Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Critical Analysis of the Final Freeze Frame of Every Single Episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Making TV a much more cozier place for sci-fi fans, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century had its television premiere on 09/20/1979. As part of the Star Wars aftershock, Buck could be said to have been a cash-in of the times, as producer Glen Larson was well known for porting over the premises of successful films to the small tube. However, that Buck dates back to the 1920s and has been part of the sci-fi collective since its creation muddles the merits of this accusation. The same can’t be said for the producer’s bigger sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica, a show I prefer to Buck, but in hindsight realize is not as much brainless fun as Buck. All in all, Buck was an enjoyable hour of nonsensical science fiction, cranked out by the Universal Studios production machine with no claims to being anything more than what it delivered.

Each episode followed a similar formula: Buck (played to perfection by actor Gil Gerard) meets a beautiful woman in a fix and rises to the occasion to rescue said woman. It being the late ‘70s, any kind of sexual relationship between Buck and these women was ambiguous. Sometimes these damsels in distress had boyfriends or fianc├ęs and Buck was merely helping the young lovers overcome whatever it was that was keeping them apart. Other times it seemed as if Buck was together with the women, with the stress on the word “seemed”. Buck’s connection with women was further complicated by the ambiguous relationship he shared with show regular Lt. Wilma Deering (the wonderful Erin Grey). It was never clear what was going on between these two. At some points their relationship was sibling-like, at others lover-like, and at its weirdest Wilma coming on to Buck with Buck responding to her advances with a dismissive, “That’s nice.”

When Buck went into re-runs in the 1980s I would watch it with Geoff Notkin, the bass player of my then band “Proper iD”. (Geoff currently hosts space science shows of his own, such as Meteorite Men and some other stuff that we don’t get in Japan (where I live now) so I’ll have to take his word for it). The two of us being sci-fi fans, we would gather in my room (as a band, we lived together in a large band house) and watch Buck re-runs.

One day, one of us noticed something odd about the show. For arguments sake, I’ll credit Geoff with the discovery since it’s not something that’s going to be written on either of our tombstones.

Following an episode, our conversation went something like this:

Geoff: Have you ever noticed how at the end of each episode of Buck it freezes on a shot of his smiling face?

Norman: You sure? I mean, yeah, this episode did do that, but all of them? That would be too weird.

Geoff: Seems to me they all do.

Norman: Well, let’s put it to the test with next week’s episode.

Sure enough, next week’s episode ended with the same kind of bizarro head-and-shoulders shot of Buck smiling like he’d just hit the lottery while high on Nitrous Oxide. As each re-run proved Geoff right, the two of us would prepare ourselves for that final, glorious freeze frame, striking our own versions of Buck’s maxed out whatever-it-was-I-dreamed-of-getting-in-life-I-just-got-in-spades smile.

With it being the New Year, a time when I try to do one off-the-wall bit of writing, I submit to the cyber community an analysis of the final shot of each episode in the first season of Buck Rogers. Not included is the pilot episode / theatrical release, “Awakening,” because it didn’t follow the same weekly constraints of the show. Also not included is the second season of Buck because, alas, they changed the format and ruined all the things that made Buck the awesome hour of TV it was.

Without further ado:

 












Episode: (1,03 & 1,04) Planet of the Slave Girls
Obviously, being an early episode, it hadn't yet occurred to the creators of the series that each episode must end with a medium close-up of Captain William "Buck" Rogers smiling in cornball bliss. In this episode's final shot, while Buck is smiling in cornball bliss, he is sharing the final frame with co-star Erin Grey and guest star David Groh, otherwise known as Rhoda's husband. Thus preventing us from really feeling the power of Buck's frozen smile. Rating: 2 out of 5














Episode: (1,05) Vegas in Space
The show, still in its infancy, hadn't yet hit on its winning formula as, for some odd reason, we only get a profile shot of Buck. It seems that with Wilma in the last shot of this episode and in the one from the previous episode, the producers were thinking of treading a more Wilma / Buck balance. Fortunately, this was the last of that and Wilma never appeared in another all-important final freeze frame. Rating: 2 out of 5 (It would be a 1, but Wilma's a dear, especially when wearing blue spandex.)














