From Saperstein to Saban: Hollywood Allies of Japanese Special Effects Cinema

In LA’s Hollywood circles, the general attitude towards tokusatsu (Japanese special effects) cinema and television has been one of ambivalence at best and outright disdain at worst. Japanese-style special effects films have long been stereotyped as below the quality of Hollywood’s output, particularly with the high concept film renaissance that came in the wake of Jaws and Star Wars. However, there have been and still remain many notable Hollywood advocates of Japanese fantastic cinema. Brave distributors took a chance on distinct Japanese fantasy and FX films only a decade after the country was a mortal enemy of the United States. Powerful producers began to actively collaborate with Japanese studios and others realized that these properties could be repackaged and Americanized. Even some Hollywood directors have paid homage to their childhood love of Japanese giant monsters. No doubt, without the efforts of these players, Japanese special effects cinema would have seen considerably less commercial success and pop culture resonance in the United States.

At first glance, the original Godzilla (1954) was a film unlikely to enchant post-war American audiences. Specifically criticizing the nation’s Cold War hawkishness, Godzilla was made by a country that only nine years prior was America’s bitter enemy (its special effects director had even produced instructional material that had been used to train the pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor). Yet its unique style of storytelling began to draw attention not long after its initial release. Godzilla was purchased by producer EDMUND GOLDMAN (1906-?) of Manson International for about $25,000 in September, 1955. As distributing foreign films stateside was not his forte, Goldman thus turned to producers RICHARD KAY and HARRY RYBNICK (aka Howard Ross, 1915–2000) of Jewell Enterprises to craft a version of the film more in line with American tastes. The two had previously worked with producer/distributor JOSEPH E. LEVINE (1905–1987), whose firm Embassy Pictures had released Kay and Rybnick’s Untamed Women (1952) on the East Coast.

Joseph Levine

Joseph E. Levine was born in Boston into severe poverty. He dropped out of school at 14 to work in a dress factory to help support his widowed mother. He soon developed a knack for entrepreneurship and by his 30th birthday was running Boston’s Cafe Wonderbar. Selling the club at the request of his new wife, Levine soon branched out, purchasing a movie theater in 1937. His business practice was unique: Levine deliberately rented and bought cheapie Westerns at low prices which allowed him to show more films on more screens.3 Though Levine would later produce an Americanized version of and distribute the first commercially successful Japanese film, during the war he aggressively promoted a propaganda picture at one his theaters entitled Ravaged Earth (1942). A documentary detailing Japan’s war crimes in China, Levine’s own slogan reads: “J*p Rats Stop at Nothing — See This. It Will Make You Fighting Mad.” In the wake of the war, Levine developed a relationship with distributor Burstyn-Meyer and his theaters were among the first to screen Italian neorealist cinema such as Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948). Also in 1945, Levine had begun producing and distributing films himself and his company Embassy Pictures was formed.

Another pivotal figure in the inception and production of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was Goldman’s close business associate PAUL SCHREIBMAN (1909–2001). Schreibman was a Hollywood entertainment lawyer and producer known for his savvy. Like Levine, Schreibman came from the East Coast, in this case New Jersey. He attended the University of Southern California and remained in LA afterwards. By the 1940s, he owned and operated several prominent Los Angeles theaters. Schreibman later married former Hollywood starlet Lois Collier. Schreibman claimed to have flown to Japan and helped Goldman broker the deal with Toho and also was pivotal for getting actor Raymond Burr on board.

Goldman, Kay, Rybnick, Levine and Schreibman knew that a Japanese film would be a difficult sell to the average American only a decade after the war. Thus Godzilla, King of the Monsters! was scrubbed of most, though not all, of the Japanese original’s antinuclear themes and an American face was added. Journeyman director and editor Terry Morse was hired to shoot new sequences with actor Burr. While Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, released in most of the country in April of 1956, pales in the shadow of its Japanese original, it succeeds well as an Americanization and made close to $2 million in sales. Schreibman would go on to handle the localization of Godzilla Raids Again (1955), retitled Gigantis, the Fire Monster. He would continue to deal with Toho and later Tsuburaya Productions, acting as their LA-based attorney and often helping negotiate distribution deals. Levine would next bring the French-Italian co-production Attila (1954) to American shores and later found success distributing the peplum classic Hercules (1958) with Steve Reeves. Goldman and Schreibman would also bring the East German science fiction film The Silent Star (1960) to the U.S. as First Spaceship on Venus.

