Learn how an actor’s career can branch after debuting in tokusatsu.
Many celebrities in Japan have origins in tokusatsu. In fact, many actors consider those shows as a good entry point into the industry.
Actors like Takeru Satoh and Hiro Mizushima have origins in Kamen Rider. The former is considered one of the most popular celebrities in the country. He cites Kamen Rider Den-O as his acting break. While it’s not a surprise to many that actors in Japan can find their break through appearing in a show targeted kids, it wasn’t always like that.
But what is it about appearing in a tokusatsu show that gives your career a chance to become a top billing actor. Joe Odagiri, who portrayed Kamen Rider Kuuga, made his break in tokusatsu. Many cite his career taking off after that as a one-off fluke.
The next lead actor to make their big break was Kamen Rider Kabuto, portrayed by Hiro Mizushima. While Odagiri’s fame came as a surprise, the latter not so much. Toei producer Shinichiro Shirakura offered the role of Souji Tendou to Mizushima in Kamen Rider Kabuto because Shirakura knew Mizushima was going to blow up as an actor upon their first meeting in an elevator.
Initially though, Shirakura struggled finding young actors to play leads in Kamen Rider series. Many agencies would often ask him, “Why should one of our actors be in your show?” It wasn’t until 2010, when we started to see the trend of actors making their break in tokusatsu; a pattern that began with Hiro Mizushima. After that, it became known as a good beginning for debut actors to get their name out there.
But why do people in these shows made for children become so popular?
Housewives? Handsome Actors? Best Match
A small majority of the demographic are housewives who tune in by themselves or alongside their child. While enjoying the story is one aspect, many are attracted to the handsome actors that appear in the shows.
Handsome men and action scenes pair well together. According to Excite, women in Japan like men who are hosomacho, or a thin man with well-defined musculature. Many of the Heisei Riders fit this type. The hand movements. poses, and hand-to-hand fight scenes add to their attractiveness.
Since there are only so many agencies in Japan, it’s very common to see actors who appear in Super Sentai or Kamen Rider to be cast in other, more mainstream shows and dramas. Those who become fans of certain toku-alumni tend to follow their careers or tune into dramas and movies they are cast in.
Most actors have to go through an audition phase. According to Yui Koike, it can be a really long process with multiple stages of narrowing down the actor.
Koike almost lost out on the role of Ahim de Famille because the role was almost given to her co-star, Mao Ichimichi, instead of to her. This also wasn’t the first time she had anxiety about a role as she was one of the last competitors for the role of Kotoha Hanaori of Samurai Sentai Shinkenger a few years prior.
Many of the lead roles in Kamen Rider are played by Junon Super Boy winners. Being a winning candidate does not guarantee that you’ll be in a Kamen Rider series nor will it increase your chances of being in any show. Atsuhiro Inukai actually spent a few years not having any roles or auditions despite being a winner. He admitted wanting to quit the industry because of the lack of activity in his career.
You can read more about Inukai’s experience here.
During the Year
Filming for a show can begin as early as 4:00 in the morning and end late at night. This is the typical schedule for Toei’s shows which doesn’t allow actors much free time.
On their days off, they may have to attend photoshoots, meet-and-greet events, and television appearances that their agencies schedule for them on top of filming. The shows they appear in help leverage these promotions, especially for debut actors. Actresses also do gravure photoshoots, but this is will be a topic for another time.
In some cases, actors go days with no sleep. Like Koike, who traveled to rehearsals late at night for her idol group Tomato n’Pine after a day of filming Gokaiger. She would return to set in time to resume filming for her next scenes the next day.
It’s also worth mentioning that actors don’t get paid much. They get paid about 50,000 yen (or roughly $400) per one month despite the long hours they have to work.
Some actors gain immediate fame during the filming of a tokusatsu show, but others find fame after.
The World of J-Drama
After the show wraps up, the actors, now with acting experience, are usually able to find roles in dramas that have a bigger audience depending on the timeslot, like NHK dramas.
While Kamen Rider and Super Sentai attract a small audience, NHK’s asadora, or morning dramas, are watched by a much wider audience. The shows are 15-minute episodes and air every Monday at 8:00 AM and a rerun is broadcasted in the afternoon. Casting for this drama, especially for the heroine role, is very competitive.
The story usually centers around a female character who faces challenges while working to achieve her dreams. The heroine role is cast by NHK, who have to go through several thousand applicants during the casting process for every show. Tao Tsuchiya, who played Princess Emerana in Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial, was cast in a lead role in two different NHK asadora.
According to director Takashi Shimizu, sometimes actresses are chosen by the screenwriters themselves because the writers want to work with them. Other times they are chosen because of their popularity, which guarantees a higher viewing rate.
As far as casting for the male characters though, Shimizu remarked that since 2010, the Kamen Rider series has a very good selection of ikemen, or handsome actors to choose from.
And while it’s not explicitly stated, the actors for asadora are chosen because of their looks.
Some actors find their break in these dramas. Like Ryouma Takeuchi who portrayed Shinnosuke Tomari in Kamen Rider Drive. In 2017, he starred in NHK’s Hiyokko, NTV’s Kahogo no Kahoko, and TBS’ Rikuoh. Since then he has appeared in many programs, and he can be seen on giant billboards all over the country. In fact, Sumibi to Wine, an eating establishment in Japan, named one of their drinks after him.
Theater and Stage Shows
Live performances like theater and stage shows are another career path actors can pursue. There are many original productions and manga/anime based productions that many tokusatsu alumni join. Seiya Motoki, who portrayed Noel / Lupin X / Patren X in Kaitou Sentai Lupinranger vs Keisatsu Sentai Patranger, actually played Naruto in the musical of the same name.
It’s a Gamble
While starring in a tokusatsu series can help you be noticed, it won’t necessarily impact your career in any way. While you are able to get your name out there thanks to an older audience that watches the show, it does not guarantee that your career will take off. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop supporting them either!