We promised some coverage from G-Fest XXI, held in Chicago on July 11-13 of this year, so here it is. It’s later than it should be, and there’s a chance it might upset/offend some of the folks who’re heavily emotionally invested in the con; for both these grievances I apologize in advance. Oh, and I guess we forgot to take photos.
Anyway, lots of stuff goes on at this Godzilla convention, so we had to be a little picky about what we could make it to, and everyone’s experience may vary (for example, we completely missed the entire modeling session with Hiroshi Sagae, convention-exclusive Megalon model and all). This might not be the best overall con coverage (a better intro article is here), just some observations about our experience at the con this year in particular, and perhaps an offering of some constructive (i.e. hopefully not too mean) criticism. So, without further ado, let’s recount what we did:
- The presentation from Kaiju Gaiden was excellent. Essentially, they’re making a documentary on independent and lost kaiju fan films, so there was a showcasing of lots of cool under-the-radar footage that’s never been seen in the US before. The highlights were of Katto Productions fan films (Atragon 2, Resurrection of Daimajin, and Matango 2), Gamera 4, Wolf Man vs. Godzilla, Wanigon vs. Gamaron, Godzilla vs. Seadora, and such. I was less thrilled about footage from easily attainable movies like Raiga, Reigo, and G, but that’s only because the inclusion of such indie works meant that the panel had to be split into two sections: one the first thing on Friday and the other the last on Sunday, making it difficult to make it to both of them. The documentary sounds really cool, though, and it’s on our upcoming wishlist as soon as it becomes available.
- Kaijucast had a live recording titled “Sound of Monsters.” Honestly, this didn’t sit well with us, as it was mostly an opportunity for the guest panelists to promote their Ifukube 100th Anniversary concert (oh, we’ll get to that) while repeatedly deriding Riichiro Manabe (who, believe it or not, some of us are pretty cool with). They also went off a lot about other non-kaiju film composers while never mentioning Kow Otani, which rubbed me the wrong way as well. A discussion of music might’ve worked a little better with actual music samples, also, but I get that that’s difficult to prepare for a live show.
- Kaiju Combat had a panel titled “Make a Monster,” in which Simon Strange walked the audience through the often convoluted process of creature creation for the game. He called a volunteer from the crowd to pick which attributes that he’d like to see (e.g., is this monster luminescent, a pickle, a tennis player?), which in turn come from a pool of suggestions from the forums. The volunteer made his suggestions, and Matt Frank drew a draft of the monster. The whole procedure seemed pretty messy (I’ve never been a fan of the game’s decision to have so much creative crowd-sourcing), and I think they’ve committed to too many monsters already… but, it is worth noting that they did have a working test game on display at their booth. The game’s physics seem pretty solid, so they’re off to a good start.
- Shinpei Hayashiya’s panel was a little surprising, in that I was expecting it to focus more on his professional work (namely, Deep Sea Monster Reigo and Deep Sea Monster Raiga), but in retrospect, it makes sense that Gamera 4 footage really eclipsed them (in fairness, Hayashiya was brought over by Kaiju Gaiden’s Mark Jaramillo, so the obscure fan film would be a priority). He couldn’t actually show Gamera 4, since G-Fest charges admission and that would cause some sort of legal issue, but he did have a TV broadcast of a making-of special about it that he could show, and it looked pretty neat.The panel also illuminated somewhat on the nature of his films: his background in rakugo made the comedy in Raiga make a little more sense, and his mention of “mono no aware” (which tripped up the poor translator) clarified the artsy ending to Reigo. Hayashiya brought the first ever officially English subtitled copies of Raiga, which he sold in the dealers’ room after the panel. It was sort of a mad dash (since he thought he was more obscure, he only brought 20 copies), but we managed to snag the second-to-last copy. After just one pass around the dealers’ room, it looked like his posters and T-shirts had sold out too. Good on him!
- The “Making Kaiju Comics” panel was decent, with IDW’s Chris Mowry, Matt Frank, Jeff Zornow, and Kodoja’s Keith Foster talked about kaiju comics (Godzilla comics, really). It was a little brief, but the highlights included the mention that IDW can’t do any crossovers with Godzilla (which is weird, considering, say, Godzilla vs. Hero Zero, Godzilla vs. Barkley, the entire Marvel Comics run, and some of the Japanese stuff e.g. Battle Soccer and that Godzilla/Street Fighter manga), and the announcement that Mecha King Ghidorah would be popping up in the comics soon, followed by original monsters. Since the comics have been burning through established monsters at a rapid clip, and they’d rather not negotiate for obscure ones, it makes sense that they’d create some new ones, and anything that adds originality to the series is welcome in our book. Hopefully the new monsters are more interesting than the original monsters found in the Random House novels, but I’d imagine that they would be with this creative team involved.
- Koichi Kawakita had several panels, but for the one that we attended, he put on the film Zero Pilot, and gave a running commentary/Q&A over it. It seemed a little bit of an odd choice, since I’m sure most people there were more familiar with his special effects work in monster movies, but the movie shown is still an impressive technical achievement. Maybe he was just tired of talking Godzilla all the time. I think he did something similar for other little-known movies later, but we missed that part… I’m quite curious now about Apollo Knight, Gun-bot, and Fuhito, but that section overlapped with the film festival.
