This past weekend, G-Fest was held for the first time since 2019, and it was hosted at a new venue. For those unaware, G-Fest is the annual convention devoted to the kaiju film genre, specifically the Godzilla franchise since 1999. Whereas, since its inception, G-Fest was normally held at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont, Illinois. However, the choice was made to move the convention to Hyatt Regency O’Hare in 2020. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the convention was postponed until this year.
Now, having been to the Hyatt Regency for Anime Central, I felt that this move was good for G-Fest’s growing attendance. However, it did not use all the space like ACen would, but its staff planned the layout well. Sadly, I was only able to attend on Saturday due to work, but I enjoyed my time there. Many people were there to share their love for the “King” and other kaiju, like those from the Ultra Series. Whereas, their dealers’ room was filled with a great deal of merchandise, featuring figures, t-shirts, and movies. Also, several artists were on hand as well, like friend of the site, Matt Frank.
Guests this year were Hiroyuki Kawase, and Tomoko Ai alongside Don Frye who was scheduled as a guest of honor. Unfortunately, Don Frye had to bow out due to a medical emergency pertaining to his back. However, on location, people were selling merchandise at his booth with the proceeds going towards his medical expenses. In addition, the entire convention was dedicated to legendary Godzilla actor, Akira Takarada who passed away in March. Whereas, the Japanese guests were very nice, and I was happy that so many fans liked them in their roles.
With Saturday being the busiest day for conventions, G-Fest decided to conduct the interviews for the guests on that day. Thankfully, I was able to attend both interviews, which were hosted by selected G-Fest panelists. Also, the interpreter for both interviews was Amanda Derendorf, the wife of kaiju film historian Kevin Derendorf. Whereas, the first interview was with Hiroyuki Kawase, who was in both, Godzilla vs. Hedorah and Godzilla vs Megalon. Surprisingly, Kawase-san is somewhat fluent in English, probably due to when he was a pilot for JAL (Japanese Airlines). So, he was able to answer some questions in English aside from when the interpreter translated for him. Anyway, the following is a transcript from what was asked during Kawase-san’s interview:
Kawase-san’s first acting roles were the result of his parents enrolling him in a children’s acting troupe. He said it was around the age of 3, so he did some theater performances for children. However, he does not remember much of his earliest roles since he was very young. One role he mentioned (The Guard-man), was as a poor boy mistaken as belonging to a rich family and kidnapped.
When they began discussing Kawase-san’s time with director Akira Kurosawa, pictures were shown of them together on a projector. Now, when Akira Kurosawa picked him for the movie Dodes’ka-den, Kawase-san had been noted for playing dead in a play for 30-minutes. Kurosawa thought it was rare, since children usually are more energetic, so he was picked to audition for the beggar’s son. Being very young, he did not know who Kurosawa was, though most of the adults were awestruck by the famous director. He felt Kurosawa was nice to the cast, especially the children.
Also, it was Kurosawa’s first color film, so he was pretty stressed, often snapping at the staff if they messed something up. One example given was when a film staff member stepped on a part of the set where they were not supposed to. As a result, that person’s weight left a footprint on the set, which had to be repaired. At one point, Kawase-san contracted measles, so they had to delay the filming while he recovered. He felt everyone would be mad because he had gotten sick, but they were not. Actually, his co-stars and staff even sent him a bunch of toys, as ‘get well soon’ presents.
Overall, Kawase-san was treated well by the staff, Kurosawa even gave him a script and helped him with the role. Whereas, he mentioned that he was close with the actor who played his father in the film. Also, he remembered that the actor drew really well, and they were in a documentary together about the Yamagata Prefecture Festival. During that documentary, he recalls that they were there to discuss a horse which was famous at that time. Furthermore, Kawase-san mentioned being in the ‘Battle of Okinawa,’ where he had a scene where he died. He then remarked that he apparently was known for his childhood ‘death scenes.’
