Friday, December 10, 2010

Ultraman Zero The Movie

I saw the latest Ultraman movie at a press screening over at Shochiku last night; a great demonstration of how infrequently I update my blog seeing that my coverage of last year's movie is only a few posts down this page!

Having not followed any of the hype surrounding this year's movie, I went in with few expectations and very limited knowledge of what the movie was about. In the age of internet spoilers, and simply due to the work that I do, it's very rare that I get to see an Ultraman film in this way for the first time. It's definitely a much nicer experience!

Overall I was pleased with the film. Rather than rehashing what we saw in last year's movie, it draws upon it's strengths and takes it to new places. The shift from straight action to fantasy adventure is a welcome one, and while I was expecting to miss Mike Verta's howling score from last year, Kenji Kawai's music perfectly compliments the fantasy atmosphere of this year's venture.

If you're a fan of ULTRAMAN NEXUS like myself, there are also a couple of fun surprises in this film for you! Perhaps no surprise considering this film was penned and directed by former NEXUS director Yuichi Abe.

I'm currently working on translating the official press notes into English, which will be published on SciFi Japan later today (in which we will also announce the official English title of the movie). My proper review of the film will follow as soon as I've had enough coffee to drag myself back to the keyboard!

(Picture: Movie press book and flyer)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mada ikiteiru

It would seem I am still alive. I am sure you are all relieved.

My visa expires at the end of September, but I'm hoping to renew it for another six months and continue studying here. But the decision is naturally in the hands of Japanese immigration... so fingers crossed!

Brad Warner was in Japan last month, so we went out with friends Norman England, Takeshi Yagi, and Ultraman designer Hiroshi Maruyama. Me and Brad had emailed each other in the past, and I'd read his first book "Hardcore Zen" several years ago, but this was the first time we were both in Japan at the same time to be able to meet properly. A very cool punk rocker who later worked for Tsuburaya Productions on Ultraman, who is now a Buddist monk leading the Dogen Sangha International.

After dinner we all found the coolest Showa-style bar littered with vintage toys and posters, playing Japanese pop music from the 80s. This place was freaky. I want to go back soon! During the evening, Muruyama also designed Brad his very own Godzilla.

Last night I went to a drinking party in Shinjuku with friends Takeshi Yagi, Shusuke Kaneko (director of GAMERA and the DEATH NOTE films) and Jiro Kaneko (writer on MAX and SEVEN X). I was also happy to meet for the first time actress Mitsuko Hoshi (who played Yuko in 1972's ULTRAMAN ACE) and her daughter Shiko (who appeared in Yagi's SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS movie), as well as Ultraman writers Kiyoto Takeuchi and Takurou Fukuda.

I hadn't seen Shusuke or Jiro since last year, so it was great fun to catch up. I'm a big fan of Fukuda's ULTRASEVEN X episode "Hopeless", so we talked about this for a while, and the episode's comparison of the "hopeless" to the homeless of Japan.

Unfortunately I got very drunk towards the end of the evening, and am pretty sure I said some dumb stuff. I can't even remember how many beers I drank. Hopefully I didn't embarrass myself too much!

Life continues...

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Long Overdue Update...

It's been almost four months since I last updated my blog. I would like to say it's because I've been busy, but in truth it's the reverse - I haven't much of interest to talk about.

Earlier in the week, I went to the FIAT CAFFE in Aoyama with Yagi-san. The name is quite literal - it's a club run by the car manufacturer. This was a fun night with a lot of great music and live performances (including the fabulous "Tokyo Panda"!) I also had the opportunity to meet Kuniaki Haishima for the first time, who was the music composer for the TV series ULTRAMAN MAX, KAMEN RIDER KABUTO and SH15UYA, among many others. I've always liked Haishima's music, particularly SH15UYA, so it was great fun to have a chance to talk to him. Haishima also performed on keyboard and served as host for the night.

(Haishima's song "Play" from the SH15UYA soundtrack)

I'm also currently in the middle a long and tedious process of getting a new apartment. For the last six months I've been living in a guest house in Chiba-ken which, while adequate, has a lot of drawbacks; nothing around the area, 40 minutes away from my school by train, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with about 30 other residents.

Me and my best friend Coline have found a nice place in Asakusa with two bedrooms, our own kicthen/dining, bathroom and even a balcony. The rent is also less than what we're both paying now. We visited the place on Thursday and will hopefully be signing the contracts this coming Monday. I'm just hoping no one else gets there first, as there are a lot of other people interested!

Last week, me and Coline were also scouted on the street to appear in a short segment for the TV show ZOOM IN!! SATURDAY for Nippon TV, which aired this morning. We were invited to have a free meal in a train-themed restaurant in Akihabara. We're students, and thus in no position to pass up free food, so we went along. For better or worse, all shots of me were eliminated from broadcast (although Coline did appear in a brief shot). This is probably a blessing really, as I later discovered most of this segment of the show is primarily about laughing at foreigners and the dumb things they say. But now the world will never see me talking into a toy train like a mobile phone (yes... glad I was cut.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ultra Galaxy Premiere

Yesterday was the premiere of the new Ultraman movie MEGA MONSTER BATTLE: ULTRA GALAXY. The premiere was held at the Lazona Plaza in Kawasaki, a city located between Tokyo and Yokohama.

I was invited to attend by Warner Bros. in order to cover the event for (some of my photos and a short write-up of the event are now online:

After several days of intense cold and heavy rain, yesterday saw bright blue skies without a cloud in sight, and while the air was still quite cool, the sun provided enough warmth that I decided to leave my jacket at home (in December. Crazy!)

Prior to the screening, a live stage show was held outside in the central plaza from 2:00pm. I arrived around 1:30pm and managed to somehow walk straight past the press reception that was right in front of me. After making one of the poor Warner guys lead me there, I was given some papers with the schedule for the day, a copy of the press book, Mike Verta's soundtrack CD, MISIA's single CD, and another disc with some promotional photos.

Soon after I grabbed my spot in front of the stage. I was stuck in the far left corner, which hampered my ability to capture some of the more important moments, but think I still managed to get some pretty good shots in. I just had to make the best of the situation. The show lasted around half an hour, during which time I believe the circulation in my left leg ceased completely from all the kneeling. It was actually quite painful for the remainder of the day.

The premiere screening itself took place from 4:00pm in the 109 CINEMAS on the 5th floor of the Lazona. This was again proceeded by a half-hour introduction from the cast, this time joined by director Koichi Sakamoto. My otherwise lovely day was ruined around this point, as I somehow managed to lose my favourite camera lens, which cost me around $300.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ultraseven X Live Talk/Party

Last night Yagi invited me to a live panel discussion about 2007's ULTRASEVEN X entitled "Ultra SFX Night Vol.2: Ultraseven X" (Urutora Tokusatsu Naito Vol.2 Ultraseven X) held at Loft A in Asagaya.

This was the first chance I've had to see Yagi since I came to Japan almost two months ago. I arrived at Loft just after 6.00pm, and as the show wasn't due to start until 7.00 I went down the road with Yagi and some of the other guests for some drinks.

This was the first time I had really met Anri Ban, who played Agent S on the show. Even though she walks right past me in my small scene, I never got around to speaking to her on that day. She's a very sweet girl and stunningly beautiful. I ended up winning her autograph in the raffle at the end of the show, which was kind of funny.

It was also nice to catch up with Eriku, who played Jin/Seven X. I hadn't seen him since the shoot in 2007. I almost didn't recognise him at first as he's had all his long hair cut off now (looks a lot better now, I think).

During the show itself I was mainly acting as a photographer for Yagi's website. Considering how dark it was, I was pretty happy with the shots I was able to get. Especially as I was using my telephoto lens for a lot of them, which has no image stabiliser, so I was expecting all my shots to come out as a blurred mess. It was kind of a challenge trying to focus past the heads of the audience as well. I uploaded my photos from the night onto Yagi's website this morning:

I stayed on for the after party with the guests, which was a lot of fun, and gave me the chance to get to know some new people.

I had a good chat with Yuji Kobayashi, who was the main writer on SEVEN X, and who also co-wrote the new ULTRA GALAXY movie. It turns out we had already met quite briefly on the set of SEVEN X which I had completely forgotten. I gave him my thoughts on ULTRA GALAXY and he seemed quite pleased. He also gave me a signed copy of his new book, "The Way of Life as a Screenwriter" (Kyakuhonka toiu ikikata), which he will be expecting my thoughts on as soon as I actually learn how to read.

I was also happy to meet Kengo Kaji for the first time, who is a very cool and laid-back kind of guy. His English is also pretty good, which is always good news for me! He directed two episodes of SEVEN X, but is probably best known as the series organizer, director and writer for the 2005 series GARO.

Tom Wakizaki (Agent K) also turned up which I hadn't been expecting. I haven't seen him since last September. He's a pretty goofy guy and I always like hanging out with him. Last night he kept obsessing over my "natural perm" and kept taking my hat off. I think it's time I just got my hair cut...

As the party ran on until 2.00am I missed the train home, and as I live in Chiba-ken a taxi would probably cost me $1,000, so I spent the rest of the evening moving between coffee shops and noodle bars until I could get the train at 4.40am.

Another fun night in Tokyo! It brought back a lot of fun memories of SEVEN X. I'm amazed it was already two years ago! Here's the original trailer for the show:

(Photo #1: One of my shots of Anri and Eriku
Photo #2: Kobayashi's book and Anri's autograph
Photo #3: The guests at the after-party. Spot the stupid gaijin in the red shirt)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ultra Galaxy

Winter approaches! The last few days have been getting much colder, not to mention wetter. The wet streets provided me with my greatest ever Baka Gaijin moment this morning as I came flying off my bike.

Monday evening I went out with a group of friends from school to a Korean restaurant near Ueno. Between the octopus tentacles and things that looked like they came from some kind of jellyfish creature, I'm not really sure what I was eating, and most questions were just answered with "it's fish", "it's meat" or "it's vegetable". But it was a good meal and a great time.

This evening I went to Warner Brothers to see the new Ultraman movie MEGA MONSTER BATTLE: ULTRA GALAXY, which comes to theatres December 12th here in Japan.

I wasn't a fan of the ULTRA GALAXY TV series on which this movie is based, so when I first heard about the project early in the year I wasn't very enthusiastic. But the trailers and other promotional materials released in the last few months looked quite impressive, so I was feeling quite optimistic that I would enjoy this movie.

I think I can quite safely say that the scope and scale of this movie is far greater than anything seen before in this genre. My gut reaction was that this movie was GODZILLA: FINAL WARS done correctly. Both FINAL WARS and ULTRA GALAXY received much larger budgets, brought in foreign talent, attempted to put a modern spin on classic characters and threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Yet while FINAL WARS came away looking like a completely nonsensical and dishonest TV movie, ULTRA GALAXY actually fulfils its promises and delivers something that is fun, fresh, action-packed, and absolutely first class from start to finish. A wonderful movie which I'm really looking forward to seeing again in December!

(Picture: Ultra Galaxy press book)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Yuke, Zone!

This has been kind of a lazy weekend, not helped by the fact that I've completely destroyed one of my toes and am finding it hard to walk. This is probably one of the first times since I've been here that I've just spent time by myself at home, and it's given me a chance to catch up on some various things.

One thing I'm really happy to have completed this weekend is my series guide for ZONE FIGHTER (Ryuusei Ningen Zoon), the short-lived 1973 TV series produced by Toho featuring Godzilla, Gigan and King Ghidorah, which is now live on SciFi Japan:

I began writing this sometime back in November 2008, so I've been working on this for over a year now. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out, and think I managed to dig up a lot of interesting information and present something that I don't think has ever really been seen in English before, at least not to this degree.

Of course, there is always more I wish I could have done (including an interview with the lead actor Aoyama that I would have liked to have translated), but for me it was really a question of "How much longer is this going to take, and how much is it really going to add to the piece?" If you wait until something is perfect it will never be finished. Even as I read it now I can see lots of phrasing that I don't like, but for me it's reached the point where I just have to say "It's done", because I've already been working on it for a year.

Now I will force myself to leave home for the first time this weekend!