Episode: (1,06) The Plot to Kill a City, Part 1
Getting there... While this is a perfect medium close-up of Buck, he isn't smiling like a spoiled kid on Christmas morning. This can be explained, however. The Plot to Kill a City was a two-parter and as a two-parter it was required to end on a cliffhanger. This means Buck has to be in a predicament strong enough for audiences to remember to tune in the following week, which translates to no wacky Buck smile at episode's end. Rating: 1 out of 5














Episode: (1,07)  The Plot to Kill a City, Part 2
We have arrived! Although Buck's head is turned to the right a bit more than I'd like, here we have the very first instance of what I call "Smilin' Freeze Frame Buck". He's also sporting a kind of vest outfit similar to the one seen by Han Solo in Star Wars, giving it an of-the-times look. And lots of chest hair. A rat's nest of chest hair. Rating: 3 out of 5














Episode: (1,08) Return of the Fighting 69th
Again, while not exactly centered and exactly not the kind of smile I like to see on Buck's face at the end of an episode - the kind of smile that will keep me going until the next episode - we do have a shot of a happy Buck, chest hair, and a color reversal of the vest / shirt seen in the previous episode. Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,09) Unchained Woman
Because Jamie Lee Curtis was a big star at the time, it's natural that the producers would let her share the all-important final freeze frame with Buck. Guess it can't be helped. And Buck's seen in a profile shot here. And it's kind of too dark to really get that "You are so cool, Buck" feeling. Still, he's sitting next to Jamie Lee and that's kind of right on. Rating: 2 out of 5














Episode: (1,10) Planet of the Amazon Women
This is more like it. We have a good, near centered Buck, which I approve. However, it's more an ironic smile than an actual, "Oh my God, I'm Buck Rogers and you're not" kind of smile. But he is in uniform and that's neat. Rating: 4 out of 5














Episode: (1,11) Cosmic Wiz Kid
Here we are again in the situation where a star, this time Gary Coleman of that Diff'rent Strokes TV show (featuring the goddess Dana Plato), carried enough weight to warrant he be seen beside Buck in the final freeze frame. At least Buck has a good smile going. And they are touching. Rating: 3 out of 5














Episode: (1,12) Escape from Wedded Bliss
This one would be perfect if it weren't for the crummy lighting on Buck. Also, Buck's smile is more like a snicker. And his shirt seems a bit too much off-the-Sears-rack to really give it a sci-fi feel. Same thing with that lamp behind him. What's up with that? Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,13) Cruise Ship to the Stars
Who can forget Dorothy Stratten, the starlet shot down before her time? It is entirely far-out that she graced an episode of Buck. But as a final freeze frame this one is a little ill-conceived. Still, the background is cool and Buck looks like he's having a good time, although a bit more of a "Holy crap, I'm sitting next to Dorothy Stratten!" grin would be more appropriate. Rating: 3.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,14) Space Vampire
This one is weird. Good points first: We got Buck almost dead center. Always a good way to end an episode. But it's a spooky episode, somewhat horrific, and it took all the ingenuity of the writing staff to make it end on a high note. So, considering that, while Buck's non-toothy smile doesn't give up the goods, it does fit the episode. Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,15) Happy Birthday, Buck
This one has a lot going for it: A great my-denist-is-better-than-yours smile and a full Buck head shot. However, the frame suffers from blur as it was caught in mid-movement. What the hell? Rating: 2 out of 5














Episode: (1,16) A Blast for Buck
Now this is one fantastic ending freeze frame! While not only a solid, "Until next week, broheims" smile, Buck is holding a bottle. An honest to God glass bottle! And check out that blue background. Blue lends itself well to sci-fi, at least it did in the '70s and '80s. Not really sure what happened to the yellow in Glen Larson's title. It's all faded and not that strong radioactive banana yellow in other episodes. Rating: 4 out of 5














Episode: (1,17) Ardala Returns
Now we're getting somewhere! We have Buck giving his best thinned out upper-lip smile, wide collar against ugly vest, and a slightly unfocused background. A little blue behind him would have made this one perfect. Rating: 4 out of 5














Episode: (1,18) Twiki is Missing
This one... It had all the makings of perfection, but where is the smile?!? Goddamnit! Where is the smile, Buck? The fact that it has blue in the back gives it a point up. Rating: 2.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,19) Olympiad
This one rocks...almost. We have a great shot of Buck, smiling away like he just made the last train with a second to spare. And there is mandatory blue in the background. However, the shot is too high and someone's arm and shoulder are sharing precious screen space with what is supposed to be Buck's moment. Rating: 3 out of 5














