Thursday, April 18, 2013

Toku Legends: Jun Yoshida


I don't know if anyone remembers, but I used to have two video tributes to Yoshida on my old YouTube account -- one, "Poe'nd," dedicated to his Shaider character, and "Birugenia Action," dedicated to his Kamen Rider Black character. I wasn't really happy with how either turned out (mainly due to song choices), so I thought I'd just write something about about him here instead of reuploading them.

Yoshida was born on October 17th, 1961 -- the son of longtime Toei producer Tooru Yoshida. Jun had a couple of small movie parts before landing Shaider. While he was one of the finalists for the actual role of Dai/Shaider, he eventually ended up with the part of Priest Poe. I've always thought Poe was an interesting character, and a lot of it has to do with what Yoshida brought to the role.

The whole theme for the villain group that Poe was part of in the show, the Fuuma, was "strangeness." The show would have odd filming techniques or bonkers scenes of deluxe WTF weirdness or would always be playing that damned earwormy theme song of theirs which lets their victims and the audience (of which I imagine many young viewers at the time considered themselves fellow victims) know they're comin'. A lot of the WTFness is just unexplained -- hey, they're the Strange Group. Deal with it. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the character of Poe. Poe's involvement early on pretty much just hinges on how creepily calm the character is and the weirdness that he's a dude dressed like a lady. We're never told that much about Poe, but -- there he is, dressed in a gown, right in the middle of the villains' lair, seemingly high in rank. Who is he? What's he about? In one of his first focus episodes, episode 24, he's given the background that he's really thousands of years old, his true face decomposed, and that he kidnaps beautiful women in order to perform a ritual and take their beauty, perpetuating his own beauty. It gets Naomi Morinaga's Annie more involved in a story, as Poe becomes obsessed with her. (Poe's true face, and the voice Yoshida uses in those moments, is pretty creepy. This part of the story gives off horror-ish vibes that I like, of course.)

Poe's real face.
So, after dancing around it a bunch, the show goes on to refer to Poe as the main villain's "granddaughter." Yes, in the 30s, the show just ups and drops that Poe is supposed to have been a woman all this time. (I remember reading in Toei Hero Max that this revelation supposedly stunned viewers.) After spending most of the show squeezing weirdness out of just not really addressing Poe's deal, they almost make it weirder by declaring that Poe is supposed to be female -- especially when they still go on to have Poe disguise shimself several times as a man. It couldn't have been easy for writer Shozo Uehara to out-weird himself on Shaider, but he managed to do it. But that's kind of what makes Poe unique, but it's a gimmick that wouldn't have worked without an actor like Yoshida. What's interesting about his performance is just how restrained he is. He's not showy, he just plays the character seriously, using a soft, higher voice. It's easy to imagine what a campy and obnoxious and awful character this could have been in the hands of a lesser performer -- the overexaggerated and cartoonish feminine movements they'd make -- but Yoshida is great, he makes the character work, taking it beyond just a gimmick, and he creates one memorable toku villain...ess...

(A lot of places still incorrectly refer to Poe as Kubilai's "grandson," when "granddaughter" is clearly spoken in the show. And, sure enough, Poe is listed with other toku villainesses in books like the Superheroine Chronicles.)

Poe merchandise! In the late '90s, Banpresto released a line of Space Sheriff-related figures, which each came with an SD figure of a character (usually a villain) to match the figure. Annie's figure appropriately came with an SD Poe. Now, where's some Birugenia merchandise!?!

Four years after Shaider, Yoshida finds his way to Kamen Rider Black as Birugenia, the one-time contender of the King Stone who was so crazy he had to be sealed away. I'm a big, big fan of Birugenia. I think he's awesome, and the jolt the show needed, since he was the only really physically active villain until Shadow Moon woke up from his nappy-time. One reason I love Birugenia? He's like the Scott Evil of tokusatsu villains. A little more practical compared to the Golgom priests' typically convoluted and/or unbelievable plots.

Golgom priest: "We're going to lure Koutarou out by staging a mass kidnapping! First, our Buffalo Monster will infiltrate a school, where his lessons will contain subliminal messages that fester in kids' heads, and at night, when he plays his Song of Doom, it will activate the messages and tell them to seek out the Buffalo Monster, who will capture them, and we will then send a recorded message to Koutarou to come and give us the King Stone -- or else! And if that fails, we will try the subliminal message on Koutarou and coax him into giving us the King Stone!"

