Cycling The Godzilla Tokyo Trail…In One Day!

Following on from my Wolverine cycling trip, and with not too many other themed cycling ideas coming forth, I began to think about other filming location based rides. There was a clear winner which stamped all over the rest like no other and with the 2014 incarnation (directed by Gareth Edwards) finally getting released over here, it seemed like the timing was ideal for a Godzilla tour of Tokyo.

On the day of it’s long awaited release in Japan (July 25th); two months after the rest of the world got to see it, I decided to cycle round a mix of Gojira-themed statues, shops and filming locations amid scorching temperatures that reached 34 degrees celsius! Having left the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Shinjuku-ku at 6:45 am the first destination was the National Diet Building (1-7-1 Nagata-cho) but it took me longer than expected to get there as I missed the turn-off and ended up in Akihabara! It wouldn’t be the last time I got lost and this was mainly due to a mix of having poor sense of direction and not wanting to use my phone as the Runkeeper App drains the battery enough on its own without me checking other things on it! Even though it was only 7:30 am the heat was pretty intense and I was dripping with sweat as I lined up the camera for the first shot of the day at the home of the national parliament of Japan.

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The next few locations were ticked off pretty quickly but not quite as fast as Godzilla ripped through them all in the 1954 original! The tiny Godzilla statue (1-2-2 Yurakucho) has been no stranger to my cycling tours over the years and it didn’t take too long to find it next to First Kitchen and in front of the Toho Hibiya Building, a 77-metre highrise built in 1987 that has served as the headquarters of Toho Co., Ltd since 2005.

Round the corner from there is New Marion Building (2-5-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku).  This building houses some movie theatres inside and it gets smashed up on 61 minutes.

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Wako Department store (4-5-11 Ginza) is not too much further on down the road and its clock was ripped off by Godzilla on 59 minutes during his nighttime rampage.

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On 59 minutes Matsuzukaya Department Store (6-10-1 Ginza) is torched and it appears that the monster lizard might have done likewise yet again as in its place is just a load of rubble which was a big shame and confused me for a while as I wasn’t certain that it was the correct address. The store first opened in 1924 but it seems that it closed a year ago to undergo a four-year modernisation. Below are the pictures showing it then and now.

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Next up was Kachidoki Bridge (63 mins) which stretches across Sumidagawa River and is destroyed by the beast during his 15 minutes of terror before returning to the ocean.

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Tokyo Tower (4-2-8 Shiba Koen, Minato-ku) has felt the brunt of many kaiju battles over the years. As for Gojira film appearances, it was the ‘Godzilla: Final Wars‘ (2004) movie where it somehow managed to survive a big explosion quite well while the rest of Tokyo was nothing but a sea of crumbling, burning ruins. For once I got lucky with my instincts in getting from A to B on this one.

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I made a brieft stop at Hard Rock Cafe in Roppongi en-route to my next location, though not to eat! Whilst researching this project I surfed the net to see where there were King Kong statues in Tokyo and it came up with a few but I didn’t have too much luck as I couldn’t find the one I’ve seen in Ginza before and the one outside this American-style hamburger joint was no more! Still time for the colossal gorilla-like star of ‘King Kong vs. Godzilla‘ (1962) to make an appearance on this cycling adventure though!

Absolutely no-one was at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi when I got there which was nice and quite different to the previous week when I visited it on my return from Gojira-koen in Yokosuka though that was probably due to it being early (09:15) in the morning! There will be an evening light show every 30 minutes from 6 pm onwards until August 21st  featuring smoke and roaring noises coming from the 6.6 metre high model figure.

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Having come out of the water at Tokyo Bay Godzilla promptly destroyed Shinagawa Station on 43 mins. Quite incredible to think it was still only 10am when I arrived at this station following a three mile ride from the previous locale where sweat running into my eyes became something of a problem. I even had to stop a couple of times as the stinging sensation meant it was too dangerous to continue cycling.

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Monster Japan USA Toy shop in Ebisu is not exactly stocked with too many Godzilla products but there were a few amid the many, many Star Wars, Spiderman, Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles goods. There were also a few posters for the new film on the stairs leading up to the shop and the fact that it’s called ‘Monster’ warrants its deserved place on this route! Eagle-eyed readers may notice that its closed in my picture (opening hours are 12:30 till 20:30) but I regularly visit the shop when I work in Ebisu which is when I took the picture of the product below.

