That’s right dongers and she-dongers, I went to G-Fest earlier this month! “What’s G-Fest?!” I hear you sloppily sputter out in outraged confusion. Well, wipe the rage-saliva off your mouth and keyboard and phone and pots and pans and chairs and tables and electric screwdrivers and wigs and I’ll clue you in!
G-Fest is the biggest convention for kaiju fans in North America, and probably the whole damn world. It usually clocks in at about 1000 attendees, but last year brought in around 3000 starry-eyed monster nerds (monstnerds?), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this year did that well or better! I’ve got all the sick deets plus about a brazillion pictures after the jump!
So basically G-Fest is like a comic con or Star Trek convention, but instead of celebrating guys in spandex punching guys in evil spandex or William Shatner plowing green strange, it’s all about Godzillas and Ultramans. Instead of getting my picture taken with Asian Luke Skywalker or About-to-Poop Optimus Prime, I got my picture taken with Jet mother-fucking Jaguar! Twice.
Discussion panels, tons of merchandise, monster art on display and for sale, activities, general grab-assery, and best of all: monster movie screenings in a big, real-ass movie theater.
My favorite part of the whole convention might actually be the double-double feature they do the day before the actual event. The Pickwick Theater is a beautiful old-school movie palace, so it just existing intact is basically a miracle, nevermind the fact they run ridonculous old monster movies once a year.
This year’s double-double feature was themed! Big bug B-movies in the afternoon with a double whammy of Gammy for his 50th anniversary! Some quick thoughts on the flicks:
Them! 1954’s Them! is an atom-age classic, and sort of serves as the American sister movie to Japan’s Gojira which came out the same year. It doesn’t have the thematic weight or doomsday dread of its dinosaurian counterpart, but it makes up for it with brisk horror and more in-your-face monsters. Them! is a classic tale of giant ants and tiny bowties.
The Deadly Mantis This was my first time watching 1957’s mega mantis movie, and it mostly does a great job of reminding you why Them! is a classic. The monster actually looks great… when it’s on land. Once it takes to the air it looks like a flying rubber boner. Pile on some clunky plotting and old-fashioned sexism and this mantis just doesn’t have a prayer.
Gamera vs. Jiger This was probably my first full viewing of Daiei’s 1970 monster mashup. I’ve definitely caught bits of it, because how could I not catch at least part of the movie where two plucky kids have to give Gamera a kaijubortion? Yep, Jiger goes full xenomorph and mpregs a murder-baby into poor Gamera. It’s all the hilarious, insane kitsch you hope for with golden age Gamera.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe Guardian of the Universe is the first installment of director Shusuke Kaneko’s terrific trilogy of 90’s Gamera movies. It’s a favorite of mine, so it was great to see it on the big screen. The later entries in the trilogy have better special effects, but Guardian spends 90% of its screentime looking pretty fucking dope. It’s got a ton of heart and puts a really fresh, compelling spin on a classic character.
So this wasn’t my first Rodan-rodeo: my girlfriend and I went in 2013 and it was pretty sweet. But that first year I wanted to save a couple bucks so we stayed off-site at a different hotel, which meant we missed out on two awesome amenities: being able to just walk to the convention (and walk back to the room when we needed a break), and in-house G-Fest TV! We had fun that first year, but I knew deep down we missed out on the full experience. This year I ponied up the dough to make sure we did this shit right! Forget HBO, fucking Gappa was on when we got back to the room!
Other highlights on G-Fest TV include the awesome indie suitmation documentary Men in Suits, tons of Ultraman, an episode of the deliciously insane cartoon-suitmation hybrid The Space Giants, and the eerie, trippy, but oddly charming fantasy-horror-comedy Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare. I definitely got a Beetlejuice meets feudal Japan vibe from it, so I’ll have to give that a full viewing sometime soon.
The convention proper starts the day after the double-double feature, and you better believe I was prepared:
In addition to mapping out all the must-see events, I also conspired to do some
gorilla guerrilla marketing for the blog! In 2013 I only had the resources to scrawl “MINYA LIVES” in a couple random public places, and set it up as my 3DS Street Pass message. This year I dreamed big, and my girlfriend made it real… and then some. Here’s the design I made:
And here it is on business cards, stickers, and t-shirts!
We made sure to slap the stickers up wherever we could (without getting in trouble, we’re nerds, not Banksy). We even got called out on Tumblr!
And to give you an idea of how cool the crowd is at G-Fest is, not only did people recognize the design, but they’d stop to tell us how much they liked it! Out in “the world” we naturally got no such response.
