"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, August 1, 2010

“I Really Wanted To Play A Bad Guy!”

池田駿介氏インタビュー「特撮BESTマガジン」(2005) より 

Ikeda with his original Kikaida 01 belt and helmet. ©2005 Kodansha

The following is an interview which appeared in the Kodansha Publishing magazine series "Tokusatsu Hero Best Magazine Vol. 2" (2005), with actor Shunsuke Ikeda, who is best remembered as "Ichiro" in KIKAIDA 01 (1973). Mr. Ikeda passed away on June 11, 2010. You can read more about the late Mr. Ikeda, here.

Actor Shunsuke Ikeda’s father, Tatsuo Ouchi, was a famed tateshi (swordfight scene choreographer), and Mr. Ikeda has followed him in his footsteps as the head of the "Ikeda Action Club". In this interview, Mr. Ikeda talks about the filming of KIKAIDA 01 and its cast.

—Did you always like tokusatsu (visual effects productions)?

Yes, perhaps because my father was a choreographer for swordfight scenes. I was infatuated with jidaigeki (samurai drama) heroes. I really admired Ryutaro Otomo as “Kiri-no Kojiro” in FUEFUKU DOJI (1954).

—But wasn’t "Kiri-no Kojiro" a bad guy?

Yes, he was an evil hero. Hakaida (Kikaida's evil "brother") is called Japan’s first evil hero, but I feel that someone like that already existed in the 1950s. That’s whom I wanted to play.

—So, you wanted to get into jidaigeki?

I was a student at the Bunka-za Theater, but since I studied both jidaigeki and modern acting, I decided to try out for Toei Studios. I was picked in Toei’s 10th season of its “New Faces” competition—one of my colleagues was Nenji Kobayashi (THE HIDDEN BLADE). I got to act in detective shows and jidaigeki, and in 1971 was given a role in RETURN OF ULTRAMAN.

—You played Officer Takeshi Minami, a member of MAT (Monster Attack Team)?

Yes, and maybe because of RETURN OF ULTRAMAN’s popularity, I got to play Ippei Hanagata in Tsuburaya’s EMERGENCY COMMAND: 10-4/10-10 (1972). To play a tokusatsu hero is the first step in becoming a star as an actor. I was happy that my acting abilities were recognized. As I was on my way back from shooting on location, I saw the filming of the first episode of KIKAIDA at a small drive in.

—That’s the series which stars Daisuke Ban?

Yes. It aroused my curiosity, because I had worked in tokusatsu… then I saw this half-faced mechanical man. It was like those human body models in classes at school. In my day, the heroes were Kurama Tengu and Moonlight Mask, both of whom were slick and polished.

—So was Ultraman.

Kikaida had this unbalanced look, so I immediately thought, “This is no hero!” Yet I never dreamt that I would being playing the main role in its follow up.

—How did you land the role for KIKAIDA 01?

Amachi Productions represented me at that time. Shigeru Amachi (JIGOKU) was a big star at Toei then. I was told that Toei was going to produce a sequel to KIKAIDA, and if I would be interested in the main role.

—But, you didn’t have a good impression of KIKAIDA?

I thought that the main character was still going to be Jiro and Kikaida. I’m older than Daisuke Ban, so I thought it would be hard for me to play that role. But, as talks progressed, I learned that the main character would be Kikaida’s older brother. That’s when I thought that I could play the role.

—How did you feel about the character of Ichiro?

The costume was gaudy—bright blue slacks and a red jacket… I was embarrassed. Besides, I head to wear a helmet, and carry a trumpet on my back. A guitar would have been better.

—So, the costume didn’t fit your image of a hero?

My image of a hero is a polished look. He looks down on the villain from above, and shows off his skills. Yasutada Mizuno directed the first episode, and he took time and care in filming the silhouette of me playing the trumpet. He advised me on my moves, and how to execute my key lines. That’s when I realized “This is the part for me!”

—Shotaro Ishimori’s heroes always incorporated a very distinct Henshin Pose…

There was a media conference at Toei’s Oizumi Studios a week before we started shooting. The author of the show, Mr. Ishimori (CYBORG 009), was present, and asked me to do a Henshin Pose.

—Mr. Ishimori asked that of you?

I asked him what I should do, and he started moving his arms and body to show me how to do it. He brought both hands around the front of the helmet, and shouted “Change! Kikaida 01!” Mr. Ishimori explained that Ichiro needed the sun’s rays to transform, so I should push forward to be able to absorb the rays. There are many Ishimori Heroes, but I’m probably the only one who was personally instructed on the Henshin Pose by Mr. Ishimori himself.

—Isn’t it unusual for the author himself to give you such advice?

Usually, it’s the action choreographer or director that does this, but I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Ishimori before the series started.

—Were you confident in performing action scenes?

My father, who was a fight scene choreographer, had taught me the basics, so I had confidence, but I was taken aback by doing action scenes with my helmet on. Peripheral vision became impaired, and it even affected my moves. However, I got used to it.

