Thursday, January 3, 2019

Tokusatsu Roundup

One of the cool things about growing up in Honolulu in the 1970s was the presence of the original KIKU-TV, a local independent television station that broadcasted shows from Japan (to this day, I still remember the station ID message: a cheerful woman's voice saying "K-I-K-U TV. Kee-koo! Nihongo Terebi desu"). Thankfully, the various shows would normally be subtitled in English so that those of us who didn't know Japanese that well - which was the majority of people on the island - could understand them.

A fair amount of these shows were of a genre known as "tokusatsu," which basically meant live-action programs that made heavy use of special - or as special as they could get in the 1970s - effects. Godzilla might be the most famous representative of this genre, but for us Hawaii kids at the time, the favorites were a bunch of superhero serials that typically involved a good guy/girl/robot in a mask battling a large evil organization that invariably sent a different monster-of-the-week out every episode to wreak havoc on the world. Here's a list of my - and probably any current middle-aged Hawaii alum's - favorites:

This is the big one. The influence and impact that this show had on my life rivals that of Star Wars. And I wasn't alone. It was so popular that a live stage show featuring unknown actors wearing costumes from the program sold out the local concert hall. The hero was an android named Jiro (pronounced "Jee-roh," rhymes with "hero") who was created to battle a large evil organization of other androids. The problem was, since he was built in the evil organization's lab and wasn't quite fully completed yet, he was susceptible to turning evil himself. Now, doesn't that sound like fun? In a possible foreshadowing of my future career as a performing musician, one day during kindergarten class my five-year-old self spontaneously volunteered to get up in front of my classmates and sing the show's theme song - in Japanese - in its entirety. It wasn't an assignment or anything like that (in fact, I think I may have interrupted the teacher's actual agenda), it was just something I felt compelled to do on the spur of the moment. Also, Jiro used to announce his appearance to the bad guys by playing a little tune on a guitar, an instrument with which I would become very familiar during the ensuing years.

Kikaida 01
Not quite as influential as his predecessor (and younger brother, in the show's continuity), "01" was still awesome nonetheless. I recall one of my friends making a replica of 01's chest-machine-sash-thingy out of plastic and spare parts and being so jealous. 01, or Ichiro, as he was called, used to announce his appearance to the bad guys by playing a trumpet, an instrument that I ended up playing in middle and high school band.

Kamen Rider V3
They never really showed the original Kamen Rider - V3 is the sequel series - in Hawaii, but it didn't matter, because V3 was amazing. Before each episode, the actor playing the main character would do this thing where he would spin around in a chair to face the audience and then launch into what basically amounted to a "don't try this at home, kids" kind of disclaimer. From that point on through the remainder of my childhood, whenever I encountered a spinning desk chair, I would proceed to replicate this action to a frighteningly accurate degree. Also, in high school, our school band (which I played trumpet in, see above) would perform an instrumental version of the show's theme song at football games, a fact that could possibly explain why our team would always do so well (they won the state championship in '84).

Think these guys look familiar? Kind of like the Power Rangers? Well, they - Gorenja - were the original. My favorite one was the Blue Ranger ("Aorenja"), although the Yellow Ranger ("Kirenja") did influence me to eat ridiculous amounts of Japanese curry at the time. And now I'm hungry.

Ultra 7
Another one where, like Kamen Rider V3, the sequel was shown in Hawaii but not so much the original (which was, in this case, Ultraman). It didn't matter, though, because - also like V3 - it was extremely popular nonetheless.

I loved this show too, but there was a small amount of trauma involved when I saw that the "human" identity of the title character was played by the same actor who played Jiro in Kikaida. I mean, you know, when you're a kid, you want to believe that this stuff is real, so seeing the "main guy" from the "main show" doing something on the side like this (actually, this gig came after Kikaida finished its original run) is just a little jarring. I wonder if young Harry Potter fans had the same reaction when Dan Radcliffe starred in The Woman in Black?

Speaking of trauma, my strongest memory of this show - potential spoiler alert - is one of the title character, a large robot, dying in the arms of his human handler and then the series coming to an end at that point. I'm not really sure if that's how it actually ended or not - cursory research seems to indicate that it's not - but I swear, that's how I remember it. Who knows, maybe KIKU just abruptly cancelled it for whatever reason. I guess I might just have to dig up some DVDs of the show or something.

Those seven were probably my main favorites, but there were more, like Robocon, Diamond Eye, Rainbowman, and Akumaizer 3. I also enjoyed some of KIKU's non-tokusatsu fare, like an anime about a child monk named Ikkyu-san and a jidaigeki ("period drama") called Toyama no Kin-San in which the title character - a samurai/magistrate - would pose as a commoner or petty thief in order to catch the bad guys and solve crimes (while in disguise, his samurai topknot would be askew, but then it would be straight when he was his "real" self, which I found both amusing and ingenious).

Anyway, that's enough nostalgia for one week. Tune in next time when I'll be doing the second installment of what I intend to be a series of four consecutive Roundup posts (unless some other shiny topic happens to distract me at the time). Until then, mata ne (Japanese for "see you later")!

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