Friday got off to a great start. (Sort of) bright and (sort of) early I peeled my corpse out of bed to rush downstairs and catch most of one of my favorite monster movies, Gamera vs. Guiron. That movie is a camp masterpiece on its own, but it gets even better when it’s shared in a room full of fans young and old. Excited whispers rippled through the room when Space Gyaos appeared. Laughs and gasps as Guiron mutiliated the silver space pterodactyl. A 10 year old kid behind us got more and more incredulous as the movie went on, eventually just letting out exasperated “WHAT?!”s periodically.
We also checked out G-pardy, a Godzilla-centric version of Jeopardy. Nobody claimed to have sex with the host’s mom (that we know of), but it was awesome to play along. Just seeing Godzilla stuff on a big Jeopardy board was a surreal treat. Here’s a clip from the second round: Two of the biggest draws of the convention are the dealer’s room and artist’s alley. They both specialize in selling all kinds of kaiju-related merchandise: new and vintage toys, t-shirts, DVDs, posters, original art, books, all the sorts of things you’d expect, but also a ton of delightfully weird shit like a Godzilla pizza cutter:
There’s always a ton of neat stuff available, but considering I already have a picture of Godzilla surfing on Gamera signed by the artist, framed and on the wall, there’s not a lot more that I really need.
Though I definitely left artist’s alley and the dealer’s room with some dope new knick-knacks, my best finds were intangible. I got to chit-chat with special G-Fest guest August Ragone. He’s one of the biggest names in chronicling kaiju, and just a fun, approachable dude that loves the same crazy shit that we do. I made sure to pick up his book about monster-maestro Eiji Tsubaraya, and guess what, it’s fucking great.
The big surprise was meeting C. Martin Croker, the artist and voice behind Zorak, Moltar, and like half the characters from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. As a huge fan of Space Ghost and Aqua Teens (and Adult Swim’s batshit crazy comedy in general) this blew my mind. Croker had a huge binder of production art that he had produced for both shows over the years, and was happy to give us a taste of his voicework, not to mention some cool behind the scenes anecdotes on the creation of so many hilarious characters. So yeah, it was pretty fucking cool to meet Zorak.
Friday ended with a trip back to the Pickwick Theater. First for Symphonic Fury, a live orchestra performance of classic kaiju movie scores. As a lover of movie music in general and monster movie music specifically, this was exciting in its own right, but even cooler was the presence of special guest Kow Otani. Otani composed scores for some of my all time favorite creature features: the phenomenal Gamera trilogy that came out in the 90s, and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. He also created the atmospheric and haunting score for Shadow of the Colossus, one of my favorite video games (surprise surprise, it’s also about giant monsters). This was the first time his music had ever been performed live anywhere, including Japan. He seemed legitimately thrilled about the whole event, and gave a big heartfelt thank you to everyone in attendance.
After Symphonic Fury, the Pickwick ran Godzilla vs. Biollante. I generally count Biollante as one of my favorite movies in the series, but this most recent viewing vividly highlighted just how uneven it is. The film bounces from genuinely terrific to good campy fun to incomprehensible and plodding. Biollante is one of my favorite creatures in the whole monster pantheon, but that script is bonkers, and only sometimes in a good way. The monster action is excellent though:
Saturday was packed with dopeness too. One of the other special guests was director Masaaki Tezuka, and he kicked off the day with a long interview panel. Tezuka directed a trio of Godzilla movies in the early 2000s: Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. Before those he also worked with Toho as an assistant and technical director.
To be honest, I almost skipped his panel, because straight up Megaguirus is my least favorite Godzilla movie (Mechagodzilla is solid and Tokyo S.O.S. is great though). I’m really glad I didn’t though, because he has just as much love for the franchise as us dorks, and a shit-ton of great behind-the-scenes stories. He told us about rising up through the ranks of the rigid Japanese studio system, fighting to write his own movies, breaking up brawls behind the camera, being told (not asked) by latter-day Godzilla effects guru Koichi Kawakita to drink with him on set, and more.
I also made sure to hit the panel about The Space Giants. Not because I had ever seen it or knew anything about it, but because I Googled the title and saw shit like this:
Big gold robo-man with headbanger hair? Sexy space broad? Kid in ridiculous panties and space helmet? A WIZARD?! A FUCKING WIZARD?!?! I had to know more. The Space Giants was dreamed up by Astro-Boy creator Osamu Tezuka who was such hot shit he’s often called the father of manga, the godfather of anime, and the Japanese Walt Disney. Space Giants actually beat Ultraman to the punch by about a week, but that didn’t stop Ultraman from blowing up into a global pop culture touchstone. Space Giants didn’t set the world on fire like Tsuburaya’s superhero, but it has its die-hard fans, and the show is set to get a blu-ray release sometime next year.
