Once again fans of Godzilla and giant Japanese monsters converged on the Crowne Plaza hotel in Rosemont, Illinois to celebrate G-FEST (Godzilla Festival). This marked its twenty-second gathering and my twelfth in a row as what started out as a fun event to take my Godzilla-obsessed six year old son, Alex, to had since become a family tradition. My last three kids would follow in Alex’s footsteps and over the years we’d partake in just about everything the convention had to offer; art contests, kaiju poetry, costuming, model-making, and the film festivals playing at the nearby Pickwick Theater.
This year I was joined by my last remaining “G” fan and youngest child, Luke. The others, now teenagers, have long since strayed from their kaiju interests though I’m hoping they’ll be reactivated when their memories of G-FEST morph into nostalgia. Only time will tell but, if it does, I sure hope I’m still around to enjoy it with them. Their absence at these events can be overwhelming, making it a challenge for a sappy old dad like me to get through one without getting emotional. Last year I did a great job staying dry-eyed until I saw some kid who looked just like a young Alex running around with his King Ghidorah Bandai figure while mimicking the monster’s iconic “bell” sounds. This is something I’m convinced only young Godzilla fans know how to do and one Alex even won an award for during a G-FEST “Kaiju Call” contest some years back. So basically I managed to go all of three hours before bawling.
This year I was asked to assist the event’s AV man, Andy Steele. Andy’s there, year after year, and always so busy making sure every panel presentation goes without a hitch (including mine three years back on “Horror Hosts and Godzilla”) that he rarely gets to see any of the other great features G-FEST has to offer. Now I should let it be known that I am NO expert at sound equipment, and was basically just there to stand by and make sure the microphones were on and the volume wasn’t too high or low. It was actually a really great set-up as Luke would want to spend most of his weekend in the video game room anyway and I was now a captive audience for many of the great panels from start to finish.
The first night featured G-FEST’s opening ceremony which consisted of a greeting from the event organizer, J.D. Lees, along with welcoming the celebrity guests. This year’s headliners were Millennium Godzilla series Director, Masaaki Tezuka (Godzilla vs Megaguirus, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.) and actor Noboru Kaneko (Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S).
In honor of the occasion, Jeff Horne (described in this year’s convention guide as “one of the linchpins in the G-FEST organization”) put together an amazing “Welcome” video that not only showed footage of all the guests’ work but also a clip honoring all the notable Godzilla celebrities and fans that had passed away the previous year. It was similar to the annual “Tribute” montage they play at The Academy Awards and prompted Tezuka to grab his handkerchief when it showed the late Godzilla veteran, Hiroshi Koizumi.
Kuizumi was a seasoned TOHO actor who not only starred in two of my favorite Showa series Godzilla films, Mothra vs Godzilla (1964) and Ghidrah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964) but also one of my most beloved TOHO films in general, Mantango (1963). Kuizumi passed away on May 31, 2015 at the age of 88.
Aside from acting in numerous Showa era films along with Godzilla’s first big comeback in what we Americans refer to as Godzilla 1985, he would return to the franchise one final time in 2003 for Tezuka’s Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. Obviously he’d made a positive impression on his director as indicated by Tezuka’s emotional reaction. “He was my friend,” he sobbed (as interpreted by G-FEST regular and cast member of 1991’s Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, Robert Scott Field) thus not only successfully launching this convention but my tear ducts as well. And just when I thought I’d make it the whole first day without crying! Also honored in the Memoriam was Koichi Kawakita, Anna Nakagawa and fans Joe Astalfa, Mel Hurley and Tom Dougherty of Clawmark Toys.
Both of the event’s top guests would be participating in a Q&A panel the next morning in the main Ballroom…which lucky for me was also the room I was working in. I walked in the next day promptly at 9am and saw that Andy was already there. I got Luke situated and grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. It wasn’t long before the room was full and the special guests had arrived.
Next Up…Masaaki Tezuka and the proper TOHO etiquette for accepting the reigns of a Godzilla movie!