Tsuburaya Productions (円谷プロダクション Tsuburaya Purodakushon) is a Japanese television and film producer most famous for creating the Ultra Series. It was founded in 1963 by Eiji Tsuburaya, the Showa-era Godzilla movies' special effects wizard and founding father of Tokusatsu.
Developed from the Tsuburaya Film Technique Labs that Eiji Tsuburaya had set up in 1948 during his freelance period when he was not bound to Toho, the company's first production was Nikkatsu's Alone On The Pacific (1963). Providing several miniature scenes for the film, they eventually produced Ultra Q (1966), easily the most expensive production in Japanese TV history until its more famous sorta-sequel Ultraman (1966). For a period in the 90s and 2000s, the company also assisted in the production of multiple anime, including Case Closed, Beast Wars IInote and Martian Successor Nadesico.
Although Tsuburaya Pro. is widely seen as being under Toho and Toei in terms of tokusatsu popularity and output, they can lay claim to a number of notable achievements (asides from creating the Ultra Series):
- Filming the first shot-on-video tokusatsu with Andro Melos.
- Making the switch to digital video for TV series with Denkō Chōjin Gridman years before Toei did with Kamen Rider Kuuga and Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger, for Kamen Rider and Super Sentai respectively.
- Having several staff members hopping between studios, ranging from original Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima in the company's early days to contemporary director Koichi Sakamoto who regularly juggles work between Tsuburaya and Toei.
- Producing TV toy commercials for Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. (A significant portion of the Sentai mecha toy commercials have new stop motion and miniature scenes produced by Tsuburaya for Toei.)
- Having the (rather dubious) honor of some of their works* being hacked to shreds by Sandy Frank and later mocked during season 3 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Tokusatsu fans have observed that Tsuburaya's effects work has been at least 5 ahead of Toei since at least the 1970s, with Tsuburaya adopting new camera technology, digital video, and HD filming years before Kamen Rider and Super Sentai respectively did. However, as mentioned above, the two have a working relationship.
Tsuburaya's history has been plagued with rather bizarre legal troubles. One student of Eiji Tsuburaya, a fellow from Thailand named Sompote "Sands" Saengduenchai, allegedly stormed into the offices of Eiji's son Noboru around the time the company was going through financial troubles and demanded the foreign distribution rights for the first six Ultra Series and Jumborg Ace, using them to produce the notorious Hanuman vs. 7 Ultraman and Jumborg Ace and Giant. Noboru granted him them, however the story gets very shady from there, with allegations of document forging and other things which might get too heated for a site like this. Fortunately, it was finally resolved in 2018, with Tsuburaya Productions winning the distribution rights back.
In March 17th, 2021 Tsuburaya announced a Japanese-only streaming service "Tsuburaya Imagination" where every Ultra Series installment along with other series and movies produced by them and literature, manga and American comics based on their properties will be available to watch and read alongside exclusive new miniseries. Luckily, they also offer the overseas equivalent of Tsuburaya Imagination, called "Ultraman Connection."
Works by Tsuburaya Productions:
- The Bermuda Depths (co-produced with Rankin/Bass Productions)
- Bio Planet WoO
- Bokura Yakyu Detective Team
- Daigoro vs. Goliath
- Tsuburaya Dinosaur Trilogy:
- Dinosaur Expedition Born Free
- Dinosaur Great War Izenborg
- Dinosaur Squadron Koseidon
- Emergency 10-4, 10-10
- Gridman Universe
- Horror Theater Unbalance
- The Ivory Ape (co-produced with Rankin/Bass Productions)
- Jumborg Ace
- Kaiju Booska
- The Last Dinosaur (co-produced with Rankin/Bass Productions)
- Mighty Jack
- Moon Spiral
- Mr. Mystery
- Operation Mystery
- Pro-Wres no Hoshi Azteckaiser
- Star Wolf (edited for American release as Fugitive Alien)
- Time of the Apes
- Triple Fighter
- Ultra Q The Movie: Legend of the Stars — 1990 movie based on Ultra Q
- Ultra Series (for full list of shows and movies, see its page)
Tsuburaya Productions and their works provide examples of:
- Family Business: Eiji's sons and grandsons have all been president of the company since his death, though as of 2007 the company is partially owned by both Bandai Namco and Fields Corporation.
- What Could Have Been: The company as a whole has several. For Ultraman, Eiji Tsuburaya had already planned out Return of Ultraman to have a completely different premise, with Hayata reclaiming his Ultraman identity.
- Mirrorman was intended to be another whole franchise.
- A sequel to Denkō Chōjin Gridman.
- In a more meta sense, what could have Eiji Tsuburaya made had he not died in 1970? Could the new technology being created around the time have been used more in their works of the time? For reference, Tsuburaya often claimed technologies no one else was using at the time, such as optical printers. Think of what could have occurred if Tsuburaya had taken up interest in CG or the improved modeling techniques of the late 70s.
- George Lucas nearly loaned out the effects production of Star Wars to the studio, but 20th Century Fox nixed the idea. One wonders how would Industrial Light & Magic have formed if Tsuburaya got the gig.