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From Godzilla to Godzilla: the Art of Yasuyuki Inoue

An exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo to discover one of the heroes of Japanese cinema.

by Giacomo Donati

One hundread years after his birth, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo celebrates with a retrospective exhibition the work of the special effects production designer Yasuyuki Inoue, who left a significant mark on the history of Japanese cinema.

Inoue marked his debut in the special effect’s world when in 1954 he joined legendary SFX director Eiji Tsuburaya's team for the production of the first Godzilla, with which the Kaijū Eiga (monster cinema) genre was inaugurated.

Having studied architecture with Iwao Yamawaki, who brought the Bauhaus to Japan, Inoue design was painstakingly precise and his architectural background gave him also a wider knowledge of space, so that every miniature set was designed with the camera positioning in mind, so that it could be inserted almost everywhere, offering the directors an incredible flexibility when filming.
On top of that, he discussed the best shooting options with the directors, so that the best picture angle was also the most decorated.

During his career, Inoue served as art director and production designer for many memorable Japanese films and television shows: every time, he put all his energies into creating worlds that where meant to be inexorably destroyed during the shooting, in some ways replicating the same ephemeral nature of Buddhist mandalas.

The exhibition has been created by the SFX artists who walk in Inoue’s footsteps. The visitors will be able to enjoy a breathtaking immersion into what decades of amazing analog SFX have created, observing a full scale replica made by Inoue’s beloved apprentice Toshio Miike of the Nishitetsu Fukuoka Station that appeared in Rodan (1956), while enjoying a filming simulation.

Along with it, tracing Inoue’s path through the world of SFX, the exhibit includes a countless amount of his sketches, concept designs, storyboards, and research photos along with miniatures, props used for movies and TV shows including Godzilla (1954), Rodan (1956), King Kong Vs Godzilla (1962), Atragon (1963), Ultra Q (1966), The War of the Gargantuas (1966), Battle of the Japan Sea (1970), Godzilla VS. Hedorah (1971), Submersion of Japan (1973), The War in Space (1977), The Imperial Navy (1981), Godzilla (1984) and Princess from the Moon (1987).

Inoue has had a great influence on the subsequent generations in the special effects field and many citations of his work can be seen in nowadays’ movies, where CG has completely changed the way SFX are done: still, this exhibition, offering a wide look into Inoue's imaginative worlds, is certainly set to inspire new generations of film and TV enthusiasts.

The art of Special Effects Production Designer Yasuyuki “TAIKO” Inoue
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
19 March – 19 June, 2022