2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Kamen Rider series. The series, initially heralded with the catchphrase “bizarre action”, has continued to evolve, incorporating the change in times in its stories and its suit designs. Kamen Riders now look very different than how they first looked, so is there a fundamental “coolness” to them? When asked to Hiroe Igeta, who played a female Kamen Rider in Kamen Rider Zero-One (2019-2020), she replied, “It’s in Kamen Riders doing everything they can to make a kinder world.” What does she mean by this?
You played Kamen Rider Valkyrie in Kamen Rider Zero-One. Of course, you’re not the first woman to transform, but this is the first time a female Kamen Rider has been a regular cast member from start to finish.
I had heard that, but I didn’t consider being a woman that transforms to fight as anything special. I was very surprised to see the reactions after the Zero-One press conference.
When I was small, I didn’t watch much TV. Of transforming characters I can still remember, Ojamajo Doremi is the show that comes to mind. If I changed the channel to Kamen Rider, I thought, “Oh, this is also a thing.” The scenes where they fought enemies left a strong impression. Even just watching a little of when they beat the enemy was a little scary. I watched it with the sense that this would be something boys would enjoy.
In Zero-One, Valkyrie is very different compared to Vulcan who appears lively and favors power.
Yua Yaiba’s job is as a technical advisor for a company that dispatches AI. She has a cool personality based on science and theory, and it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking. To be honest, I was worried for a long time about how to play her well.
Is that because it was difficult to picture a female Kamen Rider?
Well, it has nothing to do with being female. It wasn’t pointed out during filming that I’m female, and I wasn’t told to act a certain way because I’m female. Because Valkyrie wasn’t to be that kind of role, I had to be mindful of my speech and my body language to not come off as inferior in strength compared to the male fighters.
Even just speaking more directly for my lines was something I wasn’t used to. I realized from playing this role that I have a lot of subconscious female mannerisms.
What do you mean?
Female characters in the Super Sentai series act in ways that come off as “feminine” and a little cutesy. I wasn’t necessarily into it, but I often fell into that kind of behavior.
When I noticed that, I thought about my past roles and how many could be considered “typically girly”. They were soft, mild women, but I think the Yua Yaiba that transforms into Valkyrie is close to me in personality. I’ve put a lot of logical thought into why things are this way and why being “girly” didn’t sit right with me.
I really like Valkyrie’s suit. The cheetah-inspired lean silhouette is simple and not particularly girly.
Do you dislike girly things?
I wondered about that as I played Yua, but cute clothes and a cute, feminine personality are a part of me. Now that I’ve played a hero like a Kamen Rider, I wonder if my mindset is a bit different. It’d be better to be more free of it.
Of course, physical appearance and gender are linked to some degree. Despite how I act, I will probably still be seen as a woman. Valkyrie could also be considered feminine because of her curves.
I’ve come to think that masculinity and femininity are a gradation rather than entirely separate things. I think “cute” and “cool” are the same way.
“Cool” isn’t just a guy thing, you mean?
That’s right. Cute and cool aren’t specific to any gender. Kamen Rider being cool isn’t just for men, and of course it isn’t just for women. A hero’s strength has nothing to do with gender either.
What is the strength of a Kamen Rider?
I think it’s their will. For example: a president leading their company, parents wanting to protect their children, or doctors wanting to save their patients. They all have a strong desire and a strong will. That’s a sign of a hero, a sign of a Kamen Rider. And it’s okay if you’re not always strong. My character Yua Yaiba also fell to a dark place. In times of doubt, the ability to pick yourself back up is also a mark of a hero.
Are you saying that anyone can be a hero? Heroes seem more special.
It certainly seems that way to viewers, myself included. In the story, Valkyrie was ordered by the head of her organization to fight against the other Riders. There’s a scene where she rebels and gives her boss a “punch of resignation”, and there was this huge response. People were saying, “She found her strength!” I was really surprised because I thought the message we were sending was about how strong heroes are when they defeat their enemies. Like, “we can show it in this way too”?
I believe that a Kamen Rider’s strength is in the strength of their humanity. They are strong, but not overpowered. They can do more because they lend their ears to others. People who can live to make a kinder society are Kamen Riders. That’s what I believe now.
(Interviewer: Jun Takaku)
Source: Mainichi Shinbun