‘Jiro Matsuri’ Held with Crowd for 1st Time in 4 years

Jiro Okamoto, center, performs during Jiro Matsuri in Tokyo on March 11.

Last month, I organized and hosted Jiro Matsuri 17 (the 17th Jiro festival), an event featuring veteran suit actor Jiro Okamoto. For the first time in four years, the event was held with a live audience. Okamoto is known as a suit actor who performs inside the full-body costumes of such heroes as Kamen Rider BLACK and Kamen Rider BLACK RX. In recent years, he has superbly played Kamen Rider Ouja as well as Kintarosu in “Kamen Rider Den-O.” The novel coronavirus forced us to hold the event online without spectators, so it was the first time in ages for Okamoto to appear in front of an audience.

As I saw the facial expressions of audience members, I could see that this event was for Okamoto’s avid fans to admire his talent. In the show’s early years, he seemed overwhelmed by the fans’ idolizing stares, and could barely start conversations by himself. Even when he answered questions, he didn’t raise the microphone to his mouth, making it difficult for us to smoothly proceed with talks. But he has changed over the years and now suggests interesting topics by himself, and even actively responds to my questions, which convinced me that it is worthwhile to hold events regularly.

The first half was devoted to updating the audience with Okamoto’s recent roles. He played Kamen Rider Ouja in a new film that was shown this past winter and a new drama for the first time in many years. In the drama produced and streamed by Toei Tokusatsu Fan Club (TTFC), Okamoto played his part alongside Takashi Hagino, who played the superhero’s human persona before transformation.

“Hagino was doing a great job, so I did my best to vie with him,” Okamoto said.

I was surprised after watching a video from a TTFC talk event commemorating the release of the drama because he would occasionally lead a discussion. “You improved at the Jiro Matsuri!” I told him in a self-congratulatory way. He humbly agreed, saying, “That’s true,” while admitting that he loathed talks on stage in the early days of Jiro Matsuri because he had no idea what to do.

In the second half, his colleagues from Japan Action Enterprise — Riichi Seike, Hiroyuki Muraoka, Shinichi Kaneda and Masashi Shirai — joined in. This year, Yasuhiro Takeuchi, who played Saru Brother in Super Sentai series tokusatsu sci-fi superhero drama “Avataro Sentai Donbrothers,” also came to the event. Actress Ayumi Shimozono — suit actress for Oni Sister in “Donbrothers” — who came as a member of the audience, was brought on stage midway. Everyone contributed to make a fun event. The high point of the evening was when actors Kihachiro Uemura and Kenji Takechi, who had formed this event’s exclusive unit Iindayo Greendayozu, joined Okamoto in a game session, bringing more excitement to the audience.

The audience erupted with laughter many times over the course of the evening, in particular when Okamoto started performing a compilation of his characters’ nanori — a signature movement to introduce themselves. I usually choose the nanori for him to perform, and this time I chose 38 characters. When we held the event online with no audience, we had to limit the number of characters, so this was his first full performance for some time. Okamoto performed all 38 nanori, all very different from each other. Seeing those characters recreated through Okamoto’s body was a sight to behold. Toward the end of the show, as a special bonus for attendees, Takeuchi and Shimozono also joined Okamoto to perform the nanori of Don Brothers.

The 17th Jiro Matsuri was a really fun event that swept away the stagnation of the past few years. I’d really like to continue holding this event to let many people have the opportunity to get to know the real Jiro Okamoto in person.