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On to Shibuya after that to take the road leading to Sangenjaya where I made a brief stop in the Taishido 5-chome area to photography the giant King Kong which hangs above the Family Mart convenience store. King Kong featured in the aforementioned 1962 movie which saw the two legendary monster’s of Godzilla and King Kong face-off against each other in full-on colour action.

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After that it was the longest ride as I made my way down Setagaya-dori going past many stations I’ve never heard of on the Tokyu Setagaya and Keio lines! Once I’d found one station on the latter it was quite straight-forward (literally!) just following the tracks until I ended up at Seijogakuenmae. Since I first visited Toho Studios  back in November 2010 the Toho Studios (1-4-1 Seijo, Setagaya-ku) have added a huge Godzilla portrait on to the side of one of its buildings which was a most welcome bonus sight for me. There’s a six foot tall Godzilla statue just in front of the reception window at the studios.

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I guess I should mention that miniature sets were used to replicate Tokyo city whilst a man wore a rubber suit and stomped all over the three metre high set-pieces. That was of course all done in these studios which are Japan’s largest and most famous film studios famed for making TV programmes and films such as the ‘Seven Samurai‘ (1954); one of the greatest and most influential Japanese films ever!

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Seijo to Koenji pretty much rounded things off and was by far the worst part of the journey as I got lost once and was naturally very tired and just wanted it to all be over and done with! Shops don’t like to open too early in Tokyo (but they sure stay open till late!) so when I eventually got to my final destination I was a little disappointed to find that Gojira-ya (Koenji Minami 3-67-1) still wasn’t open at 1:15 pm! Luckily, I had been in Koenji the weekend before and had searched out the place. It’s on the opposite side of the tracks to the Star Wars shop meaning it’s on the south side where it can be found beneath the tracks.

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I still had to cycle another 3.5 miles from Koenji to get back home and recover. I was way too exhausted to actually go and see the new Godzilla film yesterday evening but I will go and see it very soon and a review will be slotted in here once I’ve done that!

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Distance: 82.8 km   Time: 6.43 hrs   Calories Burned: 2753

You can read my review of ‘Godzilla‘ (1954) here.

You can see my other themed cycling adventures by clicking here.

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On Screen #5 – Thailand

This south-east Asian country has long been used in films but more often that not its just been used to replicate other Asian countries, particularly Vietnam, as was revealed in On Screen #1. This series though focuses primarily on how each country is portrayed on screen whether it be real or faked.

The readily available mix of exotic jungles, beautiful beach settings, elephants, low production costs and relatively experienced film crew members make Thailand an attractive proposition for foreign production companies.

Possibly the most famous time when Thailand played itself on the big screen was for the Danny Boyle adaptation of the classic (albeit a little over-rated in my opinion) Alex Garland book ‘The Beach‘ (2000). Leonardo DiCaprio and co were filmed at Khao Yai National Park, Krabi and of course Maya Bay in Phuket which was the secret beach. More details of the exact locations can be seen here.

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Over his 50 years in cinema, James Bond has gone round the world taking in a vast array of places and of course that has included Thailand albeit on quite a small scale. Ratchdamnoen Boxing Stadium, Muang Boran and the Mandarin Hotel in Bangkok featured in the ninth film in the 007 series; ‘The Man With The Golden Gun‘ (1979), which starred Roger Moore and Britt Ekland. More famously Khao Ping Gan a.k.a. James Bond Island was used as Scaramanga’s lair.

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The Bridge On The River Kwai‘ (1957) starring Obi-Wan Kenobi, erm, I mean Alec Guinness may be all about the building of the bridge in Katchanburi area but in reality it was filmed in Sri Lanka and the contraption seen on screen is far more impressive than the actual bridge in Thailand.

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Far more recently ‘Only God Forgives‘ (2013) features plenty of Thailand in this dark tale of murder and vengeance featuring Ryan Gosling as a man who runs a Thai boxing club as a disguise for a drug business but when his brother murders a prostitute and is thus killed a series of further killings take place in Bangkok.

