Friday, May 7, 2010

Super Festival 52: Joe Shigeru Triumphs Over Evil

Super Festivals start to blend together once you've been to a few and acclimated yourself with the dealers, so thankfully Art Storm always manages to bring in interesting guests and exhibitions. The obvious draw for Super Fest 52 is Araki Shigeru, AKA Joe Shigeru AKA Kamen Rider Stronger! But before we get to the main event we have to sit through amateur hour.

It’s not a comic-con without porn stars. and ASAMI was there to meet the quota. ASAMI is mostly known in the west for showing up in a number of Z-Grade shlock action films such as Robo-Geisha and Machine Gun Girl, but her fellow countrymen will never forget her early hits like Beautiful Girls Who Think They're Ugly Grovel in the Dirt For Sex and It's All in the Wrist.

Accompaning her was good-girl co-star Miwa Hitomi to promote the upcoming Sukeban Hunters series. Films like this mark the end of respectable V-Cinema. Imagine a Hong Kong remake of a direct-to-video version of Grindhouse and you'd be close to the level of inbred awfulness which has somehow become the accepted norm thanks to enterprising hacks like Iguchi Noboru.

What the world needs now is... a hero!

Sounding his whistle of justice that would make Proto Man blush, Kamen Rider Stronger took to the stage in his pedestrian form amidst spectacular fanfare. Let the questions begin.

Q: How did you end up playing the part of Stronger?

A: At the time I was doing commercials and playing bit parts in TV shows. One day I was contacted by Fujiyama Hiroshi, the first Kamen Rider. Fujiyama was an old friend from school and he became my key to the industry. They gave me the choice between Condor Man, Go-Ranger, or Kamen Rider. I had been a fan of the series, so it was a no-brainer--Kamen Rider!

Q: You were a national hero during the show's heyday. Were you ever spotted by fans or children?

A: The script kept us shooting on location up in the mountains and at abandoned factories, so I hardly had the chance to see anyone outside of my co-stars and crew. My schedule was an endless cycle of eat, sleep, shoot—I didn’t have time to live it up and mingle where the people were.

Q: You have such prominent features that I’m sure someone must have recognized you.

A: On the contrary, I went undetected at my own events! One time I did a gig at Korakuen Amusement Park (now Tokyo Dome) and while waiting for my show to start I sat myself down in the middle of the stands. No one looked twice! But then again, whose expecting a celebrity to be in the audience for their own show? The suit probably threw them off as well—People are used to the jeans and denim jacket.

Q: You did all of your own stunts. Did you ever hurt yourself during production?

A: I sprained my ankle 6 times jumping from tall places. It’s not fun—I could hear it snap inside your head when I landed. Of course, the show must go on, so if I messed up my right ankle I would put my weight on my left side. The problem is, what do you do when you’ve used up both of your good ankles?

Q: Didn’t you have crash mats to cushion your fall?

Oh we did, but they’d be all the way on the other side of the location. The director didn’t want to waste the 15 minutes it would take dragging it over to us. It was like that with everything. I remember one episode I’m hanging from a cable car—I was supposed to have a life line in case I fell, but I was having a hard time attaching it. The director’s yelling at my from twenty feet below to “Get on with it!” so eventually I just said screw it and did the scene free-hanging.

It wasn’t life-or-death, but it was a lot more dangerous than you would know watching from home.

Q: What’s your favorite scene from the series?

A: Around Episode 30, Stronger’s partner Tackle gets killed. I’m holding her body in my arms as the sun goes down behind us. We did a few test shots, and let me tell you, her actress, Okada Kyoko, was a hefty girl! My arms were shaking by the time we started shooting.

Q: She is part robot so it only makes sense that she’d be on the heavy side.

Now came the part of the show that gave hard-core Rider fans the motivation needed to leave their houses that day. Araki stepped out from behind his protective placard and let it all hang loose, acting out his classic transformation sequence and striking some manly poses for the cameras.

No sooner had the crowd gotten itself back under control that Tooru Hirayama took the stage and set them off again. Hirayama was producer for every Kamen Rider through the mid-80s, as well as the original Go-Rangers and stranger fare such as Mizuki Shigeru's Akuma-Kun. Unfortunately the years of concentrated hustling on the Toei lot have taken their toll on the man's mind and he was barely coherent enough to hold his mic. Before they cut him off, he left us with these words of wisdom:

"Nothing gets your old ticker pumping like being on location! Why, sometimes when the girlies fall down you get a fresh shot of their white panties!"

Spoken like a true mogul. Araki Shigeru himself is still active and on the prowl. When he's not in the studio with Four Saints, his folk-pop band from the 60's who recently staged a revival, he's operating a singles bar in Fujishima-Ku, Komagome. He may not be building schools and digging wells in Africa like his mentor Fujioka Hiroshi, but he's still making the world a better place for lonely baby boomers everywhere.

Enjoy a special sendoff from him and the boys of Four Saints, too preppy to sing the opening for Kamen Rider Stronger.