Japan Journal, Part 9: Sentai Locations

14 Jul

The Power Rangers franchise gets its action footage from the Toei Studio’s long-running series of sentai (superhero team) programs, which began in 1975 with “Goranger” and continue right up to this year’s “Uchu Sentai Kyuranger.” What I’ve always liked about the sentai shows was their frequent use of Tokyo locations at which to stage the many action scenes. It gives the far-fetched proceedings some kind of anchor in the real world. (Many of these shots turned up in the American version.) Some of them are well-known locations and many are documented on a website called Neo Kerberos Universe: The Real Tokusatsu and Sentai Universe. As I was planning my Japan trip in 2016, I watched a lot of sentai episodes and looked up their locations on this site, with the hopes of visiting some of the most oft-used places.

One reason for the proliferation of location shoots for sentai action scenes is the ability to create explosions, fires and gun blasts via CGI to be inserted into the sequence in post-production, meaning no risk of damage to the filming site.

Before CGI, they’d have to shoot such scenes using real explosions, so they’d stage the fight scenes in quarry sites, far from developed properties.

One location, a sprawling office plaza, really intrigued me because I saw it in episode after episode of several different series, not just sentai series like “Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters,” but also a Kamen Rider series, “Kamen Rider Den-O.” The location wasn’t listed on the Neo Kerberos site and nothing else I consulted yielded any clues.

“Come Back! Samurai Sentai Shinkenger” (2010):

“Gokaiger Goseiger Super Sentai 199 Hero Great Battle” (2011):

“Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters” #13 (2012):

“Kamen Rider Den-O” #18 (2007):

Finally, I just did Google image searches of business districts in and around Tokyo and when I tried Chiba City and saw the pix, I shouted “Bingo!” It was a subway ride east of Tokyo, a few stops past Tokyo Disneyland. It’s near the Makuhari Messe Event Hall. On one rainy day during my last week in Tokyo, I made a trip to the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo in the morning, reserving Chiba City for the afternoon since it was on the same subway line. As the train neared the stop I would need to get off at, I could see the familiar line of buildings from the train:

Even though I could see the buildings, it was still quite a walk from the station. And it happened to be the coldest day of my trip. I didn’t have gloves and I’d be taking lots of pictures. I have no idea what businesses are in the buildings around the plaza or what it’s known for, other than its use as a location. Even though it was mid-afternoon on a weekday in March, there was hardly any activity in the area.

Here are shots I took of the plaza matched with shots from different episodes.

It was so cold and my fingers were aching that I clean forgot to take selfies while in the plaza. Now if I could only make a return trip when it’s sunny, warm and Toei’s got a crew there shooting new scenes.

Another location I noticed in a few sentai episodes was easily identified on the Neo Kerberos site: Funado Park in northern Tokyo, seen here in the seventh episode of “Pirate Squadron Gokaiger” (2011).

On my last full day in Tokyo, I rode the Toden-Arakawa streetcar line and then took the subway to Ukima-Funado Station and walked a few blocks to the Arakawa River and, as I crossed the bridge to the other side, I spotted the park, which I immediately recognized.

It was a pretty small park and is used in the second episode of “Gokaiger” as the site where two of the Rangers, Red and Pink, confront a boy who has stolen a Ranger Key from the Red Ranger and refuses to give it back. The scenes were shot at a little plaza on the water.

In a later episode, #7, two of the Rangers, Pink and Green this time, encounter the Red Ranger from an earlier sentai series (“Juken Sentai Gekiranger,” 2007) giving a martial arts class in the park. (One of the distinctive features of “Gokaiger” was its frequent use of cameos by actors from past seasons.) The Pink Ranger decides to take the class.

They even managed to insert a “Zord” into the landscape across the river at the end of #7:

No zords or Power Rangers when I was there, but some interesting water fowl lurking nearby:

The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouses are historic buildings originally used as custom houses in the Port of Yokohama in the early 20th century. I’ve seen them often in Japanese movies, TV shows and anime and they’re featured as a setting in the second episode of “Gosei Sentai Dairanger” (1993), the second series used as the basis for the original “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” pictured here:

When I went to see the warehouses on my trip, I was stunned by how cleaned up the buildings were and “yuppified” with boutiques and restaurants and shops. The whole area looked nothing like it did 23 years earlier in “Dairanger.”

“Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters The Movie: Protect The Tokyo Enetower!” is the spin-off movie of the 2012 sentai season, “Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters,” which had high-tech “Mission: Impossible”-style action and Transformers-type mecha and was, sadly, never adapted into a Power Rangers season, despite it being the first sentai season to use the American franchise’s catchphrase, “It’s Morphin’ Time.”

In the movie, the characters engage in action in and around Tokyo Tower, including a park nearby.

On my trip to Tokyo Tower, I went looking for that park. I looked from the vantage point of Tokyo Tower itself.

Nothing looked like the park in the show. On the ground, I went through all the nearby parkland, which wasn’t much. The closest I came was this park, which didn’t quite look like the one in the show:

As it turns out, the park used in the shots in the movie is nowhere near Tokyo Tower. It’s in Odaiba, a large artificial island built in Tokyo Bay, and it’s called Shiokaze Park. Here’s a shot from a tourism website. As you can see, no Tokyo Tower. It was simply inserted digitally into the shots in the movie.

I had a similar problem when trying to find the park near Tokyo Skytree used as a location in “Ressha Sentai Toqger Movie 1: Galaxy Line S.O.S.” (2014), the spin-off movie of the 2014 sentai season, “Ressha Sentai Toqger,” which had a train theme and was, sadly, never adapted into a Power Rangers season either. There is a scene where the Rangers congregate in a park overlooking the Tokyo Skytree, a broadcasting and observation tower located across the Sumida River, opposite the Asakusa district of metropolitan Tokyo. According to Wikipedia, it’s the second tallest structure in the world.

I went looking for the park, starting with the only nearby park I found on my maps, Sumida Park on the bank of the Sumida River across from the Skytree.

But it was the wrong angle.

I took shots from the Tokyo Skytree itself, looking for some elevated park in shouting distance.

Nothing.

I even took the elevated subway past the Skytree, looking over the landscape in the area.

Nothing.

All I could conclude is that it’s a park somewhere else in Tokyo and they digitally inserted the Skytree.

Even the old Kaiju movies were more accurate in their use of actual locations.

Speaking of which, I made sure to visit the Diet Building, the seat of Japan’s national government and recipient of so much havoc and mayhem in Godzilla and Mothra movies. I was glad to see they’d cleaned it up since Mothra’s last visit.

Another set of locations used in sentai shows involves stadiums, arenas and convention centers and their outside corridors and parking areas. So many different ones are used that I found them difficult to identify so I didn’t seek any of them out. However, I did figure out that this first image, taken from “Ressha Sentai Toqger the Movie: Galaxy Line S.O.S.,” shows the Red and Yellow Rangers in a fight scene shot outside Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo:

Here are shots of other stadiums:

I identified other locations, including this castle used in the end credits of “Shuriken Sentai Ninninger” (2015), the basis of this year’s Power Rangers season, “Power Rangers Ninja Steel.” It’s Chiba Castle and it’s in Chiba prefecture. It was quite off the beaten path and would have taken up a whole afternoon to visit. I never managed to find the time to do it. Maybe on my next trip.

Finally, a shot of pop singer-turned-actress Erina Mano framed against the Tokyo skyline in a scene from “Kamen Rider × Kamen Rider Fourze & Ooo: Movie War Mega Max” (2011), in which she plays an alien newly arrived in Tokyo who connects with Kamen Rider Fourze and becomes a Kamen Rider herself:

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3 Responses to “Japan Journal, Part 9: Sentai Locations”

  1. michael July 14, 2017 at 10:20 AM #

    Fantastic! Sugoi!!

  2. Neo Kerberos July 18, 2017 at 1:16 PM #

    Wonderful pictures !

    • briandanacamp July 24, 2017 at 8:24 AM #

      Thanks! I’ve been watching Gekisou Sentai Carranger, which just came out with English subs. and it’s got tons of great locations, including many waterfront spots, probably in Odaiba, so I checked your site and found one of the locations used for a big action scene, Tsukuba Center.

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