Birugenia: "Yeah, how about we just go kill him when he's on the crapper, dropping a Blackhole Message? It would be mighty easy to cut the King Stone from his dead body. Guys! Remember, you dug me up so you'd stop doing crap like this! You really think you can take over the world with necklaces that unleash bees? Gosh!"


Birugenia not only always kicks Black's ass and steals his motorcycle (he steals a Kamen Rider's motorcycle!), but he always hits him where it hurts -- not the random kid crying on the side of the road, but his family. I've always liked Birugenia more than Shadow Moon -- he's tough and at least does stuff! Even if he's not always successful, Birugenia's willing to put himself out there and dive into a fight. It's a shame that the show had to kill off Birugenia in favor of Shadow Moon -- why couldn't they keep both? Wouldn't it have been interesting for Birugenia to have been around when Shadow Moon was just standing there, doing nothing, waiting for the series to reach the end so he could have his final duel with Black? Why write off the ONLY villain who was active and regularly an actual obstacle and threat to Koutarou -- Shadow Moon just stood around all day like a paperweight and even when the Golgom priests got their upgrades, they weren't exactly brawling with Black.

But, Yoshida's good in the role. I couldn't believe when I first looked up Birugenia's actor and realized he was Poe. I'll still look at the two, and then at a picture of Yoshida, and can't picture them being the same person. He's either one amazing actor or someone took over his identity between Shaider and Black -- he's made two completely opposite characters, with two really dedicated performances, two everlasting characters -- a villain and villainess. Although he's made brief guest and voice appearances in a couple of other tokus, I think he definitely deserved a couple of other regular roles -- like, hey, where was a Sentai villain for him? (While he deserved a better show than Fiveman, I could easily picture him as Shubarie.) Still, for the two memorable, radically different characters he created, I name Jun Yoshida a Toku Legend.

6 comments:

  1. Birugenia is one of the reasons why I love Kamen Rider BLACK. He is so awesome that there are times that I always root for him to win at the end. Still disappointed that he barely has any screen time in the movie.

    As for his role as Poe/Ida, I always thought that he is actually a she because of the Filipino dub. I guess it's one of the reasons why most people thought that he is Kubilai/Le-ar's grandson. The Filipino dub likes to make some changes to spice up the drama.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's awesome that Birugenia has his fans. I see too many people make fun of him or favor Shadow Moon. I know Birugenia was on the poster of the movie, but I kinda can't remember much about the Black movies, so I don't even really remember him being in 'em at all.

      Delete
  2. When I was watching Kamen Rider BLACK as a kid I didn't like Birugenia much. Upon rewatching I really picked up on how cool he was. The only thing I don't like about him today is his make-upgrade. He kinda looked cooler without the face paint.

    As you said though... "Scotty don't!" Hahaha

    Watching Shaider today is like continuously nodding off in a warm room. Discomfort, confusion, and sweatiness--I feel all of those things. If I start hearing "fushigi" song...I am running as fast as I can. Was Shaider the first show to use those creepy kid masks that we all love? That'd make a good blog entry. Heh.

    I liked Poe for the interesting factor. The headgear is just a little...disco. Villainess designs between like 1980-84 were pretty tragic. > < I wonder how they would handle a similar villain today...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I prefer his rocker make-up to his previous look, but I've grown to like his previous look, too.

      I think a character like Poe today would be played for laughs. And it would be a suited character and not an actor.

      Delete
  3. I would agree Bilgenia IS the coolest bad guy to ever be in Black. For me, he's one of the best evil characters, too bad he had to be sent off. Actually I would say he could have been the inspiration for the creation of the evil rider Kamen Rider Ouja in Kamen Rider Ryuki. It was too bad that Shadow Moon and the three priests weren't so active and just kept sending monsters unlike Bilgenia who really knew how to make Kotaro's life miserable. Fortunately Ouja in Ryuki didn't get written off so easily.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article.But,the one and only song to make Poe AMV to i Mylène Farmer's "Sans Contrefaçon" (for obvious reasons) :p

    ReplyDelete