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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

CREATOR CLOSE-UP : Eiji Tsuburaya

Eiji Tsuburaya (円谷 英二 Tsuburaya Eiji) (Eiichi Tsumuraya (円谷 英一 Tsumuraya Eiichi); July 10, 1901 – January 25, 1970, in Sukagawa, Fukushima) was the Japanese special effects director responsible for many Japanese science-fiction movies, including the Godzilla series. In the United States, he is also remembered as the creator of Ultraman.

Early life
Tsuburaya described his childhood as filled with "mixed emotions." He was the first son of Isamu Shiraishi and Sei Tsuburaya, with a large extended family. His mother died when he was only three and his father moved to China for the family business. Young Eiji was raised by his barely older uncle, Ichiro, and his paternal grandmother, Natsu. He attended elementary school at the Sukagawa Choritsu Dai'ichi Jinjo Koutou Shogakko beginning in 1908, and two years later, he took up the hobby of building model airplanes, due to the sensational success of Japanese aviators, an interest he would retain for the rest of his life. In 1915, at the age of 14, he graduated the equivalent of High School, and begged his family to let him enroll in the Nippon Flying school at Haneda. After the school was closed on account of the accidental death of its founder, Seitaro Tamai, in 1917, Tsuburaya attended trade school. He became quite successful in the research and development department of the Utsumi toy company, but a chance meeting at a company party in 1919, set the course for his destiny—he was offered a job by director Yoshiro Edamasa, a job that would train him to be a motion picture cameraman. While the Tsuburaya family's traditional religion was Nichiren Buddhism, Tsuburaya converted to Roman Catholicism in his later years (his wife had already been a practicing Roman Catholic).

Early career and War propaganda 
In 1919, his first job in the film industry was as an assistant cinematographer at the Nippon Katsudou Shashin Kabushiki-kaisha (Nippon Cinematograph Company or Kokkatsu for short) in Kyoto, which later became better known as Nikkatsu. After serving as a member of the correspondence staff to the military from 1921 to 1923, he joined Ogasaware Productions. He was head cameraman on Hunchback of Enmeiin (Enmeiin no Semushiotoko), and served as assistant cameraman on Teinosuke Kinugasa's ground-breaking 1925 film, Kurutta Ippeiji (A Page of Madness).
He joined Shochiku Kyoto Studios in 1926 and became full-time cameraman there in 1927. He began using and creating innovative filming techniques during this period, including the first use of a camera crane in Japanese film. In the 1930 film Chohichiro Matsudaira, he created a film illusion by super-imposition. Thus began the work for which he would become known—special visual effects.
1930 was also the year of his marriage to Masano Araki. Hajime, the first of their three sons, was born a year later. During the 1930s, he moved between a number of studios and became known for his meticulous work. It was during this period that he saw a film that would point towards his future career. After his international success with Godzilla in 1954, he said, "When I worked for Nikkatsu Studios, King Kong came to Kyoto and I never forgot that movie. I thought to myself, 'I will someday make a monster movie like that.'"  In 1938 he became head of Special Visual Techniques at Toho Tokyo Studios, setting up an independent special effects department in 1939. He expanded his technique greatly during this period and earned several awards, but did not stay long at Toho.
During the war years (the Second Sino-Japanese war and World War II) he directed a number of propaganda films and produced their special effects for Toho's Educational Film Research Division created by decree of the imperial government. Those include Kōdō Nippon (The Imperial Way of Japan) (1938), Kaigun Bakugeki-tai (Naval Bomber Squadron) (1940), The Burning Sky (Moyuru ōzora) (1940), Hawai Mare oki kaisen (The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya) (1942), Decisive Battle in the Skies (Kessen-no Ōzara-e) (1943) and Kato hayabusa sento-tai (1944). According to legend, Tsuburaya's work on The War at Sea... was so impressive that General MacArthur's film unit is said to have sold footage of the film to Frank Capra for use in Movietone newsreels as actual footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
During the Occupation of Japan following the war, Tsuburaya's wartime association with such propaganda films proved a hindrance to his finding work for some time. He went freelance with his own production company, Tsuburaya Visual Effects Research (working on films for other studios), until he returned to Toho in the early 1950s.

