|Born||圓谷 英一 (Tsumuraya Eiichi)|
July 7, 1901[a]
Sukagawa, Fukushima, Japan
|Died||January 25, 1970 (aged 68)|
Itō, Shizuoka, Japan
|Occupation||Special effects director, producer|
|Spouse||Masano Araki (1930–1970)|
Eiji Tsuburaya (円谷 英二, Tsuburaya Eiji) (born Eiichi Tsumuraya (圓谷 英一, Tsumuraya Eiichi); July 7, 1901 – 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.
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).
Early career and war propaganda
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.'"
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.
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.
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.
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.
During his 50-year career, Tsuburaya worked on approximately 250 films in total. His special effects work includes:
- Atarashiki Tsuchi (1937) – Director of Special Effects
- Kaigun Bakugeki-tai (1940) – Special Effects
- Moyuru ōzora (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
- Ramayana (1943) – 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
- The Transparent Man (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 (The Invisible Avenger) (1954) – Director of Special Effects
- 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) – Director of Special Effects
- Rodan (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)
- Monkey Sun (1959) – Director of Special Effects
- Submarine I-57 Will Not Surrender (1959) – Director of Special Effects
- 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) – Director of Special Effects
- 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) – Director of Special Effects
- Gen To Fudomyo-O (1961) – Director of Special Effects
- The Last War (1961) – Director of Special Effects
- Gorath (1962) – Director of Special Effects
- Kurenai No Sora (1962) – Director of Special Effects
- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) – Director of Special Effects
- Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki (1962) – Director of Special Effects
- Varan the Unbelievable (re-edited American version) (1962) – Director of Special Effects
- Attack Squadron! (1963) – Director of Special Effects
- Chintao Yosai Bakugeki Meirei (1963) – Director of Special Effects
- Matango (1963) – Director of Special Effects
- The Lost World of Sinbad (1963) – Director of Special Effects
- Atragon (1963) – Director of Special Effects
- Shikonmado – Dai Tatsumaki (1964) – Director of Special Effects
- Kyomo Ware Ozorani 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) – Director of Special Effects
- None but the Brave (1965) – Director of Special Effects: 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) – Director of Special Effects
- 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) – Director of Special Effects
- Ironfinger (1965) – Special Effects
- The War of the Gargantuas (1966) – Director of Special Effects
- Zero Faita Dai Kuusen (1966) – Director of Special Effects
- Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (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
- Rengō Kantai Shirei Chōkan: Yamamoto Isoroku (1968) – Director of Special Effects
- Kureji No Daibakuhatsu (1969) – Special Effects Supervisor
- Latitude Zero (1969) – Director of Special Effects
- The Battle of the Japan Sea (1969) – Director of Special Effects
- All Monsters Attack (1969) – Special Effects
- Ultraman (1979) – Special Effects Supervisor (archive material)
- Ultraman: Great Monster Decisive Battle (1979) – Special Effects Supervisor (archive material)
- Giketsu (1925)
- Kaito Samimaro (1928) (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Kagaribi (1928) (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Castle Of Wind And Clouds (1928) (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Nogitsune Sanji (1930) (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Shintei Shiobara Tasuke (1930)
- Fubuki Ni Sakebu Okami (1931) (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Beni-Komori – Dai Ippen (1931)
- Beni-Komori – Dai Nihen: Yuyaku Kessen No Maki (1931)
- Beni-Komori – Dai Sampen: Ketsurui Tonami Chohachiro No Maki (1931)
- Hyakuman-nin No Gassho (1935)
- Kaguya Hime (1935)
- Sekido Koete (1936)
- Major Nango (1938)
- Kodo Nippon (1940)
- Tomei Ningen (1954)
- Ultra Q (1965)
- Ultraman (1966) – Supervising Producer
- Full-Length Monster Movie: Ultraman (1967)
- Ultraseven (1967) – Supervising Producer
- Mighty Jack (1968)
- Operation: Mystery! (1968)
- Kyofu Gekijo Umbalance: (Episode: "Miira No Koi") (1973)
Camera and electrical department
- A Page of Madness (1926) – Assistant Camera (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Enmeiin No Semushi-Otoko (1920) – Camera Operator (credited as Eiichi Tsuburaya)
- Kodo Nippon (1940) – Editor
- Ultra Q No Oyaji (1966) – Himself
- Latitude Zero (1969) – Production Manager
- ETV Tokushu: 50 Year-History In Japanese Sci-Fi (2007) – Himself (archive footage)
- 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.
- "The Founder – Eiji Tsuburaya". Tsuburaya Productions. Retrieved October 27, 2020.
- Ragone 2007, p. 28.
- Ragone 2007, p. 28–29.
- Taylor, Al. "The Man Who Made Godzilla Famous." Fantastic Films and Other Imaginative Media January 1980, p.19.
- Ragone 2007, p. 29.
- Bolton, Doug (July 6, 2015). "Eiji Tsuburaya's 114th birthday: Monster movie pioneer honoured in interactive Google Doodle". The Independent.
- 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
- 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.