Friday, December 21, 2012

Wishful Casting: Kamen Rider Skull Edition

Kamen Rider Double was the first Rider show I enjoyed since Ryuki. Although I felt it was very candy-coated -- not all very Ridery -- it was fun, enjoyable, and not as offensive as a lot of the Rider shows right before it were. I think it could have easily been a little darker, taken itself more seriously AND been more Ridery, but Double had the misfortune of being in a post-Den-O world. God, imagine how cool this show could be if it treated its noir elements and hard-boiled setting seriously!

Right at the top of the show, they make a mystery out of who Shotaro's superior, Soukichi Narumi could be. We just see a Fake Shemp from behind, but of course it got you wondering who'd they possibly cast. (I was sure it would be someone like Hiroshi Miyauchi. Yeah, maybe he's a little too old to have a daughter as young as Akiko, but this is television, dammit!)

Narumi is such a cool role -- the mentor of Shotaro; the private detective who IS hard-boiled, who knows his stuff, who was cleaning up the streets of Fuuto before Shotaro was born, the one who Shotaro tries his damnedest to be, but can only imitate. I like Soukichi/Skull so much, that I think it would have been cool if they gave him a short-run, 12-episode series featuring just his adventures. I think there's a lot of cool possibilities for stories for him -- a true hard-boiled Kamen Rider that could be all noirish and awesome. Soukichi's the rare older hero in a toku, so they could have cast just about anybody, and they end up casting...Koji Kikkawa. That goofy guy who made an ass out of himself in music videos as the less-cool half of Complex in the late '80s? Well, that was disappointing to find out. But Kikkawa did end up surprising me, I was shocked at how well he played the role, and how believable he was as the cool, stoic, hard-boiled dude.

But, still. I always like seeing former toku people return. Once they cast Kikkawa, it hit me -- if they were going for someone who would make sense, age-wise, to father Akiko, someone from the '80s who inspired all of Shotaro's '80s-ish outfits, and ended up casting an '80s singer...wouldn't it have been cool if it was Daisuke Shima!?! Shima's gotten a kind of world-weary and sorrowful look to him as he's gotten older, and I think he could have made a pretty cool hard-boiled character. Add to that some coincidences like Shima releasing a few singles like in the '80s with titles like "Hardboiled Romance," that were meant to evoke noir-ish elements, and that, in the next to last episode of Double, Shotaro has a line that mentions "otoko no kunsho" -- which also happened to be the title of Shima's first hit song from '82. I seem to recall a couple of other coincidences, which at the time made me wonder if they WERE considering casting Shima (and the whole weight issue reared its head), but they've slipped my mind. Anyway, I think Shima would have been a cool Narumi. It would have been interesting to hear him sing "Nobody's Perfect," but the paradox is since Kikkawa composed that song, it wouldn't have been the same song...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Crazy Gokaiger Treasure

Saw this on eBay -- the Gashapon Ranger Key of Miss America -- complete with the peeling sticker action typical of the Gashapon Keys -- is apparently so sought after that there was a bidding war, with the final price being one-hundred smackeroos. I know this was the rare one of that particular release's line-up, but it's still nucking futs! Luka Millfy would have had no problem selling the actual Key for that price in the show. (Probably for even lesser than that.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaoranger VS Super Sentai is Awesome -- Screw the Haters!

It's the middle of 2001, and I'm checking out Yahoo! Japan Auctions for Sentai stuff. Suddenly, I see an image -- a poster -- featuring an awesome illustration of Gao Red and all of the previous Sentai Reds. The bottom of the poster reads: "Hyaku-juu Sentai Gaoranger VS Super Sentai." I immediately search the net for what this could be -- are they bringing back every Red!?! How many old actors are going to do this movie!?! Jill's Sentai Page eventually got the info from all of those TV Magazine scans -- it's a special mid-year versus movie, with older Sentai characters, like...that '70s dude, Miku from Megaranger, the Gingaman guy, the crackhead from GoGoFive, yeah, yeah, newbies to appeal to the kids, where's someone super cool...wait, is that... HOLY SHIT! RED FALCON! Red freaking Falcon! Daisuke Shima, back in his Miami Vice knock-off look and all! It was official: this movie would be my movie-event obsession until its release.

It hit rental in August, but wasn't easy to find until it was released for sale a month later. It felt like a long wait, and you have to remember -- in 2001, downloads weren't so easy to come by. There were still more people on dial-up than high-speed, so even IF the movie was up somewhere, it was difficult to download stuff when not only would it take a while to load, but you could easily be bounced offline. You had to wait for one of the toku VHS sellers to get in the new stuff, and those guys take too damn long, especially when you're impatient and anticipating a movie like this.

