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The Last Video Store in the Bronx

4 Sep

On May 27 of this year, my local video store, a branch of the once-thriving FYE (For Your Entertainment) chain, closed its doors for good. Construction began immediately on the site for a new business and just last week it opened, giving our neighborhood for the first time (shudder!), a Starbucks. I had been a regular customer of FYE for 15 years, starting in 2002 when it replaced a previous video franchise on the site, Coconuts, from which I only have one record of a purchase, in August 1999, of three VHS tapes—a Jackie Chan movie and two Godzilla movies, all dubbed in English. I’m sure I must have purchased more there, but I hadn’t noted down any others. I can’t prove there are no more family video stores left in the Bronx (as opposed to those in the X-rated business), but I’m betting this FYE was the last one. (There aren’t many video stores left in Manhattan either.) I used to go to a FYE in Manhattan, but I don’t remember where it was or when it closed. According to a news story on the Bronx FYE closing, there is still one branch open in Queens.

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Japan Journal, Part 9: Sentai Locations

14 Jul

The Power Rangers franchise gets its action footage from the Toei Studio’s long-running series of sentai (superhero team) programs, which began in 1975 with “Goranger” and continue right up to this year’s “Uchu Sentai Kyuranger.” What I’ve always liked about the sentai shows was their frequent use of Tokyo locations at which to stage the many action scenes. It gives the far-fetched proceedings some kind of anchor in the real world. (Many of these shots turned up in the American version.) Some of them are well-known locations and many are documented on a website called Neo Kerberos Universe: The Real Tokusatsu and Sentai Universe. As I was planning my Japan trip in 2016, I watched a lot of sentai episodes and looked up their locations on this site, with the hopes of visiting some of the most oft-used places.

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Power Rangers – 24 Seasons and Counting

23 Mar

Since the new big-budget Hollywood Power Rangers movie opens in theaters this Friday (March 24), I thought it would be a good time to celebrate the long-running TV franchise on which it’s based, especially since the 2015 and 2016 seasons, “Dino Charge” and “Dino Super Charge,” were among the best in the series yet. The first Power Rangers series, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” premiered on local TV stations in the U.S. on August 28, 1993 and the franchise has continued with new seasons every year since. The most recent season, “Power Rangers Ninja Steel,” premiered on Nickelodeon on January 22 of this year and is currently up to episode #8.

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Japan Journal, Part 6: Toei Kyoto Studio Park

15 May

One of the absolute highlights of my trip to Japan was the visit to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, in Kyoto, on Wed. March 30, 2016. This is a combination theme park, museum, and studio run by the Toei Company, one of the leading film, TV and animation studios in Japan. Since 1950, Toei has been turning out a steady array of Japanese pop culture staples, including samurai and yakuza movies, martial arts films, superhero TV shows, animated sci-fi and all sorts of other time-honored Japanese genres. The Toei Kyoto Studio Park offers a samurai village backlot that visitors can explore to their heart’s desire, as well as a visitors center filled with galleries devoted to Toei’s 60-year animation output, live-action tokusatsu and sentai TV series, Japanese film history in general, and the singer Hibari Misora. The backlot is in active use as a set for Toei TV shows, plenty of which I’ve seen, and I will share images from shows that were filmed there. It was an immersion in Japanese pop culture history like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

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40 Years of Sentai: Japanese Costumed Superhero Teams

5 Apr

Forty years ago today, on April 5, 1975, a series called “Goranger” premiered on the TV Asahi network in Japan. The full Japanese title of the show is “Himitsu Sentai Gorenja,” translated literally into English as “Secret Squadron FiveRangers.” It was the first in a long franchise devoted to the concept of a team of five people (usually four men and one woman) in color-coded costumes that bestow certain powers and skills on them so they can work together to defeat monstrous enemies either based on Earth or from other planets (or dimensions) who attack Japan and wreak havoc on, usually, Tokyo. Sentai is the general term for this franchise, although Super Sentai is technically the more accurate term for the seasons that began in 1979 since Super Sentai refers to a sentai series with mecha (mechanical vehicles, usually human- or animal-shaped) used by the heroes. (I’m just going to refer to the entire franchise as sentai, non-italicized, in the rest of this piece.) Sentai series are best known in the U.S. for their American version, Power Rangers, which has been on the air since 1993. (The picture on top is from “Denjiman,” the 1980 sentai season, which I’ve reviewed here on IMDB.)

Sentai shows are part of the broader Japanese genre of tokusatsu, meaning live-action special effects programs, usually in the sci-fi or fantasy genres. Famous tokusatsu programs include the Ultraman and Kamen Rider franchises and “Giant Robo” (aka “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot”). I covered some of these shows in Ultraman Heaven, my entry from December 15, 2014, and Classic Japanese TV  from March 16, 2014.

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Classic Japanese TV

16 Mar

Two of my last three entries were devoted to classic American TV shows, which means I’ve been neglecting one of my main interests—classic Japanese TV shows! There has been so much good stuff coming out on DVD in the last few years, both animated and live-action, that I’ve been building up an impossible backlog of shows. The big difference between my interests in classic American TV and Japanese TV is that the Japanese continue to turn out shows that engage me, so that the backlog includes shows from the 1960s to the 2010s! (My most recent American TV box set is probably “Police Story” Season One, from 1973!) The earliest Japanese TV show I have is the animated “Astro Boy,” which began its run in 1963, and the earliest live-action Japanese TV show I have is “Ultra Q,” which began its run in 1966. The latest in my collection is Volume 1 of “Ressha Sentai ToQger,” the latest sentai show in Japan, which began its run on Feb. 16 of this year, a month ago today! (More on sentai in a moment.)  In between, I have dozens of shows, some complete and some in only a single volume of episodes, some on VHS, many on DVD, mostly animated, but many live-action as well. Most of the live-action shows in my collection fall into the tokusatsu category, a term for live-action special effects shows in the vein of “Ultraman” and “Kamen Rider.”

Ultraman (1966)

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