Master of Monsters

When the subject of Japanese film comes up, you might assume that Akira Kurosawa is that nation’s most famous filmmaker in terms of international recognition and critical acclaim. Yet, a recent book by August Ragone, published by Chronicle Books, makes a good case for another filmmaker from Japan whose worldwide popularity, especially among sci-fi/fantasy fans, is probably greater than Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa combined.  His name is Eiji Tsuburaya....

" /> Master of Monsters

When the subject of Japanese film comes up, you might assume that Akira Kurosawa is that nation’s most famous filmmaker in terms of international recognition and critical acclaim. Yet, a recent book by August Ragone, published by Chronicle Books, makes a good case for another filmmaker from Japan whose worldwide popularity, especially among sci-fi/fantasy fans, is probably greater than Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa combined.  His name is Eiji Tsuburaya....

" /> Master of Monsters

When the subject of Japanese film comes up, you might assume that Akira Kurosawa is that nation’s most famous filmmaker in terms of international recognition and critical acclaim. Yet, a recent book by August Ragone, published by Chronicle Books, makes a good case for another filmmaker from Japan whose worldwide popularity, especially among sci-fi/fantasy fans, is probably greater than Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa combined.  His name is Eiji Tsuburaya....

" />

THE KAIJU EIGA MAN

Master of Monsters

When the subject of Japanese film comes up, you might assume that Akira Kurosawa is that nation’s most famous filmmaker in terms of international recognition and critical acclaim. Yet, a recent book by August Ragone, published by Chronicle Books, makes a good case for another filmmaker from Japan whose worldwide popularity, especially among sci-fi/fantasy fans, is probably greater than Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa combined.  His name is Eiji Tsuburaya. What? The name doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe you’ve heard of GODZILLA or MOTHRA or DESTROY ALL MONSTERS or RODAN or countless other sci-fi/fantasy films from Toho Studios that featured Tsuburaya’s special effects? Although Ishiro Honda is the director who helmed most of these efforts – and deserves a blog entry of his own – it’s Tsuburaya’s bizarre imagination and sense of outré design (the giant rampaging monster robot with the bird-like head in THE MYSTERIANS, the anti-gravity ray attack on Tokyo in BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, the undersea warship with the rotating drill in ATRAGON) that captured the imaginations of moviegoers in this galaxy and beyond.       

Godzilla model 

It’s hard to actually gauge the impact that GODZILLA (Gojira) had on young viewers everywhere when it first appeared in 1954. But Tsuburaya’s creation marked the appearance of the world’s first kaiju eiga (Japanese monster film). He was the visual effects master behind practically every fantasy film made during the “Golden Age of Japanese Cinema” (1945-1965) and was a successful producer on his own as well, creating the ULTRAMAN franchise for television. (TNT used to show the amusing English dubbed version of ULTRA SEVEN in late night slots on the network before that network became a drama queen.) 

 

 

 

Stop motion animator Ray Harryhausen (THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, etc.) is probably the closest we have to a Tsuburaya counterpart but his film credits are easily dwarfed by Tsuburaya’s resume which includes more than ninety features, not including his television work. But not all of Tsuburaya’s films feature giant-monsters-stomping-on-Tokyo. He was one of the first to visualize an ape-like missing link in the Japanese alps that was a response to rumored sightings of The Abominable Snowman. His feature, JUJIN YUKIOTOKO (1955), was released in the U.S. in a heavily edited form under the title HALF HUMAN and included additional footage featuring John Carradine, a trend that would continue in GODZILLA which was also recut for American audiences with Raymond Burr added as an on-screen narrator/reporter.

  Half Human poster

 Other offbeat Tsuburaya projects that strayed from the giant mutant monster formula were THE H-MAN (1958, aka Beauty and the Liquidman), THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (1960), MATANGO (1963, aka Attack of the Mushroon People), and THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD (1963, aka Samurai Pirate). THE H-MAN, in particular, is a personal favorite, and one that took the Japanese yakuza film in a new direction, adding a disturbing sci-fi subplot to its lurid nocturnal world of drug smugglers, nightclub beauties and pursuing policemen. In this case, the real threat isn’t gangsters but some gelatinous-like creatures that can absorb humans (like THE BLOB) and turn out to be victims of a H-bomb test; the premise was inspired by a real incident in which fishermen on the trawler Daigo Fukuryu Maru were exposed to nuclear fallout from the U.S. Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954.

The H-Man poster

 THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN is a serial killer thriller, though tame by today’s standards, in which a former soldier takes revenge on his comrades who left him for dead. He kills them one by one through the aid of a cryotron which allows him to transport himself across phone lines and completely baffle the cops who are trying to solve the case. Much creepier and funnier is MATANGO which proves you really are what you eat. Case in point: the shipwreck victims who end up on a foggy Pacific island where the vegetation has grown over the surface of everything and the only food source appears to be mushrooms. Really big mushrooms. Those who partake get “high” and become one with nature so to speak. It’s like “Gilligan’s Island” on acid.

