They came with Son Goku’s orange training suits on, with wigs of his golden or brunet or red spiky hair, or dressed as the Saiyan Prince Vegeta, or dressed ornately as Goku’s main adversary Frieza — but they were all gathered at the Egyptian Theatre to celebrate the premiere of a new Dragon Ball Z movie, and toast one of the franchise’s biggest stars.
“Dragon Ball Z: The Resurrection of ‘F'” opened in Japan this past weekend, and the 19th installment in the popular anime series debuted at the top of the box office charts with $7.6 million, besting even the hard-charging “Furious 7” premiere. Filmmakers plan to screen the film in 74 countries worldwide. It’s scheduled to open in the U.S. this summer, but it premiered on April 11 in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre.
On that day, an enthusiastic crowd was on hand to see the return of one of the cartoon’s most popular villains and to witness the rare appearance of Japanese actress Masako Nozawa, the voice of Goku. An alien raised on Earth who battles and trains for the love of fighting, he protects those he he holds dear and is one of the most popular and beloved anime characters (the most, in some estimations). The crew behind the premiere event went all out with drum performances by Taiko Center of Los Angeles, music by DJ Carlos Alva and group dance numbers (choreographed by Nicole Kirkland) filling the courtyard off of Hollywood Boulevard. Overseas execs in dark suits mixed in with colorful cosplayers, too, while international media swarmed for reactions and interviews.
Nozawa was the most popular of the celebrities at the event. With her stark orangish-red hair, she sat in a small waiting room off to the side of the loud festivities post-screening. Her translator by her side, Nozawa was a picture of civility, a veteran actress who’s been in the business for decades — since she was 2 years old, in fact. She knew that the premiere was big, but she hadn’t thought about its significance until her limo pulled in front of the theater.
“I knew that there were fans overseas, but today, walking down the red carpet — from the beginning it was extravagant and unexpected,” says Nozawa.
“I was incredibly happy with that reception. And I was so happy that Goku was so loved because we’re one entity. At the point of coming on the carpet, we’re one entity.”
Before the film began, Nozawa and the film’s director, Tadayoshi Yamamuro, said a few words alongside other executives. When her time came, she thanked the audience for coming — but she knew what they wanted to hear.
“Kaaa. Me. Haaa. Me. Haaaaa!!!” she shouted, to the roar of approval by the assemblage. The yell marks the coming of Goku’s signature energy blast while fighting and is a fan favorite for the series. Nozawa has long been the voice of the character and, as a respected actress, now also owns and programs a theater company in Japan. She believes that many voice actors, especially those who voice multiple roles in one show, approach the work in an orthodox way — listening to directors, voice coaches, etc. But Nozawa’s work is more organic.
“I don’t think about it. I don’t make up the character. I transform myself into the character,” she says. “The differences occur naturally as I’m staring at the photos because they all grew up differently.”
The profile of anime in the U.S. has risen over the last decade as more product is available and the fandom surrounding it grows, and while “Dragon Ball Z” may not have had the influence of “Pokémon” on a national level in the U.S., the show and merchandise was a success before it reached American shores. The franchise — which grew from the original “Dragon Ball” anime and manga series — earned more than $3 billion in sales from 1986-2000.
The newest film in the franchise plays out another of the epic battles that the series is known for. Goku and Frieza, the main villain of “Resurrection,” had a planet-destroying, episodes-long battle during Season 3 of the “Dragon Ball Z” television series. With the bad guy’s return, another battle with raised power levels (Super Saiyan God versus Golden Frieza) and massive displays of fighting and energy blasts excited the crowd as multiple cheers rang out during the film’s premiere. Despite the violent nature of the show, Goku remains a good-at-heart warrior who just wants to better himself. Nozawa has imbued the character with traits of her own and identifies with many of the strengths that fans have come to love about the character — though not all.
“There’s a part of Goku that’s precocious, and he exudes positivity. That’s pretty much me. But Goku trains a lot and goes on training missions. I don’t really like training, but I guess I sort of, in my own way, train every day by people-watching,” says Nozawa.
“The main part is his positive outlook. He also doesn’t look down on people or discriminate. He treats them all equally.”
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