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Icons of tokusatsu in the late 1970s: Spider-Man, Kamen Rider Stronger, Kamen Rider V3, Battle Fever J, and Ultraman Joneus, along with anime icon Doraemon

Tokusatsu (特撮) is a Japanese term which is often translated as "special effects." It is primarily used to refer to live-action Japanese film and television dramas that make use of practical, optical or other special effects.


The term "tokusatsu" is a contraction of the Japanese phrase tokushu satsuei (特殊撮影), meaning "special photography". In production, the special effects director is given the title of tokushu gijutsu (特殊技術), Japanese for "special techniques," or tokusatsu kantoku (特撮監督), which is Japanese for "special effects director" or "director of special effects" — the titles often used by English-language productions.

Tokusatsu entertainment is often science fiction, fantasy, or horror, but films and TV series in other genres can sometimes be classified as tokusatsu as well. The most popular types of tokusatsu are kaiju films (the Godzilla and Gamera series), superhero TV series (the Kamen Rider Series and Metal Hero Series), and mecha drama TV series (Giant Robo). Some tokusatsu television series combine several of these subgenres (such as the Ultra Series and Super Sentai Series).

Tokusatsu is one of the most popular forms of Japanese entertainment, but most tokusatsu films and television series are not widely known outside of Asia. In recent decades, however, tokusatsu has developed a small but loyal and growing fanbase outside of Japan.


Tokusatsu has its most distant origins in early Japanese theater, specifically kabuki, with its action and fight scenes, and 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 kaiju (monsters) of all time.

The driving forces behind 1954's Godzilla were special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya and director Ishiro Honda. 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 and fantasy, and cinema, by creating a uniquely Japanese vision in a genre typically dominated by American cinema.

Godzilla kickstarted the kaiju genre in Japan, which remained extremely popular for several decades, with characters such as the aforementioned Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gamera, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla leading the market. However, in 1957, the first film serial featuring the superhero character Super Giant was released, signaling a shift in popularity that favored masked heroes over giant monsters. Along with the 1963 anime Astro Boy, the nine Super Giant serial films had a profound effect on the world of tokusatsu. The following year, in 1958, Moonlight Mask premiered, the first of numerous televised superhero drama series that would make up one of the most popular tokusatsu subgenres.

Superheroes remained a viable and popular staple of entertainment during the 1960s, but were largely staid, with few of the programs distinguishing themselves from the rest of the lineup. This changed in 1966, with Ambassador Magma and Ultraman creating the Kyodai Hero genre, wherein a regular-sized protagonist grows to larger proportions to fight equally large monsters.



Main article: Suitmation.

Suitmation (スーツメーション,   sūtsumēshon) is the term used in Japan to describe the process in tokusatsu films and television series used to portray a monster using suit acting. It is not known exactly where the term originated from; the term may have been used to differentiate the suit work from Ray Harryhausen's celebrated Dynamation (stop-motion) technique. At the very 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 that are common throughout groups.


Kaiju (怪獣,   kaijū, lit. strange beast) productions primarily feature monsters, or giant monsters (大怪獣,   daikaijū, lit. large strange beast). Such series include Ultra Q, the Godzilla series, the Gamera series, the Daimajin trilogy, and other films such as Frankenstein vs. Baragon, The War of the Gargantuas, and The X from Outer Space.


Kaijin (怪人,   kaijin, lit. strange person) productions primarily feature supervillains as the central character. This includes films such as Invisible Man, Half Human, The H-Man, The Secret of the Telegian, The Human Vapor, and Matango.


Yokai (妖怪,   yōkai, lit. strange thing) productions make use of central characters that can be called "ghosts", "spirits", "apparitions", or "demons." The Yokai Monsters trilogy was a popular film series.

Popular franchises

Over the past half-century, there have been long-running television series that are often a combination of several 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, released in the U.S. in 1970 as The Space Giants. They have also been behind the Lion-Maru trilogy of series, which started in 1972-1973 and ended years later and into the 21st century in 2006. Toei Company, Ltd. also has several series that fall under their Toei Superheroes category of programming, starting in 1961 with the single TV series Moonlight Mask; then they produced several other long-running series starting with the Kamen Rider Series which began in 1971 and continuing onward with the Super Sentai Series which began in 1975, the Metal Hero Series which began in 1982, and several Mysterious Comedy Series (不思議コメディーシリーズ,   Fushigi Comedī Shīrizu) which began in 1981. Toho, the creators of Godzilla, also had their hand in creating series of their own such as Zone Fighter in 1973 and the three Ultra Star God Series which ran from 2003 to 2006.

Tokusatsu films

There are also various movies that are classified as tokusatsu, but are generalized science fiction films. These include films such as Warning from Space, Prince of Space, Invasion of the Neptune Men, The Green Slime, The Three Treasures , The Last War, Submersion of Japan, Virus, Bye-Bye Jupiter, The War in Space, and Sengoku Jieitai 1549.

Similar productions

Non-traditional tokusatsu productions

Non-traditional tokusatsu films and television series may not use the conventional special effects or may not star human actors. Suitmation is characteristic of tokusatsu; however, some productions may use stop-motion instead to animate their monsters (e.g., Demon Hunter Mitsurugi (1973)). "Puppet shows" may use traditional tokusatsu techniques, but are cast with puppets or marionettes (e.g., Uchuusen Silica (1960), Ginga Shonen Tai (1963) and Kuchuu Toshi 008 (1969); Go Nagai's X Bomber (1980)). Some tokusatsu may employ anime in addition to their live action components (e.g., Tsuburaya Productions' Dinosaur Expedition Born Free (1976) and Dinosaur Great War Izenborg (1977); Pro-Wrestling Star Aztekaiser (1976)).

Japanese fan films

As popular culture fandom in Japan grew in the 1980s, a fan-based group called Daicon Film (now called GAINAX) was created by Hideaki Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Takami Akai, and Shinji Higuchi. Besides anime sequences, they also produced a series of tokusatsu shorts parodying monster movies and superhero TV series which has gained much media coverage. These productions include Patriotic Squadron Dai-Nippon (1983), Swift Hero Noutenki (1982), Return of Ultraman (1983) and The Eight-Headed Giant Serpent Strikes Back (1985).

In the turn of the new millennium, comedian Shinpei Hayashiya produced a number of tokusatsu fan films. These include Godzilla vs. Seadora and Gamera 4: Truth (2004). In 2005, he completed his upcoming first original effort, Deep Sea Beast Reigo.

Tokusatsu-influenced productions outside Japan

Tokusatsu technique has been replicated outside of Japan due to the popularity of the Godzilla films. In 1961, England made its own Godzilla-style film, Gorgo, which used the same suitmation technique as the Godzilla films. That same year, Saga Studios in Denmark made another Godzilla-style giant monster film, Reptilicus. This film's monster was brought to life using a marionette on miniature sets. In 1967, Keukdong Entertainment in South Korea produced its own kaiju film titled Yongary, Monster from the Deep. In 1975, Shaw Brothers produced a superhero film titled The Super Inframan, based on the huge success of the two TV series 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 was the first of these. With help from Japanese special effects artists working under Sadamasa Arikawa, Shaw Brothers also produced a Japanese-style monster film, The Mighty Peking Man, in 1977. In 2001 Buki X-1 Productions, a French fan-based production company, produced its own series, Jushi Sentai France Five (now titled Shin Kenjushi France Five), a tribute to Toei's long-running Super Sentai series. In 2004, Peter Tatara (with his company Experimental Amateur Hero Productions) produced a low budget superhero video series titled Johnny Robo, which is a tribute to/deconstruction of/parody of Kamen Rider and the Henshin Heroes genre. The low budget television series Kaiju Big Battel directly parodies kaiju and Kyodai Hero films and TV series by immersing their own costumed characters in professional wrestling matches among cardboard buildings. In 2006, the South Korean TV series Erexion premiered as a "children's special effects drama;" its style is reminiscent of tokusatsu techniques. In 2006, Mighty Moshin' Emo Rangers premiered on the Internet as a Power Rangers parody, 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. In addition, a Thai Sentai-style TV series, Sport Ranger, began broadcasting on August 2006.


Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was first dubbed into English in 1956 (the sole addition to the film was American actor Raymond Burr) and Ultraman gained popularity when it, too, was dubbed into English for American audiences in the 1960s.

The primary influx of tokusatsu adaptations, however, came in the 1990s, beginning in 1993 with Saban Entertainment's purchase of footage from Toei's sixteenth installment of their long-running Super Sentai Series, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger to become Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and thus begin the popular Power Rangers franchise. An adaptation of footage from Choujinki Metalder, Jikuu Senshi Spielban, and Uchu Keiji Shaider, three of the series in the Metal Hero Series, became VR Troopers in 1994. This was followed by an adaptation of the ninth TV series in the Kamen Rider Series, Kamen Rider Black RX, into Saban's Masked Rider. In 1996 and 1997, Juukou B-Fighter and its sequel, B-Fighter Kabuto, became Big Bad Beetleborgs and its second season, Beetleborgs Metallix. DiC Entertainment, in 1994, purchased the footage for Denkō Chōjin Guriddoman to become Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad. Most recently, the twelfth TV series in the Kamen Rider Series, Kamen Rider Ryuki, was adapted into Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight, which aired in 2008.

Original American productions

American production companies also have had a hand in creating what are termed by fans as "Ameritoku." The syndicated series Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills was a low budget attempt at competing with the Power Rangers franchise. Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog was an original production by Saban that attempted to emulate their own Power Rangers franchise. The syndicated series Big Wolf on Campus and Nickelodeon's Animorphs are also described as "American tokusatsu" due to the techniques that they employed.

External links

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