Ultraman Action Specialists Thrill Audience in Tokyo

From left: Daisuke Terai, Koji Nakamura and Sanshiro Wada strike a light-beam attack pose with a wish for the end of the pandemic.

For the first time in four years, I organized Chojin Matsuri, a talk show featuring suit actors who worked in the Ultraman series from the Heisei era (1989-2019). As regular readers of this column know, suit actors play superheroes in full-body suits and masks after the transformation from the characters’ human personae.

This time the show featured three suit actors: Sanshiro Wada, Koji Nakamura and Daisuke Terai. Wada played Ultraman Mebius and other Ultra heroes; Nakamura appeared as Ultra heroes of the first Heisei-era series, from Ultraman Tiga to Ultraman Gaia; and Terai donned suits for Ultraman Cosmos, Ultraman Nexus and Ultraman Max, among others.

I often invite guests to tokusatsu superhero-related events that I organize, in addition to the regular members. However, this event has always featured just these three performers, plus myself as emcee.

The trio told various interesting stories about the series and related events. For example, Nakamura said he served as a posing supervisor for Ultraman Gaia SSV — Ultraman Gaia in an upgraded mode — who appeared in the event “Ultra Heroes Expo 2023 Summer Festival” that started on July 22. He instructed the performers not to lower their center of gravity too much when striking a squat-like, ready-to-fight pose.

According to Nakamura, performers these days tend to pose with their feet spread and a low center of gravity.

Terai agreed. “It must be in fashion lately. A lot of suit actors prefer to have a low center of gravity,” said Terai, who now works as the action coordinator for the series’ latest work, “Ultraman Blazar” currently broadcast on TV.

Suit actors’ TV postures are copied by performers in the series’ regional stage shows, who exaggerate them further, even during hand-shaking sessions with fans. As a result, sometimes there are tragicomic incidents of superheroes getting a leg cramp while shaking hands with fans.

“Ultimately, it’s those relatively young [suit] actors who suffer most,” Wada said.

Nakamura also referred to Ultraman superheroes’ footwear.

“I had to wear leather boots, so when I knelt down, the boot got so tight I was afraid it would cut off the blood flow to my leg. It gave me a really hard time,” he said.

Nakamura looked at the other two for agreement, but Wada and Terai, who worked in the series later on, hesitantly demurred. They said they wore sneaker-based boots that were much easier to work in, leaving Nakamura speechless.

For the first time in a long while, the event featured a combat action class that invited members of the audience on stage. In these classes, suit actors demonstrate Ultraman superheroes’ characteristic movements when they fight kaiju monsters, and let audience members imitate the sequence.

This time, Wada was the action director, and Terai played several kaiju monsters he probably made up on the spot. Both Wada and Terai did a great job. Terai thrilled the audience with his engaging portrayal of kaiju, such as an oddly humanlike monster he named Teraii, who intimidated the crowd with his cries of “Shi-ne!” (Die!), and a prawn monster who devoured seaweed-like stuff using two-finger claws.

The audience and I laughed heartily as we watched his performance. At the same time, I was really impressed by his seasoned skills, because his performance made us imagine there really was a kaiju monster much larger than him on stage.

The 2½-hour show went by very quickly as Wada, Nakamura and Terai sang, danced and had fun playing games. The suit actors ended the event with Ultraman postures for generating a beam of light to attack enemy kaiju. This time I asked them to demonstrate their light beam techniques with prayers for expelling the pandemic.

Of course, the light beams are invisible in the venue. But I was deeply moved by their performances, as even their fingers were tense, making it look like they really were emitting light beams from their fingers. I definitely want to continue holding this event with the three of them, whose friendship is always a highlight.