Actor Keisuke Kato took the SFX world of Japan by storm when he was cast as Kamen Rider Ixa in Toei Studios’ Kamen Rider Kiva (2008-09). Mr. Kato fondly remembers his role as Keisuke Nago (Ixa’s alter ego) and openly expresses his desire to return to the long-running series. Mr. Kato continues to perform in Japan in a variety of media: movies, television, commercials, CDs, and the stage. Keisuke Kato granted a live, in-person interview to Brett Homenick in 2012 about his work in Kamen Rider Kiva. The interview was translated by Asako Kato.
Brett Homenick: My first question is, how did you get started in the entertainment business? How did you get started in acting?
Keisuke Kato: In high school, I had been playing tennis very seriously to become a professional tennis player. But I got injured and stopped playing. After that, I went to a cram school to take college exams and was accepted by some universities. But I got very interested in acting as well, so I asked my friend from the cram school to introduce me to an entertainment company where he belonged. Then I started to take the company’s acting lessons for a year before starting my acting career.
BH: How did you get cast in Kamen Rider Kiva?
KK: I was chosen out of 3,000 applicants. There were 3,000 applications submitted to this management company the year before the one I played. The following year, I was selected after all.
BH: How did you approach your character of Keisuke Nago? What were your ideas for playing this character?
KK: He has the same name as my real first name. It was a pure coincidence. [In the show,] Keisuke Nago’s mission was to kill Kiva. So Keisuke didn’t know [the character] Wataru [Kurenai] was Kiva. Wataru is a really nice person as a human being.
Keisuke Nago was kind of in a [senior] position to Wataru. Wataru was actually Kiva, but Keisuke didn’t know that. Keisuke’s first and foremost mission was to kill Kiva. When Keisuke Nago, who was actually [Kamen Rider] Ixa, transformed into Ixa [and] fought Kiva, he [finally] learned that Kiva was actually Wataru.
Then they liked each other, and Keisuke and Wataru — in other words, Ixa and Kiva — teamed up to fight against the bad guys. My role originally was supposed to be of a very cool, good-looking guy. But his henshin belt was stolen by other bad guys. Then my character became — not a cool, good-looking guy — but more like a funny guy. But actually the funny guy was getting more and more popular.
So Keisuke Nago, or Ixa, was not that popular among children. But, gradually, he was getting funnier and funnier, and then kids started to love this character. At first, Keisuke Nago was, to some extent, popular among kids’ mothers. (laughs) He’s cool and good-looking. But then, after all, he became very popular among kids.
There was one show where Keisuke Nago was the main character. At the time, the ratings jumped up to 7.5%. So I was very glad.
BH: Very nice! What was Koji Seto, who played Wataru, like as a person?
KK: Koji Seto[’s character in the show] was a half-breed human being and vampire, which was called Fangire. Wataru, the main character, was actually half-human being and half-Fangire. His father was a human being, and his mother was a Fangire. Koji Seto[’s character] was also one.
BH: What is Koji Seto like, away from the show? What was it like just to hang out with him?
KK: Gamer! (laughs) He doesn’t talk much. He’s from Fukuoka. [He’s] a Kyushu danji [a guy from Kyushu who is very chauvinistic, a very traditional Japanese guy]. Although he’s from Kyushu, his nickname at the time was “Otomen” [which combines otome, the Japanese word for “maiden,” and the English word “men”]. He is a pretty boy.
BH: While you were filming Kamen Rider, what was the shooting schedule like? When would shooting start, how long were you on the set of Kamen Rider? What was it like?
KK: Depending on the days, a typical day started at 5:00 a.m. [for make-up], we left the office at 6:00 for the shooting place, and then at 9:00 p.m. we were supposed to leave the place. Once every two weeks, we had studio set shooting. Once every two weeks, I was supposed to do the voice-over dubbing after I’ve transformed into Kamen Rider. Two episodes for two weeks. They usually had film shooting in June and July. So, on such days, I had to do the routine work for TV shooting and then film shooting, as well. That was the typical shooting schedule.
BH: While you were filming Kamen Rider, did you find anything was particularly difficult? Did you have trouble with any part of the production of Kamen Rider?
KK: We filmed in ruins, and the place was so dusty and disgusting. I had to fight in the ruins, so I had to tumble on the concrete floors. It was so dirty. As a human being, I had to fight against a monster, and, when I did sword fighting, I made a mistake. It hit my head, and I had a terrible headache afterwards.
One of the monsters’ hands were so long that I had to evade his right hand, but I did it the other way, and it hit me very hard in the head! The real acting scenes were difficult.
Most shooting took place in outside places, like in ruins and so forth, so it was hard. There were so many bugs, and some places were very muddy.
The most difficult experience was in January or February. I had to jump into sewage! I had to be in the sewage. That was the most difficult part. They poured hot water over me, but it didn’t work! (laughs)
BH: Going back to the fighting, what sort of training did they give you, if any, for the fight scenes? Did they prepare you for how to fight on the set?
