Hajime Tsuburaya, who was a director of the Ultraman series (1966-1967), took great pleasure in the tradition of treating his team to drinks after finishing the day's filming. Kazuho Mitsuta, the principal director of Ultraseven (1967-1968), remembers those moments fondly.
"We would often visit a yakitori eatery in Soshigaya [Setagaya Ward, Tokyo], or a coffee shop that morphed into a bar due to the frequent presence of Tsuburaya Productions staff," he recalls. "We'd remove the handle from the ice bucket and pour in an entire bottle of whisky. We dubbed it the 'Ultra on the Rock' and passed it around for all to share."
Such memories capture his jovial spirit, but Hajime Tsuburaya also often took the role of an attentive listener during after-work drinks. Back in 1966, when Ultra Q (1965-1967) was being made, Mitsuta was in his late twenties, while Hajime Tsuburaya was in his mid-thirties.
The Kaiju Boom
Without a doubt, Ultra Q ignited the kaiju trend. But as the series developed, it "became unrealistic to have ordinary people encounter monsters in every episode," explains Mitsuta.
The team solved the problem by creating the SSSP (Science Special Search Party) for the subsequent series. The SSSP is a team dedicated to fighting kaiju.
Mitsuta recalls the irony of scriptwriter Tetsuo Kinjo's comment: "It's shifted from the science fiction genre to the monster fiction genre."
Riding the wave of the kaiju boom, alongside an array of monstrous beings, the legendary hero Ultraman emerged.
The Charm and Pathos of Kaiju
Kiyotaka Taguchi is the lead director of the ongoing series Ultraman Blazar. Describing the original Ultraman series as "classic," he explains its timeless appeal.
"My personal favorite Ultraman series is the original. I believe that all the essential elements for enjoying Ultraman are encapsulated in the first generation."
In the Ultraman universe, one member of the defense team is, in fact, Ultraman in disguise. As the other team members grapple with the monsters and unfolding crises, Ultraman ultimately steps forward to resolve the situation. His true identity remains a secret among his comrades.
This enduring "classic" approach was forged by the original series, directed by Hajime Tsuburaya. The approach continues to be embraced by Ultraman Blazar.
"I also appreciate its format of standalone episodes, reminiscent of science fiction short stories. Also, the kaiju in the original series have a sort of charm that makes them endearing, despite their city-destroying rampages," Taguchi says.
"In the first series, the kaiju still feel like creatures of the wild. Much like a bear that has strayed into a town, Ultraman is compelled to defeat it because he has no other choice. I like the sense of pathos emanating from the scenes where the kaiju is being chased away."
Complexity and Depth
The original series already encompassed elements beyond a simple good-versus-evil structure. However, the subsequent Ultraseven introduced extraterrestrial invaders, with its narrative delving deeper into the notion that "even aliens have their reasons and perspectives." This added further layers of depth and complexity to the story.
Mitsuta firmly believes that "the enduring success of the subsequent series is owed to the meticulous craftsmanship that shaped the first Ultraman series."
Following Ultraseven, Hajime Tsuburaya briefly directed Operation: Mystery from 1968 to 1969, then stepped back from the directorial role.
In 1969, he left TBS and joined Tsuburaya Productions. In 1970, he became the second-generation president following his father Eiji's passing. The year 1971 saw him producing Return of Ultraman and Mirrorman, even writing the lyrics for their theme songs. This resurgence rekindled the kaiju trend that had waned after Ultraseven.
The Legacy of Hajime Tsuburaya
Hajime Tsuburaya passed away suddenly on February 9, 1973. Mitsuta recalls, "I received a call saying the president had collapsed and was taken to the hospital." At the time, all Mitsuta thought was that Tsuburaya would finally get some rest. Just the previous night, he had been out drinking with staff members.
By the time Mitsuta went to Tsuburaya's home, his lifeless body had been sent back from the hospital. The cause of death was cerebral hemorrhage. Tsuburaya was only 41 years old.
"I was asked to deliver a eulogy on behalf of the staff, but I couldn't bring myself to do it," Mitsuta admits.
Now, 50 years after his passing, Mitsuta looks back with a sense of gratitude, saying, "He left behind a legacy of exceptional works. Whether it's Ultra Q, Ultraman, Ultraseven, or Operation: Mystery, each one of them is truly captivating."
Ultraman Blazar is currently airing on TV Tokyo on Saturdays at 9 am.
(Read the article in Japanese.)
Author: Mitsuhiro Uno