Explosions, water dives — cast, staff discuss ‘Gaoranger’ 20 years later

Photo courtesy of Mishio Suzuki
Four actors who played superheroes in “Hyakuju Sentai Gaoranger” shout “Ekibyo taisan!” (Begone, plague!) during a livestream event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the show on June 14.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of a Super Sentai tokusatsu superhero series “Hyakuju Sentai Gaoranger,” I recently hosted a livestreaming episode all about it.

Members of the main cast took part — Noboru Kaneko, who played team leader Gao Red; Kazuyoshi Sakai (Gao Black); Kei Horie (Gao Yellow); Takeru Shibaki (Gao Blue) and Takemi (Tetomu), as well as Rei Saito, Motokuni Nakagawa and Tetsu Inada, who portrayed the villains. Singers Yukio Yamagata and Salia, producer Jun Hikasa and director Noboru Takemoto also participated. Mio Takeuchi, who played Gao White, joined in the festivities over the phone. Actor Atomu Mizuishi, who played Kiramai Blue in the more recent “Mashin Sentai Kiramager,” joined as well, saying that he grew up watching “Gaoranger.”

I’ve organized and taken part in many events like this with all of these actors and others related to the series, including events when they were still active in the Sentai genre. So, I was under the impression that they had shared everything they could about “Gaoranger.” I was wrong. They talked about many fascinating incidents that happened during filming. I thought the anecdotes that included explosions and falling into water were the most impressive. Kaneko went into detail about the show’s explosions, which are a staple of the tokusatsu genre.

“We used to run through blasts, and [Gao] Red always had to lead the other members,” said Kaneko, speaking of his character. “There were times when the explosive devices we were running toward didn’t go off, even if we were very close to it.

“Waiting for it to explode, running slowly or stepping [directly] on the spot was always the scariest part,” he said.

Takeuchi was said to have been always crying when she had to run through explosions during rehearsals.

Kaneko says that he’s still traumatized. When he had to fire a handgun while playing a yakuza gangster in a direct-to-video film, he unwittingly yelped and turned away at the sound of the gun going off.

When the topic of falling into water came up, everyone had something to say. There were comments like “I was swept away in a river” and “Somehow, it was always when it was cold outside.” Shibaki, at one point, was even completely submerged in water.

“There was scene in which I had to go underwater for a while then float on the surface. But I couldn’t manage to completely stay underwater, so I was told to hold a stone,” Shibaki said.

“Sinking yourself with a stone? That’s borderline criminal!” Sakai jokingly interrupted.

Horie, who at the time was also working as a film director, was quite edgy. Takemi revealed a time when Horie criticized her acting.

“He called me out because my career as a model was longer than my acting career,” she said, puffing her cheeks.

Horie, who has completely mellowed now, apologized to her. “I don’t remember it at all. I’m sorry!” His deep bow as he apologized sparked laughter from the others.

As fond memories and nostalgic feelings filled the venue, the occasion was really like a school reunion. Listening to the singers performing the theme songs, I have a feeling that both the participants and the online audience were tapping into similar emotions they experienced 20 years ago, when “Gaoranger” was still on the air. The show involved various physically outrageous routines as well as crude moments driven solely by impulse. Even so, looking back, I still think “Gaoranger” had a spark that earned it the honor of being the 25th milestone work of the Super Sentai series.

“Let’s [do our best to] keep living in our own little corners of the world and meet up again for the 30th anniversary,” Kaneko said at the end.

We would all be so fortunate to survive these hard times and get together in 10 years time; smiling together, not online but in person. From the bottom of my heart, it was such a great honor to be able to meet the Gaorangers.

– M.Suzuki is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist and an expert on tokusatsu superhero films and dramas.