Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A Toho Legend Celebrates His 85th Birthday!

Yasuhiko Saijo. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Today (Wednesday, February 28), I was privileged to spend a couple of hours in the company of former Toho actor Yasuhiko Saijo. Saijo-san is best known for his co-starring role in the Tsuburaya Productions series Ultra Q (1966) as Ippei Togawa, though he also plays Suzuki in Son of Godzilla (1967) and a Moonlight SY-3 crew member in Destroy All Monsters (1968). (Japanese sources seem to disagree about his character name in DAM, with some books naming his character Fujita while others dub him Tani.)

Saijo-san celebrated his 85th birthday on February 20, so he and his wife took a two-day trip to Hakone. In fact, he would be just returning from the trip when meeting up with me, which ended up leading to a bit of a delay.

It turns out that the train Saijo-san was using encountered an accident along the way, which caused him to arrive quite late. Thankfully, he asked a friend of his to meet me at Bishamonten Zenkoku-ji Temple, our usual meeting spot. We then went to the cafe together where Saijo-san would eventually join us.

A bit more than an hour later, Saijo-san and his wife entered the cafe. I was worried that, after such a lengthy return trip, he would be completely worn out. Thankfully, though, that would prove not to be the case at all, and he was still full of energy. All those unforeseen delays did nothing to hamper the enjoyment of the afternoon.

One interesting tidbit was, despite the cold and extremely windy weather Tokyo had experienced in the last couple of days, Saijo-san said Hakone's weather was just fine, which is the opposite of what you might expect, given its climate. I told him he was lucky because the weather in the city was just awful!

Saijo-san's wife was surprised to see how young I was. (Well, looks can be deceiving there.) I wish she would have stayed longer, but she left a bit early, which is understandable since she was literally just returning home from a trip.

After that, Saijo-san discussed his acting career for more than an hour. As usual, it was fascinating stuff. He was also kind enough to sign a few things for my collection, including a DVD sleeve of Gorath (1962), which looks especially good with his signature on it.

I brought Saijo-san two omiyage boxes as birthday presents, but I also insisted on paying for our drinks at the cafe. Saijo-san protested and even seemed a little upset that he wouldn't pay, but I felt it was the least I could do -- not only because of his recent birthday but because he went above and beyond for me today. It was my privilege.

Saijo-san is sort of like the boss of the neighborhood. It's amazing how many locals know who he is. I called him shacho, which seemed to amuse him.

Saijo-san and I walked together for a bit as I was headed toward the station, and he was heading home. Before we parted ways, he said, "Come back to me," in English, which I certainly hope to do in the future. Many thanks to Saijo-san for all his kindness today!

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