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Hiroshi Fujioka Looks Back at 50 Years of Being Kamen Rider

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Earlier this month, I got the chance to sit down with Hiroshi Fujioka at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2021. In a skyscraper overlooking central Tokyo we talked at length about the role that made him a household name in Japan fifty years ago: Takeshi Hongō, the original Kamen Rider.

How does it feel being the first rider and seeing what Kamen Rider has become after all these years?

My encounter with Kamen Rider is the biggest thing that ever happened to me—it really changed my life. But more than that, I think it even changed history. That's how big Kamen Rider is as a piece of media. The protagonists have all nurtured me and helped me grow throughout the Showa, Heisei, and Reiwa eras. Back then [when Kamen Rider first aired], Japan was kind of like a developing country. Then it went through rapid economic growth. I think that Kamen Rider was also connected to that—it was evolving as Japan was evolving. The fact that the role of “Kamen Rider” still exists after 50 years in this industry, is a miracle. It's also a miracle that I'm still here--that I'm still acting, still have dreams, and am confronting new challenges.

Did you ever even dream you'd be playing the same character 50 years later?

I never even imagined that this would happen. I didn't think that it would continue for so many years.

When did you realize that the Kamen Rider series would be something that would last—possibly forever?

I think it was about half-a-year after I started performing [as Kamen Rider 1] that I saw the response from children—how much it was influencing them. At that time, I was involved in a bad accident—because, you know, I had been doing all my own stunts. I was so severely injured that no one was sure whether I'd live or die. When it came to getting better, I kind of took a step back, and thought “Okay. Here's what's happening. I'm going to have to be even more determined if I want to go back to the show.” It was then that I saw the reaction from the children and how excited they were about the show and thought that I was a part of something great.

After the accident, when they brought on Kamen Rider 2, did you think that was the end for you as Kamen Rider 1?

I never thought that I would not go back to the show. I always thought that I would go back and continue inspiring children. At the time, I decided that I would do anything to return to the show. So I spent a lot of time going through rehabilitation for my body and that was a big ordeal for me. Even looking back now, it's a fight I would never want to have to face again.

Regardless of that, I got a lot of courage from the children. And so I wanted to give some of that back to them. That's what really motivated me. Children are the treasures of the future, so I really wanted to see their smiling faces. Even back then, they had already left a major impression on me.

I think that as human beings, when you're doing something for yourself alone, you're not much. But when you are doing something for someone else, that brings a lot of extra power and capability to the human body.

Did the staff also support your recovery and return?

Yes, everyone anxiously awaited my return to the show. They all knew that I had literally put my life on the line to play the role [of Kamen Rider 1], so of course they supported me.

Do you ever wish you had been able to continue being the suit actor as well as the out-of-suit actor after the accident?

At the time [before the accident], I had already reached the limits of my body. There was never enough time scheduling-wise. I had been performing two roles—inside the suit and outside the suit. This is probably one of the reasons why the accident happened in the first place. So after the accident, I made the decision to leave the stunts to the stuntmen and focus my efforts on being the best I could be outside of the suit.

Have you ever felt like you're trapped in the role of Kamen Rider 1—that you're defined by a part you played as a young man 50 years ago?

Sure. There was a time that I thought I might be trapped in this role--but that was a momentary thing. I knew that the show would still go on [without me] and I should cherish the moments I had doing it. I kind of had to change my mindset at the time and say to myself “I'm going to put my all into this part because, one day, it will be history.” I challenged myself to put even more effort into exploring my character.

In the 2016 film Kamen Rider 1 you played an older version of Hongo Takeshi. How do you feel about older heroes? Are their stories relevant and what can we learn from them?

I think that Kamen Rider has grown with us as we've grown older. When you're at a later stage of life, you have a lot of life's lessons ingrained in you—you've learned a lot, experienced a lot. You've gone through many difficult times. You have all of that inside you. I feel it's a veteran hero's responsibility as one who has survived to communicate love, justice, and courage to everyone. They're starting a new stage of life and I think there's a lot of human drama in that. It's the kind of role I imagine I could do now.  

I asked English-speaking Kamen Rider fans for questions they wanted answered, so let's do them in a bit of a lightning round. First up, what are your thoughts on the new Kamen Rider 1 in Hideaki Anno's Shin Kamen Rider?

I don't have much of an opinion on the new Kamen Rider yet. I haven't met him and don't know much about the character—but I am looking forward to [seeing him in action]! I really want to see the Kamen Rider legacy continue on so I hope he does well. Personally, I just want the spirit of Kamen Rider to shine through.

What American superhero would be the best to team up with Kamen Rider 1?

I think Kamen Rider 1 would work well with any hero. As long as the stories foster hopes and dreams for children and the heroes share a general objective, there are no limits to the possible team ups.

How long does it take to style your awesome hair?

(Laughing) It takes about fifteen minutes

Which was your favorite costume to wear?

I'd say the various leather jackets. They allowed me to move around in a very wild, active manner.

You sang the theme song, "Let's Go!! Rider Kick", for the first 13 episodes of the original series. How did that come about and why did it stop?

It was just kind of natural for me to sing it. When I heard it for the first time, I was really moved by the song because of the phrases and how it included the powerful punches and kicks. But as for why I stopped being the one who sang it, I don't know the actual reason why either. It just kind of felt like another natural progression.

If you could star in a new Kamen Rider series today, would you do it?

Of course! I've spent 57 years in this industry. I would love to show off all the acting experience I have accumulated over that time. I want to continue growing as an actor. And I have confidence that I could in such a role.

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