Recently I had the chance to visit the Sasebo City Museum Shimanose Art Center in order to check out their Yasuyuki Inoue Exhibit (their first tokusatsu-related exhibit in the museum’s history), which ran from July 17, 2021, to August 29, 2021. I originally learned about this exhibit when I stumbled on a flyer in Fukuoka. I subsequently misplaced the flyer, and despite searching for the exhibit online, came back fruitless (I couldn’t remember what was written on it or who it was for or where it took place), and thought I had missed the event. Then SciFiJapan ran an article about the event, and I found an excuse to visit shortly afterward its publication as a rather unfortunate change of plans gave me an open schedule.
In this article I will give some impressions of the event on the day in which I visited, and attach a number of pictures taken during my visit. I visited one day before the exhibit closed, and I wasn’t able to secure the official booklet as it literally sold out as I was enjoying the exhibit, given that I saw it for sale in the gift shop before I went in. Oh, well.
Now, Yasuyuki Inoue may not be the most familiar name in tokusatsu circles (at least along the lines of Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, Akira Ifukube, etc), but he was a big figure behind the creation of many of the greatest special effects films in Toho for many years. Before entering the world of movies (which happened by accident), Inoue fought in WWII, losing his left leg while fighting in China. After entering showbiz, he was essentially Eiji Tsuburaya’s right-hand-man from the original Godzilla (1954) until the “old man’s” death and responsible for much of the planning of the effects, and worked as a concept artist for many special-effects films. Eventually Inoue became the head of the special arts department for Toho, and then worked independently, creating his own studio known as Alpha, which enabled him to work for other studios such as Daiei. Ultimately Inoue worked on 160 movies altogether, including sci-fi, fantasy, historical, and war films. He is perhaps most famous for having designed Hedorah, which is also reflected on the advertisements for this exhibit. He died in 2012 at the age of 89, and left behind an incredible legacy of filmmaking and artistry. This event is meant as a mere first taste, with an even bigger event being planned for next year at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo from March 19 to June 19—it’s already announced on their website.
As for the exhibit itself, it was fantastic and full of fascinating details and revelations about a remarkable creative force. The exhibit covered three floors, starting from the fourth floor covering his work in the 50s and 60s (practically every Toho tokusatsu film from that period), the third floor covering his work from the 70s on (with some extra attention to Hedorah), the second floor focusing more specifically on Rodan (1956) and his work on military films, and a few more special features on floor M2. Perhaps because the exhibit was hosted in Sasebo, which has a large American population due to the Navy base there, the exhibit had pretty good English support; while the individual examples of art and notebooks did not have English signage, many (though certainly not all) of the Japanese signs were translated in a book placed outside of the exhibits on each floor. That book also had black and white images of many of the pieces of art on display to assist English-speakers in understanding the exhibit without needing to carry the book with them.
The exhibit was almost exclusively focused on Inoue’s Toho work, with individual stations covering specific Toho films from Godzilla (1954) to Princess from the Moon (1987) and beyond… but, while his work on Daiei properties and his establishment of the Alpha Productions company are mentioned, works outside of the Toho movies do not merit stations or posters or artifacts of production on display; I am not sure if his work on television productions such as Ultra Q was even mentioned. Perhaps Toho helped finance the exhibit, and they didn’t want his work for competitors getting much attention.
Still, I greatly enjoyed learning about what he did for SO MANY big Toho science-fiction and fantasy masterpieces. Even after so many years visiting tokusatsu exhibits throughout Tokyo, I still get a thrill out of catching glimpses of individual pieces of artwork, scripts, and props from these legendary films, and imagining the creators laboring away to bring about their creations. With this exhibit in particular, I was able to glimpse into the nitty gritty, with some pages from notebooks breaking down the materials needed for special effects shots and their estimated costs. (Unfortunately pictures were forbidden for most of the exhibits.) Inoue became so trusted that these budgets were apparently often just accepted as-is without further needs of verification, and Tsuburaya trusted him implicitly given his attention to detail and hard-working-ethic. It was also possible to witness the evolution of his art, as it looked sketchier in earlier pieces for projects such as Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and Son of Godzilla (1967), and then became more accomplished after his duties were spread across his assistants and he could focus more details for Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974). Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) celebrated it’s big 50th anniversary this year, and that movie also gets special attention with many of Inoue’s concept sketches of the dreaded monster appearing in the exhibit. While these images have had wide distribution on the Internet, getting to see them in person was a bite-sized bit of wonder.
As mentioned previously, Rodan (1956) received extra attention at this exhibit for several reasons. One, much of the action in that movie took place in Fukuoka, where Inoue was born, and so he put extra effort in recreating that city for the landmark scenes of destruction. And two, parts of the movie take place in Sasebo itself, in particular the Sasebo mines. A big highlight of the exhibit was a huge recreation of the Iwataya department building model that had been created for destruction in the original Rodan (1956), and which the pterosaur monster famously smashed down upon from above.
Current-day special effects wizard Toshio Miike (perhaps best known for his work with Shinji Higuchi on films such as the Gamera trilogy, GMK, and Shin Godzilla) headlined the recreation of this model, which looks amazing, and has incredible attention to detail—from the little amusement park on the roof, to the shops along the bottom, to the curtains in the windows and more. A video shown at the exhibit documents how the model was made, with interviews and comments from those who worked on it. It was obviously a sizable endeavor, with incredible attention to detail. The video particularly shows how the pieces fashioned for the model’s creation often came from laser cuttings—I can’t help but thus be even more in awe at the creators of the original model way back in 56, given they could not lean on such shortcuts but would have had to do most of their work by hand! The model also has “King Kong” in a diamond store on the first floor, as well as multiple Toho monsters painted into the clouds on the massive backdrop (such as Anguirus, Jet Jaguar, Godzilla, and, of course, Hedorah). I am pretty sure Miike created a similar painting for the Gamera Tokusatsu no DNA exhibit a few years back, as I remember enjoying a similar “find the monster” painting of a cloudy sky behind a recreated set at that exhibit.
The final floor included a showing of Norman England’s documentary depicting Inoue and his team creating the upside-down explosion using paints poured into an aquarium which was originally made for an American DVD release waaaay back in the early 2000s (here with no Japanese subtitles). On that floor you can also pick up worksheets for younger museum goers so they can enjoy creating their own kaiju, making kaiju comics, or doing treasure hunts for specific information in the exhibits. Finally, the exhibit features a VR display where you can view Fukuoka from the back of a golden CGI pterosaur—but that display immediately made me dizzy, so I didn’t endure the entire five-minute experience.
The exhibit also had a number of goods, such as bags, postcards, books, and t-shirts—I couldn’t help but buy the exhibit t-shirt, which then later got me appreciative comments at the Hen na Hotel from a non-robot staff member when I stayed there a couple nights later.
Altogether, the Yasuyuki Inoue Exhibit was a fantastic experience with kind and supportive staff (one of the ladies helped me find the monsters in the clouds and the “King Kong”) and enthralling materials for giant monster fans. To be honest, I knew very little about Yasuyuki Inoue before attending this exhibit, despite having seen the Norman England documentary before (which features the man), and I am so glad I could check it out before it closed down last month.