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Obituary: Toho Special FX Director Sadamasa Arikawa

Sadamasa Arikawa, who directed special effects for numerous Japanese science fiction films including SON OF GODZILLA (pictured at top) and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, died at a hospital in Izu on Thursday, according to a report on Yahoo News. The cause of death was lung cancer; he was eighty years old.

Unfortunately, the Yahoo obituary makes two major errors, apparently confusing Arikawa with his mentor Ejia Tsuburaya: the obituary credits Arikawa with directing the special effects on GOJIRA (1954) and with producing the television show ULTRAMAN, neither of which is true.

In fact, Arikawa began his career as an uncredited cameraman for the special effects crew on GOJIRA, the Japanese 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.

Godzilla vs Sea Monster Arikawa
Arikaway referees Godzilla and Ebirah.

Arikawa became the protégé of Eija Tsuburaya, the man who directed the special effects in GOJIRA and countless other Japanese science-fiction films produced at Toho Studios. In the mid-1960s, 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 his mentor. Yet he did manage 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 appreciation — so I would like to thank everyone for watching the film and enjoying it so much.”

Arikawa also recalled that at the time the film was being made, he was not so sure it would make such a lasting impression:

“I was subjected to questions from my co-workers and superiors, such as ‘What do you think you’re doing? Do you guys think you’re going to make any money on this?’ I am a sensitive person myself, sensitive to the suggestions of others, and so the truth is I felt the same as the complaints of the people I was working with, that maybe we were not making something so great.”