Some people may recall the live-action series “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.” It was actually an American adaptation of “Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger,” the 16th Super Sentai series, with each subsequent season taking footage from each subsequent Sentai series.
The company behind the series, Saban, also attempted to adapt other tokusatsu series. “Kamen Rider Black RX” was adapted into the series, “Masked Rider” which only lasted a season and led to legal action being taken by Ishinomori to prevent later adaptations.
The only other “Kamen Rider” series to be brought to the U.S. was “Kamen Rider Dragon Knight” in 2009 by Adness Entertainment. Based on “Kamen Rider Ryuki,” the series performed poorly and was then cancelled before the last two episodes could air.
“Big Bad Beetleborgs” and “Beetleborgs Metallix” were adaptations of “Juukou B-Fighter” and the follow-up, “B-Fighter Kabuto.”
“Choujiki Metalder,” “Jiku Senshi Spielban,” and “Uchuu Keiji Shaider” were all spliced into the series “VR Troopers,” borrowing from the same “Metal Heroes” franchise where “Beetleborgs” got its footage.
Saban wasn’t the only company to import tokusatsu programs to the U.S. In the 60’s, Ultraman was broadcast on U.S. television dubbed over by the same team that brought over Speed Racer. Other entries in the “Ultra Series” as well as iterations of Super Sentai and Kamen Rider were aired with subtitles on television in Hawaii and certain parts of California.
From March 2-3, the first annual Anime Salt Lake Convention will take place at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus. One of the panels focuses on tokusatsu, and since I’ve mentioned tokusatsu in the past, I’ve decided to give you a brief history and analysis of this fascinating genre of Japanese cinema.
Tokusatsu can be translated as “trick shooting,” or “special shooting” in Japanese. It is often used to refer to visual effects. Over time, the word began to refer to a genre of film and television that relies heavily on special effects.
With its heavy use of in-camera special effects, simple yet intricate costume designs, and the somewhat predictable yet somehow incredibly epic storylines, the appeal of the genre is undeniable.
Modern iterations of tokusatsu owe their origin to the release of the film “Gojira,” known here as “Godzilla,” in 1954. Director Ishiro Honda and special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, drew inspiration from the classic US monster movies such as “King Kong,” but due to budgetary and technical limitations, they had to resort to having monsters played by actors in rubber suits, in lieu of the stop motion techniques used in the US.
The popularity of films like “Godzilla” set the stage for Tsuburaya to develop the concept of a weekly kaiju television series, leading to the creation of the now-iconic Ultraman. Larger tokusatsu milestones would come in the 70’s.
Shotaro Ishinomori, known for works like “Cyborg 009” , initially tried to adapt his manga, “Skull Man”, for television. Both he and producer Toru Hirayama redesigned the character to resemble a grasshopper in order to appeal to children, creating the series, Kamen Rider, which premiered in 1971. The series followed Takeshi Hongo, who fought against the terrorist organization, Shocker, who forcefully turned him into a cyborg
The popularity of Kamen Rider led Ishinomori to combine the “transforming” hero concept with the superhero team concept from “Cyborg 009,” leading to the debut of “Himitsu Sentai Goranger” in 1975, kicking off the “Super Sentai” franchise.
While the Showa era (1926-1989) Kamen Rider shows stuck to a fairly linear storyline, Super Sentai changed annually with a new story, characters, and motif ranging from martial arts to pure science fiction.
Kamen Rider and Super Sentai are two of the genre’s major frontrunners, both having recently celebrated their 40th and 35th anniversaries with the series, “Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger,” and “Kamen Rider Fourze.”
Thanks to the internet, people outside of Japan have discovered these programs. As a result, large fan communities that rival those of comics and anime in size have begun to form. The genre will no doubt continue to thrive in the years to come.
Next week: The techniques and technology behind anime.