By Avi Landau
On days when the light is just right and there is very little chance of rain, you might get lucky and find a colorful collection of super heroes and monsters battling it out at Tsukuba Center. For many years, TV production companies have been using the Lion Pit between the Okura Hotel and the Right-On building as an unearthly-looking set (which more importantly for the producers is free of charge!) for shooting Sunday morning kids’ programs. Like me, you will probably have to ask one of the moms with toddlers who are excitedly watching the proceedings to find out the name of the show they are filming.
Today, on my way to the Center Building I noticed large crowds gathered around the edge of The Pit peering down. I knew right away that there was filming going on. It wasn`t until I approached for a peek of my own and was stopped by the production staff that I realized that all the people that had gathered were EXTRAS who would be appearing (as a featureless mass , no doubt) in the episode being shot. I was even more surprised when under the direction of the director, all these enthusiastic would- be- thesbians began to chant as if they were cheering on a battle between gladiators.
As I walked on in my hurry to get to an appointment, I remembered how two years ago I watched the cast and crew of the popular channel 10 show Go-On-Ja (ゴオンジャ), which often uses the Tsukuba Center location. It is interesting (especially if you have small kids to bring along) to watch the actors get warmed-up, rehearse and shoot the individual shots, then get half out of costume and enjoy a cigarette break. Sometimes small explosions startle the onlookers who ring the set and are treated very politely. (Remember, the space is being used for free!)
When I went by the set again later the set had become even more of a spectacle as in addition to the film crew this years Christmas decoration had begun to up- so the superheroes and villains were battling amidst tinsel laden trees and a giant inflattable Santa!
The professional way Japanese film crews go about their business is impressive to watch and should be eye-opening for those who can only picture the age-old racist parody of a Japanese TV director as shown in the very popular (and perpetuator of old stereotypes) Lost In Translation.
For me, the bold poses taken by each character when they identify themselves or challenge each other, is reminiscent of the mudra positions introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks, most notably Saicho and Kukai, more than 1000 years ago. This may sound far-fetched, but please look closely at both and you might see the connection.
Also, one thought that I have had about the great international success of so many Japanese produced kids shows is that unlike their American counterparts which were also very entertaining for adults ( and in fact impossible for kids to really understand- take Bugs Bunny or Popeye, for example), the Japanese had the revolutionary idea of creating programs at a childs level- making them vitually unwatchable for adults ( POKEMON, for example).but absolutely fascinating for little kids. A brilliant and profitable concept!
No-one can predict when there will be filming at the center, but as I said earlier, there is a good chance it will be happening when the weather is favorable.
Dont forget to bring the kids!
Some of you might have been wondering what all that unusal construction work going on in the empty lot next to the Joyo Bank Building at Tsukuba Center was- especially since what was being put up seemed to be mere facades!
Well, that is exactly what they were: fake store fronts along fake streets which were created as a film set to shoot the upcoming GATCHAMAN movie, which will be released some time next year. Yes- GATCHAMAN is a cartoon, but they still film the sets and plenty of action for the animators to draw over ( or work with on their computers). I actually saw hem swimging a girl from a crane which will later appear in the film as one of the characters flying through the air.
When I asked I was told that shooting will comtinue through November 4th.
If, like me, you had never heard the name GOTCHAMAN before read: