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Godzilla

Arts Days: July 07, 1901: Godzilla Suits Up
Just who was the guy who created the fierce Godzilla, who crushed skyscrapers with his enormous lizard fists? Credit goes to the special-effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, who built model airplanes as a kid and never forgot the thrill of seeing the American-made film King Kong in Tokyo. It was at that point Tsuburaya vowed he, too, would make monster movies.

He created costuming breakthroughs, such as “suitmation,” in which actors wear monster suits to pantomime throwing cars or squashing buildings (with sound effects added later). That’s how all of the early Godzilla movies were made, starting in 1954.

This type of movie was known in Japan as kaiju, or “strange beast” film, otherwise known as a monster movie. Tsuburaya’s ingenuity helped propel the genre to new levels of worldwide success.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Japan

Sony Walkman

Arts Days: July 01, 1979: Whistle While You Walk
For decades, home stereo systems were big and unwieldy, with separate turntables, tape players, speakers, and other components. So when the Japanese corporation Sony developed a portable stereo system it called the Walkman, consumers were skeptical.

Sony embarked on a huge marketing campaign to raise awareness of its little stereo that came with a set of padded earphones and could accommodate a cassette tape. The company hired college kids to walk around busy shopping areas in Tokyo, wearing their Walkmans and offering strangers a chance to listen.

Turns out the sound quality was excellent, and the freedom to carry your tunes with you exhilarating. In changing the way we carry and listen to music, the Walkman set the stage for today’s MP3 players, which manage to make the Walkman look enormous.
Inventions, Rock & Roll, Popular Culture, Japan, Music

Akira Kurosawa

Arts Days: March 23, 1910: Master of Japanese Cinema
Arguably the best-known Japanese film director in history, Akira Kurosawa also edited, produced, and wrote screenplays for movies. His first movie, Sanshiro Sugata, premiered in 1943. He went on to make another 29 movies, his most famous being Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Ran, and Throne of Blood. Each of his films features some of his cinematic hallmarks: the use of multiple cameras with which to shoot a scene from different angles, and the personification of weather.

He often used rain, snow, or fog to heighten drama and increase tension during scenes. Kurosawa also was demanding as a director. He wouldn’t tolerate challenges to his creative decisions, and he insisted his actors wear their costumes for weeks before shooting began. He thought this would help them understand their characters better.
Asia, Japan, Movies & Movie Stars

Karaoke

Arts Days: May 10, 1940: Karaoke King
A self-taught drummer who played with bands in Kobe, Japan, Daisuke Inouye had a light-bulb moment one day when asked to provide music for a corporate party. While he could not accept the gig, he made a recording of music for party-goers to sing along with. It was so well-received that Inouye got the notion to attach an amplifier to a car stereo and fit it with a coin box. That way, people could feed money to sing along with the pop tune of their choice.

This was the first karaoke machine; nowadays, setups are more elaborate. For one thing, there is a color-coded video display of the lyrics to prompt the performer through the song, thousands of pop tracks minus the lead vocal to choose from, and microphones plugged into a public-address system so the entire club can hear the amateur singer do his/her stuff.
Popular Culture, Music, Japan

Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors

Arts Days: April 12, 1945: Anime Nation
Anime, a special kind of movie animation unique to Japan and often inspired by Japanese comics called manga, has a huge following these days among kids and grownups alike all over the world. But on this day, when Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was screened for the first time, director Mitsuyo Seo had just followed the orders he was given by the Japanese government: make a film promoting the heroic exploits of the Japanese navy.

Seo’s 74-minute movie, which features a character named Momotaro— an important figure in Japanese folklore whose name translates to “Peach Boy”—was full of talking animals wearing military uniforms and spouting propaganda. But his creation planted the seeds for decades of anime to come, created now by hand or more often with computer software.
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Japan

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