Kazuki Kato is a successful actor and singer whose rising career in Japan intersects with the science fiction genre in several ways. One of Mr. Kato’s most popular television roles was that of Kamen Rider Drake in the series Kamen Rider Kabuto (2006-07), which was recognized by Toei Studios as the series’ 35th anniversary production. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Kato was cast as Kamen Rider V3 in the film Kamen Rider: The Next (2007). However, Vantage Point Interviews readers are most likely to know Mr. Kato from his leading role in Minoru Kawasaki’s kaiju eiga parody Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit (2008). In January 2012, Kazuki Kato sat down with Brett Homenick for an interview about his tokusatsu roles. The interview was translated by Asako Kato.
Brett Homenick: My first question is, how did you get started as an actor?
Kazuki Kato: When I was 18, there was a competition called the Junon Superboy Contest. [Junon is a monthly magazine for women.] I applied for that, and I was a finalist, one of the finalists. But I didn’t win the leading role after all. However, I was scouted by an agency that was watching the contest. That was the beginning of everything. I’m originally from Nagoya, so, after I graduated from high school at the age of 18, I moved to Tokyo.
BH: When you got started, what were some of your first projects that you acted in?
KK: There was a two-hour drama TV show. It was a typical daytime suspense drama called Sangaku Kyuujo Tai [“Mountain Rescuer”]. In the show, someone would get lost in the mountains, very deep in the mountains, and the rescue force tried to save him. That was one of my very first dramas on TV.
BH: What led to your being cast in the TV series Kamen Rider?
KK: It was an audition. Every single year, they do auditions for new actors, and I failed for three years in a row. For Kamen Rider Kabuto, I failed in the final stage, but, after that, I was offered [the part of] the third Rider, not the main character. [This character was Kamen Rider] Drake. Kamen Rider Drake is the one I acted. It’s the dragonfly Rider.
BH: What approach did you take with your Kamen Rider? How did you approach the character, and what did you bring to the character?
KK: The dragonfly Rider is a very strange, unique character. His name is Daisuke Kazama. He’s a makeup artist. He loves women! (laughs) He’s accompanied by a little girl, who lost her memory, all the time. She’s not his own child, but she is a very self-assertive little girl. Daisuke Kazama, whom I was playing, is a womanizer. Every time he does something wrong to women, this little girl tells him off, instructing him to do what is right.
Daisuke Kazama was not one who really wanted to be a Rider, but I myself was very, very glad to become one of the Kamen Riders. So, in the first transforming scene, I had to say, “Shikata nai!” [“There’s no other way,” or “There’s no choice.”] My personal feeling toward the fact that I am playing the role of a Kamen Rider conflicted a lot with the line I had to say as a Rider. I was very happy to play the role, but the role I played had to say something opposite. So it was very confusing at first.
Gradually, however, I was getting closer to Kazama’s feeling because I came to sympathize with his way of thinking, that is, he is destined to fight for people in order to save the world. He really wants to protect his loved ones. Finally, I was able to synchronize Kazama’s language and behavior. That’s the approach I took.
BH: How was the shooting schedule — from when to when would you film the TV series? And was there anything about it that you found difficult to do?
KK: Kamen Rider’s shooting schedule is one year long, basically. But, in my case, I’m a singer, and I’ve been working on music as well. So I appeared in Kamen Rider on TV, and then I had to come back to [being] a musician, to perform on a live show or record a CD. So it was dual roles that I had to play. It’s not that difficult, but I felt sorry for both sides because I didn’t devote 100% of my time into the TV shooting or music.
BH: Actually, while you were performing in the series, did you have troubles with any stunts or fight scenes that you had to do? [Were] there any sort of interesting stories from the set related to that?
KK: I’m a big fan of action scenes. I wanted to do the things I could do, so I actually did some of them. There’s one very interesting story. Before I fought, there was a scene where I was running at first and then transformed into a Rider, but I sprained my ankles — both ankles.
BH: Both? Oh, wow!
KK: I was just running! (laughs) The shooting took place at six in the morning and lasted until the afternoon. It was a very cold day. Both of my ankles started to hurt, so the crew called an ambulance for me, and I was forced to be carried that way into the hospital! (laughs) But the costume I was wearing at that time was embarrassingly flashy and glaring. Are you familiar with Takarazuka costumes by any chance? [Takarazuka is an all-women theatrical troupe. They are known for their Las Vegas-style, elaborate wardrobe.] Then the nurse asked me, “Are you from a theatrical troupe?” I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t say much. (laughs) I just said, “Something like that!” (laughs)
BH: Well, we’ve talked about the bad; what about the good? [Were] there any good stories from the set of Kamen Rider, something that happened that you liked very much?
KK: I was so happy to be a Kamen Rider. Japanese boys admire heroes, and I was one who is admired by all the boys in Japan. I have a nephew. Children I know are big fans of Kamen Riders, so I was very proud of being one of them. Which encouraged them, little kids, telling them that you guys can be a Kamen Rider or any heroes if you want, if you really strive for it. The role I can play makes me very happy.
