My friend Steve Ryfle's mom died last weekend. Steve is the author of Japan's Favorite Mon-star (The Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla), one of the best books out there about Godzilla. I wanted to write about her because she was such an amazing woman. But I didn't really know her well enough. Stuart Galbraith IV, author of another amazing book on Japanese monster movies, Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!: The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films, wrote a much better piece than I ever could (Stuart's latest book is Japanese Cinema). He gave me permission to use it on this page. So here it is:
Steve Ryfle's mother, Pat, died over the weekend. It didn't come as a surprise; she had been in poor health for a long time, and spent the last few weeks at a hospice, gradually fading away.
If writing about somebody else's mother seems unusual - those who were lucky enough to have known Pat will understand. She was like everyone's favorite eccentric aunt, at times a mom-away-from-Mom.
To the envy of many, Pat loved and supported Steve like few moms did, which made his tender caring of her as Pat's health declined all the more touching. She often accompanied Steve to Godzilla movie marathons at the American Cinematheque and in Little Tokyo. She went with him to see Blaxploitation movies, to mainstream movies, to comic book conventions, and helped out with book signings when Steve's Japan's Favorite Mon-Star was published. The funny thing was, she had fun. She actually really, really liked the damndest movies, dating back to when Steve, then just a boy, took his mom to see Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. When Steve took Pat to the world premiere of one of the recent Godzilla movies in Hollywood, my wife and I were shocked to discover Pat on one of the network news shows here in Japan, being interviewed about the film. Appropriately, her comments were dubbed into Japanese, but Yukiyo remembers her saying "Godzilla's roar is kinda sexy."
Pat was genuinely and justly proud of her writer-son. In her old apartment, Steve's writing was prominently on display. On one wall she kept a Mother's Day tribute column he wrote for her years ago when Steve was writing for a local newspaper. On another she had a framed picture of Steve - it might have been the portrait of him used by the same paper - under which Pat had written, proudly, "My Son, the Author."
Pat was such a constant yet welcome presence that, eventually, Steve's friends often invited Pat as well as Steve and his wife, Joal, to parties and other occasions. (She was there at a 2001 wedding party Yukiyo and I held at Sam Woo's, ahead of our actual wedding in Japan.) Pat was genuinely fun to have around - she was sweetly eccentric, rather like Stan Laurel's childlike screen persona. At one party at Steve and Joal's first house, somebody was making a toast, and Pat noticed the middle-aged man next to her wasn't drinking.
"What's the matter? Are you an alcoholic or something?" she asked, quite innocently.
"Er, uh....well, yes - as a matter of fact, I am," he replied.
"Aw, gee - that's too bad," Pat said, with genuine sadness. "Can't you have just one?"
Another time Pat sent Steve and I to the market down the street to fetch her some "free doughnuts" she had seen. As we walked down the block, we wondered what exactly had she meant by "free doughnuts?" We found the doughnuts, which were selling for whatever the going rate for doughnuts was back then.
When we returned, Steve asked Pat, "What did you mean, "free doughnuts?' They weren't free."
"Oh," she said, "I meant free-standing."
All Steve and I could do was look at one another, nonplussed. But to Pat, it made perfect sense.
Boy, how I miss her.