Today would have been Eiji Tsuburaya’s 118th official birthday and as my first ever post on the Avocado I’d like to make a little post about him. A Japanese filmmaker and master of special effects, he is most well known in the West for his work on the Godzilla films, but he was also the creator of the popular Ultraman franchise and he worked on many Japanese science-fiction movies in the 50’s and 60’s.
Born in Sukugawa, Iwase in 1901, we don’t actually know his real birthday due to Japanese customs at the time. But July 7 is officially his birthday, possibly because it’s the date of a popular star festival where children wish for creative talent. As a youth he was fascinated with the nascent fields of flying and film making. He began working as a camera-man after a mandated tour in the Japanese Army. He was strongly influenced by the film King Kong when it came to Japan in 1933 . He acquired a copy of the film and studied it frame-by-frame to determine how the various effects and trick photography was done so he could replicate them. This meticulousness combined with his inventive nature is why many consider him a special effects genius.
He worked on various projects through the 40’s and 50’s, including a war movie with a simulated attack on Pearl Harbor so lifelike that some Allied officers thought it was genuine footage. His career defining achievement came when he signed onto the film Godzilla in 1954 with director Ishiro Honda. Tsuburaya supervised the building of the miniature sets along with the Godzilla suits and puppets. The movie was a massive hit in Japan and Tsuburaya continued working on the direct sequels to Godzilla along with the standalone kaiju movies such as Mothra and Rodan. He even got to work with his film icon on King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962 and King Kong Escapes in 1967. In 1963 he founded his own company, Tsuburaya Productions, that went on to produce the TV shows Ultra Q and Ultraman, a franchise which is still ongoing. Unfortunately he had a tendency to overwork and in 1970 he suffered a fatal heart attack.
He was an amazing director who revolutionized the field of special effects and practically created the Tokusatsu film genre, alongside franchises that came to define Japanese cinema. Happy Birthday Mr. Tsuburaya