Matango (aka Attack of the Mushroom People)

 

Equally strange is THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD which features Toshiro Mifune in the starring role, battling pirates, witches and wizards. I saw this as a kid at the theatre and thought the English-dubbed dialogue was hilarious, especially in a scene where a wizard transforms himself into a fly and lands on the gyrating bosom of a female dancer. I can still hear his insane cackle. Way out risqué stuff for a kiddie matinee. German poster for The Lost World of Sinbad

 If any of this piques your interest, you should definitely check out Ragone’s book, EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS which has lots of fantastic, behind the scenes production stills and a straightforward account of Tsuburaya’s career in chronological order. There is also good coverage of other favorite Tsuburaya effects films I didn’t profile here such as THE HUMAN VAPOR and the ideal film for 6 year old boys, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

 

You should also take a look at some of the nutty toys and merchandising that was inspired by GODZILLAULTRAMAN and other Tsuburaya creations.

http://www.chibigojitoys.com/pages/catTSU.html

Chibi Goji Toys 

 Introducing Micras

  

There was even a figurine of Eiji produced by Tsuburaya Communications in 2006. Too bad the master didn’t live to see that. He died in January of 1970.

http://www.eiji-tsuburaya.gr.jp/top_e.html

Eiji Tsuburaya Official site

14 Responses THE KAIJU EIGA MAN
Posted By Buddy R. : February 24, 2008 11:07 am

Don't forget about "Frankenstein Conquers the World," "War of the Gargantuas" and "Dogora, the Space Monster" which are great fun and full of bizarre effects and offbeat humor.

Posted By Buddy R. : February 24, 2008 11:07 am

Don't forget about "Frankenstein Conquers the World," "War of the Gargantuas" and "Dogora, the Space Monster" which are great fun and full of bizarre effects and offbeat humor.

Posted By Mike Burleson : February 24, 2008 12:41 pm

Thanks for this. I love these old cheesy but fun films!

Posted By Mike Burleson : February 24, 2008 12:41 pm

Thanks for this. I love these old cheesy but fun films!

Posted By August Ragone : March 3, 2009 12:39 am

Jeff,
Thanks for the props on my book, it’s much appreciated, especially from the great Movie Morlocks! (Can we swap Blog links?)

Cheers,
August Ragone
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND GODZILLA

Posted By August Ragone : March 3, 2009 12:39 am

Jeff,
Thanks for the props on my book, it’s much appreciated, especially from the great Movie Morlocks! (Can we swap Blog links?)

Cheers,
August Ragone
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND GODZILLA

Posted By Roger : November 29, 2010 8:04 am

One of the worst books on Kaiju films that I can recall. I have also heard from other sources that this Ragone author plagiarized many of the material from his book from other Japanese books on the same subject? Chronicle books informed me by request that though he is credited as the author, many other kaiju fans were involved, but were not giving any credit for their contributions?

My advise, This is a waste of your money and way over hyped piece of garbage.

Posted By Roger : November 29, 2010 8:04 am

One of the worst books on Kaiju films that I can recall. I have also heard from other sources that this Ragone author plagiarized many of the material from his book from other Japanese books on the same subject? Chronicle books informed me by request that though he is credited as the author, many other kaiju fans were involved, but were not giving any credit for their contributions?

My advise, This is a waste of your money and way over hyped piece of garbage.

Posted By morlockjeff : November 29, 2010 11:16 am

I’m no expert on Eiji Tsuburaya but this book is a treasure trove of wonderful stills and behind the scenes photos alone. As for the accusation of plagiarization, you are a little confused. The Merrian-Webster Dictionary or any other one you want to use defines plagiarize as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.” Who cares if Ragone quotes or recycles something from an earlier book HE wrote on the subject. It’s a common practice of all writers and there is nothing unethical about it. As for the Chronicle Books accusation, I seriously doubt any employee of Chronicle Books would pass on negative information to a stranger about one of their authors.

Posted By morlockjeff : November 29, 2010 11:16 am

I’m no expert on Eiji Tsuburaya but this book is a treasure trove of wonderful stills and behind the scenes photos alone. As for the accusation of plagiarization, you are a little confused. The Merrian-Webster Dictionary or any other one you want to use defines plagiarize as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.” Who cares if Ragone quotes or recycles something from an earlier book HE wrote on the subject. It’s a common practice of all writers and there is nothing unethical about it. As for the Chronicle Books accusation, I seriously doubt any employee of Chronicle Books would pass on negative information to a stranger about one of their authors.