Episode: (1,20) A Dream of Jennifer
Ah, perfection thy name is "Smilin' Freeze Frame Buck"! We have the blue, we have an outfit that looks futuristic, and we have Buck displaying his piano key smile like tomorrow will never come. Rating: 4.5 out of 5














Episode: (1,21) Space Rockers
This is the kind of final frame that makes any Buck fan take to their feet, throw their fist up in the air, and scream, "All hail the mighty Buck!" Its slightly low angle gives us the full glory of Buck's uninhibited smile. And look at all that gnarly chest hair! Buck is so happy and confident that he doesn't even care if you like chest hair or not. Man, I wish I was Buck (minus the chest hair). Rating: 5 out of 5














Episode: (1,122) Buck's Duel to the Death
This one is more a causal smile than an actual the-forces-of the-universe-congeled-to-make-my-awesomeness smile. But it's solid all around. Strong smile, square jaw, some blue in the back. The series really knew what it was about at this point. Rating: 5 out of 5














Episode: (1,23) Flight of the War Witch
Sadly, the final episode of the first season ends with a mixed bag of a freeze frame. It's a perfectly framed shot of Buck, but the lighting isn't happening. And Buck's smile has a tinge of insanity. I suspect actor Gil Gerard was getting a bit worn out from a season of smiles by this point. Rating: 3 out of 5

(This page is dedicated to my buddies Geoff Notkin for being a good Buck pal and artist Bob Eggleton for being super cool and buying me the Buck DVD box set several years back.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of Year

It’s almost the New Year and I haven’t touched ye’ old blog in months. I’ve just been too busy with work and life in general. Besides, writing here generates no income!!! J But I do enjoy the outlet, when I can find the time.

This year, like any other, had its share of ups and downs. I’m trying to focus on the ups. Such as finally getting to do a book on Dawn of the Dead, finally working with Takashi Miike, doing stills on a Nishimura feature, and being told by Tim Burton that my photography is fantastic. (That last point really generates no income but it was nice to hear all the same.)

The downside of the year was a moronic sales tax increase in Japan that a lot of companies used to raise prices further (raising the previous price by 8%, which is what our tax was raised to from its previous 5%, so they slipped in a 5% price increase thinking no one would notice. The bastards!)

One thing I’ve been experimenting with is getting a website going to display my photography. I’m going to link to it here. Unfortunately, due to copyright reasons, most of the film related stuff I have to keep password locked. The site is just a way for me to pass along to directors / producers who want to see what I’ve done and, if I’m lucky, will give me work. But I did put up other, "artsy" shots...or at least my attempt to be artsy. 

For what it’s worth, here’s the link:



Well, I have a few cool end of year parties coming up, and then I'll be hitting the ground running as soon as Japan gears up after the new year holidays.

Until 2015 rolls around... Wishing everyone all the best.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Coming Soon: The Ninja War of Torakage

“It’s as difficult to make a bad film as it is to make a good one.”

This most likely paraphrased quote is one of my favorites concerning filmmaking. That’s because when working on a movie you have no idea how it’s going to turn out. You might have an inkling based on some performances or cool looking set pieces, but until you are sitting in a screening room watching the polished product it’s all pretty much anyone’s guess.

What sucks most is when watching a film you busted your ass on only to find the words, “Well, that was a major waste of time,” passing through your brain. Of course, the opposite is true too. Seeing a film you busted your ass on turn out well is a wonderful thing. This is how I felt the other night when I was over at Toho Studios catching the staff and cast screening of the completed version of director Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “The Ninja War of Torakage.”

Of course, you wouldn’t be wrong to call me biased. I worked on the film. And when I say worked, I worked, nearly dying from set exhaustion and I twisted an ankle so badly during shooting that I could hardly walk for the next two months. Set photo editing took forever (a job I will have to return to at some near point no doubt) and I’m subtitling the film now. At home. All by my lonesome. Which takes an insane amount of time and attention.

Full disclosure too: I am in no way an expert on ninja movies. In fact, I can’t even remember if I’ve ever seen a Japanese ninja movie in my life. Of course, I know something about ninja. I mean, everyone knows something about ninja! Director Nishimura did take it upon himself to inundate me with ninja related YouTube links (insert eye roll here), so I guess I can boost knowing more about ninja than my mom now.