Moving onto Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Kawase-san recalled not remembering a lot of the filming, aside from one of the final scenes. That was when he was with Keiko Mari at Mt. Fuji, though it was actually the first scene that he was filmed in. Shooting took roughly two months, and he remembers how they kept complaining to each other about how cold they were. He would go on to consider Mari-san, as an ‘older sister’ figure, especially during their colder scenes together. Also, he mentioned that he did not miss school since filming was during winter. However, Kawase-san said that he did not like acting, and he rather wanted to be in school. In addition, when asked if his classmates reacted to him being in Godzilla films, he said it was not discussed. Surprisingly, there was not much of a reaction from the other kids at his school. Overall, he was not enthused about acting, only seeing it as a job, and why he could not attend school.
Then as for his other castmates and staff, Kawase-san said Toshio Shiba was nice to him. Also, since Shiba-san had a sports car he would often let him ride in it at times. However, Kawase-san does not remember the actor Akira Yamanouchi, who played his father in the movie well. When asked how he felt about the difference of Yoshimitsu Banno’s directing compared to Kurosawa, he remembered Banno looking a bit ‘scary-looking’ with his short hair and big eyes. Yet, Banno was nice to all the children in the movie. In addition, he thinks Banno was very forward-thinking, since the pollution in Japan was depicted accurately at the time.
Kawase-san mentioned he was unable to see the fighting scenes, since they were shot separately. So, the crew used an ‘object on a stick’ to motion the actors to ‘look at’ the monsters. Also, when asked if he was scared by the fake bodies used as Hedorah’s victims, Kawase-san said he could not remember. Furthermore, he could not recall how the staff got him to at least appear frightened for the filming. Finally the last Hedorah question was about what he thought about the movie as a kid versus now. His response was that the theme might be difficult for a child to grasp back then. Whereas, now he appreciates the message and how much it seemed Banno was ahead of his time.
Following Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Kawase-san was asked about his appearance in Return of Ultraman episode 24. For those unaware, he played the child who helped the monster survive, and ultimately assisted Ultraman Jack in defeating it. Kawase-san explained that he did not audition, since Toho Studios and Tsuburaya Productions used to share their actors. Also, he explained how he thought that movie productions took more care and effort when shooting. Whereas, for a television series, he said they were normally shorter, and not as intensive. Then when asked about his appearance in Mirrorman, he said he did not remember most of it. Unfortunately, he could only recall that the episode was filmed mostly at night, and that it was cold.
For Godzilla vs. Megalon, Kawase-san said his first scene was riding on the toy boat at the lake. He remembers it being very cold since they were filming on a lake near Mt Fuji. Also, he did not enjoy the experience since he could not actually control the boat, unlike in the film. To get out on the lake for the first day, Kawase-san was towed there by a motorboat which he did not. Then on the second day of filming, his mother was in attendance and he was towed by a rowboat that time. At this point, Kawase-san did not feel excited about being in another Godzilla film. Again, acting for him was just another job which took him out of school.
During the filming, Kawase-san did his own stunts like riding the motorbike, and being tossed around in the truck. However, when he and Katsuhiro Sasaki, the actor who played his brother, exited the truck, Sasaki fell on him. Kawase-san said it was a different experience under director Fukuda, since he was not directed as much as in Hedorah. So, Kawase-san tried to act as much as he felt he needed to in Godzilla vs. Megalon. Another scene Kawase-san discussed was when he and the others were returning from the lake. The filming for the driving did not go well, so they had to do multiple u-turns to restart each take. Also, he recounted how he thought that they would be arrested due to all their u-turns.
