Chicago Shimpo
Akira Takarada Returns to G-FEST
to Celebrate 65th Anniversary of Birth of Godzilla

The Godzilla fans’ annual gathering, the 26th “G-FEST,” was held from July 12 to 14 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, attracting Godzilla fans of all ages from all over the world.

This year the convention invited actors Akira Takarada and Peggy Neal, new Gamera series Director Shusuke Kaneko, Godzilla and Ultraman series director Yoshikazu Ishii, and diorama modeler Takuji Yamada as guests of honor.

Veteran actor Takarada is known for starring in the first Godzilla movie. Neal was cast for “Terror beneath the Sea” and “The X from Outer Space” while she was studying at Sophia University in Tokyo during the 1960s.

In celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Godzilla franchise (the first Godzilla film, “Godzilla,” was released in Japan in 1954), this year’s convention also featured a tea ceremony, using the Godzilla-shaped tea kettle made by sculptor Len Makabe and served by his wife, tea ceremony master Sorin Makabe.

The three-day weekend was filled with a rich selection of events, including presentations, talks and Q&A sessions with the guests of honor, lectures on kaiju and other monster movies, hands-on workshops, games, costume parade, monster movie screenings and more.

G-FEST was initiated by a “longtime Godzilla fanatic” J.D. Lees, a Canadian high school teacher.
Lees began publishing a newsletter, G-FAN, for his peers in 1993, which subsequently caught fire among Godzilla fans worldwide.

The first face-to-face meeting of G-FAN friends was held outside Chicago in 1994, attended by about 20 people. Since then the convention has met annually in the Chicago suburb, for the convenience of the attending fans from all over the world, with its prime access to the O’Hare International Airport.

In the official program book of this year’s G-FEST, Lees recalls when he put together the first G-FEST program – “I don’t remember how many there were, perhaps a few hundred” – and rejoiced that the event has grown so much over the years “to the point that more than 3,000 programs are now required.”

What’s not changed over the years is “a great feeling of connection and camaraderie” among the fans, who share a “common fascination with Godzilla and his kaiju kin” that unites them into a fandom family. And that’s an aspect of G-FEST that doesn’t exist at similar gatherings, writes Lees.

Takarada is instrumental in linking G-FEST and Toho Co., Ltd., the creator and owner of the Godzilla franchise. He has helped arrange G-FEST fans tours to Toho Studios, while attending G-FEST as a guest of honor and introducing other Godzilla film casts to the fans.

Takarada Talks about War, the Message behind
the Original Godzilla Movie

• Takarada, who missed last year’s convention, appeared in front of the cheering audience who long awaited the return of this “Godfather of G-FEST.”
• During his talk, Takarada impressed the audience with the atrocity and devastation of war and the anti-nuclear warfare message that was behind the original Godzilla film of 1954 but “lost” subsequently.

• Takarada spent his childhood in Manchuria during World War II.
• His father was an engineer with the South Manchuria Railway and his two brothers were drafted for the war. Within a week from debacle of Manchuria country in August, 1945, the Russian army occupied the town of Harbin in Manchuria and schools and public facilities were shut down. As the Japanese families in Manchuria fell into hardship, Takarada worked as a shoeshine boy and then sold cigarettes to help his family survive.

• When he was 11, he was shot by a Soviet soldier in the stomach when he was looking for his brothers among the Japanese soldiers on the train on their way to Siberia as prisoners.
• There were no operating hospitals around. A former Japanese army doctor worked on Takarada’s wound with a sewing scissors and took out the bullet in his stomach. There was no anesthetic and Takarada screamed from the pain while tied down to a bed.
• The bullet the doctor removed from him was the lead bullet that had been condemned internationally.
• Takarada’s wound would remain infected and not stop bleeding for months afterward. He can still tell the change of weather in advance by the feel of the wound, he said.

• Takarada and his family returned to Japan two years after the war had ended. Their hardship continued in Japan. He attended school part-time to help the family’s finance.
• This childhood experience taught him an ingrained lesson that a war forces sacrifice on private citizens without reason or choice.
• “Because of this boyhood experience, I still carry a strong hatred of war which, I believe, originated during the wartime,” he said.

• After joining Toho in 1953 as one of that year’s young hopefuls, Takarada was cast as the starring role in the original Godzilla movie.

• The first of the Godzilla franchise brought an audience of 9.61 million people to the theater – more than 11% of the entire population of Japan at that time. That’s a record that hasn’t been broken to this day, according to Takarada.
• “Thanks to fans like you, who love the original Godzilla, Godzilla movies have been made in this country,” he said, and went on to talk about the message represented by the original Godzilla.

