DORAKO; REBORN DORAKO (making) #1

Dorako design drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “I applied the skin and color of the oniyanma to a kaiju.”

Oniyanma is the largest species of the dragonfly in Japan. That being said, I feel like it is quite hard to associate Dorako with the oniyanma as the kaiju makes it likely that some sculptural features were incorporated into it with its entire form and the tile-like texture so that they make the kaiju look more like a sculptural art work than a creature in my opinion.

While I totally admire Ryosaku Takayama, along with Narita’s design, for his work of sculpting the insect-like wings so excellently, as it was supposed to have its left hand shaped like a sickle and right hand like a tape measure, Takayama seems to have had a very hard time to sculpt the right hand to make the mechanism work.

Enlarged head part of the above design

As there is a weapon called “kusari-gama” (sickle and chain) often portrayed as a weapon to be used by the ninja in period dramas, the tape measure hand seems to be designed to give out a chain or something in combination with the sickle hand, or at least chances are that it was supposed to have the right hand with something like a whip that would roll out like the chameleon tongue.

At any rate, the tape measure hand was replaced by another sickle hand (probably on the set as the costume is found to have a sickle hand and tape measure hand when it was delivered to the Bisen studio) after all so that Dorako had sickles on both hands finally.

To prove this, the costume that actually appeared in the show had a slightly differently shaped sickle for each hand.

Dorako at the Bisen studio with his sickle and chain hands

ANOTHER DIMENSION TRAIN (making)

Odakyū 3100 Train (the sign says Hakone)

The “Another Dimension Train” that appeared in the final episode of “Ultra Q” titled “Open Up!” was the miniature of the real-life train called “Odakyū (company’s name) Romancecar” officially identified as “Odakyū 3100 Train” while it was operated from 1964 to 2000 connecting Shinjuku, Tokyo, and Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, known for its picturesque scenery including Mt. Fuji.

The shape of the train truly evokes a feeling of nostalgia to me as the design appears to be typical to the Showa Period (1926-1989) I spent my childhood with. It should also be an unforgettable train for Ultra fans because it impressively appeared in “Ultraseven” Episode 2 with Alien Waiell in disguise of Ishiguro on board.

from Ultraseven Episode 2

The same miniature as the one used in “Open Up!” can also be found to appear in “Ultra Q” Episode 10 as a train passing through New Tokyo Station where Super Express Train Inazuma was about to leave for Kyūshū.

If my memory is correct, the miniature could still remain in existence and could have been covered in a book while I don’t remember which book it was.

It is widely known that this “Open Up!” episode was not aired when the series broadcast for the first time as the broadcasting of the episode was decided to be deferred because it could put a damper on the rising popularity caused by the Ultra Q episodes predominantly featuring kaiju characters while “Open Up!” had none of them and could have been too difficult for children to understand as it was a plot worked out as one of the “UNBALANCE” episodes before the show turned into “Ultra Q” in accordance with its shift into a kaiju series from the sci-fi show featuring mysterious phenomena.

from Ultra Q Episode 10

“Open Up!” was an episode Hajime Tsuburaya, Eiji Tsuburaya’s first son, put so much energy into by directing it while being inspired by the script written by an up-and-coming female script writer Mieko Osanai that triggered Hajime into deciding to join the staff for “UNBALANCE.”

Nevertheless Takashi Kakoi made up his mind to postpone airing the episode, and “Ultraman Eve Festival” was broadcast instead so as to develop the popularity of kaiju characters before the sequel “Ultraman” started broadcasting a week later.

It is said that Hajime reluctantly agreed to Kakoi’s suggestion to make the episode broadcast when the rerun of the series would air, and it was actually broadcast as the rerun was shown. It seems that there were some children who were surprised to see the episode they hadn’t watched abruptly aired (I don’t think I was one of them because I was too young then).

from Ultra Q Episode 10

Glancing At A Toy Store With Ultraman Gaia On Display

The other day, I visited a certain place of Tokyo as I had something to do there and found a toy store on the street. Toy stores in town are becoming a real rarity these days in Japan as many mom-and-pop toy stores have been replaced by major electric appliances chain stores that sell toys as well and also probably with fewer children due to the decreasing birthrate here in Japan.

