Eiji Tsuburaya Memoir



Special Effects Director

円谷 英二

1901.7.10 – 1970.1.25


Before “Godzilla,” special effects were treated as one rank lower than the main story. However, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya dramatically increased the value of special effects. Movies with the Tsuburaya stamp began to sell worldwide on a par with Kurosawa around the world.


From childhood he was an inventor. Born on July 10, 1901 in Sukagawa-machi (now Sukagawa-shi), Fukushima Prefecture. When he was 17 years old, he entered Kanda Electric School (now Tokyo Denki University) night club. Around this time, he worked part-time at a toy company to supplement his school expenses. Invented what is now called ID Photo Box. In 2017, he received a large patent fee.


Recognized by Masahiro Eda of Tennenshoku Kaido Shashin Co., Ltd., he entered the film industry. In 2020, he joined Kokusai Katsuei. In 1927, he acted as a cameraman in the film Chigo no Kenpo, starring Chojiro Hayashi (Kazuo Hasegawa). He adopted a special effects technique that overlaps Hayashi many times, and the movie is a great success. In 1928, he joined Shochiku Kyoto Shimogamo Studio. In 1930, he married Masano Araki, and took this opportunity to call himself “Eiji Tsuburaya” (the correct spelling was “Mariya”). In 1931, he created a background image to give depth to the set, made a miniature set, synthesized some screens, etc. Joined Nikkatsu in 1933. “King Kong” released in Japan. Tsuburaya, who was shocked by this special effects, ordered the film and analyzed and studied each frame. In 1934, he left Nikkatsu.


Transferred to JO Talkie, the predecessor of Toho. In December, he will use a steel crane of his own design for filming. In 1936, he used screen process technology for the first time in Japan in the Japanese-German co-produced film “The Daughter of the Samurai,” and received acclaim from director Arnold Funk for his self-made equipment.


In 1937, PCL Eiga and J0 merged to form “Toho” and moved to Tokyo Toho Studio. Obtained a research budget and began experimenting with optical printers. In 1942, the Pacific War broke out. At the request of the military, Toho produced a war-spirited movie. Tsuburaya’s Toho special effects department will be in charge of war movies in which special effects play an important role. In 1942, he released “The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya,” which showed his skill in special effects. Special effects set for Pearl Harbor becomes a hot topic. In the same year, the optical printer was finally completed. In 1943, after seeing the success of the Battle of Hawaii and Murray, he attempted to pull out the special effects staff from the Shochiku movie Tsuburaya Group, and only 10 members of the Special Skills Division were transferred to Shochiku, suffering a major blow.


In 1947, disgusted with the Toho dispute, he left Toho and became independent. He hit it off with Sadamasa Arikawa, who had also quit Toho, and Tsuburaya and launched Tsuburaya Special Technology Research Institute. He later became a cameraman for Tsuburaya Group and became Toho’s second special effects director. In 1948, he was expelled from GHQ, along with his executives, for “complicit in a wartime wartime movie.” He went to Kyoto and was in charge of the special effects for “Invisible Man Appears” at Daiei Kyoto Studio. He creates stunning visual effects for the Invisible Man. In 1950, the Tsuburaya Specialty Research Institute was moved to Toho Studios. Sadamasa Arikawa and Mototaka Tomioka joined them. In 1952, his expulsion from public office was finally lifted. He was invited to the head office and returned to Toho with Ishiro Honda’s The Man Who Came to the Port. In 1935, director Ishiro Honda’s war film “Operation Kamikaze” was planned. Iwao Mori, the head of the production division (director of the studio), who visited Hollywood the previous year, introduced “pictorial sketches” (comprehensive storyboards).


In 1954, the project of “G work (Godzilla)” was started, and it became Japan’s first monster special effects movie “Godzilla.” Like “King Kong,” the main feature of the movie is special effects, which he wanted to shoot stop-motion, but the filming ended up using suits.


Eiji Tsuburaya’s name roared throughout the world. In 1955, he was credited as a special effects director for the first time in the world for “Godzilla Raids Again.”


In 1961, Tsuburaya’s long-awaited special effects stage, the first stage, was completed in Toho Studios for the filming of “Storm Over the Pacific.”


In 1963, the exclusive contract with Toho was terminated.
He established Tsuburaya Tokugi Production Co., Ltd. (now Tsuburaya Pro). Starting with “Ultra Q,” he produced “Ultraman.” Fueling the monster boom, his name became known in every corner of the living room, and he came to be called the “God of Special Effects.”


The world of special effects that began with “Godzilla” has made dramatic progress through the series.



Eiji Tsuburaya and Mothra (larva) from “Mothra” (1961). In 1970, Eiji Tsuburaya died of angina pectoris associated with bronchial asthma. He dramatically raised the status of special effects and lived a long and thick special effects life with monsters.


Previous page/ He was a person who never gave up smoking. Right/ Eiji Tsuburaya from King Kong vs. Godzilla. He uses gestures to explain the play to Godzilla. Suit actor Haruo Nakajima is listening to it.

Source: Godzilla 60: Complete Guide Magazine House Mook, pp 36-37