawaii back in 1974 and now. "Boys who were between 3 and 12, when Kikaida first hit television in 1972, are still carrying the torch today. These guys keep coming back now, always wanting to be a part of the renewed popularity. Girls grow up, leaving behind their Barbie dolls, but boys will be boys -- they still love KIKAIDA."
Star Daisuke Ban, was in Honolulu on Tuesday to help launch the DVD. He told the Hoholulu Advertiser: "I'm overwhelmed and gratified by all the attention from the Hawai'i fans. In the beginning, we knew the story was universal -- good vs. evil -- and the theme of the imperfect man trying to be perfect and fighting the bad guys was perfect from the start, 28 years ago."
According to the Honolulu Advertiser, JN Productions worked with 16mm film from Toei for broadcast, transferring them to Beta SP broadcast video. For the DVD, JN Productions' computer-savvy editor Robby Gaskell transferred the Beta SP masters to digital video. So, the look and sound are bound to be amazing.
Pomai Souza, the founder of the Tokusatsu Planet group on Yahoo!, had this to say about the audio and video transfers, "Crisp, clear picture -- it couldn't get any better than this from '70s cut masters (I could zoom in with my DVD remote and see alot of details on the costumes that I'd NEVER see on a VHS tape!)."
"The Slow-motion advance is smooth, with no obvious frame transitions (really cool when you want to get a good look at that funny looking nozzle coming out of Blue Buffalo's mouth in the flame-throwing scene). Dynamic audio sound -- the "punch and kick" foley sounds come through the speakers almost as if Green Mantis were right there in my living room."
In KIKAIDA DVD Volume 1, you can see Kikaida in all his red-byte-and-blue glory! This DVD contains the first five episodes of the original KIKAIDA series from 1972! Watch Kikaida battle the sinister Dark Destruction Corps and Professor Gill, inlcuding the first wave of Dark Destrutoids: Gray Rhino King, Green Mantis, Orange Ant, Blue Buffalo and Yellow Jaguar! Fans in Hawaii can purchase their own copies at Tower Records, Borders, Sam Goody, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart, Shirokiya, Long's, of the Generation Kikaida Online Store. Suggested retail price is $24.95.
KIKAIDA Volume 1 includes these features:
Digitally remastered picture and sound
Fully subtitled in English
English and Japanese menus
Cast and Crew profiles
Complete Dark Destructoid Monster profiles (with sound!)
KIKU-TV on-air promo
For more details and information on how you can purchase your own copy, go to: www.generationkikaida.com or contact JN Productions at 808-836-0361.
Special Mahalo goes out to Chance Gusukuma of JN Productions.
DAIMAJIN DVD REVIEW
Rubbersuit/AD Visions DAIMAJIN BOX SET
Author: John Cassidy
The giant stone statue Daimajin comes to life again on American DVD! Since Daiei recently released all three films on Region 2 DVD in Japan, Rubbersuit Pictures, the Japanese SF arm of A.D. Vision, follows suit with this reasonably good box set that contains all three Daimajin epics from 1966!
|Daimajin ressurected on DVD in America! © 1966 Daiei Motion Picture Co. Ltd. & ADV Films., Ltd. 1998
Originally known in the US as MAJIN: MONSTER OF TERROR, this film was the first, and arguably the best, of the trilogy. The story deals with the young prince Tadafumi, who, along with his sister Kozasa and guardian samurai Kogenta, hopes to regain his village 10 years after his father, Lord Hanabusa, was betrayed and killed by the chamberlain Samanosuke. Samanosuke had put all of the villagers into cruel slavery, and outlawed the worshipping of the Daimajin, which supposedly caused earthquakes that sounded like huge footsteps. Kogenta and the two children had retreated to the temple of the elder priestess Shinobu, located in a mountain where lies the giant shogun- like statue of Daimajin. Once Kogenta and Tadafumi are caught by Samanosukeís men, Shinobu tried to warn the chamberlain that Daimajin would become enraged and trample the kingdom if the prayers are stopped. Samanosuke then kills Shinobu, and had his men locate the statue of Daimajin to destroy it. They find Kozasa and a little boy (whose father and mother died under Samanosukeís reign), who are forced to locate Daimajin for them, but an unearthly force kills the men when they tried to destroy the statue. Desperate, Kozasa prays to Daimajin to save her people, and eventually, he comes to life, thus beginning the destruction of Samanosukeís kingdom! Samanosukeís own comeuppance at the hands of Daimajin is simply memorable.
THE WRATH OF DAIMAJIN/DAIMAJIN IKARU
Originally known as RETURN OF THE GIANT MAJIN, the second film (also the first one I saw) is similar to the first storywise, but has more suspense and swordplay. Daimajin's "face" transformation (from his dormant stone face to that of an angry green demon face) is somewhat different from the first film, but far more impressive! Another memorable scene is where Daimajin, approaching the village, parts the great lake (just like in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS)! The performers include veteran Koujirou Hongou, Shiho Fujimura, Kouichi Uenoyama (Makoto Arai from INAZUMAN FLASH) and Takashi Kanda.
THE RETURN OF DAIMAJIN/DAIMAJIN GYAKUSHUU
Known as MAJIN STRIKES AGAIN in the US, the third and final entry of the series is quite different from the first two, but nonetheless spectacular. The film's heroes are four little boys, who are determined to rescue their fathers, who are among slave people in a village on the other side of Majin Mountain (from which Daimajin came and caused chaos at the film's beginning). The leader of the boys is played by Hideki Ninomiya, who played young Tadafumi in the first DAIMAJIN; He also played Gam in AMBASSADOR MAGMA/THE SPACE GIANTS. In the village, the slave people are forced to work around a sulfur pit by yet another nasty shogun. But just because children are the main characters does not mean one should automatically dismiss this film! And remember that this is a Daimajin film, meaning that this film is just as dark and depressing as the other two films. The acting by the kids is just as flawless as their grownup counterparts (and one of the kids meets a sad fate in the middle of the film)! Once again, the special effects are incredible, and Daimajin's lengthy rampage at the climax makes this closing film all the more grand!
The three Daimajin films are not your average giant-monster-on-the- loose fare, and thus stand out from the rest of the genre! Dark, depressing and vengeful, the films are top-notch and each has memorable traits that stand out in their own unique way! The films are directed by veterans Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Kenji Misumi and Kazuo/Issei Mori (all of whom have worked on the famous Zatoichi and Kyoushirou Nemuri film series; Misumi also directed some of the Lone Wolf & Cub movies). All three films have a brilliant, cataclysmic music score by maestro Akira Ifukube and beautiful SPFX by Yoshiyuki Kuroda, which, scary as it seems, surpass even the best FX by Eiji Tsuburaya! The actor in the Daimajin suit is Riki Hoshimoto, who also appeared as the villainous Suzuki in the Bruce Lee film, THE CHINESE CONNECTION.
All three movies are featured in their original Daieiscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but the transfer is not anamorphic, and there is some slight grain in the picture. Nevertheless, the transfers still hold their own against even the best imported print. The print is still colorful and vibrant, and is a major step above any VHS copy.
Featured in its original Japanese language, the movies' mono soundtracks are still in top form.
Disappointingly, there are not as many extras as Daiei's DVD set. None of the original theatrical trailers were used. The DVD for DAIMAJIN contains one trailer, a new one that ADVisions put together themselves. The disc for THE RETURN OF DAIMAJIN contains ADVisions' trailers for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, THE HYPNOTIST, PARASITE EVE and GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. Nevertheless, each DVD has chapter stops (roughly 8 on each).
Perhaps the most unique part of the collection! The subtitles are mainly yellow, but white subtitles are used for when two characters speak in one scene. Also, a large font is used for the titles. The movies can be viewed without subtitles (but the only major drawback brings us to the next section...).
The following changes have been made to the film prints:
The Daiei logo at the beginning is video-subtitled on the print. However, the titles of all three films remain intact.
The opening credits are faded out in gray and replaced with video-generated credits.
THE WRATH OF DAIMAJIN
Opening credits are the same case with DAIMAJIN. The film fades out before the original Japanese "The End" title, followed by video generated credits of the A.D. Vision staff.
THE RETURN OF DAIMAJIN
As the movie's credits are at the end, the film aptly freezes over a shot of the snowy mountains, over which video generated credits of both the cast/crew and the A.D. Vision staff scroll up.
Purists of the Japanese versions of the film would probably be frustrated with the changes made to the prints, and lack of any real extras, but I will say that this DVD set is still recommendable to the average American viewer. I found it much better and less heavy-handed than the lazy print that Media Blasters used for their GAPPA DVD! And for a price like $23 for all three discs, you can't go wrong! If you can't afford Daiei's more expensive but economic import DVD set, this box set by Rubbersuit Pictures/A.D. Vision is quite a shoe-in!
If you like the DAIMAJIN trilogy, chack out our H!O FLASBACK article by Ed Godziszewski, Daiei's Idol of Terror: DAIMAJIN, THE AVENGING GOD...
GIGANTOR! - The Power is in Your Hands...and Now on DVD!
Author: Aaron Cooper
Henshin! Online Exclusive
Almost every fan of Japanese sci-fi and fantasy has a nostalgic 'spark', the match that started the flame leading to full-blown interest, or obsession even, of the genre. Usually, that 'spark' is a particular title or memory of a person's first exposure into the wonderful world of Japanese programming. For myself, that particular 'spark' was in the early 1980's, when I was first exposed to titles such as BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, VOLTRON, and STAR BLAZERS.
|Gigantor, the space-age robot is coming soon! © TCJ Animation Center/Delphi Associates Inc & Rhino Home Video., Ltd. 2002
Rhino Home Video is unleashing one of those 'sparks', the much beloved GIGANTOR, to DVD on October 22nd. GIGANTOR (original title: Tetsujin 28-go) was the brainchild of Mitsuteru Yokoyama and released in Japan in the mid-1960s with 96 episodes over 2 series. Delphi Associates, Inc. acquired the rights for broadcast in the United States and would release 52 episodes over two seasons starting in 1966.
The story is simple enough: Gigantor was a huge robot controlled by young Jimmy Sparks, the son of the robot's creator. Using a remote-control joystick, Jimmy would send the huge fighting machine into battle against hostile aliens, enemy robots, and anything else the Earth would need defending against. Jimmy had help in a memorable supporting cast such as Inspector Blooper and Dick Strong. GIGANTOR featured a new and distinctive look that many American cartoons lacked at the time, using impressive camera angles and cinematic sensibility. It also featured one of the catchiest theme songs of all time, cementing its place in the minds and hearts of that generation, and many to come.
Now, all generations can revisit this classic with the new-to-DVD release of GIGANTOR PART 1 by Rhino Home Video in cooperation with Fred Ladd, director, writer and producer of the English adaptation of GIGANTOR. This 4-disc set contains 26 uncut, black and white episodes in numerical order based on airdate from GIGANTOR Season One. DVD extras include an interview with Fred Ladd, who also provides an interesting commentary on three episodes (The 'Spider Series': episodes 3, 4, and 5). Other extras include an interview with anime historian Fred Patten and a text piece entitled "Renegade Master", a portrait of Gigantor's original creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama that originally appeared in Manga Max Magazine. A photo gallery is also advertised, but on the advance copies I watched, I wasn't able to find it (yet). Quite possibly, it's a hidden feature.
The episodes feature new digital transfers from original 16mm film. The transfers look great, with good contrasts between the black, white, and gray shades. Some imperfections and softness can be seen once in a while, obviously due to the age of the original film elements. This can particularly be seen during the opening title sequences and occurs in increments throughout the series. Yet with many other classic TV shows lost to age and misuse, it is nice to see some care was taken to preserve this show as well as it is. Another nice surprise is the sound. The soundtrack is sharp and clear, not muddied in any way. All voices and sound effects come out nice and even. Though not advertised, it seems obvious some sort of re-mastering was done on the soundtrack. It should be noted that the equipment used to review the DVD set was a 32" Sharp TV with a Panasonic DVD-CV37 DVD player, and a 19" Phillips TV using a Playstation 2 as a DVD player. Playback may vary on an individual basis depending on equipment used. The DVDs also feature animated menus that capture the flavor of the series.
Some purists may scoff at the lack of a Japanese soundtrack. Yet it would be unreasonable to expect one for this DVD release, as the English adaptation of GIGANTOR actually begins at episode 27 of the original TETSUJIN 28-go series due to an editorial decision of Television Corporation of Japan, the original animation producers of TETSUJIN 28-go. A Japanese language track with subtitles on GIGANTOR could be confusing to Western audiences.
It is obvious though that Rhino Home Video acknowledges and cares about what fans look for in English adaptations of Japanese programming. This release of GIGANTOR proves this with the inclusion of a biography of creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama and the history of Japanese animation by Fred Patten. Rhino has also proven themselves with their excellent releases of BATTLE OF THE PLANETS on DVD, which not only includes the English episodes, but also the original Japanese episodes of SCIENCE NINJA TEAM GATCHAMAN with English subtitles that BATTLE OF THE PLANETS was derived from.
GIGANTOR PART 1 contains over 650 minutes of episodes and extras and has a suggested retail price of $59.95. It will be released on October 22nd, 2002 and can be found at most DVD retail outlets. The Rhino Home Video website (www.rhino.com) will also have it for sale. GIGANTOR holds a special place in the history of Japanese animation and no fan should miss out on this treasure trove of classic TV.
The bar of excellence has been raised for quality DVD releases of favorites both old and new, and thankfully Rhino Home Video has met those expectations with style! (Special thanks to Lana Berman of Rhino Media Relations)
For more information on the history of GIGANTOR, check out this article originally featured in Markalite issue 2.
Official Word on ULTRAMAN TIGA!
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: 4Kids Entertainment
With Ultraman finally back on television in the United States, fans are anxiously at the edge of their seats anticipating a big Ultra Boom, while at the same time, fearing a disappointing Ultra Bust. Any change in the way the program is presented generates all sorts of speculation and anxious hand-wringing. This is to be expected of a group of people who have waited so long for the return of their hero.
|Ultraman Tiga: down to one show, but not out of the game! © 1996 Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd.
A mere four weeks after its initial premier, ULTRAMAN TIGA was changed from a twice a week schedule to a single episode each week, at a later time. Backroom whispers and internet posts that the sky is falling ensued, so Henshin! Online went right to the source, for the official explanation.
As reported earlier by Henshin! Online, the target audience for ULTRAMAN TIGA was initially the 6-9 year old age group. However, 4Kids has found that older viewers are tuning in. According to Colleen Nuskey, Marketing Director in charge of ULTRAMAN TIGA for 4Kids, "Ratings for ULTRAMAN TIGA have been fairly good, especially in light of the new Fox Box network. However, we've found that Ultraman has been skewing a bit on the older side and we feel that the 11:30am time slot is best for the Ultraman audience."
All of the shows in the Fox Box schedule are new and untested. 4Kids continues to try to find the right fit for each show. "The fact that Ultraman is currently only scheduled once a week instead of in the original two timeslots, is merely a programming change in an effort to see when and where the shows perform best." Colleen explains. "As with all networks, programming changes are common and we juggled our entire Saturday morning block - not just Ultraman".
Colleen promises that Henshni! Online will be updated of future changes. For now, the best way to support ULTRAMAN TIGA is to watch the show and get as many people as you can to do the same. 4Kids is committed to ULTRAMAN TIGA and is looking for the best fit for the show within their line-up.
Keep your eyes on Henshin! Online for the latest information and continue to support Ultraman as you've done in the past. Everything will be just fine...
EIGHT MILLION GODS
Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY comes to America
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Official Walt Disney Publicity Material
Studio Ghibli's SPIRITED AWAY (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI) is the latest masterpiece from Japan's most renowned filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. The most successful film ever to play in Japan, SPIRITED AWAY became the first animated film in fifty years to win the Golden Bear Award at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival. Now, an English language version from Walt Disney Studios allows audiences all over the world to experience this animated adventure in an entirely new way.
|SPIRITED AWAY: Miyazaki's latest creation has come to America. © 2002 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution and Nibariki
SPIRITED AWAY is the eighth feature film from writer/director Hayao Miyazaki, working once again with veteran animation producer Toshio Suzuki and composer Joe Hisaishi. After joining Toei Animation Company in 1963, Miyazaki became friends with animator Isao Takahata (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES). By the late 1960s they had both gained enough seniority and experience that Takahata was made director of Toei's 1968 feature, THE LITTLE NORSE PRINCE, with Miyazaki as scene designer and key animator. The film's success convinced them to leave Toei to work at smaller studios that would allow more creative freedom.
Miyazaki first came to the public's attention with the 1979 feature, THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (available on US DVD from Manga Video). Miyazaki was given carte blanche to write the story and redesign the popular manga and anime character Lupin III for the film, which became a smash hit in Japan and at several international festivals.
That same year, Tokuma Soten Publishing Co, one of the largest publishing companies, released the first installments of Miyazaki's science fiction manga NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND. The series drew such a positive response that Tokuma quickly grew interested in financing a feature based on the material. Miyazaki worked with a small animation staff to produce the film, drawing the storyboards and much of the key animation himself. Released in March 1984, NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (eventually released by New World Pictures as WARRIORS OF THE WIND in the US) became the most successful animated film in Japan to that time. It convinced Tokuma Publishing to finance the creation of a new animation studio managed by Miyazaki, Takahata, and Suzuki. The studio, which opened in 1985, was named Studio Ghibli.
Ghibli is an Italian word meaning "hot desert wind'. The term was coined in World War II to describe Italy's scouting planes in North Africa. Miyazaki, a vintage aircraft buff, thought the name was perfect for the studio he hoped would be a "hot wind into the world of Japanese animation".
Miyazaki's studio lived up to its name. Beginning with LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY in 1986, Ghibli has produced an average of one feature per year, usually alternating between those created by Miyazaki and those by Takahata. Virtually all of Studio Ghibli's twelve animated features have been critical and commercial successes worldwide and rank among Japan's all-time box office champs.
SPIRITED AWAY continues that tradition. In addition to winning top honors at the Berlin Film Festival, the film was voted Best Asian Film at the 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards, won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 45th Annual San Francisco Film Festival, and won Best Picture and Best Song and the 25th Nippon Academy Awards. It is also the highest grossing film in Japanese box office history with a total of 29.3 billion yen ($234 million) to date. SPIRITED AWAY surpasses the two previous record holders; TITANIC at 26 billion yen ($208 million) and Miyazaki's previous film PRINCESS MONONOKE at 19.3 billion yen ($154 million). It is also the only film to break the two hundred million dollar barrier prior to its US release.
SPIRITED AWAY is a wondrous fantasy about a ten year old girl named Chihiro, who is whisked away to a spirit world and must learn to overcome her fears and face unique challenges in order to save her parents and herself. Miyazaki says "Up to now, we have made one film for very young children, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. We made another film in which a boy sets out on a journey to find a lost city, LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY, and we made a film in which a teenage girl learns to be herself, KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE. However, we have not made films for girls around the age of ten."
"In my grandparents' time, it was believed that gods and spirits existed everywhere. in trees, rivers, insects, wells anything. My generation does not believe in this, but I like the idea that we should treasure everything. In fact, in Japanese, there is an expression- 'yaoyorozu no kami'- which means 'eight million gods'. However, as far as I know, no one has actually seen any of these gods and spirits. So I had to make up their faces and shapes. Some of them are based on beliefs, traditions, legends, and other materials. For example, it is generally believed that a river god is a snake or dragon."
"The film is set at a hot springs bathhouse frequented by various Japanese gods and spirits", the director continues. "I always wanted to stage a film in such a strange place. I suppose the gods of Japan go to a hot springs bath and resort to rest their bodies for a couple of days like we do."
Miyazaki's films are always built around strong characters, and SPIRITED AWAY features some of the most strikingly original characters ever seen. At the center of the tale is Chihiro, the ten year old heroine. She begins as a rather sulky, spoiled child with a tendency to panic when things go wrong, but she develops the ability to remain calm when others are not. "I do not like weak female characters." says Miyazaki "I think, in a sense, things have become boring with so many strong males being held up to us as heroes. In reality, the males have lost the battle! It's the females who are really tough these days."
"Our story is one in which the natural strengths of the character are revealed by the situations she encounters. I wanted to show that people actually have these things in them that can be called on in extraordinary circumstances. This is how I wish my young friends to be, and I think this is how they themselves hope to be."
Chihiro meets a variety of beings in the spirit world, including Haku, a mysterious boy with magical powers; Lin, the tough bathhouse girl who teaches her the rules of survival; Kamaji, The wise, spidery boiler man; and Boh, the giant-sized baby boy. Even more fantastic are Kaonashi (aka No Face), the mysterious semi-transparent figure who poses a danger to anyone who approaches him; an army of animated soot-balls; and the Stink-God, a lumpish creature coated in foul-smelling sludge. Ruling over all is Yubaba, the greedy, short-tempered boss of the hot springs. Her powers, including the ability to change into a bird to spy on others, enable her to control all who dare stand her way.
Disney began it's association with Studio Ghibli in 1996 when Michael O Johnson (then president of Buena Vista Home Entertainment Worldwide) negotiated a deal to bring nine of Miyazaki's films to audiences throughout the world. The first of these was KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, released to home video in 1998. KIKI entered the Top Ten on the Billboard sales chart and sold over a million copies. Miramax Films, a division of Disney, handled the 1999 theatrical release of PRINCESS MONONOKE. Despite critical praise the film faired poorly at the US box office due to limited distribution and little or no publicity or marketing. Since then, Disney has been quiet about their plans for the other Miyazaki films. Now, in conjunction with the arrival of SPIRITED AWAY, Disney's Home Entertainment division has announced plans to release several of the director's earlier titles to home video and DVD starting in late 2003.
Three of America's top animation filmmakers headed up the effort to bring SPIRITED AWAY to English-speaking audiences. Executive producer John Lasseter, producer Don Ernst and director Kirk Wise were responsible for crafting an English script that would be faithful to Miyazaki's original, and casting an ensemble of voice actors that would retain the flavor and talent of the Japanese version.
Lasseter explains, "We're incredibly busy at Pixar, but when I was asked to help with this I said 'yes' without hesitation because I wanted to see this film come to America. I wanted it to happen in a way that would be really respectful of the masterpiece Miyazaki created. He is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time and he has been a tremendous inspiration to our generation of animators."
"I worked closely with Kirk Wise, who was in charge of directing the English voice cast and supervising the writers to get the words to fit with the mouth movements that were animated. Kirk directed them in such a beautiful way that the result is perfectly natural."
"We all had the same goal: to protect Miyazaki's vision and to bring it, in it's complete intact form, to American audiences. We're really proud of the results. We didn't cut it; we didn't change anything about it. We just translated the script from Japanese to English, made sure that it was all in a language we could understand, and cast the right actors."
Wise concurs, "Casting is half the battle. If you can cast right, everything falls into place. I think the casting choices really made the process easy and we ended up with a great ensemble of actors." The impressive vocal cast includes Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Holly, Michael Chiklis, John Ratzenberger, and Tara Strong.
Working on a very tight schedule, Wise collaborated with the husband-and-wife writing team of Donald and Cindy Hewitt. The writers would usually be present at the recording sessions in order to massage the dialogue with the mouth movements. Wise would allow the actors to hear the original Japanese track to get a sense of the character's emotional level. This helped them stay true to the spirit of Miyazaki's direction. "The hardest part of the process was the technical part, things like having to shave syllables and little rewrites along the way to make sure we matched the original lip synch," Wise recalls. "Coming from an animation background, I'm really sensitive to this. If we did our job right, the audience will forget they're watching a film that was originally in Japanese. You completely get wrapped up in the story and the beautiful visuals take over."
SPIRITED AWAY opened on September 20, with additional screens added on the 27th. For the weekend ending Sept 29 Boxofficeguru.com reported Spirited Away expanded from 26 to 53 locations and grossed $527,719 for a $9,956 average. The PG-rated animated feature bumped its cumulative box office take up to $1.1M. This puts its per screen average just below the #1 film, Sweet Home Alabama and just above The Tuxedo, or actually in second place for the weekend Disney has also prepared a subtitled version which will be available at select theaters.
HAYAO MIYAZAKI (Director/Writer): Born in Tokyo in 1941, Miyazki has created some of the most admired and influential animated films of recent decades. Beginning with THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO in 1979 he has directed such impressive films as NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984), LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (1989), PORCO ROSSO (1992), and PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997). His unbroken string of hits continues with SPIRITED AWAY (2001), the most successful film ever released in Japan.
Miyazaki tends to work in an unusual style for a studio picture: "I don't have the story finished and ready when we start work on a film, " he says. "The story develops when I start drawing storyboards. The production starts very soon thereafter while the storyboards are still developing. We never know where the story will go but we just keep working on the film as it develops." In contrast to the system used by American studios like Disney, Miyazaki creates the animation before recording the dialogue. This process allows him to fit the dialogue to the performance onscreen.
He states that SPIRITED AWAY is "For the people who used to be 10 years old, and the people who are going to be 10 years old."
TOSHIO SUZUKI (Producer): Born in 1948 in Nagoya, Suzuki joined Tokuma Shoten Publishing Company and in 1978 he helped launch the monthly animation magazine ANIMAGE. In the mid 1980s Suzuki became increasingly involved in the productions of Miyazaki and Takahata, and in 1985 helped co-found Studio Ghibli.
For the next several years he continued working in publishing while producing features for Ghibli, including NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984), LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY (1986), GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988), MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (1989), PORCO ROSSO (1992), POMPOKO (1994), WHISPER OF THE HEART (1995), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), and SPIRITED AWAY (2001). Suzuki went to work full-time for Studio Ghibli in 1989.
JOE HISAISHI (Composer) Born in Nagano in 1950, Hisaishi garnered wide acclaim for his film score to NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984). He has worked on every Miyazaki film since. He has also contributed scores to many of director 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano's films, including SONATINE (1992), FIREWORKS (1997), and KIKUJIRO (1999). Hisaishi has won the Japan Academy Award for Best Music in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1999.
*JOHN LASSETER (Executive Producer) is the award-winning director, animator, and Executive Vice President of Pixar. He directed TOY STORY (1995) the first feature-length computer animated film, A BUG'S LIFE (1998), TOY STORY 2 (1999), and executive produced MONSTERS, INC (2001).
DONALD ERNST (Producer) has been involved in production at Disney for over 12 years. His credits include ALADDIN (1992), and FANTASIA 2000 for IMAX.
KIRK WISE (Director) has co-directed three Disney animated features; BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991), THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996), and ATLANTIS: THE LOST CONTINENT (2001)
DAVEIGH CHASE (Chihiro): On doing a movie that she heard originally in Japanese, Chase notes, "It was different from my previous voice-over roles, because Chihiro is already animated. I had to match the speed of my voice to the character's lips.and still sound real. It was a bit tough at times, to fit in all the words and keep it real, but I did it, and it was definitely fun to do!"
Chase earned rave notices for her vocal performance in LILO AND STITCH (2002). Television credits include ER, THE PRACTICE, and TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Film credits include DONNIE DARKO.
Daveigh Chase will next be seen as Samara, the updated version of Sadako in DreamWorks remake of the Japanese horror classic THE RING.
SUZANNE PLESHETTE (Yubaba, Zeniba) began her career on Broadway before going on to star in films like Alfred Hitchcock's classic THE BIRDS. Pleshette may be best known for her six-year run on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW.
Regarding her voice work in SPIRITED AWAY, Pleshette says "Acting is acting. I still have to give a full performance; I have to know who I am and what's happening emotionally at the time. The difference is, here I have to time it. The hard thing is hearing Japanese in my ear, and having to lip-synch English words to the mouth that was synched to the Japanese words. Talk about schizophrenic!"
JASON MARSDEN (Haku) has appeared on BOY MEETS WORLD, BLOSSOM, ALLY McBEAL, DEEP SPACE 9, and the features WHITE SQUALL and MR SATURDAY NIGHT. He will next be seen playing Burt Ward in the CBS movie BACK TO THE BATCAVE: THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF ADAM WEST AND BURT WARD.
In describing his SPIRITED AWAY character Marsden notes, "We don't know what side Haku is on. He's sort of helping Chihiro but you don't know what his motives are. Is he being genuine or just trying to earn points with his boss?"
"He's fourteen so I had to young him up a little, and yet not make him as energetic as most fourteen-year-olds. It's like he has a very old soul, he rules with quiet authority. He's very monotone, very down, very stern."
SUSAN EGAN (Lin) provided the voice of Megara in Disney's HERCULES and won critical acclaim on Broadway for her performances in CABARET, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and BYE BYE, BIRDIE. On television, Egan starred on NIKKI and has appeared on PARTY OF FIVE, ALL MY CHILDREN, and DREW CAREY.
Egan wasn't worried about bringing her own interpretation to a character that was previously voiced by another actor. "Even though the movie's been a huge success in Japan with a different woman playing Lin, there's a lot of room for different choices in the characterization. It's not just a matter of translating the movie; it's also translating the culture so Americans can relate to the Japanese sensibility. My Lin is definitely more down and dirty, more streetwise, with lots of humor and sarcasm."
DAVID OGDEN STIERS (Kamaji) has worked for Disney on 5 animated features, several of which were directed by Kirk Wise. "He's my good luck charm," Wise explains. "I would use him in anything that I do and he was great as Kamaji, the wise and businesslike tender of the furnace."
The versatile actor is well known for his Emmy nominated stint on M*A*S*H. Other credits include THX 1138, BETTER OF DEAD, DOC HOLLYWOOD, THE MAJESTIC, and STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION.
LAUREN HOLLY (Chihiro's Mother) has built an impressive resume of credits, including PICKET FENCES, CHICAGO HOPE, DUMB AND DUMBER, DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY, WHAT WOMEN WANT, and THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE.
MICHAEL CHIKLIS (Chihiro's Father) won an Emmy award for his role on the FX Channel's police drama THE SHIELD. Previous credits include the John Belushi biopic WIRED, the title role of THE COMMISH, and Curly in the ABC movie THE THREE STOOGES.
JOHN RATZENBERGER (Assistant Manager) is the only actor to voice a role in all four Pixar features. He received a special request from John Lasseter to work on SPIRITED AWAY.
Best known as Cliff Clavin on CHEERS, Ratzenberger has an extensive list of credits that include GANDHI, SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN II, and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. He has moved on to writing, producing, and directing and has formed his own company, Fiddlers Bay Productions.
TARA STRONG (The Baby Boh) voiced the title role in the animated series HELLO KITTY. Her ability to create strange, humorous voices can be heard on several TV series, including RUGRATS, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, BATMAN, and KING OF THE HILL. Feature film credits include SENIOR TRIP and 101 DALMATIANS.
THE BANDAI SPREAD FOR THIS YEAR!
Another Henshin! Online exclusive
Author: Keith Aiken
Sources: Bandai, Monster Zero, Zidaikan, Various
Japanese material translated by John Cassidy
In conjunction with the release of GODZILLA x MECHAGODZILLA, Bandai is preparing a massive Godzilla toy blitz. Beginning in November, monsters both old and new will be released in a variety of sizes, styles, and prices. Bandai has graciously provided Henshin! Online with exclusive photos of two of the more highly anticipated figures, Mechagodzilla 1975 and Titanosaurus.
Further details on the upcoming releases are available on the Bandai promotional flyer, translated below:
BANDAI GODZILLA LINEUP 2002
THE ULTIMATE MECHAGODZILLA IS BORN!
GD-45 Chougoukin (Die-Cast) Mechagodzilla
-With heavy die-cast metal, a metal-bodied shining "Mechagodzilla" is produced!
-Full body painting & fully super-articulated joints!
-And the replaceable-armor gimmick also gives the figure a complete reappearance!
-Product size is 170 millimeters
Product still pending
Sack Box pending
No batteries needed
In stores mid-December
SOUND & ACTION!
SOUND MONSTER KING GODZILLA 2003
-Internal sound gimmick and fully posable Godzilla.
-Scaled at 160 mm, in scale with the Die-Cast Mechagodzilla figure.
In stores late November
More info still pending.
MOVIE MONSTERS SERIES
210 mm tall
In stores mid-November
220 mm tall
In stores mid-November
MECHAGODZILLA 2003 (Unarmed Version; Without Cannons)
220 mm tall
In stores mid-December
Approximately 170 mm tall
In stores mid-November
Approximately 170 mm tall
In stores mid-November
FIRE RODAN (Reissue)
Approximately 240 mm wide
In stores mid-November
Approximately 170 mm tall
In stores mid-November
Approximately 150 mm tall
In stores mid-November
MAGNET-POWERED SD GODZILLA RUNNING TOYS
Godzilla and Mechagodzilla (both versions)
980 yen (set?)
Additional releases include:
HIGH GRADE GODZILLA SERIES 9
Fake Godzilla 1974 (the disguised Mechagodzilla with damaged 'skin')
King Seesar 1974
Flying Mecha King Ghidorah 1991
Available in December
CLEAR ORANGE BARAGON 2002
This figure was released as a promotional exclusive for a toy exhibit in Myokokogen. Since the exhibit is a long bullet-train ride from Tokyo, the hall is encouraging attendance by selling the Orange Bandai Baragon (along-side of a Marusan Godzilla and Gamera figures) to visitors of the exhibit.
Limited to 2,500
1,500 yen in price
Detail of figure
GLITTER GMK GODZILLA 2002
This mail-order exclusive from was offered in issue #48 of Hyper Hobby Magazine. The figure is reported to be molded in a translucent vinyl with a black paint inside the body and orange inside the dorsals fins. The vinyl also sports a coat of glitter on the outside - reminiscent of the "Ressurected Godzilla '93" from Bandai's 1996 Godzilla Forever line. While issue #48 contained the order form, the figure is said to be shipping in December. To see a large image (163k) of the two-page Hyper Hobby spread, click here
Henshin! Online would like to thank Bandai for providing photos and information. Also special thanks to Katsu of JustBe Toys and Bob Eggleton.
MASKED RIDER RYUKI
Toei Sends The 1970s Hero Into The 21st Century
Author: Paul Sullivan
Sources: Space Magazine Uchusen (Bi-Monthly), Volumes 99- 102, TV Magazine Volumes 3~9 (2002 Edition), TV Asahi's Kamen Rider Ryuki Page, Toei TV's Kamen Rider Ryuki Page, and various.
On February 3, 2002, Toei unleashed the latest entry to its ever-popular "Kamen Rider" (or "Masked Rider") franchise: KAMEN RIDER RYUKI. The half-hour episodes currently air every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. on TV Asahi, following in the steps of the enormously popular KAMEN RIDER KUUGA and KAMEN RIDER AGITO series. While both KUUGA and AGITO were, on the whole, welcomed by many fans both old and new, but KAMEN RIDER RYUKI was nearly rejected by some before he even hit the airwaves. The initially negative reaction to the tradition-defying design of the titular character was just the start of what has made MASKED RIDER RYUKI without a doubt the most controversial Rider Series produced since the original in 1971.
|Kamen Rider Femme, premiering in the Kamen Rider Ryuki: Episode Final movie. © 2002 Toei Company, Ltd
The early release preview pictures of Ryuki stirred up debate in fan circles due to his grill-covered face, obscuring the large, insectoid eyes the Riders are known for, and his dragon-based (as compared to a grasshopper or other insect) design. While some were instantly drawn to the new look, others detested it and questioned just what the designers were thinking when they came up with it.
What came next was, in a lot of ways, the deciding moment for many about how to look at this new Rider Series; the very controversial statement issued by one of the major creative minds behind the show revealing that Ryuki would feature 13 different Kamen Riders, and that they would fight to the death until only one was left standing. The article went on to describe how the show would knock down the traditional image of the Riders as heroes, and would present us with Riders that weren't so good and didn't always do the right thing.
While evil Riders and villains imitating the Rider style are nothing new to the franchise (as shown in the forms of the very popular Shocker Rider from the original series, as well as Shadowmoon from KAMEN RIDER BLACK and it's follow-up series; among others) the idea of completely original characters that would choose to be good or evil but ultimately die anyway came as a shock. Many fans were used to nearly invincible heroes that had suffered enough already to become who they were and as Riders, could do no wrong and always rode off into the sunset at the end.
After this, many fans became split on their opinions of the show. There are some who so vehemently hate RYUKI that they have declared it an affront to the entire Kamen Rider Series, and undeserving of even being considered a Kamen Rider show at all. By contrast, there are others who have accepted the series even more, seeing RYUKI as an underdog who is being unfairly judged based solely on "traditions" and "rules" set by previous series. And then there are the rest (yours truly included) who are pretty much undecided, not quite sure of what to make of this new series but still watching since, hey, it may be a little different but it's still KAMEN RIDER RYUKI, and happy with just that. Love RYUKI or hate it, there is no denying it has made something of an impact on Kamen Rider fans everywhere.
For folks who haven't seen or even heard of RYUKI, or just barely heard of it, you're probably wondering just what the big deal is. Who are these 13 Riders? What is this Mirror World thing anyway? And why do they keep running around sticking all those cards into swords, staffs and gauntlets to do stuff? Well, hopefully this little overview of the general storyline and the Riders will help explain a bit:
There exists a parallel universe, a nearly reverse image of our own: The Mirror World. It's basically a reflection of our world, with one major difference; instead of humans, strange "Monsters," based on real and fantasy animals and creatures, populate the Mirror World. These Mirror World Monsters all seem to share some common traits; they're all pretty vicious, and they all have an apparent biomechanical makeup. They also have the ability to cross over into our world, but only for a short time. Their reason for this is still a mystery, but it seems their intention is to take human beings back into the Mirror World and absorb them as energy, to grow stronger. This, of course, isn't good for our world.
As if things weren't bad enough, the Mirror World is in danger of collapsing and disappearing for good, and its residents are getting restless. Enter Shiro Kanzaki (Kenzaburo Kikuchi), a scientist who discovers a way to cross the void into the Mirror World. Shortly thereafter, Shiro vanishes, but soon begins reappearing to selected individuals, giving out 13 mysterious card decks. These decks will allow their owner to become "Kamen Riders," warriors who can enter and exit the Mirror World from our world like the Monsters, but only for a limited amount of time. He also gives them one command: Fight. Fight the other Riders to be the last one standing!
THE KAMEN RIDERS
The Kamen Riders in RYUKI are individuals who gain their powers from the card decks created by Shiro Kanzaki. The cards are used in battle to summon up the Rider's Monster Companions (whom they make a "contract" with to join their side) and to activate various weapons and powers when in the Mirror World. It should be noted that the deck is also the Rider's life insurance; if it is destroyed or they lose their Contract Card, they will be vulnerable to being hunted down by their own former Monster. Assuming, of course, they have already made the contract with a Monster. If not, they will be in a very weak "Blank" form (thus far we have only seen Ryuki himself in this state).
The Riders appear to function only in the Mirror World, as they must transform (via an individualized "Henshin" pose) in front of a reflective surface, which they then use as portal to enter the reversed Mirror World. The Riders can only survive for a limited amount of time in the Mirror World; otherwise their very being begins to deteriorate. Every Rider thus far has a "Vaizaa" (Visor), which they can place the cards in to activate their powers.
The "Final Vent" card allows them to perform a deadly, often fatal, finishing move. Also, every Rider uses the same method of transportation, the Ride Shooter Motorcycle, to enter the Mirror World (though sometimes they can just walk/run in, and recently, Kamen Rider Knight has gotten his own personal set of wheels; more about that below.)
There are both "good" Riders as well as "evil" ones, and some in the middle that just don't care either way. The Riders are ordered to fight each other, with the promise that the last Rider standing will gain some kind of wish as the prize. Of course, this hasn't stopped some of the Riders from joining forces and ganging up on the others as well as the evil, untamed Monsters that travel back and forth between the worlds, taking innocent victims with them.
So far, 10 of the Riders have been revealed, 8 in the TV series and 2 introduced in the movie, and an upcoming special to be aired on Thursday, September 19th promises to premiere the final 3, as well as having all 13 of the Riders appear.
Shinji Kido/Kamen Rider Ryuki (Takamasa Suga)
The central hero of the series, Shinji Kido Shinji is a reporter for the Internet news service "Ore Journal" (Open Resource Evolution Journal). His philosophy often clashes with that of Ren Akiyama/Kamen Rider Knight, partially because he has chosen to use his Rider powers (which he stumbles across rather than receives) to help innocents targeted by the Monsters rather than follow the "rules" of Shiro Kanzaki and fight the other Riders, and more so because Knight had his sights set on killing Dragreder, one of the most powerful Monsters.
Monster: Dragreder (Dragon)
Visor: Dragvisor (a gauntlet on his left arm)
Weapons & Powers: Dragblade (Sword Vent), names for Ryuki Survive’s Guard Vent, Shoot Vent, Final Vent cards have yet to be revealed.
Recently, it has been announced that Ryuki will get his hands on one of the Survive Cards, and thus will get an upgraded form, Kamen Rider Ryuki Survive. He can change to the Survive mode by using the Survive Card in normal mode. Along with Ryuki and his weaponry being altered, Dragreder will become Dragranzer, and now has the power to transform between Monster Mode and a Machine Mode, becoming a personalized motorcycle for Ryuki Survive.
Monster: Dragranzer (Dragon)
Visor: Dragvisor Zwei (an odd dragon’s head-like weapon that can hold 2 different Advent Cards at once; Zwei is the German word for "Two.")
Weapons & Powers: Dark Blade (Sword Vent), Dark Arrow (Shoot Vent), Darkraider Blast (Blast Vent), Shippuudan (Final Vent)
Ren Akiyama/Kamen Rider Knight (Satoshi Matsuda)
The dark, brooding antihero of the series, Ren is at first glance just a loner with an attitude problem, but we soon learn he has been forced into being a Rider. His monster companion Darkwing was somehow responsible for putting his girlfriend in a coma, and he now fights to find a way to revive her. Hangs around with Yui Kanzaki (Ayano Sugiyama), Shiro's sister, who has the ability to sense the Monsters approaching. Also has formed a somewhat uneasy alliance with Shinji Kido/Kamen Rider Ryuki. While Knight also does his share of fighting to save people from being pulled into the MirrorWorld, he also has no qualms about fighting the other Riders, at least notat first...
Even some of the staunchest RYUKI defenders have expressed their opinion that Knight is the superior Rider in the show, and rightfully should have been the star. Along with Zolda, Knight's popularity definitely rivals if not surpasses that of Ryuki's.
Monster: Darkwing (Bat)
Visor: Darkvisor (A sword)
Weapons & Powers: Wing Lancer (Sword Vent), Wing Wall (Guard Vent), Shadow Illusion (Trick Vent), Sonic Breaker (Nasty Vent), Hishousan (Final Vent).
Knight eventually receives one of the Survive Cards, and gains a more powerful form, Kamen Rider Knight Survive. Like Ryuki, he can change to the Survive mode by using the Survive Card in normal mode. Along with Knight and his weaponry being altered, Darkwing becomes Darkraider, and now has the power to transform between Monster Mode and a Machine Mode, becoming a personalized motorcycle for Knight Survive (and being used in his Final Vent attack.)
Monster: Darkraider (Bat)
Visor: Darkvisor Zwei (Made up of the Dark Blade sword and Dark Shield gauntlet worn on the left arm) Weapons & Powers: Dark Blade (Sword Vent), Dark Arrow (Shoot Vent), Darkraider Blast (Blast Vent), Shippuudan (Final Vent)
Masashi Sudo/Kamen Rider Scissors (Takeshi Kimura)
A corrupt Police Detective who has more to do with the murder he's investigating than meets the eye. The first "Evil Rider" on the show, his reign is cut abruptly short after a duel with Kamen Rider Knight, where we see just what happens if a Rider's Card Deck is broken.
Monster: Volcancer (Crab)
Visor: Scissorsvisor (A gauntlet worn on the left arm)
Weapons & Powers: Scissors Pinch (Strike Vent), Shell Defense (Guard Vent), Scissors Attack (Final Vent).
Shuichi Kitaoka/Kamen Rider Zolda (Ryohei*)
A smooth, suave lawyer and corporate raider who finds himself caught between wanting to do the right thing and enjoying the good life of a wealthy socialite. Is often accompanied by his bodyguard/servant Goro (TomohisaYuge). Zolda has something of a love/hate relationship with Ryuki & Knight; early on he mostly fights against them or ignores them completely, but recently he has seen to be teaming up with them more and more.
Monster: Magnagiga (Buffalo)
Visor: Magnavisor (A gun with apparently unlimited ammunition)
Weapons & Powers: Giga Launcher (Shoot Vent 1), Giga Cannon (Shoot Vent 2), Giga Horn (Strike Vent), Giga Tector (Guard Vent 1), Giga Armor (Shield Vent 2), End of World (Final Vent).
*The actor of Shuichi Kitaoka just goes by "Ryohei," which I'm guessing is a stage name.
Mizuki Tezuka/Kamen Rider Raia (Hassei Takano*)
A mysterious fortuneteller who already seems to know the outcome of the battle between the Riders, and tries his best to alter it by teaming up with Ryuki and Knight. He also has troubling visions of Ren's death, as well as his own...
Monster: Evildiver (Stingray)
Visor: Evilvisor (A gauntlet worn on the left arm)
Weapons & Powers: Evilwhip (Swing Vent), Hide Venon (Final Vent), Holds the "Copy Vent" card, allowing him to copy the powers of other Riderís cards.
*Hassei Takano Hassei holds the honorable title of being the first actor to portray both a Rider and Ultra, as he played Hiroya Fujimiya Hiroya (human alter ego of Ultraman Agul) in Tsuburaya's 1998 series ULTRAMAN GAIA.
Jun Shibaura/Kamen Rider Gai (Satoshi Ichijo)
College Student and the brains behind some kind of deadly virtual reality fighting game, Jun is truly a deceiving character; he appears weak and scrawny but is immensely powerful when transformed. Like Scissors he chooses to fight the other Riders first and foremost, and only fights other monsters if they get in his way. Miyuki warns him though that he is heading for trouble...
Monster: Metalgelas (Rhinoceros)
Visor: Metalvisor (Located on his left shoulder)
Weapons & Powers: Metal Horn (Strike Vent), Heavy Pressure (Final Vent), Holds the "Confine Vent" card, allowing him to disable the powers of other Rider's cards.
Takeshi Asakura/Kamen Rider Ohja (Takashi Hagino*)
A deadly convict who escaped thanks to receiving his Rider powers from Shiro Kanzaki, Takeshi is obsessed with killing the other Riders and becoming the most powerful of all! A sneaky villain who will do anything to win, including taking the powers of the other Riders!
Monster: Venosnaker (Cobra)
Visor: Venovisor (A staff)
Weapons & Powers: Venosaber (Sword Vent), Veno Crush (Final Vent).
Ohja eventually gets control over both Evildiver and Metalgelas, and in addition to being able to use the weapons & powers of Raia & Gai, he can merge the Monsters with Venosnaker (Using the "Unite Vent" card) to form the horrific Genocider, allowing him to use an upgraded Final Vent, "Doomsday"!
*Takashi Hagino also portrayed the human alter ego of the hero in 1996's CHANGERION.
Miho Kirishima/Kamen Rider Femme (Natsuki Kato)
Appearing in the KAMEN RIDER RYUKI: EPISODE FINAL movie, the beautiful Miho is said to fight to avenge the death of her sister. Early release pictures show her fighting alongside Ohja against the combined forces of Ryuki, Knight & Zolda, but eventually turns on him, and might just be the villain's ultimate demise...
Monster: Blanwing (Swan)
Visor: Blanvisor (A thin, rapier-like sword)
Weapons & Powers: Wing Slasher (Sword Vent), Wing Shield (Guard Vent), Misty Slash (Final Vent).
Kamen Rider Ryuga
A dark version of Ryuki also premiering in the KAMEN RIDER RYUKI: EPISODE FINAL movie, it is still unknown what the exact nature of this being is, other than he seems intent on destroying Ryuki (and the other Riders of course). While his true identity is shrouded in mystery, it has been reported by some that he is in fact an evil twin of Shinji! (A mirror image, perhaps?)
Monster: Dragblacker (Dragon)
Visor: Black Dragvisor (a gauntlet on his left arm)
Weapons & Powers: Dragsaber (Sword Vent), Dragshield (Guard Vent), Dragclaw(Strike Vent), Dragon Rider Kick (Final Vent).
Shiro Kanzaki (?)/Kamen Rider Odin
The latest Rider to appear on the series as of this writing, Odin is strongly believed to be Shiro Kanzaki himself, and is said to be the 13th and most powerful Rider of all! (Note: The Riders seem to be appearing out of order. While Ryuki was the second Rider to appear in the series, it is made clear that many of the others were around before him. Thus it is possible that Odin is the 1st Rider created, though it is still not entirely clear.)
Monster: Goltphoenix* (Phoenix)
Visor: Goltvisor (a staff)
Weapons & Powers: Goltsaber (Sword Vent), Golthield (Guard Vent), ? (Final Vent). Holds the "Time Vent" card.
*The exact name of Odin's Final Vent has yet to be revealed. There is some confusion over whether his Monster & Weapons use the word "Gold" or "Golt," though Uchusen Magazine, TV Asahi's Kamen Rider Ryuki Page and various other sources report that it is "Golt."
THE RYUKI ODYSSEY CONTINUES...
While KAMEN RIDER RYUKI appears to be doing well in Japan, rumors persist that the ratings of the series are nowhere near those of KUUGA or AGITO, and the series will be shortened from the usual 52 or so episodes. Additionally, it has been reported that Bandai is not happy with the current RYUKI toy sales.
Though on the flip side, the recently-released KAMEN RIDER RYUKI: EPISODE FINAL movie is said to be doing very well at the box office, and the abundance of new RYUKI-related merchandise released every month would make one think the series is popular enough to carry on the franchise and possibly lead to another Rider Series next year. The movie itself has raised many questions; it has been reported that the film, true to it's name, in fact takes place chronologically after the ending of the TV series, and thus gives away the ultimate ending to the story. Why it was decided to release the movie long before the show will end it's run on TV is anyone's guess. Most likely it is to add yet another layer of mystery to the storyline, and to provide fans with a chance to see their heroes on the big screen in a summertime double feature paired with a film starring the current Sentai characters: HURRICANGER. But, fan reaction to the movie has been a mixed bag, as overall many fans seem unsatisfied by the film’s climax. This has led to the belief by some that the movie is not the true ending, and perhaps the upcoming KAMEN RIDER RYUKI SPECIAL to air on TV later this month will confirm or deny this theory.
It is difficult to tell what the future holds for RYUKI; the series has drawn both rave reviews and harsh criticisms; has been viewed as both a refreshingly original change of pace as well as a blemish on the entire Kamen Rider franchise. On the whole, Ryuki has gained a lot more acceptance since it's premiere episodes, as more and more fans finally get a chance to check it out and judge for themselves.
Special thanks to Zonnel II and Raymondl for some information and the names of several of the actors.
Classic Media: Classic Mistakes
A Henshin! Online Editorial Review
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: Product Review
One major reason why Godzilla films get little respect in the United States is due to the often-poor presentations of the films here. With the release of four Godzilla films and the classic RODAN on DVD from Classic Media, this trend sadly continues.
|The Classic Media DVD Box Set © 1954 Toho Co, Ltd
Very little care went into the slap-dash release of these discs. The four Godzilla films are the same ones that were released on DVD in 1998 by Simitar. They are GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, GODZILLA'S REVENGE and TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. The extra disc, which many fans are looking forward to, is the 1957 RODAN. All discs are the original English-language releases.
If you have the Simitar DVDs, hold on to them for dear life. The Classic Media versions are much inferior, presented in Pan and Scan with no extras.
Each DVD opens with a similar menu. Music from the film plays as Godzilla, Rodan, Mechagodzilla or Mothra rise up from behind the buildings; their images reflected in the water beneath in what can only be described as cheap Terry Gilliam-inspired animations. The "Special Features" section on the discs allows you to choose audio preference or view a commercial for the GODZILLA: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS MELEE video game coming soon to Game Cube. This is the same on all the discs. Each movie allows you to select from eight chapters of scenes.
GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is mastered from a very scratchy print of the film. This is most evident at the beginning as the camera pans the ruins of Tokyo during Raymond Burr's diatribe about Godzilla's raid the night before. The dark night scenes are almost unwatchable in parts and the contrast is poor. The sound effects during Godzilla's smashing of Tokyo sound distorted and somewhat fuzzy.
GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA is the same print as the Paramount VHS release, which preceded the Simitar DVD. This is the worst example of Pan and Scan that was ever presented on video and it is recaptured in all its glory here. The transfer of the print is also not very sharp, causing it to look almost out of focus in places.
GODZILLA'S REVENGE is probably the best print of the package, but the sound is horrendous. At the start of the film, a rated G card is shown. The music starts here, but as the actual titles come up, it skips and starts over. This causes it to be terribly out of sync. This is most glaring when Ichiro is comparing the skidding noise of a car to Minya's cry. The dialogue is so out of sync that at first you don't know which character is talking, with lines of dialogue exchanged into the wrong mouths as they talk. This improves as the film goes on, but never really gets back to normal.
TERROR OF GODZILLA is the same, edited theatrical print that has been released for years. Again, the print is not the best and there are scratches and fuzziness throughout.
RODAN was the one that everyone was looking forward to, as this is the first time it has seen a DVD release in the United States. Unfortunately, this is probably the worst print in the set. The colors are muted and there is no richness whatsoever, many colors actually fading to a brownish tint. This is obviously an old print and no effort was made to find one better. The Vestron videotape released in the early 1980s utilized a much better print than this one.
Although Classic Media is the company responsible for the discs, Sony is the company distributing them under their Sony Music Video label. It is my sincere hope that any other companies releasing Godzilla films in the future will learn from the Classic Media releases and not repeat the same mistakes.
These were done quickly, with no care, by a company too lazy to even worry about correcting obvious flaws in sound and picture quality. The prints being used are UPA prints from over twenty years ago. At the price they are being offered at, Classic Media is most likely targeting their younger, less picky consumers.
Once again, we can all read reviews about the inferior quality of Japanese films, thanks to the inferior craftsmanship of a US distributor.
Carl Craig: Keeping America Safe from Space Squids!
Author: Bob Johnson
Many Japanese movie fans fondly remember the awkwardly named DESTROY ALL PLANETS, even though it has not been available in this country for over a decade. Many science fiction fans tuned in to late night TV in their youth, not knowing what to expect, only to see the welcomed sight of their favorite giant, flying turtle Gamera.
|Carl Craig, recent guest of the first, second and third Asian Fantasy Film Expos. Photo: Gene Cahill
This Gamera adventure was unique because while he defended Earth from Viras (a giant squid from space), he was cheered on by a Japanese and an American Boy Scout! This was the first Japanese monster movie to include an American boy in the cast.
Over thirty years later, Carl Craig fondly remembers his role as Jim Morgan in the film GAMERA VS. SPACE MONSTER VIRAS (Gamerai tai Uchukaiju Bairasu) and spoke to Henshin! Online about his memories in making the movie in Japan.
Henshin! Online: Let's start with how you found yourself in Japan at such a young age and how long were you there?
Carl Craig: My dad was an American Serviceman stationed in Japan. My mother is Japanese. My father met her while on convalescence leave during the Korean Conflict. This was in-fact my second tour in Japan. I lived in Japan 11½ years on two tours.
H!O: Did you want to be an actor when you were young?
CC: No. Never had the foggiest notion to be an actor.
H!O: How did you land the role of Jim Morgan in GAMERA VS. VIRAS? How old were you at the time?
CC: A producer at Daiei was an acquaintance of my uncle (my mother's brother). One day, their conversation centered on Noriaki Yuasa's attempt to get a foreign co-star into the upcoming Gamera feature. The producer explained their dire straits in trying to find an American that could speak Japanese well enough to handle the part. My uncle explained that one of his sisters had married an American serviceman and they had an 11-year old, blonde, blue-eyed kid that spoke Japanese fluently. Phone numbers were exchanged and the next thing you know, my dad was informing me that I was going to interview for a movie part. I auditioned and was hired immediately.
H!O: Whom did you audition for?
CC: A talent search outfit known as Pedro Productions interviewed me. I understood that Pedro Productions routinely scouted foreign talent for the likes of Daiei, Toho, etc.
H!O: What was the audition like for you, being so young and not involved with the movie business?
CC: The audition was very simple. I was in a room with my parents and two other gentlemen who asked me some questions in English and then started to speak with me in Japanese. I was asked to read a few lines. Of course I had to be coached in the manner of reading the lines. I was told to exhibit the emotions as if I was in the situation. I had never read lines before and really had no idea what I was supposed to do. Neither did my parents.
H!O: Were you familiar with Gamera prior to working on VIRAS? Had you ever seen the other films in the series?
CC: Yes. With no American TV available, there was little to watch except Japanese TV and movies. Luckily, I spoke the language, which gave me a distinct advantage over my other American friends.
H!O: I noticed in the film that all the scouts wore the same uniform, yet yours was different. Was there a reason for this?
CC: Actually, my uniform was identical to the Far East Chapter of the Boy Scouts of America American Troop. In the beginning of the movie at the scout camp, there are numerous American scouts and my uniform was identical, right down to the affiliation and troop patches. The movie line has me with Masao, who is dressed in a Japanese Boy Scout uniform, which was also authentic to the Japanese troop involved in the shoot. The camp in the beginning of the movie was an actual Boy Scout event that was worked into the schedule. They needed a whole bunch of "free" cast and the event supplied plenty.
H!O: What was it like working with Noriaki Yuasa? We had an opportunity to interview him a couple years ago at G-Fest and it turned out to be a 2-hour session. He loved to talk about movies and never ran out of anything to say!
CC: Yuasa-san was a wonderful man. We (Toru Takatsuka and I) always fooled around with him on the train platform each night after work. We went in different directions from the station and we would yell to him across the tracks. The next day he would bop us on the head and tell us not to embarrass him like that again. Which only made us want to do it more. I was interviewed at The Asian Fantasy Film Expo (AFFE) a couple of years ago and videotaped during the interview. This videotape was shown to Yuasa, which prompted him to write me a letter and send me some other great pictures from our movie. I hope to meet up with him one day at G-Fest or another Gamera event. Since I was a paradigm buster that was a big deal to Yuasa, he made extra effort to ensure my success in the film. He was very patient with me and supportive of my efforts. Of course, I failed him on occasion and his frustration level would rise. On one shoot, I had screwed up the lines for about the 20th take and he came out [saying] "Try hard!" "Concentrate!" I got the line right and he screamed with a pleased, "Print!" To this day, I can recite that line without fail. "Ah, taihen-da, Gamera-wa kosokudoro-o kowashite iru!" (Ah, it's terrible, Gamera is tearing up the interstate highway system).
H!O: I know it was Yuasa's idea to have children in the Gamera films. He seems to enjoy having them around from what I've seen. Did you find this to be true? Did Yuasa have any of his own children on the set?
CC: Yuasa had always wanted children in the movies. I suspect the target audience was the kids so in Disney fashion, the kids were the stars. I was the first foreign star in one of his movies. He had tried before and got his wish with me. I was the paradigm buster. Yuasa was married to a very young girl at the time of the filming of GAMERA VS. VIRAS. I believe she was 19-20. He had no children that I knew of.
H!O: Was the GAMERA VS. VIRAS script "set in stone" from the beginning or were there any modifications made during filming? If so did you have any input even as a child actor?
CC: Few modifications were made in the script, not because I was some child genius, more likely a problem in my Japanese reading skills. I did not read hiragana or katakana very well so my mother had to romanize all my lines. Yuasa insisted that I speak English in the movie to add to the foreign flair of the film. I suggested a few words that were more reasonable for an 11 year-old kid than was suggested in my script.
H!O: What was it like working with actor Kojiro Hongo, who played the troop leader and Michiko Yaegaki, who played Masao/Toru's sister? Hongo in particular is a regular in the Gamera films and even had a cameo in the first Kaneko Gamera film.
CC: Hongo Kojiro was a personal favorite of my mother. She likened him to John Wayne at the time. He was a very nice man. He had a great passion for American Cars. The beige Malibu in the opening scene was one of his cars I was told. He came to a couple of shoots in a '65/'66 Plymouth Fury, black with push-button drive. I remember that very well. Michiko was not around very much. As you may have noticed, we didn't have too many scenes with her, Toru and myself together. I never really interacted with her very much. Heck, she was 19 or 20 and I was 11.
H!O: Were any of the children acting in the films allowed to visit any of the special effects sets? I would think that would be something any kid that age would be curious about.
CC: Yes, we were invited once to see some footage being filmed in the Viras fight scenes. The stage was hot and the cameras were rolling. At one point Gamera (man in the rubber suit) stepped on a row of buildings and lost his footing, as they did not collapse as predicted, and fell onto his back. He was like a real turtle and could not get up. Toru and I busted out laughing. The scene was stopped and we were promptly escorted off the set.
H!O: In looking for pictures from the movie to go with the article, it seems that in many of the cast shots, Viras has his tentacles around someone's neck. Was this something everyone seemed to have fun with?
CC: Somehow the VIRAS promo shots always involved the gaijin (foreigner) having the tentacles around their throat. Your shot is a rare one that had Toru in the clutches of Viras. I was always the one that had the monster grabbing me. I thought it was a running gag for me.
H!O: You had the one scene with the giant squid (Viras) in the cage. Was that the extent of your viewings of the monsters before the production was complete? What was your reaction to the finished film?
CC: We only interacted with the Viras figure on occasion in the script. Yes, we did not see the rest of the footage until the final screening. I never realized how much stock footage was going to be used in the film. I was surprised at the way the film came out. I was excited and pleased about the way it turned out. I was able to invite my entire 6th grade class to the premier in downtown Tokyo.
H!O: What was the premier like? Who was in attendance?
CC: Having never attended a premier, I guess it was pretty cool. There were spotlights in the sky. I was at the entrance of the theatre all lit-up, signing autographs and speaking to fans that attended the premier. I signed autographs for nearly an hour after the event. Most of the cast was there at the premier.
H!O: Are there any stories in particular that you remember in connection with the film?
CC: I couldn't go anywhere in Tokyo for years following the film without being recognized as Jim Morgan. My Japanese Grandmother lived in Nerima, a suburb of Tokyo. My family would go out to help her clean and take care of the house. She was an invalid, crippled with terrible arthritis and was unable to walk. My mom and I would visit frequently to sweep and clean her home. She would always reward me with some Yen and I would promptly go spend it in the little town. All the local kids knew who I was. I signed autographs for years. Even my US baseball team played local Japanese teams and the other team members recognized me. I could always convince the pitcher to throw the pitches I liked.
H!O: Did you stay in contact with any of the other actors in the film?
CC: I saw Toru Takatsuka once at my home at the Air Force Base in Tokyo a few months after the movie premiered. I never saw or communicated with any of them again personally.
H!O: What kind of souvenirs do you have from the movie? Props? Pictures?
CC: I have a great scrapbook that was provided to me by Pedro Productions. A photographer was assigned to the film by Daiei and took many shots while on location and set which later turned into Daiei postcards. I have one of the alien's ray guns it is signed by Yuasa, Kojiro, and Toru. I have the second Swinger camera. I ruined the first one jumping into the sand and crawling around. I took a poster ad right off a telephone pole outside the back-gate of the military installation I lived on. I have many figurines and copies of the tape and a DVD of the movie.
H!O: Were you involved with the dubbing process?
CC: No, I was not involved in the dubbing process. My father had retired from the Army in August 1969 and we returned to the United States shortly thereafter. We took up residence in his home state of South Carolina. One Sunday morning in October 1969, we received a phone call at about 1 AM. Calls that come in at that wee hour of the morning don't usually mean good news. However, on this occasion, it was my aunt (father's sister) screaming for us to turn the TV on channel 12 out of Augusta, Georgia. DESTROY ALL PLANETS was playing and there I was speaking English in the dubbed version of the film. We called the station the next day and inquired how we could get a copy of the movie. It was, of course, on film and copies were not available. I thought it was weird to see myself moving my lips and a strange English voice coming out of my unsynchronized lips.
H!O: What did you think of AIP's US version of the film? Including the title, DESTROY ALL PLANETS?
CC: I thought the film was fine. The title was a little strange to me. It didn't represent what I understood the movie to be.
H!O: There was another Japanese monster film released by AIP that same year, a Godzilla film called DESTROY ALL MONSTERS that was very popular. I assume AIP was trying to cash in on a variation of that title. Did anyone you knew in America have any comments after seeing you in the film? Was anyone taken by surprise?
CC: I have a lot of friends that still call me "Kurl Crane." Somehow, when the translation of the characters that represent the phonetic value of my name was reversed, they came up with Kurl Crane. It is widely known in my professional work circle that I am a "movie star."
H!O: Have they seen the film or just heard about it? What do your co-workers think about your foray into giant monster cinema?
CC: I have made my movie available to most of my co-workers. We all watched it over two lunch periods a few years ago. They are floored with the effects. I explained that piano wire did a lot more that just make tunes in a piano.
H!O: Did you have any other film roles in Japan or America?
H!O: Have you seen the newer Gamera films from the 1990s? What do you think of those?
CC: Yes. I have seen them all. I like them. Mr. Kaneko obviously has some technical advantages over Yuasa. The new Gamera spins a lot faster too!
H!O: I heard you met the director, Shusuke Kaneko, at AFFE. Did you have a chance to talk? Did he remember your character?
CC: I have not had the privilege of talking with Mr. Kaneko. I did meet him a couple of years ago. He knows who I am and I know who he is. He is a popular attraction at AFFE and he is rather difficult to get time with. I did not want to press the issue. He is a rather quiet and reserved man. Very nice fellow.
