Entry updated 2 November 2020. Tagged: Film, People.
Working name of Eiichi Tsurumaya (1901-1970), a Japanese cameraman and producer whose work forms a key part of Japan's special effects movie tradition (see Tokusatsu). Joining Japan's nascent film business when still in his teens, he became a cinematographer and developed a considerable reputation for special effects work. During World War Two he was drafted into the Tōhō Educational Film Research Division (also known as the "Shadow Staff"), making instructional documentaries. Tasked with making propaganda movies without any actors to play believable enemies, Tsuburaya concentrated instead on war machinery, most notably in Hawaii Marei Okikaisen ["The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya"] (1942) which restaged the attack on Pearl Harbor with model aircraft and miniature ships.
He remained in effects work after the war, providing the ghostly "Dunsinane Wood" sequence of a moving forest for Akira Kurosawa's Kumonosu-jo ["Cobweb Castle"] (1957; vt Throne of Blood) but, most famously, also the Monster effects footage for Inoshirō Honda's Gojira (1954; vt Godzilla). Although he had always hoped to make Monster Movies using stop-motion animation, time and budgetary constraints pushed Tsuburaya into using what is now called "bigatures" – large-scale miniatures, sufficient to allow a man in a monster suit to rampage through a model city. His decisions shaped decades of subsequent Japanese Monster Movies.
At the dawn of the Television age, Tsuburaya moved into production himself, with his Tsuburaya Studios making several Children's SF shows, including Saru no Gundan ["Army of the Apes"] (1974 TBS; cut trans 1975 as television movie Time of the Apes, 1987 US) featuring scripts by Sakyō Komatsu among others, the espionage Technothriller Mighty Jack (1968) and the Twilight Zone-influenced Ultra Q (1965). He will, however, be most remembered for Ultraman (1966-1967), the first of an ongoing sf franchise in which a crashlanded Alien superhero melds with an Earthling (see Parasitism and Symbiosis). In the inevitable event of an attack by a monster from outer space, the hero transforms into a giant, spandex-clad version of himself, ready to fight amid the hapless buildings of an oft-trampled Tokyo. Considering the ubiquity of Ultraman in Japanese toys and television to this day (the figure was incorporated into the Hugo base design of Japan's first Worldcon in 2007), Tsuburaya has a reasonable claim, alongside Osamu Tezuka and Shōtarō Ishinomori, to being one of the most influential figures in the history of Japanese sf media. [JonC]
born Sukagawa, Japan: 10 July 1901
died Shizuoka, Japan: 25 January 1970
about the filmmaker
- Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro. The Dorama Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953 (San Francisco, California: Stone Bridge Press, 2003) [pb/]
- August Ragone. Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters – Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla (San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books, 2007) [hb/]
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