With that said, despite whether I truly know what I’m talking about or not when it comes to ninja, I can say that I totally enjoyed “The Ninja War of Torakage” and found it a very entertaining movie, one that was able to hold my attention from start to finish. Trust me, this is no small feat these days. The older I get, the less tolerant I am for nonsense movies (this includes nonsense people too).

The real shocker for us who worked on the film was to learn that the rating board in Japan has issued “The Ninja War of Torakage” a “G” rating. This means viewers of all ages will be able see it. “When Tokyo Gore Police was rated they condemned it,” Nishimura said before the screening. “I finally have a movie that’s on the same level as Anpan-man and Doraemon.” Of course he put it this way for maximum effect as it’s not really anything like those kind of strictly-for-kids films. There are a few intense moments in the film, beheadings and such. Still, a Nishimura "G" movie... Who would have thought such a thing possible?

As for the fate of the film, it seems it will start making the rounds early next year, but don’t quote me on that. But until I get the subs done it’s not going anywhere… I’m working on it! I’m working on it!

In the audience for the screening was Ju-on director Takashi Shimizu. Afterward I noticed he was walking around clutching a copy of my book “Zombie Maniacs.” I asked what he thought of it and Shimizu was beside himself with praise. Honestly, I was quite surprised. Shimizu always plays things cool, often going so far as to hide behind silly observations and jokes. Uncharacteristically, he was full of compliments and said he was grateful to finally have this kind of information on Romero’s zombie films in Japanese. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was the first time in the 14 years I’ve know him that he gave ME fannish eyes!

Once the screening was done, I went to the studio next door and crashed the “Attack on Titan” wrap party. Some of the Torakage staff and cast were also involved with it (Nishimura in particular), and of course since it’s basically a tokusatsu film I already know many of the staff. So, the first thing I did was get several ice-cold beers, a couple of slices of pieces, and a bunch of sushi down into my belly to start the night off right.

“Norman, I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t use you in the film,” director Higuchi said upon seeing me wandering around. “I mean, you are the first foreigner in any of my films. In fact, you are the first actor in any of my films!” Honestly, I was just hoping for some kind of post-production work. “It’s cool,” I said. “I don’t care about that. What I was wondering was if…” Higuchi cut me off. “I knew it. You are curious why I didn’t use you in the film, I mean, after all, you were the first…” etc etc. “No,” I insisted. “What I am hoping is…” This went on back and forth until it was clear we were both drunk and now was not the time to talk about anything serious.

Well, for various reasons, this year has seen me making the most trips to Toho since the Godzilla film “Tokyo SOS.” This is, of course, good. My years on the Godzilla set are an important part of my life and I want to have a good relationship with Toho.

In this vein, and to wrap this blog entry up, I was invited to an intimate Godzilla staffer get-together recently over in Ginza by one of my biggest supporters over at Toho. Put on by long-time Godzilla producer Shogo Tomiyama, the party had 3 Godzilla directors, a few assistant directors, an art director, a suit maker, marketing staffer, and one of my favorite scripters in the business, etc. Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed to be there. After all, all I did was hang out on the Godzilla sets. (Well, this isn’t necessarily true…) When I was at the “Attack On Titan” party I took some friendly teasing over my being invited. Especially by Nishimura. “Norman, can you tell me why in God’s name they let you into that get-together?” Nishimura asked, causing a ripple of laughter from some of the Titan / Godzilla staffers who had seen the photo on facebook.

What came to mind was a favorite "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" line: “Didn’t I tell you, baby? I am Zaphod Beeblebrox!”

Better judgment meant I responded with a, “Well, you know…”

Here’s the link to “The Ninja War of Torakage” webpage. Just a splash page now, but hopefully they’ll up some of my set photos soon. I can’t wait. I think it’s my best stuff to date.

http://torakage.com/

Oh yeah, and after the "Attack on Titan" party I caught up with some of the "Torakage" staffers who were drinking by Seijo Station. Both Shu G (camera) and Ota (lighting) worked on my last film "New Neighbor". Two pals who are great at what they do and an inspiration to watch when on set.

Actor Mimoto was there too. One of the stars of Torakage, Mimoto is also one of the most decent people I know and an actor who always comes to the set with a high level of enthusiasm and love for the work and his fellow cast/staff members.

Well, until next entry...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Will Never Stop Writing About Dawn of the Dead! A Personal Declaration by Norman England.

What kind of an oddball title is that for a blog entry?

Well, another "focused" update, meaning I have something to plug.
 
This time around I have a new "mook" out in Japan on George Romero zombie movies. Released by Tokuma Shoten, a Japanese publishing firm, it hit the stands on 8/4/2014, a little under two weeks ago.

Going by the somewhat idiotic sounding name of "Zombie Maniacs," the mook is a detailed look at all of the Romero directed zombie films (though a few of his others are mentioned too). Unlike the zombie mook I worked on last year that tried to appeal to non-zombie fans, this one makes no apologies and goes right for the jugular of Romero zombie fandom. This make-no-apologies approach seems to have paid off and the mook has been selling briskly and currently enjoys two 5 star reviews on Amazon Japan (the only two reviews up so far), and the comments on Twitter have been calling it a must buy. Oh, and cool too is that it has been fluctuating between the 1st and 3rd place in its category on Amazon Japan.
 
The book features several writers prominent in the zombie field in Japan: Yoshikazu Itoh, Jun Edoki, Takeshi Uechi, myself, etc. Each of us picked a Romero zombie film and took reasonability for covering it. Of course I selected "Dawn of the Dead", which turned out to be the main feature of the mook. I mean, look at the cover (see above). It's only images from "Dawn of the Dead"! It also happens to be editor Shinya Jiromaru's favorite film. While I feel a bit guilty about this - screw it - I love it!

My writing volume makes me the heaviest contributor to the book and as such I was generously given top billing. The truth is, this is something I wanted to make 18 years ago. At the time I put in a proposal to Gaga Communications (the company holding the Japanese rights to the film) and they expressed zero interest in the idea. So, this was a long time coming. Well, as they say, all's well that ends well.

Another thing that made this a dream job was editor Jiromaru letting me do whatever the hell it was I wanted. He had a few requests (the production of DAWN, something on Goblin), but his approach was, "Let Norman do his thing." It comes with great relief then that it's been selling so well because if it hadn't I would have begun to doubt the validity of my sensibility. (Now if only Toho would let me do my thing with Godzilla and not interfere with their screwball demands that actually hurt the integrity of my work in that field.)

What follows are my sections in the book:

Zombies by Romero - A piece on why Romero zombies are the best zombies around. Utilizing photos, I chose my favorite zombies from his first 3 zombie films and went into detail as to why they rule.

On Location - A visit to locations used in the first three Romero zombie films.

Dawn of the Dead: The Only Movie That Matters - A long essay on why DAWN is the be-all, end-all of filmmaking (to me, anyway). I had a blast with this one, and tried to convey what it was like growing up with zombies from the late 60s on.

Goblin & De Wolfe: The Music of DOTD - I wrote the section on Goblin and Christian Stavrakis wrote the section on DAWN's stock music.

The Making of Dawn of the Dead - An in-depth telling of how DAWN came to be and a look at the production of the film.

Monroeville and its Mall - Here's where it gets weird. I was originally going to do a piece just on the history of the Monroeville Mall, but as I got into it I realized that to do this I needed to tell the entire story of the town of Monroeville. So, Japanese zombie fans have just received a history lesson on the steel and coal mines of 19th century Pennsylvania. Hahahaha.

American Zombie Mania! - This is a piece about zombie cons and how Americans mingle with the actors and staff that turn out to them across the US, which is entirely different from how the Japanese do similar things. As I have been in the Japan for the past 21 years, I turned the article over to Lee Karr, who has just written a book on the Making of Day of the Dead. Lee's written for me before and always comes through with something interesting to say. I wrote an intro to the piece and a couple of notes here and there to make it easier for Japanese to understand.

The Varied Versions of Dawn of the Dead - A look into the various versions that exist of Dawn of the Dead. This one I handed over to Christian Stavrakis because I felt he was the best qualified to write on this subject, and I was tied up with the other sections.

Introduction - For this, I asked Taso Stavrakis to write something as I wanted to have at least one person from the Romero zombie world connected. Taso, as you may know, is the sledgehammer biker in DAWN and was stunt director and a soldier in DAY.

In addition, I supplied hundreds of photos to the book, many of which I received from pals Matt Blazi, Lawrence DeVincentz, and 'Spooky' Daz Sargeant. As I don't write in Japanese, all my translations were handled by Yoshiki Takahashi and Michika Kojima.

And there you have it!

All in all, I think it took me about two weeks to write. I spent my days sitting at a new Starbucks in Shimokitazawa listening to Goblin and typing on my (relatively new) Surface Two computer. Sure beats driving a cab (no offense intended towards cabbies).


