Revered ‘Suit Actor’ Jiro Okamoto Shines at Jiro Matsuri Event

Jiro Okamoto performs a “nanori” medley.

In March, I successfully held yet another Jiro Matsuri talk event. This project features veteran actor Jiro Okamoto, who excels in action and has worked as a suit actor — a performer who plays superheroes and villains in masks — for such tokusatsu sci-fi superheroes as Kamen Rider BLACK, Kamen Rider BLACK RX, Kamen Rider Ouja and Kintaros, a popular character in “Kamen Rider Den-O.” He belongs to the Japan Action Enterprise (JAE) and enjoys huge popularity among fans of tokusatsu films and TV shows.

The latest event was the 18th edition of Jiro Matsuri. Initially, Okamoto grumbled that he was not one for speaking in front of people, and I had to drag him out on stage. He glared at me during the inaugural event, but now he thoroughly enjoys himself from rehearsals to being on stage. It’s been an amazing change over 18 years.

The event opened as usual with Okamoto talking about what he’s up to now. The diverse program included demonstrations of stage combat, dance and a skit by Iindayo Greendayozu, a two-superhero unit exclusive to this event.

This time we added a new element to the show: a stage combat class by Okamoto under the theme “Let’s make Jiro’s nanori.” Nanori is a set of signature moves and calls that tokusatsu superheroes perform before fighting. First, the two members of Iindayo Greendayozu — who bear an uncanny resemblance to actors Kihachiro Uemura and Kenji Takechi, even though they deny it — came up with catchphrases for Okamoto. Then the audience came up with ideas for his nanori poses, which he polished on stage.

The catchphrases were all funny, such as, “Jiro Okamoto the beer lover,” “Jiro Okamoto the mediocre golfer” and “Jiro Okamoto the Bruce Lee fanboy.” Helped by the audience’s inventive ideas and Okamoto’s professional skills, a number of hilarious yet convincing nanori sequences were created. The new project turned out much funnier than we thought it would be when planning it.

In the second half of the event, we were joined by Hiroyuki Muraoka, Shinichi Kaneda, Masashi Shirai and Kazutoshi Yokoyama, all members of the JAE, Japan’s foremost agency for action performers. They discussed Okamoto’s appeal and played charades to entertain the spectators. Another JAE member, Riichi Seike, who had told us he couldn’t make it because he was shooting in the northern Kanto region that day, rushed to the event directly from filming, still wearing a sweatsuit.

The best part was the nanori medley by Okamoto himself. He performed a whopping 42 different nanori sequences on the day. Among them were a series for a robot that changed its name as it evolved, and Okamoto presented its nanori in rapid succession. He also accepted my outrageous request and performed the nanori of a samurai who sided with the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu but lost to Imagawa Ujizane in NHK’s epic historical drama “Dosuru Ieyasu” (“What Will You Do, Ieyasu?”).

Okamoto also gave perfect performances of other nanori, ranging from a rank-and-file enemy soldier in “Dengeki Sentai Changeman,” whom he played shortly after his debut, to popular superheroes, such as Kamen Rider BLACK, sometimes in collaboration with fellow suit actors.

When he did the nanori for Shinken Gold from “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger,” I could almost see the superhero’s Sakanamaru dagger in his empty hand. With the nanori for Gorisaki Banana from “Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters,” I could see the silhouette of Gorisaki, who is much larger than Okamoto. The air felt darker when he performed the nanori for Gen. Schwarz, an enemy character in “Ressha Sentai Toqger,” and I could imagine outer space when I saw Oushi Black’s nanori in “Uchu Sentai Kyuranger.”

In the end, he gave us a treat and played his own nanori, which we devised that day. It was such a luxurious time, as if we were watching a film with 42 different scenes.

Jiro Matsuri has an atmosphere that is both relaxed and professional. Thanks to an extraordinary performer by the name of Jiro Okamoto, it has grown into a unique event, I think. I want to continue sharing his charms with the world as long as he and his colleagues stay fit.