G-FEST (Godzilla Festival) is the quintessential celebration of Godzilla and all his fellow Kaiju (Japanese Monsters). I’ve been a fan of Godzilla and Gamera ever since I was a kid. Growing up in the 1970′s, it was via shows like Creature Features or The Son of Svengoolie to bring those movies to me. People who did not grow up with a horror host usually have a hard time understanding why some of us adult fans get so weepy with adulation at the mere mention of our childhood ghoul. Well, when you’re a “monster kid,” surrounded by more “normal” kids who want to play baseball or watch The Dukes of Hazard, the person faithfully delivering your favorite films becomes more than just a TV star, he becomes your idol…one of Godzilla proportions. In my case it also helped that I found my host’s corny humor hilarious and his less than stellar singing voice pitch perfect.
Just prior to Svengoolie’s first appearance at G-FEST (Godzilla Festival which we covered HERE), the National Horror Host who was tantamount in cultivating my own love of the Big G, agreed to an interview specifically geared to Japan’s greatest export…
G-FEST, the quintessential Godzilla event, is known for bringing rare and wonderful stars of the Japanese Kaiju genre to the unlikely venue of my sweet home, Chicago. This year was no exception with the return of Akira Takarada & also the original Ultraman, Bin Furuya. Before I delve into that, I feel like I should mention that while I have illustrated in previous posts much of what G-FEST has to offer, there is no way that I can truly convey its essence. Yes, like other fan-based conventions, it offers celebrities, dealer rooms, and eager fans. These are incidental, however, to what really makes it unique. For lack of better words, G-FEST has heart!
Behold some of the great Kaiju-inspired works of art on display in the G-FEST XIX Artist’s Gallery…
Without question, the MOST popular facet of G-FEST is the costume thread! Fans who spend the better part of the previous year creating their own Kaiju inspired costumes head to Chicago to each July to partake in one of the most unique contest contests around. This was my ninth G-FEST and it amazes me just how much its grown since I tried my hand at costume making and entered my own kids in the contest years ago.
When I say that it was a dream come true for National Horror Host, Svengoolie, to be a guest at the quintessential Godzilla event, G-FEST, I am really not kidding! I rediscovered that Sven was back on TV in 2003 and went to my first G-FEST in 2004 – wondering for the last 8 years why the two had never joined forces. After all, this was the Horror Host who helped cultivate my love of these films back in his “Son of Svengoolie” days. He’s also family & fan friendly, and there are few other events that capture that spirit like G-FEST does.
I have to confess that my favorite part of G-Fest is checking out the amazing models created by fans and put on display during the weekend. I had tried my hand at it a couple of years too but found out that I am better off sticking to writing as opposed to model-making. This stigma, however, is a personal issue, as ALL ages and skill levels are not only welcomed but encouraged here.
I was thrilled when I heard the news that Svengoolie will be appearing at this year’s G-FEST in Chicago! For those less savvy in the Godzilla world, “G-FEST” is short for Godzilla Festival and for fans of Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, or any other facet of Kaiju (Japanese giant monster) cinema, this is the event for which we revolve our calendar around. As a life long fan of Godzilla, I was happy when my 6 year old son, Alex, took to the Big G. We attended our first G-FEST in 2004 and I haven’t missed one since!
I woke up early on Saturday July 16th and tip-toed around, hoping not to wake the children. My fear was particularly centered around my youngest child, Luke, and that I’d not only wake him, but that he’d invariably ask where I was going. Although it’s not unusual for him to see me leaving early for work each day, the Godzilla shirt I was wearing would not only eliminate that as a possibility but probably give away my actual destination.
Since 2004 I have, without fail, taken my children to G-Fest (Godzilla Festival) in Chicago. My oldest son, Alex, was 6 years old at the time and was a devout fan of Godzilla (just like his old man) almost since he could talk. In fact, during his kindergarten parent/teacher conference, I recall his shocked teacher showing my wife and I a drawing of the “big G” my son had created along with a perfectly spelled, “I Love Godzilla” written beneath. When I discovered that there was not only an entire convention dedicated to The King of Monsters (as well as all his giant Japanese monster – kaiju -friends and foes) but that it also took place right here in Chicago, I knew that it was one event I could not afford to miss.
