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September 24, 2005

Godzilla on Lazy Journalist Island

From Yahoo news

(Kyodo) _ Sadamasa Arikawa, a special effects director known for such works as the original "Godzilla" film and the TV series "Ultraman," died of lung cancer Thursday at a hospital in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, his family said Friday. He was 80.

Arikawa, a native of Tokyo, made his debut as a special effects director in "Godzilla" that premiered in Japanese theaters in 1954 before working on many other Toho Studios movies.

He later helped produce the popular Japanese TV series "Ultraman" in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The article is wrong. Arikawa wasn’t the special effects director on the original Godzilla. Rather, he served as an uncredited cameraman, eventually helming the FX on some later Godzillas films (including the really very silly, though loved it as a child, Son of Godzilla)

Nor was Arikawa a producer on Ultraman. Both the credits the writer tries to give him, in fact, belong to Eiji Tsuburaya. Someone just got their Godzilla FX directors mixed up.

That sucks. Now, I’m sure Arikawa was a hell of a guy, but his accomplishments were, appropriately, more “Son of Godzilla” level to Tsuburaya’s “Godzilla.”


Sort of the Japanese Ray Harryhausen, Tsuburaya dominated his particular field, working his way up from assistant cameraman to eventual head of effects for Toho studios, honing his craft on the way recreating naval battles for propaganda films during the war.

Turns out that wasn’t such a great thing to have on the resume in post war Japan, and Tsuburaya got blackballed a bit. He eventually got rehired by Toho, became head of effects, but with the kibosh on war flicks, work was slow. That changed when a producer came to him with the idea of an awakened monster dropping cool ass, fire-from-a-giant-lizard’s-mouth, radioactive destruction on Tokyo. Called it “Gojira” - a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla ("gorira") and whale ("kujira").

Tsuburaya always wanted to do something like King Kong and was thrilled at the prospect. The problem: they wouldn’t have the time or money for that film’s stop motion effects. The solution: cramming Haruo Nakajima in a 200 lb. rubber suit. (Yep. 200 lbs. Look it up.)

The picture was a hit in Japan (obviously) and it came over to the States, where, the story goes, someone from an outfit called Jewell Enterprises saw a subtitled print in Chinatown (or a dubbed version in LA’s little Tokyo) and, like a smart busineeman seeing dollars for the taking, snatched up the rights.

Besides being renamed “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” 40 minutes were cut from the original version (mostly some nonsense love triangle, but a little anti-nuke stuff too) and 20 minutes added. The addition included the entirety of Journalist ‘Steve Martin,' or Raymond Burr's role.

Burr never left the States, filming here in the US. A lot of it wasn’t a problem – Burr just stands around peeking out a window, 'journalistically' describing the rampage for the radio (or his copyeditor, I forget.) Other scenes that had him interacting with people from the original required filming black haired actors from behind and a lot of careful splicing.

Anyway, Eiji Tsuburaya was the guy (he died in 1970) who headed up the special effects, not Arikawa. By accounts, he was a prickly fella. A perfectionist who often didn’t hit if off with his directors. And, no slight to Arikawa, he deserves his rightful due.

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posted by Dr. Reo Symes at 01:24 AM

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