Special Effects Technician. Nationality: Japanese. Born: Fukushima, 7 July 1901. Education: Attended Sugugama-Chori Elementary School; Kanda Electronic School. Military Service: 1921–23—served in correspondence corps of Japanese army. Family: Married Masano Araki, 1930; children: three sons. Career: 1919–21—assistant cinematographer for Kokkatsu Studios; 1923–25—cameraman for Ogasaware Productions; 1925–35—cameraman and occasional special effects man for Shochiku-Shimogamo Studio, Nikkatsu-Taihei Studios, Taihei-Hasei Studio, and J.O. Studios; 1936—began concentrating on special effects; 1939—joined Toho Studios and established the Special Effects Section; 1945—retired from Toho; 1949—established the Tsuburaya Laboratory for technical studies; 1950—returned to Toho; 1954—created first monster, Godzilla; began association with Inoshiro Honda; 1963—established his own Special Effects Laboratory; created exhibits for the Mitsubishi Pavilion for the World Expo; 1964—established Tsuburaya Productions for television; created Ultra Q and Ultraman series; 1969—directed the construction and development of the Holi-Mirror for the Mitsubishi Pavilion for the World Expo. Died: 25 January 1970.
Films as Cameraman (selected list):
Enmeiin no semushiotoko (Hunchback of Enmeiin)
Kurutta l peiji (Kinugasa) (asst)
Chigo no kenpo (Sword of the Child) (Otsuka); Rangun (Otsuka); Komori-zoshi (Yamazaki); Gekla no kyoba (Kinugasa); Tenpo hiken roku
Fununjo shi; Ashibi; Shirai gonpachi; Ose no hangoro; Kaito Sayamaro(Savamaro the Great Thief); Oedo no saigon; Rozeki mono
Meiran (Brightness and Darkness); Chimatsuri (Carnival of Blood); Yoma Kidan (Tales of Monsters)
Nogitsune sanji ; Shiobara tasuke ; Chohichiro matsudaira (+ special effects)
Benikmori (Red Bat)
Kwaidan yanagi zoshi
Tenka no igagoe
Films as Special Effects Technician (selected list):
Koutareki; Atarshiki tsuchi (New Earth) (Frank and Itami)
Ah! Nango shosa (+ d + ph)
Kodo nipon (doc); Kaigun bakugekitai (Navy Bombers) (doc); Moyuru ozora (Burning Sky) (doc); Songoku (2 parts)
Hachyyuhachinenme no taiyo; Syanhai no tsuki
Shiroi hekiga; Nankai no hanatabe; Suikoden; Hawaii marei oki haisen (Battle of Hawaii) (Yamamoto)
Guraida (+ ph—doc); Aken senso (+ ph); Hyoraku yume monogatari (+ ph); Hikoki wa naze tobuka (+ ph—doc); Kessen no osorae (+ ph); Syonen hyoryuki (+ ph)
Ano hata oute; Kato hayabusa sento tai; Ikari no umi; Raigeki tai shutsudo
Anatahan (Saga of Anatahan) (von Sternberg); Taiheizo no washi (Eagle of the Pacific)
Saraba rabauru; Tomei ningen (The Invisible Man) (Oda); Gojira (Godzilla) (Honda)
Gojira no gyakushu (Revenge of Godzilla; Gigantis the Fire Monster) (Oda); Jujin Kuki-Otoko (The Abominable Snowman) (Honda)
Hakufujin no yoren (Mysterious Love of Mrs. White) (Toyeda); Sorano Daikaijyu Rodan (Rodan) (Honda)
Chikyu boeigun (The Mysterious) (Honda)
Daikaiju Baran (Varan the Unbelievable) (Baerwitz); Bijo to ekitai ningen (The H-Man) (Honda)
Songoku; Sensuikan T-57; Kofuku sezu; Nippon tanjo (The Three Treasures) (Inagaki); Uchu daisensu (Battle in Outer Space) (Honda)
Taiheiyo no arashi (I Bombed Pearl Harbor; The Storm of the Pacific) (Matsubayashi); Denso ningen (Secret of the Telegian) (Fukuda); Gasu ningen daiichigo (The Human Vapor) (Honda)
Osaka-jo monogatari (Daredevil in the Castle) (Inagaki); Mosura (Mothra) (Honda); Gen to Fudo-myoh (The Youth and His Amulet) (Inagaki); Sekai dai senso (The Last War) (Matsubayashi)
Taiheiyo no tsubasi; Chintao yosai bakugeki merrei (Siege of Fort Bismark) (Furusawa); Mantango (Mantango—Fungus of Terror) (Honda); Dartozoku
Kaitei gunkan (Atragon) (Honda); Gojira tai Mosura (Godzilla vs. The Thing) (Honda); Daitozoku (Samurai Pirate; The Lost World of Sinbad) (Taniguchi); Uchu daikaiju Dogora (Dogora—The Space Monster) (Honda); Dai tatsumaki (Whirlwind) (Inagaki)
Kisuka; Daiboken; Sandai kaiju chikyu saidai no kessen (Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster; The Biggest Fight on Earth; The Greatest Battle on Earth) (Honda); None but the Brave (Sinatra); Taiheiyo Kiseki no sakusen Kisuka (Retreat from Kiska) (Maruyama)
Furankenshutain tai Barogon (Frankenstein Conquers the World; Frankenstein vs. the Giant Devilfish) (Honda); Dai kusen (Zero Fighter) (Moritani); Nankai no daiketto (Ebirah—Terror of the Deep) (Fukuda); Furankenshutain no kaiju—Sanda tai Gailah (Sanda tai Gailha; The War of the Gargantuas) (Honda); Kaiju daisenso (Monster Zero; Invasion of the Astro-Monsters; Battle of the Astros; Invasion of the Astros) (Honda)
