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MY HEROES / 3 occasions for joy at a tokusatsu superhero festival

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Actor Kazuo Niibori, center, roars onstage at Akamatsuri on Aug. 26.

By Mishio Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistThe Super Sentai Series tokusatsu sci-fi superhero franchise has released a total of 41 TV series, the latest being “Uchu Sentai Kyuranger,” which currently airs on Sundays. This means that 41 different men have played the “Red” character, the lead superhero who wears red attire and whose name often contains the word “red.”

Naturally, several “suit actors” have also played these heroes, for the scenes in which the character has transformed. There are also two Red characters in “Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger” (Unofficial Sentai Akibaranger), a spinoff parody of the Super Sentai Series. I’d estimate about 50 actors have played Red heroes over the past 40-plus years.

On Aug. 26, 13 Red actors gathered for the 15th Akamatsuri (Red Festival).

The event’s origins date back to summer 2003, when two Red actors and I went out for a drink. I never thought the event would make it this far.

The two actors who helped launch the festival are Ryosuke Sakamoto, who played Red One in “Chodenshi Bioman,” and Masaru Shishido, who played Oh Red in “Choriki Sentai Ohranger.” Sakamoto was the first festival leader and was succeeded by Shishido.

Three happy incidents underscored this year’s Akamatsuri festivities. First, the event featured Sakamoto, who last year announced that he had esophageal cancer. Sakamoto overcame a nearly 10-hour operation, returning in good spirits to fulfil his promise last year to return to the event.

When Sakamoto took to the stage and announced, “Red One is back!,” the audience burst into applause. The actor noted he had been motivated by his experience playing a hero and the support of many fans. I shed a tear as he sang the “Bioman” theme song with impressive vigor, even though he had undergone major surgery.

The second happy incident was Shoji Himeno’s guest appearance. Himeno never appeared in the Super Sentai Series, but he was the first actor to portray Father of Ultra in the Ultraman tokusatsu series in a full body suit. Ultraman, of course, is another superhero decked out in red.

Now the president of an event management company, Himeno is known as a “walking dictionary” in the tokusatsu industry due to his involvement in a number of superhero programs. He struck a pose as Father of Ultra while holding an Ultra Arei (Ultra dumbbell), the superhero’s trademark weapon, made of flasks from the Akamatsuri staff. The actor also revealed that the full-body suit he wore was very similar to a wet suit — so tight, in fact, that he had to hit his arm to move it.

Finally, two 21st-century Red actors — Shunsuke Nishikawa, who played Akaninger in “Shuriken Sentai Ninninger,” and Ryuji Sainei, who played Deka Red in “Tokuso Sentai Dekaranger” — joined the festivities. The presence of both young and old Red actors allowed me to once more appreciate the Super Sentai Series’ rich history. I felt great joy in seeing the actors link up as if they were fighting together.

It was challenging to keep the event to within four hours, with nearly 20 actors on stage. When it was over, I felt the satisfaction of a pitcher who went the distance at Koshien stadium during the National High School Baseball Championship.

I hope to continue organizing Akamatsuri, and I dream of holding the event overseas someday. To achieve this goal, I’ve pledged to find a way to revive my rusty English.

Suzuki is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist and an expert on tokusatsu superhero films and dramas.Speech

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