Manga: Eiji Tsuburaya: The Movie Director Who Created Ultraman


Eiji Tsuburaya: The Movie Director Who Created Ultraman

Japanese Comic Title

[Tsuburaya Eiji ― Urutoraman O Tsukutta Eiga Kantoku]


Rima Nozoe, Shinichi Ichikawa


Tatsuyoshi Kobayashi
Tatsuyoshi Kobayashi


Tatsuyosi Kobayashi



By: Nicholas Driscoll

Me and educational comic books haven’t had the best of relationships. The examples I have read in the past were… kind of boring. Usually when I read a comic, I want some kind of entertaining or thoughtful story to brighten my day or quicken my heartbeat. However, in Japan, educational manga are hugely popular, and there are a wide variety of titles on a wide variety of topics, and while the majority are aimed at a young audience, some tackle more difficult topics for adults—my colleague was even reading one about statistics, and I have seen volumes of manga about psychology as well! Enter the manga biography genre! There have been multiple multi-volume manga biographies of famous/influential people throughout history, aimed at elementary-school children and presented on high-quality paper, usually hardback as well (darn it, Toho! Use this paper when you reprint your comics in your DVD collections! Please!). Based on what I have read so far, these books can also be quite entertaining, with lively storytelling and a sharp sense of humor, as well as rich illustrations and, yes, actual educational content worth reading! These manga biographies include both Japanese and worldwide notable people, from comic artists (such as Fujiko F. Fujio) to inventors (Edison) to discoverers (Columbus) to musicians (Beethoven), just to name a few. More to the point for Toho monster movie fans, several of these books are about a fellow whose name should be very familiar: Eiji Tsuburaya, the legendary special-effects guru who helped create Godzilla and Ultraman.

So far I have tracked down three of these manga biographies: Shogakukan’s Gakushuu Manga Jinbutsukan series with their Eiji Tsuburaya: The Movie Director Who Created Ultraman; Popurasha’s Komikkuban Sekai no Denki volume 22 Eiji Tsuburaya; and finally Asahi Shimbun’s Shuukan Manga Sekai no Ijin issue 42 “Eiji Tsuburaya, the ‘Special Effects God’ Who Gave Birth to Godzilla and Ultraman.” Shogakukan’s was first published in 1996 and has gone through many extra publishing runs; Popurasha’s book meanwhile was released in August 2012 and Asahi Shimbun’s in November of that same year. For today’s review, I want to write about the first and, arguably, the best of the three (though I haven’t finished reading Asahi Shimbun’s mag yet, I don’t think it is going to measure up—but it’s definitely the most unique).

So Eiji Tsuburaya: The Movie Director Who Created Ultraman starts with several full-color pages depicting the conclusion of the original run of Ultraman, the popular tokusatsu television program, and the impact said program had on children of the time. Then we transition into Tsuburaya’s life, starting with his childhood, in which we see that his mother dies when he is three, and he ends up raised by his aunt. And… his real name was Eichi, which includes the kanji for “one” because he was a firstborn son. “Eiji” was kind of a nickname he took after being adopted by his aunt because his cousin Ichiro became like an older brother to him—Eiji actually contains the kanji for the number “two” and would indicate that he is the second born!

Thus begins a really fascinating comic filled with trivia and energetically depicted moments from Tsuburaya’s life, such as his love of airplanes, his stubborn insistence on entering flying school, the tragic death of his flight teacher that forced him to quit, and the fateful encounter with film technician Yoshio Edamasa at a noisy party that led him into the film world. We see him create propaganda films, which according to this book he regretted due to the tragedies of the war. We see him inspired by King Kong (1933), with some great illustrations of the ape. Finally we get some Godzilla (1954) starting with chapter 4, already 64 pages into a book only 159 pages long.

Some fans might be disappointed that the biography takes so long to get to Godzilla and monster films, but I actually liked this. Just like when reading Peter Brothers’ groundbreaking English biography of Ishiro Honda, or Ryfle and Godziszewski’s excellent newer book on the same director I especially loved the background bits about Honda, I loved getting a look at Tsuburaya as a person, and not just as a movie maker.

But the movie/TV creation scenes are fascinating as well, if sometimes probably a bit too fictionalized. The book features scenes of the creation of early models of Godzilla and the process of choosing his skin texture, of choosing the name, of the hiring of Haruo Nakajima and his acting preparation at the zoo to master a monster’s movements, as well as depictions of how Tsuburaya dreamt up the melting wax high tension towers, among others, and most of these are pretty straightforward. One scene that was… a bit ridiculous, though, depicts Tsuburaya with Nakajima on the rooftop of a department store discussing the sequences in the movie wherein the city of Tokyo is demolished, and thus the pair of them sounded very suspicious, which alerts a police officer who overhears them. They get out of the situation when Tsuburaya encourages Nakajima to roar like Godzilla, and then they run as fast as they can to get away.

I almost wish things had really gone down that way.

This comedic depiction obviously is not exactly accurate to the facts. According to a recount of the same incident in Peter Brothers’ Atomic Dreams and the Nuclear Nightmare, his extensively-researched book on the making of the original Godzilla, the staff scouting locations included Honda, Kajita, Tsuburaya, and Watanabe—but not Nakajima. And apparently they were not stopped by police on the roof when they were discussing the destruction of the city, but rather were asked questions when they tried to leave on the first floor, according to recollections from Honda.

Still, whatever the case, this manga biography is highly entertaining, and going beyond just the first Godzilla, The Movie Director Who Created Ultraman also has anecdotes on the making of Rodan (a flubbed scene with a snapped control wire being used to make Rodan more realistic and pathetic during the eruption sequence) and special attention given, of course, to Ultraman and the Ultra Series. For me, since I have not read as much about Ultraman as I have Godzilla, this section provided me with especially scrumptious factoids. How interesting that the word “ultra” was ultimately taken from a gymnastics move—if it wasn’t for the Olympics coming to Japan, we wouldn’t have the Ultra series at all, but something perhaps entirely different!

The final manga section depicts Tsuburaya, at the end of his life, planning to make an airplane movie, hearkening back to his dreams as a child. Unfortunately, Tsuburaya was never able to make that film, and the manga concludes with a touching sequence depicting the Old Man crossing over into the other side in a celestial airplane, as well as heart-felt words and images about his lasting impact on cinema and TV in Japan.

The art throughout the manga portion of the book is also very appealing, and the kaiju are drawn with loving detail in each shot (arguably the kaiju in the Popurasha volume are sometimes even better, but it’s really close—they look great in both books). I actually prefer the way that Tsuburaya himself is drawn in this book over the other two Tsuburaya biography manga I own. There is just something extra charming and cheerful about the illustrations of him in this book.

After the manga there is a short essay by Ultra Series writer Shinichi Ichikawa about how he got a job writing for Tsuburaya Productions, and his warm memories of working under Eiji Tsuburaya. Tsuburaya apparently was like a kindly parent to the mostly much younger crew and team of writers, and he would allow each writer to express themselves as they wished in their stories. Ichikawa shares a glowing description of his time working there—though he was initially disenchanted with the ugliness of the Tsuburaya Productions building!

To sum up, while the manga probably plays too fast and loose with some of the facts of Tsuburaya’s life (and unsurprisingly depicts him as a mostly flawless person with big dreams and no bad side), nevertheless The Movie Director Who Created Ultraman is very entertaining to read. Definitely recommended for fans, and a much better experience than the depressing Master of Miniatures we got in the US!