Toho years
As head of Toho's Visual Effects Department (which was known as the "Special Arts Department" until 1961), that he established in 1939, he supervised around an average of sixty craftsmen, technicians and cameramen. It was here that he became part of the team, along with director Ishirō Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, that created the first Godzilla film in 1954, and were dubbed by Toho's advertising department as "The Golden Trio".
For his work in Godzilla (ゴジラ - Gojira), Tsuburaya won his first "Film Technique Award". In contrast to the stop motion technique most famously used Willis O'Brien to create the 1933 King Kong, Tsuburaya used a man in a rubber suit to create his giant monster effects. This technique, now most closely associated with Japanese kaiju or monster movies, has come to be called suitmation (originated in the Japanese fan press during the 1980s). Through intense lighting and high-speed filming, Tsuburaya was able to add to the realism of the effects by giving them a slightly slower, ponderous weightiness. This technique, using detailed miniatures with men-in-monster-suits, is still being used today (but combined with CGI techniques as well) and is now considered a traditional Japanese craft art.
The tremendous success of Godzilla led Toho to produce a series science fiction films, films introducing new monsters, and further films involving the Godzilla character itself. The most critically and popularly successful of these films were those involving the team of Tsuburaya, Honda and Tanaka, along with the fourth member of the Godzilla team, composer Akira Ifukube. Tsuburaya continued producing the special effects for non-kaiju films like The H-Man (1958), and The Last War (1961), and won another Japanese Movie Technique Award for his work in the 1957 science-fiction film The Mysterians. He also won another award in 1959 for the creation of the "Toho Versatile System", an optical printer for widescreen pictures, which he built in-house and first used on The Three Treasures in 1959 (Tsuburaya was continually frustrated by the poor state of equipment he was forced to use, and Toho's money-pinching that prevented the acquisition of new motion picture technologies).
A loyal company man, Tsuburaya continued to work at Toho Studios until his death in 1970.

Tsuburaya Productions
In the 1940s, Tsuburaya started his own special effects laboratory (set up at his home), and in 1963, founded his own studio for visual effects, Tsuburaya Productions. In 1966 alone, this company aired the first 'monster' series for television, Ultra Q beginning in January, followed it with the highly popular Ultraman in July, and premiered a comedy-monster series, Booska, the Friendly Beast in November. Ultraman became the first live-action Japanese television series to be exported around the world, and spawned the Ultra Series which continues to this day.

