: 特撮, "special filming") is a Japanese term for live action film
or television drama
that makes heavy use of special effect
s. ''Tokusatsu'' entertainment often deals with science fiction
, but films and television shows in other genres can sometimes count as ''tokusatsu'' as well. The most popular types of tokusatsu include kaiju
monster films such as the ''Godzilla
'' and ''Gamera
'' film series; superhero
TV serials such as the ''Kamen Rider
'' and ''Metal Hero
'' series; and mecha
dramas like ''Giant Robo
'' and ''Super Robot Red Baron
''. Some ''tokusatsu'' television programs combine several of these subgenres, for example the ''Ultraman
'' and ''Super Sentai
''Tokusatsu'' is one of the most popular forms of Japanese entertainment, but despite the popularity of films and television programs based on ''tokusatsu'' properties such as ''Godzilla'' or ''Super Sentai'', only a small proportion of ''tokusatsu'' films and television programs are widely known outside and inside Asia.
''Tokusatsu'' has origins in early Japanese theater
, specifically in kabuki
(with its action- and fight-scenes) and in bunraku
, which utilized some of the earliest forms of special effects, specifically puppetry
. Modern ''tokusatsu'', however, did not begin to take shape until the early 1950s, with the conceptual and creative birth of Godzilla
, one of the most famous monsters (''kaiju'') of all time.
The special-effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya
and the director Ishirō Honda
became the driving forces behind 1954's ''Godzilla
''. Tsuburaya, inspired by the American film ''King Kong
'', formulated many of the techniques that would become staples of the genre, such as so-called suitmation
—the use of a human actor in a costume to play a giant monster—combined with the use of miniatures and scaled-down city sets. ''Godzilla'' forever changed the landscape of Japanese science fiction, fantasy, and cinema by creating a uniquely Japanese vision in a genre typically dominated by American cinema.
In 1954, ''Godzilla'' kickstarted the ''kaiju'' genre in Japan called the "Monster Boom", which remained extremely popular for several decades, with characters such as the aforementioned Godzilla, Gamera and King Ghidorah
leading the market. However, in 1957 Shintoho
produced the first film serial featuring the superhero character Super Giant
, signaling a shift in popularity that favored masked heroes over giant monsters called the "Henshin Boom" started by Kamen Rider
. Along with the anime
'', the ''Super Giant'' serials had a profound effect on the world of ''tokusatsu''. The following year, ''Moonlight Mask
'' premiered, the first of numerous televised superhero dramas that would make up one of the most popular ''tokusatsu'' subgenres. Created by Kōhan Kawauchi
, he followed-up its success with the tokusatsu superhero shows ''Seven Color Mask
'' (1959) and ''Messenger of Allah
'' (1960), both starring a young Sonny Chiba
These original productions preceded the first color-television ''tokusatsu'' series, ''Ambassador Magma
'' and ''Ultraman
'', which heralded the Kyodai Hero
genre, wherein a regular-sized protagonist grows to larger proportions to fight equally large monsters. Popular tokusatsu superhero shows in the 1970s included ''Kamen Rider
'' (1971), ''Warrior of Love Rainbowman
'' (1972), ''Super Sentai
'' (1975) and ''Spider-Man
in Japanese identifies the process in ''tokusatsu'' movies and television programs used to portray a monster using suit acting. The exact origin of the term remains unknown. At the least, it was used to promote the Godzilla suit from ''The Return of Godzilla
Franchises and productions
The many productions of ''tokusatsu'' series have general themes common throughout different groups.
productions primarily feature monsters, or . Such series include ''Ultra Q
'', the ''Godzilla
'' film series, the ''Gamera
'' series, the ''Daimajin
'' series, and films such as ''Mothra
'', ''War of the Gargantuas
'', and ''.
productions primarily feature supervillains as their central character. This includes films such as ''The Secret of the Telegian
'', ''The Human Vapor
'', ''The H-Man
'', ''Half Human
'', and ''Tomei Ningen
Since about 1960, several long-running television-series have combined various other themes. Tsuburaya Productions
has had the ''Ultra Series
'' starting with ''Ultra Q
'' and ''Ultraman
'' in 1966. P Productions
began their foray into ''tokusatsu'' in 1966 with the series ''Ambassador Magma
''. They also had involvement in the ''Lion-Maru
'' series which concluded in November 2006.