Posted By Roger : December 29, 2010 6:05 pm

Well Morlockjeff. You said it yourself, you are not an expert so why comment on a subject or facts that you know nothing about? The idea of making a great book is to have ideas and info that is new and exciting and is written ” By the author” not taken from other book sources. Yes it is true that many authors borrow from other written sources, but again, not the entire book and when other people are involved and not given proper credit, that is plain wrong in my opinion. Rumor has it that ( No , I actually know the source ) That Chronicle books almost pulled this from the author because he was un-organized and that Brad Warner a very well know Kaiju author helped pull this all together! He was not given proper credit as well as a massive still collection by author and Kaiju film historian Ed Godziszewski. So again Morlockjeff. you are not an expert on this subject and you should research your own thoughts and material. I am sure the author as well known as he is in the kaiju area will have his own story to lie about. R.G.

Posted By Roger : December 29, 2010 6:05 pm

Well Morlockjeff. You said it yourself, you are not an expert so why comment on a subject or facts that you know nothing about? The idea of making a great book is to have ideas and info that is new and exciting and is written ” By the author” not taken from other book sources. Yes it is true that many authors borrow from other written sources, but again, not the entire book and when other people are involved and not given proper credit, that is plain wrong in my opinion. Rumor has it that ( No , I actually know the source ) That Chronicle books almost pulled this from the author because he was un-organized and that Brad Warner a very well know Kaiju author helped pull this all together! He was not given proper credit as well as a massive still collection by author and Kaiju film historian Ed Godziszewski. So again Morlockjeff. you are not an expert on this subject and you should research your own thoughts and material. I am sure the author as well known as he is in the kaiju area will have his own story to lie about. R.G.

Posted By August Ragone : December 29, 2010 6:33 pm

Jeff,
This person, “Roger” (and various other monikers; real name withheld to protect his own undoing) is a former friend who is pulling this same nonsense on other sites (including at the Chronicle Books site) and posting the same libelous and slanderous garbage. He recently saw me at a movie screening and had the gall to try to shake my hand and I refused, while I gave him a piece of my mind. So, this is how he passively-aggressively retaliates. Sad and desperate.

As for my “lies”, I only have to say that my sources were all Japanese reference materials (why quote second hand translations?), and there were other “experts” who were asked to contribute sidebar articles, which they were indeed credited with in bylines (and in the Credits *and* Acknowledgment pages — look ‘em up!). Instead of defending myself, I will instead quote my editor at Chronicle Books, Steve Mockus:

“I’m the editor of this book and I can state without equivocation that August Ragone was the author of the book. Brad was helpful in editorial coordination, and in fact-checking, and in obtaining permissions, and a hundred other ways that improved the book, but August wrote the book, and that credit is not in any dispute by anyone in connection with producing the book, including Chronicle Books, Tsuburaya Productions, Ed, or Brad.”

As for Brad Warner, as Steve pointed out, he worked for Tsuburaya Productions, and was placed by his superiors in Tokyo, to be the overseer of this project — that was his job — to pull together the photographs while I wrote the book in the compressed time given to us to complete it. Brad also served as my fact-checker, and also provided other services for me in doing research.

Sometimes jealously and rejection are bitter pills to some to swallow. “Roger” needs to grow up and get on with his own life — his one-man mission to unveil the man behind the curtain is childish and only makes him look the fool. Especially when one’s ISP address can be traced (and has). I’m not the only person “Roger” has slandered and libeled.

To quote Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Best Regards,
August Ragone

Posted By August Ragone : December 29, 2010 6:33 pm

Jeff,
This person, “Roger” (and various other monikers; real name withheld to protect his own undoing) is a former friend who is pulling this same nonsense on other sites (including at the Chronicle Books site) and posting the same libelous and slanderous garbage. He recently saw me at a movie screening and had the gall to try to shake my hand and I refused, while I gave him a piece of my mind. So, this is how he passively-aggressively retaliates. Sad and desperate.

As for my “lies”, I only have to say that my sources were all Japanese reference materials (why quote second hand translations?), and there were other “experts” who were asked to contribute sidebar articles, which they were indeed credited with in bylines (and in the Credits *and* Acknowledgment pages — look ‘em up!). Instead of defending myself, I will instead quote my editor at Chronicle Books, Steve Mockus:

“I’m the editor of this book and I can state without equivocation that August Ragone was the author of the book. Brad was helpful in editorial coordination, and in fact-checking, and in obtaining permissions, and a hundred other ways that improved the book, but August wrote the book, and that credit is not in any dispute by anyone in connection with producing the book, including Chronicle Books, Tsuburaya Productions, Ed, or Brad.”

As for Brad Warner, as Steve pointed out, he worked for Tsuburaya Productions, and was placed by his superiors in Tokyo, to be the overseer of this project — that was his job — to pull together the photographs while I wrote the book in the compressed time given to us to complete it. Brad also served as my fact-checker, and also provided other services for me in doing research.

Sometimes jealously and rejection are bitter pills to some to swallow. “Roger” needs to grow up and get on with his own life — his one-man mission to unveil the man behind the curtain is childish and only makes him look the fool. Especially when one’s ISP address can be traced (and has). I’m not the only person “Roger” has slandered and libeled.

To quote Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Best Regards,
August Ragone

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