—Didn’t you do a scene without the helmet?

Yes, the last scene in the first episode. I wanted my face to be seen, so I purposely removed my helmet in the last scene.

—Did you have any difficulty in that Ichiro was supposed to be an android?

I pondered over whether I should act human or not, because I thought that Ichiro had a Conscience Circuit imbedded into him, but his body was still mechanical. Should my movements be like an android? How should I handle the scenes where I suddenly turn around? I really thought about things like this. Of course, as the series went along, I began to think that Ichiro was a highly advanced android, so we was able to move like a human being.

—Kikaida’s Jiro had a sad, dark side, but Ichiro seemed more open and cheerful.

I never got to read the manga, so I played Ichiro’s character according to what I thought he should be. The head producer from NET, Shinichi Miyazaki, told me that the character should be comical and clumsy.

—He asked you to be "comical"?

Yes, that’s what he told me. I refused to play it comically. I asked that someone else play the comedic part. I wanted my Ichiro to be reliable, loved by everyone, and strong; so, I tried even harder. Had I read the manga beforehand, I may’ve understood what the producer was driving at.

—Was it difficult to drive the Double Machine motorcycle?

I was used to riding motorcycles, so it was fun for me. A stunt driver performed the more dangerous scenes, so I just cruised along in my scenes. If you say dangerous, I had to drive into the surf with my helmet on, and that was an ordeal.

—Wasn't there also a scene where you go underwater?

The villains got ahold of my leg, and pulled me underwater. You’d think the helmet would weigh me down, but it started to float above water. The director wanted me to sink deeper, but I couldn’t. The helmet acting like a buoy, and it kept me from going underwater.

—Did any of the KIKAIDA 01 characters leave an impression on you?

Etsuko Shihomi, who played Mari (Bijinda’s human form), was very impressive. So was Nobuo Yana who played Big Shadow, and Jiro Chiba, who played Eisuke Toge. Jiro Chiba was Shinichi Chiba’s younger brother, and a Japan Action Club member. Their team was truly proficient in action scenes. I learned a lot from them. Mr. Chiba then proceeded to choreograph Shihomi’s very first fight scene. I thought, “Wow!” as I watched the scene being shot.

—So, Shinichi Chiba himself came to the set?

Shihomi was only 18 years old, and made her starring debut in KIKAIDA 01, so he took a special interest in her first appearance. I remember Mr. Chiba telling me to look after her. Shihomi had this uncanny sense for action scenes. Her swift movements were a god-given talent. Nowadays, CGI is used to composite these scenes, but everything was done live back then.

—She was beautiful and excelled in action scenes. She lived up to the name of “Bijinda” (mechanical beauty).

Speaking of actresses, in Episode 35, the young Enka singer, Sachiko Kobayashi, appeared as a guest star. Her role was that of a baker’s daughter, and was named Sachiko, too. Ms. Kobayashi went on to become a very big star, but had no qualms appearing in a children’s show, and played her part very well.

—The actors in the costumes must have had it rough, though?

Yes, the costumes were heavy, and during the summer months, the heat became unbearable, like a sauna. Some of the suit actors got sick. In the first episode, we went on location to Higashi Matsuyama in Saitama Prefecture, where we used a plot of land, which was reclaimed from a demolished mountain. The suit actors were all yong and healthy, but one by one, they started to collapse. Hakaida, especially, because of the black costume, caused the actor to pass out several times.

—Did you always watch the shooting of KIKAIDA 01’s action scenes?

I was the human form of Kikaida 01, so as I waited for my scenes, I tried to watch the costume scenes as much as possible. The one in the Kikaida 01 suit was Yukio Mihashi, who had just graduated from Toei’s acting school. He was a cool, handsome guy. I feel that the part of a hero after the henshin should have a fit body, be cool, and agile. Mihashi had all of those qualities.

—Speaking of a fit body, you haven’t changed a bit since those days. How do you maintain your youthful look?

I’m over 60 already. I’m sure that my fans wouldn’t want to see a flabby Ichiro. A hero isn’t allowed to age. Every morning, I run along the Tama River to maintain my stamina.

—Is that because you treasure your KIKAIDA 01 image?

Of course. For instance, when I’m riding a train, and if I hear someone whisper “Hey, is that Ichiro from KIKAIDA 01?” or “It’s Officer Minami from RETURN OF ULTRAMAN!”, I tend to straighten up and stand in shape, even if I’m tired. Whenever I’m in the Ichiro or Minami mode, I tend to forget my age.

—I guess it’s an actor’s job to remain cool and hip.

Exactly. Once in a while, older fans ask me for autographs, and at that moment, I become Ichiro again. It’s a scary habit of mine. I feel it’s my duty toward my loyal fans to preserve my image. The Kikaida 01/Ichiro factor will always be a part of me. I am truly grateful that I came upon this role.

Originally published in “Tokusatsu Hero Best Magazine Vol. 2” (Kodansha, October 2005). Translated by JN Productions. Revised and edited by August Ragone.