has several series that fall under their ''Toei Superheroes
'' category of programming, starting in 1958 with the film series, ''Moonlight Mask
''. Then, they produced several other long running series, starting with Shotaro Ishinomori
's ''Kamen Rider Series
'' in 1971, the ''Super Sentai
'' series in 1975, the ''Metal Hero Series
'' in 1982, and the ''Toei Fushigi Comedy Series
'' in 1981. Toei also produced several other television series based on Ishinomori's works, including ''Android Kikaider
'' and ''Kikaider 01
'', ''Robot Detective
'' and ''Inazuman Flash
'', and ''Kaiketsu Zubat
''. Toei was also involved in the ''Spider-Man
'' television series, which influenced their subsequent Super Sentai series. In 2003, TV Asahi
began broadcasting the ''Super Sentai'' and ''Kamen Rider'' series in a one-hour block airing each week known as ''Super Hero Time
, the creators of Godzilla
, also had their hands in creating the ''Chouseishin Series
'' of programs from 2003 to 2006 and the ''Zone Fighter
In 2006, Keita Amemiya
'', a mature late-night tokusatsu drama was released, starting a franchise composed of several television series and films. Other mature late-night series followed, including a revival of ''Lion-Maru'' in ''Lion-Maru G
'', the ''Daimajin Kanon
'' television series (based on the ''Daimajin
'' film series), and ''Shougeki Gouraigan!!
'' (also created by Amemiya).
Various movies classified as ''tokusatsu'' actually work like generalized science fiction film
s. These include (1956), , , , , , , , , and .
Non-traditional ''tokusatsu'' productions
Non-traditional ''tokusatsu'' films and television programs may not use conventional special effects or may not star human actors. Though suitmation typifies ''tokusatsu'', some productions may use stop-motion
to animate their monsters instead, for example ''Majin Hunter Mitsurugi
'' in 1973. TV shows may use traditional ''tokusatsu'' techniques, but are cast with puppets or marionettes: ''Uchuusen Silica
'' (1960); ''Ginga Shonen Tai
'' (1963); ''Kuchuu Toshi 008
'' (1969); and Go Nagai
's ''X Bomber
'' (1980). Some ''tokusatsu'' may employ animation in addition to its live-action components: Tsuburaya Productions
' ''Dinosaur Expedition Team Bornfree
'' (1976), ''Dinosaur War Aizenborg
'' (1977) and ''Pro-Wrestling Star Aztekaiser
Japanese fan films
, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
, Takami Akai
, and Shinji Higuchi
set up a fan-based group called Daicon Film, which they renamed Gainax
in 1985 and turned into an animation studio. Besides anime sequences, they also produced a series of ''tokusatsu'' shorts parodying monster movies and superhero shows. These productions include ''Swift Hero Noutenki
'' (1982), ''Patriotic Squadron Dai-Nippon
'' (1983), ''Return of Ultraman
'' (1983) and ''The Eight-Headed Giant Serpent Strikes Back
Outside of Japan
''Tokusatsu'' techniques have spread outside Japan due to the popularity of the Godzilla films.
''Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
'' first appeared in English in 1956. Rather than a simple dub of the Japanese-language original, this work represented an entirely re-edited version which restructured the plot to incorporate a new character played by a native English-speaking actor, Raymond Burr
'' gained popularity when United Artists
dubbed it for American audiences in the 1960s.
In the 1990s, Haim Saban
acquired the distribution rights for the ''Super Sentai
'' series from Toei Company
and combined the original Japanese action footage with new footage featuring American actors, resulting in the ''Power Rangers
'' franchise which has continued since then into sequel TV series (with ''Power Rangers Beast Morphers
'' premiering in 2019
and Power Rangers Dino Fury
premiering in 2021), comic books, video games, and three feature films, with a further cinematic universe planned. Following from the success of ''Power Rangers'', Saban acquired the rights to more of Toei's library, creating ''VR Troopers
'' and ''Big Bad Beetleborgs
'' from several Metal Hero Series
shows and ''Masked Rider
'' from Kamen Rider Series
footage. DIC Entertainment
joined this boom by acquiring the rights to ''Gridman the Hyper Agent
'' and turning it into ''Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad
In 2002, 4Kids Entertainment
bought the rights to ''Ultraman Tiga
'', but simply produced a dub
of the Japanese footage, broadcast on the Fox Box
. And in 2009, Adness Entertainment
took 2002's ''Kamen Rider Ryuki
'' and turned it into ''Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight
'', which began broadcast on The CW4Kids
in 2009. It won the first Daytime Emmy
for "Outstanding Stunt Coordination" for its original scenes.
In 1961 England-based film-makers produced the Godzilla-style film, ''Gorgo
'', which used the same suitmation technique as the Godzilla films. That same year, Saga Studios
made another Godzilla-style giant monster film, ''Reptilicus
'', bringing its monster to life using a marionette on a miniature set. In 1967, South Korea produced its own monster movie titled ''Yonggary
''. In 1975, Shaw Brothers
produced a superhero film called ''The Super Inframan
'', based on the huge success of Ultraman and Kamen Rider there. The film starred Danny Lee
in the title role. Although there were several other similar superhero productions in Hong Kong, ''The Super Inframan'' came first. With help from Japanese special effects artists under Sadamasa Arikawa
, they also produced a Japanese-styled monster movie, ''The Mighty Peking Man
'', in 1977.
