Mutsumi Toyoshima – A Blueprint for Success
Top Toho Special Effects Designer has Died
Authors: Ed Godziszewski with Oki Miyano
Special Thanks to Yasuyuki Inoue
Mutsumi Toyoshima, widely regarded as one of the best production designers on Toho special effects movies from the 1960s through the 1980s, died November 17.
As a key member of Toho’s special effects art department, Toyoshima designed and created blueprints for many of the most famous vehicles, props, and machines seen in the studio’s monster, science fiction, and war films. Among his designs are the popular Maser Cannon (introduced in THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in 1966), the Solgell Island silver iodide towers from SON OF GODZILLA (Gojira no Mosuko, 1967), the UN submarine Explorer from KING KONG ESCAPES (Kingu Kongu no Gyakushu, 1967), the Moonlight SY-3 from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Kaiju Soshingeki, 1968), the Black Shark from LATITUDE ZERO (Ido Zero Daisakusen,1969), and the Super-X from THE RETURN OF GODZILLA (Gojira, a.k.a. GODZILLA 1985, 1984).
He left Toho in the early 1980s and joined a tourism company called Oriental Land to build Tokyo Disneyland, the first and the most successful Disneyland outside of the US. Toho and Tokyo Disneyland had a very strong connection, and Toyoshima was not the only Toho designer who worked for TDL. After he started work on Tokyo Disneyland, Toyoshima was invited to Anaheim, CA to study the designs of the original Disneyland. Toyoshima stayed with Oriental Land until he completed his work for DisneySea, a new Disney theme park, in 2003.
SciFi Japan is honored to present a tribute to Mutsumi Toyoshima by Ed Godziszewski and Oki Miyano, who knew Mr. Toyoshima and had visited with him in recent years. “I called him while on the train to the airport when I left Tokyo in late October,” Oki said. “That was the last time I talked to him. Although I knew him only for four years, he treated me as if I was his nephew. For me, he was like my uncle.”
Mutsumi Toyoshima was one of many talented members of the Toho special effects art department who worked on the films of the Golden Age under the tutelage of Yasuyuki Inoue. He attended Musashino Art College in the mid-50s, majoring in art. He entered Toho Studio in 1959, starting out as one of the staff members who took care of sets.
One day, Yasuyuki Inoue offered him the chance to utilize his drawing skills and advance to the position of designer. Toyoshima had experience as a student in drawing blueprints of models, and the Toho staff had a shortage of people who could make good blueprints at that time.
He started out fixing up the blueprints of others, but quickly got the chance to do his own, debuting as a designer on I BOMBED PEARL HARBOR (Taiheiyo no Arashi, a.ka. STORM OF THE PACIFIC, 1960). “To design, you really need to know and understand the 3D view of your subject. For making models of things like ships, it’s very different than doing buildings. At that time, Toho had some huge model ships…they were like 10 and 13 meters long, and we would have to modify them or dress them up to pass for the Yamato, Akagi, and so on. For reference, I would go to Kanda [the book center of Tokyo] to find used books and look at the old blueprints in them.” It wasn’t really possible to use the blueprints of both ships and aircraft from these books since they were shrunken down in size so much, but they provided a useful guideline for Toyoshima.
Toyoshima’s philosophy in making blueprints was simple: “Every detail of an object should be put into a blueprint, and you must envision the objects from three sides and then combine them into a single image. It has to be coherent and full of details. The blueprints which we made for models needed to be much more meticulous and detailed than what someone would make for a real building.” For Toyoshima, the crucial pieces of equipment for his job were pens. “I had to use pens with a tip diameter of 0.1mm and 0.3mm. If you are not careful enough with your pens, and you draw the lines too thick, the miniatures made from these blueprints would take on a very different and softer look.”
Toyoshima often looked to the real world for enhancing his designs and adding details that would be realistic. “One of my most challenging jobs was to design the SY-3 for DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. I would often refer to NASA designs for making my blueprints more realistic. It was my practice to gather a lot of information whenever I had something new to design. One of my favorite reference sources was Popular Science magazine.”
“I think that the SY-3 is probably the best work that I have ever done. For that, I used the image of a US military airship as a basis, the kind of plane which was launched from an aircraft carrier. And for the booster engine, I used one of NASA’s ideas for that. Thinking of this ship, I thought that to propel it to the moon, the booster section would have to be around 3 times the length of the SY-3 itself. NASA still uses that concept [a booster] today with the space shuttle. The SY-3 was my first assignment after a long absence due to a severe stomach ailment from which I suffered. I wound up designing it in my apartment just after taking a new year’s vacation.”
As a young man, Toyoshima grew up marveling at the mechanical designs of the famed illustrator Shigeru Komatsuzaki, who also would serve as mechanical designer for Eiji Tsuburaya from time to time. Having a chance to create his own vehicles and mechanisms was a kind of dream job for him. “Ever since I was a kid, I was always interested in mechanical things like bicycles, cars, motorcycles, and so on. I would draw them in detail, and sometimes make my own variations. When I think about designing miniatures for films, it was always a challenge no matter what I was making. If it was something that did not exist, I had to figure out a way to make it look real. If I had to design something that really existed, I would have to be sure to add enough detail so it would look real. Both assignments were really tough.”
Although he is credited with designing the Maser Cannon, arguably Toho’s greatest and most popular mecha design, Toyoshima actually had less than fond memories of the experience. “First of all, I had to keep the lamp in mind when I designed this. It was the key point of the weapon, so I had to think about how to make it look good. Since the base of this vehicle was someone else’s design [the trailer base and barrel were to be recycled from Shigeru Komatsuzaki’s designs for the A-Cycle Light Ray for MONSTER ZERO], this job wasn’t so enjoyable. I just put the dish on top of someone else’s work. I understand it was a budgetary consideration. I wish I could say something better about it or that I liked it, but it’s not my favorite. But it did make Takagi [assistant art director Akinori Takagi, who was in charge of engineering the practical mechanical effects] happy since he had to make it functional.”
“People might look at it as just a made-up weapon in a monster movie, but we put our hearts into building it. When it worked perfectly on the set it was an emotionally satisfying moment for us.”
For LATITUDE ZERO, Toyoshima was pitted against his mentor and boss, Yasuyuki Inoue with dueling submarine designs. Inoue was in charge of creating the Alpha, and Toyoshima got to design the nemesis of the Alpha, Malec’s Black Shark. It was an intimidating task for Toyoshima. “The Alpha was very sophisticated, and in comparison the Black Shark looked kind of rough. As an apprentice of Mr Inoue, I wanted to show my talent to my mentor. Hobby Japan commented that it was a match-up of ‘mentor vs. apprentice’. And yes, I did have the image of a real killer shark in mind when I made this vehicle.”
Mr. Toyoshima took ill shortly after retiring in 2003. He was happier than anyone else when Mr. Inoue was invited to Hollywood in 2004 to celebrate Godzilla’s 50th Anniversary at the American Cinematheque and had hoped to come to the States with his mentor. But he couldn’t travel overseas due to his poor health.
Toyoshima’s creative spirit remained strong throughout his life. “I just love the design process, and I really love all types of vehicles. But making something that does not exist, well that was really the most enjoyable thing of all. In some ways, I am just like a kid. I still call my office the Hobby Studio because I want to keep that dream, just like when I was a kid.” Toyoshima was quite proud of his work in the Toho special effects art department, and he felt that working on science fiction films was a real plus. “To make a good design, you have to be interested in the assignment. I loved to create things, make the impossible, create things that no one had seen before. I think this was the key to my success.”