Tokusatsu is a genre that has seen its share of child actors over the years, but there is no doubt that Akihide Tsuzawa is one of its most famous. Mr. Tsuzawa was born on September 24, 1954, to Masako Tsuzawa, a famous haiku poet. Mr. Tsuzawa began working as a child actor and soon found himself enjoying immense success, acting under the guidance of acclaimed director Nobuo Nakagawa at Shintoho, guest-starring on the hit television series Ultra Q (episode 12, “I Saw a Bird”), and eventually landing the role that would make him internationally known, that of Hoshino on Tsuburaya Productions’ groundbreaking Ultraman (1966-67). On Halloween 2018, Brett Homenick interviewed Mr. Tsuzawa about his career as a child actor in an interview translated by Makiko Nomoto.
Brett Homenick: Please talk about your early life growing up, your childhood. What was that like?
Akihide Tsuzawa: Before appearing in the movies, I was a shy and ordinary child. I was a quiet boy.
BH: What hobbies did you have?
AT: I played with my friends in the neighborhood. I also played with my brothers. We played leapfrog, which we played with two teams. One child would run toward the group and jumped over a line of children. If the jumper fell down, we would give the other team a chance. If all members of the team jumped over the other group, that team would win. The boys would play leapfrog, and the girls would play jump rope in groups. We also played with rubber. Two children would hold either ends of the rubber and stretch it. The other child would jump over it. We also played with tops and played Menko card games. We’d slap the cards down on the ground in order to turn over the cards of his or her opponent. We also played tag, as well as hide and seek. There were many children in the neighborhood, so we played together.
BH: How did you get started as a child actor?
AT: My mother found an advertisement for Gekidan Himawari (Himawari Theatre Group), so my mother applied for me to join the theatrical company. After that, I entered the group.
BH: How old were you at this time?
AT: Five or six years old.
BH: What was that like in the beginning? What did you have to do at this time?
AT: We did Nihon buyo (Japanese dance) and ballet. Den Sato, who was the president of Shinsei Production, scouted me. After that, I appeared in many movies and TV programs. Mr. Sato was the manager of Toshiro Mifune.
BH: Let’s talk about ‘Nendo no omen’ yori: Kaachan (1961) and talk about how you got cast.
AT: I have many memories. I was selected for the part without an audition. When I was selected, the director, Nobuo Nakagawa, gave me a plastic gun as a present. There was an agreement between Toho and Shintoho, but there was a loophole. For example, Shintoho actors usually didn’t appear in Toho movies and vice versa. But the loophole was that actors from Shintoho could appear in Toho movies.
Because I was in kindergarten, I don’t remember (how I got cast) so well.
During the New Year’s Eve scene, I enjoyed eating zoni or soba, which are delicious. The director was very kind. He didn’t put any pressure on me.
BH: What kind of direction did Mr. Nakagawa give you?
AT: He directed me very politely. Even though I was a child, I knew what the director wanted very well. Mr. Nakagawa did long takes. In those long takes, he directed with gestures. He would give me my cue to start delivering my lines. I would glance at the director and tried not to look in his direction for too long. If you watch that scene, you can tell when I look at the director. Mr. Nakagawa gave me the cue to say my lines.
BH: At the time, since it was your first movie, what did you think of the experience making Kaachan?
AT: My lines were short, so it was not difficult to say my lines or act. Between takes, I played with the crew. They would put me on their shoulders and carry me around.
BH: About Kaachan, how long would you be on the set every day? How long did shooting last?
AT: It was less than one month, about three weeks. I was on set almost every day. I had to be there for eight hours. But when I wasn’t needed on set, I played with the crew.
BH: Let’s talk about Mothra. Talk about how you got cast as an extra and what you remember about making Mothra.
AT: The female owner of an old-fashioned penny candy store in my neighborhood sent my older brothers and me to Toho to work as extras in Mothra. It was not through my agent; it was through her. Her store was near Toho, and she recruited children to appear in Toho productions.
BH: When you went to Toho, what happened after that?
AT: We were paid 500 yen. Before Mothra, my mother handled the money I earned from my acting work. But for Mothra, I was paid directly by the production.
I played an island boy, so I wore dark brown cream on my skin. I mostly painted myself, but another extra painted my back. The extras helped paint each other with the cream. There were hundreds of extras.
