Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Toku Legends: Masashi Ishibashi

The awesome Ishibashi. He's regularly terrorized JAKQ, Battle Fever, Dynaman and Turboranger... He's faced off against Kamen Riders and Space Sheriffs... He's gone as far back in toku as the original Kamen Rider series... He's crossed paths with Sonny Chiba many, many times. In the English speaking toku and/or Japanese action film fandom, I feel like Ishibashi's never gotten the respect he should.

Trained on the stage and a martial artist since childhood, Ishibashi's big break came when cast opposite Chiba in a sequel to his "Bodyguard Kiba" series -- Ishibashi made such an impression that Chiba suggested him for the role of Junjo Shikenbaru, the opponent of Chiba's Takuma Tsurugi in the wildly popular (and wildly controversial) "Street Fighter" movies. I know Ishibashi's character is a murderer, but with what Chiba's character does to his family, combined with the solemn and defeated demeanor Ishibashi gives Junjo, it actually makes me root for Junjo over Takuma. (But, we know whose name is over the title, so we know who ends up winning that match, huh?) This led to numerous appearances in other Chiba action films.

All of these movies being Toei, it wasn't long before Ishibashi started getting toku gigs. His first regular role was as JAKQ's only villain, Iron Claw, a character I talked about previously as having been improved by Ishibashi even while Ishibashi is let down by the writing and the terrible way the show wrote him off. At first a guest in Battle Fever J, he eventually takes over the role as Hedder, a warped sort of monk that commands the Egos cult's troops, a part which Ishibashi has fun with. He then moves on to Dynaman, as General Car, in which Ishibashi gets his best design by Yutaka Izubuchi. As a way to celebrate 10 years of Super Sentai, Toei brought Ishibashi back to play the demon scientist Reida in Turboranger, but never really knew what to do with his character, so he was sadly written out of the show fairly early. He made his big return to the franchise with the Gekiranger movie, playing the shady media figure Yang, who sets up an "Enter the Dragon"-style fighting tournament -- Ishibashi coming full circle in a way, returning to not only Sentai, but action films, as that movie pays homage to '70s style martial arts movies. Ishibashi has said that his goal in playing toku villains is to showcase the dedication and pride the characters had, and that he looks at tokusatsu as the fairy tales of today.

Ishibashi's made a couple of toku guest appearances sprinkled throughout the years, and I wanted to focus on two of my favorites:

In Kamen Rider Black #40, he plays a kindly old man who has taken in a disciple, a young boy who's under the impression that the man is a karate expert. The only thing is, Ishibashi's character is a broken man; retired after a dull life working a desk job he never advanced in, but what really broke him was when his fear made him unable to save his grandson in a near-death accident. He doesn't want to let the boy down, so keeps up the impression that he's an expert. When a Golgom plot brings Koutarou to the mountains where the man lives, it's not long before they're confronted by a monster. Once again trembling and frozen in fear to save the boy from the monster's clutches, the boy dismisses the man for the fraud he is...that is, until the monster again catches up to the boy, and Ishibashi finds the courage to save the boy -- ready to sacrifice himself in order for the boy to make his escape. The boy finds a new respect in Ishibashi's character, and Ishibashi starts finding more confidence in himself, and he soon takes on more disciples. Ishibashi plays the character as good natured and frail, and makes him really sympathetic. He also makes the episode stand out more than it should, because it's a pretty nothing episode to come so late in the series.

Episode 27 of Jetman is pretty bonkers, and in it Ishibashi plays what I like to call Super Priest -- a bad-ass that Commander Odagiri enlists to help when Radeige uses supernatural powers to trap the Jetman's souls in a hellish realm. Ishibashi's character not only pulls our hero out of death's hand, but guides Ryu's spirit to the afterlife in order to save those who Radeige was successful in "killing." Two rare good roles for Ishibashi after a long career of playing bad guys, and he's really good in them. There's just something likable about the guy that you can't help but enjoy when you see him pop up in something.

This year marked Ishibashi's 80th birthday. It would be nice of Toei to give him a voice role or something, but he's at least (sort of) being paid tribute in the upcoming season of Akibaranger, in which the villain bases his look off of his favorite Sentai villain, which is Ishibashi's General Car. To be truthful, I don't feel like he's ever been given that one super-iconic toku role that made most use of his talents, but Ishibashi lifted his characters to greater heights with his abilities and presence, and has made a mark on the genre, and for that, he is a Toku Legend.


  1. JAKQ vs.Goranger gave me an impression that Iron Claw is one fun villian, and reading this article now made me want to watch JAKQ more. Also, just like Yutaka Hirose, I want to see him back in Sentai any time soon. Speaking of which, what are your thoughts about Yutaka Hirose?

    1. Yutaka Hirose is my hero. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9uT12QIVcE

      He's probably my all-time favorite toku person.