I had no idea, at the time, just how true this would prove itself to be. With the perfect combination of children’s activities along with serious forums catered to adult fans, G-Fest is the quintessential “family” convention. In fact, “family” is really a key word here as many of the same fans show up year after year, finally able to walk amongst their peers without feeling like an oddball.
After all the fun we’d end up having at our first G-Fest in 2004 (which celebrated Godzilla’s 50th birthday along with monster-sized birthday cakes to be shared amongst fans), there was never any question that as long as G-Fest returned, we would be there. In fact, in the Fuentes household, it would soon be G-Fest, and not Christmas, for which our children’s impatient lives would revolve.
To further enhance the experience, we would always try and get involved in the various fan activities provided; model making, kaiju poetry contest (for which Alex won first prize one year), and the costume contest. G-Fest is one event where the line between adult and child fans becomes nearly non existent as the home made creations of one stands prominently next to the other – regardless of ones level of skill.
Shortly after the last G-Fest, this blog-site was born, thus forever changing my approach to fan events (as explained in my recent piece regarding PJ Soles). Having recently attended DAYS OF THE DEAD, and with yet another large event (FRIGHT NIGHT) looming on the calendar, I was unable to spend the customary three days at G-Fest. Instead I decided to devote myself to one day – Saturday only – and to cover the event by myself as a reporter as opposed to participant. After all, I now have a responsibility to our readers to cover as many events as possible and the kids would never sit through all the tedious note-taking and interviewing that would be required of me. It was a decision that will, no doubt, forever haunt me….
I arrived early and, as I exited my van, heard the sounds of screaming along with the patter of running feet. I looked over my shoulder and saw a crowd of delirious G-Fans acting as if they were trying to escape the wrath of a rampaging behemoth. Of course this was the very point of the exercise as, last year, my kids represented a few of those same people. In 2010, G-Fest took their costuming thread to the next level by allowing fans to not only show off their costumes but lumber through a miniature city and duke it out for a fan film.
The kids played extras in that film and it was finally to be unveiled this year, just as today’s runners would be featured at the next. Thrilled that they were not only being directed to run but also to scream their heads off, the kids anxiously awaited the director to yell “Action!” Having not had my coffee yet, I decided that my talents would best be served standing across the street while taking pictures. Later we discovered that my daughter, Leia, should probably avoid a career in acting as the pictures revealed that she was clearly having the time of her life as opposed to running for it.
After registering, I had some time to kill before they would open up the dealer’s room, so I decided to sit in on a forum dedicated to kaiju music. This was something I was never able to fully enjoy when I brought along the kids. Sitting on a forum and listening to a bunch of adults hash out the the finer details of their fandom is, from a child’s perspective, no substitute for the numerous crafts and games offered in “Minya’s Place” nor the excitement of playing GODZILLA UNLEASHED with a group of their peers (who unlike the ones back home, actually know all the names of the monsters). I am not a musician but I have to say I found this one to be quite interesting (and I’ll be sharing highlights in a future posting). It soon made me recall the time I quietly watched Alex play with his toy kaijus while applying the appropriate “theme” music to each one.
Later I enjoyed perusing all the wonderful monster merchandise in the dealer’s room and paying a visit to Scary Monsters editor, Dennis Druktenis! Dennis was proudly speaking of his children which got me, once again, to start thinking about mine and how much Luke loved walking around the dealers room at G-Fest. I remembered the first time he entered the room - his eyes becoming as wide as Charlie Bucket’s when first gazing at the main room in Wonka’s chocolate factory.
My favorite aspect of this event is the model room and I am always so impressed with many of the talented entries that come in each year. The amount of skill and creativity really shines through and I believe I may have to post a future blog simply highlighting some examples. Just amazing!
On my way to the model room, I passed ”Minya’s Place.” This was, of course, a room that I’d spent a lot time in during past G-Fests. It’s where my son made me a “Gamera” utilizing green foam and tongue depressors. Although it has since lost one of its eyeballs, I still proudly hang it over my desk at work. This was also the room where my daughter, Jade, made herself a Mothra hat that could often be seen adorning her head the remainder of that particular summer. Yessiree, lots of amazing crafts & memories were made in this room. I gave it a very brief glance before happily moving past it.