Another major production and distribution firm that found surprising early success with a Japanese special effects picture was King Brothers Productions. The company had been founded in 1940 by brothers FRANK KOZINSKY (1913–1989), MAURICE KOZINSKY (1914–1977) and HERMAN KOZINSKY (1916–1992). With all three soon changing their names to “King,” their first production was the gangster cheapie Paper Bullets (1941). King Brothers’ biggest successes included Dillinger (1945) and Gun Crazy (1950). In 1957, King Brothers Productions would re-edit and release Toho’s Rodan (1956), which beat out its genre contemporaries to become America’s highest-grossing science fiction film of 1957. Later, they would co-produce the British monster picture Gorgo (1961) which employed suitmation and miniature sets in a fashion similar to Tsuburaya’s work.

Samuel Arkoff (left) and James Nicholson (right)

A soon-to-be-prominent distributor of tokusatsu cinema in the United States was American International Pictures, originally called American Releasing Company. Founded in 1954 by JAMES H. NICHOLSON (1916–1972) and SAMUEL Z. ARKOFF (1918–2001), this firm would become Hollywood’s premier producer and distributor of exploitation and B-movies. James Harvey Nicholson, from Seattle, Washington, was long interested in genre films even as a teenager in the silent era. He soon was working as an usher and then projectionist. Before long, he began to manage and own theaters. In the early 1950s, while working in the advertising department of distributor Realart Pictures, Nicholson was threatened with a lawsuit by filmmakers Alex Gordon and Ed Wood after one of Realart’s titles was found to be identical to a script they had written. Gordon and Wood’s lawyer was none other than Sam Arkoff, with whom Nicholson became fast friends. Arkoff, by contrast, was from Iowa and had studied to be an entertainment lawyer. He entered the industry through producing the TV sitcom The Hank McCune Show, the first ever to employ a laugh track.

In their decades-long creative partnership, Nicholson was something of a connoisseur while Arkoff brought solid business sense. It was at American International that B-maverick producer/director Roger Corman got his start. In the 1950s, American International had several sleeper hits including the Corman-produced thriller The Fast and the Furious (1955) and the youth film/horror hybrid I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957). In the early 1960s, they put out a series of Corman-directed Edgar Allen Poe-themed period horror pieces including The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and Masque of the Red Death (1964). They revolutionized the beach and biker subgenres with films like Beach Party (1963) and Corman’s The Wild Angels (1966).

Releasing numerous double-bills to grindhouses and drive-ins, American International became a major distributor for foreign genre and exploitation films, releasing many of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava’s works such as Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963). Nicholson and Arkoff had been among the bidders for the original 1954 Godzilla, losing out to Goldman and Levine. By the mid-1960s, however, they became one of the top distributors of tokusatsu cinema in the United States, releasing a good chunk of Toho and Daiei’s monsterrific ’60s output to theaters and television. Furthermore, Nicholson and Arkoff tended to show more restraint in their approach to film localization; their American editions tended to differ less from the Japanese versions than other distributors’ and were virtually uncut. Their final tokusatsu release was Godzilla vs. Hedorah (as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster) in 1972, released on a double-bill in many cities with AIP’s own eco-horror thriller Frogs.

Nicholson left AIP to start his own company that same year, producing the British horror thriller The Legend of Hell House (1973) and spearheading Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) before passing away from brain cancer in December. Nicholson and Arkoff’s protégé Roger Corman would also found his own company, New World Pictures, in 1970, which became a major distributor for foreign and midnight movies, later releasing Toho’s Submersion of Japan (1973) and The Return of Godzilla (1984) as Tidal Wave and Godzilla 1985, respectively. Arkoff would keep AIP running, pioneering the “blaxploitation” subgenre with films like Blacula (1972) and Coffy (1973). In AIP’s final years, though he had some major successes like The Amityville Horror (1979), Arkoff could not keep the company profitable. The final straw was the disastrous flop Meteor (also 1979), after which Arkoff sold AIP to Filmways.