- “Katsura & Ichinose Reunited” was a panel bringing together Terror of Mechagodzilla cast-mates Tomoko Ai and Katsuhiko Sasaki. For the panel, JD Lees played clips from the movie, asking about how they approached each scene, and maybe got a little too invested in their off-camera relationship (or lack thereof). I was amused with the comment, however, that since Robert Scott Field was on translation duty, the panel was “half humans, half androids”. Both of the actors seemed in good spirits, and it was a fine way to wrap panel-going on Sunday morning.
Independent Film Festival:
There was a lot on the film festival schedule, but again, most of the screenings were skipped due to conflicts. We skipped Nivis Ex Machina (from the Ultraman Sorta team), Godzilla: Battle Royale (filmed in the G-Fest tokusatsu room), and other US-made fan films, but checked out the foreign ones. Does that make us pretentious?
What we did see:
- The Giant Brain Sucker Monster from Outer Space was an unexpected delight. The genre-shifting piece is a French musical slowly being overtaken by an American-sytle 1950’s B-scifi picture, to hilarious effect. The special effects were surprisingly well-handled.
- Zella: Monster Martial Law is a very impressive, quite entertaining outing, considering that it was made by college students for around $5000. Pyrotechnics are lacking (it was filmed on the roof of the school) and the subtitles left something to be desired, but the Evangelion-esque costumes looked pretty good and the characterizations were strong. Director Shingo Maehata was there, and said that he has plans for at least one more monster movie before he graduates. Kudos!
- Day of the Kaiju was easily the most polished of the indie films on display. The movie is about a town coping with the corpse of a deceased monster washing up on their shores, and is largely a statement about bureaucracy and government incompetence, but alas, that’s not exactly what most of the fans in the room wanted to see. The result was a sort of awkward Q&A session with director Kazuhiro Nakagawa, where people seemed to ask him about every subject except his movie: everything from the new Godzilla (which isn’t out in Japan) to King Kong Appears in Edo (which hasn’t been seen since 1938 and there’s no reason to suspect he knows about it). When the subject of Nakagawa assistant-directing the live-action Attack on Titan was mentioned, however, the audience was instantly captivated.
There was a lot of fanfare about the Akira Ifukube 100th Anniversary Concert, a kickstarted campaign for a live performance of Ifukube’s music performed at the Pickwick theater. Reading the reactions across the internet, they’ve been overwhelmingly positive, from “amazing” to “life-changing” etc., and as such, I’m hesitant to dissent… however, I’m afraid I must say that, in our opinion, we were disappointed and that the concert was simply not a good experience. The first problem is that the Pickwick itself has fallen into disrepair: tiles on the floor are loose, paint is peeling from the walls, and a heavy aura of mold and dust permeates the air, triggering allergies and asthma in a lot of the patrons. The second gripe with the concert is the music selection: Ifukube was incredibly prolific, so focusing on only the scores from movies with Godzilla in them was reductive and repetitive. The last, and most damning problem, was the performance itself: the orchestra was frequently off-tempo and off-key, visibly not following the conductor (though that wouldn’t have necessarily fixed the issue). Neither of us is exactly an orchestra snob, and we recognize that $25 is pretty cheap for tickets (not counting the crowdfunding), but we left the theater feeling sort of embarrassed for them.
On the plus side, we were sitting right behind Don Frye, and as such got to inadvertently photobomb him a bunch.
The dealers’ room is always a good time at G-Fest, and it was great to shoot the breeze with regulars like Bob Eggleton and relative new faces like Timothy Price (I got his book Big In Japan, which has been entertaining thusfar). Likewise, the artists’ alley had some gems; the biggest hit of this year was a series of handmade Godzilla puppets from an artist whose name we missed (hopefully they make some more for the next con!). As always, the video room, model displays, and art room were a good way to kill time, though boredom was rare.
This convention is obviously a lot of work, and JD Lees and company deserve major props for pulling it off year after year. That said, here are a couple of suggestions that could make things even better.
- One thing I noticed this year was the relative lack of major genre film historians. I’ve previously always enjoyed academic presentations by August Ragone, David Kalat, Jörg Buttgereit, Damon Foster, and others, but nothing seemed to fill that spot this year. This is probably just a fluke this time around, though.
- Many interesting panels are scheduled concurrently, but very little happens after 5 PM on any given day. I imagine this may be to give everyone a breather, or maybe it’s part of the agreement with the hotel, but personally speaking I’d rather go later into the evening and not have to skip as much because of double-booking.
- The Pickwick, in a word, sucks. On one of my much earlier experiences at the con (maybe 1999 or 2000), movies were shown at the local multiplex instead, and it was a much better experience, both in terms of picture/sound quality and generally not having a revolting, run-down environment. I’m not sure why the Pickwick has become the default location, but there are definitely better options in Chicago.
In retrospect, they might have gone over some of this at opening ceremonies. We ducked in for a bit to hear about how they weren’t able to get any representatives from Legendary or Bandai, which might have also gone into the suggestion box.
For as much as this might have sounded like complaining, we did have a fun time overall, because, of course, at the core of things, it’s a bunch of amiable folks brought together by a passion for the tiny niche of Japanese monster movies. G-Fest is a unique, diverse, inclusive convention, and not to be missed by any kaiju fan with the means to attend. We’ll certainly plan on going again, as long as the con is around!