By Mishio Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterIn front of an audience mostly of children, a man with an Afro hairstyle began singing on stage, although he looked somewhat perplexed. He also tilted his head to one side at times, but his singing voice was powerful and grabbed the hearts of the audience.
It was spring in 1981. I was 16 and saw this performance at Toshimaen amusement park in Nerima Ward, Tokyo. At the time, I thought, “Someday I’ll talk to this singer about today.” I had no reason to believe this, but I was convinced I would.
The man is Akira Kushida, a popular anison singer who has sung the theme songs for “Kinnikuman” (Mr. Muscleman), “Uchu Keiji Gavan” (Space Sheriff Gavan) and many other anime and tokusatsu dramas (sci-fi superhero dramas with special effects). He’s popular in Japan and with a worldwide audience.
Kushida is particularly loved in Brazil, where many young people sing his anime and tokusatsu drama theme songs, as well as his other songs from those shows.
Kushida started out singing R&B and other songs for adult audiences. He made his debut as an anime/tokusatsu song performer when he sang the theme song of the drama “Taiyo Sentai Sun Vulcan.” The concert in Toshimaen in 1981 was the first public performance of that song.
After 2000, I finally met Kushida for real. The opportunity came through someone I worked with on a tokusatsu event I had organized. We were both surprised at a “reunion” that seemed predestined. When I told him about that day at Toshimaen, he said he remembered the occasion very well.
“The audience was different from the people I usually sang for, and I wasn’t used to singing to a recorded accompaniment then, either,” he said with a shy smile.
Kushida said he was struggling at that time because he still didn’t know how to sing a superhero song in a cool way, such as singing the lyrics with clear diction. Now Kushida is a giant of superhero songs, with many hits to his name. “I like heroes as well as hero songs,” he said.
He said it was important to act like a hero himself when singing a hero song. To be as close to a hero as possible, at least in appearance, he never misses his daily workout. He said he does 1,000 sit-ups every day. Isn’t that amazing?
Kushida also emphasizes the importance of tenderness in superhero songs.
“Sure, you have to express the power of a hero, but I also want to add tenderness to the songs,” he said. “Heroes aren’t just strong. They’re kindhearted, too. They care for other people tenderly. Take the songs from ‘Sun Vulcan.’ They are not just powerful, there’s also warmth to them, right?”
On Feb. 20, Kushida will hold a concert titled “Hero-tachi no Oenka” (Songs to cheer heroes) at Yomiuri Otemachi Hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
He’ll be joined by anison singers Hideaki Takatori and Yohei Onishi. When I booked the two for the concert, which I organized, nothing was in the pipeline, but they’ve since been assigned to sing the opening and ending theme songs of the new tokusatsu drama “Dobutsu Sentai Zyuohger” (Animal squadron Zyuohger), respectively. The drama, the latest in the Super Sentai superhero drama series, will be aired from Sunday.
Zettoki, a band led by Takatori, will also join the concert. With the band’s original performance, the opening and ending themes of “Zyuohger” — pronounced “juh-oh-jah” — will have their first public performances in their full versions.
I highly recommend this concert to people who want to be encouraged by the power of superhero songs, and to those who want to be comforted by their tenderness. Visit yomi.otemachi-hall.com/event/event_2759.html for more information.
Suzuki is a senior writer of The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Digital Media Bureau and an expert on tokusatsu superhero films and dramas. She runs a talk event with tokusatsu performers and anime/tokusatsu song singers.Speech