The video gaming room and fan art gallery didn’t help much either (did they have to put the model room at the far end of this event, making me pass all these darn rooms!?). My boys consider themselves to be true champions of kaiju video gaming and I remember the look of pure pride that came across Luke’s face 2 years ago when, at four years old, he managed to conquer a 12 year old in the G-Fest game room while using one of his favored (and often dismissed) monsters, Baragon. This year the convention gods took pity on me by showcasing an amazing home-made pinball machine dedicated to Godzilla. This made it much easier to divert my attention away from the group of cheering kids – but not long enough to miss one that looked a bit like Luke.
FINALLY I arrived in the model room and immersed myself in the amazing sites. I was really allowing myself to enjoy the moment when I spied a smaller entry sitting innocently amid the larger and more elaborate ones. There sat a Godzilla inspired Pinewood Derby car that some child made for the climactic Cub Scout event that had, not doubt, taken place this past winter. While the design was original, I knew that the concept was not. In 2005, I remember working on a Godzilla inspired derby car with Alex, holding his little hands as we guided the paint brush over my cartoon sketch. Having spent more time on ascetics as opposed to functionality, the car managed to come in last at every race it was in. Alex didn’t care – in his eyes it was still the coolest car in the competition.
Thankfully, it wasn’t that long after this that my friends, the Count and Countess Gregula, arrived to provide suitable distraction. In fact, after DAYS OF THE DEAD (once again I direct your attention to the PJ Soles post) I am beginning to think that the Gregulas true calling in life is to prevent me from becoming despondent at fan events! Their presence did help a lot in that regard although even the most amusing conventioneer wasn’t going to keep me focused during G-Fest’s annual grand finale – the costume parade!
During this event I was inundated with a flood of memories at my various, and often disastrous, attempts at costume making. Particularly the time I took on the insurmountable task of making Alex into Mech-King Ghidorah! I spray-painted a bunch of foam water sticks to use as the necks which, upon applying some paper mache heads, soon became too heavy to stand up. Further adding to the dilemma, Alex became too hot while waiting for his turn to march that he promptly vomited all over it just as his name was called.
Gregula brought his video camera and, in an effort to amuse myself, I pretended to be narrating a kaiju “fashion show” during its duration. My “tears of a clown” strategy worked at least long enough to get through what would otherwise have been an unbearable experience. My intention was to leave right after but, just as my kids had in previous years, the car-less Gregulas managed to talk me into taking them to the movie featured late that night at the nearby Pickwick Theater. And, just as ALL my kids have done at EVERY Saturday night G-Film, managed to fall asleep before the film’s second act – leaving me to enjoy the movie alone.
At 1am I soon found myself driving back home and, after reaching a suitable safe distance from the event, allowed the tears to flow freely. I had left the kids behind in an effort to capture the essence of G-Fest and, in doing so, had managed to miss it entirely. I thought about Luke and the possibility that maybe when next years G-Fest rolls around he won’t be as interested as he is now. In which case I will have missed my last opportunity to see his young eyes glimmer at the sight of G-Fest’s kaleidoscope of all things Godzilla, along with that awestruck innocence that many of us adults lose as we invariably age. I don’t know whether I will be given another opportunity to make up for this terrible lack of judgement. I do know, however, that if you do see us next year, I will be enjoying the show as “Dad” as opposed to just one of the “Daves.”
It’s very rare these days to have a horror host present a giant monster movie. How ironic considering that many of us were introduced to the these films via weekend Creature Features and late night hosts. For the past ten years, however, the opportunity to see these films on commercial television has become few and far between. TOHO (the Japanese studio that owns Godzilla) has made the films less accessible – their legal team hungry and eager to feed. To me this is a terrible error on the studio’s part. By making them harder to acquire, they are blocking many potential new fans from the genre.
Needless to say, I was happily surprised when Chicago’s Svengoolie obtained the rights to air the 1961 TOHO classic, MOTHRA. Not only had he managed to procure a movie featuring one of TOHO’s greatest monsters, but also one of the rarer titles in their vast library. At the time Svengoolie first aired MOTHRA , it had not seen official DVD release while long since “out of print” in it’s VHS form (and this was even before the medium became obsolete).
