Readers of this website won’t be surprised to hear toy and model kit companies in Japan during the 1980s got up to some strange stuff. Nutrocker, a 30-minute video released to promote the S.F.3.D model kits from Nitto Kagaku, is but one example.
Filmed on the cheap with a few foreign actors and some fancy model work, Nutrocker answers the question I’m not sure anyone was asking, that is “What if the opening to Dragon’s Heaven was half an hour long?” Sure, it’s got low-budget special effects, but practical effects are always interesting, particularly when they’re done on the cheap and released specifically for home video. It’s also the only type of SF3D or Maschinen Krieger media to date that isn’t printed or the kits themselves, which makes it pretty special for a series that people are constantly remarking should be turned into an anime series or something. And to be clear, this wasn’t a video Hobby Japan and Nitto Kagaku were giving out for free to advertise their kit–it cost 9,800yen because it was 1985 and you could get away with charging huge prices for your videotapes if they appealed to hardcore fans. For the money, you got your choice of VHS or Beta with an included a map and ID card. Pre-order customers also got a very tiny soft vinyl kit of a Nutrocker tank with a wind-up motor dubbed the “Nacho Rocker.”
Copies of Nutrocker will pop up on the second-hand market from time to time, but Nacho Rocker kits are extremely rare.
Released in 1985, Nutrocker must have come out near the end of SF3D peak, as the Hobby Japan serialization wrapped up in December of that same year and Nitto Kagaku’s kits disappeared shortly thereafter. Rights disputes with Hobby Japan kept the SF3D name locked up, but creator Kow Yokoyama moved on to other projects, like Robot Battle V, photo novels in magazines like Model Graphix and B-Club, and mechanical design work for anime like Bubblegum Crisis and Venus Wars. SF.3D eventually returned as Maschinen Krieger with re-releases of the original Nitto kits and new kits from companies like Hasegawa and Wave.
Roger Harkavy has maintained a little Nutrocker website for years, with a full cast and crew list and an interview with Tristan Hickey, who starred in the film. He has graciously allowed me to reprint that interview below.
Interview with Tristan Hickey
The following interview was originally published on Roger Harkavy’s S.F.3.d Original Video Nutrocker site.
Tristan Hickey played the part of Robert Bush in the Nutrocker video. Mr. Hickey was generous enough to provide his recollections about the production of Nutrocker for us.
I moved to London in 1988 from Los Angeles and have mainly done acting, the majority of it in commercials around 50 of them mostly in Europe. I have been with three agencies and currently with Hugh Galloway.
I run The American Agency. About nine years ago, an actress named Valerie Farr started The American Agency and I had worked for The Merritt Blake Agency (I think still going) soon after graduating from UCLA Film/TV School in 1981-82. Anyhow, I told Valerie I would help her out having worked as an agent before.
Sorry to go on and I will get to my memories of Nutrocker. I have a copy somewhere in our house but it is on NTSC.
I think it was May 1985 and I decided to take a break from Los Angeles and a friend Karen Korey (Kory), who I think is now a film editor in Los Angeles, was always fascinated by all things Japanese – I am not sure if she had been – but I decided to go. Also, I had heard they used Western models a lot, not that I was a model.
I flew Korean Air to Tokyo and at the airport, a Western person, Amaury St. Giles, approached me and offered to give me a lift into town. Amaury was there to pick up a Canadian artist who was going to have a show at Amaury’s gallery. I ended up staying at his place for a couple of nights and I then moved to a business hotel near Roppongi and went around to various agencies in Tokyo.
I think a small one signed me on and maybe a few others, but I was probably more of a commercial look than modeling. Anyhow the money was running out or had run out without any auditions, so I decided to head to the Southern tip of Honshu to take a ferry to Korea. A good friend Peter Holladay, who had spent a couple of years travelling, said that if you took over certain coffee and whiskey you could sell it at the market in Seoul for a profit, which I did.
Anyhow, I had some adventures around Seoul and Korea but wasn’t making any money. Met a strange group of Western travellers who never seemed to make it home. One guy was the foremost English-speaking authority on Korean films. I don’t think he had been back to NYC for twenty years and was just living in this cheap hostel in Seoul with rats scraping behind the walls. One guy was trying to convince me to stay and teach English in Seoul, but I wanted to go back to Tokyo and Japan.
