Eiji Tsuburaya mentoring actor Haruo Nakajima King Kong vs Godzilla. (Photos courtesy of TM&© Toho Co., LTD; © Tsuburaya Productions; © Eiji Project)
Eiji Tsuburaya mentoring actor Haruo Nakajima King Kong vs Godzilla. (Photos courtesy of TM&© Toho Co., LTD; © Tsuburaya Productions; © Eiji Project)

Tribute to legendary Godzilla director opens in Fukushima

by Edward L. Holland
Stripes Okinawa

Experience the world of Godzilla, Ultraman and their co-creator, Eiji Tsuburaya the God of Special Effects in Sukagawa, Fukushima, as the region continues to rebound from the Great Eastern Earthquake. On Jan. 11, after five years in the making, the Sukagawa Citizens Exchange Center tette building opened to hundreds in attendance.

During the opening ceremony, Mayor Katsuya Hashimoto said, “Our brand-new community center tette (hands) is Sukagawa city’s main place for cultural exchange and citizens’ activities and we are committed to nurturing citizens here long into the future. We also honor tokusatsu (special effects) master, Eiji Tsuburaya, born in Sukagawa city, for his accomplishments at the Eiji Tsuburaya Museum, an archival center that will disseminate Japanese special effects to the world.”


Director Eiji Tsuburaya.

The dreaming spirit of Tsuburaya, who was inspired by Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong (1933) to make his own monster movies, is chronicled in detail on the 5th floor of the tette Exchange Center. Before his untimely passing in 1970, Tsuburaya worked on more than 250 military and science fiction movies and TV programs with Toho Studios and his own Tsuburaya Productions. With a tight-knit team of 60 innovative artists, he debuted Ultra Q (1965) and Ultraman (1966) to unsuspecting Japanese homes, spawning the first kaiju boom.

All over Sukagawa you can celebrate Tsuburaya’s universe of characters at the town’s city hall, train station, post offices, stores, airport, and the community center with its five modern floors of: classes, music rooms, event halls, libraries, and childcare spaces. The tette building also includes cultural meeting rooms, an Ultra FM radio station, stores, Ultraman kaiju statues, and the museum focused on the aspiring airplane pilot who flew south, ascended to photographer, and became an unequaled director of special visual effects, utilizing miniatures and suitmation, co-inventing Japan’s most iconic monsters and heroes.

Godzilla (1954), directed by Ishiro Honda, produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka and Tsuburaya’s Ultraman (1966), with designs by Tohl Narita forged an unforgettable path of entertainment bridging kaiju and superheroes in movie houses and homes heralded by award winning filmmakers Shinji Higuchi (Shin Godzilla, Attack on Titan) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth). Tsuburaya’s endless cavalcade of “monstars”continues to delight as both sides of the Pacific await the spring release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters by Legendary Warner Bros. An infectious sense of wonder and imagination bred by Tsuburaya surrounds you at the Science Patrol themed Fukushima airport, on the Ultraman adorned main street and in the inanimate, yet life-like Godzilla suit at the museum.


Godzilla 1954 suit designed by Yuji Sakai

The Exchange Center assists children, seniors, and the disabled by providing a common space to meet, read, exercise the body, mind and honor the legendary spirit of resilient Fukushima. The Tsuburaya Museum, a fusion of more than 100 exhibits, models, displays, 1,200 plus books available to check out, dioramas, audio-visual zones, and a 14-minute Godzilla short film with the aforementioned 2-meter 1954 style Godzilla suit is something to behold for ambitious artists and fans. With its three photo free zones and create-your-own kaiju interactive screens, you can come away with lasting memories during a trip north of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

“The Tsuburaya Museum is bigger than I thought it would be, with so much information, not normally available for the public to see,” Resident Mayu Hashimoto said. “I highly recommend it!”

Aligned with the spirit of innocence, the museum exists as a foundation to inspire children now and into the future; to dream as Tsuburaya did making model airplanes as a child above his family’s miso paste factory, before attending flight school in Haneda, Tokyo, and later launching a ground-breaking career in motion pictures. The Eiji Tsuburaya Museum in Sukagawa, Fukushima is a welcoming environment for adults and parents to reminisce of fantastic beasts and heroes from their childhood, and to trace in-depth with children the heart, soul, and spirit of Godzilla, Ultraman, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, the God of Special Effects’ milestones, and his lasting contributions to society.

Edward L. Holland is a photojournalist working in Japan. He has written for Stars and Stripes, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and assisted American and Japanese directors, actors, and artists at various conventions in the US and Japan.

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