Moonlight Mask (月光仮面 Gekkō Kamen?) is a fictional superhero that has appeared in Japanese tokusatsu and anime television shows and movies since his TV debut in 1958. Created by writer Kōhan Kawauchi, Moonlight Mask is best described as Japan's answer to The Lone Ranger and Batman.
Japan's first TV superhero
Whereas Super Giant is Japan's first celluloid superhero (only he had debuted in movies), it was Moonlight Mask who set the standard as Japan's first live-action TV superhero, and was a huge success with children. Television was already new in Japan, so many children that didn't have a TV set were gathered around to watch it at a friend or neighbor's house. Children also bought toy capes, sunglasses, masks and pistols and played Moonlight Mask in schoolyards and backyards (but as with every children's superhero, Japanese or American, Moonlight Mask was not without liability casualties; See "Liability Issues & Cancellation").
Who is Moonlight Mask?
Moonlight Mask's identity has always been a mystery (which is why the Moonlight Mask persona is credited as being played by "?" in the original series).
Decked out in white tights, white & red cape, white scarf, yellow gloves & boots, dark glasses, face cloth and Indian-style turban (pinned with a "moon" ornament), Moonlight Mask is armed with a whip, two six-shooters, shuriken and moon-shaped boomerangs. He also rides a motorcycle.
However, only audiences know that Moonlight Mask could very well be detective Jūrō Iwai (祝 十郎 Iwai Jūrō?), who seems to disappear from his friends before the caped crusader rides to the rescue in his motorcycle! Even his comical assistant Gorohachi Fukuro (袋 五郎八 Fukuro Gorōhachi?), his friend Inspector Matsuda, and children Shigeru, Kaboko and Fujiko are oblivious to Iwai's secret identity.
The original 1958 series
The original B&W Moonlight Mask (月光仮面) tokusatsu TV drama series, produced by the advertising agency Senkosha and was aired on KRTV (now TBS) from February 24, 1958 to July 5, 1959, with a total of 130 (or 131) episodes, divided into 5 segments.
Jūrō Iwai/Moonlight Mask was played by Ose Koichi.
- Skull Mask (どくろ仮面 - Dokuro Kamen) - Episodes 1-72, 72 episodes (February 24, 1958-May 17, 1958)
- The Secret of the Paradai Kingdom (パラダイ王国の秘密 - Paradai Ōkoku no Himitsu) - Episodes 73-93, 21 episodes (May 25, 1958-October 12, 1958)
- Mammoth Kong (マンモスコング - Manmosu Kongu) - Episodes 94-104, 11 episodes (October 19, 1958-December 26, 1958)
- The Ghost Party Strikes Back (幽霊党の逆襲 - Yureitō no Gyakushū) - Episodes 105-117, 13 episodes (January 4, 1959-March 29, 1959)
- Don't Turn Your Hand to Revenge (その復讐に手を出すな - Sono Fukushū ni Te wo Dasu na) - Episodes 118-131, 14 episodes (April 5, 1959-July 5, 1959)
To coincide with the Nippon Gendai/Senkosha TV series, Toei produced the Moonlight Mask theatrical movies. This was Toei's first involvement in the tokusatsu superhero genre (although their first original superhero production was the TV series 7-Color Mask in 1959). All movies (which are in B&W, just like the TV series) are basically feature adaptations of the show's story arcs, and were filmed in "ToeiScope" (2.35:1).
For these movie versions, Jūrō Iwai/Moonlight Mask was played by Fumitake Omura.
