Veteran suit actors and their superhero ‘nanori’ poses

Kanreki Matsuri participants strike cool poses.

On April 16, I hosted “Kanreki Matsuri 12,” a long-standing event series I run, and invited veteran tokusatsu suit actors ages 60 or older to talk about their time in the industry. Suit actors often play the superheroes after a transformation sequence and perform in full body suits.

The event took place at a club in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, where the audience was limited to 30 people, far fewer than usual. But it was the first time in a little over two years that I could hold the event in front of a live audience. The moment I walked onto the stage and saw the faces of those attending, my voice choked with emotion and I greeted everyone in a tearful voice. After all, we hold these events not only for the actors on stage but also for the audience, and they laugh, cry and enjoy their time here.

Our six participants were led by Kazuo Niibori, famous for playing many red-clad leaders of superhero teams in the Super Sentai series TV shows. The other five were Junichi Haruta, Goggle Black from “Dai Sentai Goggle Five” who played his role both before and after transformation; Toshimichi Takahashi, who played a villain in the same show; Tsutomu Kitagawa, a noted Godzilla suit actor; Kihachiro Uemura, the suit actor for Green Flash in “Choshinsei Flashman”; and Kenji Takechi, a top disciple of Kenji Oba, a regular of this event but currently recuperating from an illness.

To be honest, I was a bit concerned we might not have much to talk about. We already streamed events to celebrate the 45th show in the Super Sentai series and the 50th anniversary of the Kamen Rider series, and shared memories about deceased stunt actors. However, rather unexpectedly, the mood changed with a live audience because of their immediate reactions to what the actors said. Many new stories were told, ranging from how crowded Kamen Rider stage shows were in their prime and the brutal autograph sessions that followed, to cheerful stories about regularly visiting hospital patients in their Kamen Rider suits. I made a mental note to get more details on later occasions.

I was most impressed by their conversations regarding a superhero’s nanori, a signature set of moves that superheroes perform as an introduction before a fight. Haruta, who recently created a series about nanori on his YouTube channel, gave the audience instructions on how to make each part of the pose. After watching his demonstrations, I asked all of them what they considered to be the most important thing about nanori. Their answer was unanimous: There’s no specific pose. Just heart. Now that I think about it, we tend to be preoccupied with stylized poses when trying to imitate superheroes’ nanori.

“What matters most is the heart. You have to believe you are the hero or the animal the character is designed after, and then make the movements. In addition, you must be full of so much passion that your face almost shows through the mask, or you end up just making an ordinary pose, instead of a true nanori,” said Niibori.

Some of the red-clad Super Sentai heroes he portrayed were inspired by birds. Before acting such roles, he would visit zoos to observe the birds and watch the moment they took flight or noted the shape of their claws.

“Even [the claws of] the same bird can look completely different depending on how it places its strength on the tips,” he said emphatically.

Is this an example of that saying “God dwells in the details”?

As the expert continued to speak pearls of wisdom, he was interrupted by a question from a member on stage who said, “So then, what’s the difference between a hawk and an eagle?” Everyone burst into laughter and the air was filled with joy.

During the finale of the show, the suit actors performed heartfelt nanori poses, one by one. The performances were done in silence, with no background music or sound effects. But the audience intently watched the moves of each actor, so they wouldn’t miss even the sound of the actors’ fingers swishing through the air.

Once again, I was convinced that these events I organize are precious opportunities to listen to tokusatsu legends and experience their presence. We still need to be cautious to prevent spreading the novel coronavirus, but I hope to resume events where we can enjoy being around each other, albeit slowly.