Tokusatsu legend charms audience, fellow actors

Tetsuya Nakayashiki, center, strikes a pose during Kanreki Matsuri in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 22.

Tetsuya Nakayashiki stretched his arms to one side and then moved them as if to draw a big arc. And there he was. Without a doubt, I saw a Kamen Rider from the second half of the 20th century appearing on a dimly lit stage in the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku, Tokyo.

The scene took place at Kanreki Matsuri, a talk show featuring veteran tokusatsu suit actors. As the event’s host, I organized its October event and invited Nakayashiki as a guest. He was a member of the Ono Kenyukai group of action and stunt specialists that played superheroes in tokusatsu sci-fi action TV shows and films in the late Showa era (1926-1989). Among the characters he played were Kamen Rider V3, Kamen Rider Super One and Aorenger from “Himitsu Sentai Gorenger.” He was kind enough to take part in and support the show that is still recovering from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Kanreki means “60 years old,” so all the participants are veterans. The event included Kazuo Niibori, aptly nicknamed Mr. Red for playing many Super Sentai series’ superhero team leaders clad in red; Junichi Haruta, who played the Super Sentai superheros dressed in black costumes both before and after transformation; Toshimichi Takahashi, who has played both heroes and villains; Tsutomu Kitagawa, famous for being one of Godzilla’s suit actors; and two actors yet to turn 60: Kihachiro Uemura, who played Green Flash in “Choshinsei Flashman”; and Kenji Takechi, who came to the event on behalf of Kenji Oba, who is currently convalescing.

They are all regulars at the event, and usually chat away freely. Once Nakayashiki came on stage, however, they all instantly acted like newbies or fans, to my utter surprise.

“I used to watch Mr. Nakayashiki’s movement all the time. Please watch me because I will now perform one of those scenes,” Haruta said, while Niibori fawned over Nakayashiki, saying, “Bro, you looked so cool from the back in that one scene.” Usually, you never see these suit actors so starstruck at the event. At the same time, their reactions spoke volumes. Nakayashiki is a legend who charmed many people not only with his acting and actions but also with his character and personality.

At the request of Niibori and Haruta, Nakayashiki improvised a scene in which Kamen Rider stood on a cliff after defeating an enemy monster. He wore no Kamen Rider mask, and there were no sound effects. But Kamen Rider was there in front of us.

“I just did what I was told to do,” he said modestly, but I could hear sighs of amazement from the audience.

Nakayashiki chuckled and revealed one hilarious recollection when he appeared in a police detective TV show. His character, a yakuza member, was being chased by police. When the character found himself cornered at the end of a blind alley, he acted frightened and turned back toward the police. Then the director laughed and told him, “This is not Kamen Rider.” What happened was that Nakayashiki unwittingly moved his arms the moment he turned, making him look like a superhero getting ready to pose for his next move.

“I couldn’t help but move like Kamen Rider. I thought that the role was already part of me,” he said, adding that he still finds it difficult to turn around without posing.

He also revealed many other precious experiences from his tokusatsu life, such as standing on top of a 50-meter-tall chimney in “Kamen Rider V3” and acting amid pillars of fire from explosions using a large amount of gunpowder. His stories fascinated both the audience and the actors on stage.

Nakayashiki and Niibori entertained the crowd with a rare treat of seeing two members of Gorenger perform their introduction poses. It was an extravagant event indeed.

It is now well into the 21st century, and the time when Showa-era Kamen Rider came into being is quickly becoming part of the distant past. But I would like to keep a record of what happened on set during those years and make them known from now on, too. That, I believe, is a duty of mine as I have come this far led by superheroes.