Koichi Takano: 1935-2008
Author: Bob Johnson and Brad Warner
Translations: Brad Warner
Special Thanks to James Ballard, Keith Aiken, Norman England, Shusuke Kaneko and Takeshi Yagi
The science fiction community suffered a number of losses recently, including Forrest J. Ackerman, Beverly Garland and even Catwoman Eartha Kitt. But somewhat lost in the media news shuffle was someone very important to the Ultraman franchise; former Tsuburaya Productions managing director Koichi Takano.
Mr. Takano passed away on November 30, 2008 at a hospital in the Tokyo metropolitan area at the age of 73 from emphysema. A resident of Tokyo, his funeral was attended only by close relatives. A farewell party is scheduled for February 27th of next year at an as yet undecided venue.
Born August 25, 1935, Koichi Takano graduated from Seijo Gakuen High School in Tokyo in 1953 and joined Toho Co, Ltd. in 1954. Having been a grade school classmate of Tsuburaya Productions’ former president, the late Noboru Tsuburaya, he began working under Noboru’s father, the late special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya. His first position was as assistant cameraman on GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (Gojira no Gyakushu, 1955). This would turn out to be an eventful and very memorable way to launch his career in special effects!
One of his actions on this film became famous throughout the Japanese film industry and Japanese monster fandom as well. For it was Takano himself who, while filming the climactic confrontation between Godzilla and Anguirus, set the camera frames per second speed on slow rather than high, creating the fast-paced and furious battle of the monsters!
When he noticed the mistake afterwards, he was certain that he would be fired. After all, rebuilding the miniature sets, relighting the studio, calling the crews back for re-shoots would all inflate the budget far beyond the breaking point. However, Eiji Tsuburaya liked what he saw and kept it in the film. Thus Takano inadvertently created a novel new photographic effect.
In 1960, Takano became a freelance cinematographer. He worked for Fuji Television shooting TV dramas, then returned to Toho for the next Godzilla epic, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, 1962). He created a short, stop motion effect for the film; a quick two-footed jump kick that Godzilla lays on Kong during their Mt. Fuji meeting.
Takano made his debut as director of photography on the Nikkatsu film ALONE IN THE PACIFIC (Taiheiyo Hitoribochi, 1963). Later that same year, Eiji Tsuburaya would ask him to join him at his new production company, Tsuburaya Productions. He began work as a cameraman on the television series ULTRA Q (Urutora Kyu, 1966). In 1966, he made his debut as Special Effects Director on ULTRAMAN (Urutoraman) and would go on to helm the effects for the Ultra series, as well as other TPC television shows throughout the remainder of the 1960s and 1970s, up to and including ULTRAMAN 80 (Urutoraman Eitei, 1980).
As a pupil of Eiji Tsuburaya, Takano learned all the various techniques of special effects, including storyboarding and film editing. He said, “I worked from 9:00am to midnight filming and then to 6 or 7 in the morning editing, then I would sleep until noon the next day.” Takano also found time for a little acting; he appeared as an extra in ULTRAMAN episodes 10 “Enigma of the Dinosaur Base” and 30 “Phantom of the Snow Mountain”, as well as episode 20 of OPERATION: MYSTERY (Kaiki Daisakusen, 1968).
He returned to freelance status in 1973 and made his directorial debut on the series SUPER ROBOT RED BARON (Supa Robotto Reddo Baron, 1973) and the follow-up, SUPER ROBOT MACH BARON (Supa Robotto Mahha Baron, 1974) for Nippon Gendai Kikaku and would also direct DINOSAUR PARK (Kyoryu Tankentai, 1976) and TON TON THE MYSTERY DOG (1978) for Tsuburaya. However, he felt that working on the human parts of the show forced him to neglect the special effects and he would soon return to the visual effects field.
In 1990, Takano was called in as special effects consultant for Tsuburaya’s first international co-production, the Australian-made ULTRAMAN: TOWARDS THE FUTURE (Urutoraman Gureto). He would serve in a similar capacity for the US production of ULTRAMAN: THE ULTIMATE HERO FUTURE (Urutoraman Pawado, 1993). However, I am not too sure how clear this was made to the American production team.
While on a visit to the set of ULTRAMAN: THE ULTIMATE HERO with then co-editor of Markalite Magazine August Ragone and Monster Attack Team editor Ed Holland, we were surprised during an interview with director King Wilder. While discussing the production, he commented that “there is this guy from Japan here, checking everything out and asking us over and over about perspective shots”. When he pointed him out, we looked over to see Koichi Takano and informed Wilder just who it was that was inquiring about camera shots and trying to get them to shoot from low, street-level like angles!