KK: After transforming, the Riders are replaced by what we call suit actors, who are stuntmen. I had to practice how to act in a rubber suit for a week together with them. They choreographed the sword-fighting scenes, and then I had to do it by myself. At first, it was not that difficult for me, and I thought I could do it because I’m a very athletic person.
But I ate fried chicken 10 minutes before the fight. There was a very long mat I had to roll on. The scene turned out to be so hard that I was getting sick! There was an action director on the scene, and he instructed me to do reverse roll as well. And I got pale! I felt like I was going to throw up. That was a bitter memory. But I’d been involved in athletics like baseball and tennis for a long time, so I was not afraid of doing any action.
The action director at that time was from the [series] Kyuukyuu Sentai GoGoFive, where suit actors were employed to do action scenes. That was his first Kamen Rider direction, so it was very hard for him to direct regular actors like me, actually.
BH: That’s interesting. Why did he find it difficult? Many people would think that Sentai and Kamen Rider are similar with the action, so why did he, if you know, find it difficult to change, to do Kamen Rider after Sentai?
KK: In Sentai, the special Sentai wardrobe is used; Sentai actors wear body suits that are perfectly formfitting. I think it’s easier for them to do action sequences because there are no frills and decorations on the suits. On the other hand, a Kamen Rider has many different things on his suit, like accessories. So we can’t move easily as directed.
But, action-wise, Kamen Rider’s action is much cooler. Sentai is actually geared toward children, so you can’t reflect your personality or anything because you have to be in unison all the time. Kamen Rider is expected to be cool. In that sense, I think Kamen Rider is more difficult to act.
When we say “henshin,” the suit actors replace us. The Rider Kicks are very impressive because of the camerawork [shooting up from a low angle]. I was very impressed by that. The Rider is supposed to jump very high, but I actually didn’t. It was a camera trick.
BH: We’ve talked about what was difficult and what was hard to do, but what did you like about working on the show? Was there anything that you enjoyed about the experience, maybe not getting hit in the face, but was there something fun, that you liked about the experience?
KK: Regardless of the generations, there are so many fans. There are many different events. They have live shows, so we can actually interact with kids directly. There’s a live house called Zepp Tokyo where I acted in a Kamen Rider live stage show in the summer, which drew 2,600 people. At the Tokyo [International] Forum, 5,000 people showed up to see a Kamen Rider live stage show. So the fans range from little kids to adults, and it was fun. Anywhere I go, people say, “I saw you on TV! I‘m a big fan of yours!” One day, I went to karaoke, and the salesperson there recognized me. They sent me free food!
Then there was a big fan of mine at a hair salon, and I got a special premium card for a deep discount. So many people actually watched the show, and they recognize me as a Kamen Rider, so that was a fun part.
BH: What was your favorite episode of the show?
KK: I actually have two favorite episodes. One is where I played a major role, the lead role in Kamen Rider Ixa. “IXA” is an acronym for Intercept X Attacker. When I played Ixa in this particular episode, I powered up to [become] a special Ixa, and I really enjoyed it.
The other one is the final episode where we fought and killed the enemy and, finally, for some reason, Kamen Rider got married. My character actually rejects hanging out with girls. “I don’t need any women.” I kept saying that. However, for some reason, I ended up getting married!
It’s like a melodrama. Actually, throughout the episodes, Wataru was the main character, and there are many different stories, including love triangles and so forth. But many people died. Some relationships didn’t work out after all. But I survived, and only I got married in the last episode! That was fun.
On the last day of shooting, there wasn’t a kissing scene, but I created a kissing scene on the morning of the last day. After the kissing scene, I was so pleased, so happy. I was smiling. During the test, there’s actually no kissing. Only kissing on the check, I was instructed first, and then on the lips. The girl was so surprised! (laughs) But I had to be happy, so I smiled a lot, but I was surprised a lot, too. The real me came out! It was a fun part, but it was surprising.
BH: In closing, do you have any final thoughts, any other memories, that you’d like to share about your experience with Kamen Rider?
KK: Kamen Rider has been making progress. Last year was the 40th anniversary, so there were many past Riders coming back to some shows and events, so it was fun. There are only two TV shows which last for a year: NHK’s jidai geki [traditional historical shows] and Kamen Rider! So Kamen Rider is very, very important in that sense.
Kamen Rider’s original fans got married and had kids, and the kids watch the Kamen Rider shows as well, so there are many two-generation fans. So parents and kids can share the same feeling, and they can enjoy the same show.
In five years from now, I want to be a Kamen Rider again! I’m 23 right now, but I was Kamen Rider when I was 19. So it’s been four years. In five years, I probably would be a different type of Kamen Rider.
I got some offers for Kamen Rider roles recently, but there’s been some scheduling conflicts. So I couldn’t take them. But I want to do it in the future. I would love to be in one of the roles of Kamen Rider. If you have time, there are many DVDs [of the show], so please take a look! Actually, there are other types of fans who don’t know much about me as Kamen Rider, so I want those new fans to take a look at my role in Kamen Rider [Kiva].