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Technically ‘The Railway Man‘ was also a 2013 movie due to it debuting at some film festivals not that it really got its worldwide release till this year. Based on Eric Lomax’s novel of the same name, Colin Firth plays a former British Army officer, who was tormented as a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during WW II. That camp was filmed at Ipswich in Queensland, Australia. On discovering that the young Japanese officer who haunted him is still alive Eric travels to Thailand to confront his tormentor. This is when Thailand for real is seen with Bangsue train yard in Bangkok used for scenes where thousands of Allied prisoners were forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. The Death Railway and the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery were used for brief shots.

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Of course, Thailand has been a popular destination for western productions over the years and other films of note to have been shot there include ‘The Big Boss‘ (1971), ‘Duel Of Fists‘ (1971), ‘Year Of The Dragon‘ (1985), ‘Kickboxer‘ (1989) and ‘Alexander‘ (2004).  ‘American Gangster‘ (2007) has a few scenes in “Bangkok” which in reality were shot in Chiang Mai with drug lord Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) smuggling heroin in the late 1960’s via the coffins of seven American Vietnam War soldiers.

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I can’t say that I was too taken in by ‘The Hangover‘ when it came out in 2009. I thought it was ok but couldn’t understand why so many people loved it and sadly that affection resulted in its 2011 sequel (not to mention a third one last year!) which saw the guys going to Thailand for a wedding.

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Another sequel to arrive in Thailand was ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason‘ (2004) which featured some romantic sea cruising which was shot at the 200-year-old Muslim village on stilts at Ko Panyee in Phang Nga Bay. Nai Yang Beach and Phuket Airport were also used for some scenes. The crew built a Thai-style restaurant from scratch for the scene where Bridget was momentarily swept away during a romantic dinner with Daniel Cleaver.

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The Impossible‘ (2012) deals with a British family’s story about the ordeal they suffered during the terrible 2004 tsunami which hit Phuket. This film emphasises a feel good plot within the the context of mass devastation. It was filmed in part in Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak but most of it was shot in Alicante, Spain.

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At the end of the day though, filming on location in Thailand isn’t always so easy due to a variety of reasons and one such example of that is ‘Anna & The King‘ (1999) which, due to the protests of historical inaccuracy from the Thai Film Board, had to be filmed in Malaysia. Protracted negotiations and rewrites resulted in 20th Century Fox finally moving the production, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat, to the likes of Penang (Bangkok harbour and some street scenes), Ipoh, Perak, Parit, Papan, Langkawi and Selangor. Many, many decades before that ‘Anna & The King Of Siam’ (1946) and ‘The King & I‘ (1946) were banned from filming in Thailand for the same reasons and so alternative locations were found.

You can see previous On Screen articles by clicking on the links below:

On Screen #1 – Vietnam (Click here)

On Screen #2 – Istanbul (Click here)

On Screen #3 – Myanmar (Burma) (Click here)

On Screen #4 – Brazil (Click here)

Tokyo Daytripper: Gojira-Koen (Godzilla Park)

In anticipation of a forthcoming Godzilla-themed cycling tour of Tokyo ahead of the very late Japan release (two months after the rest of the world!) of the 2014 movie, I was searching the internet last weekend to see if there were any other places I could use to bulk out the various Gojira-related locations. To be honest, I was only expecting to find a few shops or signs to add to the various statues, toy stores and filming locations I already know about. However, whilst searching Armand Vaquer’s blog (he is the author of ‘The Monster Movie Fan’s Guide to Japan‘) I was quite surprised to discover that there is a huge Godzilla statue in Kanagawa prefecture which also doubles up as a kids slide and from that moment I had to go and see it as soon as possible.

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Gojira-koen is just a nickname for its real name is Kurihama Hana-no-kuni (Kurihama Flower World) and in October 1999, a Godzilla slide was erected on its hilltop in the city of Yokosuka which is famed as being the home of the US Navy base and is also the gateway to the uninhabited Sarushima a.k.a. Monkey Island. The park is free to enter and is a ten minute walk from Keikyu-Kurihama Station; 40 minutes away from Yokohama. On arrival at the park’s entrance, its another 10 minute walk up a quite steep path which winds round the lush, green scenery but once you get a glimpse of the statue towering above you, all efforts taken in reaching it will be forgotten.

