Well known for his work on productions such as Ultraman Gaia, Ultra Q Dark Fantasy, Ultraman X, Ultraseven X, and Superior 8 Ultra Brothers, international director and producer Takeshi Yagi recently announced that he will hold an online course teaching and guiding others in filming and producing tokusatsu via Naro, a platform specializing in showcasing masters of various elements of Japanese culture, ranging from food to media and much more.
AKARI, an original production Yagi and his team have made from scratch to both honor tokusatsu tradition while blazing new paths in storytelling and visual design, made its debut at Tokyo Comic Con on November 24, 2022 to highlight the tokusatsu production course. During the event, a panel was held with the AKARI team previewing a scene of the project, and the characters Akari (heroine) and Pythagodon (monster) appeared live on stage.
Photos: Cindy Bissig
AKARI: Origins of the HENSHIN power (from Naro.tv)
A mysterious alien species known as the Chi’sora barely avoided a collapse of their civilization due to a revolution by a sentient AI. In order to survive that AI revolution, the Chi’sora created a special “locked down” mind-machine technology that could transform the user into a giant warrior with enhanced physical and mental powers.
Aware of the universal danger such AIs represent, whenever the Chi’sora discover a species (like humans on Earth) about to cross the point of AI singularity, they find a worthy being to bestow their henshin power on so that this person can protect their species against the perils of artificial intelligence.
In AKARI, the newest bearer of the henshin power will prove to be a young woman from Earth…
Art: Matt Frank
AKARI: Story Overview (from Naro.tv)
2076. Tokyo. Technology has flourished, but the powers of governments world-wide have waned. Parts of the city have become “free (lawless) zones,” and a secret branch of weapons manufacturing company, Teppo Corp, has taken advantage of these zones to conduct risky research on neural-hacking, DNA engineering, and semi-automated giant animal soldiers.
Teppo Corp has been quickly progressing on research attempting to weaponize a giant creature – Pythagodon, a hybrid grown from a mix of kabutomushi, tardigrade, and dinosaur DNA. Teppo Corp’s goal: to make the creature stronger and superior to conventional technology-based weapons. When activated, Pythagodon is supposed to be rendered into a zombie state, requiring a human to “remote pilot” it. Teppo Corp’s research is also aiming to improve Pythagodon’s mental ability with AI supplements that will enable it to instantly analyze attacks and predict enemy movements.
The research and development have been progressing much faster than the government or public realizes, with many physical supplements having already been incorporated into the hybrid’s body (armor, guns/lasers). Recently, a number of scientists and employees working on the project have become increasingly alarmed by the creature’s AI supplements, as they partially override the need for full remote-piloting.
News of this work has just been leaked to the media by these concerned scientists. Large demonstrations and protests have been organized in response. Our heroine’s boyfriend, Haruto, is one of the protest organizers and leaders. As the protestors gather in the city, the creature appears and begins behaving erratically.
It seems Pythagodon has somehow been activated – and a renegade scientist, Dr. Sakai is implicated in a terror plot on the city. Police capture the scientist, believing they have stopped the threat and saved the day. However, Pythagodon’s AI supplements have been evolving thanks to Sakai’s removal of some of the few remaining code safeguards. Will the successful protests and capture of Dr. Sakai turn into a tragedy?
As the AI singularity looms, the Chi’sora arrive over Tokyo’s skies, and our heroine Akari, who has suffered a recent personal tragedy, is about to have her life further upended. Is she capable of assuming the mantle of Earth’s new champion?
Playing the heroine Akari is Kanon Miyahara, a tokusatsu alumnae best known for playing Nozomi Takai in Kamen Rider Amazons, but she has also appeared in productions such as Ultraman Z, Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger Memory of Soulmates, and Blackfox: Age of the Ninja.
Photos: Tim Gallo
Across from her, Kazuki Hamatani, a tokusatsu actor and stuntman, dons the monster Pythagodon. Hamatani’s credits include Prisoners of the Ghostland, God of War, and Lost Judgment.
Working with Takeshi Yagi to create and deliver AKARI are various masters of their respective crafts from action directors, designers, producers, and much more. Team TokuNet can’t credit them enough for what an awesome team Yagi has brought together, so please go to Naro.tv to read about their credits and accolades!