Special effects
During his 50-year career, he worked on approximately 250 films in total. His Visual Effects works include:
Atarashiki Tsuchi (1937) - Director Of Special Effects
Kaigun Bakugeki-tai (1940) - Special Effects
Enoken no songokū: songokū zenko-hen (1940) - Special Effects Supervisor
Shiroi Hekiga (1942) - Special Effects
Nankai No Hanataba (1942) - Special Photographic Effect
Tsubasa No Gaika (1942) - Special Effects
Hawai Mare oki kaisen (1942) - Director Of Special Effects
Ahen senso (1943) - Special Effects
Ai No Sekai: Yamaneko Tomi No Hanashi (1943) - Special Effects
Ongaku Dai-Shingun (1943) - Special Effects
Hyoroku Yume-Monogatari (1943) - Special Effects
Otoko (1943) - Special Effects Supervisor
Ano hata o ute (1944) - Special Effects
Kato hayabusa sento-tai (1944) - Special Effects Supervisor
Tokyo Gonin Otoko (1945) - Special Effects Supervisor (Credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
Urashima Taro No Koei (1946) - Special Photographic Effects
A Thousand and One Nights with Toho (1947) - Special Effects Supervisor
Hana Kurabe Tanuki Goten (1949) - Special Effects
Invisible Man Appears (1949) - Special Effects Supervisor
The Lady of Musashino (1951) - Special Effects Supervisor
The Skin of the South (1952) - Special Effects Supervisor
Ashi Ni Sawatta Onna (1952) - Special Effects Supervisor
The Man Who Came to Port (1952) - Special Effects Supervisor
Anatahan (1953) - Specialist (Credited As Tsuburaya)
Seishun Zenigata Heiji (1953) - Special Effects
The Eagle of the Pacific (1953) - Director Of Special Effects
Aijin (1953) - Special Effects Supervisor
Sound of the Mountain (1954) - Special Effects
Farewell Rabaul (1954) - Director Of Special Effects
Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto (1954) - Special Effects
Godzilla (1954) - Special Effects
Tomei Ningen (1954) - Special Effects Director
Ginrin (1955) - Special Effects
Godzilla Raids Again (1955) - Director Of Special Effects
Half Human (1955) - Director Of Special Effects
Meoto zenzai (1955) - Special Effects Supervisor
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) - Special Effects
Legend of the White Snake (1956) - Special Effects Director
Rodan! The Flying Monster (1956) - Director Of Special Effects
Throne of Blood (1957) - Special Effects
The Mysterians (1957) - Director Of Special Effects
Song for a Bride (1958) - Special Effects
The H-Man (1958) - Director Of Special Effects
Varan the Unbelievable (1958) - Director Of Special Effects
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Songoku: The Road To The West (1959) - Special Effects Director
Submarine I-57 Will Not Surrender (1959) - Special Effects Director
The Birth of Japan (1959) - Director Of Special Effects
Battle in Outer Space (1959) - Special Effects
The Secret of the Telegian (1960) - Special Effects
Storm Over the Pacific (1960) - Special Effects Director
The Human Vapor (1960) - Director Of Special Effects
Osaka Jo Monogatari (1961) - Director Of Special Effects
Mothra (1961) - Director Of Special Effects
Blood On The Sea (1961) - Special Effects Director
Gen To Fudomyo-O (1961) - Director Of Special Effects
The Last War (1961) - Special Effects Director
Gorath (1962) - Special Effects Director
Kurenai No Sora (1962) - Special Effects Director
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) - Director Of Special Effects
Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki (1962) - Special Effects Director
Varan the Unbelievable (1962) - Director Of Special Effects
Attack Squadron! (1963) - Special Effects Director
Chintao Yosai Bakugeki Meir Ei (1963) - Special Effects Director
Matango (1963) - Director Of Special Effects
The Lost World Of Sinbad (1963) - Special Effects Director
Atragon (1963) - Director Of Special Effects
Shikonmado - Dai Tatsumaki (1964) - Special Effects Director
Kyomo Ware Ozorami Ari (1964) - Special Effects Supervisor
Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) - Director Of Special Effects
Dogora, the Space Monster (1964) - Director Of Special Effects
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) - Special Effects Director
None But the Brave (1965) - Special Effects Director: Toho Special Effects Group
War-Gods of the Deep (1965) - Director Of Special Effects: Footage Taken From The Toho Production Atragon
Taiheiyo Kiseki No Sakusen: Kisuka (1965) - Director Of Special Effects
Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) - Director Of Special Effects
Crazy Adventure (1965) - Special Effects Director
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) - Director Of Special Effects: Footage Taken From The Toho Production Godzilla Vs. The Thing
Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) - Special Effects Director
Ironfinger (1965) - Special Effects
War of the Gargantuas (1966) - Director Of Special Effects
Zero Faita Dai Kusen (1966) - Special Effects Director
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) - Visual Effects Supervisor
King Kong Escapes (1967) - Director Of Special Effects
Son of Godzilla (1967) - Visual Effects Supervisor
Destroy All Monsters (1968) - Visual Effects Supervisor
Rengo Kantai Shirei Chokan: Yamamoto Isoroku (1968) - Special Effects Director
Kureji No Daibakuhatsu (1969) - Special Effects Supervisor
Latitude Zero (1969) - Director Of Special Effects
Battle Of Japan Sea (1969) - Special Effects Director
All Monsters Attack (1969) - Special Effects
Ultraman (1979) - Special Effects Supervisor (archive material)
Ultraman: Great Monster Decisive Battle (1979) - Special Effects Supervisor (archive material)
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