BH: About the film, Kamen Rider: The Next, how did that come about? How did you get cast in the film, Kamen Rider: The Next?
KK: Well, the producer always wanted to create Kamen Rider: The Next after The First. So he kept saying that he would want to remake Kamen Rider V3, which is the old Kamen Rider TV series from the ’70s. I was cast Kamer Rider Drake, the dragonfly, which is V3’s motif. How did I get cast? I just half-jokingly asked the producer, “Please let me do V3.” Then he gave it to me! I was very lucky in that sense.
BH: Yeah, I’d say so! Well, what memories do you have from filming Kamen Rider: The Next? Any interesting stories from the set?
KK: [Kamen Rider] V3 is not just a reproduction, but a remake, so it’s kind of a new story. Shiro Kazami [V3’s alter ego] is very knowledgeable about wine, and he’s always telling everybody that this wine is from this country and this grade and things like that. And I had to learn the [proper] way to open the wine bottle. We asked a professional wine specialist to come over and teach me how to open the bottle, how to pour the wine into the wine glass. For those scenes, I was into it, [but they were] not used after all. That was a sad story for me! I practiced a lot, and I spent a lot of time on that, but it was not used for some reason. I’m not a drinker, but I bought a bottle of wine and a wine opener, a professional wine opener, to try to practice to look like a wine specialist. But it was not employed, so I was very sad! (laughs)
BH: So, overall, what would you say about Kamen Rider: The Next? What did you think of the finished product once the movie came out?
KK: I was so happy about the result. Actually, I played two Riders — one for the movies, one for the TV shows, and that was unprecedented. So I was very happy about it. One of them is the legendary V3, so I was very, very happy. For a guy like me, I was honored to be V3.
BH: Well, what about Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit? How did you get cast in [this movie]?
KK: I worked with director Minoru Kawasaki on another movie. So, after working with him, he said, “What do you think about this kind of movie I‘m working on next?” He asked me to be in Guilala [a.k.a. Monster X Strikes Back]. It looked very interesting to me, so I instantly said, “Yes, I’ll do that.”
BH: What is Mr. Kawasaki’s directing style? How would he direct you in a scene?
KK: He’s so fast at shooting! He lets the actors do everything. He doesn’t instruct anything. He wants to have a good sleep at night, so he stops shooting at 10:00 sharp in the evening. Usually, for TV and movie shooting, everyone spends all night to work on those, but he’s not one of them. Mr. Kawasaki’s shooting is pretty punctual and very smooth, compared with the regular shooting schedule. Very interesting person!
BH: What did you think of the Take-Majin “Neci Coma” dance and the singing and all that?
KK: (laughs) I was surprised at first. But what the director told me was that, if you are shy, you don’t look funny. If you’re really serious, and you’re into it seriously, then you look very funny. So I was working on that role in a very serious manner, which makes me look very stupid. (laughs) But I knew that. Natsuki Kato, the actress [in the movie], was working with me, but she was working on that very, very seriously, too. She was practicing like me behind the scenes. (laughs)
BH: Excellent! Did you get to work at all with any of the three older stars in the movie, Mr. [Yosuke] Natsuki, [Bin] Furuya, and [Susumu] Kurobe?
KK: They were more senior than we were, so, as an actor, it’s very difficult to say that I want to catch up with them, but I want to steal the attractive parts of those people and try to make my own characters, and I want to grow with them.
BH: Is there any other interesting stories or memories from Guilala that you have?
KK: Guilala was kind of an old story for me. All the characters had to practice the Neci-Coma dance in one small room, so it looks like it’s a religion. So the first time I saw that scene was very interesting to me. I thought, I’m out of place; I’m in a very strange place! (laughs) Why am I here? (laughs)
BH: What did you think about the film once you saw it? What was your opinion on the finished film?
KK: There’s no Guilala at the scene when they’re shooting the film. The fight between Guilala and Take-Majin was created after the shooting. So the first time I saw it was when I saw the final [film]. It was so funny, and I laughed a lot! Takeshi Kitano dubbed Take-Majin! At first, I didn’t believe it when the director said, “Takeshi Kitano will dub the voice of Take-Majin.” But, actually, he played the role, so I was impressed. Mr. Kawasaki is really something! (laughs)
BH: My last question is, do you have any final comments, just about Kamen Rider or anything else, that you would like to tell the readers?
KK: You have heroes in America, like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. But Kamen Rider is Japan’s world-famous hero, so I’m very proud that I’m involved in that, the Kamen Rider series. I think heroes are very important for everybody. When children grow up, they are usually an admirer of their own heroes. But, even after I became one of the Kamen Riders, I [still] feel how important it is to give dreams and those feelings a hero can provide to children. So I’m very proud of it.
I’m very happy to be one of the Kamen Riders, which can give dreams to children all over the world. I hope the readers of this [interview] will keep having the same dreams as children. I want to cherish that kind of feeling, even if I am an adult now. As a singer and actor, I want to cherish that kind of feeling. I want to share with my fans, the readers, and children who admire heroes this special kind of feeling that I have cherished, and I always want to be part of it. I want to be someone who can give those kind of feelings.