If you want to draw eyeballs to an online magazine, you have to fill it with stuff that is new, new, new, but one of the defining aspects of Cinefantastique was its love for classics, expressed in frequent cover stories and retrospective articles. We like to keep that tradition alive at Cinefantastique Online, especially on the weekend, when there is less news to fill our webpages. With that in mind, we offer today’s tribute to one of the un-sung heroes of Japanese giant monster movies, Sadamasa Arikawa.
Sadamasa Arikawa, who died in September of 2005, was one of the last living people who worked behind the scenes on the original GODZILLA way back in 1954. He worked on the special effects for numerous other Japanese science fiction films throughout the 1960s, eventually ascending to the role of special effects director. Following in the footsteps of Eiji Tsuburaya, who retained credit as “supervisor” on the films for which Arikawa directed special effects, Arikawa never stepped out from under his legendary mentor’s giant shadow, but he did contribute some fine work of his own.
Arikawa began his career as an uncredited cameraman for the special effects crew on GOJIRA, that 1954 rampaging reptile flick that was re-edited, re-shot, and released in the U.S. (with much of its anti-nuclear message muted) as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS in 1956. Arikawa became the protoge of Eija Tsuburaya, the man who directed the special effects in GOJIRA and countless other kaiju films produced at Toho Studios. After Tsuburaya started his own production company and began focusing his attention on television shows like ULTRAMAN, Arikawa graduated to directing the special effects for such films as GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER.
By the time Arikawa took over the special effects department, the budgets for the Godzilla films had dropped, so his work often compares unfavorably with that of Eiji Tsuburaya. There was also a studio-mandated trend toward making the monsters more human and less frightening, in order to appeal to younger viewers. Yet Arikawa managed to turn out some colorful and engaging (if not always convincing) effects for SON OF GODZILLA and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
In 2000, Arikawa came to the United States to take part in a festival of Japanese fantasy and horror films. He talked at length about his work on GOJIRA and SON OF GODZILLA. He was a lively and engaging speaker, even with the burden of having to answer questions through an interpreter, and he seemed genuinely touched by the fact that so many people and shown up at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood just to see a screening of an old film he had worked on 46 years previously:
“I would like to thank everyone for watching the film. It’s been [nearly] fifty years, and it’s a completely different point of view watching the film today than it was then. I can feel the warm appreciation from the audience — and felt for the first time such apreciation — so I would like to thank everyone for watching the film and enjoying it so much.”
These words are like music to our ears. If there is one thing we believe at Cinefantastique Online, it is that warm audience appreciation can exend beyond the years and beyond the generations. Cinematic styles come and go; new techniques become antiquated. Once popular films are either relegated to the dustheap of history, or they survive as classics (or at least cult films). So, we offer this affectionate appreciation of the work of Sadamasa Arikawa: