The grandmaster of SFX: Eiji Tsuburaya’s impact on pop culture

The grandmaster of SFX: Eiji Tsuburaya’s impact on pop culture

An exhibition focusing on the career of Eiji Tsuburaya (1901-1970) is under way at the Shinjuku Takashimaya department store in Tokyo.

Known as "the grandmaster of tokusatsu (special effects)" for his pioneering work on iconic films and TV programs including "Godzilla" and the "Ultraman" series, he entertained the nation with his many distinct Ultraheroes and monsters.

The exhibition runs until Monday.

Kicking off the "Ultra" series was "Ultra Q," which was first broadcast on the TBS network in 1966. Tsuburaya was involved in planning and production.

Monsters featured in the programme became immensely popular, with "Ultraman" starting up after the last episode. The title comes from the giant protagonist, part alien and part human, who vaporizes extraterrestrial threats and monsters to save the Earth.

Its 19th episode, titled "Akuma wa Futatabi" (Demons strike back), used a set depicting the area around the National Stadium in Tokyo for its climactic scene. This set has been reproduced and is on display at the exhibition.

"Akuma wa Futatabi" featured two monsters, Banila and Aboras, that were resurrected after being sealed away 350 million years ago. They wrecked Tokyo and battled Ultraman at the stadium.

"The title of 'Ultra Q' was contrived from 'Ultra C' [used in gymnastics]," said Keiichi Koike, a business producer with Tsuburaya Productions Co. "Tokyo will host the 2020 Olympics again and the stadium is to be dismantled [and replaced with a new stadium], so we decided to make the set."

The set is about one-45th of the actual size of the area it depicts, measuring 6 meters by 4.5 meters. The number of stadium seats and stair steps are the same as those when the episode was shot.

Though only a section of the stadium was made for the episode, the stadium in its entirety was built for the exhibition. Models of the production crew in charge of shooting, artistic effects and stage sets are also featured, allowing visitors to imagine how the fighting scene was filmed as they move around the set.

A statue of Pegira featured in "Ultra Q" was reproduced for the exhibition, as were statues of Banila and Aboras, by a team led by Fuyuki Shinada.

"The monster designs of the past were nonsensical in a good way," Shinada said. "I mean their roughness was attractive due to their free ideas and bold designs. Today TV screens show images very clearly, so the attraction of modern monsters is that they're meticulously made so that their details make sense biologically."

Also on display are panels describing Tsuburaya's works and the various cameras he used, in addition to a display of his popular monsters. There are also a reproduction of the operations room of the Scientific Special Search Party from "Ultraman," a display of monster suits, and a section where visitors can personally experience creating special effects.

Some visitors may be attracted to the reproductions of a pub where Tsuburaya's staff discussed how to shoot each episode almost every night, and an inn where they stayed whenever they wrote project plans and scripts. At the time, Tsuburaya's production team attracted many young people who wanted to become SFX specialists.

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