40 Years of Sentai: Japanese Costumed Superhero Teams

5 Apr

Forty years ago today, on April 5, 1975, a series called “Goranger” premiered on the TV Asahi network in Japan. The full Japanese title of the show is “Himitsu Sentai Gorenja,” translated literally into English as “Secret Squadron FiveRangers.” It was the first in a long franchise devoted to the concept of a team of five people (usually four men and one woman) in color-coded costumes that bestow certain powers and skills on them so they can work together to defeat monstrous enemies either based on Earth or from other planets (or dimensions) who attack Japan and wreak havoc on, usually, Tokyo. Sentai is the general term for this franchise, although Super Sentai is technically the more accurate term for the seasons that began in 1979 since Super Sentai refers to a sentai series with mecha (mechanical vehicles, usually human- or animal-shaped) used by the heroes. (I’m just going to refer to the entire franchise as sentai, non-italicized, in the rest of this piece.) Sentai series are best known in the U.S. for their American version, Power Rangers, which has been on the air since 1993. (The picture on top is from “Denjiman,” the 1980 sentai season.)

Sentai shows are part of the broader Japanese genre of tokusatsu, meaning live-action special effects programs, usually in the sci-fi or fantasy genres. Famous tokusatsu programs include the Ultraman and Kamen Rider franchises and “Giant Robo” (aka “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot”). I covered some of these shows in Ultraman Heaven, my entry from December 15, 2014, and Classic Japanese TV  from March 16, 2014.

Continue reading

Pioneering manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, chronicler of postwar Japanese alienation

23 Mar

On March 7, manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi died in Tokyo at the age of 79. I first heard of him when Dwight Garner reviewed his massive manga autobiography, A Drifting Life, in The New York Times on April 15, 2009. I immediately went out and purchased it after reading the review and read it afterwards.

Tatsumi was famous in Japan for injecting adult themes into Japanese comic books (manga), starting in 1956, when his first full-length manga story, “Black Blizzard,” was published when he was just 21. It’s a vivid, action-packed story of crime, natural disaster, and redemption, done in the style of a hard-hitting, tightly edited crime movie. He popularized the term, “Gekiga,” to differentiate adult-themed manga from comics aimed at children.

Continue reading

ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957): American Songs in Japanese Musicals—and Vice Versa

8 Mar

Hibari cover 2

On November 9, 2014, I wrote about ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), the second in a series of movie musicals starring the group, “Sannin Musume,” consisting of the three top pop stars in Japan of that era, Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura. The third film was OHATARI SANSHOKU MUSUME (aka ON WINGS OF LOVE, 1957) and was the last film they made as “Sannin Musume” before going their separate ways (although sometimes two of them would appear together in films). They reunited in 1964, as adults, for HIBARI CHIEMI IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA, which I haven’t written about yet here. The third film, which I’ll refer to as ON WINGS OF LOVE, the English title given on IMDB, is notable for being the first film made in Tohoscope, the first Japanese widescreen process to be used in Japan (by Toho Pictures, naturally). I first heard about this film in a reference in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life, as depicted in this frame, the caption of which confuses Toho with rival studio Toei:

Tatsumi 1

Continue reading

Oscars 2015: Shorten the Speeches, Amp Up the Stars

27 Feb

Every year the Oscar show unfolds and seems to last forever and every year everyone complains about it. I always tell myself I’m not gonna watch anymore and then, of course, I do. All the way to the end, which is way past my bedtime. This year, the Oscar show was more like the Independent Spirit Awards, with virtually the same movies in competition. Lots of indie people filled the auditorium and few bonafide Hollywood stars of any magnitude were around. There were lots of presenters I didn’t recognize, some of whom I’ve heard of but wouldn’t have been able to recognize (e.g. Chris Pratt), some of whom I’ve never heard of (Ansel Elgort, anyone?), and some whom I’ve heard of but was seeing live for the first time (Margot Robbie). And there were frequent cuts to audience members, presumably nominees, whom I was clearly supposed to know but didn’t.

Eddie Redmayne, eventual Best Actor winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, although I didn’t recognize him when they first showed him

Continue reading

Joe E. Brown, Comic Hero of Small-Town America

12 Feb

 

Joe E. Brown was a major comedy star at Warner Bros. from 1930 to 1936, making 20 starring features for them during that period, until he left the studio for an ill-fated contract with an independent producer that led to a series of lackluster vehicles that brought his starring career virtually to an end. He wound up in B-movies, with an occasional character part in A-movies, turning up years later on television and in memorable bits in such films as AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, and IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.

 

Continue reading

Asian-American Stars on TV: Lisa Lu in “Bat Masterson,” “Hong Kong” and “Coronado 9”

19 Jan

vlcsnap-2015-01-19-12h53m06s87

Chinese-American actress Lisa Lu turns 88 today, January 19, 2015, and, as of this writing, is still active in the business. I’ve written about her in past entries (see THE MOUNTAIN ROAD and the Bonanza episode, “Day of the Dragon” ) and have made an effort to track down some of her numerous TV appearances in the 1950s and ’60s, finding some on Encore’s Western Channel, some on YouTube and some on DVD.

Continue reading

Elvis at 80

8 Jan

One night this week I was watching an episode of The Untouchables called “Ma Barker and Her Boys” and at one point the narrator (Walter Winchell) intones the date of Dock Barker’s arrest, “January 8, 1935.” That sure jumped out at me. It was Elvis Presley’s birthdate. Some time yesterday I realized that tomorrow (today), January 8th, would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday. I wish I’d thought of it sooner and actually watched some Elvis movies, documentaries or concerts for the occasion. Instead, I barely had enough time to compile some of my past writings on Elvis and scrounge up some screen grabs to illustrate them.  Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 43 other followers