Superheroes are more than an American phenomenon, and Japan has its own tradition of costumed heroes. While many people are aware of Power Rangers and maybe that the footage came from Japan, what you may not know is that it is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger genre known as Tokusatsu.
These “special effects” shows cover everything from the original Godzilla stomping around model sets of Tokyo, the jets and puppets of Thunderbirds, to any of the myriad transforming hero shows that are produced today. The “Big Three” are Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and Ultraman. These three shows have been around since the 70s and have been a dominant force in Japanese pop culture ever since.
While the anime boom has brought Japanese animation and manga into the popular consciousness, Tokusatsu has been held back by various licensing difficulties that have made importing it a challenge. Things have been changing, and many more shows are now available for streaming on several platforms. There is also a vibrant fan community putting out all kinds of content, from cosplay to their own web series. Check out everything we have to offer.
Shoutfactory has been one of the few companies releasing old and new content in the genre. Check out their extensive free library of tokusatsu heroes. This not only includes an impressive collection of Super Sentai but several releases of Kamen Rider and Ultraman! They also have a Toku fan series called Let’s Talk Toku.
While not as open to international audiences compared to other companies, Toei has recently set up a YouTube channel with some of their back catalog and a couple of full series with English subtitles. While it explicitly has no Super Sentai (most likely due to distribution rights), it offers a look at other series like Kamen Rider, Metal Heroes, and many of the one-off series that were produced in the 80s and 90s. It’s amazing to see how production has morphed over the years. A great entry point into the modern era of Tokusatsu is Kamen Rider W. Released in 2010; it follows the two-in-one noir detective who protects the Windy City of Fuuto from super-powered criminals.
The Tokusatsu Network is a great place to find news about current releases both in Japan and abroad.
Next week I will be highlighting one of the founding heroes of the genre, Ultraman.