On my travels back up to Tokyo I ended up going to the smallest of the four main islands, Shikoku, with a guy Ted who was in the Japanese Studies program at Tufts. And in Matsuyama at a bar that was fairly empty a lady in her 40s told us to wait and we thought she was the bartender, but it turned out to be the boss and she had sent one of her workers to bring Ted and I each a fancy silk smoking jacket (I still have it). The guy who brought them back was missing part of his pinkie and the same on the next finger.
The next day she arranged to met us and took us outside of town to a fancy restaurant owned by an ex-sumo. Then when we said we were going to Kochi next she said that one of her other employees was running an errand down there and would drive us down there. I think she was doing all this because she had a twelve-year-old son she planned to send to university in the States and I think she thought Ted might make sure he was alright when he did go.
Sorry, I am just giving all this as background colour, I am almost to Nutrocker.
I got back to Tokyo and decided I should try to teach English. That was also changing then they wanted qualifications. I started an eight-day course with Berlitz and at the end, you could get teaching sessions with women and children, but not businessmen as they wanted the more highly trained teachers. Though I think that would have been a blessing as I heard teaching the businessmen was a slog.
Anyhow, the third day in one of the agencies called me and I think had Nutrocker as my first gig. I remember having to make my way out to the suburbs early in the morning and being in some small studio and they got me breakfast and I tried natto (the bean curd paste) and they were surprised I didn’t mind eating it.
On the sound stage, there might have only been one, in the right corner was the model landscape about three feet off the ground and I think some of the models on it. I got the impression that they already shot that. And they tried to explain to me that I was inside the Nutrocker and that I manipulated it and that there had been a war that had destroyed everything and since I was in the robot suit I hadn’t died. They might have shown me some footage they shot to get an idea.
I think I figured out it was a video of a toy and I thought how could you sell a video of a toy. The shoot was all very low-tech, I was literally sitting in a folding chair all day in a type of air force flying suit and we shot in sequence every bit with either more make-up or dirt as the day went on to give me stubble and look more the worse for wear. The camera was pointed straight at me and was a video camera and they either used boards or flags to alter the slit my eyes looked out of and also the lighting depending on what they were trying to achieve.
I remember there wasn’t a lot of direction and that obviously the language barrier didn’t help (that’s my excuse for the performance). Also near the last half of the day, they seemed to enjoy if I added curses to the dialogue. I kept thinking how can this be for kids, but it seemed to make the director happy in regards to the feel he wanted. It was a long day in that chair, but I guess they got what they wanted. I think the script was fairly stilted in the translation and I tried to add to it. I did get the feeling that the model aspect was the important part and the live-action was an afterthought.
Back in Tokyo I first stayed at a hostel that they would spray every night before lights went out. The other guy in the bunk was I think Norwegian and he seemed like a businessman, but had stayed there for quite a long time. They didn’t want you out past eleven, but he showed me how to sneak in over the roof in the back.
I either got in trouble or decided to leave and went to Mickey House, a very laid-back hostel and as such not as clean. I think it was two to every room and if you were around you would hang out in the kitchen and drink. The young Japanese guy who owned it would come around in his yellow Datsun sports car to get your rent periodically and he also had an English coffee house called Mikey House somewhere else, where you could go and talk with Japanese customers and get some money at the end of the night.
I also met a Japanese American girl from LA whose family said she should spend one or two years in Tokyo with the Japanese side of the family. She lived near the barracks where the famous author committed suicide. And she worked in a restaurant I think some of the family owned in Ginza, the expensive shopping area. She used to say that I didn’t understand how hard it was for her. Since they took her for Japanese she was expected to act like a Japanese woman and they couldn’t understand that she had a Western sensibility.
I did a few more jobs, all modelling. I think one was for a high-end Italian clothing company called Belasirno (sp?) which was shot at Toho Studios, home of Godzilla. In all, I spent three months in Japan and Korea and loved it. I haven’t been back since. My wife Fiona Foster, is a television journalist in the UK and went over about five years ago with the family of Lucie Blackman who was murdered.
After Japan I came back to Los Angeles and before I had gone on my travels I had done a commercial for New Coke (another success), but it did run for a little while when I was in Japan, so I had some money from that and the yen I brought back from the Japanese work which I held on to as long as I could because the exchange rate was going in my favour.
England ended up being another “tired of LA” trip and I was trying for work papers for Australia, but could only get them for England so I came here in March 1988 and besides a year in NYC and three years in Atlanta when my wife took a job with CNN, I have been in London. I have mainly done commercials, but have done some film and TV work, but the agency is now my main source of income.