Monday, September 26, 2011


Eiji Tsuburaya got his start in filmmaking as the cameraman for A PAGE OF MADNESS (1926), a powerful re-imagining of one of the most important German Expressionist films ever.  Jump forward 40 years, and the same man created ULTRA Q (1966-67), a truly striking Japanese interpretation of one of the most popular television series ever.  These works display a culture that looked beyond its borders for inspiration, and was able to learn, excel, and create works of incredible art that stand firmly on their own.

The story I heard, is that the director, Teinosuke Kinugasa, read about Robert Wiene's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919), but was unable to see the film as it wasn't coming to Japan at that time.  So sight unseen, he attempted to make his own version, taking liberties with what he imagined German Expressionist films might look like.  If the story's true, Teinosuke may have also pieced together his own script that resembled a newspaper review of the original German film.  As opposed to Caligari, this Japanese film focuses on a mother who goes mad and drowns her baby.  She is sent to an insane asylum, and her grieving husband decides to take a job in the asylum as a janitor so he can at least be near her.  Surrounded by the mentally unstable, the janitor begins to lose his mind, too.

I don't know how true the story of the film's inspiration came about actually is, but the man I bought my vhs copy from years ago, also said that the one remaining print of the film was only available to us today because the director hid the print in a water-tight container in a rice paddy during the Allied Forces' bombardment of Japan during WW2!  Like I said, questionable story, but exciting none the less!

Jumping ahead quite a bit, Tsuburaya moved from cameraman to special effects wizard, responsible for GODZILLA (1954) and all the subsequent kaiju, or giant monster, films.   He was able to bring to fruition a vision he had: THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1966)-meets-kaiju television series, called ULTRA Q (1966-1967).  ULTRA Q incorporated a mixture of children's stories, adult themes, science fiction subject matter, hepcat 1960's soundtracks, really imaginative plot lines and perhaps most importantly, monsters that etch themselves deeply into your mind once you see them in action!

At the time, the Tsuburaya's show was a massive hit in Japan, evolving into the runaway success series, ULTRAMAN (1966).  But you'd never know the scale of the ULTRA Q craze today, since it has never been fully translated into English or sold officially to the western world!  Here's a link to one episode, "The Gift from Space", that actually has been translated:  Ultra Q episode 3

There is an entire ULTRA Q series breakdown by episode in English, here, which is very helpful to explain some of the details of all the still untranslated ULTRA Q tales.

Over time many of the kaiju monsters have become larger than life.  But the full breadth of Eiji Tsuburaya's work, including A PAGE OF MADNESS and ULTRA Q, still deserves much more attention.  Inspiration is a two-way street.
Eiji Tsuburaya with some of the cast and creations from Ultra Q.