Before painting ourselves, we took off our clothes and put them into a basket. Then we painted ourselves and each other. After we performed, we took a bath to wash the cream off. Then we took the clothes from the basket and put them back on.
BH: Was it one day or two days?
AT: It was one day.
BH: Do you remember what you were told about how to act? What kind of thing did you have to do?
AT: The director ordered the assistant director, and the assistant director ordered the third assistant director, and the third assistant director ordered the extras. There were about five assistant directors. The third assistant director instructed us how to dance, the speed of the dance, and gave us the choreography.
BH: Do you have any other memories of making Mothra?
AT: I don’t remember anything else because it was just one day.
BH: Next, we’ll talk about Ultra Q. How did you get cast in episode 12?
AT: I had a career (by that time), so I worked on a commission basis. At first, I was paid 30%, and my agent got 70%. So on Kaachan, I was paid 30% of my guarantee. Then on Ultra Q, I was paid 60%. On Ultraman, I was paid 70%. The agency would keep the rest of the fee.
I had a regular career, and I was a well-known child actor at the time. So productions would ask for me. So I didn’t have to audition for Ultra Q or Ultraman.
BH: Please talk about going to the location and what you remember about Harunosuke Nakagawa, the director.
AT: Every director liked me. Because I was a good boy, most directors never scolded me. The director didn’t direct me, but for the singing scene, the director told me to write my own music. The lyrics for the song were written in the script, so I had to set music to the words. So I wrote the music, and it was approved.
BH: Was that difficult for you?
AT: It was in November, so it was very cold. I was wearing a bathing suit. Because it was so cold, I wanted to finish as soon as possible. So I wrote the music as quickly as I could.
BH: Where did you compose the song – at home or the location?
AT: I wrote it at the location.
BH: Where was the location, and what do you remember about being at the location?
AT: It was in Shimoda. Kenji Sahara, Yasuhiko Saijo, and Hiroko Sakurai were very famous Toho actors, so I was very happy to see them. (Later on,) I was very happy to wear the Science Patrol uniform on Ultraman.
BH: What was it like to work with Mr. Sahara, Ms. Sakurai, and Mr. Saijo? Do you have any memories of them on the set?
AT: At that time, I was a child, and they were adults. So there was no connection. After shooting, they went out for drinks, and I went back to the hotel with my mother.
BH: Do you have any other memories of Ultra Q that you’d like to share?
AT: We stayed at a hotel, and we took a location bus there, so it was like traveling.
BH: How long did shooting last? How many days?
AT: It was less than one week. Shooting lasted from six to eight hours every day. When we shot the evening scenes, we had to shoot in the evening. That’s why it took eight hours.
BH: Let’s talk about Ultraman. How did you get cast in Ultraman?
AT: Because I had a career by the time of Ultraman, I was selected without an audition or camera test. I was chosen by directors Toshihiro Iijima and Hajime Tsuburaya and scriptwriter Tetsuo Kinjo. There were a few people (involved in the process), but I don’t remember very well.
BH: Did you ever meet Eiji Tsuburaya?
AT: Yes. I didn’t talk to him. But at the beginning of Ultraman, we took some publicity photos.
BH: The first actor cast to play Ide was Susumu Ishikawa. Of course, he dropped out. Did you work with Mr. Ishikawa? What do you remember about Mr. Ishikawa?
AT: I knew who Mr. Ishikawa was before Ultraman because he appeared in comedies. I was surprised to act with such a famous actor.
BH: Why did Mr. Ishikawa drop out? What happened there?
AT: I don’t know. I have never spoken with him, so I have no special impression of Mr. Ishikawa.
BH: Let’s talk about some of the directors you worked with. Who was your favorite director to work with?
AT: Mr. Iijima. I appeared in seven episodes directed by Mr. Iijima.
BH: Talk about Mr. Iijima’s directing style.
AT: He was kind and never scolded me. At that time, I had a lot of experience, and I was a veteran actor. I played with the assistant lighting man, assistant cameraman, or other assistants between takes.
BH: How was the character (Hoshino) explained to you? Who did you talk to about the explanation of Hoshino?
AT: He was brave, responsible, smart, and he was a future leader. Mr. Iijima explained the character to me.
BH: What did you bring to the character of Hoshino?
AT: I acted the character cheerfully, bravely, and intelligently. If I didn’t act that way, it would be rejected by the director. I acted the way the director told me to act. Actors do what they are told.
