SciFi JAPAN TV #10: Art of Godzilla: Yasuyuki Inoue Tribute 第１０話「ゴジラの美実〜井上泰幸の追悼」
Special Thanks to Toshio Miike and Oki Miyano
A SCIFI JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
About The Episode
Marking the anniversary of his death last year on February 19th, SciFi JAPAN TV pays tribute to one of the unsung heroes of Toho’s classic special effects films; art director Yasuyuki Inoue.
The late Mr Inoue’s art and miniatures helped shape the look of and feel of the entire tokusatsu genre, which has now endured for six decades. We have brought together many of his friends and colleagues to discuss Mr Inoue’s work and the life of the art staff at Toho Studios during Japan’s golden age of fantasy films.
We would like to extend our thanks to Toshio Miike, art director on the Heisei Godzilla and Gamera series, for his great efforts arranging and hosting this special episode of SciFi JAPAN TV.
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!
The show’s future relies on its popularity, so if you enjoyed it and would like to see more, we do urge you to like, comment, subscribe and share this video with all your friends! We’re eager to hear your comments and suggestions: please send the production team your comments via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Google+, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
The Legacy of Yasuyuki Inoue
Author: Keith Aiken
If you are a fan of the Golden Age of Toho special effects films, you are a fan of Yasuyuki Inoue. Inoue was a master of the style of hands-on, practical effects work known in Japan as “Tokubi”, and was responsible for creating many of the fantastic creatures, locations, vehicles and machines seen in Toho’s films from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Born in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1923, Yasuyuki Inoue got his start in the film industry in 1953 by designing models and props for Shintoho Studios productions such as SUBMARINE RO HASN’T SURFACED (潜水艦ろ号 未だ浮上せず, Sensuikan Ro Gou Imada Fujou Sezu, 1954). In 1954, he was recruited to Toho to work for special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya on GODZILLA (ゴジラ, Gojira). Inoue created blueprints and helped build many of the miniature sets for the film, including the incredibly detailed Tokyo locations destroyed during Godzilla’s legendary nighttime rampage.
Following GODZILLA, Inoue worked on nearly all of Toho’s science fiction and fantasy pictures for the next three decades, becoming the head of Toho’s Special Effects Art Department. He and his crew — which included Akinori Takagi, Mutsumi Toyoshima, Toshiro Aoki and Naoyuki Yoshimura — created the miniature cities and landscapes depicted in such films as RODAN (空の大怪獣 ラドン, Sora no Daikaijuu Radon, 1956) and MOTHRA (モスラ, Mosura, 1961); the forests of FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (フランケンシュタイン対地底怪獣バラゴン, Furankenshutain Tai Chitei Kaijuu Baragon, 1965) and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ, Furankenshutain no Kaijuu: Sanda tai Gaira, 1966); and vehicles and spaceships like the Maser Cannons, the Moonlight SY-3 (from DESTROY ALL MONSTERS), the Alpha and the Black Shark (LATITUDE ZERO) and the Super-X (THE RETURN OF GODZILLA). Inoue would also design such monster favorites as Hedorah and Ebirah, and was even responsible for building the famous “Big Pool”, first constructed for the WWII film THE STORM OF THE PACIFIC (ハワイ・ミッドウェイ大海空戦 太平洋の嵐, Hawai Middouei Daikaikusen: Taiheiyo no Arashi, 1960) and used in countless Toho FX productions.
Despite their vast contributions to Japanese FX cinema, the role of the Special Effects Art Department was largely unknown and unheralded — both in Japan and the United States — for decades. This finally began to change in recent years as Yasuyuki Inoue and Akinori Takagi were special guests of the American Cinematheque’s week-long “Godzilla 50th Anniversary” film festival in Hollywood, and in 2008 the Special Effects Art Department was profiled in the English language documentary BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE.
On December 28, 2011, Kinema Junpo published the book, The World of Special Effects Art Design by Yasuyuki ‘Taiko’ Inoue (特撮映画美術監督 井上泰幸), in which Inoue wrote about his life and the Special Effects Art Department’s work on the classic Japanese FX films. The World of Special Effects Art Design by Yasuyuki ‘Taiko’ Inoue also includes contributions from members of Inoue’s crew as well as modern filmmakers whose own work was inspired and influenced by the older generation. The book’s cover was designed by Shinji Higuchi, the FX director of the 1990s Gamera trilogy and director of SINKING OF JAPAN (日本沈没, Nihon Chinbotsu, 2006) and HIDDEN FORTRESS: THE LAST PRINCESS (隠し砦の三悪人 THE LAST PRINCESS, Kakushi Toride no San-Akunin: The Last Princess, 2008). The foreword was written by Hideaki Anno, creator of the hit anime NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shin Seiki Evangerion, 1995–1996) and the current “Rebuild of Evangelion” movies.