Speaking of cars, Kawase-san recounted how Yutaka Hayashi would let him ride in his sports cars and on his motorcycles. Then when asked about Jet Jaguar’s suit actor, Tsugutoshi Komada, Kawase-san said the suit was bulky and hard to move in. As they showed the scene where he was carried by the robot, he mentioned how the suit actor had trouble. He recalls Komada-san saying it was harder to carry him like “He’s too heavy, let’s finish this quickly!” Then at some point during filming, Kawase-san got sick again, and the movie was delayed. While seeing a doctor, he found out that the doctor’s son also attended his school. So, when the film was finished, Kawase-san went with the boy to see the movie.
Then Kawase-san discussed one of his last roles, which was in an episode of Zone Fighter. In actuality, he was given the opportunity to be in more episodes, but as a child he wanted to stay in school. However, in contrast to his other roles, Zone Fighter was filmed in Summer and it was very hot. Also, he was treated very well by the cast and staff of the series. After this appearance, he told his parents he wanted to stop acting and became more focused on going to school. Now, besides being a former JAL pilot, Kawase-san puts time into his hobbies like playing golf. Finally, when the interview finished, Kawase-san was asked to recreate the Godzilla sliding scene, which he did. Unfortunately, too many people were rushing to film the spectacle and they blocked my shot.
Afterwards, I went to the interview for Tomoko Ai who starred in Terror of Mechagodzilla, the final Showa Era film. As stated earlier, the translator for the event was yet again Amanda Derendorf. However, this time she was accompanied by her husband, author Kevin Derendorf, as the additional G-Fest staff panelist. Nevertheless, the following is a summary of her interview:
Before she began acting, Tomoko worked as a model at a young age. After a while she noted that she was not getting as many job offers as the other models. She thought it was because she was short, and taller models were more popular. Eventually, the owner of the modeling studio asked her if she wanted to try acting. So, with the few jobs available, she was curious to try something new and accepted the opportunity.
Tomoko’s first role was in Ultraman Leo episode 17, as a Jonan Sports Center member where Gen Otori resided. This was actually her first ‘camera test’ to see how she looked as an actress. Apparently the staff liked her enough that she did not have to audition, and she cast regularly until episode 40. Also, she was not aware of any contracts, probably due to her agent at the time. So, Tomoko would just be told to go to a location and be handed her script. Shooting was pretty hectic as they filmed at several locations, and episodes were finished within a week to ten days. In addition, since they would film many scenes at once, Tomoko said episode plots blurred together within her memory. Furthermore, after filming she would have to go back, and redub lines before episodes aired.
Unfortunately, Tomoko never got to see any of the special effects since they were filmed in a different location. Also, Ryu Manatsu was often filmed separately, so he did not really interact with the rest of the cast. However, Tomoko and the remaining actors would often go out to get dinner together when they finished filming. Whereas, she would go on to consider Meiko Mito as a ‘sister figure’ during the series’ production. They became friends, still meeting up to this day, and occasionally work together on audio dramas. However, Tomoko enjoyed this time in her life, as she was 18, and did not go to college. So, she felt like it was the ‘Springtime of her life.’
Now, according to her, the MAC uniforms were very warm to wear, and Ultraman Leo was filmed during the Summer. As a result, the uniforms would be very uncomfortable, plus their feet would hurt from the boots. Ultimately, when the cast was handed the script for episode 40, there was a lot of shock among them. For those unaware, it is the episode where Silverbloome destroys the MAC base and annihilates the team. So, Tomoko said that the cast collectively thought, “Oh great, now we have to find new jobs.” Also, the episode was her character’s birthday, and she said it went from cheering to boom everyone dies.
During the last days of filming Ultraman Leo, she began auditioning at Toho for Terror of Mechagodzilla. Once she was late for an audition, and she had to hurry while still in her MAC uniform. Then when she became Katsura Mafune, she liked her silver suit much more than the MAC uniform. When asked about actor exchanges between Tsuburaya and Toho, she responded she did not know much about it. Also, when asked about director Ishiro Honda, Tomoko said he was nice to work with. However, she found director Honda to be a man of few words. Tomoko even recalled having seen Honda’s other films, specifically Mothra when she was a kid.