Kingu Kongu no gyakushu (King Kong Escapes) (Honda); Ultraman (Hajime); Gojira no musuko (Son of Godzilla) (Fukuda)
Yamamoto Isoroku (Admiral Yamamoto) (Maruyama); Kaiju soshingeki (Destroy All Monsters) (Honda)
Ido Zero daisakusen (Latitude Zero) (Honda); Nihonkai daikaisen (Battle of the Japan Sea) (Maruyama)
On TSUBURAYA: book—
Tsuburaya, Hajime, editor, The Films of Eiji Tsuburaya, Tokyo, 1973.
On TSUBURAYA: articles—
Harrington, C., "Japan's Master of Monsters," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), August 1960.
Famous Monsters of Filmland, September 1964.
Image et Son (Paris), April 1970.
"The Films of Eiji Tsuburaya," in Little Shoppe of Horrors (Waterloo, Iowa), February 1974.
* * *
The 1950s are known in science-fiction circles as the decade of classic atomic-bomb monster movies. Fantasy films of this era explored what might happen to nature and mankind when the unknown power of nuclear devices was unleashed. Typically an explosion caused rapid mutation and accelerated growth resulting in gigantic creatures. Although films with building-size insects (Them!, The Black Scorpion, The Deadly Mantis) and human abnormalities (The Amazing Colossal Man, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman) ranked high in number, the most popular subgenre was prehistoric or "prehistoric-like" creatures, usually reptiles. No one capitalized on this fascination with enormous reptilian monsters better than Eiji Tsuburaya. Starting with Godzilla in 1954, he created a menagerie of over 50 creatures for film and television. His best-known beings, Godzilla (reportedly the nickname of a tough looking fellow who worked on the Toho lot), Mothra, Rodan, Ghidrah, and Ultraman, always conducted battles in Tokyo, levelling the city to ruins. To facilitate the numerous battles and speed production, Toho built a standing miniature set of Tokyo upon which Tsuburaya wrought his wholesale destruction. The popularity of Godzilla and his companions resulted in many sequels which cast them against one another. Eventually they changed into folk heroes and teamed together to protect the citizenry from the latest monster threatening Tokyo.
Tsuburaya not only constructed and photographed these creatures, but also dreamt them up, wrote stories around them, and occasionally functioned as producer to bring them to the screen. His giants were not animated models like those used by Willis O'Brien or Ray Harryhausen, but either actors in costume or mechanized miniatures. Compared to their work, Tsuburaya's effects were less convincing and, many felt, laughable. But given the studio system in Japan and its need for quantity of film product, Tsuburaya's economical methods (multiple cameras simultaneously filming long shots and close-ups) allowed for reasonable effects. Perhaps the best that can be said about his monster pictures is that they achieve an impression of scale and solidity, created by the detailed miniatures his crews built and high speed filming. Frequently shot at 240 frames-per-second, the monster would move normally when projected at the standard speed of 24 frames-per-second.
While his specialty was weird creatures, Tsuburaya was also responsible for all the miniature and special effects work needed by any Toho film in production. His water effects and sea battles easily bettered his monster work in execution if not popularity, from his first major assignment, Battle of Hawaii, to his last, Battle of the Japan Sea. One of his most curious collaborations was with Josef von Sternberg in 1953 on Saga of Anatahan, a film which explored the relationships among a group of men shipwrecked on an island with one woman. Anatahan required no ostensible special effects, but took production design to a realm of experimental surrealism never again attempted.
Tsuburaya's legacy continues as old monsters make comebacks (Godzilla 1985) and new ones appear on Japanese children's television and in films. A recent creature that might have made Tsuburaya smile because of its humorous implausibility is Gamera—an eightyton, jet-propelled, prehistoric turtle. Today, Tsuburaya's simple techniques fail to compete with the sophisticated technology now available in the field of special effects, but during the 1950s and 1960s they offered an inexpensive way to visualize the fantastic and entertain millions.
—Greg S. Faller