SciFi JAPAN TV #02: Tokusatsu Museum 第２話「特撮博物館」
A SCIFI JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
About The Episode
Author: JR Lipartito
Last month, SciFi JAPAN TV had the privilege to attend the opening of the Tokusatsu- Special Effects Museum-Craftsmanship of Showa and Heisei Eras Seen Through Miniatures at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.
Taking center stage at this exhibit is a short film produced by NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (Shin Seiki Evangerion, 1995) director Hideaki Anno and directed by visual effects master Shinji Higuchi. As all the exhibit posters proudly tease, the film features a live-action recreation of the Kyoshinhei, or Giant Warrior-God from Studio Gibli’s animated film NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, 1984). In a true tribute to the art of miniature works, the film is almost entirely composed of “traditional,” practical effects.
But beyond that and even beyond what we can show you in our video, this exhibit features what is without a doubt one of the most rich assortments of Japansese art, props, miniatures and even a few costumes on display, starting with the various science fiction films from Toho’s golden age, moving through the rise of Tsuburaya’s giant silver and red heroes, and all the way to the present generation of tokusatsu creations.
If you’ve ever dreamed of spontaneously hopping a plane for Tokyo, this may very well make it more than worth your trouble. But you’d better hurry because the exhibit ends October 8th!
If you are in Japan and have had the opportunity to visit this Special Effects Museum, let us know your impressions in the episode comments!
About SCIFI JAPAN TV
A regular video program focusing exclusively on Japanese scifi and monsters is something we’ve always wanted to see, but nothing like it has ever been available, neither in Japan nor overseas. So we decided to make it ourselves!
SciFi JAPAN TV is shot on location in Japan exclusively for SciFi Japan by the Gaijin Channel production team. The show will delve into the world of Japanese monsters and scifi, featuring the latest and hottest tokusatsu events in Japan, as well as simple yet in-depth discussions with the people who bring all of our favorite films and shows to life!
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Touring the Tokusatsu- Special Effects Museum
Author: Ed Godziszewski
It was a blistering hot Sunday afternoon in early August, the last day of a hastily arranged business trip to Japan, my one day free from business obligations. What better place to find refuge from the heat and humidity than a museum holding an exhibition to honor Japanese special effects techniques?
Having just learned about the exhibit shortly before my trip, I was happy to find out I would be in Japan during the period that the exhibit was open to the public, although at the same time, I really did not know what to expect. I had seen a number of special effects-related exhibitions over the years, and more often than not, they came up a little short on what they promised, whether it be in presentation or content. Would this one be a hit or a miss?
The name sounded really promising — Tokusatsu- Special Effects Museum-Craftsmanship of Showa and Heisei Eras Seen Through Miniatures — but the promotional materials just featured a miniature set and a 3D model of the giant warrior from the Hayao Miyazaki feature NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984) that were used in a short live action film made specially for this exhibition by EVANGELION director Hideaki Anno. That in itself was enough to get me interested, as the technique of miniature special effects is fascinating to me. Director Shusuke Kaneko once perfectly captured my sentiments when he said, “Miniatures sing to my heart.” Well, I can say that not only did this exhibit sing to my heart, it delivered a whole concert, including the orchestra.
Although the new film by Hideaki Anno, directed by Shinji Higuchi, is a centerpiece of the exhibit, the bulk of the exhibit celebrates the history of Japanese miniature special effects through a series of displays of artwork and models that span the entire history of the genre. The main level of the exhibit features a series of rooms dedicated to specific subsets of Japanese special effects work. Accented by reproductions of huge 3-sheet posters, there are dedicated areas for vehicles and props from Toho science fiction films, Mighty Jack, Ultraman, TV superheoes, Gamera, and contemporary films.
Historically important model work such as the original JX Hawk from GORATH (1962), a fighter craft from BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1959), the original SY-3 from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)… all share space with modern era miniatures such as buildings from GAMERA 3 (1999) and a decimated Diet Building from SINKING OF JAPAN (2006). A fleet of miniature Ultra series vehicles compliment masks and costumes from classic Japanese heroes like Lion Maru, Denjin Zaboga, and Zone Fighter. Even though monsters are not the exhibit’s focus, there are even a couple suits on display of MechaGodzilla 2 from TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975) and Gamera from GAMERA 2 (1996). Ever wanted to see Goldar’s rocket, Jet Jaguar flying, the helmet of Ultraman King, prototype models of BOOSKA characters? This is the place.
And just as important, many props are complemented by corresponding pieces of breathtaking original design artwork that was used to create them. Mini-masterpieces in their own right populate the walls… Shigeru Komatsuzaki’s illustrations for ATRAGON (1963), THE MYSTERIANS’ Dome and Markelites; Yasuyuki Inoue’s renderings of the Alpha submarine from LATITUDE ZERO (1969) and Hell Fighters from THE WAR IN SPACE (1977), Tohl Narita’s paintings of MIGHTY JACK (1968) and Ultra items… it goes on and on. The display curates a wide and inclusive display of historical artifacts from film and TV to please attendees from the hardest core fan to youngest kid who is seeing these things for the very first time. There’s plenty to please all ages and all interests.