Yasuyuki Inoue died on February 19, 2012. He was 89 years old. On April 14, nearly 60 friends and co-workers gathered at Inoue’s home to honor his memory with a farewell party. With his passing, a major piece of Toho’s history is gone… but the wonders he helped bring to the silver screen will continue to enthrall and entertain viewers for many generations to come.
Friends and Fans Remember Yasuyuki Inoue
You have devoted 89 years of your life to the pioneering of Special Effects and their development in Japan. From the original GODZILLA film released in 1954 to GODZILLA VS HEDORAH in 1971, you helped Special Effects Director Eiji Tsuburaya as the head of the art and effects department who designed the sets and the monster characters for the productions. When you were invited to Hollywood to attend the 50th year anniversary of the Godzilla films, we asked the MC to read my words,” Eiji Tsuburaya was the father of special effects in Japan. And you are the mother.”
Indeed, you have made an incredible contribution to the creation of many wonderful miniature effects and made many great Science Fiction films possible such as RODAN, MOTHRA, and MATANGO etc. that supported the Golden Age of Japanese film. And your creation of the marvellous monster Hedorah with its strong design, deeply impacted the younger audience when the film was released and made everyone conscious of the dangers and threats posed by pollution and other environmental issues.
Forty years later, because of GODZILLA VS HEDORAH that we made together along with your wonderful staff members, that project gave me the chance to participate in the production of the new Godzilla film now being developed at Legendary Pictures/Warner Brothers Studios. Inoue-san, please watch us and our new Godzilla from heaven. The giant monster will soon roar back to life to a new generation on theatre screens around the world.
Let us pray for the repose of your soul.
-Yoshimitsu Banno, Director, GODZILLA VS HEDORAH
Dear Japanese effects movie fans overseas,
We are in sadness of the loss of production designer, Mr. Yasuyuki Inoue, who had been the most important crew member for the special effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya.
Mr. Inoue was the very person who had improved the quality of the Japanese special effects to an international level. His unprecedented physical strength and concentration made this achievement possible. Mr.Inoue was not the sort of designer who simply followed orders from directors or producers. Rather, he challenged his bosses and led his art staff to improve the quality of movies.
Through super detailed and spectacular miniature sets for the Toho effects films, I see and feel Mr. Inoue and his team’s tireless high spirits and hard work dedicated to the movies.
Another truly great film person has passed away.
With my sincere condolences,
Yasuyuki Inoue was definitely the unsung hero of Toho special effects films. He was a visionary. A designer and artist who put on paper the images we eventually saw on the screen. The iconic vehicles, buildings, backgrounds and other scenes that we relive over and over to this day, every time we watch a Toho film or see pictures in a book or just imagine the movies in our minds.
Yes, Mr. Inoue was the craftsman of many of the memories that are stored in our minds.
Personally, Mr. Inoue came to my attention when we were preparing Godzillafest in San Francisco, our celebration of Godzilla’s 50th anniversary. We went down to Hollywood for the Egyptian’s event, which came a few months before ours. Mr. Inoue was one of the guests and when we arrived in the lobby, we were amazed to see the original art he had brought along. Designs from GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER, SON OF GODZILLA, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, GODZILLA VS HEDORAH and more.
Through Oki Miyano, I was able to secure a showing of Mr. Inoue’s art as part of our Godzillafest. We had reproductions of his artwork on display at he Japanese Cultural Center in San Francisco for the week leading up to the show. Again, board upon board, easel upon easel contained artwork that represented the best in Toho science fiction.
Later, when we went back to Hollywood for the premier of GODZILLA FINAL WARS, Oki handed me a miniature of the Super X from GODZILLA (1984), which was the last mecha that he designed. On the base was Mr. Inoue’s signature as a thanks for putting together the exhibit. Mr. Inoue was always very touched and very appreciative of any attention and adulation he got from fans in the US. Many of the Japanese actors and crew are very surprised that anyone over here even knows who they are, yet alone the fact that they actually have fans here.
