So, when Neil and I were talking about the title of this article, we had the idea of “Intro to Tokusatsu,” and the other idea was “Tokusatsu Gateway Drugs.” We sorta pushed all of it together, and realized, that most people wouldn’t know what exactly tokusatsu is.
Most of you probably clicked on this and thought, “It says drugs, some Japanese word I’ve never heard, probably related to drugs, and, the hell, that’s a Beetleborg!” then fell for the click bait. You were confused.
But don’t worry, so was I at one point. I was just like you, unsure of what in the world tokusatsu exactly is.So, literally, tokusatsu literally means “special filming” in Japanese and is sort of a rough translation of “special effects.” However, this term is often used for a certain type of movies and shows, and includes multiple subgenres:
- Kaiju: Giant monsters, think Godzilla. Occasionally, people include other characters like Ultraman in this category, who could count, but usually in a kaiju film the focus is on villainous, giant, monsters.
- Superheroes, AKA Henshin Heroes: People who have powers, or wear costumes that give them powers, or maybe they’re aliens. It really depends.
- Sometimes they’re known as Henshin Heroes, because they perform some sort of transformation sequence (Read: dramatic poses and post-production) which activates their costumes.
However, just like numerous action genres have blended together in the United States, there are Japanese writers always trying to mix them together, oftentimes, probably under as much scotch whisky as some children’s writers in our country enjoy. If the budget’s good enough, your hero, or heroes, get a robot. If your show’s so popular that a superfan steals the giant robot costume after your 5th episode’s aired, you still do your best to finish your season.
Especially if your client is Marvel Comics.
Japanese Spiderman (1970s)
Toei No Supaidaman, as it is called in Japanese, was one of the first attempts by Marvel to officially market a character on television, in another country.
So, this means that you damn nerds can’t complain “It’s unauthorized, Stan Lee would never say Turkish Spider-Man could be a terrorist,” Because, Stan Lee’s seen it, and he’s totally fine with Spider-Man being a professional motorcycle racer, and strangely enough, in this version, his father is still a scientist, but he’s studying meteors and other strange things surrounding “Planet Spider.” No seriously, it’s called Planet Spider, so you know it’s gotta be strange.
Anyways, Supaidaman has plenty of powers that are just like the original recipes: Spider Sense, climbing walls and urban skyscrapers like a spider can, super strength, and his web shooters have been replaced by a Spider Bracer, (Spider Bracelet) which shoots webs, but is also pretty much what everyone secretly wished the Apple i Watch really was. Except for design wise.
The Spider Bracer can shoot out webs, send out a Spider-Tector costume, Call up Supaidaman’s car, a modified dune buggy, which could also fly. Oh, and he also had the motorcycle. But, if the villain of the week became a giant, he could call in a UFO, which would transform into a giant robot.
And somehow, people go nuts for it. Supaidaman’s not an only child, orphaned in Queens, he’s the oldest male orphan in a family of 4, tasked with not only watching over his brothers and sisters, but everywhere in Japan for aliens who are attempting to invade Earth, and some of them are even super inaccurate representations of Dr. Doom.
But is this Spider-Man as much of a great representation of the common man, maybe even common geek, tasked with uncommon problems as Peter Parker, the American? He definitely is, but in many different ways.
For example, after becoming Supaidaman, Takeda has trouble signing up for races, which is his usual source of income, so he starts working at the same newspaper press as his girlfriend. Her boss is a loud, bossy female editor-in-chief, similar to J. Jonah Jameson, but she is in fact an alien who has been working undercover to undermine humanity, and as needed, use the news to smear people, like Supaidaman.
Tokusatsu in America
The most popular example in America, is Power Rangers. However, Super Sentai, the source material for Power Rangers, has been continuously running for 40 seasons in Japan. Continuously, in one universe.
If you know your way around the internet, you may have heard of Kamen Rider.
Just to warn you, being a tokusatsu nerd is kinda like getting drunk on plum wine all the time: Even though you’re an alcoholic, the fellow addicts won’t identify with you because of the strange foreignness of the drug of choice.
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