Although I didn’t have time to take a close look at the items the store had, at a first glance, a figure of Ultraman Gaia came into my sight.

Ultraman Gaia was, as you surely know, one of the series usually called “Heisei (the current era of Japan starting in 1989) Trilogy” consisting of “Ultraman Tiga,” “Ultraman Dyna” and “Ultraman Gaia.”

 

While I have to admit I have not been so much drawn to the Heisei Trilogy as the original Trilogy comprising “Ultra Q,” “Ultraman” and “Ultraseven” aired in the Showa Period (1926-1989), I am fully aware that each of the Heisei series is enjoyable enough.

Especially, Ultraman Gaia is an unforgettable show among the Heisei Trilogy for me because I enjoyed watching it with my sons when they were cute little children.

Although they have already outgrown TV shows featuring superheroes, the memory of fun time I spent with my sons watching Gaia with a lot of excitement shared with them still remains etched vividly in my mind.

At any rate, the Heisei Trilogy is the series I hope to enjoy someday when I have time in the near future.


ALIEN BORG (making) #2

Alien Borg costume at the Bisen studio

Narita’s remark tells us that the soft-looking appearance of the costume was somewhat unsatisfactory to him as it is meant to be an alien with the solidity and rigidity of the armor, so he seems to have thought of bringing the costume sculpted by Takayama over to Gunji modeling factory where such props as the Ultra Hawks were made.

It is interesting that the costume photographed at Takayama’s Atelier May apparently has a shorter and smaller head while what happened to it is left unknown even though at least the height should obviously have been extended sometime later.

As to the suit actor who played this alien, it had long been told it was Eiichi Kikuchi who acted Ultraman in “Return of Ultraman” in later years, but Kikuchi himself says in a book he doesn’t remember it at all.

Tetsuo Yamamura says it could have been Kunio Suzuki as he remembers he felt it was a  bit shame to find the good-looking costume didn’t fit Suzuki perfectly. There is an explanation that the human-sized Alien Borg was played by Kikuchi.

In my personal experience, I vividly remember one of my friends knowlegeably told me that this was the kaiju who would appear in the Ultraseven episode to come next pointing at the cover of an issue of Shonen Magazine (above) we happened to find when we were kids and the series was just being aired for the first time.

I found a blog seemingly run by the daughter of Soya Kondo who played the human form of Alien Borg by chance, and the daughter writes it makes her happy to find her beloved mother still stays in people’s minds through the show Ultraseven.


ALIEN BORG (making) #1

Alien Borg illustration drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “Pitt, Shaplay, Cannan and Borg are a series of aliens with abstract forms. I had the armor and helmet in mind for Alien Borg. This type of alien has to be made of metal, or at least metallic parts should be applied to its large part to realize the image. I thought of bringing the costume sculpted by Takayama to the model factory Gunji to complete it, but I gave up the idea.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the design of Alein Borg drawn by Narita doesn’t remain in existence, and his illustration of the alien is covered in one of his art books instead.

Alien Borg is one of my favorite aliens with excellent looks while it is also fun that it is set to be a female alien although she looks so masculine with the armor-and-helmet-like appearance.

Alien Borg costume at Ryosaku Takayama’s Atelier May

While the design is supposed to be based on the armor, I find it so fascinating that Narita’s sculptural ideas were incorporated into every part of the design including the thin lines patterned all over the body. The head with the crest-like rises and radiating lines instead of the eyes are also very much unique and attractive. The asymmetrically shaped shoulder protectors are fun to see as well.

It is said that Alien Borg was originally designed as Kacchū-Ningen (Armor Human) that was to appear in the rejected episode titled “Vengence of 300 Years” written by Shozo Uehara. Kacchū-Ningen seems to have been set as the butler who serves Alien Tōku (maybe Tawk or something if spelled in English) in the episode left unrealized.