H!O: I know you've done three AFFEs now. How did you get involved with the show and how is it interacting with the fans?
CC: I stumbled onto the AFFE show and Jim Cironella by accident. I did an Internet search for Gamera and found a site that had some shots from my movie. I wrote the webmaster and explained who I was. I got an e-mail back a few days later that had the tone "SURE, you're the guy who played Jim Morgan, right, right." So, I scanned a few of my shots and sent them as attachments to an e-mail. Once the fellow was convinced who I was, he had me contact someone, who in turn, put me in touch with Jim. The fans at AFFE are great. I meet a few new ones each year but really enjoy getting together with the annual attendees.
H!O: Have you spoken to Neptune Media who has released a couple of the Gamera films so far? Any plans to do anything for a future release of GAMERA VS. VIRAS?
CC: I don't know who Neptune Media is. I was really hoping I could do some commentary on the re-release of the GAMERA VS. VIRAS on DVD from Daiei. That would have been really cool. Here I am all these years later talking about how we made the film and all the experiences with that effort. I was disappointed that opportunity didn't come around. I'd love to be able to do anything with any company to further the efforts to promote my movie and any other Gamera picture. I am trying real hard to get into the G-Fest show next year. My attempts in the last few years have failed desperately. I am in touch with JD Lees, but that was about the extent of it this year.
H!O: What did you do after your acting stint? I heard that you spent your life in the military and are now attached to Homeland Security. What exactly is your position and what do you do? I assume you don't use a lasso or pilot a mini-sub.
CC: I attended Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. I was the Captain of the Golf Team my senior year and also played on the basketball team. I received a full Air Force ROTC Pilot scholarship and elected to attend the University of South Carolina. I graduated from USC in 1978 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force. I attended pilot training at Columbus AFB Mississippi where I graduated in 1979. I flew the F/R-F Phantom II Fighter at Shaw AFB, South Carolina before returning to become a T-38 Supersonic Instructor Pilot at Columbus AFB, Mississippi. I separated the Air Force in 1986 and started flying as a pilot for the US Customs Service in Miami, Florida. I became Special Operations Chief for Customs Aviation in 1988 and was tapped to be an advisor on President George Bush's staff. I was the Aviation Interdiction Advisor at the White House from 1989 till 1994. I was then assigned as an Aviation Group Supervisor at the San Diego Office.
H!O: What does the future hold? Are there any goals you have in connection with your acting career? Or does your present career keep you busy enough?
CC: I have no acting career ambitions. My current life keeps me busy enough. Between my golfing and fly fishing passion, my two sons are my main concern at this venture point in my life. However, I would like very much to attend a G-Fest convention and meet with Yuasa again.
Henshin! Online would like to thank Carl Craig for taking the time to talk to us. Thanks also go to H!O staff member Keith Aiken for helping to arrange this interview. Visit Carl Craig's website!
THE LAST SHOWAKAN PICTURE SHOW
Film Fans Say Farewell To The Venerable Playhouse
Author: August Ragone
You could call it progress or you could call it an atrocity, but time and money march on and as a result we have now lost a treasure for Tokyo movie fans. Early in 2002, an announcement was made that the historic, infamous and largely ignored Shinjuku Showakan theater was to be closed after fifty-one years of unbroken screenings.
|Oyaji Patrons line up to secure their tickets for the Shinjuku Showakan's final Yakuza Triple Bill. Photo: Barrie Evans.
The reason for the closure? The theater could no longer support its operating costs, so the controlling members of the family-run business decided to go into a more lucrative venture with the property. Pachinko Parlor, anyone? Seven Eleven? Time marches on, destroying valuable institutions like the Shinjuku Showakan in the process.
One of the last of the old-time postwar cinemas in metropolitan Tokyo, the Showakan originally opened in 1932 and featured screenings of foreign films from Europe and America (when Japan later allied itself with Germany, all foreign films were banned). During the closing days of World War 2, the theater was flattened, along with the entire city, in the incendiary waves of fire bombing raids by United States Army Air Force B-29s.
Miraculously, the Showakan was rebuilt during the American Occupation and reopened for business in 1951 (about twelve months before the seven-year occupation ended), and began exclusively screening Japanese-produced motion pictures; mostly period chambara (swordplay) and ninkyo eiga, films made about heroic and honorable Yakuza at the turn of the century.
The new Showakan featured two screens; the main screen in the street-level theater, which had a capacity of 451 (including balcony seats), and the Chika Gekijo or "Underground Theater" (literally, not figuratively) was built under the main theater and was accessible through a separate entrance on the side of the main building.
After the Occupation, the Showakan began screening more daring and racy films -- later to evolve into the pink eiga (soft-core porno films) -- in their Underground Theater. The smut continued for decades to come, becoming a tradition that hung to the end as well (no pun intended). For at least twenty years, three new triple-bills of these 60 to 70 minute films were screened weekly.
This was also true for the Showakan proper -- three new film programs, each and every week. During the late 1960s and 1970s, when the Showakan started specializing in yakuza eiga, it was the yakuza themselves who kept the theater going by patronizing the screenings in droves. As a side-effect, things would get hairy when they demanded free entry or brawls would break out in the auditorium! So authentic was the yakuza atmosphere of the theater that Toei Studios shot scenes for their films inside the Showakan.
A wealth of Japanese cinema history on and off screen -- a place that should have been made into a shrine, if not declared a national landmark -- was about to come to an end. The closure of the Shinjuku Showakan was coming, ironically, 13 years after the death of its namesake, Hirohito: The Showa Emperor, who reigned from 1925 to 1989.
Upon hearing the news of the closure, I made sure to attended the last two weeks of screenings at the Shinjuku Showakan theater on my most recent trip to Tokyo. After all, it was my obligation. I had been attending screenings at the theater since the mid-1980s, when I first lived in Japan. At first I was not sure if I'd like Yakuza movies, the now-defunct Kokusai Theater in San Francisco's Japantown never screened them -- sticking to mostly to chambara and jidaigeki (fedual period) films.
But, I was seduced into the Showakan by the inclusion of the Sonny Chiba vehicle GANGSTER COP (Yakuza Deka, directed by Yukio Noda) on the bill. I was ill-prepared for Sadao Nakajima's THE IDIOT, THE UNTAMED AND THE THUG (Bakamasa Horamasa Toppamasa, 1976) -- starring Bunta Sugawara -- which blew me away. I wasn't the same person who entered the Showakan -- that damned theater changed me.
Fast forward to the April 23, 2002: When I arrived in Tokyo, I was both excited to be a witness to the end, yet almost too sad to actually go through with it. It was like visiting a terminal relative on their deathbed and arriving in time only to see them as they draw their last breath.
Well, I bucked up and went by the theater the second day I was in town just to look at it. To just stare at Showakan to ready myself and see what films were playing on the second-to-last triple-feature before the end. Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba, Junko Fuji and Bunta Sugawara -- a great lineup of stars graced the marquee and posters -- their stern faces stared back at me, daring me to enter. Tatsuichi Takamori's YAKUZA WOLF: I BRING YOU DEATH (Okami Yakuza Koroshi-wa Ore-ga Yaru, 1972) -- interestingly, a more FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION film than Chiba's usual actioners -- Kosaku Yamashita's RED PEONY: FEMALE GAMBLER (Hibotan Bakuto, 1968) -- the first in a long-running series -- and Kinji Fukasaku's first entry in the seminal (can we use that word too much?) BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY (Jingi-naki Tatakai, 1972) series. Taking a deep breath, I made up my mind to attend the following night -- the screening before the next (and last) change.
The next evening, I stood outside the Showakan for a long time just watching, just drinking in what was soon to be gone. The gomoku ramen settling in my stomach made me feel relaxed. One, two, three cigarettes. The last screening was about to begin. I snuffed out my Lucky Strike and walked over to purchase a ticket. After handing my ticket for resident illustrator Happy Ujihashi to tear, I entered the auditorium like it was Midnight Mass at the Vatican.
Soon, the films began to unspool as if the Showakan's impending doom was not coming. As for attendance, it was three-quarters full (I didn't check the balcony), and featured the usual suspects: salarymen, oyaji (old guys), some winos and a smattering of young hipsters. Strange. Young people in Japan hate old Japanese films, don't they? Meanwhile, the old coot who sat nosily behind me during Chiba's big finale, soon began snoring -- but, it wouldn't be the Showakan without it. It somehow felt... right.
At curtain call, I stood in the lobby for a couple of minutes just drinking it all in, savoring each sight and sound. The walls, the floors and the tiles of the Showakan. Outside of the theater, I gulped down a Pocari Sweat, and then lit up a Lucky Strike. One cigarette, followed by another -- just soaking up the atmosphere and the glare of the bulbs of the condemned Showakan. Finally, I walked away, but kept looking back.
Taking the Yamanote Line back to my ryokan (Japanese Inn) I was somehow elated... But, soon I started to realize that tomorrow would herald the beginning of the end. Melancholy began growing inside me. I somehow had to prepare myself for the inevitable, so I avoided going to see any other films before the Showakan's closure, and satisfied myself by rummaging through Tokyo's movie memorabilia shops -- dwelling deep in the nostalgia for Japan's postwar Golden Age of Motion Pictures. You can smell the musty movie posters, can't you?
The night of nights finally came. The Showakan closed Tuesday, April 30 -- the final triple-bill was Teruo Ishii's ABASHIRI PRISON (Abarashi Banchigaichi, 1965) -- first entry in the 18-film series -- starring Ken Takakura and Tetsuro Tamba, Norifumi Suzuki's debut directorial KYODAI JINGI: GYAKUEN-NO SAKAZUKI (1968, 7th entry in the 9-film series) starring Saburo Kitajima, Tomisaburo Wakayama and Bunta Sugawara -- and Tai Kato's monumental BLOOD OF HONOR (Meiji Kyokyakuden Sandaime Shume, 1965) with Koji Tsuruta and Junko Fuji. All were beautiful prints, for their age, and the audience was enthusiastic -- there were more hipsters of all ages, who seemed out-of-place among the salarymen and oyaji.
Hey, there was even another whitey there as well: The Unknown Clown. Well, at any rate, that's what I always called him -- a wacky gaijin expat who can be seen riding his bike through Shinjuku in full clown regalia (apparently, he's been doing this at least since the 1980s, when I first spotted him)! He came to the last show dressed for the occasion replete with a feathered mane fanning out from a plastic Tiger Mask matsuri mask! Oh, he brought beers, too, and sat right in front of me. "Hey, pass the Asahi Dry, please! One sip for me and one for my Homey -- the Showakan."
Eventually, Shusuke Kikuchi's ending cue for BLOOD OF HONOR came to a reverberating crescendo and Showakan's curtain came down -- and the house lights went up -- for a final time. The capacity crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation. It was then, through the applauding capacity crowd, that I spotted another gaijin in attendance, John Robinson (aka DJ Gnosis), who couldn't believe that the Showakan was now slipping into history.
As we stood whispering in the darkened auditorium, brilliant camera flashes combined with stunned silence and streaming tears for several minutes. Conversation began as the staff ushered everyone into the lobby, where we were sent off with sincere volleys of honto domo arigato (thank you very much) and gymnastic-like repetitions of deep bows as we left the Showakan for the last time.
About forty or more attendees, stood outside in the funeral-like drizzle, as if we were waiting for a Buddhist Priest to arrive and give the Showakan it's last rites. After a few minutes, the staff came out and thanked everyone for our support and performed another deep bow. Camera flashes. More tears. The doors were then shut for the last time. Hold on, August, hold on...
Gradually, the flashes died down, and the crowd slowly and quietly departed one-by-one, or in small groups. At the very end, several people stood around talking about Old Skool Japanese films or the Showakan. Soon, I was the only person standing and staring at the end of an era -- another chapter of Japanese cinema history now closed. Forever. I am grateful that I was there, and thankful for all the years of entertainment the Showakan has provided die-hard Japanese Cinemaniacs like myself -- we were truly lucky.
Now, it was all over.
There are still two theaters left in Tokyo that specialize in screening Old Skool Japanese films. But, it is ironic that the Showakan closes as the younger Japanese movie fans are just starting to check out their own cinema history. "Since the Showakan closing was announced, attendance had gone up. Lots of the hip and trendy started coming... Too little, too late," observed John Robinson.
There may be some hope for the future -- during my visit, there were ongoing tributes to Masamura Yasuzo, Japanese silent films, and other Old Skool Japanese pictures going on during Golden Week. A theater in the Nakano Ward was doing a series tribute to Toei's ninkyo yakuza films, while the Toho Asakusa Theater was screening an All-Night tribute to the films of Ishiro Honda: DOGORA THE SPACE MONSTER (1964), FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON (1965), WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), GORATH (1963) and KING KONG ESCAPES (1967). These were pretty cool events and helped to ease the pain in the wake of the Showakan.
Perhaps these hipsters who starting turning out for the Showakan's Swan Songs, are also patronizing the others theaters still holding on. Hopefully, they will bear the torch for the coming generations of film fans, so that these wonderful gems of Japan's Golden Age of Cinema will not go silently into the night.
But still, the Showakan is gone. I am grateful that I was there to help honor and send her off into history. Long live the Shinjuku Showakan!
Special Thanks to Patrick Macias' Tokyoscope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion!
Feel His Wrath on DVD!
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: ADV Films Press Release
Daiei’s avenging god of ancient Japan is about to release his full fury upon the US video market with the release of all three DAIMAJIN movies on DVD.
|The EYES have it! ADV Schedules Majin's stateside DVD Release © 1966 Daiei Motion Picture Co.
ADV Films has announced the release of Daimajin on DVD. ADV has set a street date of October 22, 2002 for the DVD premiere of Rubbersuit Pictures' THE COMPLETE DAIMAJIN; a three-disc set featuring all three Daimajin movies - DAIMAJIN, RETURN OF DAIMAJIN and WRATH OF DAIMAJIN. Retailing for a surprisingly low suggested price of only $24.98, THE COMPLETE DAIMAJIN comes in the letterbox format. The films are in Japanese with English subtitles. The only extras on the discs are the DAIMAJIN trailer and ADV previews.
The three DAIMAJIN films were released in a very short time period. All three films were released in the same year, 1966 from Daiei Motion Pictures Co. The films are of amazingly high quality considering the time allotted for their production.
All three movies feature musical scores by Japanese monster maestro, Akira Ifukube. Ifukube, best known for his scores on Toho’s Godzilla and other science fiction and monster epics, provides powerful musical accompaniment for all three films. The music goes a long way towards setting the serious and somber tone for the film series.
The main premise for each of the three films, set in eighteenth century feudal Japan, is that a vengeful god trapped in the form of a statue will come to life, rescuing his worshippers during their hour of need and grave peril. The United States saw a brief theatrical run of DAIMAJIN when it was released in 1968 as MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR, later to be sold to AIP Television. The two sequels went straight to television as THE RETURN OF THE GIANT MAJIN and MAJIN STRIKES AGAIN. Although MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR made sporadic appearances in syndication into the early 1980s, the other two films were all but lost.
It wasn’t until 1998 when ADV released all three films on VHS. Unlike the English-dubbed pan and scan television prints of the ‘60s, ADV’s prints were letterboxed and subtitled. Fans have been waiting for a DVD release for quite some time and had pretty much given up hope. Now ADV is rewarding their patience with a three DVD set at a very attractive price.
Hopefully this is a good sign for Gamera’s eventual release.
The March Goes On Akira Ifukube in Concert...for Band
Author: Ed Godziszewski
Timing, as they say, is everything. And timing was on my side during a recent business trip to Japan. Having one free day in Tokyo after a week's worth of business, I faced the usual decision--which collector's shops should I visit the day before the marathon flight back home? That decision became moot when a friend informed me that there would be a concert that day with Ifukube's music being performed, and he had tickets if I wanted them. Well, so much for shopping...
Although I have had the good fortune to be in Japan for a few Ifukube concerts, this one would be a change of pace. The concert, held in the great hall in Ikebukuro, featured a performance by the Japan Self Defense Force Central Band. This meant that the orchestra was basically brass, woodwind and percussion--no strings (with the exception of a couple contrabasses). Ifukube's Sinfonia Tapkaara (1954, rev. 1979) would be the featured piece to be performed, together with a variety of other classical pieces, including Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. Having previously heard Ifukube pieces performed very nicely by a band (the CD Godzilla for Band is highly recommended), the program sounded very intriguing.
For the afternoon, I had the great pleasure of meeting Saiko Genso, Europe's #1 Godzilla fan, who happened to be in Japan on business as well. Together we ventured to the concert, the hall a short walk from Ikebukuro Station. This enormous building brought back wonderful memories of "Godzilla vs Jurassic Park" a concert of Ifukube and John Williams movie music I attended there several years previous. We wound up sitting in the nosebleed seats, but that was not a problem since the cavernous hall's acoustics were excellent. The afternoon brought out many of Ifukube's long time fans in the film community. Among the notables we noticed in attendance were Toho's Koichi Kawakita and Yoshikazu Ishii.
With Colonel Toyokazu Nonaka taking up the baton as commander and conductor, the concert began promptly at 2:30 with Toccata Marziale by R. Vaughan Williams. This energetic piece got the concert off to a nice start. Altogether, four pieces preceded Ifukube's, with Night on Bald Mountain being the only unsatisfactory number of this group. Without strings, Toshiaki Matsuki's orchestration of this famous piece fell flat and at times was almost incomprehensible. But Matsuki atoned for this with an inspired adaptation of Sinfonia Tapkaara, the absence of strings deftly compensated for by the variant voices in woodwind section. Nonaka guided the band smartly though the piece. The quiet passages were surprisingly subtle for a band performance, and the loud sections benefited greatly from the boisterous sounds of the band. The audience received this piece very warmly, and a rousing ovation was accorded Maestro Ifukube who was in attendance. Although I have collected many CDs and LPs of Ifukube's music, both classical and film related, they all pale in comparison to a live performance of his music. I only hope that timing will continue to be on my side in the future so that I may enjoy the power of Ifukube's music in the best way, which is live.
GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK Revisited!
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: Japanese Giants/Ed Godziszewski
Growing up as a Godzilla fan in the 1960s and 1970s, it was very difficult to find any kind of information on my favorite Japanese behemoths. Occasional articles in Famous Monsters of Filmland just didn't quite have the detail or even accuracy that fans wanted.
|JAPANESE GIANTS #9 cover art by Bob Eggleton
Enter two of the fanzines that would influence all Japanese monster magazines that would follow. One was Greg Shoemaker's classic Japanese Fantasy Film Journal. The other was the highly detailed, information-packed Japanese Giants.
Now, a mere nine years after issue #8 of Japanese Giants; the magazine makes a return in a big way with issue #9. Japanese Giants #9 makes up for lost time with an exclusive, in-depth look at Godzilla's latest incarnation, GMK-GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK, covered as only Ed Godziszewski can, including never-before-published production photos. The expanded 64-page issue features a wraparound cover by award winning artist Bob Egglton and articles by some of the genre's most notable writers.
Following are some of the articles appearing in Issue #9. The authors of which make up a virtual who's who of Japanese Fantasy experts:
Metropolis by Stan Hyde
Music corner by Jim Figurski
Matango--the film vs. the original story by Stan Hyde
Making scratch-built Titanosaurus by Bill Gudmundson
Kumayama Komix by Kyle Smith
Yoshio Tsuchiya interview by Steve Ryfle
Baragon blueprints by Andre Dubois
Tohl Narita tribute by Alex Wald
GMK color cover by Bob Eggleton
Exclusive interview with GMK director Shusuke Kaneko
GMK-My Year of Godzilla by Norman England
GMK commentary/review by Ed Godziszewski
GMK report from Tokyo Intl Film Festival by Richard Pusateri
CrossFire by Bill Gudmundson
Super Atragon by Jim Walsh
The Invisible Man by Stuart Galbraith
Lucky Dragon #5 by Stuart Galbraith
Mikazuki by Bob Johnson
Order your copy today!
By email: Send your name and address to:
By mail: Send your name and address to:
P.O. Box 30078
Chicago, IL 60630
Available NOW!! What are you waiting for? Go get it!!
GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA NEWS FLASH!
Toho has launched a suprise attack on the media in the last couple of days. In what seems to be an unprecedented media surge, Newspapers and Magazines have been covering the filming of Toho's latest Godzilla film, GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA.
Check out the superb Norman England article & photos on Fangoria's website!
|Godzilla braces for his latest feature, GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA - Photograph by Norman England © 2002 Toho Co Ltd.
"It simply wouldn’t be summer in Japan without a Godzilla production to offset the sweltering season, and the staff at Toho Studios is back again and working on GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA. In this, the 26th entry in the popular series, the Big G returns to face off against another classic nemesis, a towering robotic version of the King of the Monsters that has appeared in three previous features. The film began lensing last month; working within Toho Studios as well as numerous locations around the Tokyo area, the crew is set to wrap the two-month shoot on or around August 15.
Helming MECHAGODZILLA, scheduled to open nationwide in Japan December 14, is Masaaki Tezuka, marking his second effort in the franchise after 2000’s GODZILLA X MEGAGUIRUS. Inside Toho’s Studio 5 and seated beside a mockup of the front of a Maser Tank (a futuristic laser cannon that has been a staple of Toho films since the 1960s), Tezuka finds a spare moment to explain his somewhat different take on the new film. “For MEGAGUIRUS, my goal was to make a fun, straightforward action film,” he begins. “However, this time I’m looking to change the tone and to make it more of an adventure tale. The way I describe it is as a ‘real simulation’ movie, if that makes sense. What I mean is that I want the audience to fully buy that what they see on the screen is real, despite being fantasy."...
The rest of the article can be read at Fangoria.com. H!O would like to thank Norman England and Shinichi Wakasa for their generosity in providing the exclusive picture of Godzilla from GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA.
BLOW OUT YOUR CANDLES, ULTRAMAN!
