May 1320, 1999
by Patrick Rapa
Where: Kaiju-Con, Old City Holiday Inn
When: Saturday, May 8, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
At the front of the room is Keith, a middle-aged man in a collared shirt and sweatpants rolled up at the ankles giving a speech on the 1969 Japanese television series made famous in America as Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. He knows all the character's names, which may make him the leading American authority on the subject.
Yes, Kaiju-Con is an homage to mighty Godzilla, who paved the way for all the other Japanese monsters, but the convention pays special attention to the lesser-known stories. Like this one about a little boy named Johnny and a giant robot named Giant Robot.
For the viewing pleasure of 15 people scattered among the 75 seats in the room, Keith has prepared a montage of clips from Johnny Sokko's 26 episodes. Technical difficulties plague the presentation, thanks to the erratic sound and furious video provided by the Vidimagic projector. The audio cuts through the static just enough to let you know that most of Keith's clips are in the original Japanese, and only a few provide the humorous familiarity of kitschy synched English.
Without the benefit of a microphone, Keith shouts to explain what's going on onscreen. Some of his comments are helpful ("Those people in the yellow jumpsuits are the good guys"), some less so ("What you're looking at here is Giant Robot fighting a giant starfish").
In a small room next door, collectors and novices try to get the full value of their $12 admission by perusing the wares of six Japanese monster-merchandise dealers. The Big G is well represented, but he's outnumbered by less celebrated monsters. Several guys are selling beautiful 2-foot-tall action figures of Gamera (the giant turtle frequently cited by Mystery Science Theater 3000 as "really neat" and "full of meat"). Gamera, friend of children, will set you back $250.
Also available are countless 8-inch rubber nonposable dolls of characters who made incidental appearances with the ultra-inflexible Ultraman. These cost $75-$95. This is not a hobby for the poor and undedicated. These people in black WCW shirts must be millionaires.
A smiling young woman's face fills the small screen and shouts something in Japanese. Keith announces that she is Special Agent U-5, dreamgirl of his adolescence. He makes this uncomfortable confession several times. The audience reacts with silent solidarity. They know exactly what he's talking about. Keith might want to check out the back of this newspaper sometime.
Though an abnormal being himself, Giant Robot never indicates an inner conflict before firing his fingertip missiles into the highly combustible torsos of ugly, freakish enemies. The blame might belong on the slight shoulders of 8-year-old Johnny Sokko, the hyper boy genius who controls Giant Robot with his radio wristwatch. Or maybe nuclear power is the real villain, tirelessly spawning large building-smashing monsters in a world where no one wants themexcept, perhaps, Keith.