By Mishio Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistFor the first time in my life, I organized an event for a company other than The Yomiuri Shimbun. It was an event to commemorate the Feb. 28 launch of “Kamen Rider Figure Collection,” a Kamen Rider magazine that comes with a character figurine. For the next two years, I will write a column in this biweekly magazine. And surprise, surprise, this magazine is published by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.
When I belonged to the Political News Department of The Yomiuri Shimbun, I was in charge of covering the now-defunct Social Democratic Party of Japan. One of the older members of the group of newspaper reporters covering the party is now the president of the publisher run by The Asahi Shimbun. In those days, we would often dine at a yakiniku restaurant or elsewhere late at night after finishing the day’s reporting.
He thought of me for the first time in several years when the publisher began planning the magazine and needed someone who loved Kamen Rider tokusatsu sci-fi superhero dramas. He gave me a phone call, then negotiated with various sectors and successfully realized a column that broke the corporate barrier between the Asahi and Yomiuri. I have already done some reporting for several issues of the magazine, which has given me a hard-to-nail-down curiosity.
The February event was a rare occasion indeed, with a Yomiuri Shimbun employee holding the mic and Asahi Shimbun Publications employees selling the magazine.
Such a historic event must invite legends. Therefore, the main guests of the day were three people deeply related to Kamen Rider in the Showa era (1926-89): Takeshi Sasaki, who played Hayato Ichimonji, who transformed into Kamen Rider 2-Go; Toru Okazaki, who played Daisuke Yamamoto, aka Kamen Rider Amazon; and Masaru Okada, the head of Ono Kenyukai, a group that once provided sword fight performances in the Kamen Rider dramas.
They inevitably talked about the hardships they endured while shooting action scenes for the Showa-era Kamen Rider dramas.
“I was suspended from a helicopter without a safety rope. But when I saw the broadcast, my face was not shown in that scene. I thought they could have used a stuntman,” Sasaki grumbled.
Okazaki smiled wryly and said: “I was told to enter the tracks of a roller coaster and wait for the ride to come until the last moment, and then jump off the track. I had never done such a stunt before, so I wasn’t sure when the last moment was.”
Okada was a younger member of Ono Kenyukai back then.
“Before I performed in a dangerous action scene, the tateshi [theatrical sword fight master] told me, ‘If you die, I’ll pick up your [cremated] bones for you.’ I thought, ‘It won’t help if he picks up my bones after I’m dead,’” Okada said.
Naturally, there was no air mattress in those days. All they had was two or three futon-like mattresses. All three said they had never seen a safety rope during shoots. This was in addition to the guarantee of just several thousand yen in pay each time. How startling!
Singer Takayuki Miyauchi later joined the event and sang the theme song of “Kamen Rider Black RX.” Then came two people working for the Heisei-era (1989-) Kamen Rider series: director Nobuhiro Suzumura and actor Kohei Murakami, who played Masato Kusaka, aka Kamen Rider Kaixa. They revealed some hitherto unknown incidents, such as an actress who was almost carried away by the waves during a shoot near a wind-whipped sea.
Their conversation was thoroughly entertaining, and I burst into laughter many times as I listened to them. Come to think of it, their tireless efforts have contributed to producing works that go down in posterity, both in the Showa and Heisei eras. I don’t mean to blindly glorify the stunts that would look reckless today, such as jumping from a high place without a safety rope or an air mattress. Yet I think you can still see their passion for making the dramas no matter what the odds, even going to those lengths on the small screen after all those years.
I’d like to uncover this sort of passionate energy of the various people involved in the Kamen Rider series through research and reporting over the next two years.