Happy 36th Anniversary to the Legendary Superhero Series
Sunday July 17, 1966: 7:30 pm
|Henshin! Online congratulates Tsuburaya Communications on Ultraman's 36th birthday!
Japanese television viewers have just witnessed the birth of a cultural icon -- an icon so powerful, he will spawn a brood who will march into the 21st Century as strong as his initial 34.0% audience-share debut. This icon will go on to conquer tv markets in numerous countries the world over, and in the process, create a multi-billion dollar powerhouse of merchandising -- and he has never looked back.
Although it's a well-documented fact that ULTRAMAN was not the first Japanese science fiction superhero -- that honor belongs to actor Ken Utsui's 1957 to 1959 stint as SUPERGIANT (aka "Starman" in the US) in a series of theatrical featurettes from Shintoho Studios. Or the first on television, as P-Productions' AMBASSADOR MAGMA (aka "The Space Giants") beat him to the airwaves by six days -- but, it is ULTRAMAN who has endured as a Japanese Pop Culture Icon for more than three decades. The only rival to the status of the red & silver giant would be the human-sized MASKED RIDER -- who roared out of Toei Studios in 1971.
ULTRAMAN was the second entry in the "Ultra Series" created for the Tokyo Broadcasting System by "Tsuburaya Special Effects Productions" as a follow-up to their wildly popular ULTRA Q teleseries. Masterminded by special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, who helped to create Godzilla in the 1950s, ULTRA Q was a B&W series akin to a hybrid of THE X-FILES and THE OUTER LIMITS -- but, with plenty of giant monsters thrown into the mix.
It is no exaggeration that the 28-episode ULTRA Q was an explosive media sensation in Japan, and for the follow-up, Eiji and his staff at Tsuburaya Special Effects Productions dreamt up a concept that would resonate with Japanese television audiences for more than three decades... and ULTRAMAN was born.
A policeman from the "Land of Light" is on a routine mission to escort the monster Bemlar to the "Graveyard of Space." Somehow, the monster's travel-sphere goes off course, and Bemlar tries to escape to Earth, with the policeman in hot pursuit. During the chase, the being's sphere collides with a vehicle piloted by Agent Hayata, a member of the "Scientific Investigation Agency" -- aka The Science Patrol -- is killed in the impact. Contrite for the horrible tragedy, the alien makes the ultimate sacrifice for the fallen Earther: combining the essence of his being with that Hayata, thus restoring the human's life. Now, to help secure peace on Earth, the alien gives Hayata the "Beta Capsule," a device with which transforms him into the hero -- Ultraman!
Against a veritable army of monsters, from beneath the sea, under the earth, or from outer space, Ultraman protected the world time and again. To children, he was an invincible superhero. But, every hero must have a weakness, an Achilles' Heel: Ultraman can only fight for a limited period of time on Earth, since the power he takes from the sun diminishes rapidly in our atmosphere. When depletion nears, a warning light (aka the "Colortimer") begins to blink from blue to red, signaling this message -- all of the Ultramen to follow possess these "Colortimers."
On the other hand, Ultraman is supported in his fight against threats to the safety of humanity by the Scientific Investigation Agency (aka "The Science Patrol") -- an international organization concerned with the indignation of and defense from unnatural phenomena anywhere in the world. Agent Hayata (Susumu Kurobe), is always right in the thick of the action, ever-ready to save humanity as Ultraman.
After 39 weeks of the Science Patrol and Ultraman battling horde, after horde, of strange creatures and terrible mutants from within the earth or from the far reaches of space, the series came to a dramatic conclusion on April 9, 1967. Even though the follow-up, ULTRA SEVEN, was waiting in the wings to thrill television viewers in the following months, fans across Japan were still saddened by the farewell of their hero. Soon, to a lesser impact, a generation of American children would also be captivated by this unique series.
Between 1968 and 1983, United Artists Television distributed and syndicated the English-dubbed version of ULTRAMAN across the United States. Broadcast daily in most markets, Monday through Friday -- unfortunately, the show did not cause a craze as it did in Japan, nor like the one that the BATMAN series raised only a couple of years before. Why?
First off, ULTRAMAN was not aired on prime time network television, and to add insult to injury, the series was not backed by a strong merchandising campaign -- the fate of many syndicated shows. Did someone miss a cue here? Was anyone on Madison Avenue listening? Did anyone care? No. But, thousands of American boys and girls did. We loved ULTRAMAN unconditionally. What power did this show from Japan have over us?
Each weekday we were assaulted by the throbbing color (relatively new to most people in the late 1960s), the jazz-influenced soundtrack, exotic production design, intriguing science fiction, frenetic action, and some of the most evocative giant monsters ever seen! With literally one episode, or even one scene, we were hooked. There was no turning back.
Who would have guessed that 36 years -- and more than a dozen spin-offs -- later, that ULTRAMAN's theme song would still be sung by children in the 21st Century, or played as a wake-up call for the first Japanese shuttle astronaut:
"On his chest is the mark of a shooting star,
Roaring jets blast his enemies,
From the Land of Light, to ensure peace
Here he comes, our Ultraman!
He holds a capsule which sparks and flashes,
With the brilliance of a million watts,
From the Land of Light, to ensure justice
Here he comes, our Ultraman!"*
It's hard to believe that it's been 36 years since the series first premiered on Japanese television -- what a trip it's been. Now, at the dawn of this new century, what was considered the future in 1966, ULTRAMAN endures. The disciples of Eiji Tsuburaya continue to march forward -- crossing into tomorrow -- proving that Ultraman is the rightful Eternal Hero, a hero who will continue to keep the Sense of Wonder going for generations of true believers to come. To the next 36 years and beyond -- excelsior!
July 17, 2002
*(Lyrics: Koichi Azuma/Music: Kunio Miyauchi/©Tsuburaya Music Publishing Company)
AGENT MUSASHI & ULTRAMAN COSMOS GIVEN A REPREVE
Ultraman Cosmos Bounces Back!
Author: August Ragone
Source: Mainichi Broadcasting & Shochiku
Now that actor Takayasu Sugiura has been cleared of the charges brought against him in a bizarre extortion case (see previous H!O reports), exactly what is the status of the ULTRAMAN COSMOS series and upcoming motion picture? Sugiura plays Team EYES agent Musashi, who transforms into the celestial superhero.
|Ultraman Cosmos battles Golemde © 2002 MBS/Tsuburaya Productions
The MBS network pulled the series from broadcast, and wrapped the story up with two special episodes, which removed Sugiura from the narrative. The remainder of the schedule has been filled so far with M-78 THEATER and two episodes of the direct to video series ULTRAMAN NEOS (2000). Meanwhile, Shochiku Motion Picture Company, which was scheduled to release the feature film ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET this August 3, issued a statement that they had re-edited the feature to similarly remove Sugiura from the film's narrative. The Bandai toy company, one of the series' sponsors, also halted all production of associated toys and merchandize. Other licensors followed suit.
A press conference with Sugiura was held on Monday night, July 8 in Japan. It is still not clear just what, if anything, Sugiura did to his accuser, "Shonen A" as the news media is calling him. He did however, admit to having a fight with him over money that he had lent him. No real details were given, but Sugiura does not seem to have broken any laws in the confrontation.
Now that Sugiura is considered innocent of the crimes he was wrongly charged with, things are beginning to reverse. MBS will run the unaired episodes of ULTRAMAN COSMOS, uncut and complete as originally produced, starting with episode 50 on Saturday, July 20th. Agent Musashi will appear to reintroduce the series and deliver a special message to fans (especially small children). Unfortunately, there is a schedule conflict for running all sixteen unaired episodes. There is a new non-Ultraman show primed to take over the ULTRAMAN COSMOS timeslot when the series was to make its originally scheduled curtain call at the end of September, and (as of press time) the start date of this new (non-Ultraman) series will not be changed. Therefore, five episodes will not be aired at this time due to the fact that the two re-edited wrap-up specials and three substitute programs have already aired. MBS has promised to air the entire series without interruption some time in the near future, including the uncut versions of episodes 64 and 65. In the meantime, Bandai/Emotion Home Video will soon resume its release of the ULTRAMAN COSMOS series VHS and DVDs, so one can catch all of the episodes by this route.
Meanwhile, Shochiku has decided to release the original, uncut version of their feature film, ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET on schedule next month. The feature film will be accompanied by the special theatrical featurette, NEW MILLIENIUM ULTRAMAN LEGEND for screenings in theaters across Japan.
Even though there was a major scandal at hand and a superhero and his fans suffered wrongly, it could have been much worse. The situation was resolved, the slander reversed and the series and movie are coming back to fans in their original, uncut form. All in less than eight weeks! Some of the Japanese Special Effects magazines, most of which are bi-monthly or quarterly, didn't even have time to cover the actor being accused, being cleared, and everything with ULTRAMAN COSMOS going (mostly) back to as it was before. Hopefully the Japanese tokusatsu writers have plenty of whiteout.
Welcome back Musashi! Welcome back Ultraman Cosmos!
AMERICA BRACES FOR THE ARRIVAL OF ULTRAMAN TIGA!
Exclusive Interview With 4Kids' John Kalish
Author: Bob Johnson
When it was originally announced in 2000 that 4Kids Entertainment, the distributors of POKEMON and other children's programming, had acquired the rights to release ULTRAMAN TIGA in the US, fans were reservedly excited. Was this fact or a rumor? What would they do to the series? Would this be another POWER RANGERS? Would television stations or networks pick up the show? Would it be buried in the late night/early mornings as TNT did with ULTRA SEVEN a few years before?
|Make way for ULTRAMAN TIGA; coming this summer to Fox! © 1996 Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd.
Up until now, everything has been rumor and speculation, sprinkled with a bit of worry and doubt. To clear things up, Henshin! Online went right to the source and spoke with the 4Kids' producer of ULTRAMAN TIGA, John Kalish.
Kalish is not new to television. According to the 20-year veteran of television programming, "I was part of three of the most successful non-fiction launches of the 1980s; CNN, ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, and LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS. I've created shows for Nickelodeon, Animal Planet and MTV. I was also a writer on a previous 4Kids series, WMAC MASTERS." 4Kids Entertainment President, Norman Grossfield brought Kalish in to produce ULTRAMAN TIGA, and this is where our story begins!
The work on an episode starts with a translation of the episode so all dialogue and plot points are understood. Due to the fact that commercial breaks in Japan and America differ, some slight re-editing is done to heighten the tension at the breaks and also to make the pacing of the show as exciting as possible. According to John Kalish, "The writers are encouraged to make changes in dialogue and plot points, so long as they work with what's happening on screen and that everything ties together in the end as one, coherent story." There is a show bible, which describes to writers the basic premise and personalities of the characters, but that is constantly evolving as they get farther into the series. Most of the plots are staying the same, with some adjustments, depending on the episode. Names of all the key characters will remain the same (especially since their names appear on the back of their uniforms!).
As for additional editing, Kalish explains, "4Kids Entertainment is invested in protecting kids from gratuitous violence," but adds, "at the same time, we firmly believe that what happens between a colossal hero and giant monsters is not based in the world as we know it and kids understand that." In addition, FOX Broadcasting, where the series will air beginning this Fall, has a standards and practice department that also monitors what goes on the air. When specifically asked about the Ozu Demon decapitation scene in episode 16, "Return of the Demon", the Producer responded, "The jury is still out in regards to what goes in and out of the samurai episode."
As for the Japanese origins of the series, "We are trying to eliminate much of the Japanese text that appears on screen, because, as with the Japanese language itself, it creates an unfamiliar environment for American kids." It is a given that some kids will realize this is a Japanese series, others will figure the characters are Japanese Americans. What really matters is that the world of ULTRAMAN TIGA seems accessible to the younger viewers.
There is no doubt that the success of ULTRAMAN TIGA lies in its popularity with American kids, its main target audience. When asked about the direction of the series, Kalish replied, "We are definitely targeting a younger audience and we've used kids in focus groups to help guide us along the way." The focus groups have been very successful and acceptance of the show has gone over well. Many did not realize it was a Japanese show. Others did but still enjoyed it. John adds, "Kids loved the show. Without going into specifics, their comments were insightful and helped guide us to make some key decisions about our approach to producing the series." However, older fans should not feel left out. John explained that, "Kids today are more sophisticated than ever. We decided to introduce some 'sly' humor into the show and at first we were concerned that the jokes would go over a younger viewer's head. We were surprised and pleased to learn we were wrong."
He admits that there will also be some parents who grew up watching the original, tuning in with their kids to see how their childhood hero has been updated, "Certainly some adults, including some parents of the kids' audience we are targeting, will remember the original ULTRAMAN. We expect them to check out ULTRAMAN TIGA and make their own nostalgic comparisons."
4Kids is producing every aspect of the US adaptation of the show and how the show sounds, is very important. "The dubbing is one of the most crucial components and we are doing our best to make this wonderful group of Japanese actors look like they were doing the series in English from the start." When comparing the dubbing of a live action show as opposed to an animated series like POKEMON, Kalish expressed, "I think there are more similarities than differences. The differences for the most part have to do with performances. The voice actors have to act like real people. There's less exaggeration to their performances. And the recording, or as we describe it, the "lip flap," has to be that much closer because it's being dubbed into the mouths of real people."
Another important aspect in the way the show sounds is the music. "All the music for the US will be original. Our composers aren't famous, but they're some of the most talented people in the business." Not all the composers are new to Ultraman. "The only person working on the series that's very familiar with the original ULTRAMAN is one of our composers. He finds it very inspiring to compose music for a show he loved as a kid."
One thing that occurred this summer that is a plus for anyone working on upcoming superhero projects is the phenomenal success of Sony's SPIDER-MAN. When asked about this, Kalish responded, "The success of SPIDER-MAN has no bearing on the production of ULTRAMAN TIGA. That being said, SPIDER-MAN's success is an indication that there's a healthy appetite for stories about superheroes."
When ULTRAMAN TIGA starts on FOX this Fall, hopefully that success will translate into a ratings bonanza for one of Japan and Asia's most popular icons. An extensive marketing strategy for ULTRAMAN TIGA is in the development stages and will be unveiled in the near future. The show itself will premier on Saturday, September 14 as part of FOX Network's Fox Box, a block of programming provided by 4Kids. ULTRAMAN TIGA will include all 52-episodes of the original series and will be shown as two episodes back-to-back each week until spring of 2003, when it goes to one episode per week, the second being replaced by a new TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES series.
Keep your eyes on Henshin! Online for more exclusive information on ULTRAMAN TIGA as the series' broadcast gets closer! H!O is your premier source of Ultraman information on the web!
Will MBS Relent To Rebroadcasting ULTRAMAN COSMOS?
Translation & Additional Information: August Ragone
Source: Asahi News, Zonnel II and various
In response to the arrest of ULTRAMAN COSMOS star Takayasu Sugiura (because of which the series was pulled from the schedule and shelved), the Public Relations Department of Mainichi Broadcasting, issued this comment: "Until a formal determination can be made [by the courts], MBS is declining to comment on the situation." This is also due to the fact that the Osaka District Attorney has released the actor on his own recognizance pending any further action.
|Takayasu Sugiura as Team EYES agent Musashi © 2002 MBS/Tsuburaya Productions
MBS prematurely ended its 64-episode run of ULTRAMAN COSMOS, which was to conclude in September, with two special episodes aired on June 22nd and June 29th -- with all footage of the "offending" actor excised without his being convicted of any crime. To fill in ULTRAMAN COSMOS's timeslot, MBS is replacing the series with ULTRAMAN NEOS, the direct-to-video series produced by Tsuburaya Productions and Vap Video in 2000.
Meanwhile, Shochiku Motion Picture Company, which is a co-producer and distributor of the upcoming theatrical feature ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET, issued this statement: "We have completed the task of removing all of the star's scenes from the film, and it is ready for release on schedule. After the release, we will have to determine whether to issue the original uncut version of the film sometime in the future."
Meanwhile, viewers and fans, including children, were aware when the case broke last month that Ultraman Cosmos himself did no wrong, and the cancellation was due to the actor's personal life. Many feel no shame in wearing Cosmos clothing (jackets, t-shirts and pajamas) or owning associated merchandise. What most them are puzzled by is whether Sugiura is innocent or guilty. Now some of the truth is coming to light. Many fans on the Japanese BBS said that they are willing to buy more Cosmos merchandise to help support Tsuburaya Productions. Other fans are rightfully very upset at MBS' and Shochiku's censorship.
Strong comments came from Sugiura's office in Osaka: "Of course we believe that our client is innocent of the alleged extortion and other false claims [Assault and Battery]. While he has been released, it is extremely regretful that the program was cancelled and the movie is to be censored. We are very upset that the investigation by the police was handled most unprofessionally."
Whether Sugiura's attorneys file claims against the police, the alleged victim's family, the network and Shochiku is uncertain at this time. It's amazing to this author that in a modern industrialized and civilized nation, such as Japan, a person can be stigmatized through hearsay, before being proven guilty by due process of law. If this happened in the States, Sugiura's attorney would have filed numerous and righteous lawsuits against a myriad of parties, and would most likely win all of them.
The others who are being damaged by all of this, of course, are the fans throughout Japan, mostly children, who all of this adult business means nothing to, and Tsuburaya Productions, which has lost major revenue from producing ULTRAMAN COSMOS, and whose reputation has been unjustifiably dragged through the mud due to this scandal. A scandal, which seems to have turned a 180-degrees from Sugiura's alleged violence and strong-arming, to the grievous mishandling of the case; by not only the Osaka Police, but MBS and Shochiku as well.
Only in Japan...
LATE BREAKING NEWS!! The latest word from MBS this morning (July 5, 2002) is that they will broadcast the remaining episodes of ULTRAMAN COSMOS. No word as to when though. They are committed to finishing the run of ULTRAMAN NEOS first, but will schedule COSMOS for a later date.
Ultraman Justice Revealed!
Author: Bob Johnson
Source: Telebi Kun & Hyper Hobby Magazine
Special thanks to Wayne Ho for Hyper Hobby Page
Rumors have been flying around the internet about the identity of the mysterious Ultraman Justice. Now it has been revealed! Ultraman Justice is a character who appears in ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET, to be released in Japan on August 3.
|The 29th Ultrabeing: Ultraman Justice, who guest stars in the upcoming ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2 feature film © 2002 Ultraman Cosmos 2 Production Consortium/Shochiku/Tsuburaya Productions. From Hyper Hobby #47 (Tokuma Shoten).
In the film, the evil monster Sandros turns the sky pitch dark, thereby blocking Cosmos' solar energy, thus depleting his power. Suddenly Ultraman Justice comes to the rescue to save the fallen hero.
News of Justice was released on July 1. Telebi Kun and Hyper Hobby were the first magazines on the stands with pictures.
As of this writing, there has been no official announcement regarding a follow-up series to ULTRAMAN COSMOS. Ultraman Justice has been announced as a character in ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2 only, so far...
Stay tuned to Henshin! Online for all the news as it develops!!
Pages from August issue of Hyper Hobby Magazine and TV-Kun magazine (Shogakukan Publishing)
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FUTURE FEMME TIME FIGHTERS STRIKE IN LA! |
DIMENSIONAL DETECTIVE WECKER: D-02 At Anime Expo
Author: David Chapple
Beautiful heroines and science fiction are good. Put them together with the right talent, and they can be great. That's the chocolate and peanut butter combination of DIMENSIONAL DETECTIVE WECKER, which premiered with a new series (subtitled "D-02") in Japan from January through March, 2002. The hit series then made its North American debut at this year's "Asian Fantasy Film Expo" in New Jersey, where English subtitled episodes from the new series were screened in front of a captive audience.
|Cast of WECKER: D-02 © 2002 Kobi/Layup/TV Asahi
As a result of the positive response to WECKER: D-02 at AFFE, the West Coast will be getting its chance to see this groundbreaking series at "Anime Expo 2002" which runs from July 4th through 7th at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California.
But, some of you might ask, "What the heck is 'Wecker'?" The show was conceived by producer Kazuya Hatazawa, whose previous super-heroine series included MASKED ANGEL: ROSETTA (1998), and MILLENNIUM KINGDOM III: VANNY KNIGHTS (1999). WECKER, which means "clock" in German, is Hatazawa's most ambitious series yet.
One hundred years in the future, a time hole is discovered over Japan that allows "Chrono Travel." Criminals soon realize that the time gateway offers great potential for nefarious activities by utilizing future technologies and knowledge to cunningly commit crimes in the present. Enter "Wecker" -- the code name for an elite group of Time Dimension Police, a countermeasure to the crime committed using Chrono Travel. This is the basic premise for limited action-adventure-sf teleseries, which is a follow-up for the original WECKER series, which co-starred Hiroshi Watari, the action star best known for starring in Toei's SPACE SHERIFF: SHARIVAN (1983-1984).
The original concept of the show was first conceived as a joint project between Lay-Up Company and Kobi Company, an advertising agency (known for producing Kinji Fukasaku's BATTLE ROYALE), as a three-part DVD series which ended on a cliffhanger. The strategy was to start sales with the DVD and garner enough interest so that a network would pick the show up for broadcast with new episode commitments.
This three part series was written and directed by Hatazawa and Hiroshi Watari, a former member of the Japan Action Club, who also played Wecker Agent "Varn." The series was shot on a conservative budget and features three sexy young women in their first screen roles.
This original WECKER series was released on DVD in Japan in June of 2001, to excellent advance sales and word of mouth -- even before the DVDs hit the stores. The Official WECKER Homepage, launched in April, 2001 had already seen over 24,000 hits alone by that summer, making this independent production a bona fide hit with fans nationwide in Japan.
This success also garnered the attention of major Japanese toy manufacturers, such as Takara, who produced best-selling figurines, while other companies issued popular items as such photo books, posters and trading cards -- all of which sold well, due to the appealing aspects of the series, not to mention the beautiful time-travelling girls, themselves (similar items for WECKER: D-02 were even stronger in sales than those for the first series).
