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Hello, dear readers! We are very excited to show you our newest project – a blog dedicated to the fascinating world of tokusatsu films and TV shows. We believe that not enough people are familiar with this term, but we feel like they should be considering how influential tokusatsu is.

We will use our first blog post to tell you all about tokusatsu, so pay attention and have fun learning!

What is Tokusatsu

The Japanese word “tokusatsu” translates literally to “special effects”, which itself comes from the term “tokushu satsuei”, meaning “special photography”. To put it in the appropriate context though, tokusatsu in filmmaking refers to live-action movies and TV series that make use of practical special effects.

Practical special effects are reproduced materially, as opposed to computer-generated images and animations. A famous example of practical special effects are the AT-ATs in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), which were essentially small toys that were filmed in a way to appear taller than skyscrapers.

History of Tokusatsu

The history of tokusatsu, despite being a film phenomenon, started way before the Lumiere brothers shot their La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière or Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895).

Tokusatsu traces its origin back to Japanese theatre. It was inspired by both puppet theatre, called bunraku, and the dance-drama theatre, known as kabuki, which sports impressive action and fighting sequences. As such, tokusatsu can be considered a continuation of a long and beautiful tradition of Japanese storytelling.

The first, and most notorious, product of tokusatsu is Godzilla (dir. by Ishirō Honda, 1954), which is known as Gojira in Japan. The influential film created a genre of its own – the kaiju (strange monster) film – and kickstarted the tokusatsu film movement. We will tell you everything about this game-changing film in our first article, which would be dedicated to it.

Many other kaiju films followed in the next few decades showing us the now-iconic monsters such as Gamera and King Ghidorah.

The tokusatsu movement, however, began evolving past its kaiju beginnings. The film Super Giant (dir. by Teruo Ishii, 1957) utilized the techniques of tokusatsu but placed a human, or rather a superhero, at the centre, which inspired a new era of tokusatsu called “the Henshin Boom” or the era of masked superheroes.

Monsters still played a significant part in these films since the masked superheroes had to defeat them for the well-being of humanity. Soon, they started moving to the small screen as well with the release of Moonlight Mask in 1958. Its creator, Kōhan Kawauchi, went on to make many other tokusatsu TV series such as Seven Color Mask.

The cultural relevance of tokusatsu was quickly noted by the Western world. Godzilla, albeit dubbed and edited, reached British and American audiences in 1956, and that was just the beginning of a larger trend.

Many other Japanese tokusatsu films and TV shows were released in Europe and North America, inspiring western filmmakers to follow in their footsteps (Steven Spielberg being one of them).

Some original Japanese productions were edited by excluding certain parts and including new ones with English-speaking actors. However, original tokusatsu Western productions were also created.

Gorgo (dir. by Eugène Lourié, 1961) is one of the first such films, while Star Trek (1966-1969) is one of the first such TV series (not all consider ST TOS tokusatsu, but it’s overwhelmingly thought as such in Japan).

Tokusatsu Techniques

One of the most important, and most apparent techniques of tokusatsu is suitmation. The term relates to actors wearing costumes to recreate the monsters on the screen, starting with Godzilla.

Other techniques they utilized were puppets, inspired by bunraku, including sophisticated animatronics. Stop-motion was also used to portray the fighting scenes. The towns destroyed by kaiju were made with the utmost care from wood and plastic.

In later years, the animatronics only became more impressive and the special effects sometimes utilized CGI, albeit not fully, so as not to betray the practical nature of tokusatsu.

Types of Tokusatsu Villains

There are three main types of tokusatsu villains:

  • Kaiju – The Strange/Mysterious Monster
  • Kaijin – The Strange/Mysterious Person
  • Yōkai – The Spirit/Demon


That’s the brief introduction into tokusatsu and now that you know the history and application of this Japanese film art, you can appreciate it better when you read our articles.