One Hollywood producer who took a more hands-on approach and was directly involved with the production of tokusatsu films was HENRY G. SAPERSTEIN (1918–1998). Henry “Hank” Gagahen Saperstein was born in Chicago. His father, Aaron Saperstein, was a theater owner who ran five movie houses in the Chicago area. Occasionally, Aaron would take young Hank to Los Angeles for industry conventions where the boy would play with the cast of The Little Rascals. In college, he was a self-described “playboy” and majored in math and aeronautical engineering. When his father passed away in 1938, Hank dropped out of school and took over the theater business. Drafted into World War II, he sold the theaters and produced training shorts for the war effort.

Henry Saperstein (right)

Post-war, Hank Saperstein was ahead of the times. Seeing that television was gaining traction in American homes, he began buying the rights to low-budget Westerns and selling them to television stations. By the 1950s, Saperstein was one of the first entertainment entrepreneurs to experiment with branding and merchandising, creating licensed Lassie, Lone Ranger and Dick Tracy products. Striking up a deal with Elvis Presley’s manager, Saperstein had particular success selling wildly popular Elvis apparel.

In 1960, Henry Saperstein would acquire the animation company United Productions of America (UPA). UPA, founded by disgruntled Disney animators following a union strike, was best known for its iconic character Mr. Magoo. The company was close to financial collapse in the wake of the box office failure of the Magoo vehicle 1001 Arabian Nights (1959). At UPA, Saperstein would soon produce the animated feature The Gay Purr-ee, along with Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (both 1962), the very first animated TV Christmas special. Its success would pave the way for a popular Mr. Magoo TV series.

Looking to expand UPA’s prospects outside of animation, Saperstein wanted to produce films that could be easily sold to television stations. Hearing that TV station owners particularly loved to air horror and science fiction films, Saperstein paid a visit to the Academy of Arts and Sciences’ library where he asked the librarian, Margaret Herrick, what company produced the best science fiction and horror films. She responded with Hammer in the United Kingdom and Toho in Japan. Saperstein had already dealt with Hammer in the past and found them difficult to handle, so he opted to approach Toho. Saperstein attended a screening of the original Godzilla and was particularly taken by how much fanfare the titular monster got from audiences. He prepared for his dealings, allegedly taking classes on Japanese business etiquette, though according to his daughter this may be an overembellishment. In his own words: “They were wary of any gaijin, it doesn’t mean foreigner, it means outsider. You’re outside of their ‘kingdom of the sun,’ they’re wary of anyone coming in who wants to be involved, in any meaningful way. But I came in, and I offered up some ideas that made the pictures more viable in the international marketplace, and I was willing to put money on the line, this appealed to them, and I guess that’s how I broke through. They thought it was interesting.”

Saperstein wound up distributing Invasion of Astro-Monster and The War of the Gargantuas with Maron Films in 1970.

Realizing the potential of Saperstein’s suggestions, Toho became more open to direct input so their monster pictures could be better sold abroad. The streetwise producer thus negotiated a multi-picture deal with Toho. Rather than shoot new footage with an American actor as had been done with the likes of Raymond Burr in Godzilla, John Carradine in Half Human or Myron Healey in Varan, Saperstein cut out the middleman and simply brought Hollywood actors to Japan for starring roles. The first was Nick Adams, who was experiencing a downturn in his career and seeking work abroad, in Frankenstein Conquers the World and Invasion of Astro-Monster (both 1965). Russ Tamblyn was cast next for The War of the Gargantuas (1966), though Saperstein would go on to call him “a royal pain-in-the-ass.” It was Saperstein who, with his influence on the script of Invasion of Astro-Monster, was integral in Godzilla’s transformation from villain to hero as he believed the monster could be a lot more marketable as a “good guy.” Invasion of Astro-Monster and The War of the Gargantuas were not released until 1970 as Saperstein would have a falling out with Sam Arkoff of AIP, who had been releasing his collaborations with Toho, effectively leaving him without a distributor.

After co-producing Hell in the Pacific (1968), a war movie directed by John Boorman and featuring Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune, Saperstein and UPA would become a major steward for Japanese monster pictures, distributing a considerable portion of Toho’s genre library to American TV in the 1970s and ’80s. Saperstein was also crucial in getting his Toho library onto stateside home video. Additionally, it was Hank Saperstein’s efforts that would lead to a Hollywood Godzilla film being produced decades later.

Arthur Rankin Jr. (left) and Jules Bass (right).

Another producer pair rival to Saperstein who worked in animation and directly with the Japanese industry were ARTHUR RANKIN JR. (1924–2014) and JULES BASS (1935-), best known for their company Rankin-Bass, beloved for its holiday-themed television specials. Rankin Jr., from New York, was the son of actor Arthur Rankin, whose stepfather had been Harry Davenport, best known for his role in Gone With the Wind (1939). As a young man, Rankin began his career as an art director for the fledgling American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1948. Jules Bass, from Philadelphia, was an alumnus of New York University and worked at an advertising agency. Rankin and Bass would become good friends and found a company called Videocraft in 1960, soon to be renamed Rankin-Bass.

Rankin and Bass immediately developed an affinity for working with Japanese creators as it was cheaper than hiring American companies while maintaining a level of creativity, professionalism and quality comparable to what could be made in Hollywood. Classic “Animagic” Rankin-Bass specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Mad Monster Party (1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) were in fact created in Japan by stop-motion pioneers including Tadahito Mochinaga. Rankin and Bass also liked to hire out anime firms from Japan; Frosty the Snowman (1969) was created at Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Pro. Later cel-animated fantasy works like The Hobbit (1977), The Last Unicorn (1982) and the popular TV cartoon Thundercats (1985–87) were brought to life at Topcraft, later known for its work on Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984).

Additionally, Rankin and Bass dabbled in producing live action Japanese fantasy co-productions with a variety of studios. These included King Kong Escapes (1967) with Toho and a quartet of films made closely with Tsuburaya Productions including The Last Dinosaur (1977), The Bermuda Depths (1978) and The Ivory Ape (1980). Rankin and Bass’ final collaboration would be The Wind and the Willows (1987), its animation created in Taiwan. Bass retired soon after, while Rankin’s final producer credit was on the animated adaptation of The King and I (1999). Rankin’s wife was Olga Karlatos, best known for her eye-puncturing turn in Lucio Fulci’s Zombie 2 (1979); the two would retire in Bermuda. There Rankin would head film lectures at Bermuda College.

A prominent television producer who brought Japanese media to American airwaves and later home video was SANDY FRANK (1929-). Born Sundel Francous in New York, Frank started in sales for Paramount before moving to NBC and Wrather Corp. In 1964, he started his own company and released episodes of Lassie to syndicated airwaves, making him a popular TV distributor. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, he produced a variety of game shows and sitcoms including The Bill Cosby Show, The Dating Game and Name That Tune. Frank released Tatsunoko’s anime program Gatchaman in the United States as Battle of the Planets in 1978. By the 80s, Sandy Frank would distribute a number of tokusatsu properties from Daiei and Tsuburaya Productions. He purchased five of the Gamera films, along with TV series from Tsuburaya Productions little seen stateside, including Mighty Jack, Army of the Apes and Star Wolf. Frank and his company simply compiled episodes of these programs together into pseudo-features and distributed them to video and television. It’s alleged that Frank faked a heart attack on a plane to buy time to snag the rights for Army of the Apes. In recent years, Frank has become known for a variety of colorful controversies and legal spats, including filing suit against the state of Michigan for denying his company a tax credit for film production.

Haim Saban

Of any entertainment mogul to bring tokusatsu media to American TV, few are as influential or powerful as HAIM SABAN (1944-), whose friends include the Clinton political dynasty. Saban was born in Alexandria, Egypt. His father worked at a toy store there. In the wake of the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Sabans were forced to emigrate to Israel when the Egyptian government ordered its Jewish citizens to leave the country. The Sabans lived in Tel Aviv and young Haim was sent to an agricultural boarding school. There he started and ran a successful manure removal business though was eventually expelled for being a troublemaker. Saban was told, “You’re not cut out for academic studies; you’re cut out for making money.” Saban served in the Israeli Defense Force and began to dabble in the entertainment industry, booking musicians to venues. By the late 1960s, he was one of Israel’s major concert promoters and entertainment managers.