In addition, a manga written by Hatazawa with art by Kotoko Izumi, was published in serial form in the Japanese monthly magazine "Charatsu" to critical acclaim. The sales of such items were so strong, that in the summer of 2001, the Asahi TV network (which had also broadcast VANNY KNIGHTS two years prior), picked up WECKER for new episodes, with a premiere date set for January 2002.
This new version, now entitled WECKER: D-02, was recast to focus on seven members, six female and one male, and shot on location in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The budget was increased and several writers with extensive experience in Japanese science-fiction television, and one from America, were brought in to discuss the concept and story arc for the show. A first in Japanese television, an American writer was brought in to contribute concept and story ideas. After the concept and arc were decided upon, the casting began.
Wanting to make a clean break from the previous series, to prevent possible confusion for those viewers who had not seen the original DVD series, the decision was made that the new series would not include any of the previous series cast. Although for those viewers looking for a "bridge" between the DVD series and the new one, there is a surprise guest star from the previous series in one episode of WECKER: D-02.
Since the actors in the DVD series, apart from veteran Hiroshi Watari, were mostly novice actresses, Asahi TV decided to cast the new version with actresses that they had worked with before. The new cast includes Yui Ichikawa (17) as "Kana Godo," Megumi Ono (18) as "May Sakaki," Yuko Nishimura (20) as Wecker Chief "Saki Hyuga," Sayaka Morimoto (18) as "Haruka Nozomi," Yuko Ogura (18) as "Amu Muraki" and Mutsuko Sakuragi (14) as "EREE-2210-E." As of this writing, several of the actresses have gained celebrity status in Japan and have appeared on many popular magazine covers -- becoming quite sought after "idols" in the Japanese entertainment industry.
WECKER D-02 would be more science fiction in scope and style and would concentrate more on detective-style storylines than the previous series, while still retaining the hip and sexy aspect of the Wecker Agents. And while the previous show was more campy in nature, the new version would be more of a action-adventure drama, with comedic elements thrown in for good measure.
The entire WECKER D-02 series was recently released on DVD in Japan as a six-disc set, with copius amounts of behind the scenes footage and promotional spots.
Cricket Productions, a Los Angeles-based company, who has aquired the North American rights to the entire series. There are now in the process of previewing and promoting WECKER and aggresively soliciting a Stateside company to distribute the show in United States and Canada.
Cricket Productions will be on hand at the screening at Anime Expo to answer any questions that the audience may have. DIMENSIONAL DETECTIVE WECKER: D-02 will screen on Friday July 5, from 10:00am until 12:00pm in one of the Live Programming rooms. Check the Anime Expo website for scheduling updates. See WECKER: D-02 at Anime Expo. Before time runs out...
WAS ULTRAMAN COSMOS FRAMED?
Assualt Victim Lied To Osaka Police
Translation & Additional Information: August Ragone
Source: The Evening Fuji, Yahoo! Japan and various
In a strange twist in the on-going case against 21 year-old superhero star Takayasu Sugiura, who plays Agent Musashi -- the human being that transforms into Ultraman Cosmos -- evidence has been presented that the victim may have been trying to frame Sugiura.
|Takayasu Sugiura © 2002 Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd
The extortion and battery case filed against Sugiura earlier this month by a 19 year-old boy (whose name is being withheld from the press) at Moriguchi Police Station in Osaka Prefecture may have filed a false police report. "You must all understand that the allegations against my client are an utter fabrication," announced Sugiura and his attorney in Osaka on the 28th.
According to reports covered widely in Japanese sports papers (which generally cover show business gossip and scandals) the victim alleged that Suguira shook him down for 450000-yen in "damages" after the young actor discovered that the boy had stolen 40000-yen from him.
As for the injuries incurred in the Assault and Battery charges leveled against Sugiura, which include multiple contusions, fractured ribs and other injuries, it was said that "fear" prompted the victim to blame Sugiura. "He was attacked by a group of ten gang members, but had no way to get back at them," Sugiura claimed. "So, in fear, he lied to the police."
Sugiura also dismisses the victim's claims that he assaulted him in the parking lot of an Osaka Post Office on October 17, 2000. "I was shooting a movie in Tokyo at that time and could not have returned to Osaka," Sugiura insisted.
More than a year has elapsed since the original accusation was made against Sugiura. "My own lies just got too big," said the relieved victim, who was surprised that they actually arrested Sugiura. "When the police asked me to name the person who attacked me, I didn't have a face to pin it on."
As for official comment from Sugiura, he said this from his office: "The first time I heard about this incident, was when I was arrested on 14th of this month." He also pointed out that the police have seemingly bungled this investigation.
The Third Lieutenant of the West Moriguchi Police Station stated that no such mishandling was done by the Osaka Police, and that the officers on the case followed through in strict accordance to investigation procedure. But, what is the real truth in this case?
If the charges against Sugiura are indeed false, how will this affect the cancellation of the ULTRAMAN COSMOS television series and Bandai's associated toy line? ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET? What is the future of actor Takayasu Sugiura -- has he been spared from infamy? Has Ultraman Cosmos truly been framed?
Stay tuned to Henshin! Online for all the latest news on this ever-changing story.
SONNY CHIBA SUPERVISES TARANTINO'S NEW FILM
Japanese Action Star Returns In KILL BILL!
Translation & Additional Information: August Ragone
Source: Sponichi News, AICN & Various
KILL BILL! Director Quentin Tarantino's "ultimate exploitation action" film is now on location in Beijing, where rumors are afoot that several famous Shaw Brothers martial arts stars will make appearances in the film, including Chia Hui (aka "Gordon Liu") of 36 CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN-fame. Old Skool Kung Fu film fans might want to take note that some of KILL BILL! Chinese sequences are being shot on the old Shaw Brothers Studios lot.
|"Sonny Chiba trains Uma Thurman to KILL BILL!" © Sponichi News
Many of the film's kung fu fight scenes are being choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping, who recently made a big splash in the west for his work on THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, featuring numerous Chinese, Hong Kong and Japanese stuntmen. Among them is the quintessential skull-cracker -- legendary action star Shinichi Chiba.
Chiba is now hard at work on director Tarantino's KILL BILL! in a triple-fold capacity: Star, Martial Arts Direction and Japanese Dialogue Coach. Tarantino enlisted Chiba's talent to properly train the principals, including Uma Thurman, for a period of one month in Los Angeles before production began in China in June. "I take my hat off in regards to her enthusiasm," said Chiba.
Chiba is proud of his cult popularity in the United States as "Sonny Chiba," well known for his television series THE SHADOW ARMY (Kage-no Gundan, 1979-1985). Tarantino, himself, has been in absolute awe having been able to secure Chiba to support several areas of his film, which will be in production throughout the summer in Beijing, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and Los Angeles.
But, expectations for KILL BILL! ever getting off the ground were not favorable over the last five years, since Tarantino wrote the original screenplay. Once the film was finally green-lighted, production was postponed when it was discovered that star Uma Thurman became pregnant. Several replacements were discussed (or rumored to be discussed), but Tarantino held fast to waiting for Thurman, who he specifically wrote the part for. "She's my actress," said the director in a recent interview.
Thurman thankfully experienced a healthy birth this past January 15th, which allowed production to move forward in earnest. Meanwhile, Chiba was on contract since last January, and had to wait while the production was postponed, rearranging his schedule to accommodate the pregnant actress. But, Chiba thinks that the wait has paid off. Joining the cast is Lucy Liu, Darryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Jason Biggs, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Jai White and LaTanya Richardson -- who have been hired by Tarantino to star in KILL BILL!
When discussing his experience in the film's pre-production, Chiba's usually stern mouth spreads wide, illustrating his enthusiasm for the project, which contains extreme action scenes mixed generously with an internationally-colored cast. "This film is the culmination of a myriad of ideas that have been let loose from the toy-box that is the mind of Tarantino -- much like a compilation of short stories into one narrative book," said Chiba confidently on the production.
This past March, the principal cast began training together under Chiba's strict eight-hours-a-day curriculum. Even though Thurman had her newborn nearby for nursing and care, she didn't complain about the intensity of training or exhaustion. "With her hakama on, holding her sword, she bloomed. I am impressed with her natural professionalism," Chiba extolled.
In regards to Japanese language training for the dialogue scenes, "Even though you cannot elminate their American accents, I have done everything possible for [the actors] to employ proper pronunciation, under my guidance." Assisting Chiba in training the actors was his daughter, actress/martial artist Juri Manase, which began on March 11th. It is not known at this time if Manase will appear in KILL BILL! with her famous father.
Tarantino's adoration for Chiba began with the release of such 1970s films as CHAMPION OF DEATH and THE STREETFIGHTER in the States, which established a fan-base for "Sonny Chiba." In 1992, Chiba continued to chase the dream of American Stardom with ACES: IRON EAGLE III. Then, to advance himself in the Hollywood realm, Chiba attained his Green Card in 1994. Tarantino's years of adoration became known world-wide with the production of his screenplay for TRUE ROMANCE (1993), which featured heavy Chiba-influence and a Chiba-crazed character played by Christian Slater.
Enthusiastically, Chiba concluded "We are taking Japanese action and culture, and connecting them with the world in a way we want to." KILL BILL! continues shooting throughout the summer and is scheduled to be released in the US by Miramax on October 10, 2003.
ULTRAMAN COSMOS MEETS HIS MATCH?
Star Scandal Signals Swansong for Superhero Series
Author: Bob Johnson
Sources: F2 Network, Japan Today, Mainichi Shimbun, Shochiku, Various
Takayasu Sugiura, the 21 year-old actor who plays Musashi Haruno, the human alter-ego of the superhero in ULTRAMAN COSMOS, was arrested on June 14 in the Moriguchi Ward of Osaka for the alleged extortion and assault of a friend's younger brother. Sugiura reportedly admitted his guilt in the incident that occurred two years ago in Osaka. Since Sugiura was 19 at the time, he will be tried as a minor.
|Takayasu Sugiura in his role as Musashi from ULTRAMAN COSMOS.© 2002 Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd
According to Osaka Metropolitan Police, Sugiura assaulted the 18 year-old student, breaking his pelvis in his apartment on September 28, 2000 in reaction for being robbed of ¥40,000 ($325) from his bag. A month later, Sugiura called the student out to a parking lot where he punched him repeatedly in the face and demanded a cash deposit of ¥600,000 ($5,035) into his bank account as a "nuisance fee." The student eventually relented with a deposit in the amount of ¥450,000 ($3,776).
MBS (Mainichi Broadcasting System), the network that airs ULTRAMAN COSMOS every Saturday night in Japan, pulled the show from the air upon hearing of the news. The series was replaced last weekend with an airing of the animated mini-feature ULTRAMAN M-78 THEATER, which was originally paired with ULTRAMAN GAIA: THE BATTLE IN HYPER-SPACE in theaters. An MBS spokesman stated, "We are shocked to learn about the arrest. This has simply shattered children's dreams."
A special two-part episode of the series will be broadcast on June 22 and 29 on MBS, with all scenes featuring the Musashi character edited out. This one-hour presentation is meant to wrap up the series and finish the story for the television broadcast. What will happen after the 2 Cosmos episodes air is still undecided.
According to Tsuburaya Productions, on June 22 MBS will air ULTRAMAN COSMOS SPECIAL EDITION 1: "COSMOS' GREATEST DANGER". One week later, on June 29 ULTRAMAN COSMOS SPECIAL EDITION 2: "COSMOS' FINAL BATTLE" will be shown. The programs will be preceded by a special message from Ultraman Cosmos to the young viewers of his show. See below for a synopsis of the first of the two specials.
Whether the original uncut episodes will be released in the future (as well as the other unaired episodes) is unknown at press time. Contrary to reports on other Internet newsgroups, mailing lists and message boards, ULTRAMAN COSMOS did not cease production due to this unfortunate incident. Production on the series wrapped several months ago, on April 12, 2001.
Meanwhile, advanced ticket sales for the upcoming theatrical feature ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET (and its co-feature ULTRAMAN LEGEND) has been suspended by Shochiku Motion Picture Company, pending a company decision on how to proceed in light of the scandal.
It was reported from the Asian Fantasy Film Expo this last weekend by Bandai representative Yasumasa Kawauchi that production of ULTRAMAN COSMOS has ended and no more toys would be produced. Kawauchi (a guest at AFFE) is a good friend of Takayasu Sugiura, and expressed his heartfelt sorrow over this news. His translator, Mr. Ota, quoted Kawauchi as saying that MBS's canceling ULTRAMAN COSMOS "may not be as indefinite as the reports have exaggerated." He said that it is being canceled "for now."
It is unlikely that Tsuburaya Productions knew anything of Sugiura's alleged crimes at the time of his hiring for the part of Musashi in the television series. It was not until the arrest that they found out about the circumstances surrounding his alleged actions. It is doubtful that TPC would have hired Sugiura to play the new, kinder, gentler Ultraman if they had known of the incident beforehand.
A statement by Tsuburaya Productions' President Kazuo Tsuburaya is up at their webpage.
American fans of Ultraman, looking forward to the release of ULTRAMAN TIGA on the FOX Network in the fall of this year, should by no means confuse Sugiura with actor/pop star Hiroshi Nagano who plays Daigo on that series. Production on the dubbing of ULTRAMAN TIGA is still going on at 4Kids Entertainment. Look for an exclusive interview with producer John Kalish, coming soon to Henshin! Online.
Fans should keep in mind that these are allegedly the unfortunate acts of an actor and not something that should detract from their enjoyment of watching Ultraman. A new video series, ULTRA SEVEN EVOLUTION is out in Japan with the first episode in stores and a second coming June 21. Production will start on a new series in the near future. With the Image DVDs on the market here in the US now and ULTRAMAN TIGA coming in the fall, there is plenty of Ultraman to enjoy. Don't let these events spoil what is promising to be a bright future for Japan's most durable hero!
ULTRAMAN COSMOS SPECIAL EDITION 1: "COSMOS' GREATEST DANGER"
The Earth enjoys its first extended period of peace in a long while. Neither Chaos Header nor any of the destructive monsters that have plagued the world so long have appeared. But a concentration of Chaos Header is spotted in the solar system at point P87. Chaos Header is gearing up for its greatest invasion. The Chaos Header energy heads for Earth and forms itself into Chaos Ultraman, an enemy thought to have been defeated already by Ultraman Cosmos. In order to battle Chaos Ultraman, Team EYES races to the scene. But Chaos Ultraman counterattacks and both Tech Spinner One, piloted by Fubuki and Tech Spinner Four piloted by Musashi crash. Chaos Ultraman heads for the SRC Science Center. There Doigaki and Professor Hazumi are preparing Chaos Chimera, a powerful new weapon to battle Chaos Header. "Team EYES will protect the Earth against any invasion!" declares Captain Hiura as the team prepares to make its final life or death stand against the invader. But Chaos Ultraman unleashes a powerful beam weapon. At that moment Ultraman Cosmos appears once again. A fierce battle begins. Ultraman Cosmos transforms into his Eclipse Mode and uses his Cosmium Beam to destroy Chaos Ultraman. But suddenly an immense light appears in the sky. A new Chaos Ultraman, Calamity appears. Ultraman Cosmos must face his greatest danger yet!
There is a trailer up for the short featurette that is scheduled to be released with ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET on the Shochiku website.
FAMOUS CHARACTER ACTOR HIDEO MUROTA PASSES AWAY
Translation & Additional Information: August Ragone
Source: Sponichi News Service
Popular character actor Hideo Mutora, best remembered or his brutal yakuza roles in the BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY series or playing cold-hearted ruffians in Period Adventure Dramas, passed away from complications due to Lung Cancer on June 15th at 10:05 pm at The Tokyo Women's Hospital in the Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo. He was 64 years old. Born in the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, Murota appeared in over 1000 films during his long career.
|Murota interviewed by Sponichi News after receiving the Blue Ribbon award for Best Supporting Actor in 1993. Photo © Sponichi News Service 1993
The Japanese film community has lost one of its most valuable players, Hideo Murota (64), who possessed an effective voice -- like a jagged knife -- and commanding presence that would eat away leading actors' screentime. Playing evil men at the heart of many violent Yakuza movies, the actor made his ascent to Heaven very peacefully. Murota was struggling with a decade-long battle against his illness. In 1992, he collapsed due to a hematoma of the kidneys, and in 1995, was hospitalized due to a liver disorder. Each time, Murota recovered and returned to take a role in a film or television drama, but this time his family's prayers were not answered.
Murota's wife, Tomoko (63) and other members of the family, stated that the actor began to grow ill in November of last year, his skin turning yellow when he was admitted to the Musashi Noichi Hospital. The results of the examinations the following month at a Shinjuku specialist clinic revealed that Murota was in an advanced stage of cancer of the liver, which had spread to his lungs. His condition turned for the worse suddenly on the 15th. Immediately, his wife, eldest daughter Eiko (30) and his eldest son, musician Akira (27), ordered an increase in the medication -- but it was too late. The doctors ordered Murota's life support to be shut down.
Tomoko told reporters that even though her husband "fell seriously ill at the end of last year, he always maintained the will to live on. Then, he began to change, becoming like another person as he grew more ill," she suddenly trailed off, no longer able to speak. On the morning of the 16th, Akira responded to the press corps at their home in the Musashino Ward of Tokyo. "Because of my his stubborn nature, he ignored the doctors' warnings after the last time he was hospitalized, and went right back to smoking and drinking." Just before passing, Murota would call to Akira and the other members of his family that he needed to leave the hospital because "I have to continue working."
By the second-half of the 1970s, Murota was firmly established as a specialist in villain roles with an uncany ability to come to a violent boil on screen.
Tokusatsu fans may remember Murota best as "Harlequin" (aka "Black Diamond") the eye-patched evil officer of Emperor Guillotine in the 1968 Toei Television series JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT (aka "Giant Robo"). Murota appeared as Harlequin in episodes #8, #10, #11 and #12. He also appeared in other horror and a handful of Horror and SF films: TERROR BENEATH THE SEA, GHOST STORY: THE SNAKE WOMAN, WOLF GUY: THE ENRAGED LYCANTRHOPE, WERECAT IN THE TURKISH BATH HOUSE, THE INUGAMI FAMILY, SAMURAI REINCARNATION, THE PHANTOM LAKE, DOGURA MAGURA, ABUNAI HANASHI: MUGEN MONOGATARI and HIRUKO: THE DEMON HUNTER.
Before his passing, Murota was featured in important supporting roles in dramas for NHK, including LISTEN TO THE FESTIVAL FANS (Matsuri Bayashi Kikoreru) and last year's historical Taiga Drama HOJO TOKIMUNE.
Hideo Murota (actual name). Born October 7, Showa 12 (1937) in Otaru City, Hokkaido. In 1957, he was accepted into Toei Studios' 4th New Faces Contest. The next year he appeared in his first feature film THE TYPHOON SON: STUDY SOJURN. He made a great impact in Kinji Fukasaku's BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY film series, establishing him as the villain character actor of the 1970s. Along with Masaru Shiga, he helped to form the acting troop "The Piranha Corps" as a central figure. He performed as a name character actor in 1000 films and received a Best Supporting Actor award in 1993 for his role in THE LEGEND OF VIOLENCE (Shura-no Densetsu).
Asked for his comments, director Kinji Fukasaku was shaken up and deeply saddened to hear about his passing of this timeless actor with whom he worked with very frequently in the past. "He was a very important person. I don't know what to say. In the wake of the news, all I could do was sit down. There is no proper comment I can make at this time," he said in a troubled voice. Obviously, Fukasaku's shock at the passing of the actor could not be held back.
By: Norman England
The first thought that crossed my mind when hearing of the display being prepared for the Taro Okamoto Museum was, "Oh great... not another disappointing Godzilla exhibit." As a Godzilla fan and longtime resident of Japan, I try to catch every Godzilla related event I can. Unfortunately, they are more often than not letdowns. Stuck in department store corners or squeezed into dilapidating amusement parks, rather than enlighten the uninitiated, they only reinforce the image of Godzilla films as cheap, kiddy fodder. Worse, with all roads unabashedly leading to 'ye olde goods shop' at exhibits end, most are simply feeble attempts to unload dead or over stocked toys. Thus, I found myself unprepared for one of the best -- if not the best - retrospectives of the nearly fifty-year history of Godzilla.
|Cover of the event pamphlet. © 2002 Toho Co., Ltd
So why should this one be better than any of those previous mishaps? For one, being held in a prestigious museum means no wobbly foldout tables, cheap glass cases, and dusty pseudo props that do little but test ones dedication to the genre. As a museum representing the works of one of Japan's premier 20th century avant-garde artists, Taro Okamoto, a reputation is at stake, and fortunately for kaiju fans, the center's sophistication has spilled over into the Godzilla exhibit.
Located in a park in the city of Kawasaki, the museum sits atop a tall hill. Nestled in a wooded area, the museum's natural stone building is offset by a manmade stream leading up to its entrance. (This pleasant atmosphere alone makes for a welcome respite from the bustle of nearby Tokyo.) In the lobby, a large circle of asphalt greets guests. An amusing welcome mat of sorts, imprinted on the black tar is a life-size (or close enough) Godzilla footprint with a real car flattened in its center. Even better is that it's "interactive". When I arrived several children were scurrying over the car, picking at its metal hull and jumping up and down on its hood.
The first part of the museum is a collection of the works of Taro Okamoto. His art is (or was, he died in 1996) fairly groundbreaking in Japan. Though eager to get to the Godzilla exhibit I found myself lingering on his pieces. Abstract, they are slightly reminiscent of Picasso and Dali, with odd bacterial shapes and a fourth spatial dimensional take on his subjects. For kaiju fans, his relationship to the genre can be found in the star creature (Pairajin) designs he did for the 1956 Daiei film "Uchiujin Tokyo ni Arawareru" (Warning from Space). Additionally, the towering sun-faced statue he created for Osaka's Banpaku Park can be seen in the 1970 film "Gamera tai Daimaju Jiga" (Gamera vs. Monster X).