- Moonlight Mask (月光仮面 - Gekkō Kamen) July 30, 1958; Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi
- Moonlight Mask - Duel to the Death in Dangerous Waters (月光仮面 - 絶海の死斗 - Gekkō Kamen - Zekkai no Shitō) August 6, 1958; Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi
- Moonlight Mask - The Claw of Satan (月光仮面 - 魔人〈サタン〉の爪 - Gekkō Kamen - Satan no Tsume) December 22, 1958; Directed by Eijiro Wakabayashi
Posters for 1958 movies:
- Moonlight Mask - The Monster Kong (月光仮面 - 怪獣コング - Gekkō Kamen - Kaijū Kongu) April 1, 1959; Directed by Satoru Ainoda
- Moonlight Mask - The Ghost Party Strikes Back (月光仮面 - 幽霊党の逆襲 - Gekkō Kamen - Yureitō no Gyakushū) July 28, 1959; Directed by Shoichi Shimazu
- Moonlight Mask - The Last of the Devil (月光仮面 - 悪魔の最後 - Gekkō Kamen - Akuma no Saigo) August 4, 1959, Directed by Shoichi Shimazu
Posters for 1959 movies:
A few months after the show first aired, a manga tie-in was commissioned. There were different artists drawing the manga, the majority of which was done by young artist Jiro Kuwata (who would later become the co-creator of 8 Man).
Liability issues and cancellation
Ironically, as is the case with every super-hero idolized by children (especially Superman and Super Giant), children themselves become victims of the many liability issues surrounding them (ie. imitating the hero's dangerous & impossible feats), and Moonlight Mask was no exception. Because of the jumping death of a boy imitating Moonlight Mask's dangerous stunts, the show was unfortunately cancelled on July 5, 1959, after the end of the final story arc, Don't Turn Your Hand to Revenge. Toei's movies, however, continued well into August of that year.
Fortunately, this would not be the end of Moonlight Mask. He made his return to Japanese TV 13 years later.
The 1972 anime series
The anime adaptation Seigi wo Ai Suru Mono - Gekkō Kamen (正義を愛する者 - 月光仮面), translated as The One Who Loves Justice: Moonlight Mask, was produced by Knack, and aired on Nippon Television from January 10, 1972 to October 2, 1972, with a total of 39 episodes (divided into three segments). The show also became very popular in Latin America under the title Centella. Veteran seiyū Michihiro Ikemizu provided the voice of Jūrō Iwai/Moonlight Mask.
- Moonlight Mask now wears an open face helmet instead of a turban, and his cape has an ornament with the scarf attached.
- The Claw of Satan Series (Episodes 1-13)
- The Mammoth Kong Series (Episodes 14-26)
- The Dragon's Fang Series (Episodes 27-39)
The 1981 movie
The tokusatsu movie Moonlight Mask (月光仮面), produced by Purumie International/Herald Enterprises and distributed by Nippon Herald Pictures, was released theatrically on March 14, 1981. Considered Japan's answer to the American box-office fiasco, The Legend of the Lone Ranger (released the same year), this updated version of the Moonlight Mask legend bombed at the Japanese box-office. Daisuke Kuwahara (who, like Klinton Spilsbury, disappeared from doing films) played George Owara (Moonlight Mask's new alter-ego), and the rest of the cast made up of veteran action starlet Sue Shihomi, Daijiro Harada and Takayuki Godai, with none of the original characters turning up. The movie was directed and co-written by Yukihiro Sawada.
The 1999 gag-anime series
The gag-anime series We Know You, Moonlight Mask-kun! (ごぞんじ!月光仮面くん - Gozonji! Gekkô Kamen-kun), a very comical take on the famous masked hero, was produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha and broadcast on TV Tokyo from October 3, 1999 to March 26, 2000, with a total of 25 episodes. The opening theme song is an updated version of the original theme song, and is sung by COA.
Controversial mangaka (manga artist) Go Nagai made a very raunchy parody of Moonlight Mask, titled Kekkō Kamen (けっこう仮面 - Kekkō Kamen, roughly translated as "Splendid Mask"), a pun on Gekkō Kamen (Moonlight Mask's Japanese name). The manga depicts the adventures of a young superheroine who wears a red mask, scarf, an occasional cape, gloves, boots and nothing else. She has various weapons like nunchaku and a feather on her mask.
Moonlight Knight (from Sailor Moon)
!Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoiyo Masaru-san!
In the anime Sexy Commando Gaiden: Sugoiyo Masaru-san, Yoroshiku Kamen and his various previous reincarnations (Bye-bye Kamen, Aisatsu Kamen, etc.) all parody Gekkou Kamen and his appeal to children.
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