In the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the resulting global recession, Saban moved from Israel to Paris. Saban’s prolific involvement in both television and Japanese media began in earnest when a child singer he was representing sang the theme song for the French adaptation of the anime series Grendizer. Saban began to deal in worldwide licensing for music from cartoons. During this period, Saban would also meet his longtime business partner SHUKI LEVY (1947-). Working closely with DiC, Saban relocated to Los Angeles in 1983 and the two would compose themes for many notable cartoons including Heathcliff and Inspector Gadget. By 1986, Saban sold a back catalog of cartoon jingles to Warner Communications and was now a respected and powerful media mogul.

Margaret Loesch

Around the same time, Saban was eagerly pitching a pilot combining Japanese FX footage with American actors. While visiting Japan, Saban dealt with Toei, who had previously collaborated with Marvel on Spider-Man and Battle Fever J. He purchased footage from their newest Super Sentai entry, Bioman. It was here that Saban created the blueprint for his someday iconic Power Rangers franchise: using Sentai FX and stunt footage but with the Japanese actors and plot remade with American counterparts. For years, Saban would give VHS copies to interested parties, but according to Shuki Levy, the reception was often one of ridicule. A few years later, in the early 1990s, Fox Kids executive and former Marvel suit MARGARET LOESCH (1946-), on the hunt for new content, paid Saban a visit. At Marvel, Loesch had previously been interested in releasing an adaptation of Toei’s Spider-Man to American airwaves, but these plans never came to pass. Marvel, Stan Lee and Loesch had also attempted to sell Sun Vulcan to U.S. TV stations in the 1980s, but none were interested. Saban gave Loesch a tape of Bioman and she fought hard for Saban’s pitch. The other executives were concerned that the program was too violent and that its Japanese-style special effects would not win over American tykes. They were dead wrong.

On August 28th, 1993, just as the ‘93–94 school year began, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers premiered on Fox. Saban and Levy had again purchased the rights to another Super Sentai entry from Toei, this time their recent Dinosaur Squadron Zyuranger. The show featured fantastical monsters and a dinosaur-themed Sentai team and mechas. Once again, the Japanese actor footage was scrapped and the program was remade and rewritten with an accessible American cast. It was dumb but forturious luck on Saban’s part that Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park had just been released that summer, so dinosaurs were wildly popular among American boys when Power Rangers hit the waves weeks later. By the holidays, Power Ranger toys from Bandai lay wrapped beneath countless American Christmas trees. Haim Saban had managed to give Toei’s Sentai properties a far greater penetration into commercial American pop culture than anything from Toho or Tsuburaya Productions. His ascent from scrappy music promoter to world-class media mogul was complete. While some American parents and media watchdog groups criticized the show for its violence, in reality harshly censored from Zyuranger, the Power Rangers franchise was an utter phenomenon. Fox wanted more and Saban would even order further stunt and tokusatsu unit footage from Toei, employing FX director Hiroshi Butsuda and the suit modeling firm Rainbow Productions to extend the program’s run.

In addition to Sentai, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy would also try their hand at Americanizing other Toei tokusatsu series. First the Metal Hero shows Shaider, Spielban and Metalder became VR Troopers which premiered in 1994. Kamen Rider Black RX would become Masked Rider in 1995. Beetle Fighter and Kabuto were next adapted into Big Bad Beetleborgs in 1996. Power Rangers would meanwhile continue its immense popularity with a Hollywood feature film in 1995.

Saban and his creative team would also repurpose FX footage from the subsequent Sentai programs Dairanger and Kakuranger as the Zyuranger-style costumes were retained due to their popularity. Eventually, with Power Rangers Zeo in 1996, Saban changed his angle. From here, each new Power Rangers series would have a new cast and be adapted from the previous year’s Super Sentai. The franchise has continued largely uninterrupted to this day. Another theatrical feature was released in 1997, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, which bombed critically and commercially. In 2001, Power Rangers wound up in the hands of Disney and years later was nearly retired after 2009’s Power Rangers RPM. Saban, however, bought back the rights, enabling the property to continue to the present. Another Hollywood feature film reboot was released in 2017.

In more recent years, Sony producer MICHAEL SCHLESINGER (1950-) was responsible for the American version of Godzilla 2000 (1999) which played in U.S. theaters during the summer of 2000. He was also instrumental in bringing the other Millennium Godzilla pictures to American shores on video. Schlesinger created one of the better American cuts of a Godzilla entry with Tristar’s Godzilla 2000, using some effective alternate music cues and a quality English dub with Asian-American voice talent. As Sony still held the rights to produce one more Godzilla picture, Schlesinger even pushed for a Hollywood-made sequel to Godzilla 2000 entitled Godzilla: Reborn which was nearly greenlit.