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Over 100,000 individuals and 200+ companies in the local community contributed to the cause of bringing this 8.75 metre statue to the area and all their names are listed at the base of the slide. It’s magnificent body is made of tempered plastic and weighs five tonnes and when I went I had the whole thing all to myself. Sadly for me (but fortunately for you dear reader!) my digital camera memory card was playing up and my phone camera colours have messed up recently so I was one of those w*nkers using a tablet as a camera! All in all that means I couldn’t use my digital camera which meant no tripod use and therefore no pictures taken with me in them on the timer.

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With the wires and pylons above the gigantic amphibious bipedal dinosaur, it actually makes the whole experience seem more authentic and similar to when he was awoken by hydrogen bomb testing and came ashore to prey on humans, tearing down the Tokyo city landscape in the process.

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So what about the actual slide I hear you ask! Well I decided to brave it in the name of my extensive research even though there’s a notice saying that it’s only for kids under 12! I saw a much, much older man go on it though so thought why not! Just ten steps take you up inside the monster and then you can slide for joy down its tail! Actually, its rather lame, even for kids as the one child I witnessed going down it moved so slowly that he instantly walked off to the far more exciting slide which lies right behind Godzilla.

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The slide can be found in an area called Adventure Land and is clearly marked on all the maps. There is a sign saying not to climb on the giant lizard.

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By the entrance/exit gate there is a small shop possessing a Godzilla picture on the wall but sadly there’s no other kaiju-related merchandise in the store.

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Back in Tokyo later that afternoon I took a quick detour to Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi where a 6.6 metre high model of Godzilla has been unveiled to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ‘Gojira’ movie in 1954. It’s a pretty cool design and is supposed to look like he’s merging from the multipurpose commercial complex’s garden. I was only there in the daytime but until August 21st there will be an evening light show every 30 minutes from 6 pm onwards featuring smoke and roaring noises.

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Just to complete the collection, below are the other two Tokyo-based Godzilla statues; the tiny statue in Yurakucho and the one outside Toho Studios in Seijogakuenmae.

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Godzilla‘ (2014) is released in Japan on July 25th.

You can read other Godzilla-related stories by clicking on the links below:

1954 film review      Tokyo filming locations      Trip to Toho Studios 

The Charlotte Crosby Experience – The Furisode-San Of Tokyo

Now, I’ve got no real idea who Charlotte is. Sure, I know she’s from an MTV programme called ‘Geordie Shore‘ and that she was on ‘Celebrity Big Brother‘ but I have never seen her on those programmes and only really knew about her and this programme because she appeared on ‘Innuendo Bingo‘ on Scott Mills’ BBC Radio One afternoon show a few months ago.

Following her appearance on that show I tried to find this episode online but all to no avail. Probably because it was on some channel called TLC that no-one’s ever heard of! Anyway, I eventually found out that it was on iTunes so decided to begrudgingly fork out £2.50 for the episode.

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As one with no knowledge about Charlotte, I went into this programme without any prejudice or preconceptions. The introduction part to the show (which I assume is shown every episode) has her parents telling the viewers that she’s loud, outrageous and a bit stupid. The latter statement becomes apparent straightaway with her terrible geographical knowledge. “Will I see the Great Wall of China?” is one such bout of her wisdom and thinking that Korea is the capital of Japan is another. She also thinks she’s in Thailand at one stage although she does self correct on that one soon after.

Foreigners are often amazed by the Japanese shower toilets and Charlotte is no exception as we hear her shrieking through the (closed) door of the hotel toilet in disbelief at this advance in technology. It was very similar to when Kelly Osbourne was in town for her ‘Turning Japanese‘ show on ITV2 back in 2007.

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The Charlotte Crosby Experience‘ series feature’s the reality TV personality (not my words!) spending time in different extreme cultures and living with some of the world’s unique communities. Her first proper experience in Tokyo is a cosplay party which she anticipates as being some kind of show with alcohol and dancing! She refuses to wear the sailor moon schoolgirls outfit as she has seen it in a porno movie! She is again shocked on arrival at the party as all the girls (for its mainly a female hobby) are dressed as boys and taking pictures of themselves as Japanese tend to do. Anyway, this goes down with her better than the more-serious parts of Japanese culture which follow.