When Tsuburaya decided to relaunch their home-grown Ultra franchise with the film ULTRAMAN ZEARTH (Urutoraman Zeasu), Takano was brought on board as Executive Producer and would continue to serve in that capacity for the modern Ultra series up to ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET (Urutoraman Kosumosu 2: Za Buru Puranetto, 2002).
In 1990, Takano began serving as one of the members of Tsuburaya Productions Board of Directors. At that time he also became a member of the Japanese Directors’ Guild and supervised numerous productions up until his death.
Koichi Takano was an integral part of not only the Ultraman franchise, but also other superhero and effect series and features for over 40 years. His influence on the genre cannot be overestimated and his loss will definitely be felt in the Japanese film and television industry.
Fans of Ultraman and other Tsuburaya heroes should take a minute to reflect on the loss of a true pioneer.
Friends Remember Koichi Takano…
I first learned Koichi Takano’s name when I was in grade school watching ULTRAMAN on TV. Later on I saw photos in books of him directing action sequences on the sets of the Ultraman TV shows and movies.
In 1985 after I became a director, I was shooting a television drama called THE SAMURAI for Tsuburaya Productions. At that time Mr. Takano was the head of the production department, a job where he mainly did boring deskwork. But when we had to shoot a scene involving a miniature fighter plane landing he showed up at the studio and took over directing it. The scene turned out magnificently. But it took three hours to finish that one sequence so I really had to hurry. I was scheduled to do 100 scenes that day!
He always was a fun person to be around. I wish I could listen to more of his stories. I will miss him.
Koichi Takano wasn’t just a special effects director. He also made a mean curry. Whenever a show he was working on wrapped, he would whip up a giant pot of the stuff for everyone on staff. He put as much into those curries as he did into any of the special effects he directed, commandeering the entire production department to help cut carrots and peel onions.
By the time I joined Tsuburaya Productions in 1994, Takano wasn’t doing a lot of active special effects work. He’d been promoted to head of the production department, which was mainly a desk job. But what he really wanted to do be out there on the set doing the hands-on work.
When work started on the GRIDMAN TV series (better known to American viewers as SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI SYBER SQUAD) he finally got his chance to go back in the studio. Later on, when the Ultraman series was revived with ULTRAMAN TIGA, followed by ULTRAMAN DYNA and ULTRAMAN GAIA, he got to do even more studio work. He’s listed on the credits of these shows as Special Effects Supervisor, a title that Eiji Tsuburaya was given on his later films. Like Tsuburaya, Takano was more of a presence on the set than the actual special effects director of these shows, although he could still take charge when he needed to. But just the fact that he was there watching made everyone else work ten times harder. The younger people on set were in awe of working with such a venerable master of the craft.
I liked Takano-san because he treated everyone with respect. A lot of older guys in the Japanese film business with reputations like his are aloof and arrogant, constantly striving to remind everyone who they are. But Takano-san wasn’t like that. He even paid attention to me, that gaijin fanboy who worked in the international division. When ULTRAMAN GAIA was in its planning stages he asked me to list up some factors I thought might help make the show play better to American audiences. I gave him my suggestions, and to my amazement nearly all of them found their way into the show in some form. It was truly an honor.
Sadly, I’ve been unable to locate my favorite photo of Takano-san in time to include it with this piece. It shows he and I on a bench at some hotel waiting for a bus at a company trip. We’d both been up really late the night before and Takano had been drinking too ― I hadn’t. But in the photo I’m the one who looks hung over and he’s all bright and chipper and ready to go. That’s the kind of person he was. Always full of energy. Though I do remember him sleeping at his desk when he had to do a lot of paperwork. The official word around the company was that he was “meditating.”
He left TPC a few years ago during a difficult period when the management was going through a lot of shake-ups. He never liked business politics and I think he’d just had enough. By then his habit of chain smoking had begun to take a toll on his health and it was time to retire. I know he hated facing that. All he ever really wanted to do was work.
I didn’t see much of him after he left, and I really regret that. I’d long hoped to someday make a documentary film about Ultraman for English speaking audiences. He would have been one of the main interview subjects. I’m sad that I’ll never get the chance. I’ll miss him a lot.
When I was a child, I loved watching ULTRAMAN on TV. As a little kid who could barely even read, there was one staff member’s name I learned from the show’s credits, special effects director Koichi Takano. I mean, by himself Mr. Takano directed the special effects for over 70% of the episodes of ULTRAMAN and ULTRA SEVEN. Of course I would remember his name! Since I was part of what’s called “the TV generation,” I feel far more strongly about Ultraman than Godzilla. Because of this, when I think of masters of Japanese special effects, the name Koichi Takano is the first that comes to mind, not Eiji Tsuburaya. Learning Koichi Takano’s name at that young age had a big impact on me. It truly changed the course of my life.
