An electronic pothole along the Internet highway where filmmaker, writer, journalist, photographer, musician, unpublished poet, coffee drinker and ex-New Yorker / Tokyo based Norman England writes whatever the hell he feels like writing. You have been warned.
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.