Concurrent with their work on ''Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad'', DIC attempted an original concept based on the popularity of ''Power Rangers'' in 1994's ''Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills
''. In 1998, video from an attempted ''Power Rangers''-styled adaptation
of ''Sailor Moon
'' surfaced, combining original footage of American actresses with original animated sequences.
Saban also attempted at making their own unique tokusatsu series entitled ''Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog
'', set in medieval Ireland
and featured four, later five knights who transform using the power of the elements (for the most part) at they protected their kingdom from evil. Saban had also produced the live action ''Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
'' series ''Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation
'', which was known in the turtles fandom for introducing a female turtle exclusive to that series called ''Venus de Milo'' and eliminating the fact that the other turtles were brothers. The show primarily featured actors in costumes most of the time, but featured similar choreographed fights like other tokusatsu shows.
In the 2000s, production companies in other East Asian countries began producing their own original ''tokusatsu''-inspired television series: Thailand
's ''Sport Ranger
'' and South Korea
'' in 2006; the Philippines
' ''Zaido: Pulis Pangkalawakan
'' (itself a sanctioned spinoff of Toei's ''Space Sheriff Shaider
'') in 2007; China
's ''Armor Hero
'' () in 2008, ''Battle Strike Team: Giant Saver
'' () in 2012, ''Metal Kaiser
'' (); and Indonesia
's ''Bima Satria Garuda
'' which began in 2013.
On July the 1st, 2019, Vietnam
's Transform Studio
co-operating with Dive Into Eden
announced their own original ''tokusatsu'' series, ''Mighty Guardian
: ). The first season in the series is ''Mighty Guardian: Lost Avian
: ), using Vietnamese Mythologies
as the main concept.
Kaiju and tokusatsu films, notably ''Warning from Space
'' (1956), sparked Stanley Kubrick
's interest in science fiction films and influenced ''2001: A Space Odyssey
'' (1968). According to his biographer John Baxter
, despite their "clumsy model sequences, the films were often well-photographed in colour ... and their dismal dialogue was delivered in well-designed and well-lit sets."
'' as an inspiration for ''Jurassic Park
'' (1993), specifically ''Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
'' (1956), which he grew up watching. During its production, Spielberg described ''Godzilla'' as "the most masterful of all the dinosaur movies because it made you believe it was really happening." ''Godzilla'' also influenced the Spielberg film ''Jaws
Japanese tokusatsu movies also influenced one of the first video games
'' (1961), inspiring its science fiction theme. According to the game's programmer Martin Graetz, "we would be off to one of Boston
's seedier cinemas to view the latest trash from Toho
" as Japanese studios "churned out a steady diet of cinematic junk food of which Rodan
are only the best-known examples."
Homage and parody
In 2001, Buki X-1 Productions, a French fan-based production company, produced its own series, ''Jushi Sentai France Five
'' (now called ''Shin Kenjushi France Five''), a tribute to Toei's long running ''Super Sentai'' series. The low-budget television series ''Kaiju Big Battel
'' directly parodies monster and Kyodai Hero
films and series by immersing their own costumed characters in professional wrestling matches among cardboard buildings. In 2006, ''Mighty Moshin' Emo Rangers
'' premiered on the internet as a ''Power Rangers'' spoof, but was quickly picked up by MTV UK
for broadcast. In 2006, ''Insector Sun'', a low-budget tribute to ''Kamen Rider'' was produced by Brazilian fans.
, the director of the ''Ant-Man
'' films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
, said that Ant-Man's costume design was influenced by two tokusatsu superheroes, Ultraman
* Allison, Anne. ''Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination''. .
* Craig, Timothy J. ''Japan Pop!: Inside the World of Japanese Popular Culture''. .
* Grays, Kevin. ''Welcome to the Wonderful World of Japanese Fantasy'' (''Markalite'' Vol. 1, Summer 1990, Kaiju Productions/Pacific Rim Publishing)
* Godziszewski, Ed. ''The Making of Godzilla'' (''G-FAN'' #12, November/December 1994, Daikaiju Enterprises)
* Martinez, Dolores P. ''The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender, Shifting Boundaries, and Global Cultures''. .
* Ryfle, Steve. ''Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of Godzilla''. ECW Press, 1999. .
* Yoshida, Makoto & Ikeda, Noriyoshi and Ragone, August. ''The Making of "Godzilla Vs. Biollante" - They Call it "Tokusatsu"'' (''Markalite'' Vol. 1, Summer 1990, Kaiju Productions/Pacific Rim Publishing)
Category:Japanese entertainment terms