Tomoyuki Tanaka, a prolific movie producer who shaped Japan’s post-Hiroshima nightmare into a fearsome giant lizard that the world came to know as Godzilla, died on Wednesday. He was 86.
Tanaka, one of Japan’s best-known producers and chairman of the movie house Toho Co., died of a stroke at a Tokyo hospital.
Among his more than 200 films were such titles as “Mysterians” and “H-Man,” movies beloved by science fiction and special-effects buffs.
But it was on Godzilla, known as Gojira in Japan, that Tanaka made his name. The original movie depicted a reptile awakened from its long slumber by hydrogen bomb testing in the South Pacific in 1954. Over the course of 22 Godzilla films, the monster’s personality and the tone of the movies mirrored Japan’s post-war evolution from shock and anger to gradual recovery.
“At first Godzilla was a terrifying, city-destroying, fire-breathing thing,” said David J. Skal, author of “The Monster Show.”
“But as Japan dug out from the cataclysm of World War II and started getting on its feet and became a major world power again, Godzilla became tamed, almost cuddly, a beloved pop icon to adults and children around the world.”
For instance, in “Godzilla versus Gigan” (1972), a comic-book artist enlists the services of Godzilla and friends, foiling a scheme by giant alien cockroaches to take over the world.
Godzilla took on everyone from King Kong to Bambi, cultivating a following on television, in video stores and comic books and on toy shelves. He even has multiple home pages on the World Wide Web.
Tanaka joined Toho in 1940 after graduating from Kansai University, and became a producer four years later. He went on to produce movies with Academy Award winning director Akira Kurosawa, including ‘Akahige” (Red Beard) and “Kagemusha” (The Shadow Warrior).
Peter Kuran, a visual effects producer at the Los Angeles company VCE, remembers as a child being mesmerized by Tanaka’s movies. He recalls with special fondness “H-Man,” about fishermen who change to monsters after being exposed to hydrogen bomb radiation and attack people.
Tanaka is survived by his wife and three children.
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