So part of as part Ultraman Week, I decided to head out to the 20th annual G-Fest event. G-Fest is put on by Daikaiju Enterprises and G-FAN magazine every year. It has been running since 1994 and is a really well put together event. Not only is it the largest Godzilla and Kaiju convention in the country, it’s pretty much the only one. It’s held in the Crowne Plaza O’Hare just outside of Chicago, which is a fantastic venue.
The hotel that is beautiful, well organized and the staff is incredibly friendly, despite the hundreds of super nerds that are running around the building. Never did I feel like an outcast or anything. A lot of times you’ll find that the staff at events like this don’t really want you there. That’s not the vibe I got at all, so hat’s off to the Crowne Plaza O’Hare. Another neat thing is that they had a specific channel in the hotel rooms set to only play monster movies and Godzilla trailers and stuff. It’s little things like that which help set this event apart.
On a humorous note, while most of the hotel is taken over by G-Fest, there were a few rooms that weren’t. One area had a hilarious sign to prevent you from having any confusion. I had to take a photo of it.
The event is attended by over 1,000 people, so it’s considerably smaller than say C2E2 where there was over 60,000 people in a single day. Honestly that was a huge breathe of fresh air, as the much more intimate setting allowed you to move around without feeling overwhelmed. It was also nice because there wasn’t thousands of people there just to gawk. At lot of the bigger conventions draw in people who aren’t really genre fans. Everyone at G-Fest was a fan of some sort. Now I’ll admit, some of these people certainly appeared as if they didn’t go out much, but the vast majority seemed like regular folks.
As a sidebar, there was a father there with his son who was probably around 12 or so, that I thought was awesome. The dad was clearly there for his kid, but he was making sure they had a blast. It was just strange to me, because I could have never seen my dad taking me to a trip like this. Kudos to you guy. We kept running into them for whatever reason and it just made me “childhood jealous” if that’s a thing.
G-Fest has plenty of panels, discussions, Q&As and other things to keep you busy. In fact I was busy pretty much the whole time, going from one panel to the next, with almost no time in-between to visit the rest of the “show floor” area. The first panel was a screening of Frank H. Woodward’s documentary film Men In Suits. The documentary was really good and if you’re interested in the history of suit acting you should definitely pick up a copy. While it has a focus on Godzilla, it’s not really about Kaiju suit acting. It’s just about the world of suit acting in general, with lots of stuff from Doug Jones and other famous American suit actors. There was a Q&A after, but most of the room left (which made me feel bad) because there was a bit of a delay between the film and the Q&A. I left too, because I had to make it to another panel and wasn’t sure if there was time.
There was an interesting panel from SyFy’s Monster Man Cleve Hall. I only caught the last part of this, but Cleve ran a bit long (more on this in a bit) but he seemed pretty interesting. It was a bit odd for him to basically say that his reality show was overly fake, but he had a lot of neat photos to show and quips about his various experiences within the industry. He was a real whirlwind of energy and no doubt could have provided a few hours of interesting stories.
The other major panel that I wanted to attend was a screening of the “lost” Wolfman vs. Godzilla film. This was the first time that so much of this film had been screened to the public. I videotaped it, but I’m not allowed to show it on the net. Supposedly this film may see an official Toho DVD release… But truth be told, I am doubtful that will happen. This panel was both a highlight and a low point for me, with G-Fest.
Producer/director Shizuo Nakajima had flown from Japan to make his first ever US appearance to discuss the film. He brought with him some new photos (which I think I can show) that detailed his history working with Toho and the production of the film. This was the main reason I came to G-Fest XX as I really wanted to learn more about the director and his motivations behind Wolfman versus Godzilla. The film is technically a “fan film”, but because Nakajima has worked extensively in the industry, it’s borderline official. He perfectly recreated the King Kong versus Godzilla, suit for Godzilla and his film is essentially a love letter to that film, War of the Gargantuas and Hammer Films’ Curse of the Werewolf. The panel began with a slideshow from Mark Jaramillo. All of these photos are from the slideshow and not the video of the film, so as to appease the wishes of Nakajima and G-Fest.
Jaramillo is the one responsible for bringing so much attention to this film, but at the same time his slideshow skills lacked some finesse. He would very, very briefly describe a photo and then say “next slide” to the point that it started to get a bit annoying. Some of these photos would flash by in 30 seconds or less and there was absolutely no input from Mr. Nakajima. Some fun things we did learn included that Nakajima has one of the original Toho Godzilla puppets as well as the original Mechani-Kong suit. Both things that Toho was going to throw away and he asked for.
Legendary Giant Beast Wolfman versus Godzilla tells the story of a man who finds an ancient wolf totem and as a result gets turned into a werewolf. Not only does he terrorize the city as a regular wolfman, but also grows gigantic as well because of the curse. As best I could tell, the story works like a regular werewolf story set with a Godzilla attack in the background, leading to the two beasts eventually meeting up and fighting. Although we only saw a 23 minute work print, it’s obvious that we saw most of the monster footage. It looks great, but it’s definitely designed to be a 1960’s film. For the record, the film is feature length (should it ever be edited and finalized) so there’s at least an hour or so more.
