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The Passing of Two Manga Greats: Kazuo Koike and Monkey Punch

25 Apr

Earlier this month, two great manga creators died six days apart. Kazuhiko Kato died on April 11 at the age of 81 and Kazuo Koike died on April 17 at the age of 82. Both died of pneumonia. Kato was best known by his pseudonym, Monkey Punch, and was the creator, writer and artist of “Lupin III,” a long-running manga about a not-so-gentleman thief and his band of uniquely skilled sidekicks, that formed the basis for numerous animated TV series, movies and specials made from 1971 to 2018. Kazuo Koike was a writer responsible for some of my favorite manga series, including “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Crying Freeman” and “Lady Snowblood.” These titles and others he wrote were made into live-action films, TV series and animated films. The two men were sometime rivals whose careers ran parallel to each other and they even collaborated once, as indicated in this paragraph from Anime News Network featuring Koike’s reaction after Kato’s death had been announced:

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Power Rangers at 25: A Look Back

26 Jan

I was meaning to do a piece on the 25th anniversary of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but I got sidetracked around the time of the anniversary (last August) and then worried how I could tackle such a broad subject in a single entry. I’m glad I waited because I recently came across a long-buried file containing press coverage of the Power Rangers from 1993-95, when the franchise got its heaviest media exposure. I’ve scanned some of these articles (from TV Guide and other sources) and pasted them below. Also, I got to see the very last episode of the current and 25th season, “Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel,” which aired on December 1, 2018.

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Sentai Locations 2018: Sumida River

10 Jun

On March 27, 2018, as the bus headed from Haneda Airport to the Tokyo City Air Terminal near my hotel not long after my arrival, we crossed the Sumida River and I looked to the left and even though night had fallen, I clearly saw a waterfront location that had been used in KAMEN RIDER ICHIGO, the 2016 Kamen Rider movie that I’d seen in a theater in Osaka during my 2016 trip to Japan, and which I now owned on DVD. As it turned out, it was only minutes from my hotel, so I resolved to make that my first stop the next day.

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Sentai Locations 2018: Chiba City

20 May

In Chiba City, about an hour’s subway ride straight east from downtown Tokyo, there are a number of locations often used for Japanese superhero shows in the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises, usually for elaborate fight scenes. There’s an office complex that has two large plazas that I’ve seen used in many shows over the years. Just a short distance southwest of that is the Makuhari Messe International Convention Complex, which has a large convention center and a separate exhibition hall, slightly smaller, across the street from it. Adjacent to the convention center is a ground-level plaza that reminded me of Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. Next to the Exhibition Hall is a small park with a couple of unusual sculptures and fountains.

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Japan Journal 2018, Pt. 2: Adventures on Odaiba

12 May

A month ago, I was flying back from Tokyo to New York. Here I continue my search for Tokyo locations used in live-action Japanese superhero shows, specifically the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises, all of which stage elaborate action scenes at accessible locations in and around Tokyo. This entry is devoted to Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay on the other side of the Sumida River from mainland Tokyo. Here’s a travel brochure shot:

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Japan Journal 2018, Part 1: Adventure on Harumi Island

30 Apr

I was in Tokyo from March 27 to April 11, 2018, on a mission to see five J-pop concerts and visit a couple dozen locations used in Super Sentai and Kamen Rider shows and movies. I covered similar locations on my previous trip (March-April 2016) and wrote about them here. My goal was to see for myself the urban spaces that are used in such a unique way on these shows and how they’re used in everyday life when not hosting costumed superheroes and rubber-suited monsters. A collateral benefit of these explorations is the discovery of parts of Tokyo not seen by many tourists. One of my most interesting excursions this time was to the Harumi Island Passenger Ship Terminal, which led to my witnessing quite an unusual cultural phenomenon that I would not have seen had I gone on any other day and which made use of this particular urban seaport space in a most creative way. The Harumi Terminal faces Tokyo Bay and was built on an island that was created in the 20th century and seems to be devoted to residential districts and high-rise apartment and office towers. (New Yorkers: Think Roosevelt Island if it was about half the size of Central Park.) The terminal has a number of large plazas and staircases that lend themselves to the kind of sprawling fight scenes found in the shows I follow, as seen in these pictures:

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Kamen Rider Movies: A 47-Year Old Superhero Franchise Continues to Thrive

25 Mar

Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider) premiered on Japanese television on April 3, 1971. It was the brainchild of Shotaro Ishinomori, author of the wildly successful manga series, Cyborg 009, which had already been adapted into two animated features and one animated series for television. Kamen Rider preceded by four years the premiere of Goranger, the first sentai series and another long-running franchise, also created by Ishinomori. All of these series were produced by Toei Pictures. When I visited the Toei Kyoto Studio Park in 2016, I saw a gallery devoted to Kamen Rider:

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