A little more than 15 years ago, I graduated from University and joined Tsuburaya Productions. At that time, Tsuburaya Productions had two production departments to handle different programs. I was assigned to director Kazuho Mitsuta’s production department #2, while Mr. Takano was head of the production department #1. It was a little intimidating to have the combo who created the famous final episode of ULTRA SEVEN right sitting right in front of me each day. In fact, when I got to know him personally I found that Mr. Takano was a terrific person. People would naturally gather around him. He was like the boss of the special effects world. But he was also a craftsman.
If you look at it this way perhaps you can understand why I felt so honored to be in his presence. Most of the effects techniques on ULTRAMAN and ULTRA SEVEN that had impressed me so much in my youth were designed and executed by him. Koichi Takano was the very man who created the special effects that made our eyes pop out as kids. He was the man who directed the special effects of ULTRAMAN. Working with him was a tremendous learning experience. To my mind, Mr. Takano was one of the last true special effects directors of the original school and I was under his tutelage. My goal is to be as good a special effects director as Koichi Takano. To me, Koichi Takano was Japan’s number one special effects director.
Mr. Takano’s Motion Picture and Television Credits:
* GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN（1955）Camera Assistant
* KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) Godzilla and King Kong stop motion animation
* ALONE IN THE PACIFIC (1963）cinematographer
* ULTRAMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE (1967）Special Effects Director
* RETURN OF ULTRAMAN (1971） Special Effects Director
* MIRROR MAN (1972） Special Effects Director
* MIRROR MAN VS. THE LIVING DINOSAUR ALOZA（1972） Special Effects
* ULTRAMAN LEO VS. THE ROAMING MONSTER (1974) Special Effects Director
* ULTRAMAN LEO BROTHERS VS. THE MONSTER BROTHERS (1974) Special
* AMPHIBIOUS OPERATION IN INCHON （1979） Special Effects Director
* DIRECTOR AKIO JISSOJI’S ULTRAMAN (1979） Special Effects Director
* ULTRAMAN ZOFFY（1984）Director
* THE ULTRAMAN STORY（1984）Director
* ULTRAMAN: THE ALIEN INVASION（1990）SFX Consultant
* ULTRAMAN: THE BATTLE FOR EARTH（1990）SFX Consultant
* THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF ULTRAMAN（1996)
ULTRAMAN FOREVER -Original Special Effects Director
ULTRAMAN ZEARTH -Executive Producer
* ULTRAMAN TIGA AND ULTRAMAN DYNA (1998）Executive Producer
* ULTRAMAN GAIA: THE BATTLE IN HYPERSPACE（1999）Executive Producer
* ULTRAMAN COSMOS: THE FIRST CONTACT（2001）Executive Producer
* ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET（2002）Executive Producer (2 versions)
* ULTRA Q（1966）Cinematographer
* ULTRAMAN（1966-1967） Special Effects Director
* ULTRA SEVEN（1967-1968） Special Effects Director
* OPERATION: MYSTERY（1968-1969） Special Effects Director
* RETURN OF ULTRAMAN（1971-1972） Special Effects Director
* MIRROR MAN（1971-1972） Special Effects Director
* ULTRAMAN ACE（1972-1973） Special Effects Director
* IRON KING（1972-1973） Special Effects Director
* JAMBORG ACE（1973） Special Effects Director
* ULTRAMAN TARO（1973-1974） Special Effects Director
* SUPER ROBOT RED BARON (1973-1974）Director
* ULTRAMAN LEO（1974-1975） Special Effects Director
* SUPER ROBOT MACH BARON (1974-1975）Director
* SUBMERSION OF JAPAN（1974-1975）Special Effects Director
* LET’S GO! KA-CHING! (1975-1976） Special Effects Director
* DINOSAUR PARK (1976-1977）Director
* MONKEY (1978-1980) Special Effects Director
* TON TON THE MYSTERY DOG (1978-1979） Special Effects Director
* EUROPEAN TRAVEL DIARY (1978） Special Effects Director
* MEGALOMAN（1979） Special Effects Director
* ULTRAMAN 80（1980-1981） Special Effects Director
* ANDROMELOS（1983） Special Effects Supervisor
* ULTRA MONSTER ENCYCLOPEDIA（1988）Executive Producer
* GRIDMAN/ SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI SYBER-SQUAD（1993-1994） Special Effects Supervisor
* ULTRAMAN TIGA（1996-1997）Executive Producer/ Special Effects Director
* ULTRAMAN DYNA（1997-1998）Executive Producer
* CYBER BEAUTIES TELOMERE (1998）Visual Supervisor
* ULTRAMAN GAIA（1998-1999）Executive Producer
* ULTRAMAN COSMOS（2001-2002）Executive Producer