In the film, Akihito Hirata played her father, but she thought the makeup decisions were odd. For Tomoko, she thought the makeup did not make him look as old as she thought the character would be. However, they had a good working relationship, as he would often treat her to dinner after filming. Whereas, Katsuhiko Sasaki was spoken of as being aloof and did not talk to Tomoko much other than when filming. Also, she mentioned that she did not really speak to screenwriter, Yukiko Takayama. Yet, at that time, Tomoko had seen some of Takayama films, and they did speak but only briefly. In addition, she mentioned that if there were script revisions, they were done before the cast ever received them. So, Tomoko was unaware about some of the development for the film, having not seen any script changes. Furthermore, she explained that Terror of Mechagodzilla was filmed within at least one month.
As most already know, Tomoko’s role in the film was as the emotionless cyborg heroine Katsura Mafune. When discussing the role she explained how she was reminded to not smile nor show her emotions. However, having smiled and acted joyfully a lot in other projects, Tomoko found the role weird occasionally. Then when asked if she had seen signs that Toho was in financial trouble during filming, she replied she was unaware. Also, when discussing the premiere for the film, Tomoko said that she went on tour for Toho. She along with a group of other actresses went across the country to drum up support for several upcoming films. So, when she would introduce herself at the events, she felt embarrassed saying she starred in Terror of Mechagodzilla. Yet, that feeling of embarrassment was cast aside as the years went on, and Godzilla’s overall legacy gained more respect.
After discussing Terror of Mechagodzilla, the interview began discussing Tomoko’s transition from movies to television. She explained that she did not find it too difficult, although movies were on a much bigger scale. Also, she remarked how movies always feel a bit over the top with how much more goes into them. In addition, being with Toho made her feel like she was something like a princess with how they treated her. Furthermore, during this time she truly imagined herself to be a real actress. Then when she moved over to Toei, she discovered how things were different there.
While at Toei, Tomoko explains she was not treated well as an employee in comparison to Toho. The overall atmosphere was a different vibe, especially since Tomoko explained how Toei was focused on making Yakuza films. Then towards the end of Himitsu Sentai Gorenger in episode 77, she appeared as the villain of the week. Ultimately, she found that role stressful since the location was far away, and she arrived late to the filming. Yet, the final question discussed was why she left the Toei show, The Kagestar, before the series went into production.
Now, Tomoko explained that she bowed out last minute because she was recently married at that time. So, since her husband, Toru Minegishi was also an actor she did not want to be pulled in different directions. As a result, the role would go to actress Emi Hayakawa, who eventually married actor Naoya Makoto (Gorenger’s Akaranger). Also, as they discussed the production of The Kagestar, promotional pictures were shown of Tomoko as the heroine Bellestar. Following this discussion, Tomoko explained how currently she mostly does audio drama readings and has her own makeup business. Finally, she thanked everyone in attendance, and expressed how the fans for Terror of Mechagodzilla make her happy.
Overall, I found the interviews to be conducted really well with much love for the guests’ careers and tokusatsu. Whereas, G-Fest 2022 felt like a small family getting together to simply have fun. Everyone was there because they adored the kaiju genre, and everyone could feel that love in the atmosphere. It was a tiny convention within a large venue, but it had many activities for attendees to partake in. Another wonderful aspect is the conduct among fans, and massive displays of cosplay. There were a lot of kids and adults alike in full costume that were walking about the venue. Also, as mentioned earlier, the dealers’ room was small, but the collectors had a wide range of items on sale. It had a smattering of all things tokusatsu, big or obscure, with appearances from the Universal Monsters in some cases. Furthermore, the lines for the panels, autographs, and other ongoing operations were organized well and without any confusion. So, if anyone ever wants to attend a less intense convention, then G-fest is their best bet. It is a wonderful convention for kaiju and tokusatsu fans located in the Midwest area.