Boasting a larger scale Mothra costume than subsequent entries (40 feet long), this movie contains one of the most detailed miniature sets ever used by the studio. Many folks assume that all Japanese monsters contained men in suits. Tonight’s Svengoolie, however, features the only Mothra that actually had a man inside (or, in this case, several men). For great details on Mothra and her many designs over the years, check out issue #82 of G-FAN Magazine.
Although MOTHRA is now available on DVD, I urge any Chicago fan to tune in tonight and watch. There’s lots of great Svengoolie touches which include this hilarious parody of the Three Dog Night hit, “Mama told me not to come’…..
During it’s first airing, Svengoolie even showed a picture of my kids meeting Harou Nakajima (man who played in the Godzilla suit from 1954-1972) at the 2007 G-Fest. Since my boys are big kaiju fans, it was an amazing thrill for them to share television time with Mothra herself.
Although we’ve watched it together before, we plan on doing it again tonight. Hopefully I’ll be joined by my fellow Chicago fans as well. Anyone outside the viewing area that wants a copy can email me at email@example.com. I do NOT charge for copies or even the blank disc – just ask that you either handle the shipping or trade for something else.
Back in the summer of 2007, a very successful viral campaign showing a teaser trailer for a film called CLOVERFIELD swept the Internet. It threw hard core Japanese monster fans into a frenzy anticipating the possibility that Godzilla, who was in cinematic retirement, might finally be making his illustrious return.
This was not to be the case, although the film’s creator, J.J. Abrams, was inspired by Godzilla during a visit to a Japanese toy store. While his son ogled the various Godzilla merchandise for sale, Abrams decided to set out and develop a giant monster Americans could call their own.
When the movie finally made its debut, most of the Godzilla crowd was less than impressed. This movie was nothing like a Godzilla film despite its influences and, although having the presence of a giant monster, displayed few elements of the Japanese Kaiju genre.
The movie is filmed with the same P.O.V. style used with great success in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and the Spanish horror film, REC (along with its less effective American clone, QUARANTINE). A camcorder, used to capture a “going away party” for a twenty-something year old moving from New York to Japan, ends up documenting the rampage of a mysterious creature and the chaos it creates. While the lead character searches for his missing love, he and his friends must dodge the monster, the military, and some hideous parasites that had hosted on the creature.
While I didn’t feel this movie was anything like a Godzilla film, it still struck a chord with me. It wasn’t until I attended a forum at the next G-Fest (Godzilla Festival) in Chicago that I understood why.
Before Godzilla became the campy “anti-hero” of the 1960′s and 70′s, he was a very different creature. Created out of Japan’s fear of the atomic age, GOJIRA made his debut in 1954 and was a huge success in its native land. Japan was the only nation that knew exactly what it meant to get hit with atomic power and there is tremendous emphasis on the destruction caused by this man-made “force of nature.” This was much more an element in GOJIRA than the typical giant monster movies playing in the US during this time. To the Japanese, this was far more than a mere drive-in, popcorn thriller. In many ways, it psychologically helped them work through what had actually happened to them as a nation.
With that in mind, I can not sit through a viewing of CLOVERFIELD without being reminded of the news and footage this country witnessed on September 11, 2001. I feel that the destruction, the confusion, and mass exodus from New York City depicted in this film, captures that event better than any movie made directly on the subject.
As stated by one of the G-Fest panelists, “Gone are the days when an American viewer can accept a giant monster toppling a building in three easy pieces, with little to no dust or debris. Americans now know exactly what a skyscraper looks like when it comes down and this film gives the viewer an idea of the chaos that erupted during that fateful day.”
Godzilla was in no danger of losing his title as “The King of Monsters” so far as that crowd was concerned and, in that regard, I am in total agreement with my G-FAN brothers and sisters. Godzilla has become so ingrained in our popular culture that he is as much ours as he is Japan’s. Even the suffix “zilla” has made its way into the American lexicon as something “great and terrible.” Shows like “Bridezillas” or the discovery of an overgrown, hybrid boar in Georgia, immediately named “Hogzilla” illustrate this.
No, my friends, CLOVERFIELD is definitely not our Godzilla. But he might, however, have been our GOJIRA.