MY HEROES / ‘Suit actor’ Jiro Okamoto pleases fans with talents

Jiro Okamoto, center, fights with masked characters onstage.

By Mishio Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior SpecialistLast month, I held the 12th edition of Jiro Matsuri (Jiro festival), a talk show featuring Jiro Okamoto. Jiro has appeared in “Kamen Rider Black” and other tokusatsu sci-fi action dramas as a “suit actor,” or a performer who plays superheroes after they transform from their human form.

A member of the Japan Action Enterprise, Jiro initially hesitated to participate in the event bearing his name, saying, “I’m not a good talker.” However, I coaxed him into taking part, and the event quickly became very popular.

His fans gathered from around the country at the event’s usual venue, a club in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where we all spent a passion-filled evening together.

The most popular part of the event was the action sequence performed by Jiro, himself. Other events I organize at the same venue are usually focused on conversation, as the place is quite small. This makes the performance by Jiro and his coperformers all the more intense and exciting.

In the first half of the show, Jiro put on a brilliant combat sequence with two masked characters who are both event regulars. I think the two, whose group name is Iindayo Green-dayozu, were actors Kihachiro Uemura and Kenji Takechi, both known for their action skills, but these are characters who are supposed to hide their identities, so the actors deny they participated.

Since the performers were very close to the audience, they performed sword-fighting sequences without using swords. When Jiro extended his arm from his waist, though, you could practically see a sword in his hand.

The event is not only about action. Jiro has another special skill: drawing. Every year, he draws one or two elaborate pencil sketches and gives them away to guests through a lottery.

This year, Jiro kindly agreed to draw a sketch in front of the audience. He hunched his large body over a table as he drew a delicate picture. I was impressed by the serenity he displayed, which strongly contrasted with his typical combativeness. I’m convinced that someone like Jiro who excels in one pursuit can also excel at other things.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the broadcast of “Kamen Rider Black RX,” in which Jiro performed as a suit actor. With this in mind, I invited to the show Takayuki Miyauchi, who sang the drama’s theme song.

In 2011, the singer suffered a stroke and was told by a doctor that it would be difficult for him to continue his career. However, he did not give up singing and still performs while battling the aftereffects of the stroke.

When singing, he becomes the personification of a superhero song. His delivery may lack a little power compared to his pre-stroke performances, but he can still stir audience members with his energy. Some in the audience were moved to tears. He always makes me think about what constitutes a good song.

It was truly wonderful for Miyauchi to sing onstage with Jiro present. If I traveled 30 years back in time to tell myself about this event, the younger me wouldn’t believe it. Maybe I shouldn’t say this as the event organizer, but this event — a joint effort by Jiro, Miyauchi and many others — is truly a miracle.

For as long as possible, I’d like to continue holding Jiro Matsuri every year.

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

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