After passing through these displays, there is a large screening room where Higuchi’s short feature, entitled A GIANT WARRIOR DESCENDS ON TOKYO, is presented, an impressive apocalyptic vision of Tokyo being destroyed by one of NAUSICAÄ’s giant warriors. While the film does use some digital optical compositing, every effects shot is done with practical effects… miniatures, forced perspective, lighting, and so on. Panoramic aerial vistas of Tokyo… it’s not real, it’s convincingly shot using a gigantic miniature consisting of a width swath of the city made of small paper structures and streets covered in photos of the real thing. People gawking at the giant warrior as it lands in Tokyo… surprisingly, they aren’t real, they’re photos of people on cardboard stands. Smoke rings billowing up around the building plume of a mushroom cloud… it’s all models and lighting effects, no opticals. It’s not just a showcase for miniature effects, it makes the case that these effects are far from obsolete in today’s CG world.
Now at this point, you file out of the film and see a miniature city on display in the downstairs atrium. It contains many miniatures that were used in Higuchi’s film, and attendees are free to walk through the set and take as many pictures as they like. But first, you have to walk downstairs and through something else to get to that set… now of course you are thinking, it must be the inevitable gift shop, right? Actually, no (but don’t worry, that gift shop does eventually pop up — no self-respecting exhibit would be without one). Despite the fact that what you’ve been treated to is already a top-class exhibit, you may not have seen the best part yet.
Immediately upon arriving downstairs, you are directed into a darkened room. Lined with wooden beams and corrugated metal wall panels, this room very accurately replicates the old prop shed that used to exist at Toho, behind where the Big Pool used to be. And the room is full of many of the props that used to be stored there… tanks from the original GODZILLA (1954), earth movers and train cars from KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962), the miniature Gorath, the Yahlen sailing boat from GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER (1966), and dozens of airplanes hanging from the ceiling. All manner of vintage props and camera equipment are on display, even some newer items like the gigantic 3-meter miniature Lorelei submarine from LORELEI: THE WITCH OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN (2005). And at the very end, there’s a Mothra caterpillar and the suit of King Ghidorah from GMK (2001). Having had the good fortune to have visited the old prop shed before its demise, this was a wonderful trip down memory lane.
Ok, so that was a nice bonus… but as you exit the prop shed and turn the corner, you enter what I consider the best part of the exhibit where SFX techniques are demonstrated in a way that only a good museum exhibit can do. The first room of this section is particularly close top my heart as it displays original production art by some of the top people in this field, most prominent being the work of the late Yasuyuki Inoue, head of Toho’s SFX Art Department for many years. After becoming acquainted with Mr Inoue over the last several years, he was kind enough to show me so many of his wonderful artworks, most of which had never been seen by the public. Here at last they were, exactly where they should be, treated with the respect they deserve and on display in a museum for all to appreciate and enjoy. I couldn’t help but smile to see people marveling over this amazing array of artistry, much like I had done when I first saw these pieces.
For the public, design work may be one of the most under appreciated aspects of miniature effects work, but the exhibit gives it the full credit it deserves. Among the other designers whose work was shown were Tetsuzo Osawa (MESSAGE FROM SPACE and the GODZILLA VS series) Ryosaku Takayama, whose original art and blueprints for Daiei’s MAJIN (1966) were prominently displayed. The only regret I had about this part of the exhibit was that so many of the people whose work was on display were no longer around to see their labors validated in the eyes of the public.
Moving beyond the designer’s room, there was a series of displays that demonstrated prop building techniques, complimented by authentic prototype models and finished products. One of the most interesting of these artifacts was a design maquette of the creature from Toho’s aborted Hammer co-production NESSIE. Creature effects are also demonstrated, showing displays of molds and castings for various parts of suits and models… there’s even a Godzilla suit from DESTOROYAH, Varan’s head from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and the original Gigan’s buzzsaw.
Forced perspective filming is beautifully demonstrated by a large miniature countryside set… it’s all distorted and out of proportion until you position your head where a camera would theoretically be placed, and suddenly it looks vast and natural. There’s even a sample backdrop painting done by the master of this technique, Fuchimu Shimakura. There’s also a “Making Of” film, a room full of models, and lots of art design and storyboards for Higuchi’s short film. It’s immersive, fascinating, too much to fully absorb in one viewing.
If you can make it through all this, then you get your chance to snap up goods in the amply stocked gift shop. And before you leave, don’t forget to get your chance to walk through the miniature city display and imagine yourself as Godzilla… just don’t actually destroy anything.
Visiting the exhibition on a Sunday afternoon during summer vacation was not exactly the best time for viewing because of the crush of people in attendance, yet at the same time, there was something oddly satisfying about the experience. The fact that there were so many people, young and old, men and women, willing to stand in long lines and fight the crowds to see original art and miniature props, many from long ago, was actually encouraging. In today’s CG-saturated era, there are still plenty of people who have an appreciation for the old analog ways. The exhibit embodied much of the spirit that those of us who made the documentary film BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE (2008) wanted to convey to our audience, an appreciation for the technique of miniature special effects and for the artists and craftsmen that made it all possible. As I walked out the door of the museum and into the oppressive heat of the late afternoon, I could still hear singing…
Tokusatsu- Special Effects Museum-Craftsmanship of Showa and Heisei Eras Seen Through Miniatures runs through October 8, 2012 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo from 10am to 6pm daily, closed on Mondays.
About Gaijin Channel
Filmmaker JR Lipartito and SciFi Japan writer Jim M. Ballard make up creative duo behind Gajin Channel. Both have worked on television and corporate/client works but found that to be quite uninspiring nor even much challenge. So they left that world and joined a young multimedia company called ACTV, with high hopes of making a living doing nothing but creating cool web videos and mobile apps!