MY HEROES / Legendary ‘suit actor’ still going strong

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Tetsuya Nakayashiki poses at the Kanreki Matsuri event in Tokyo as he performs with Hiroshi Watari, second from right, and Kazuo Niibori, who is wearing a cap.

By Mishio Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistFor the first time in a while, I asked actor Tetsuya Nakayashiki to appear at my event, which he kindly did. He’s called “Mr. Kamen Rider” because he played most of the leads in early Kamen Rider dramas, from “Kamen Rider V3” (1973-74) to “Kamen Rider Super 1” (1980-81), after transforming into superhero form; i.e. as a so-called “suit actor,” a performer who plays a superhero or villain in a full-body costume and mask.

Children in the latter years of the Showa era (1926-89) — myself included — grew up watching Kamen Rider heroes played by Nakayashiki. These children include members of Japan Action Enterprise Co., who have appeared in action scenes in recent Kamen Rider dramas.

This time Nakayashiki appeared at Kanreki Matsuri 5, the fifth edition of my event focusing on suit actors who are about 60 — the word kanreki refers to a 60-year-old person.

The event was led by actors who used to be suit actors, such as Kazuo Niibori, who played many lead characters clad in red costumes in the Super Sentai Series — Toei Co.’s popular tokusatsu sci-fi action dramas — from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Nakayashiki is a busy man, especially on weekends, because he’s now a regular cast member in a show at the Edo Wonderland theme park in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. Yet he agreed to come to my event since it was a request from Niibori. They both used to belong to Ono Kenyukai, a group of action performers and stuntmen.

Nakayashiki walked on stage at the event to huge applause. Seeing his silhouette alone made the audience excited because his figure embodies Kamen Riders from the Showa era.

When it comes to Nakayashiki, you cannot ignore his famous moment on a chimney in “Kamen Rider V3.” During filming, he climbed on top of a 50-meter-tall chimney (reportedly 53 meters high, to be exact) and struck a pose. Of course, the actor had no safety rope or fence around him to prevent him from falling. Striking a pose sounds simple, but what he actually did was this: He stood straight up and jumped on top of the chimney in a fighting stance — all while wearing a full-body costume and mask.

He discussed the scene during the event, saying, “It was almost like I was tricked into doing it,” and “Actually, I didn’t feel scared.” These comments invited admiration from the audience.

Nakayashiki is well over 60. In fact, he will turn 70 next year. Now the actor performs in a period melodrama at the theme park.

“Well, I haven’t done any action over the past decade or so,” he said with a laugh during the event.

Hearing this, I became eager to see him do some action. I asked him to do it onstage, even though he playfully scolded me, saying, “Are you going to kill me?”

Still, he accepted my proposal to perform with Niibori and Hiroshi Watari, who played Den Iga, the lead in “Uchu Keiji Sharivan” (Space Sheriff Sharivan). Niibori and Watari played the guys Nakayashiki would beat on stage. What a fantastic lineup!

During an onstage rehearsal, Nakayashiki sat down as soon as he made a kick, joking, “You know, I just had a drink.” However, when the performance started, he entertained us with fast, brilliant theatrical combat. His performance wasn’t just dynamic — when the actor moved, I could see a Showa-era Kamen Rider in him, and I’m sure the audience felt the same way, as shown by the loud applause he received the moment the sequence ended.

Nakayashiki is a true architect of the Kamen Rider boom that took not only Japan by storm, but also the rest of the world. I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again: I hope many people will recognize the great contributions this major figure has made to tokusatsu superheroes.

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

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