Godzilla: Reborn was to have been directed by Gremlins’ Joe Dante for $20 million, a paltry sum by Hollywood standards with practical, tokusatsu-style monster sequences crafted by Toho’s FX unit. To be set and filmed in Hawaii, the project was to have a comedic tone akin to Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1991) or Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996). Shiro Sano’s character from Godzilla 2000 was even to return, along with an-all star slew of cult actors including Bruce Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Scott Bakula, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller and Ken Takakura. Sony’s brass, however, suffered a shake-up with its newer, younger heads less than enthused about approving a $20 million cult picture. As such, Sony’s rights would expire. THOMAS TULL (1970-) and Legendary Pictures would next acquire the rights to Godzilla via Yoshimitsu Banno’s failed IMAX extravaganza Godzilla 3-D: To the Max, leading to Godzilla (2014) and the ongoing “Monsterverse” series. In the years since, Michael Schlesinger has produced Larry Blamire’s The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (2008) and Dark and Stormy Night (2009) and directed short films including It’s a Frame-Up! (2013), a tribute to old-school Hollywood comedy.

Koichi Kawakita (left) and Tim Burton (right) on the set of Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992).

A variety of Hollywood directors are known fans of tokusatsu media. Many grew up enjoying these films at the drive-in or on TV simultaneously to the likes of Shusuke Kaneko, Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi and Takeshi Yagi and were similarly inspired by them. These include TIM BURTON (1958-), who threw a sequence spoofing the production of a Godzilla film into Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), used footage from Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) in Mars Attacks! (1996) and included a Gamera-style turtle monster in Frankenweenie (2012). After wrapping production on his own Batman Returns (1992), Burton would even visit Koichi Kawakita’s FX unit and be present for the FX “crank-in” of Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). QUENTIN TARANTINO (1963-) also adores Japanese special effects and monster films. He included nods to them in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), where he worked with FX art director Toshio Miike and miniatures left over from Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001). Tarantino also based the rough-and-tumble brawl between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) on that of monsters Sanda and Gaira in The War of the Gargantuas (1966). South Park’s TREY PARKER (1969-) included Toho monster references in the classic episode “Mecha Streisand” and wanted to make a spoof of the kaiju genre with an unmade project entitled Giant Monsters Attack Japan. GUILLERMO DEL TORO (1964-) is also an admirer of the tokusatsu medium, paying loving homage to Japanese science fiction in Pacific Rim (2013). Other notable Hollywood fans include Nicolas Cage, who is sometimes sighted wearing Godzilla merchandise, and Don Coscarelli, the director of Phantasm (1979).

Quentin Tarantino shot a tokusatsu-style miniature segment for the Bride’s landing in Tokyo in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003).

While many of the figures named here draw criticisms from fans for their alterations of Japanese media, regardless, these tokusatsu films and shows would be unknown stateside if not for their distributors. It could be argued that the very reason these works found success abroad was because of their Americanizations. Without the Western face of Raymond Burr and its commentary on the atomic bombings removed, Godzilla (1954) may have been a hard sell only a decade after the Pacific War. In the case of Saban and Power Rangers, the show, even in its vastly tempered form, was considered too violent by many American parents. The violence level of unaltered Super Sentai would not have been considered fit for airing in the United States. At the end of the day, the large stateside fandoms for Toho’s monster films and Toei’s TV shows would not exist in the first place without the efforts of these daring producers who staked their careers to get Japanese media into America’s theaters and onto its airwaves.

J.L. Carrozza (1986-) is a filmmaker and the author of the books SF: The Japanese Science Fiction Film Encyclopedia (2021) and Japanese Special Effects Cinema: Godfathers of Tokusatsu Vol. 1 (2022). This article is an excerpt from his next book Japanese Special Effects Cinema: Godfathers of Tokusatsu Vol. 2 (2023). Carrozza has written for such publications as Asian Cult Cinema, Monster Attack Team and Otaku USA.

Special thanks to Tyler Martin.

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J.L. Carrozza

Jules L. Carrozza (1986-) is a film director, video editor, writer, graphic designer and general crazy person.