"Tokusatsu" (特撮), often shortened to just "Toku", is the Japanese catchall term for any live-action sci-fi/fantasy media that makes use of special effectsnote
. Though the overlap is not total, it can, at least casually, be considered the live-action analogue to Anime
(at least, to the subset of anime best known to casual viewers in the west).
Originally, Toku differentiated itself from western visual effects genres by its preference for "live" effects (ie. People in Rubber Suits
) over special effects created during editing (at the time of the genre's birth, specifically the stop-motion techniques pioneered by Ray Harryhausen
, now CGI). Modern Toku uses both forms of effect, but "live" effects are still preferred, particularly Wire Fu
Tokusatsu had two major periods, dubbed the "Monster Boom" and the "Henshin Boom". The Monster Boom was started by Godzilla and famously saw the rise of many daikaiju pictures in the film industry. Henshin Boom was started by Kamen Rider
, and it greatly influenced how action heroes worked and its effects can still be seen today in the superhero and action-adventure genres, with that influence even percolating westward.
Like Anime and Manga, Toku is one of those terms that means slightly different things in Japan and the West. While Westerners use it to refer almost exclusively to the Japanese superhero shows, in Japan it simply refers to any live-action production which makes extensive use of special effects. This means that, to the Japanese, things like Smallville
, Stargate SG-1
, Doctor Who
, Knight Rider
, Red Dwarf
and even James Bond
count as Toku. This list also includes shows that use puppetry, like Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation
, and even Thomas the Tank Engine
. Far and away, the most popular early example
of Toku is the Godzilla
film franchise, which exemplifies many of the genre's tropes: People in Rubber Suits
smashing scale model cities, and an abundance of squibs
Most of the examples of Toku series are actually franchises
of the Sentai
and Henshin Hero
variety, producing many separate but related series.
Toku series and franchises include:
- 7-Color Mask
- Ah Boys to Men: A Singaporean comedy non-superhero military film that uses real guns and pyrotechnics in filming.
- Aikoku Sentai Dai-Nippon - A parody of Super Sentai.
- Akumaizer 3 and its sequel series Choujin Bibyun are about demons trying to save the world from other demons.
- Ambassador Magma - The first color toku. AKA "The Space Giants".
- Armor Hero
- The Aquabats! Super Show! - Not quite in this genre, but takes a lot from it, mixed with the campy aesthetics of old Sid & Marty Krofft Productions shows.
- Attack on Titan (2015)
- Battle Stike Team - China's answer to Super Sentai, made alongside Armor Hero
- Bio Planet WoO
- BIMA Satria Garuda - An Indonesian toku produced by MNC Group, RCTI, and Ishinomori Productions. The title translates to BIMA the Garuda Knight. The show has been successful enough they made a sequel Bima X, video game adaptations and Bima X Japanese version.
- Bishoujo Kamen Poitrine, the most recognized show in the Toei Fushigi Comedy Series.
- Captain Ultra
- Choujin Barom 1 - One of Toei's most famous manga-to-live-action adaptations
- Choukou Senshi Changerion
- Chou Sei Shin Series - Done by Toho, who made the original Godzilla movies.
- Daimajin Kanon
- Daitetsujin-17 - Shotaro Ishinomori and Toei's own take on a Giant Robo-type series.
- Demon Hunter Mitsurugi - an early-70s Jidai Geki series, about a trio of Ninjas who fight of alien invaders by fusing into a giant warrior. Notable for using Stop Motion puppetry to create its Kaiju, rather than the standard People in Rubber Suits.
- Den Ace - A series of shorts parodying Ultraman
- Denjin Zaboga
- Denkou Choujin Gridman - Adapted in America as Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, featuring Tim Curry as the voice of the Big Bad.
- Dennou Keisatsu Cybercop - Toho's late-80s entry in the genre. Essentially a mix between Metal Heroes and Super Sentai.
- Dinosaur Prince
- Fire Leon
- Fireman - Possibly the first "Giant Hero" made for adults in 1973. From Tsuburaya Productions, the creators of the Ultra Series
- France Five - A French homage to Super Sentai.
- GARO - A comparatively darker take on the genre.
- Giant Robo (a.k.a. Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot)
- Godzilla - The pioneer of the technique
- Mothra - A franchise that mostly overlaps with the Godzilla series, though has its solo films.
- Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger - A Super Sentai-parody series made by Toei.
- Ike! Godman and its sequel series Ike! Greenman were two of the first Giant Hero series not related to Ultraman. Also created by Toho with a few Godzilla monsters appearing.
- Iron King
- Jumborg Ace - From Tsuburaya Productions, the creators of the Ultra Series
- Jushen Zhan Ji Dui - A Chinese Sentai-esque series choreographed by Sentai veterans
- The Kagestar
- Kaiju Big Battel - An American Affectionate Parody of this combined with Professional Wrestling.
- Kaiketsu Zubat - Take a Super Hero toku show, stir in a helping of New Old West, and then cast Hiroshi Miyauchi, a veteran actor who already had multiple leading roles in toku as the title character.
- Kaiketsu Lion Maru - '70s Super Hero toku show about a man in feudal Japan who can turn into a swordsman with lion head. No links with Zubat despite the title. Spawned the immediate sequel Fuun Lion Maru.
- Kamen no Ninja Akakage
- Kamen Rider
- Kankyou Choujin Ecogainder - A series by Japan's Ministry of the Environment to teach kids Green Aesops.