At the end of the collection starts the Godzilla exhibit. Walking into a dimly lit space, visitors come face to face with one of the Godzilla suits from GMK. Pedestaled atop a simple black base, the impressive suit is bathed in a reddish glow. Set before the backdrop of an atomic mushroom cloud, it is both powerful and ominous, and serves to establish the serious tone of the show.
The show begins in the next room with a chronicling of the era in which Godzilla was born. On the wall are newspaper headlines from the early 50s, including a report on the "Lucky Dragon", a fishing ship that ventured into a US atomic testing area and one of the inspirations for the first film. Graphic photos of the aftereffects of the crews' radioactive bath test the stomachs of even the strongest visitors. In addition, several household appliances from the day give an idea of the level of the nation's technology.
Godzilla's roots explained, the exhibit then details the creation of the first film. Well-crafted panel displays adorned with photos of the production cover the walls. While many of the photos can be seen ad infinitum in the countless books on the subject, some were exclusive to the show (or if not exclusive, rare enough to raise my eyebrows). Explanations of the photos (in Japanese) illustrate the creative processes of Honda, Tsuburaya, Tanaka and many others. At the end of this section is a small theater showing a digest version of the 1954 classic.
At Godzilla shows scripts are a standard, and this exhibit follows in this somewhat tired tradition. On display are ones from the first film up to Godzilla 2000. Kept under glass, one can only gaze down on these dilapidating wonders. (Though later on in the exhibit there is a table with Photostat copies of the scripts and various Godzilla pamphlets that you can leaf through.) What makes this part of the show special is that it is graced with the rare inclusion of director Honda's personal copies. The covers of his scripts are colorfully doodled in with what look like felt tip markers.
The background of Godzilla established, the exhibit picks up speed and moves through the film chronology of Godzilla. Each film is represented by a wall poster (some original, some copies), notes and photos. Films are sectioned according to the times in which they were released, with photos of historic events cropping up to remind visitors just when in time a particular film was released. The most annoying part of the event can be found near the end of this section: the inclusion of the US Godzilla. While I can understand the Japanese feeling pride over the film having been given a Hollywood treatment, the thing is, no matter how you cut it, the film is crap. And as so accurately coined by Richard Pusateri, is Godzilla In Name Only.
Dotted throughout the route are original props from various Godzilla movies. The first prop on display is, naturally, the Oxygen Destroyer. While a common sight at events, it is nonetheless a welcome piece. I never tire of letting my eyes scan over its simple, yet effective design. Floating above the film retrospective area is the GMK Mothra and in one corner and surprisingly not under glass, is the Mothra egg from 1992's Godzilla vs. Mothra. On the floor is the larva Mothra from the same film. Reutilized for GMK, it sports touch ups from Godzilla's latest adventure.
Following this is a diorama of the Millennium Godzilla squaring off against the silver UFO, a recreation of the climax of Godzilla 2000. The Godzilla suit is an actual Wakasa built film suit, but I couldn't tell whether the UFO was real or not, but I would guess it so. Both pieces are set in a miniature city and I can personally vouch for the authenticity of these buildings as many I recognized from set visits to the past three Godzilla productions. Beside this display are the film suits of a Heisei Godzilla, Space Godzilla, King Ghidorah from Mothra 3, and high above, a flying Destroyer. All suits are openly displayed, kept back only by a small metal bar coming up to one's shin. (Security in the museum consists of frail, half-asleep women in chairs spotted around the event floor.)
Along the next wall is the entire collection of Orai's poster illustrations for the Godzilla films starting with Godzilla 85 and ending with Godzilla vs. Destroyer. These beautiful paintings are even more so in person, with vivid colors that leap off the canvas.
GMK props are plentiful too. (Actually, other than the Oxygen Destroyer, all props are no older than ten years.) On hand is the full-sized D-03 missile, the miniature of the Satsuma submersible, and the large model of the damaged American sub seen in the film's opening. In addition, there is a collection of Yuji Sakai Godzilla models in a glass case with a brief explanation of the modeler's career. At the end of the exhibit is another mini theater running a loop of Godzilla commercials from the original to GMK.
There is, of course, the obligatory goods shop at the end. However, with Godzilla items interspersed with Taro Okamoto ones, the marketing aspect is done as tastefully as marketing can be done. On sale are leftover theater exclusives from GMK's run last winter, with the remaining items ones that can be bought at any hobby or toyshop in Japan. The most outstanding item on sale is the very high quality program book produced for this Godzilla show. A4 size and over 50 pages long, the book features a striking cover of the GMK Godzilla against a stark white background. This image is the same used for the poster advertising the event. The poster, too, is for sale and is, if I may use a lowbrow phrase, kick ass.
As stated earlier, this is a fantastic exhibit and easily the highest quality of its kind I've seen. The museum took great pains to present Godzilla respectfully and to relate Godzilla's importance to Japanese and world culture. While not entirely huge, it is not small either. Not including the screenings, it took me well over an hour to wander from piece to piece. I toured the event with fellow enthusiasts August Ragone and Jiro Kaneko, and the three of us spent much of the time commenting on the pieces and discussing the films as we walked through. It's the perfect exhibit to share with like-minded kaiju buddies.
Titled "Since Godzilla" in English and "Gojira no Jidai" in Japanese (literal translation is "The Era of Godzilla"), the event runs through to July 28, 2002. Easily accessible from Tokyo, from Shinjuku take the Odakyu train line (express train, platform 5) to Mukogaoka-Yuen Station. Signs out front point the way to the park and the museum. The ride from Shinjuku is twenty-one minutes, with the museum a 10-minute walk from the station.
In addition, several Godzilla related events dot the calendar until its close:
June 6, 1:00 - 2:00 pm will see a discussion about the US relationship with the war and Godzilla by Peter Mulsof (spelling maybe wrong as his name is written in kana in the museum guide), following which will be a screening of Godzilla vs. Biollante.
June 16, 1:00 - 2:00 pm will feature a two-person panel entitled "What is Godzilla?" A screening of Godzilla 84 will follow.
July 21, 1:00 - 2:00 GMK director Shusuke Kaneko will be on hand to give a speech entitled, "The Future of Godzilla". A screening of GMK: Daikaiju Soukougeki will follow.
Museum hours are 9:30 am - 5:00 pm, with last admission 30 minutes before closing. The museum is closed on Mondays. If Monday is a national holiday then it is open with the following day a museum holiday.
Great Japanese Visionary Will Be Sorely Missed.
By: Bob Johnson & August Ragone
Source: News reports & Asahi Sonorama
Tohl Narita, the artist whose designs and illustrations gave birth to many tokusatsu fans' dreams and flights of imagination, passed away following a stroke on February 26, 2002. By request of his wife, news of his death has been kept extremely low-key in Japan.
|Tohl Narita 1929 - 2002
Tohru "Tohl" Narita was born in Kobe in 1929. After majoring in fine arts at university, he signed on with Toho's Special Effects Art Department in 1954, immediately going to work on the miniatures for GODZILLA (1954), HALF HUMAN (1955) and GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955). He worked in various effects capacities for more than fifteen other Toho special effects features throughout the late '50s and early '60s. Some of the fantastic films include MADAME WHITE SNAKE (1956), RODAN (1956) and BARAN (1958).
In 1959 alone, he worked on several large-scale effects films THE MONKEY KING, SUBMARINE I-57 WILL NOT SURRENDER, THE THREE TREASURES, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and I BOMBED PEARL HARBOR (which was released in 1960). While working for Toho, Narita began freelancing films for other studios such as Shintoho, Shochiku and Daiei, including supervising the special effects on THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE television series for Orikomiko Kokusha Ltd in 1959.
In 1960, he went to work for Toei Studios, designing elements of many of their early superhero television shows and movies. He was credited as Art Director on the popular series NATIONAL KID (1959) and ZERO FIGHTER (1960). He also designed and helmed the starling effects for the feature films THE FINAL WAR (1960) -- which was featured in America's Life magazine -- and THE SUPER-SONIC SPACESHIP (1961), better known as "Invasion Of The Neptune Men."
Narita would soon be involved with creating one of Japan's most popular icons when he joined Tsuburaya Special Effects Productions in 1965. Tsuburaya Productions was started by Eiji Tsuburaya in 1963 as a special effects company for hire, which would also procure finnancing for their own fantasy-themed productions. Soon, Narita found himself as the Special Effects Art Director on three teleseries that would define a generation: ULTRA Q (1966), ULTRAMAN (1966) and ULTRA SEVEN (1967). His designs for the titular superheroes, furutistic vehicles and uniforms were immediate hits, both visually appealing and audacious in execution. But, the most important contribution to these series were the iconographic monster designs conceived by Narita -- his beasts became some of Japan's most well-known character creations. An impact which is still as stong today, as it was 35 years ago.
Because of this success, Tsuburaya asked Narita to return to Toho as a freelancer to work on concept designs for the Japanese-American co-production of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966). Narita's immediately appealing-disgusting designs for the Frankenstein Brothers, Sanda and Gaira, in the film are entirely memorable -- a Narita trademark. Halfway through the production of ULTRA SEVEN, he handed the baton to Noriyoshi Ikeya, to pursue more freelance work, landing a stint as Display Designer for Isetan Department Store -- a very prestigious venue in Tokyo's Shinjuku District. This is akin to becoming the Display Designer at Macy's in New York. He worked continuously with Isetan through 1976.
In 1969 he designed the interiors for the Taiyo-no To (Tower Of The Sun) at Japan's Expo '70 in Osaka. Exteriors were done by the famous Taro Okamoto. He continued on his movie and television work during this period with Nikkatsu Studios on MAN AND WAR Parts 1 and 2 (1970) and the superhero series HYUMAN (1972) for NHK.
In 1970, Tohl Narita's work extended to the West as he designed and directed the special effects for the MGM production of NOON SUNDAY, directed by Terry Bourke. While the film was not released in Japan, it was eventually released in the US in 1975.
That same year, he helmed the Special Effects Art Design for the film THE BULLET TRAIN EXPLODES (recently released in North America on DVD, under the title: "The Bullet Train") for Toei and designed aliens for superhero series FLYING SAUCER WAR: BANKIDD for a NTV/TV Tokyo co-production.
In his later years, he would design exhibits, events and attractions -- including car and boat shows for Yanase (1979) and Tokyo Disneyland's Pirates of the Carribean in 1982 in conjunction with Toei Arts.
His final special effects production was DEFENSE FORCE GIRL: IKKOCHAN in 1987, desinging the monsters and vehicles. However he continued his career working on displays, illustrations, as well as authoring essays and books. He also designed package art for toys and video releases, including rendering new depictions of his original designs from Tsuburaya Productions' super-science spy series MIGHTY JACK (1968).
Many of the superheroes, monsters and mecha created by Tohru "Tohl" Narita (as he signed his name) have been featured in numerous books and periodicals. Although Mr. Narita is now gone, his vision and unique concepts will live on in the colorful panthenon of Japanese Fantasy Films & Television -- thankfully preserved on home video for future generations to enjoy.
More designs and images from Narita: MJ-1. (48k)
ULTRA Q's Peguila. (32k)
ULTRAMAN Science Patrol's Mecha Designs. (64k)
Toei's NATIONAL KID. (32k)
WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS' Sanda and Gaira. (160k)
Ultra kaiju and fan-favorite, Dodongo. (48k)
STEALTH WIND TASK FORCE: HURRICANGER
All this and a talking hamster, too!
Author: John Cassidy
With special thanks to August Ragone
|© 2002 TV Asahi/Toei AG/Toei Company, Ltd.
Well, here it is 2002, and Toei's long-running Sentai Series has passed its 25th mark (and has been on the airwaves since 1975)! Following on the heels of HUNDRED-BEAST TASK FORCE: GAORANGER (Hyakkuju Sentai Gaorenja, 2001), comes the 26th entry in the series, titled STEALTH WIND TASK FORCE: HURRICANGER (Ninpu Sentai Harikenja). The new series premiered in Japan on February 17, 2002.
With Toei doing more experimenting with their shows such as MASKED RIDER RYUKI (Kamen Raida Ryuki), this is the third Sentai Series to feature a team of three, the other two being SOLAR TASK FORCE: SUNVULCAN (Taiyo Sentai Sanbarukan, 1981) and SUPER-BEAST TASK FORCE: LIVEMAN (Choju Sentai Raibuman, 1988). HURRICANGER also takes a page out of the Toei Catalogue from not only NINJA TASK FORCE: AKURANGER (Ninja Sentai Kakurenja, 1994), but the premise almost resembles that of NINJA CAPTOR (Ninja Kyaputa, 1976), as well. NINJA CAPTOR also contained motifs which combined both ancient ninja skill and super-technology.
The Space Ninja Group "Jakanja," led by the insect-like Tau Zanto, attempt to take over the Earth by wiping out all other ninja groups. The first hit is the dominant Hayate School led by Master Mugensai Hinata (Ken Nishida, known to fans as MAT Agent Nishida in the 1971 series RETURN OF ULTRAMAN). Meanwhile, three of his students, Yosuke Shiina (Shun Shioya), Kota Bito (Yasuhiro Yamamoto) and the lovely Nanami Hono (Nao Nagasawa) were put under special training for being mischievous, and so therefore avoid capture. Master Hinata manages to disguise himself by using a ninja shapeshifting technique to become a hamster, but unfortunately, he doesn't know the counter-spell and is stuck in that shape for the time-being. One would suspect that this might have something to do with the success of the kiddie cartoon HAMTARO (Tokkoto Hamutaro), which also features a hamster!
The three manage to cut a swath through the enemy and make off with Master Hinata, retreating to his secret underground nerve-center. With not much of a choice, Hinata's daughter, Oboro (Seiko Takada), bestows the trio with the "Hurricane Gyro" devices. Now, with the transformation cry of "Shinobi Changer!" -- they become Stealth Wind Task Force: Hurricanger!
The leader Yosuke becomes Hurricane-Red (based on a hawk), Kota becomes Hurricane-Yellow (based on a lion) and Nanami becomes Hurricane-Blue (based on a dolphin). Hinata's daughter Oboro builds their weapons and mecha, including their gun/swords (called "Mobile Ninja Sword [Keitai Ninto] Hayate Maru"), their individual/interchangeable weapons (Red's Dry Gun, Blue's Sonic Megaphone and Yellow's Quick Hammer) and for the first time in a Sentai Series, the heroes ride their own hang-gliders called Hurricane Wingers.
Hurricanger's three-in-one giant robot "Senpu Gattai: Senpujin" (Stealth Wind Combination Whirlwind God), combines from the mecha Hurricane Hawk, Hurricane Lion and Hurricane Dolphin. Also, Senpujin has a new variation-change with a more flexible human-like physique (as opposed to boxy, like its normal counterpart) called "Senpujin Hurrier." This configuration is similar to the Jusho Fighters from KAKURANGER.
Jakanja's baddies include Tau Zanto's assistant Manaruba, a hovering shelled insect, who oversees strategic planning and operations. Then, there are the field commanders Chuzubo of the Biological Ninja Corps, and Sargain of the
Mecha Ninja Corps. They are supported by the female villains. Furabijo is the goofy field analyst who keeps track of the deployment/loss of mecha and monsters, and rates their performance. Windynne is the sexy siren in the pink
pigtails who invents all of Jakanja's weapons and devices. Of course, we cannot forget the fetid foot soldiers of the Jakanja, the Magerapper henchmen.
As of this writing, new additions to this show include two more ninjas resembling the Hurricangers, from Hayate's rival school, Ikazuchi-do, who will work for the Jakanja. Kabuto-Raija (satin-red and based on a rhinoceros
beetle) and Kuwagata-Raija (dark blue and based on a stag beetle) will appear at first to challenge Hurricanger, and then later, join them in their fight against Jakanja for the peace of Mankind. These renegade characters have more
intricate costume designs (even though, personally, the Hurricangers themselves look much better than average for recent Sentai hero designs). A third member of the Ikazuchi-do will soon join our heroes, a female named Tento-Raija (color is unknown, rumored to be orange-yellow, but based on a ladybug).
As with recent Sentai shows, who knows what other additions Toei may add to the series later on? Stay tuned to Henshin! Online to find out! Senpuujin gets ready for battle. (16k)
Senpuujin Hurrier strikes an Ultraman pose!. (23k)
More Hurricanger Images from Toei's site:
ULTRA BIG SUMMER!
Two Ultraman Movies to Hit Japanese Cinemas in July
Author: August Ragone
|© 2002 Tsuburaya Productions & Ultraman Cosmos 2 Production Consortium
While it has been known for some time that Tsuburaya Productions had ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2, in production and slated to open nationwide in Japan this July, little has been issued on the details of the film itself. While not much was known about the film, produced as usual by former effects man Kiyoshi Suzuki, nothing was known about it's companion featurette. Thanks to Henshin! Online sources, we can now share some of this information with you.
The companion featurette has been expanded from the usual 30-minute anime subject to a live-action compilation feature, directed by Kiyoshi Suzuki. MILLENNIUM ULTRAMAN LEGEND (Shinseiki Urutoraman Densetsu) will showcase the exploits of all twenty-eight Ultra Heroes in one film. Exclusive information relayed today from Tokyo to Henshin! Online reveals that new special effects footage is being shot for this film, which called for the use of several Tsuburaya Productions' stuntmen. What is not known at press time is what the full running time will be for the featurette, which should be between 20 and 30 minutes, while ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2 will run between 80 and 90 minutes. Henshin! Online will be bringing you more news on this story as it develops.
The main feature is now officially titled ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET (Urutoraman Kosumosu Buru Puranetto) and will combine characters from ULTRAMAN COSMOS: FIRST CONTACT and the ULTRAMAN COSMOS teleseries. The film was co-written by Keiichi Hasegawa (co-author of GMK) and Hideyuki Kawakami, both of whom worked on all of the Heisei Ultra Series and movies. The chores of directing the live action and special effects are being handled by another veteran of the Heisei Ultra Series, Tsugumi Kitaura, who cut his teeth on ULTRAMAN TIGA. Returning once more with his beautiful and accomplished cinemaphotography is veteran Shinichi O'oka, while the score will be penned by ULTRAMAN COSMOS composer Tohru Fuyuki -- famous for his striking compositions for the original ULTRA SEVEN.
The story starts with mysterious occurrences in the waters off of Saipan in the South Pacific and reported sightings of strange "Mermen." Team EYES (Elite Young Expert Squad) and SRC (Scientific Research Circle) join together to solve the riddle and its extraterrestrial connection to an "old friend" from outer space. Of course, Musashi Haruno (played by Takayasu Sugiura) is poised to save the Earth by transforming into Ultraman Cosmos. While production was guarded, rumors are rampant that this "old friend" will be a new version of Zetton, the beast who beat Ultraman in the last episode of the original 1966 show. This could not be confirmed nor denied at press time.
ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET is set within the context of the currently running teleseries on MBS-TV in Japan, ten years in the future from the events appearing in FIRST CONTACT. While the entire cast of the show will be featured, several characters from the first film, including SRC Agent Kido (Shingo Kazami) and Musashi's policeman father Yujiro Haruno (Hidekazu Akaii) will appear in THE BLUE PLANET, as well Musashi's grown-up childhood friends, Mari and Tsutomu.
There will also be cameos from Ultra Series stars including Mio Takagi (Captain Iruma) from ULTRAMAN TIGA, Ryo Kinomoto (Captain Hibiki) from ULTRAMAN DYNA, Kyusaku Shimada (Captain Minato) from ULTRAMAN NEOS, and Aya Sugimoto (Dr. Kisaragi) from the movie ULTRAMAN TIGA & ULTRAMAN DYNA. It is most likely that these actors will be playing new characters and not their more familiar Ultra Series roles. The film's narrator will again be actor Koji Ishizaka, forever famous for his bookend voice-overs in ULTRA Q, and known to kaiju eiga fans as the shocked Nuclear Power Plant security guard in GODZILLA 1985.
ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET will also feature a joint-operation between the SRC aircraft, the Troys, and Team EYES aircraft, Techthunders -- which are both based on the series' fictitious "Core Module" technology. It is not known, at present, whether the new "Techspinners" or other new Team EYES mecha will appear or debut in the film.
Meanwhile on the teleseries, another fake Ultraman appears when the Chaos Header makes an evil copy of Cosmos becoming "Chaos Ultraman." The episode will air on Japanese television on March 30th. The series will also introduce a new set of Team EYES aircraft, called the "Techspinners." The new aircraft include "Mark 1" and "Mark 2" versions that are upgrades of the standard Techthunder mecha. Expect Bandai to market the toys in Japan next month.
Due to superior toy sales, the ULTRAMAN COSMOS teleseries was green-lighted for 63 episodes; thirteen episodes more than the preceding Heisei shows (TIGA, DYNA and GAIA) and a first for the Ultra Series. There is no official word on a follow-up Ultraman show after ULTRAMAN COSMOS concludes this September. Again, stay tuned to Henshin! Online for all the latest information on Ultraman!
Ultra-images: Poster for ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET. (82k)
Special advance ticket purchase promo poster for ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET. (36k)
Chaos Ultraman strikes! From the April issue of TV Magazine (Kodansha Publishing). (66k)
Techspinners #1 - #4 and MK-1 & 2 from the April issue of TV Magazine. (63k)
Ultraman Prepares to Make His Long-Awaited Comeback in America!
Author: Bob Johnson
|© 1996-2002 Tsuburaya Productions Co. Ltd. & 4Kids Entertainment.
Growing up as a child of the '60s, I reveled in the cathode ray tube glow of the television. One of the series that was a big influence on my life, leading me ultimately to Henshin! Online, was of course, ULTRAMAN.
Although there have been an animated telemovie, ULTRAMAN: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS (1988) and an Australian Ultraman series, ULTRAMAN: TOWARDS THE FUTURE (1990), the real Ultraman, the Ultraman that nostalgic baby boomers remember from their days of eating Cheerios in front of the television, has been sadly missing from these shores. Until now!
Ultraman is making a comeback in this country and he will be doing it in a big way. Two companies have optioned the rights to new Ultraman productions and will bring them to North American audiences via two different media. The first one to step up and license Japan's most marketable hero is Image Entertainment. In 2000, Image acquired the rights to release two of the Ultraman feature films on VHS and DVD; ULTRAMAN TIGA AND ULTRAMAN DYNA (1998) and ULTRAMAN GAIA: THE BATTLE IN HYPERSPACE (1999).
Both features will be released on May 14, 2002. Contrary to previous reports, the VHS versions will be dubbed in English and the DVDs will be in Japanese with removable English subtitles and an optional English language soundtrack. The only extra reported as of this writing will be an isolated music score on each DVD, though other elements have been supplied by Tsuburaya Productions, including English language trailers. Whether or not these will appear on the DVDs is still to be confirmed. See the press release information from Image following this article for descriptions of the discs.
So, while Image floods the video stores with DVDs and VHS tapes, ULTRAMAN TIGA flies directly into households the way Ultraman was meant to be, on television. 4Kids Entertainment, the company that unleashed the POKEMON craze on an unsuspecting populace of prepubescent fanatics, will be adapting ULTRAMAN TIGA for the US market. After licensing the rights to ULTRAMAN TIGA over a year ago and shopping it around to various networks and syndicators, a golden opportunity came to 4Kids. The four-hour block of FOX TV's Saturday morning children's broadcasting time went on the auction block. Similar deals had been made between Disney and UPN and also NBC and the Discovery Channel.
Now it was 4Kids' turn to capture their own showcase venue. After a series of offers and negotiations, 4Kids won out and procured one of the highest rated blocks of children's programming time. According to Al Kahn, 4Kids' Chief Executive, "Three of the eight new shows on Fox will be ULTRAMAN TIGA, KINNIKUMAN and KIRBY. ULTRAMAN TIGA is an almost four-decade Japanese hit with kids." Kahn hopes to see the rights to such characters licensed to restaurants, toy makers and to a new 4Kids' video/DVD unit, which might take the form of a joint venture.
Although it is unknown at this time if 4Kids will program the entire four-hours each week or subcontract out any of it, one thing is for certain, ULTRAMAN TIGA will be a big part of Saturday mornings. It has also been hinted at that if TIGA is a hit, the subsequent series, ULTRAMAN DYNA and ULTRAMAN GAIA may also follow.
Sources at 4Kids and Tsuburaya Productions have confirmed that there will be no changes in the cast of the show and little editing will be done to the episodes. It is the intent of the producers to remain consistent with the original concept of the show. The music for the series may undergo some alterations, though the extent is not known at this time. The series' theme song, "Take Me Higher" was originally recorded by the Japanese pop group V6 (lead by Hiroshi Nagano, who plays Ultraman Tiga's human host, GUTS member Daigo). I imagine that I new theme song will be recorded for the US version.
Stay tuned to Henshin! Online, your premier source for Ultraman news and information, including more details on both Image and 4Kids' projects, and exclusive interviews, coming soon.
ULTRAMAN TIGA AND ULTRAMAN DYNA (Year: 1998)
Length: 68 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
MSRP: $ 24.99 Status: Active
Release Date: 05/14/2002
Pre-Order Date: 04/16/2002
Catalog Number: ID0387TPDVD
UPC: 014381038729 Main Genre: Foreign
Sub Genre: Aliens, Japanese Cinema, Midnight Madness, Monsters, Robots, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Superheroes
Principal Cast: Takeshi Tsuruno, Takao Kase, Jo Onodera, Mio Takaki
Cinemaphotography: Shinichi O'oka
Director: Kazuya Konaka
Synopsis: Invaders from the planet Monera are attacking! The terrifying robot Deathfacer and the city-sized, tentacled monstrosity Queen Monera are rampaging on a mission to destroy Earth, and only the reappearance of legendary heroes Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna stands a chance of stopping them. Meanwhile the seven person monster-fighting team Super-GUTS (Global Unlimited Task Squad) races against time to help the gigantic superheroes save the planet from certain disaster! Interstellar mayhem and cosmic chaos are the order of the day in this rousing monster bash! The eye-popping special effects include more city-smashing, beam-blasting, hyper-powered showdowns than any Ultraman feature ever before!
Audio Format: 5.1 Dolby Digital, Stereo
Screen Format: 1.85:1
Region Code: Region 1
Original Languages: Japanese
English Dubbed: No (Correction: Optional English language track on DVD, English dubbed on VHS)
Special Features: Isolated Music Score
ULTRAMAN GAIA: THE BATTLE IN HYPERSPACE (Year: 1998)
Length: 74 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
MSRP: $ 24.99 Status: Active
Release Date: 05/14/2002
Pre-Order Date: 04/16/2002
Catalog Number: ID0388TPDVD
Main Genre: Foreign
Sub Genre: Japanese Cinema, Midnight Madness, Monsters, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Sequel, Superheroes
Principal Cast: Takeshi Yoshioka, Hiroyuki Watanabe
Cinemaphotography: Shinichi O'oka
Director: Kazuya Konaka
Synopsis: Nine-year-old Tsutomu discovers a strange glowing red stone with the power to make wishes come true, but the meanest bully in school uses it to create a gigantic, evil monster. Now Tsutomu can realize his own heart's desire to meet his hero, Agent Gamu of the XIG Team, the human alter ego of the mighty Ultraman Gaia! The skyscraper-sized silver and red superhero takes on a growing army of monsters with the aid of Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna, pitting this intrepid trio of good guys against the forces of darkness in a blistering battle over the future of Earth! Packed with explosive special effects and exciting action, "Ultraman Gaia: The Battle in Hyperspace" is a dazzling entry in the popular Ultraman saga that raises the bar for spectacular entertainment!
Audio Format: 5.1 Dolby Digital, Stereo
Screen Format: 1.85:1
Region Code: Region 1
Original Languages: Japanese
English Dubbed: No (Correction: Optional English language track on DVD, English dubbed on VHS)
Other Languages: None
Special Features: Isolated Music Score
|More high-quality Ultra-images for your viewing pleasure:
Image DVD cover & cover of the original program book for ULTRAMAN GAIA: BATTLE IN HYPER-SPACE. (310k)
Ultraman Gaia caught from behind by Kingofmons from ULTRAMAN GAIA: BATTLE IN HYPER-SPACE. (97.5k)
Image DVD cover & cover of the original program book for ULTRAMAN TIGA & ULTRAMAN DYNA. (331k)
Gallery of monsters from ULTRAMAN TIGA AND ULTRAMAN DYNA. (278k)
4Kids flier for ULTRAMAN TIGA (239k)
Our Hero, Ultraman Tiga (99k)
A Henshin! Online original poster design! (205k)
Godzilla Slays Them In Santa Monica!
GMK premiers to film marketers at AFM
Author: Keith Aiken & Richard Pusateri
|© 2002 Toho Co., Ltd
Since 1981, independent filmmakers from around the world have traveled to Santa Monica, California to attend the American Film Market. With 7,000 film executives from more than 300 motion picture companies, AFM is the largest motion picture trade event in the world. Over eight days, producers, distributors and buyers gather to license films for theatrical, television and video release.
At this year's AFM (Feb 20-27), 419 films will be exhibited, from high profile releases (AUSTIN POWERS 3, Steven Soderbergh's FULL FRONTAL) to more low-end fare (ESCAPE FROM AFGHANISTAN from Roger Corman's New Concorde). Of particular interest is the first North American public screening of the most anticipated kaiju film in years...GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK.
GMK was shown at 3:00 pm Friday, Feb 22 in the Cineplex Odeon Broadway Cinemas at the 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica. Toho Co., Ltd. was represented by LA office general manager Masaharu Ina and sales manager Tetsushi Sudo. Toho International sales manager Shozo Watanabe flew in from Japan for the event.
I attended the screening at the invitation of Toho LA, along with fellow H!O correspondent Richard Pusateri, G-Fan's Armand Vaquer and noted genre authors Steve Ryfle and Stuart Galbraith IV. Mr. Ina and Mr. Watanabe presented everyone attending the screening with GMK promotional brochures as they entered the theater.
GMK played in Theater #4 on a good mid-size screen. For the most part, the subtitles were easy to follow. The audio was excellent: the sound of Godzilla's footsteps really rumbled through the theater.
While attendance was light (no more than 35 people), this was neither surprising nor disappointing. This showing was not open to the general public or the press and, with no less than 27 films playing at the same time, the crowds are obviously spread thin. Many attendees hop from one screening to another, watching each film just long enough to take down a few notes before moving on. While this did occur during GMK, almost everyone who was there at the beginning stayed through the end credits as a testament to the film's quality.
The audience reaction was definitely positive. The opening jab at the American Godzilla drew a huge laugh, and the Baragon "photo op" received cheers and applause. There were gasps and murmurs of approval during Godzilla's rampage. Director/co-writer Shusuke Kaneko's onscreen credit was also applauded.
Mr. Ina was emphatic that this was not a press screening and, in fairness to those denied press passes, he asked that the movie itself not be reviewed. While respecting Mr. Ina's request, Richard Pusateri and Armand Vaquer (both of whom attended GMK's premiere screening at the Tokyo International Film Festival on November 3, 2001) said a pair of scenes with obvious visual "imperfections" (noted on several places on the World Wide Web) had apparently been enhanced on this print.
According to a reliable source in Japan, the print at AFM had four scenes improved since TIFF, but the subtitles were the same. The soundtrack, especially the score by Kow Otani, was remarkably improved in clarity. Whether the improvements in music and sound effects were due to the new print, a better sound system in the Cineplex Odeon or both is unknown.
During informal chats before and after the movie Mr. Ina and Mr. Watanabe said Toho International Co., LTD is responsible for all GMK promotions and publicity in the US until a deal is finalized with an American distributor. Mr. Ina said Toho and Sony are still negotiating for the rights to GMK. After a deal is made for North America, other distributors can obtain the license to show GMK in other markets around the world, according to Mr. Watanabe. Mr. Ina also confirmed Bandai's plans for a Godzilla toy line to be sold worldwide, however he was uncertain about definite details of the toys availability in the United States.
After the screening, several people stayed to chat with the Toho reps. One woman told them it was the first time she ever cried for a giant monster. Mr. Ina and Mr. Watanabe were understandably pleased with the enthusiastic response to GMK. Toho is clearly proud of this film, and they have every reason to be. With GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK they have delivered first-class entertainment.
|Bigger and Better images from GODZILLA, MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK
new » Scan of GMK Program (Front Cover). (112k)
new » Scan of GMK Program (Page 1). (64k)
new » Scan of GMK Program (Page 2). (96k)
new » Scan of GMK Program (Back Cover). (96k)
Scan of ticket to GMK screening. (37k)
Recreated Poster Art w/Yuji Sakai's kit sculpts (from Hobby Japan). (216k)
Mothra annoys Godzilla. (30k)
Godzilla's rampage. (90k)
Ghidorah lights up the night sky. (56k)
The underdog, Baragon. (77k)
|Ultra Seven 35th Anniversary Production
ULTRA SEVEN: 2002
Author: August Ragone
Considered a masterpiece of special effects series from 1960s, the ever-popular ULTRA SEVEN (1967-1968), was brought back to life in the 1990s with a series of tv movies and original videos productions. The story arc concluded in 1999 with a six-volume original video series, or so we thought. Now, because of the great demand of the fans, the saga continues with ULTRA SEVEN: 2002. Produced by Tsuburaya Productions and Vap Video, ULTRA SEVEN: 2002 will begin retail sales on May 21 with volumes to follow monthly, for a total of five in both VHS and DVD formats. The DVD versions will include a bonus fifteen minutes of behind-the-scenes footage.
|© 2002 Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd
Photos courtesy of Vap Video
On January 9, a special press conference was held on one of the soundstages at Nikkatsu Studios, where the special effects photography was about to commence on ULTRA SEVEN: 2002. The press conference included appearances and comments by the cast and the series' producer.
In the last original video series, several officers within the Terrestrial Defense Forces were keeping a dark historical fact from coming to light. A murderous conspiracy was finally uncovered by Ultra Seven; the ancient human race (actually from another planet) took over the Earth by force, killing its original inhabitants, the Nonmalt, and forcing the rest to the bottom of the sea. This complete disregard for the laws of cosmic order is why humanity is considered contemptible by races from other worlds.
Now, because of Ultra Seven's last defense of the human race, in spite of the truth, Seven must undergo a journey to receive judgment from the beings of the cosmos. Thus, this new video series is not merely a continuation of the last one, but maintains the focus centering on a new crisis that threatens not only the destruction of the Ultra Garrison, but the very fate of mankind itself.
With this premise in mind, scripts for ULTRA SEVEN: 2002 are being supervised by tokusatsu veteran scenarist Junki Takegami (Heisei Ultraman Series), who is hot off of co-scripting the hit film GODZILLA-MOTHRA-KING GHIDORAH: MONSTER ALL-OUT ATTACK (Gojira Mosura Kingugidora Kaiju Sokogeki) with Director Shusuke Kaneko. Writers for the five upcoming episodes include Takegami, Kazuhiko Kobe (ULTRA SEVEN: 1999), and Shin Yoshida (ULTRAMAN GAIA). Since ULTRA SEVEN: 2002 is being released direct-to-video, expect the level of the stories and drama to be aimed at an older audience than the television-broadcast Ultra Series, much like the previous ULTRA SEVEN original videos.
At the beginning of our story, we come across Agent Kazamori, who is suffering from a hazy memory and inner turmoil. Since those close to him know that he was the human host of Ultra Seven, he resigns from the Ultra Garrison and becomes a drifter. But, after Ultra Seven separated from Kazamori and left him behind on Earth, he wonders if he will ever be able to contact Ultra Seven again.
Meanwhile, the Ultra Garrison encounters a series of unexplained attacks from aliens, which begins to harden them, and stretch them to their limits without the assistance of Ultra Seven. Much more character development of the battle-weary Ultra Garrison is featured in this new series, adding to the heroic human drama. The bond between the veteran Ultra Garrison members becomes stronger than the previous series, while complications of history, the pursuit of humanism and the establishment of a new heroic image are just some of the themes explored in ULTRA SEVEN: 2002.
The appearance of aliens and monsters adds to the dilemmas and will also play an important role in the new series. Several of the more famous and popular intergalactic beings from the original show will appear, including Pegassa, Godora and Neo-Pandon, an updated version of Ultra Seven's notoriously deadly foe, Pandon. Of course, all-new monsters and aliens will be featured in ULTRA SEVEN: 2002, and these creatures will play an important role throughout each chapter.
Addressing the press were Producer Masahiro Tsuburaya and cast members Katsuyuki Yamaguchi, Mika Katsumura, Koji Nanjo, Wataru Koga, Kunio Masaoka, Rieko Adachi, Kaoru Ukawa and Saori Nara. They were gathered to speak on the production after the wrapping of live action photography for all five volumes on December 30, 2001.
Katsuyuki Yamaguchi continues in his role from the previous series as Masaki Kazamori, who transforms into Ultra Seven, joked "Now, the Ultra Garrison has been reduced in power since my character resigned, don't you think? (laughs)" Concerning the production, he stated "At this point, the series now becomes more serious, and the character of Kazamori begins to show much more growth."
Mika Katsumura, who played Yuri/Time Pink on Toei's FUTURE TASK FORCE: TIMERANGER (2000-2002), joins the cast of ULTRA SEVEN 2002 as a new female member of the Ultra Garrison, Agent Yuki Kisaragi. "This uniform is so cool -- the more I wear it, the more I like it!" she exclaimed, beaming. Rieko Adachi who plays Agent Rumi Honjo, a junior member from the last series, has returned for ULTRA SEVEN 2002's main cast. "After the last production wrapped, I wondered if I would ever wear this uniform again. Little did I know that I would be in it again so quickly! (laughs)." In regard to the main characters, Kaoru Ukawa who plays Agent Satomi Hayakawa stated, "In the previous series, the image of manliness was at the forefront, but this time the junior [female] agents have increased in rank, and the intention has been to play Agent Satomi in a more adult fashion." This is also reflected in the balance of the female members of the Ultra Garrison, which is now three to three.
Koji Nanjo who plays Captain Sanshiro Shiragane of the Ultra Garrison, "I have just put my arms through the sleeves of my uniform once again, and realized that after the recent shoot wrapped, they were tattered. Now, they are miraculously whole again. Being taken care of by such a talented staff is the only way we could have completed production," he said with sincerity
In episodes 5 and 6, Saori Nara makes a special guest appearance in the part of Mitsuko, a mysterious plant-like lifeform. "When I was little, my brother and I used to have fun watching ULTRA SEVEN on television, and now it's exciting to actually appear in the series." Concerning her role she said "These plants take on the form of human beings (laughs). But, the meaning of this little thing is actually pretty deep, don't you think?" Ms. Nara, who is becoming quite a hot idol now, recently starred in Keita Amemiya's IRON ARMORED MIKAZUKI and Toei's BURN! ROBOCON (Moero! Robokon) teleseries.
Among the guest appearances not being kept under wraps include famous voice actor Tomokazu Seki (GUNDAM WING, EVANGELION, CARD CAPTOR SAKURA) and legendary tokusatsu actress Hiroko Sakurai (Agent Fuji from ULTRAMAN). It is not known at press time whether Koji Moritsugu, who originated the role of Dan Moroboshi, will appear but it seems a likely bet. Expect more cameos and special guest stars to pop up in ULTRA SEVEN: 2002.
Producer Tsuburaya reflected, "This story supports a very troubling theme, and was not easy for us to resolve. I imagine that fans will hotly debate this story and its points for years, but the topics addressed in this series will stimulate one to think deeply." He also noted that the unique special visual effects seen in the 1999 series are being pushed to new levels for ULTRA SEVEN: 2002. What kind of response will the new series create? The producers are waiting to hear them.
|New Wave Iconoclast Yasuzo Masumura On Region 1 DVD!
Author: August Ragone
Fantoma Films, a forward-thinking company that has released DVDs of some of the world's more strange and arcane films, from such disparate directors as Alejandro Jodorowsky (FANDO & LIS), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (WHITY), Fritz Lang (THE TOMB OF INDIA), Kenneth Anger (THE FILMS OF), and Jose Mojica Marins (AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL), now directs its eye towards Japan -- specifically the films of renown new-wave filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura.
Masumura (1924-1986) began at Daiei Motion Picture Company in 1957, after working at Italy's "Centro Sperimentale Della Cinematografia" with cinematic iconoclasts as Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, working with Carmine Gallone on MADAME BUTTERFLY (1953). Returning to Japan, Masumura announced his intention of "destroying" traditional Japanese film -- and alter nately fascinated and horrified audiences with his first film, KISSES (Kuchizuke, 1957), a nihilistic tale of two teenagers embroiled in a doomed romance, proving he was already well on his way towards his end goal. In the late 1950s, he began exploring social and moral satire with the surrealistic GIANTS & TOYS (1958) and HOODLUM SOLDIER (Heitai Yakuza, 1966). Masumura's films inspired young filmmakers, such as Nagisa Oshima, to spearhead the Japanese New Wave movement of the 1960s.
Let's hope that this venture is successful, and that we will see Fantoma Films release more of Masumura's works -- they are also preparing his amazing THE RED ANGEL (Akai Tenshi, 1966) and BLACK TEST CAR (Kuro-no Tesutokaa, 1962) for later this year -- such as HOODLUM SOLDIER and PLAY IT COOL (Denki Kurage, 1970), as well as those from other unsung Japanese directors. For now, several of Masumura's greatest titles have been lined up by Fantoma Films for release in the coming months, through Image Entertainment (the following information is from the Fantoma website, linked below):
THE BLIND BEAST (Moju, 1969)
A blind sculptor kidnaps an artists' model and imprisons her in his warehouse studio - a shadowland of perverse monuments to the female form. Here a deranged passion play of sensual and sexual obsession is acted out in world where sight is replaced by touch. Japanese New Wave master Yasuzo Masumura's beautiful and terrifying tale of erotic horror, from a short story by Edogawa Rampo, is one of the most dazzlingly stylistic tours de force in the history of cinema. Fantoma is very proud to present Blind Beast uncut and in its original DaieiScope aspect ratio for the first time in the U.S. (Available now, USD $29.99)
Japan / 1969 / Color / 86 Minutes / 2.35:1 / Dolby Digital Mono
New Digital Widescreen Transfer (2.35:1) Enhanced for 16x9
Photo and still gallery
Yasuzo Masumura Biography and Filmography
Upcoming Masumura releases from Fantoma Films include:
GIANTS & TOYS (Kyojin to Gangu, 1958)
When three rival candy companies go to war for market supremacy, World Caramels enlists a lower-class girl with appallingly bad teeth to be their new spokesmodel. In a world of industrial spies, hostile takeovers and boardroom hysterics, the animal instincts of this overnight star prove to be the most cutthroat of all. This razor-sharp, fast-paced attack on post-war corporate society and TV culture plays like a Japanese combination of DR. STRANGELOVE and WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?. More valid today than the day it was made, New Wave master Yasuzo Masumura's DaieiScope explosion of color, sound and acid wit ranks with the best satires of Billy Wilder and Frank Tashlin. (February 2002)
AFRAID TO DIE (Karakaze Yaro, 1960)
Legendary/notorious Japanese novelist and cultural icon Yukio Mishima makes a rare screen appearance as Takeo, a young yakuza who reluctantly leaves prison to re-enter a dizzying world of kidnappings, attempted assassinations, attacks and retaliations. Masumura propels this delirious, fast paced yakuza satire with a jazzy score, eye-popping visuals, and a trademark sense of the absurd. (April 2002)
MANJI (Manji, 1964)
The dutiful, unhappy wife of a lawyer falls in love with a young, mysterious woman she encounters at an art class. Soon their affair involves her husband and the young woman's impotent lover and the four slowly descend into web of desire, deceit, blackmail, blood oaths and suicide pacts. This exquisitely wrought tale of erotic obsession is a hothouse of tangled passions and over the top emotion. (April 2002)
For more information go to: Fantoma Films Website
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