Action master Jiro Okamoto fires up excitement virtually

Jiro Okamoto performs a nanori, a choreographed movement for a superhero’s self-introduction, during “Jiro Matsuri Online 3” on March 12.

The annual Jiro Matsuri, a talk show and festival in honor of veteran actor Jiro Okamoto, who excels in action scenes, took place in March as “Jiro Matsuri Online” for the third time.

As in the previous two years, the 16th edition of the annual event was held without a huge cheer erupting upon Okamoto’s appearance on the stage. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event I organize has been streamed since 2020, so there were no spectators stretching their arms out to shake his hand, nor fellow actors packed into the backstage area adoring him and waiting for their turn to take the stage.

The fact that Okamoto seemed accustomed to facing a camera for streaming made me feel relieved, as well as a little sad.

One good thing about streaming is that everyone can hear him in a quiet environment.

This time, too, we heard him talk about what he has been up to these days.

He played Kamen Rider Buster in superhero form in “Kamen Rider Saber.” He said he was happy that the show reunited him with Keisuke Soma, who played an enemy character, for the first time in a long while. In “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger,” Soma had played Shinken Gold, one of the members of the show’s superhero team, before transformation into superhero form, while Okamoto had played the superhero version of the character.

“I thought he was wonderful for playing the villain brilliantly despite being associated with the cheerful image from that time [of Shinkenger],” Okamoto said, full of praise for Soma.

Apparently, Soma had jokingly asked Okamoto while on “Kamen Rider Saber” to play his enemy character after transformation. A laughing Okamoto said he had told Soma it was asking too much because he was busy playing Buster.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of “Kamen Rider Ryuki.” Okamoto played the character Oja in the tokusatsu superhero TV show. The character would languidly circle his head, a signature movement that is unforgettable once seen.

“When I ran, I tried to move my arms and fingers like a cobra,” Okamoto recalled. “I had a snake in my mind and tried to move my body meanderingly.”

Come to think of it, he has known Takashi Hagino, who played the character before transformation on that show, since “Choko Senshi Changerion” was broadcast in 1996.

“He hasn’t changed at all,” Okamoto reminisced, saying he had met Hagino recently.

Is it only me who becomes delighted when hearing that actors who played a superhero before and after transformation are getting along well?

Speaking of anniversaries, last year was the 50th anniversary of the Kamen Rider series.

“It’s great just having been able to take part in the history,” he said as if savoring all the memories. “I can be here because of that.”

In contrast to the first half, which featured all serious talk, the event turned more animated midway when Okamoto was joined onstage by members of Japan Action Enterprise (JAE) and two guys clad in green full-body costumes.

This green duo is the “superhero” unit Iindayo Greendayozu, formed by Kihachiro Uemura and Kenji Takechi, even though they refused to acknowledge their real identities during the event. Together they all demonstrated socially distanced stage combat and took part in a game of charades.

No doubt, though, the highlight of the day came at the end with a series of Okamoto’s nanori, or choreographed movements for a superhero’s self-introduction. Although there was no background music nor a voice shouting the name of each character, he performed nanori movements for seven characters he chose for the occasion, including Kamen Rider BLACK and Kamen Rider BLACK RX. In the hushed venue, Okamoto made the movements looking almost godly.

Kosuke Asai of JAE, who came rushing from a shoot to the event for the last five minutes, was very touched in front of Okamoto.

“Jiro-san makes my life,” Asai said.

I’m sure Asai’s words represented the sentiment of fans who were glued to the streaming on screens all over Japan that day.

I hope we can deliver the excitement, the fun, the divine time and everything about this event live to an in-person audience next year. I swear that I will bring back Jiro Matsuri as it was before the pandemic, no matter what it takes.