In 2000 and 2001, I wasn't in much of a toku frame of mind. I couldn't get into Timeranger, I wasn't into Kamen Rider at the time, I didn't like Gaoranger when it started, so I didn't do much toku watching then. But Gaoranger VS Super Sentai got me back into it, head-on. At the time, I hadn't ventured too far out of my toku comfort zone -- more specifically, I hadn't watched much of the older stuff. The first toku I saw was Changeman, so anything that came before '85 seemed pretty different and weird to me. I hadn't seen any of the Sentai shows from the '70s, period. But not only did the clips in the movie get me more interested in checking out the older Sentai, but Hiroshi Miyauchi got me interested in checking out a lot more than just Sentai...

Miyauchi in this movie is gold. He's charismatic and FUN as Banba/Big One, and I still have no idea who plays Big One in-suit, but they really make him larger-than-life and kick-ass in order to match Miyauchi. Other than seeing some Ohranger, I didn't really know Miyauchi, but I enjoyed him so much in this movie that it got me to check out not only V3, which started to open the Kamen Rider door for me, but (more importantly) Zubat. If I thought Banba was fun in this movie, Hayakawa is twelve times better. Which is good, because as I've said before, Banba's kind of a bummer in his actual series -- he hogs the show and isn't quite the same way as he is in this movie. In JAKQ, he's a sore-thumb goofball who represents the severe lightening of the show's tone; by Gaoranger VS Super Sentai, the man Miyauchi had pretty much become the legend Miyauchi, who wasn't unlike Hayakawa (Miyauchi's favorite role), and the Banba here is more of a melting of his roles.

The entertaining Hiroshi Miyauchi, who obviously had a blast in this movie.

The most common complaint about this movie is the heavy use of old clips. It's important to keep in mind when this movie came out: Toei Channel didn't exist yet, so reruns were rare, and Toei only started releasing DVDs with Gaoranger. (Also, like I said, downloading episodes wasn't really a thing at the time.) Some of the older shows from the '70s and early '80s had an official release on VHS or Laserdisc, but it usually wasn't the entire series, but an assortment of key episodes or fan favorites. And the entire Bioman through Liveman run had NO official VHS or Laserdisc release..! So, seeing some of these older clips was a little more special at the time, because a lot of these shows hadn't been seen for a while, or in as nice of quality. Also special was how the movie made use of a variety of old background music tracks and insert songs. (I still love the segment set to Kenta Satou's Turboranger song "Kokoro yo Shinayaka ni Mae!") You gotta love Toshihiko Sahashi's excellent Gingaman BGM being used in scenes such as the big old Red pose-a-thon at the end.

Does the movie's script leave something to be desired? Sure. I find the movie's main villain to be pretty dull -- although it's cool they brought back longtime villain voice actor Shozo Iizuka -- and it's cheap to have the Dream Team facing off against some of Gaoranger's poorer monsters of the week. But, dammit, this movie was treading new ground. Kamen Riders or Ultramen may have teamed up in previous shows, but it was expected, because a lot of those shows shared the same universe and were sequels. Gaoranger VS Super Sentai was the first to flip the bird to continuity and series logic and just wanted to have fun and bring in multi-generational characters who had no business being together, but, dammit, wasn't it fun to see them together? Liveman never had its own theatrical movie, there weren't versus movies at the time -- who would have thought you'd ever see Red Falcon kicking ass again outside of his series?

They're here to kick ass and chew Fujiya Milky -- and they're all out of Milky.

I thought the idea of the movie was decent enough -- three of the five Gaoranger lose their courage and are taught by three older heroes to regain it. There's something a lot more satisfying about Kai/Gao Blue learning Daimon/Go Yellow's milk tornado attack and doing it himself than it is having the Gokaiger just ace every older Sentai heroes' moves because they have the Keys. (How DID the Gokaiger know how to use those powers, man? They didn't need Gai, they apparently knew everything about Sentai already!) It's nice how they try to incorporate certain things into the movie -- Banba's speech, using his love for the rose as a metaphor for how the other colors make the Red what they are; doing things like matching up the "strong guy" or "sword fighter" heroes -- but moments like these are kind of brief, the movie instead choosing to focus on lengthy scenes of Kakeru/Gao Red defeating monsters he's already defeated, who later go on to be defeated ONCE MORE by the Dream Team. The movie's heart is in the right place, the ideas are there, the ambition is there, but you can sense that Toei's still just a little too scared to let loose, and that Gaoranger was just too cheap of a production; so it falls into familiar Versus movie traps.