• “Unfortunately, the [1956] film you have seen [“Godzilla, the King of Monsters,” the overseas version of the 1954 “Godzilla”] was the version that had been revised for the American audience, with the anti-nuclear message removed or changed,” explained Takarada.
• Japan is the only nation in the world that had been hit by nuclear bombs, and that’s why the original Godzilla was made as a clear warning against the use of nuclear weapons, he continued.
• “I really want you to understand that,” Takarada stressed.

• It was only 14-15 years ago that the unchanged version of the 1954 Godzilla film was finally shown in 20 cities in the U.S., providing the first opportunity for the American audience to see what was originally intended.
• “Godzilla couldn’t remain a simple monster movie; please know that anti-nuclear was the original Godzilla’s most basic production principle,” Takarada told the audience.
• He added that he cherishes this movie as a peace-loving human being.
• “As I’m sure you all know, weapons that vaporize 150,000 people to charcoal in a flash must not be used again,” Takarada concluded.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe by Shusuke Kaneko

• Shusuke Kaneko directed the film “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” in 1995 to bring back one of the most memorable monsters in Japan’s kaiju movies.
• Kaneko initially offered to direct the film “Godzilla vs. Mothra” (1992), but the studio had already chosen Takao Okawara as the director. Three years later, Kaneko was offered to direct “Gamera” by Daiei.
• Talking about directing “Gamera,” Kaneko recalled that the scenario by Kazunori Ito captured his imagination, despite the low budget and tight schedule of the production. Furthermore, Daiei Studios’ marketing department wanted it to be a kids’ movie.
• Kaneko stuck to the original scenario, persuading the studio by saying a children’s champion is also the champion for the human race.
• The shooting began, with Shinji Higuchi, who hit the big screen success with “Shin Godzilla” in 2016, as the tokusatsu (special effects) director.

• Kaneko shared that he had trouble securing the Self Defense Forces’ cooperation in shooting “Gamera,” because the SDF had been criticized for attacking Mothra in the film “Godzilla vs. Mothra.”
• After Kaneko and his staff promised the SDF that the movie would correctly reflect its principle of “cannot attack unless attacked,” they secured the SDF cooperation for free.

• Thus produced, “Gamera” was a story for adults, pursuing reality as much as possible.
• “The preceding Godzilla series had been made on the monster-to-monster viewpoint. Then ‘Gamera’ made it more realistic by bringing in the human perspective to the fullest,” Kaneko said.

Godzilla Tea Kettle

• The tea kettle created by sculptor Len Makabe weighs 32 kilograms, including the 2-kilogram lid shaped like Godzilla’s head.
• Makabe spent five months to make it, using iron plates welded over the Godzilla-shaped iron frame. It’s the same method that’s been used to make the Statue of Liberty.
• Makabe had a connection with Toho that began in the mid-1980s, when he had done some work for the Tokyo Disneyland. In 1985, he joined the production of the Japan-China-North Korea joint monster movie “Pulgasari” as a plastic art staff.
• “I grew up watching the Godzilla movies, and always wanted to make a monster movie like that. That’s why I kept a tie with Toho. It’s such an unusual twist of fate to make a Godzilla with iron,” explained Makabe.
• “Mr. Takarada thought it [the idea of Godzilla-shaped tea kettle] would be interesting [for G-FEST] and he helped bring the tea ceremony to reality.”

• Makabe’s wife Sorin, an outgoing tea master in a uniquely-designed kimono, served green tea using the Godzilla tea kettle.
• “This is not a usual tea ceremony at the Omotesenke School; the most important thing is to have the people enjoy the Godzilla tea kettle. We brought Japanese sweets and special green tea powder from Japan, so it’ll be a treat for the guests as well,” Sorin said.

• The Godzilla tea kettle has a price tag of $100,000.
• “It’s a little bit on the low side, but I’d be happy if [it goes to] anyone who loves and treasures it,” Makabe said.

A Godzilla fan roams around the hall of g-Fest venue.

Akira Takarada, known for starring in the first Godzilla movie in 1954, speaks about misery of the aftermath of WWII based on his own experiences and reminds Godzilla fans of the message behind the Original Godzilla Movie.

Godzilla fans listen to talks of Akira Takarada at 2019 G-FEST.

Shusuke Kaneko, Director of the film “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” in 1995.

Sorin Makabe, Omotesenke tea master, serves a bowl of tea for each visitor.

Sculptor Len Makabe and his Gdzilla tea kettle