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Celebrate the 60th anniversary of ‘Gekko Kamen’, Japan’s first Tokusatsu sci-fi superhero TV show


Mishio Suzuki, left, talks to Koichi Ose.

“Gekko Kamen” (“Moonlight Mask”) is Japan’s first tokusatsu sci-fi superhero TV show, airing in February 1958 when TVs were still black and white.

Against the backdrop of the construction of the Tokyo Tower, the all-white-clad hero showed off a cloak, fought for justice and defeated evil. He immediately won the hearts of children and became a post-war hero. It’s not going too far to say that all of Japan’s tokusatsu series – Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and the Ultraman series – wouldn’t have happened without the success of Gekko Kamen.

Gekko Kamen celebrated his 65th birthday in 2023. Amazingly, Koichi Ose, the actor who played Gekko Kamen, aka private detective Juro Iwai, is still fit and active at the age of 86. Is not that great? That’s why I held a talk event in November to celebrate the anniversary with Ose as a guest.

Of course, most of the audience and myself are not from the generation of people who saw Gekko Kamen when it aired. We belong to the generation of those who heard about the show through videos and other media. But as I listened to the stories Ose vividly told us, I felt as if I had lived in that time. It was magical.

Mind you, this was long before the time when the know-how of superhero dramas was established. Apparently the filming looked like a group of people stumbling around in the dark. The budget was insufficient, so the entire program was shot on location. The president of Senkosha, the company that produced ‘Gekko Kamen’, offered his house as a location. The lounge was used for Iwai’s detective office and the garage was the lair of his enemy, Dokuro Kamen. The production staff did not have the proper equipment, such as that used for films, so the entire program was shot with a wind-up camera and the maximum length for each take was 28 seconds. However, this limitation ultimately gave the drama lively and realistic parts.

Ose said he could never forget being injured on the first day of shooting. It was during filming for the show’s opening credits that took place at Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo. The camera used was simple and had no special functions.

“I was told to jump off a fence and then just stand still when I landed. That’s why my ankles couldn’t absorb the impact of the jump, and suddenly I broke my left foot,” he said with a chuckle.

Surprisingly, the filming didn’t stop and the crew brought the camera to his hospital room where they continued filming while he changed to and from Gekko Kamen and Juro Iwai’s.

The show had a lot of action scenes.

“But there was no mattress to be seen. We only used a blanket occasionally, and the assistant directors held the four corners for use,” he recalled.

That’s another surprise.

Nobuhiro Suzumura, the director of several Super Sentai and Kamen Rider dramas, participated in the lecture. He talked about the differences between tokusatsu shows then and today. Anison (anime song) singer Hideaki Takatori also took the stage. He sang the theme song of “Gekko Kamen” in a serious manner and added a spark to the event.

Lately, quite a few Super Sentai and Kamen Rider shows have celebrated or are about to celebrate anniversaries of various sizes, prompting them to host events and produce new films. Yet none of them have as much impact as the 65th anniversary of ‘Gekkko Kamen’. At the end of my event we talked about our desire to celebrate the show’s 70th anniversary.

Ose said he stays fit by taking a walk every day, and it is not uncommon for him to eat an 8-ounce steak for breakfast.

“I have decided to return to the ‘moon’ when I am 105,” he said forcefully.

The event encouraged Tokusatsu fans that we should stay fit and do our best to celebrate the 70th anniversary with him.

I look forward to covering many topics about tokusatsu superheroes in 2024 as well.

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