Friday, November 17, 2017

Godzilla: Monster Planet

Maybe the less-than-half-full theater on opening night should have tipped me off.

I just returned from Godzilla: Monster Planet (or Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters or whatever we're supposed to call it this week), and I really don't have that much to say. It's essentially what I expected it to be.

That's not a good thing, by the way. For one thing, it's incredibly boring. It repeats the worst aspects of Shin Godzilla by having too many expository scenes in which the characters look at futuristic screens and plan their attacks on Godzilla. Monster Planet? Planet of the Monsters? Either way, we sure don't get what we're told. Other than a lackluster flashback scene toward the beginning, the only monsters we get are Godzilla and some rather generic pteranodon lookalikes.

The animation seemed to vary wildly from pretty impressive to unfinished. Some scenes of Godzilla are very well done (to a surprising extent, actually), but in a number of the human scenes, it seemed rather rushed. The aforementioned flashback scene at the beginning was particularly disappointing, as the monsters barely even seemed to move. Did the animators run out of money?

All this could be just me, I suppose. I don't watch anime, have no interest in it, and wouldn't know what passes for good animation these days. From where I sit, though, the animation just didn't really seem movie-worthy.

For all those who complain about the child protagonists in the Showa-era Godzilla (and Gamera) films, wait till you get a load of this flick's main character, Haruo, who virtually never stops sneering or screaming in angst. We get it. He has a vendetta against Godzilla. And this time it's personal. But the dial doesn't have to stay on 11 the whole way. There are ways to emote without uttering primal screams. Just sayin'.

Takayuki Hattori's score varies as much as the animation does, running the gamut from forgettable to the worst music I've ever heard him compose. (For the record, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla remains my favorite score of his, by far.)

I actually like the Godzilla design, and I think the premise is a cool concept. I just wish it had a much better execution. A large chunk of the problem, I'm sure, is that this story will be stretched out over a trilogy, so all the filler comes with the territory. While it may not be good storytelling, I'm sure it's good business.

On the way out of the theater, I bumped into a Japanese fan whom I often see at events. I asked him if he liked the movie. He laughed, shook his head, and said no. We both laughed as we went over some of the film's more egregious flaws. I guess that's probably not a great sign.

Shin Godzilla certainly divided fans, but I really don't see anyone championing this film. There's really just not much to it, other than a few interesting shots of Godzilla. I wish I could have hit the mute button whenever Haruo was on screen, but I guess the folks who watch it on Netflix will have that advantage over me.

The Mystery of Peggy Neal

American actress Peggy Neal clowns around with Shinichi Yanagisawa in Shochiku's The X from Outer Space (1967).

One of the most interesting facets of Japanese movies are the Americans (and other Westerners) who often appear in various productions. This is especially true of the films of the 1960s when it wasn't uncommon for these Westerners, who usually had little to no acting experience, to be featured in a leading role of a film.

While a number of these Western actors have been found and interviewed over the years, one who remains a mystery is Peggy Neal. She appeared in three films, all for different studios: Terror Beneath the Sea (1966) for Toei, The X from Outer Space (1967) for Shochiku, and Las Vegas Free-for-All (1967) for Toho.

According to Stars and Stripes, she was 18 years old in September of 1965, and the June 1966 Yomiuri article below states that Ms. Neal "just turned 19," which would contradict unconfirmed reports that she was only 17 when she made Terror Beneath the Sea.

The following was published in the Japanese Fantasy Film Journal #14, which reprinted an article from the Yomiuri dated June 2, 1966:

Peggy, who has been picked for the leading feminine role from among a horde of applicants, is  a junior at Sophia University's International Division. She is majoring in economics, political science and psychology. This is her first experience in motion pictures although she has  been modeling since four. Although Peggy lived in Nagoya for two years as a child, she says she  has all but forgotten Japanese. She expressed great gratitude to Chiba who is teaching her the finer points of acting. But knowing little English, he has to teach her mostly by gesture.

In September 1965, Stars and Stripes published an article by James C. Stevenson entitled "Have Knowledge Fever? Sophia Has Cure," which quotes Ms. Neal several times toward the beginning:

A need-to-know fever has struck American college students in Japan, and Tokyo's Sophia University is helping provide the cure.
The reason for the fever? "It's the diplomatic position that we've been put in," explained 18-year-old Peggy Neal, who lives at Kanto Mura Housing Area.
"We're more than just university students here in Japan," Peggy said. "We are ambassadors of goodwill for our country."
Peggy, a sophomore in the university's International Division, is one of some 459 American students -- mostly military and civilian members of the Armed Forces and their dependents -- enrolled at the university.
"As university students," Peggy explained, "we get an opportunity to associate and exchange our democratic views with some of Japan's top students and educators.
Through us they get a better understanding of our way of life, and we learn more about their way of life."
Sophia -- in Yotsuya, the Koji-machi District of Tokyo -- was founded in 1913 by the members of the Society of Jesus. In 1949 it established the International Division to assist U.S. forces in Japan in continuing their education.
"Today," Peggy said smilingly, "It's somewhat like a miniature United Nations. In addition to the large number of American students, foreign students from 20 other countries also attend the university."

I hope someday Peggy Neal's story can be told in the form of an interview. I know I'd love to hear about the making of the three films she starred in. This is one mystery that I hope gets solved soon.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

AN EVENING WITH CHUMEI WATANABE! The Great Film Composer Meets His Fans!

Chumei Watanabe. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Tonight, I had the privilege of spending the day with film and TV composer Chumei Watanabe (whose real name is Michiaki Watanabe) at a private gathering. Among Watanabe-san's film compsitions are: several entries of the Starman (a.k.a. Super Giant) series, Black Cat Mansion (1958), Ghost of Yotsuya (1959), Hell (1960), 100 Monsters (1968), and Along with Ghosts (1969). However, Watanabe-san is much more famous for his anime and TV tokusatsu scores, which are too numerous to list here. Film also composing runs in his family, as his son is Toshiyuki Watanabe, the composer for the '90s Mothra trilogy.

Watanabe-san began his film composing career at Shintoho in 1956, and at age 92 years old, he is still active writing music to this day. Watanabe-san was curious about American culture and how tokusatsu movies and TV programs are received in the West, and naturally I was happy to answer his questions.

Suffice it to say, it was a great evening!

NIKKATSU NIGHT! Meeting a Notable Player from the Studio's History!

 Keisuke Noro. Photo by Brett Homenick.

On Saturday night, I was privileged to meet former Nikkatsu Studios actor Keisuke Noro. Of course, Noro-san has no connection at all to tokusatsu, but my interest in Japanese movies goes well beyond the monsters.

Noro-san's career at Nikkatsu dates back to the 1950s. Among his better-known credits in the West are Seijun Suzuki's Take Aim at the Police Van (1960) and the cult classic A Colt Is My Passport (1967), both of which were released by Criterion. In fact, I had my DVD sleeves of both signed by Noro-san.

It was a great evening in the company of an actor who rarely makes personal appearances. In the future, I'll be sure to seek out more films in which Keisuke Noro is featured.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

GODZILLA: MONSTER PLANET! The Latest from the Big G Approaches Toho Cinemas!

For a measly 1,300 yen, this Godzilla lid can be yours! Photo by Brett Homenick.

Godzilla: Monster Planet will be released in Japan later this month, but are you ready? I hope you are because it's time to buy, buy, buy!

GODZILLA VS. THE MILITARY! A Team of Helicopters Battles the Kaiju King!

The JSDF is called in to attack Godzilla! ... or maybe not. Photo by Brett Homenick. 

Given the events of today, a couple of helicopters were buzzing around the skies of Shinjuku when I visited the Hotel Gracery. It certainly added an interesting dimension to these photos I took. If the military were called in to attack Godzilla, I suppose it would look a lot like this.

GODZILLA RETURNS! The King of the Monsters Is Back at the Hotel Gracery!

Godzilla wants his birthday cake, and he wants it now! Photo by Brett Homenick. 

In honor of Godzilla's recent birthday (November 3), a visitor stomped his way into the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. Take a look at who crashed the party!