(The photo on the left is something I took when in Kinokuniya last week of mags / mooks currently selling that contain my work.)

For anyone who might be interested, here's the link to it on Amazon Japan. Even if you don't speak or read Japanese, the book is filled with hundreds of photos, both color and black and white and has been lovingly designed by the staff at Tokuma Shoten.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fangoria - Zombie TV

I know, I know. I just UPDATED this blog thing.

Actually, this is just a short update to link to an article I wrote for Fangoria about the Nishimura produced and co-directed film, "Zombie TV".

Here's the link:

I don't write for Fangoria nearly as much as I should. Honestly, I prefer writing for Japanese magazines these days and the audience here seems much more responsive to my work than readers back west. 

"Zombie TV" was a whole lot of fun to work on, although the schedule was a bit insane. I think I wrote a blog entry on this last summer. I can't recall just now. 

It's playing at Fantasia, some kind of film festival in Canada, I understand.

Oh yeah, and here's a trailer for Zombie TV. Don't blame me for the crummy English subs on it. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Is It Really July Already?

A few months between blogs…can I even recall enough to make a proper entire entry?
 
I do recall sitting endlessly in the dentist’s chair recently. I mention this because dental visits are different from those in the US. Back home, dentists and doctors greet patients with personal inquiries: “So, how’s it goin’ these days?” or “How’r things with the family?” In Japan, such questions are impolite and a dental visit begins with a direct, “Hello, now open your mouth.”

I’m fine with this because I don’t always feel like going through the motions and I doubt they even care about me that much, really. I’m sure in another twenty years I’ll have a change of heart and be like a great deal of over-70ers in Japan who try to stretch out their encounters at cash registers, information desks, or wherever it is they’ve got someone trapped, it sadly being their only human contact of the day.

I had to deal with one hell of a deadline from publisher Tokuma Shoten writing about DAWN OF THE DEAD for an upcoming book on the Romero zombie series. Though it took over most of my past month, I’ve no complaints. It was pretty much a dream job. I got to delve into all sorts of DAWN subjects: production, soundtrack (both Goblin and library tracks), locations, and a wacky piece about the history of Monroeville, the town where DAWN was shot. I also had a lot of fun with a section where I picked out favorite zombies from the original trilogy and used them as examples of the awesomeness of the Romero zombie. This book was a long time in the coming for me. I tried to do a similar thing 18 years ago with Gaga Communications and, although they held the DAWN rights at the time, they passed on my proposal. But it’s just as well. I don’t think I’d have been able to write it as well as I can today. 

When I had the meeting with the Tokuma Shoten editor I think he came with everything I’ve ever written on DAWN. I mean this guy had stuff going all the way back to the 1995 pamphlet from the “Perfect Collection” laser disc set, which is still probably the coolest thing I’ve been involved with in my life. At least it felt so at the time and in retrospect it turned out to be the catalyst for my life today, it being the work that led to my being on the Romero directed set of the “Biohazard 2” commercial, which led to my hooking up with Fangoria, which led to… And here I sit in my tiny Tokyo apartment...

All in all, much of June was given to many enjoyable days and nights of writing while sitting in cafes with my headphones on listening to Goblin or the De Wolfe music tracks used in the film. The book is due out the end of this month, that’s how fast the publishing turnaround is in Japan, although I suspect it will come out in August due to my writing having to be translated into Japanese. It would be great if I could write in Japanese, but I can’t. That's life.

I went to see a short film I did subs on and was a zombie in called "Moratorium", directed by Takashi Hirose. It was nice to see Ayano, the lead in my film New Neighbor and some other people. It played here in Shimokitazawa so it didn't take any great effort on my part to walk to Tollywood, the theater it played in.

In other work related things, I subbed a couple of interesting things recently. One was a 40min film called “Actor” that I quite enjoyed. The film, about an actor on the lower rung of the acting food chain, captures some of the nonsense, pretense and hardship of the Japanese film set. We have a screening this coming Monday at Imagica and then an “after-party”. Those things are always fun. 

I finally went to see “Godzilla” at a screening in Tokyo a few weeks back. Going with writer-designer Yoshiki Takahashi, we met up with others from the Eiga Hiho clan to catch it at Toho’s Marion Theater in Ginza. It was the first proper theater screening of the film and as such a lot of Godzilla staffers came out, giving me a a chance to say “hey” to people I hadn’t seen in a while. 