BH: Let’s talk about your co-stars, like Mr. (Susumu) Kurobe, Ms. Sakurai, and Mr. (Masanari) Nihei. What do you remember about working with them, and what are your favorite memories of working with your co-stars?
AT: (In episode 18 with Alien Zarab), I couldn’t (shout) properly because my voice was changing at the time, so I cried. It was a very tough time for me. Mr. Kurobe said to me, “It’s OK. You can do it.” I was very happy to hear that. After that, I could do it. His words made me very happy. It was the first time that I was unable to (perform) properly. Before that, I had never failed, so it was a tough time for me.
BH: You spent a lot of time with Hiroko Sakurai. So what do you remember about Ms. Sakurai?
AT: Do you remember “The Undersea Science Center” (episode 24)? (In this episode,) Ms. Sakurai wore a diving suit. I saw her changing out of her diving suit by accident. At that time, I thought she was wearing a swimsuit underneath the diving suit, but she was actually wearing her underwear. I wanted to see her underwear. (in English) I like girls! (laughs)
BH: What about Mr. Nihei, Mr. (Sandayu) Dokumamushi, or Mr. (Akiji) Kobayashi?
AT: Mr. Nihei was a very funny man. He overacted. I didn’t talk to him much. Mr. Kobayashi was very professional. Mr. Dokumamushi made several mistakes. (laughs)
BH: What about director (Akio) Jissoji? What did you think of him?
AT: Mr. Jissoji never directed me. He once said, “I have never directed him,” and Mr. Jissoji never did direct me. There was a press conference, and someone asked Mr. Jissoji if he ever directed me. Mr. Jissoji answered that he had never directed me.
BH: Typically, how long did shooting last?
AT: Shooting started in April, and I finished at the end of December. I broke my leg on January 4. I was hospitalized for three months.
BH: What were you doing when you broke your leg?
AT: At Yomiuriland, there was an artificial ski slope. I fell, and my ankle twisted 180 degrees. It was very painful!
BH: After that, were there any discussions with Tsuburaya Productions about what to do? Did they try to work you back into the series?
AT: I changed my mind and decided to enter junior high school. I said to a member of the board of directors of Tsuburaya Productions that I would go to junior school instead. If I entered a private school, I could still act during school. But the school I entered was a public school, so I couldn’t act anymore.
BH: Would you happen to know if they had to rewrite some scripts? Are you aware of what they had to change?
AT: I think they had trouble. I had confidence to act as a child actor, but I didn’t have confidence to act as an adult. At that time, there were very few actors who successfully transitioned from child actors to adult actors.
BH: What was your favorite episode of Ultraman?
AT: (In the episode,) Captain Muramatsu asked me, “What do you want?” I answered, “A Science Patrol uniform.” That was my favorite episode (episode 17, “Passport to Infinity”). I wanted to act in as a character in uniform. In this episode, my dream came true to act as a uniformed character. The ratings for this episode were also high.
BH: Do you have a favorite monster from Ultraman?
AT: Alien Baltan.
BH: Do you have a favorite memory of shooting Ultraman?
AT: I liked acting in the uniform. I felt I finally became a member of the Science Patrol. I especially enjoyed wearing the uniform while acting on location because many people could see me wearing the uniform.
BH: What was your favorite location?
AT: It was a botanical park in Izu. I liked going to locations for shooting because it felt like traveling to me. At locations, I could go sightseeing around those areas.
BH: What challenges or difficulties did you face on Ultraman?
AT: At first, it was difficult for me to react to a monster when there was no actual monster. The director made this gesture (fist pump) to fight the monster. For example, Alien Baltan and Alien Zarab are life-size monsters, so I acted with the actual monsters. But other than those, I didn’t know what kind of monsters they were. I didn’t even know the design of the monsters.
BH: (When you had to react to the monster), what signal would the director give?
AT: The same.
BH: After Ultraman, how did your career go? What did you do after that?
AT: I belonged to the swimming club at my school. When I was a university student, I coached the swimming club. At first, I worked at a supermarket. Then I became a supervisor at the convenience store 7-Eleven. I trained employees and franchise owners. I worked at the head office of 7-Eleven. I worked in the operations department for five years, and after that, I retired.
Special thanks to Connor Anderson and Maxwell Bresee.