Mr. Inoue always made sure to show his appreciation in return. It is just sad that he was not introduced to American audiences earlier in his life. But I am glad that he was able to feel the warmth and affection of the fans here before his unfortunate passing last month. He will definitely be missed by all.
Often, people not immersed in the tokusatsu eiga (special effects movie) genre will look at a Japanese science fiction movie and remark how “fake” it looks. The point they are missing is the Japanese esthetic appreciation of artifice. The art of making obviously artificial representations of nature in gardens, especially bonsai cultivation, is prized in Japanese culture. A miniature pine tree is clearly “fake” but the artistic concept and clever execution of the imitation design is judged more desirable than realism.
Mr. Yasuyuki Inoue was a primary art director under famed Director of Special Effects Eiji Tsuburaya for the special effects sets, super weapons and monsters that define the genre especially during the Showa era, considered the Golden age of Baroque Japanese Giant Critter Pictures. I was not really familiar with Mr. Inoue’s career, but I quickly came up to speed when he visited Hollywood during the summer of 2004 to be a guest at the American Cinematheque’s Godzilla 50th Anniversary events.
I was lucky enough to be invited to meet Mr. Inoue and his friend and colleague Mr. Akinori Takagi In the office of the Egyptian theater before the programs began. The two Japanese gentlemen were seemingly holding court with an aura of dignity that made me feel I was in the presence of royalty. I made awkward small talk about how much I admired their artistry and craftsmanship with Oki Miyano interpreting. As Mr. Takagi looked on approvingly, Mr. Inoue seemed pleased that I was familiar with some of his contributions to the movies I love. I brought a couple of Japanese books for signing. Both guests signed their elegant formal signatures in the back of my Toho SFX Mechanic Chronicles book.
I also brought my Super Weaponry in the Toho SFX Films book because it has an interview with Mr. Inoue and a nice portrait that I wanted him to sign. After he signed the interview picture, we started looking through the book. When we came to page seventeen, he spotted a photo from LATITUDE ZERO of the Submarine Alpha and suddenly, enthusiastically gestured for a pen to sign the picture. That autograph is my favorite because he signed over a background cliff that somehow perfectly complements the submarine. I wasn’t able to learn exactly why that photo was so special to him, but I treasure the memory of Mr. Inoue excitedly insisting on putting his signature on a photo he liked. His apparent pride reflected a youthful enthusiasm that successfully made a hobby his life’s work.
During the American cinematheque week Mr. Inoue treated us to many stories, but I treasure a tale he personally told me after the public events at the Egyptian Theater.
I attended a small informal dinner at Miceli’s in Hollywood, where Mr. Takagi and Mr. Inoue were the honored guests. I asked Mr. Inoue if he had any special memories from the production of THE MYSTERIANS. As soon as the question was translated by Oki, Mr. Inoue immediately brightened, sat up straight and animatedly told me a tale of inside politics on the set of a major Japanese science fiction movie. After an intricate scene of destruction was filmed, the Director of Special Effects Eiji Tsuburaya told Mr. Inoue the shot was no good; the set needed to be rebuilt and the scene filmed again. Mr. Inoue said he asked why the shot was no good and Mr. Tsuburaya replied it was Mr. Inoue’s fault and that was the end of the matter. Mr. Inoue persisted asking what was his mistake and Mr. Tsuburaya grew angry at this insubordination and ended the discussion. Later, according to Mr. Inoue, Mr. Tsuburaya took him aside and conceded the mistake had actually been made by another technician, but it was wrong for Mr. Inoue to question him in front of the crew. Mr. Inoue said he learned his lesson not to question Mr. Tsuburaya publicly, but he gleefully related his happiness at being vindicated of a technical error.
The next summer I went to G-FEST 2005 and helped Ed Godziszewski set up a room full of Mr. Inoue’s art: concept paintings, miniature building and landscape set designs, monster design sketches and various graphics and other illustrations. After spending some time hanging and arranging the art, I continued to marvel at how important Mr. Inoue was in the creative process. Not only did he conceive of the designs in production sketches, he produced the blueprints describing the engineering and construction including an estimated budget for the materials needed to build the sets.
After having the opportunity to spend some time with Mr. Inoue the previous summer, I truly enjoyed viewing the contributions he has made to the special effects movie genre.