Furisode has its name in the episode title and Charlotte meets two young girls who wear this style of kimono whilst they entertain customers, perform dance and have conversation at Japanese parties with salarymen. The programme wasn’t so clear about this part but these girls are similar in some ways to apprentice geisha but of course there are some big differences between the two.

Charlotte seems overly keen to be friends with the furisode-san but it’s all on her terms as she seemingly wants to teach them north-east England culture rather than understand and appreciate theirs. By the end of the programme she realises what a dedicated profession it is and how hard their work is. At the start though she has very little respect or patience for anything she’s taught whether it be learning a few simple Japanese phrases or learn how to walk properly in order to be elegant when all she really wants to do is have her face painted and do a strange walk on her knees whilst her legs are crossed!

One of the girls is amazed by Charlotte and talks of her rough hair, long nails (which could potentially damage the valuable materials), no concentration, poor listening and endless cursing. I guess having seen the passion and enthusiasm on previous UK TV shows in Japan this year from Hairy Bikers and Tom Daley it’s quite a step back to hear this loud-mouthed English girl look so unhappy and bored at times. Of course this is all in the edit I guess but it’s definitely a case of there being too many rules for her which I can sympathise with a bit more as this can be a frustration at times.

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Later on she’s at Senso-ji temple with the girls getting her fortune paper and complains at first that it’s all in Japanese (the English is actually on the back) and then that its bad news! I thought she was wrong and disrespectful to then screw up the paper and start nosing through all the other drawers to find a better fortune but the girls didn’t seem to mind and began to show a hint of what they’re really like beyond the formalities of their job. This is further exemplified when they are introduced to the “I have never…” drinking game on the back of one of the traditional geisha/maiko/geiko/furisode games which goes down well although it did make me feel a little uncomfortable! I’m sure I’ve done worse in my time though!!

In amongst all that she goes to a zen temple to learn some much needed concentration and calmness. I guess it’s no surprise that she’s never heard of zen though she suspects it will be boring and given that most UK TV viewers just wanna see the whacky and weird side when it comes to Japan she’s probably right in some ways.

Judging by the McDonalds drink and discarded brown bag in the background whilst she (loudly) skypes her family (where she finishes with the line “peace out bitches!”) she didn’t exactly lap up the Japanese culture in the ryokan which is a “no-compromise” Japanese-style inn where Charlotte spends the night. Though she finds the futon comfortable she’s missing the good old-fashioned English cereal at breakfast time. She was even warned by the owner on her arrival to do as Tokyo people do when in the capital city. Oh yeah and one of the rules is no porn though I don’t know why he feels the need to tell a female about this….or is there a part of her background or reputation I don’t know about?!

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We’re back on track with the zany stuff at a cuddle cafe where the tables are turned on her as she finds out its her who has to do the cuddling. Her reaction to one of the customers is the kind of thing the producers of the show love to see happen. She’s pretty grossed out by the idea of cuddling a stranger but trying to relay this message to the guy just shows how communication is difficult in Japan for many foreigners.

Throughout the programme the footage is all interspersed with Charlotte talking to the camera and offering her valuable insight into the experiences as they happen. She’s taken aback by the language barrier quite often and is often unable to communicate in a way which the Japanese, with limited English ability and knowledge, understand. Can you really expect them to know who the likes of Cheryl Cole, Alan Shearer and Ant & Dec are!!

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The stupid hashtags (#CharlotteTLC etc), captions and her tweets (whilst in Japan) appear on screen throughout which I guess are a sign of the times and how TV is becoming so dumbed down. It won’t be long before the UK catches up with the Japanese variety shows where the screen is so cluttered with this kind of cr*p!!

The conclusion of the 44 minute programme is far more optimistic than most of what preceded it as she talks of having had the most amazing time and waxes lyrical about there being nowhere like Japan with its unique cafes (a cat cafe also features) and that being there has inspired her to search English traditions. As this was the second show in a series of which I only saw this particular episode I can’t judge Charlotte too strongly as her attitude may have changed throughout but for now it seems to me that Karl Pilkington is more like Einstein when compared to this idiot abroad.