After that we hit the Gamera 50th anniversary panel. Plenty of awesome anecdotes there, like how the pissed-off, unpaid cast and crew trashed the Gamera vs. Zigra sets when the studio was going bankrupt. August Ragone also hinted at the possibility of a writing a Gamera book in the future, which would be cool.
After the Gam-jam we headed downstairs for “Spook Cinema Presents 8mm Monster Movie Mayhem.” Like The Space Giants panel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and went in just with a hunch that it would be cool. I was right!
Hosted by an old school 8mm maniac, it was essentially a crash-course on the lengths movie fans would go to watch their favorite flicks in a world before VCRs. He had a bunch of OG filmstrips, some silent and in black and white, others with tinny sound and wacky red-tinged “color”, but the best were ones that had to make weird changes to the source material because of technical limitations. We watched a clip from Invasion of Astro-Monster that swapped out the alien commander’s monotone baritone with a squeaky, high-pitched robo-voice, and which monster wins (or in some cases even bothers to show up) in Mothra vs. Godzilla fully depends on which 8mm you’re watching.
After that we headed back upstairs to catch the final round of G-pardy, and washed it all down with maybe the best part of the entire convention: the costume parade! Kids of all ages (but mostly actual kids) trot out their (mostly) homemade costumes, and it is super fun. Here are some highlights:
She was an early favorite of mine because she was so tiny and in such an insane suit that they had to wheel her out on a little cart first. Cutest space monster covered in chainsaws ever.
For every few awesome little Godzillas, there is some crazy deep-cut shit, like Jirass!
Or this kid who dressed up as the Oxygen Destroyer!
Of course Jirass wasn’t the last Ultra-monster we saw:
Maybe the deepest cut of all was Maguma! Maguma is the walrus kaiju from Gorath, a disaster movie where humanity must stop the Earth from crashing into a rogue planet… by putting giant booster rockets on Earth to move it out of the way.
Why is Maguma such a deep-cut? Because he’s only in one scene! And only in the Japanese version! Kid did the homework! (or their parents did)
Nova’s a great example of my kaiju ID hypothesis. Basically, if I don’t recognize a monster, it is more than likely from Ultraman. Double the likelihood if it’s insane and/or hilarious looking. With this in mind, you can quickly deduce (correctly) that DINOSAUR TANK is an Ultraman monster.
There was also a mysterious post-parade monster!
Raki here is one of the first monsters to disprove my “when in doubt, Ultraman!” hypothesis, and necessitate the addendum, “If it’s not Ultraman, it’s probably a fan creation.” Though if Google is any indication, this monster might be a big fan of Turkey’s national drink, a strong alcohol by the same name.
After the parade wrapped up we deliberated on our next move. We could trek back out to the Pickwick to watch Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, but, for real man, it’s my least favorite one, and over the last two days we’d seen five giant monster movies in the theater. After indulging in days of kaiju kraziness, we both decided to step out and enjoy the city, and just kind of unwind and reflect.
As we drank and goofed around, we came to the conclusion that it’s the people that make G-Fest so cool. G-Fest is the only sci-fi/fantasy convention I’ve ever been to, so this might be true of all similar geek-offs, but at G-Fest everybody is so fun and friendly and just gleefully celebrating this crazy fiction we all dig on. You definitely get the vibe that this is an event where people can fully cut loose and be their whole selves. Myself included. Depending on who asked me what I was doing the weekend of the 10th, there was a good chance I’d simply say “I’m heading out to Chicago for a few days.” I wasn’t embarrassed to say I was going to G-Fest, but over the years I’ve seen people’s eyes glaze over when I mention kaiju movies and how much I love them.
G-Fest naturally is the differentest story imaginable. Case in point, day one in the Pickwick. We get in the theater early, waiting for Them! to start up. A young dude plops down in the row behind us, and maybe after a minute’s hesitation he starts yakking with us. He threw out some hilariously apropos ice-breakers, my favorite being who we thought would win an a fight: the aliens from War of the Worlds, or the aliens from Independence Day.
We chit-chatted between each movie, shared thoughts and laughs about each one, and generally had a shit-ton of fun. His name is Roberto, and we ended up running into him throughout the convention. Every time we bumped into him, we got a few minutes to catch up and joke around before running off to the next thing. I think the world would be a better place if we had a few more Robertos in it, but until then we can thank G-Fest for getting a couple thousand Robertos together in one place and riled up about Godzilla movies.