- Kanpai Senshi After V - A show which parodies Super Sentai in a similar vein as Akibaranger, though not produced by Toei. Focuses on the heroes' late nights out rather than their battles with evil, thus action scenes are confined to the opening credits.
- Kodai Shoujo Dogu-chan, a.k.a. The Ancient Dogoo Girl
- K-tai Investigator 7 - Officially counted as a toku show by its creators, but is more half-toku/half-drama.
- Kure Kure Takora
- Kyodai Ken Byclosser
- Legend Heroes - A Korean Toku produced by Moon Watcher and Synergy Media that adapts various element of Romance Ofthe Three Kingdoms into a Kamen Rider Ryuki Expy that adds in Super Sentai mech combat, too. Had quite the following when it first aired, but sort of faded off as time went on. Officially available with subs on YouTube.
- Lightspeed Esper
- Madan Senki Ryukendo
- Matango - A Toho horror film using many of the techniques found in Toku.
- Megaloman - From Toho.
- Metal Heroes
- And by extension, its Philippine spin-off Zaido: Pulis Pangkalawakan, which was not really positively liked by fans. (In fact the Shaider Next Generation DTV doesn't make the said spinoff canon)
- Mega Powers - A Brazilian Power Rangers knock-off distributed by Video Brinquedo.
- Mighty Jack
- Mighty Moshin Emo Rangers - A UK-made Power Rangers parody.
- Mirrorman - From Tsuburaya Productions, the creators of the Ultra Series
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Pretty much all the Japanese films. The host segments also use a lot toku-style effects.
- Moonlight Mask - The very first Toku show from 1958!
- The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg - This show was notable for being an attempt by Saban to introduce American-original tokusatsu to television. Of course, it was also produced to feed off the success of Power Rangers and Beetleborgs.
- National Kid - One of Toei's earlier series.
- Ninja Captor - a Sentai-esqe series that was apparently once classed as part of the Super Sentai franchise.
- Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation - A live-action show made by Saban based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- Pacific Rim - An American-produced, original tokusatsu movie made by Guillermo del Toro. Uses CGI, but is heavily inspired by Japanese practical effects.
- Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon - Notable for being a Live-Action Adaptation of an already immensely popular manga/anime.
- Pulgasari - Despite being a North Korean propaganda film, the involvement of Toho's special effects team (most notably Godzilla suit actor Ken Satsuma) and its plot involving a Kaiju still warrants its mention here.
- Robot Detective - Take a police drama, throw in Isaac Asimov-style robotics and you've got this series.
- Sasuraido - A series about a sword that can grant powers to certain people, but misfortune to others.
- Seigi no Shinboru Condorman
- Seiun Kamen Machineman - Created by Shotaro Ishinomori, aired in 1984. Mostly Zorro meets Superman.
- Seven Star Fighting God Guyferd - A fighting series made by Toho and Capcom taking inspirations from many different sources, including Guyver, Kamen Rider, and Street Fighter.
- Shougeki Gouraigan, from the creator of GARO.
- Silver Kamen
- Space Ironmen Kyodain
- Spider-Man (Japan) - Notable for being the spiritual predecessor to Super Sentai's Humongous Mecha elements.
- Sport Ranger - A Thai production created in the same vein as Super Sentai.
- Star Fleet - An example of when the Japanese attempt to imitate Supermarionation techniques
- Star Kid - Taking a lot of inspiration from Guyver and Kikaider, this 1997 film is a rare, non-Saban original American take on the genre. Fortunately, it has since been Vindicated by Cable after it flopped at the box office.
- Suki! Suki!! Majo-sensei - Created by Shotaro Ishinomori, aired in 1971. Featured the superheroine, Andro Kamen.
- Super Giant - Known as Starman and Spaceman in the west.
- The Super Inframan - while Chinese rather than Japanese, it's an obvious effort by the Shaw Bros. to cash in on Ultraman's success.
- Super Robot Red Baron - An early-70s example of Mecha in toku, intentionally done in the style of Mazinger Z. Its popularity later resulted in a few successor series and a 90s anime revival.
- Super Sentai
- Sweet Home
- Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills - One of the first original non-Japanese tokusatsu... very cheesy though...
- Tekkouki Mikazuki
- Toei Fushigi Comedy Series
- Tomica Hero Rescue Force and Tomica Hero Rescue Fire have more of a rescue slant to them than a "fight the bad guys, save the world" one, but they're both toku series nonetheless.
- Transformers film series, based off the toyline of the same name.
- Ultra Series - Ultraman and its many sequels, spinoffs, and reboots.
- Warrior of Love Rainbowman- Toho's first henshin hero and an Enhanced Remake of 7-Color Mask from 1959. It was remade into a giant robot anime in 1982.
- Voicelugger - A Sentai series. The last production by Shotaro Ishinomori, godfather of Super Sentai, released posthumously.
- Yusei Oji - Known as Prince of Space in the west.
- Zone Fighter - Created by Toho, and best remembered for having Godzilla as a recurring ally of the title hero.
, Metal Heroes
and Kamen Rider
franchises on this list were adapted, with varying degrees of success, by Saban Entertainment
to produce the U.S. series Power Rangers
, VR Troopers
, Big Bad Beetleborgs
and Masked Rider
. Kamen Rider Ryuki
was later adapted into Kamen Rider Dragon Knight
. As for the original Japanese shows, good luck finding official releases outside of Asia....
have their own page.
Names To Know In Tokusatsu:
Major Companies producing Tokusatsu: