After decades of countless films and television series, Tsuburaya Productions broke significant ground with the highly anticipated Tsuburaya Convention (Tsubucon for short), held December 14 and 15, 2019 at Tokyo Dome City. their first convention gathering of fans from Japan, America, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. Eager to meet their Ultra heroes, fans descended upon Tsubucon snatching up coveted exclusives and attending breakout panels, concerts and parties over the two-day weekend at the largest festival in Tsuburaya Productions’ history.
©Tsuburaya Productions ©Eiichi Shimizu, Tomohiro Shimoguchi ©Ultraman Production Consortium
During opening ceremonies in the aptly titled Prism Hall, director Shinji Higuchi (Shin Godzilla, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water) and actor Takumi Saito (Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku, 13 Assassins) discussed their nostalgic memories of growing up with the King of the Heroes. The lasting vision of designer Tohl Narita, who helped flesh out the heroes, monsters, and machinery of Ultra Q, Ultraman, Ultraseven, and Mighty Jack series was championed along with episodic directors, production crews, and the old man himself, director, Eiji Tsuburaya, the God of Tokusatsu.
Saito and Higuchi unveil Shin Ultraman maquette ©Tsuburaya Productions
Higuchi and Saito unveiled preliminary designs for the hotly anticipated Shin Ultraman, set for release in 2021, which reunites Higuchi with longtime collaborator and creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hideaki Anno. The new streamlined design this incarnation of Ultraman is patterned on elements of Tohl Narita’s painting "Incarnation of Truth, Justice and Beauty" and the body of 1966 suit actor Satoshi Furuya, who was also a special guest during the weekend festivities. Future anime series, including of a continuation of the Netflix Ultraman series based on the manga by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi, and upcoming attractions, such as the SSSS.Gridman stage play, were also lauded over with heavy applause and jubilant cheers from the audience.
M1GO's GID Jiras Vinyl Figure ©Tsuburaya Productions
As seasoned fans and novices dived deep into the vast world of beloved characters like Mirrorman and Ultraman Taiga, the overflowing sales floor at Tsuburaya Wonderfestival provided a fountain of goods, photo booths, and exhibits. Many fans had the opportunity to see celebrity guests they have always dreamed of meeting and, with the permission of Tsuburaya, artisans released one-day figures and merchandise, covering everything from Ultraman to Ultraman Zearth for voracious customers.
Ultraman Live Music Symphony evening show farewell ©Tsuburaya Productions
Fifteen separate talk shows and two premium priced dinner parties with original actors from the treasured shows were held at the Tokyo Dome Hotel, but the most frequented galas were the Sunday Ultraman Music Live symphonic concerts, featuring the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra with appearances by theme song artists, and actors. The second evening performance closed out the resounding fanfare with stars, Susumu Kurobe, Hiroko Sakurai, and the Ultra heroes.
Redman comic artist, Matt Frank was thrilled by enthusiastic fans who stopped by. “The fandom was vitally strong for this first outing of Tsubucon,” said Frank. Additional artists present were Yuji Kaida, Shinji Nishikawa, and Hiroshi Kanatani.
At the opening ceremony, Saito reflected, “When I was chosen as the man who would become an Ultraman, I didn't think I would really be able to transform. It was like a dream.” And just like a fantasy fulfilled, the original series since its first broadcast in 1966, has been televised in more than 100 regions and several languages across the nebula. It was pure bliss to visit the first successful Tsubucon and hopefully many more to come, where others will relish the shining spirit of a company founded on entertainment based on peace, love, surprise, and hope for the future.
Edward L. Holland is a photojournalist living and working in Japan. He has written for Stars and Stripes Japan, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and is a recipient of a community service award from the cabinet office of the Government of Japan.
Article and photos by David Namba
The DNA of Tokusatsu Ultraman Genealogy exhibition on Ultraman, the reigning king of Japan heroes and the history of Tsuburaya Productions safely lands with COVID-19 prevention measures at Gallery AaMo in Tokyo Dome City. From the first program in 1966 to today, no Tsuburaya hero or program is left out at this game multimedia exhibition that additionally highlights Reiwa era hitters like Ultraman Z, now running Saturday mornings on TV Tokyo and the Ultraman Tsuburaya YouTube channel.