- Director, Writer: Takeshi Yagi
- Assistant Director: Yuichi Kikuchi
- Producer, Writer: Todd Silverstein
- Producer, Writer: Jordan A. Y. Smith
- Director of Photography: Alexandre Bartholo
- Akari Character Design: Matt Frank
- Pythagodon Kaiju Design: Akihiko Iguchi
- Visual Design: Mad Dog Jones
- Tokusatsu Model and Character Construction: Marbling Fine Arts
- Composer, Sound Design: Darin Dahlinger
- Action Director: Tatsuro Koike
- Practical Effects Director: Yoshinori Muraishi
Team TokuNet also received the privilege of a short interview with director Yagi about AKARI and the Naro.tv online course, covering the origins of the production, the crew, and much more.
What led you to create AKARI? / What were some inspirations for AKARI?
Yagi: In creating the Narō course on tokusatsu, I was speaking with the producers Todd Silverstein and Jordan A. Y. Smith, and we reached the conclusion that rather than just doing a cultural analysis of tokusatsu, it would be even more true to the topic if we took it as our central mission to produce part of an actual tokusatsu and teach and show the whole production process. Thus, AKARI began.
So it was in order to create AKARI that I revisited the question of what the essence of tokusatsu is. That search led me to confirm that as a genre it is constantly seeking innovative forms of expression, realistic depictions that exceed reality. So for our short film AKARI, we wanted to explore the most creative tools of expression conceivable today. For that, we set the stage as Tokyo of the near future, constructing a futuristic miniature set combined with light and color scheme.
Can you comment on how the AKARI team came together?
Yagi: For the AKARI team, I basically invited a bunch of people I consider amazing. We took as our visual base the worldview of artist Mad Dog Jones. The world we constructed was inspired by his vibrant aesthetics. The kaiju character Pythagodon was designed by tokusatsu legend Iguchi Akihiko of Mechagodzilla fame (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1973)). The heroine Akari was designed by American artist Matt Frank, known for Godzilla comics and much more, who is also highly regarded as a kaiju artist. We had the full support of Marbling Fine Arts, the premiere team in the world of Japanese tokusatsu miniatures. We got Japan’s number one practical effects company, Kikkousen. Our DP was Alexandre Bartholo, who is French but lives in Tokyo. This project was my first time working with him, but he is truly a consummate artist, and we collaborated on creating the color scheme for our cityscape. Our Editor, Niko Lanzuisi, who brought a very cool, rhythmic sensibility to the edit, and on music and audio effects, Darin Dahlinger pulled off some astounding feats. There were many other key players, but overall, this team was a blend of Japanese tokusatsu legends and luminary young talents from around the world. This transnational vibe infuses AKARI with the creative novelty we were aiming for.
Why did you decide to offer a tokusatsu production video course?
Yagi: I was invited by Narō to do the course, and I’d already put a lot of thought into the field of tokusatsu and was excited to share its distinctive culture, its captivating originality, and the possibilities created by its technical innovations with a global audience.
And it was easy for me to make the decision to partner with Narō. Not only did their team include a number of tokusatsu fans, I really appreciated the range of topics and creators they had assembled in their teacher lineup. Since so many of their courses touch on contributions Japan has made to world culture, tokusatsu was a must.
Once we started speaking in more detail, I realized that Narō’s VP of Content, (Jordan A. Y. Smith), was a long-time friend and collaborator with Sean Nichols, who actually played Sean White in Ultraman Max. So it was an easy project to say yes to.
When do you plan on debuting AKARI?
Yagi: The AKARI scene we created was just a teaser and proof-of-concept we edited and debuted specifically for Tokyo Comic Con 2022. That said, the positive reaction (and our own love for the concept) was so strong that we’re developing it to pitch it as a full series. Assuming we can get the project into development, that debut will be in “the near future.”
Will tokusatsu fans outside of Japan be able to watch AKARI?
Yagi: Yes–at least part of a scene! In fact, the footage we debuted at Tokyo Comic Con is already available on Naro.tv. This footage will be used as the base for the course– we’ll be showing you exactly how it all comes together, from directing to concept to post production (The course will be released in Spring 2023, but is currently available for pre-order.)
How the project evolves from there depends on fan support and community feedback – so we hope many tokusatsu lovers will join us on this journey!
TTN: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Team TokuNet wishes you a successful production of AKARI, and we look forward to following to your future work.
Once more, Takeshi Yagi’s tokusatsu production course will be held via Naro.tv. Scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2023, anyone interested in learning from him can take the course starting from a $30 pledge with additional rewards at higher pledge tiers.
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