If you’ve found this blog, that most likely means one of two things: Either you already know what tokusatsu is, and you’re looking for info about one in particular, or you’re just entering random crap into Google search to see what comes up. I say its most likely one of those two, because I highly doubt that you came here because you care about my opinion, otherwise I would have regular visitors (if you do visit regularly, please let me know). But on the off chance that your not in any of the groups mentioned, then there is a chance that you’re here because you just learned about the existence of tokusatsu and are curious about what it actually is, and Wikipedia isn’t quite giving as much information as you’d like. For those of you who seem to fit this categorey, this post is just for you! Because those other people already know or don’t care!
So then, where do I start? Well let’s start with the word itself. First off, its a Japanese term, which makes it cool by default. Second off, its actually a slang word for the Japanese for “special effects”, which works out well for those of us on the web, because we go crazy for slang. Tokusatsu as a genre really goes back to the original Godzilla film, which was one of the first Japanese sci-fi flicks, so it had to use a variety of special effects that were spectacular back then, but passé and cheesy by todays standards. In many ways, the way they setup the Godzilla movies is still used in tokusatsu today. Essentially, you have a person wearing a giant monster suit, parading through a scale model version of a major city, with the whole thing brought to life with a mix of on set and editted in special effects. This can be seen in any example of tokusatsu made since then. Essentially, the roots of tokusatsu lie in science fiction movies and television shows from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.
Of course, when we think about tokusatsu series nowadays, we tend to think about superheroes, and not so much about about giant fake monsters, even though they’re still there. Though there were occasional superhero stories made in the 50’s in Japan, the first tokusatsu superhero is unanimously considered to be Ultraman. Debutting in 1966, Ultraman was an overnight success, proving the popularity of science fiction superheroes with younger audiences. Ultraman‘s popularity eventually led to the shows serialization, where it was followed by numerous versions to the series, each with their own Ultraman and their own storylines. But of course, Ultraman isn’t the only superhero in the world of tokusatsu.
Because of Ultraman’s success, there was now a rush to produce another series that could equally compete with the popularity of the show. For a time, no one could compete with Tsuburaya Productions (the company that created Ultraman). There were many one shot series that were similar, and plenty of series that outright tried to copy the concept, but no one could match the success that Ultraman had gained. That is until 1971, when the original Kamen Rider debutted. Created by Ishinomori Shotaro, and produced by Toei, the series was part of a move to create more American-style superhero series. With the success of Kamen Rider and it’s many following series still being produced today, this formally introduced the transforming superhero to tokusatsu. With this also came the use of better, more elaborate special effects, a move towards more realistic, martial-arts movie style fighting, and the emphasis on a main villian who acts through minions. The main down side to this change was the shift away from the giant monster fights tokusatsu is known for, though this was temporary.
With the success of Kamen Rider came numerous other shows that tried to mimic the style, not only in tokusatsu but in other media, including anime and manga, leading to the creation of the five-man superhero team, which was brought to the genre through the Super Sentai series. Introduced in 1975 with Himitsu Sentai Goranger, it expanded the tokusatsu genre by bring a mix between the Ultraman-style giant monster fighting with the Kamen Rider-style realistic main-monster-and-minions fight. It also introduced the idea of the team dynamic to the genre, since before then most tokusatsu superheroes before then usually worked alone. And of course, like Ultraman and Kamen Rider before it, Super Sentai has felt success and had multiple versions since it was introduced.
Since its inception, tokusatsu has drastically changed, and yet stays very much the same, much like the people and culture that spawned it. From its origins in science fiction, its come to expand to incorporate action, adventure, fantasy, drama, and many other genres, though it tends to go back to science fiction and action. Even as special effects improve with time and technological advances, it will always come down to a person in a full-body costume.
-M.C., the Quantum Twin