5 Things You Might Not Know About Eiji Tsuburaya
Before there was Ray Harryhausen there was Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects visionary who changed motion pictures for the better and the driving force behind Godzilla. In honor of what would have been the filmmaker’s 114th birthday, we’re sharing a few fun facts about Eiji Tsuburaya.
1. HE GOT HIS START IN TOY DEVELOPMENT.
After graduating from high school at the age of 14, Tsuburaya—who had a lifelong interest in aviation—enrolled in the Nippon Flying School. When the school closed three years later, following the accidental death of its owner, Tsuburaya began attending trade school. He got his professional start on the research and development team at the Utsumi toy company. In 1919, while attending a party, he met director Yoshiro Edamasa, who offered him the chance to train as a cameraman.
2. HE WAS BLACKLISTED.
Like his American contemporary Frank Capra, Tsuburaya’s knowledge of all facets of the production process—particularly special effects—made him the perfect fit to shoot some films the Education Film Research Division of his employer, Toho Co., Ltd. Those films—which included The Imperial Way of Japan (1938), The Burning Sky (1940), and The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya (1942)—came to be regarded as propaganda films. And got him blacklisted by the American Occupation Forces.
3. HE WAS A MAJOR KING KONG FAN.
Though he was no slouch in the effects department, Tsuburaya was vocal about his admiration of the work accomplished with King Kong, once stating that, “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. THERE’S A SAKE DEVELOPED IN HIS HONOR.
To mark the 60th anniversary of Godzilla and the impending 50th anniversary of Ultraman (another Tsuburaya creation), Ninki Inc.—a brewery based in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, near Tsuburaya’s hometown—has introduced a new line of sake created in honor of the late, great filmmaker. A share of the profits from sales of the sake, named Ninki-Ichi Brand Earth Invasion, will benefit the Ultraman Foundation.
5. THE SPECIAL EFFECTS EMPIRE HE BUILT IS STILL GOING STRONG.
Though it has changed hands in recent years, the production company that Tsuburaya founded in 1963, Tsuburaya Productions, is still going strong. For years, it ran under the management of Eiji’s grandson, Kazuo, who remains on its board. The company is prepping a new Ultraman series for later this year.