I would encourage anyone who has not yet seen BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE, the documentary by Norman England, Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle, to view it to see Mr. Inoue’s achievements.
I can’t claim I knew Yasuyuki Inoue. I only met him twice. The first time, at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, was so brief it’s barely worth mentioning. My friend Ed Godziszewski introduced me to him as a guy who worked for Tsuburaya Productions. He seemed surprised to learn that Tsuburaya had a non-Japanese person working for them. We exchanged greetings and that was that.
The second time I met Mr. Inoue was much more memorable. Ed and Steve Ryfle were working with Norman England to create a documentary about the making of the Toho special effects films of the fifties and sixties. In exchange for some help I gave them in making contacts with folks at Tsuburaya Productions, Ed and Steve allowed me to hang around at Mr. Inoue’s workshop during the filming of some of the interview segments with him.
It was fascinating to hear him talk. I’m such a geek that for me one of the greatest parts of any Toho monster film were the miniature sets. I always used to marvel at their detail and wonder what kind of person could build such intricate and beautiful models just to have some guy in a rubber dinosaur costume kick them over. Now I was getting to meet the very person who made most of those models.
I also saw in Mr. Inoue some of the aspects of Japanese culture that I’d had to learn to deal with when I lived there. Eiji Tsuburaya routinely took all the credit for the effects in the Toho monster films. And yet Eiji himself, it might be argued, never really did much of anything. He never built any of those intricate miniature sets. He didn’t make the monster costumes. He didn’t design the monsters. Towards the end of his career, Eiji didn’t even set up a lot of the shots. His assistants did that for him. And yet somehow he guided the whole process. His creative vision was what the others who worked for him labored to bring to life.
I remember Mr. Inoue addressing this matter during the interview. I can’t recall exactly what he said. But I do remember that he wasn’t resentful about not getting due credit for his work. He was satisfied to be part of the team. But now, as he was getting old and Eiji was long gone, he felt like it was OK to assert his own achievements.
It’s an interesting attitude that runs counter to the way we Americans do things. We want our credit. It’s not just a matter of ego, either. In the USA, not getting proper credit on a film can mean not getting paid for what you did. So even if you’re not an ego maniac you have to be assertive about what work was yours. It’s not like that in Japan. At least it wasn’t in the time that Yasuyuki Inoue was working with Eiji Tsuburaya. It’s changing a little these days. But I myself often had to forego credit for my own work at Tsuburaya in the 1990s. It was tough. And it still ruffles me sometimes when I think about it. I guess maybe it ruffled Mr. Inoue a little too.
I’m glad I got to meet him, however briefly. He was one of the greats in the world of cinema. His contributions will be known for a long time. I’m glad he’s finally getting credit for them.
With the passing of former Toho special effects art director Yasuyuki Inoue, there is no doubt that the world of special effects has lost one of it most prominent players. Anyone who has enjoyed Toho’s special effects films, especially those from its Golden Era, is no doubt intimately familiar with his work, although it is a shame that to this day, many people are still unfamiliar with his name and his numerous contributions to these films. While special effects directors like Eiji Tsuburaya certainly deserve credit for what has been accomplished in these films, the indispensible contributions of people such as Yasuyuki Inoue and his staff have been sorely overlooked for many years. While I had been researching and writing about Japanese special effects for many years, I must admit that I had fallen into that same trap. Intuitively speaking, of course you realize that one person really could not have done it all alone, but the legend of Tsuburaya and his talent was nearly all that I knew. But without people like Mr Inoue to help create what Eiji Tsuburaya conjured up, Tsuburaya’s dreams would have remained locked away in his imagination. Having the good fortune to meet with Mr Inoue and learn about the work of the special effects art department brought my understanding of the world of Japanese special effects to a whole new level. But rather than merely talk about Mr Inoue’s films and special effects accomplishments, which literally speak for themselves, I would instead like to take this opportunity to reveal a little bit about the man himself who I came to know over the past 8 years.
It was with great pleasure that I was able to meet Mr Inoue in June 2004 when he came to Hollywood to be recognized for his contributions to Japanese science fiction films. The tail end of a business trip to the West Coast allowed me to be on hand for one day of the American Cinematheque’s 50th Anniversary Godzilla Tribute at which Mr Inoue was invited to speak. Shortly before this time, I had met Oki Miyano, a special effects enthusiast who had moved to Los Angeles from Japan. Oki had been instrumental in arranging Mr Inoue’s visit, and he kindly introduced me to him before one of the festival screenings. Having heard from Oki that Mr Inoue had recently been recovering from a stroke, I was surprised to see that despite his physical condition and having flown half way across the world, he still showed great energy and had a kind spirit that reached past the language barrier that stood between us. Like so many people who came to meet him, I was initially drawn by my interest in his amazing work in the motion picture industry, and I felt a bit intimidated in his presence. It’s times like this where my utter inability to master even a basic level of Japanese left me especially frustrated. But even though our initial meeting was but a short one, Mr Inoue kindly invited me to visit his home a few months later during my next business trip to Japan. It was at this time and during subsequent visits that I would come to know Mr Inoue not just an artist, but as a person. Mr Inoue and his wife Reiko (an accomplished sculpture artist in her own right) were always such gracious hosts, welcoming me to their house, sharing stories of their careers, showing me their creations.
In particular I recall my first visit where, with Oki’s patient help, we talked late into the night, sharing stories about our interests and lives. While special effects may have been the initial reason for our meeting, I could also feel the warmth of his personality, and it meant a lot to me that this meeting also became the beginning of a friendship. Over the time which I knew him, I came to understand what an amazing person he really was… not only was he a talented artist in his own right with an incredible work ethic, he was also a highly respected leader who influenced several generations of his colleagues.
When we met, Mr Inoue was always surrounded by his co-workers… despite my lack of Japanese skill, I could plainly see the incredible bond between Mr Inoue and this group of men, something that went far beyond the ordinary working relationship of a supervisor and his staff. They respected Mr Inoue not only as someone who supervised their work, but who also influenced they way they lived. This was a community of people who, under Mr Inoue’s leadership, shared a deep passion for their work and gave their best effort all the time. By all accounts, Mr Inoue was a strict and demanding task master, yet to a man each of his assistants were fiercely loyal to him and had great pride in what they accomplished together under less than ideal circumstances, laboring in nearly complete anonymity. A job well done was reward enough for them. Those who criticize Japanese special effects would never do so if they could meet these men. And even now, with most of them in retirement, their bond remained as strong as ever. It was a rare and moving experience to see this, a wonderful thing to behold. This is the kind of legacy that anyone who has held a leadership position can only wish to attain.
Also wonderful to behold were the amazing treasures of artwork I was shown and stories that I heard from Mr Inoue and his staff. I thought I had known a lot about Toho special effects films, but that wasn’t really true. They opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of special effects that had remained hidden from public view for so long. It was my great pleasure to help bring his story to Western fans in the pages of Japanese Giants and in the documentary film BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE… to give him and his colleagues some long overdue recognition. One of the greatest experiences in my life was to see Mr Inoue taking on the role of director during the special effects demonstration which he and his staff created for our documentary film. It may sound corny, but I could really feel the spirit of Golden Age Toho special effects films in Mr Inoue’s workshop that day as several generations of staff members all came together to create a small piece of cinematic magic. I hope through this tribute that people can also come to understand that, not only was he an amazing special effects artist, he was also a fine person.
I am pleased that I was able to see Mr Inoue one last time this past November, just after his 89th birthday. I know it had been a difficult time for him since his wife Reiko had passed away nearly two years ago, but he was still cheerful and kindly welcomed me. Though few words passed between us, we still enjoyed sharing time together, looking at the gallies for a book commemorating his career that would be published in January. I am so very pleased that he lived to see this affirmation of his career in print. Before leaving, he gave me a small sculpture of Reiko’s which I am sure must have been very dear to him, and I will always treasure it. My future visits to Japan will come with a sad feeling, knowing that I will not have the chance to see him again. But I am deeply appreciative for the brief time I could share with him. His memory will live on through his enormous body of work. I will never forget him.
About Gaijin Channel
Filmmaker JR Lipartito and SciFi Japan writer Jim M. Ballard make up creative duo behind the Gajin Channel project. 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!
For more information on Yasuyuki Inoue and the Toho Special Effects Art Department please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects (First Look, Part 1)
- BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE: The Art of Japanese Special Effects (First Look, Part 2)
- INTERVIEW: BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE- PART 1
- Mutsumi Toyoshima – A Blueprint for Success
- Yasuyuki Inoue: 1922-2012