This was a weekend type of project for Nakajima, so while some of the stuff is great and it’s very much a “real” movie with real actors and hundreds of extras, it’s also not bound by regular studio constraints. As an example, several years passed by while he was working on it and when he decided he needed more Godzilla footage, he changed the design of Godzilla from the Kong suit to the Mothra suit. The authenticity of the film is pretty amazing though, as the effects look exactly like vintage Toho… Right down to the Maser Cannons which are the actual Toho props!
Sadly after the film, the Q&A was canceled. Cleve Hall had ran long and the setups between events ate up a few minutes. So when the screening was over, they were already a few minutes over time. This was really frustrating because these panels are booked in hourly sessions with NO time in-between for setups or anything. There were hundreds of questions that could have been asked of Shizuo Nakajima about his career and the film. We literally know next to nothing about this film, so not getting to ask even a SINGLE question of him was a major failure in my eyes.
It seemed almost disrespectful to Shizuo Nakajima and interpreter Tetsu Shiota that neither got to speak. Nakajima came all the way from Japan for crying out loud. Perhaps even more annoying, is that the room was being given up for “G-Pardy” a freaking trivia game that was being ran 4-5 times throughout the convention. G-Pardy should have been canceled for that session, simple as that. I think getting to speak with a director of a never before seen Godzilla film and former Toho employee is more important than the third session of Godzilla trivia, but maybe that’s just me. There was another screening of the film on Sunday, so perhaps they got to do a little Q&A then, but it still annoyed me. I’d have much rather skipped Jaramillo’s slideshow if it meant we could talk with Nakajima.
After that I only attended one other panel, which was focused on vintage Kaiju posters. Bob Eggleton had some interesting thoughts on the art of posters and he was informative, but the panel desperately needed some photos. It’s bizarre that there was a panel discussion about monster movie posters and not a shred of art to show on the big screen while they spoke.
The main show room floor has several areas, with an artist’s alley, model area, a bit of a side room with other projects. Off in another part of the hotel was a game room where they had several Godzilla games set up. They even had tournaments with prizes and such. I didn’t spend much time in there, but looked like it could be fun if that was your sort of thing.
Of course the star of the show is the dealer’s room. This is where tons of vendors set up to sell their Godzilla, Ultraman and various other Kaiju toys. This was like a dream come true. There were thousands of items there of all types. Wall to wall Godzilla/Gamera/Etc stuff. Tons of it I had never seen before and there was a lot of rare stuff as well.
I could have easily spent hours photographing toys and spent hundreds of dollars buying stuff in there. It was a bit odd, as there were serious collectors in there carefully inspecting 40 year old vinyl toys and it was juxtaposed by 6 year old kids grabbing the same vinyl toys and beating them on the table. I can’t imagine the headaches that the vendors themselves were getting as some of the kids there were really unruly and clearly didn’t know the difference between a $5 vinyl and a $100 one.
I ended up with quite a few goodies and even got to go over my limit (thanks to an overly kind GF) but I was thankful that I wasn’t after a ton of things. The vendors were set up nice and the room was big, but it often got crowded and I felt like I could have stood at any particular vendor for an hour or more just going through their stuff. This area was only open until 5 PM and I did find that a little upsetting, since activities continued on in the rest of the areas until around 8 PM. This meant that there was a mad rush at around 4 PM to buy stuff.
The model room was incredible with people really showing off some amazing talents in model making. There was even a model making session earlier in the day for a very affordable $10, but sadly they ran out of models very quickly. Personally I’m not much of a model guy, but I was completely blown away by some of the model work on display there. For even more photos of the G-Fest Model area check out our Gallery! Trust me, you’ll want to look at that.
One other thing I’d like to mention is the food, which was fantastic. Prices were affordable and we ate at the restaurant inside the hotel for around $20 for a whole pizza and sodas. It was much, much better than other convention experiences, where I’ve paid a lot more for a lot worse food. Parking was also great, as there was plenty of spots available and it only cost $5 for the whole day!
Overall G-Fest XX was a fantastic experience. There is SO much to do there, that I was sort of shocked how quickly it all went by. While larger conventions like C2E2 and Wizard World offer a lot of content, I truly felt like this was a good overall experience even if it was smaller. The dealer’s room is a Kaiju fan’s dream come true and if you’re into this sort of thing, you can easily get lost for a whole weekend of monster fun. I can definitely see myself going back and I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who’s interested in Godzilla, Ultraman or any of the sort, to make the trip out to G-Fest at least once. The whole event is very professionally run and despite a few hiccups here or there, an absolute blast of a convention experience.