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Celebrate 60th Anniversary of ‘Gekko Kamen,’ Japan’s First Tokusatsu Sci-Fi Superhero TV Show

Mishio Suzuki, left, talks with Koichi Ose.

“Gekko Kamen” (”Moonlight Mask”) is Japan’s first tokusatsu sci-fi superhero TV show, and it started broadcasting in February 1958 when TVs were still black and white.

Against the background of the Tokyo Tower being constructed, the hero dressed completely in white flaunted a mantle, fought for righteousness and defeated evil. He instantly grabbed the hearts of children and became a postwar hero. It does not go too far to say that all tokusatsu series in Japan — Kamen Rider, Super Sentai and the Ultraman series — would not have come into being had it not been for the success of Gekko Kamen.

Gekko Kamen celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2023. Amazingly, Koichi Ose, the actor who played Gekko Kamen, aka private detective Juro Iwai, is still fit and active at 86. Isn’t that great? So, I held a talk event in November to celebrate the anniversary with Ose as the guest.

Of course, most of the audience and myself are not part of the generation of people who watched Gekko Kamen when it was broadcast. We are from the generation of those who learned about the show on videos and other media. However, as I listened to the stories Ose told us vibrantly, I started feeling as if I had lived in those days. It was magical.

Mind you, this was long before the days when the know-how of superhero dramas was established. Apparently, filming was like a group of people stumbling around in the dark. The budget was insufficient, so the whole program was shot on location. The president of Senkosha, the company that produced “Gekko Kamen,” offered his house as a location. The lounge was used for Iwai’s detective office, and the garage was the lair of his enemy, Dokuro Kamen. The production staff did not have the right equipment, such as that used for films, so the entire program was shot with a wind-up camera, and the maximum length for each cut was 28 seconds. However, this limitation eventually helped the drama have lively and realistic cuts.

Ose said he could never forget getting injured on the first day of shooting. It was during filming for the show’s credits that took place at the Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo. The camera used was basic and had no special functions.

“I was told to jump off a fence and then stand still by myself when I landed. That’s why my ankles couldn’t absorb the impact of the jump, and all of a sudden I broke my left foot,” he said with a chuckle.

Surprisingly, shooting did not stop, and the crew brought the camera to his hospital room where they continued filming with him changing costumes to and from Gekko Kamen’s and Juro Iwai’s.

The show had many action scenes.

“But there was no mattress in sight. We used only a blanket occasionally, and the assistant directors held its four corners for use,” he recalled.

That is another surprise.

Nobuhiro Suzumura, the director of some Super Sentai and Kamen Rider dramas, took part in the talk. He spoke about the differences between tokusatsu shows back then and today. Anison (anime song) singer Hideaki Takatori came on stage as well. He sang the theme song of “Gekko Kamen” in a serious manner and added a spark to the event.

Recently, quite a few Super Sentai and Kamen Rider shows have celebrated or are going to observe anniversaries of various scales, prompting events to be organized and new films to be produced. Yet none of them is as impactful as the 65th anniversary of “Gekkko Kamen.” At the end of my event, we were talking about our wish to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the show.

Ose said he keeps fit by taking a walk every day, and it is not rare for him to eat a 250-gram steak for breakfast.

“I’ve decided to return to the ‘Moon’ when I’m 105,” he said with vigor.

The event encouraged tokusatsu fans that we must stay fit and do our best to celebrate the 70th anniversary with him.

I look forward to discussing many topics about tokusatsu superheroes in 2024, too.