As for the film, it was kind of a mixed bag. It wasn’t “Man of Steel” bad, but contained much of what I don’t care for in cinema, especially Hollywood cinema. For example, that American insanity over “the family”. Why is almost every genre film these days centered around “family”? I guess by doing this the producers can say things like, “Don’t like the film? What’s the matter, you hate families?” Sort of like being accused of “hating freedom” if you spoke out against that War on Terror nonsense. (My reply to this was always, “yes, you’re right. I hate freedom.”) Making a film like “World War Z” about family or the horrid “Thor 2” a Harlequin Romance in disguise is simply studios sucking up to non-genre audiences and pretty much insulting to those of us who have loved and supported genre efforts all our lives. 

Yoshiki pretty much hated the film and went so far as to say he preferred the Emmerich one because “at least that has some characters in it; everyone in this film is an idiot”. While I would never call the ’98 Godzilla a good film, I would agree that that film had characters with flare. The new Godzilla film suffers from that Lost / Game of Thrones syndrome where characters are so real you can’t put your finger on who they are. They are presented in such a full yet flat way you can’t see their motivations. The exception might have been the guy played by Bryan Cranston, but they killed him off almost right away. When that happened I was like, “oh great. The only character of interest was just surgically removed from the film.” Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate it and I'm happy that Godzilla is suddenly relevant again. I gave it a decent write up in the next Eiga Hiho.

It was Yoshiki's birthday the other day too and we had a party at Loft Plus One in Shinjuku. That was kind of a fun night. Here's a photo from after the show. 

I also went to the the first Godzilla in the theater with my awesome girlfriend Miyako. She doesn't really know much about Kaiju, but she enjoyed the film a lot. I think it might have been my first time to see it in a theater. Looked great and being the sap I am, I cried about 4 times. 

I finally made an unofficial set visit to the “Attack on Titan” set at Toho Studio yesterday. That was a lot of fun and I was VERY impressed with what I saw. I am in no way familiar with the manga (I have zero interest in manga) so I can’t be one of those purest otaku types and point out what was “right” and what was “wrong” with it. I can say that the things I saw looked interesting and brutal. Lots of weird imagery all of which were being attained in traditional “analog” ways. And it was a very happy set. Everyone was enjoying themselves and I got the sense that they felt they were working on something special. 

It’s always fun to go to Toho, if only to see some of the Godzilla crew from a decade-plus past. Working on ATTACK is one of my favorite people in the Japanese film industry, art director Toshio Miike. Miike took great care of me on the Godzilla sets, making sure I was always welcome and able to fully experience the Godzilla SFX set. Like then, he’s in charge of miniature sets, their construction and execution. It’s always a joy to sit and talk with Miike and ask him a few technical questions. For this kind of work there is no one better. 

By coincidence, Takashi Miike was shooting at Toho. I hadn’t seen him since the wrap party for “Yakuza Apocalypse” so I was able to chat with him for a few minutes in the cafeteria. I even made Miike laugh, which is no small feat! No, seriously, Miike is a fun guy who laughs freely at things. I’m not friends with the guy or anything, but my image of him is not those tough guy looking photos you see around the web, but of a guy who is constantly smiling and enjoying his work.

One of the shocking things about going to Toho was seeing that where Studio 1 and 2 once stood, now runs a road. I had thought those stages were under renovation. Instead, they were sold off, torn down, and in their place lies a freshly paved road. Ugh... Those were Japan’s oldest film studios and dated back to the 1930s. Man…while I can see why Toho would sell off the land, it still makes me sad as many of my best Toho memories were in studio 1, 2, the lunch room and the PR office (which in the way past was the payroll office). 

Yes, much of Toho has changed, but that’s the nature of the beast. For example, when I was in S7 I looked up at the rafters. Where once they were made of rope and wood, now they are made of reinforced steel. As someone who has braved the legendary Toho rafters, I can tell you I’d rather work there now than go back to the old way. So, basically, while the fan in me is sad, the pro in me is happy. Here's a shot of the rafters as they used to be. 

Oh, and I also got to say “hey” to Ken Watanabe. I guess with Godzilla finally opening in Japan he’s over at Toho participating in the PR machine. While this kind of thing is no biggie, it just makes the feeling of going to a studio and stepping into the “movie world” all the more fun. 

Well, that’s enough blabbing for this entry.