Tokusatsu; Live action Japanese special effects cinema. For most of the world the only reference they have is Godzilla and Power Rangers. But the number of productions that fall into this category are endless. Many people are making them independently across the world.
Being a fan of anime since before I was born, I eventually stumbled onto tokusatsu at university. Since then I have become hooked on it along with anime. I wanted to combine this with my other passion of film production, to make my own original tokusatsu series.
The first of these is the short film series Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger. I have currently made 3 projects surrounding Tekkaraiger. Productions for these has taken around 3 to 4 years and in all that time I have learned a great deal.
When I Started Making Movies in Japan
When I first started the production, I only really had a rough concept for the hero and the story. Over time this developed into something more tangible.
What helped was that I was able to make contact with various professionals and more experienced people in the Tokusatsu Industry. They rewarded my determination in ways I could never have imagined. Even professional suit actors, who have appeared on TV and film productions, took a chance on me. They offered to be part of the production despite not making a lot of money from it.
This is something I have come to learn about the Japanese in general; they respond to passion. When you meet people who are passionate about them same thing as you, they are more than willing to help.
One of my favourite moments was when we had the first fitting for the hero’s completed costume. I could see my creation in the flesh, so to speak. No I did not make the suit or any of the props myself.
I was able to contact a professional who used to work for the company that makes the costumes for Kamen Rider, one of the major tokusatsu franchises. On top of being an artist when it comes to suit making, he was prepared to work within my budget to produce amazing suits and weapons, across all 3 productions!
The Challenges of Filming Movies in Japan
Getting in Trouble with the Police
The actual filming part came with its fair share of problems. For one thing, Japan is covered in Red tape; you can’t get permission to film anywhere just like that, and it costs a lot of both time and money. Ultimately we had to settle for shooting in public areas where there were not a lot of people, but we still had to tread lightly.
For example, during filming for one scene in the 3rd tekkaraiger film, some passerby mistook the shouting for a real fight and called the police! They understood what was happening when we explained things though and let us off with a warning. But we learned to keep it down and try not to bother anybody.
The next thing I realized is that pesky language barrier gets even worse. If you think learning day-to-day Japanese is tough, then try learning specialised film making vocabulary. There are not a lot of good sources for this so I basically had to learn while doing.
Tokusatsu makes this even harder because you need to learn the right terminology for things like props and action movements. Luckily for me, most of the cast and crew for Tekkaraiger were patient enough to teach me, and I work as a professional video maker anyway, so I learned a lot from work too.
Filming itself could only take place on weekends (everybody still had jobs to go to), but when you put the time together it wasn’t particularly long.
The 1st tekkaraiger filming was wrapped up in about 6 days, and the 2nd and 3rd (which were filmed at the same time) took about 3 months of weekends (spread out across 6 months for scheduling reasons).
The action scenes in particular, while fun to shoot, were also the hardest due to my lack of experience. Fortunately my action director knew what he was doing and was able to put together some amazing fight scenes.
In particular the final battle sequence had to split up across 3 days to incorporate the various parts that came together. But it was worth it to see the finished results.
Then we come to post production. This took a considerable amount of time simply because I was the only one who could put the footage together to make my vision come to life. And well… that takes time.
In addition, getting hold of royalty free special effects was difficult. I managed to make things work for the first 2 films. I got some help along the way, but there were times when I just had to make do.
However for the 3rd production, which features a whole new form for the hero, I wanted to have original special effects for his finishing attacks. Luckily I was able to get in touch with a professional SFX editor who worked on productions like Ultraman Orb. He came back to me with amazing effects, easily one of the highlights of the final production.
The original soundtrack was also provided by a professional who I had happened to meet in my favourite Izakaya here in Tokyo. I couldn’t ask for a better set of music. The Opening theme song is available on itunes and I highly recommend it to everyone.
The Final Product
When I was finally able to release the finish product, I felt more satisfied than I can possibly describe.
I put my heart and soul into Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger. And I have been rewarded with an amazing set of videos; unforgettable experiences; and an unbeatable team who are eagerly awaiting the call for the next project.
Cyber Ninja Tekkaraiger is available on youtube now. I hope you all enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.