"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Sunday, July 5, 2015

JULY 5, 1943


Alas, poor Ultraman! I knew him, Officer Amagi...

At the age of five or six, ULTRAMAN came into my life through our living room television set, my life would never be the same. While I loved dinosaurs, monsters, the space age, and having already met Godzilla kith and kin, it was the weekday broadcasts of the silver and red superhero, which drove me to obsess over science fiction and fantasy films and teleseries from the land of the rising monsters.

And the actor who brought this savior from the stars to life was Satoshi "Bin" Furuya.

Born in Tokyo's upscale Azabu Ward (now a part of the Minato Ward), Furuya was picked as one of Toho Studio's 15th Annual "New Faces" (along with his ULTRAMAN co-star Masanari Nihei), after graduating from Toho's Acting School in 1960. Cast in several small or background parts, in films such as Ishiro Honda's MOTHRA (1961), he garnered his first screen credit (as "Ken") in the Jun Fukuda crime thriller, THE HOWLING JAILBREAKERS (1962).

After appearing in a number of kaiju eiga (such as GHIDRAH), Furuya's towering stature and physical proportions didn't go unnoticed by Eiji Tsuburaya, who thought the tall thesp would be a wonderful monster suit actor for the series ULTRA Q (1966). Furuya resisted, at first, but who could refuse working for Japan's visual effects wizard? He soon found himself under the wing of Haruo Nakajima, Godzilla himself. After ULTRA Q, Eiji thought that Furuya would be the perfect choice to portray the titular character of his next series: ULTRAMAN.

And the rest, as they say, is history — Furuya was the first and the best Ultraman. Shortly after the conclusion of the series, all of the young actor's efforts and suffering beneath the suffocating suit, was rewarded by Tsuburaya Productions for their next series. This time, featured — sans masks — in the main cast of ULTRA SEVEN (1967) as "Officer Amagi" of the Ultra Guard; a character who has endeared himself to a generation of Japanese fans to this very day.

But, to me, he will always be the one and only Ultraman!

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