GUIGASS (making)

Guigass design drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “I designed it with the image of strength above all.”

As it is well known among fans, the costume of Guigass was remodeled from that of Hydra. Hydra was sculpted by Ex Production and the remodeling into Guigass was also done by the same company. So Narita’s design should have been naturally drawn on the assumption that the costume was to be based on Hydra.

Tetsuo Yamamura says in the Ultraman Research Book that the costume was very heavy with the feeling of weight felt around the shoulders leaving the arms only movable with the parts below the elbows when worn.

Enlarged head part of the design

Keizo Murase says in the same section of the book it actually had a pile of lead weights in the shoulders while the purpose is left unexplained in the passage.

Partly because Guigass was a kaiju less impressive along with its appearance that makes it look just like an abominable snowman, I didn’t notice it was remodeled from Hydra for a long time before I was told so. Nevertheless, the sculpture of the costume is so excellent along with Hydra.

Photo allegedly taken at Ex Production

In my personal impression, Ex Production did a very good job in sculpting Ultra kaijus alongside of those sculpted by Ryosaku Takayama as I believe the production company was also involved in sculpting “kaijin (mysterious human)” characters for the series “Kamen Rider” in later years.

Putting it the other way around, the fact that Takayama sculpted his kaijus as much excellently makes his ability as a sculptor look even more outstanding while he was actually a “painter,” not a sculptor, although Ex Production consisted of staff who had been deeply involved in Kaiju sculpting for Toho movies as skilled sculptors.


TODOLA (making)

This snapshot is explained to have been taken in the Toho storage where the costumes of King Kong used as Goro in Ultra Q and Todola returned from Tsuburaya Productions can be found (with junior high student visitors?)

While Todola was a kaiju featured in “Ultra Q” before Tohl Narita got involved in designing kaijus for the series, there is almost nothing to say about the kaiju that was a mere giant form of a sea lion as his name was just based on the combination between todo (sea lion) and la, sort of a suffix that often follows a kaiju’s name.

As I described in my Kaiju Pictorial article on the character (linked as above), Todola was based on Magma, the kaiju that appeared in the 1962 Toho movie “Gorath” by having whiskers added to the costume.

It is said that the script of this episode had been written by Hiroyasu Yamaura when the show was being planned as “UNBALANCE,” the planned predecessor of “Ultra Q,” and it was rewritten by Tetsuo Kinjo into the final script on the occasion that Takashi Kakoi decided the series to be produced as a kaiju series instead of dealing with only mysterious phenomena as previously planned for “UNBALANCE.”

 

Therefore, chances are that this episode was not planned to feature any kaiju in it initially and that Todola was a character added to it when the script was rewritten by Kinjo. So this episode is described in a book on Ultra Q as the one that ended up being left at the mercy of the transition from “UNBALANCE” to “Ultra Q.”

Actually, Magma also seems to have been the kaiju abruptly added to “Gorath” as Toho requested Eiji Tsuburaya to make a kaiju appear in the movie since it features tokusatsu by Tsuburaya.

It is explained that Magma was the first kaiju FRP was used for as a material (for his tusks) while Keizo Murase came up with the idea of using the material and that Eiji Tsuburaya admired the tusks saying, “Where did you find out such ivory?” And it seems that Tsuburaya looked so happy when he was told it was the new material.


Thank You In Advance, Tokusatsu

“Ultraman Tanjō/The Birth of Ultraman” with the use of a Kaiyodo Ultraman figure for the cover wrongly described as Type B on the flap of the cover although it is Type C Ultraman

Regarding how Ultraseve fought with Star Bem Gyeron, while how Ultraseven dealt with the kaiju could make the fight look unfair in a way, what comes to my mind is the description made by Akio Jissoji in one of his books titled “Ultraman Tanjō/The Birth of Ultraman” published by Chikuma Shobō in 2006.

In that book, Jissoji says everything was left to the tokusatsu staff to make the tokusatsu part of the show filmed at their discretion for the series. And it was not a rarity that the details of fight scene between Ultra heroes and a kaiju character/characters were just left out in the script only with the description indicating it is the tokusatsu scene with an arrow like → and the word “tokusatsu yoroshiku.”

“Yoroshiku” should mean “thank you in advance” in this case while the expression is often found to be used in conversations among Japanese people in various meanings such as when greeting someone or asking others for something. So the description in the script represents “leaving it to the tokusatsu staff, thank you in advance.”

 

As the result, I assume there could have been cases where what happened in the tokusatsu part ended up slightly mismatching the theme of the episode.

As to the effort paid by the tokusatus staff for the tokusatus parts, in the book authored by Jissoji, he refers to the statement made by Koichi Takano, tokusatsu director, as Takano put it as below:

“Although we made efforts to work out something new each time, pressed by the deadline for broadcasting, it was only natural we couldn’t work on something that would require a lot of extra work afterwards (probably optical compositing, etc.). We had to give up on things that would require a lot of preparation and an elaborate set even though we wanted to do it.

“Fight scenes with kaijus were no exception. While there were many things we would rather do such as filming in different sets, devising the use of gunpowder or the expression of beams/rays, and increasing composited images, we couldn’t make it due to time and money. So, as the last-ditch effort or the most straightforward means, it unintentionally ended up having Ultraman and a kaiju perform professional wrestling pretend play frequently.”


STAR BEM GYERON (making) #2

According to Tetsuo Yamamura, the costume was found painted light purple (fuji-iro=wisteria color) when it was delivered to the set, and he says it was very much beautiful.  He states the repainting work was done by the staff from the art section of Tsuburaya Productions as repainting often happened to kaiju costumes delivered to the studio.

The set where Gyeron appeared with flowers in bloom all over the field and a stream meant to be a river flowing was fantastic, and I am fully aware that the use of the fluffy stuff coming out of the wing torn off the body was a considerate arrangement not to show blood to kid viewers along with the yellow blood spewing out of the kaiju’s throat cut by Ultraseven with Eye Slugger held in his hand that looked different from real blood.

I do love Uenishi Seven as much as Furuya Ultraman!

Nevertheless, the scene of having Ultraseven tear off Gyeron’s wing could have been too cruel, and there seem to have been some children who thought along with the sympathy they felt for the stellar beast, “Oh, stop it, Seven! That’s enough!”

I myself find the scene a bit repulsive when I watch it now, but this episode featuring Gyeron is very much thought-provoking at any rate, and it could be one of the reasons that “Ultraseven” is often described as the series “worthy of appreciation by adults” although I personally don’t like this hackneyed Japanese cliche very much (also wondering if it makes sense in English) as I heartily admire Tohl Narita’s attitude while he put it as “the show to be watched by children makes the work even harder because you can’t fool them.”


STAR BEM GYERON (making) #1

Star Bem Gyeron design drawn by Tohl Narita

Tohl Narita: “This is a kaiju that has metallic wings.”

While Narita’s description of Star Bem Gyeron is so much simple that it might indicate he was not emotionally attached to the kaiju that much although it was so impressive for us as a tragic kaiju along with Jamyra who appeared in Ultraman.

It is also interesting that Gyeron is the only kaiju in the original Ultra Series who bears the title “Seijū (stellar beast),” while it seems to be translated as “Star Bem,” corresponding to “Seijin (stellar human)” that is the regular title for alien characters in the series.

Star Bem Gyeron at Ryosaku Takayama’s Atelier May

Although I had an impression that Gyeron was a sharp-looking kaiju, when taking a second look at the design by Narita, it makes me aware that it had a shape that was quite different from real-life creatures while it could be another example where Narita tried to hide the human body shape not to make it look like someone just wearing the costume.

It is said that real metal plates were used for the blade-like parts of its head and wings, and, while the costume was sculpted by Ryosaku Takayama, I think the look of its face with the slanting eyes as if expressing hatred and hostility of the stellar beast whose home was destroyed by the earthlings is excellent.

It is intriguing to find an enlarged eye added to the side of Gyeron in the drawing, which could show Natita might have been particular about how it should look.