But then there are bits in the movie that are just fantastic, like all of Yuusuke's bits. I was so into Liveman in the late '90s, when I got back into toku, that had this movie been released then? I probably would have considered swimming to Japan to see it. But they really put care into the Liveman scenes in this movie, using old locations, digging out the awesome Tatsumi Yano background music, and even getting little details like the dates Kenji and Senda were supposed to have died correct (1989, as the Liveman series was wrapping up). We see Yuusuke paying his respects to his friends, flipping out when Yabaiba steps on a grave. My first reaction to seeing Red Falcon fight Yabaiba was "Wow! This suit actor really studied Liveman, because he's moving just like how Falcon did in the show." So, imagine my surprise when the credits come up and I saw Kazuo Niibori's name. I had no idea he would have come out of ten years of retirement to do a movie like this, and it was AWESOME, and added so much and was just as big of a deal and important as Daisuke Shima returning to the Yuusuke role, in my opinion. Also, the movie solves something I had wondered about Liveman -- in the final episodes, Gou Omura is gunned down by Guardnoid Gash, but they never answer whether he lived or died. (He was in pretty bad shape.) Well, since he doesn't have a gravestone here, Gou apparently lived. (Good thing, dammit!) And I love that they play the Liveman opening theme during the Dream Team's fight.

Daisuke Shima and original suit-actor Kazuo Niibori return to the role of Falcon.

The movie's not perfect, but I think its flaws should be forgiven, considering just what a new idea it was. Toei still hasn't made the perfect crossover in my opinion, but this tried its damnedest, and has one of the better mixes of old and new heroes. (If this was done in the Superhero Taisen way, Big One and Red Falcon would just be voice-actors and it would only focus on Gaoranger.) It's a light and fun movie courtesy of nostalgist director Noboru Takemoto and writer Masanao Akahoshi, who would later go on to greater acclaim for being the main writer of Ultraman Mebius, the anniversary entry for that franchise. Not only do I like it for its entertainment, but it's an important movie to me for getting me interested in all sorts of shows. (It's also the first R2 DVD I owned -- I received it as a Christmas present, in addition to the poster I mentioned above.) And it's still a damn sight better than Boukenger VS Super Sentai.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Westward, Ultra Seven!

Shout! Factory's Ultra Seven DVD set was recently released and I just got my copy. I'm not much of an Ultra-fan, but I like the Showa shows, and especially Ultra Seven -- it has a great, likable cast, an Ultra hero you can really root for and care about, some damn neat-o sci-fi stories, and some great, great atmospheric and inventive direction. I feel like I haven't really seen this show from start to finish -- I watched it REALLY out of order, in varying degrees of picture quality, often needing the TNT dubbed version because of originals being hard to find -- so I'm excited to watch the full thing, in its uncut, original form, in satisfying video quality. (OK, I'll still need to haul out a TNT episode -- for the infamous banned episode 12. I never really understood the hatred for the Cinar/TNT dub, other than the editing footage for time and/or violence. They'd put in a few more jokes, but they kept most of the plot and dialogue close to the original show -- it's not like they were making fart jokes or mocking the show like Night Flight's Dynaman. And the voice actors all fit the characters so well that they captured those characters and gave them life, which is really uncommon for a dub to go to such lengths. The TNT dub was my first exposure to this show, and I might not be an Ultra Seven fan without it.)

Some reviewers have put down this set for "poor" picture quality, and I was nervous by the case's declaration that the picture is "from the best available source from the licensor" (which sounds like code for "we didn't get this from Tsuburaya" to me), but I think the picture quality is fine. No, it's not up to par with Tsuburaya's R2 release (which has picture so crisp and purdy that it manages to look awesome on even a crappy VCD), but it's still pretty good for a 45-year-old, foreign genre show. I'm assuming the source was probably an old LD release, but I could be wrong. I think it was a mistake to cram eight episodes onto one disc each, which I think is the reason for the quality drop, however.

It's a nice set of a classic, classic tokusatsu series, at a decent price, easily available in America. If Tsuburaya can manage to get out their own sets using their R2 transfers with extras, that would be great, but for now...I think people should enjoy this show. I recommend checking it out.

By the way, if you buy this set directly from Shout! Factory online, it comes with a freebie -- a cool, very-'60s looking poster.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sentai Suits Are Strong, and Made of Metal

If you're a Sentai fan, you've probably dealt with jokesters making comments about the spandex used to make a majority of the Sentai teams' suits and mocking them. "OMG, how is spandex supposed to protect the heroes, LOL!!!!!!!!!" Well, if you bother to watch the good shows, you find out that the writers came up with their own Toku-Science for this: the suits are obviously meant to have cybernetic or metallic elements or something like that. Duh. Here's a picture of what the Changeman suits are meant to look like underneath it all:

(This book also explained that the Power Bazooka components are summoned from the little box that's on the left side of the belt.)

There's also many instances where the suits, when taking severe hits in violent battles, will start to have the metallic elements emerge:

I always thought this was a cool little touch made by the show creators. All it takes is a little imagination, sucka!