Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Life of the "Master of Monsters"

After this past summer’s release of a new version of Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, many fans have been re-visiting the movies from the original Toho series on DVD, Blu-ray & online. One of the men responsible for the success of those films was Eiji Tsuburaya, who was the special effects wizard behind such films as Godzilla (1954), Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961), among many others. Author & film historian August Ragone has released a fascinating book about this talented man, entitled Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film. The book covers Tsuburaya’s life before, during and after his involvement with the many Toho projects he worked on, along with director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka and composer Akira Ifukube. Those four men are widely considered to be the “fathers of Godzilla” and the chief architects of Toho’s well-remembered monster, fantasy & sci-fi films released during the 1950s, 60s & 70s. There's background information about production of the classic Godzilla movies, as well as other classic Toho films including The Mysterians (1957), The H-Man (1958) and War of the Gargantuas (1966).

Ragone also offers information about Tsuburaya’s younger days, his life during World War II, and the clever technical ideas he came up with during his early years working in Japanese cinema. While many non-fans have scoffed at the “monster in a suit” techniques used in these films, the book shows why Tsuburaya and his crew chose to work that way, and details their innovative work with miniatures & models. There’s also an in-depth look at Tsuburaya’s working relationships, and his own feelings & philosophy about his work. The man never lost that “sense of wonder” that all great filmmakers possess. He eventually opened his own effects company, and helped create more successful films & TV series, such as UltramanIt’s nice to see an artist like Tsuburaya get his due in an English-language book. These genre films are still fondly remembered by a large number of fans, and their influence is still being felt in movies like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) and this year's re-imagining of Godzilla, both of which already have sequels in the works. 

The book is also a visual marvel: it’s filled with behind the scenes material, production photographs & concept drawings from Tsuburaya’s long career. And, as an added bonus, there are some wonderful essays between chapters from other noted Japanese film scholars, including Ed Godziszewski & Guy Mariner Tucker, and a remembrance by Eiji’s son Akira. It's a compelling, enjoyable read, especially for monster movie fans. It’s beautifully designed, and it’s a treat just to flip through the pages and enjoy the many rare stills, film poster reproductions and amazing photos. But you’ll also learn a lot about Tsuburaya’s life & legacy that you probably didn’t know before. Ragone has written extensively about Japanese fantasy films, and his expertise has served him well in creating this wonderful book. Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters: Defending the Earth with Ultraman, Godzilla, and Friends in the Golden Age of Japanese Science Fiction Film is now available at online retailers like Amazon & Barnes & Noble, among others.

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