Someone once told me that the Japanese are good at taking other people's ideas and making them better. Take for instance, cars. We in the U.S. found a way to mass produce them efficiently, making America the car capital of the world for a time. Then the Japanese come along, and learn to make them better and more efficiently. I would beg to differ. Rather, as other scholars have argued, Japanese take other people's ideas, and adapt them to their own culture. What comes out is a new product that bears a resemblance to, but is considerably different from the original. We can see the same thing in Spider-Man.
The American 1967 animated Spider-Man
First, let's look at the American version of Spider-Man I grew up with (I watched lots of reruns in the 1970s of this 1967 cartoon). The best thing about this cartoon was its catchy song. That's about it. Even as a kid, I knew this was trash animation - the producers, in order to save money, constantly reused the same scenes of Spider-Man swinging. And swinging. And swinging. I remember as a grade schooler, timing the swinging scenes in an episode where Spider-Man is being chased by a giant cat. About half the show consisted of him swinging.
BTW, click here for a link to the live action 1970s U.S. version of Spiderman. I love the 1970s theme music!
The Japanese 1978 live-action Spider-Man
Here's my rough translation of the lyrics
In the darkness between the buildingsNow look at the 1978 Japanese version Spider-man (put up by VideoStar13), produced by Toei, the same folks who brought you other Japanese superhero shows such as Kikaider and Kamen Rider. As you can tell by the lyrics, it's a much more serious version of Spiderman. The producers did obtain the license from Marvel comics to show their version of Spider-Man to the Japanese. However, the producers had to make considerable changes to adapt this cartoon into the Japanese tokusatsu genre. For the uninitiated, tokusatsu (literally meaning "special filming" or "special effects"), is a live-action genre usually with superheros doing martial arts moves on agents of a villainous organization, and always crying out the name of their martial arts technique ("double chops!" "giant swing throw!") as they pummel their opponents. Think of the "Power rangers".
Eyes burning with rage (lit: eyes shining brightly with anger)
He sacrifices his (inner) peace. (lit: He throws away his serenity.)
He sacrifices everything. (lit: He throws away everything.)
He pursues evil and soars across the sky.
Change to Leopardon!
Why do you... Why do you?
Keep on fighting and put your life at risk?
You live for just one thing. You live for just one thing.
Someone else put up a fake subtitled version, which has nothing to do with the plot (click here if you want to take a peek, but the subs are purposely wrong). I can understand Japanese, but it takes a lot of energy and concentration for me to do a proper translation, so I took the lazy man's method and looked up the story at japanhero.com. The following plot synopsis is a combination of that article and my personal translation. First of all, Spider-Man's alter-ego, Peter Parker, was changed to a Japanese motocross champion, Yamashiro Takuya. This made sense since the other Toei tokusatsu shows usually featured a cool motorcycle-riding hero, and it would be very difficult to explain the presence of a nerdy white guy in Japan taking pictures for the Daily Bugle.
The Tetsujyujidan (Iron Cross), evil organization in this show. Hmmm...doesn't the guy on the right seem familiar?
To fit the tokusatsu genre, the villains had to undergo a change as well. No more individual villains like the Green Goblin or Dr. Octopus. Remember that Japan is a group-oriented society, and so even villains are organized into groups, this time as the "Iron Cross Organization" (Tetsujyujidan). Also this evil organization was headed by the 400-year old Professor Monster (Kaiju kyoju), played by Ando Mitsuo (who also played the flute-wielding Dr. Gill, head of the evil organization "The Dark," in the series Kikaider).
We all remember how Peter Parker got his spider powers right? (Bitten by a radioactive spider). And that he decided to fight crime when his Uncle Ben was killed by a robber. Well, this story got adapted to Japanese genres. The Marveller (named obviously after Marvel comics), a spaceship from another planet, crashed on Earth, being chased by the Iron Cross and Professor Monster. Takuya keeps hearing voices in his head telling him that "we are brothers." This was actually a telepathic signal being sent by Gariya, the last survivor of the Spider planet destroyed by the Iron Cross.
Takuya and his researcher and other family/research members father go out to investigate the crash site. There, the Iron Cross finds his father and kills him. Takuya grieves over his slain father, and then is chased by the Iron Cross bad guys into a cave, where he bumps into Gariya.
Gariya tellls Takuya his story and how he has been trying to contact him via telepathy. Gariya wants revenge for his planet, and tells Takuya that he must also avenge his own father (Just like in the 47 Ronin, revenge is a powerful factor in tokusatsu). And so he gives Takuya spider powers through a device that he clamps onto him. Note that in Japanese shows, the hero is usually created by someone, or gets their power from someone else. That's how skills are supposed to be transmitted in real life, from a master.
Out of the cave, Takuya discovers his powers. I like how they used live action stuntmen to climb up the walls of real buildings. Even his powers undergo some adaptation. The Spider Sense is more of a radar, where you can locate people. So Spider-Man figures out where the bad guys are (at a dam kidnapping a researcher to make evil monsters) and goes out to fight them. These are the bad guys for the first episode:
The battle-scenes were also adapted to tokusatsu standards. Whenever Spider-Man shot his web, in true tokusatsu fashion, he had to announce his attack "Spider String!" And he used lots of martial arts moves and gymnastics to knock his opponents about. Lots of explosions thrown in for good measure. Note how Spider-Man actually moves like a spider, with his arms and legs flailing about. And also you can hear the 1970s enka (Japanese traditional music) horns in the background. Eventually, the villian Amazoness got tired and brought out a robot which morphed into a giant robot.
Now here's where this show really gets hog wild. When the bad guys were on the losing end of the battle with Spider-Man, they would morph into a giant version of themselves. Spider-Man would then call in his giant Transformers-like robot to battle the giant villain. First he would jump into his Spidermachine GP7, then jet into an open bay in Marveller, which then transformed into the giant robot Leopardon.
Spider-Man jumps into his Spider Machine GP7 (How can you tell? It says so in English on the side of the car)
Of course, Leopardon ends up smashing his enemy to pieces to save the planet for another day. This program helped to popularize the idea of giant robots fighting in these tokusatsu shows, and thus explains why shows like Power Ranger have giant robots fighting giant versions of the enemy. Plus, it also makes economic sense - the toy companies can sell giant robots and make more money.
Compare Spider-Man to how Saban had to adapt Kyoryuu sentai Jyu-ranger to America as the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: dumbing down the plot (the Power Rangers fight to save the high school dance, not save the world), toning down the violence, and just making this a show that only children could enjoy. No wonder Japanese products are so in demand - take other people's ideas, use quality control, and make them better. Just take a look at the detail in which they filmed the martial arts action scenes. Click here or the pic above to see an amazing clip from another episode to "marvel" at the stuntman's footwork jumping around the roof of a building and doing martial arts moves - wow!
here and here for clips (posted by bobx2x) of Japanese Spider-Man fighting a villain who suspiciously looks like ...well, the "Thing". And yes, the Japanese Spider-Man did have the American creator Stan Lee's seal of approval.