Eiji Tsuburaya

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Eiji Tsuburaya
Tsuburaya in 1961
Tsuburaya in 1961
Native name
円谷 英二
Born圓谷 英一 (Tsumuraya Eiichi)
(1901-07-07)July 7, 1901[a]
Sukagawa, Fukushima, Japan
DiedJanuary 25, 1970(1970-01-25) (aged 68)
Itō, Shizuoka, Japan
OccupationSpecial effects director, producer
Years active1919–1969
SpouseMasano Araki (1930–1970)

Eiji Tsuburaya (円谷 英二, Tsuburaya Eiji) (born Eiichi Tsumuraya (圓谷 英一, Tsumuraya Eiichi); July 7, 1901[1] – January 25, 1970, in Sukagawa, Fukushima) was a Japanese special effects director responsible for many Japanese science-fiction films and television shows. He was one of the co-creators of the Godzilla series, as well as the main creator of the Ultra series. During his rise to post-war fame in the wake of Godzilla (1954), many press accounts gave Tsuburaya's birthdate as July 7, which falls on the high day of Tanabata (star festival), a sign of good fortune.

Early life[edit]

Tsuburaya described his childhood as filled with "mixed emotions." He was the first son of Isamu and Sei Tsumuraya, 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 Tokyo Denki University. 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).[3]

Early career and war propaganda[edit]

In 1919, his first job in the film industry was as an assistant cinematographer at the Nihon Katsudou Shashin Kabushiki-gaisha (Nihon Cinematograph Company) 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--tokusatsu, or special visual effects.

The year 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 among 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.'"[4]

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 Ōzora-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 footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor.[5]

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[edit]

Tsuburaya in 1961

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 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 by 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," a term 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 of 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 both 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 of a heart attack.

Tsuburaya Productions[edit]

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 Ultra 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.


In honor of the 114th anniversary of his birth, Google made an animated doodle of his skill with special effects on July 7, 2015.[6]


Special effects[edit]

During his 50-year career, Tsuburaya worked on approximately 250 films in total. His special effects work includes:




Camera and electrical department[edit]

Other works[edit]


  1. ^ Over the years, sources have cited Tsuburaya's birthdate being on July 5, 7, or 10. Tsuburaya's family had acknowledged his birthdate being on July 7. Tsuburaya Productions had reflected this fact in official press releases.[1]


  1. ^ a b "The Founder – Eiji Tsuburaya". Tsuburaya Productions. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
  2. ^ Ragone 2007, p. 28.
  3. ^ Ragone 2007, p. 28–29.
  4. ^ Taylor, Al. "The Man Who Made Godzilla Famous." Fantastic Films and Other Imaginative Media January 1980, p.19.
  5. ^ Ragone 2007, p. 29.
  6. ^ Bolton, Doug (July 6, 2015). "Eiji Tsuburaya's 114th birthday: Monster movie pioneer honoured in interactive Google Doodle". The Independent.
  7. ^ Ragone, August. Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-6078-9. 2007. Pg. 145
  8. ^ Ragone, August. Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman and Godzilla. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-6078-9. 2007. Pg. 169
  • Taylor, Al (January 1980). The Man Who Made Godzilla Famous. Fantastic Films and Other Imaginative Media. pp. 17–20.
  • Ragone, August (2007). Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-6078-9.
  • Brothers, Peter H. (2009). Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men – the Fantastic Cinema of Ishiro Honda. AuthorHouse.

External links[edit]