Eiji Tsuburaya

Written by Barney Buckley

Email Address – bbuckley@triad.rr.com


Famous Monsters of Filmland this is a magazine then Lily asked special-effects director Eiji Tsuburaya in 1960 4/2 his film career began and this is what he had to say “when I was a youngster I “borrowed” quarries from my father’s shop,” Eiji Tsuburaya also said “to buy a movie projector I had seen in a store window. I realize that if I were caught with the camera I would be punished, so I took it apart and examined it away. Then I built my own.”

If anyone knows anything about Eiji Tsuburaya this particular story has been told many many times over whether or not it is true it does illustrate the ingenious, make-it-from-scratch at the underline Eiji Tsuburaya’s huge body of work. Blessed with this particular talent Eiji Tsuburaya dedicated 50 years of his life to inventing and creating wonderful illusions for film and television screens ranging from epic war battles to gigantic monsters as superheroes, yet utilizing resources and techniques that were very crude in comparison to today’s CGI standards or computer standards. This is the main reason I am a big fan of the Japanese Toho Godzilla’s because of the standards in the way that they created the films the American version of Godzilla 2014 don’t give you that plus I cannot connect with that so for that very reason it just does not feel like a total hope Godzilla movie.

Mr. Eiji Tsuburaya was born on July 7, 1901 and Sukagawa City Fukushima Prefecture. Mr. Eiji Tsuburaya was fascinated with airplanes and he longed to become a pilot and by the time he was 14 he actually rolled in the Japan Aviation Academy however on a downfall this school actually closed and he went on to study electrical engineering instead. By the time Eiji Tsuburaya was 18 years old he entered the film industry curiously he started out as a scenario writer and this is according to some sources. It would be for the next 18 years that he would work at a number of studios ascending to the position of cameraman and learning early special-effects techniques.

His career was in fact interrupted from 1921 to 1923 he was drafted into the military serving on the Imperial Army’s correspondence staff also Ishiro Honda served as a foot soldier in this very same Imperial Army. Eiji Tsuburaya did let his very first job with a major Japanese film studio in 1925 at Shochiku Motion Picture Company where he worked with critically acclaimed Impressionist and filmmaker Teinosuke Kinugasa. Eiji Tsuburaya was the assistant cameraman on the film “A Page of Madness” which came out in 1925 and this is a film that a lot of historians consider as being dark, brooding examination of depression. Eiji Tsuburaya did in fact earn his first film credit as a cinematographer on the movie Baby Kenpo that movie came out in 1927. This would also be the very first stages of him working on miniatures for the very first time.

It would be sometime in 1930 min 30s that Eiji Tsuburaya saw RKO’s King Kong which came out in 1933 this particular movie did in fact inspire him and at that time Japanese trick photography was very backward. By 1935 Eiji Tsuburaya’s career had accelerated when he was hired by JO Studios in Kyoto were studio head Yoshio Osawa encouraged him to develop his talents for film trickery. The movie “Princess of the Moon” this is a Japanese full story that Eiji Tsuburaya photographed a miniature model of the city of Kyoto superimposing it over a crowd of people and a cow-drawn carriage into the foreground and he devised an effect to simulate Angels descending from the sky. This particular film however long lost solidified Eiji Tsuburaya’s interest in special-effects as a new art form. It is around this particular time that Japan and Germany had signed an anti-communists pact by doing this they created the Japanese German film “The New Land” this particular movie came out in 1937.

By 1937 Eiji Tsuburaya will join PCL studios and two years later it would be become part of The Toho Motion Picture Company. The same is Ishiro Honda those two would go on to do some amazing things when it comes Godzilla films. He was eventually appointed head of his new special photography techniques department. This however is basically a one-man operation at first but then the staff steadily grew as they hired people to do model makers and crass men’s room as a special-effects became integral to the Toho companies popular war films on the early 1940s.

Eiji Tsuburaya spearheaded the first boom in Japanese special-effects working on nearly 40 films most notably atrial of war blockbusters directed by Kajiro Yamamoto. The first film is called “the war at sea from Hawaii to Malaya which came out in 1942. The next bill would be called “General Kato’s Falcon Fighters” and “Torpedo Squadrons Move out” they both came out simultaneously in 1943. If you are a true fan of Eiji Tsuburaya you need to seek out the film that they call “The War at Sea” which was released on home video in Japan and may be found in subspecialty video outlets in United States. The film this is the popular film that he did a special-effects for the Pearl Harbor attack see it was so well done that everybody thought it was real you have to check out this movie.

The real creation of the scene of Pearl Harbor was so convincing that after the war the occupation authorities missed took some scenes as actual newsreel footage not to mention the fact that it seems surreal you need to check out this film to believe it. It was gigantic in every sense of the word because it didn’t cost over $380,000 to make when the average first-class film at that time was peeking around $40,000. After the war Eiji Tsuburaya did in fact leave the Toho company amid the studios feuding with labor unions although according to some sources he was forced to quit the film business when the general headquarters of the occupation purged everyone who made war movies there was a situation during this time that people were forced to quit their jobs for budgetary reasons. He invested would go on to work with acclaimed directors like Kinugasa, Kon Ichikawa, and Mikio Naruse before establishing his own independent company. This particular company would be called “Tsuburaya Special-Effects Laboratory.”

By 1948 Eiji Tsuburaya would do and produce a special-effects for Daiei studios “Invisible Man Appears” which came out in 1949 this would be Japan’s first modern sci-fi film work was scarce in the movie business and Eiji Tsuburaya dabbled in other endeavors including mass marketing the “Auto-Snap,” this is a camera controlled by a foot pedal enabling a person to take self-portraits. Akira Ifukube the musical composer for Godzilla probably the most famous composer of Godzilla he has earned his right in place in the musical score of these movies. He actually met with Eiji Tsuburaya for the very first time doing these lean years. Akira Ifukube and a friend worked in the film industry were drinking saki at a Tokyo Inn one and down on his luck man happen by and, recognizing Akira Ifukube’s friend stopped in to ball a few drinks and Akira Ifukube never saw the man again until 1954. Akira Ifukube was hard to do the score for the Godzilla fill that man’s name was Eiji Tsuburaya and now almost on recognizably upbeat and successful.

Eiji Tsuburaya would return to the Toho Company as a freelancer in the 1950s and was officially a staff member by 1952. When the actual production of the film Godzilla began in 1954 he was already in his 50s but he was about to launch Japan’s second special-effects bill the most productive and creative. Of his life. Eiji Tsuburaya worked very hard to earn the respect for special-effects for this particular film Godzilla 1954 and it was a long time coming as it is his very first screen credit as special-effects director on the movie Gigantis the Fire Monster which came out in 1955. Even during this point in time his work was actually looked down upon and the special-effects director at that time his name was Teisho Arikawa who in fact took over the Toho Companies special-effects director in the late 1960s it was a hard time for Eiji Tsuburaya.

From Godzilla until his death Eiji Tsuburaya worked on 56 featured films mostly science-fiction or war related films. Among the biggest moneymakers for Eiji Tsuburaya was when he was working with Ishiro Honda. Eiji Tsuburaya would go on to win five technical achievement award from Japan Movie Association and this is equivalent to the Oscar for special-effects. Such movies as Godzilla 1954, The Mysterians 1957, The Three Treasures 1959, The Lost World of Sinbad 1963, and monster zero which came out in 1965.

Eiji Tsuburaya’s company is an independent company that opened up and then they renamed it simply Tsuburaya Productions. Which in fact pioneered the production of the special-effects programs for such Japanese television shows as Ultra Q which went into production in 1965 released on Japanese television in 1966. There was a Japanese Outer Limits meets-The X-Files which unfortunately never was aired in United States but it was aired on Japanese television. This was followed by numerous increasingly child oriented superhero programs featuring weekly matchup between the protagonist and a giant monster. Eiji Tsuburaya would wield considerable power at the Toho Company which enable him to retain his job at the studio as special-effects director launching his own production company.

By 1969 Eiji Tsuburaya start running into health problems and the doctors would advise Eiji Tsuburaya to reduce his workload due to his deteriorating health but he took on more projects than ever ignoring the doctors request and dividing his time between his company Tsuburaya Productions and the special-effects of two other films that were being done by the Toho Company one being Latitude Zero’s last patient with Ishiro Honda and Battle of the Japan Sea this would be his final film. In addition Eiji Tsuburaya was hired by Mitsubishi to oversee a special exhibit at Expo 70 the world’s fair in Osaka. With all this happening in all these activities that were occurring Eiji Tsuburaya did in fact I have a heart attack in Tokyo on January 25, 1970. Eiji Tsuburaya’s legacy was shaped not only by his determination and drive but also his fertility and imagination and a soft spot in his heart for children which I failed to mention he also started and created the entire franchise of Ultraman which is his most popular franchise within his company.

Despite the fact that people feel that Godzilla’s origins are treated like a nuclear allegory Eiji Tsuburaya felt the film failed if they did not connect with kids the way his own inspirations had affected him in his youth this is what he had to say “my heart and mind are as they were when I was a child,” Eiji Tsuburaya told Caper Magazine in 1962 it was an article that was reprinted in Japanese Fantasy Film Journal he goes on to say “then I love to play with toys and three stories of magic. I still do. My wishes only to make life happier and more beautiful for those who go and see my films of fantasy.”


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