Akio Jissoji died on Wednesday night. Akio Jissoji was a Japanese TV and film director. He got his first big break directing episodes of Ultraman. The episodes he directed were weird and wonderful things to behold. In fact, if it weren’t for his contributions, I doubt Ultraman would have become the cultural icon it did. Granted, a lot of other factors were involved. But the shows Jissoji directed were so incredible they helped the show transcend the normal confines of a kids’ superhero program to become something wholy other.
Probably his best known episode was called “The Graveyard of Monsters.” In this episode, the Science Patrol, the group of stalwart defenders of planet Earth whose job it is to rid the world of pesky skyscraper sized iguanas and invading alien chicken-men, finds a graveyard of monsters in outer space. It is here that Ultraman has placed the bodies of all the monsters he and the Science Patrol have killed. The members of the patrol wax philosophical about how these creatures have now found peace. They decide to hold a Buddhist funeral ceremony for the monsters. Agent Fuji weeps for the dead beasts as a group of monks chant the Heart Sutra. Just then, a rocket launched by the Japanese Space Agency accidentally hits one of the monsters in the graveyard and it plummets back to Earth. The monster, looking something like the skeleton of an Allosaurus, wants only to get back to his resting place. But, in trying to do so, he creates havoc in Tokyo. The Science Patrol attacks, but the monster cannot be stopped. Finally Ultraman is able to transport the creature to the graveyard.
Another one of his was called “The Fearful Cosmic Rays,” about a child’s drawing of a monster that comes to life. Check this one out kids. Whoever put this up on You Tube used the opening credits for the wrong episode, but this really is by Jissoji. It switches to English after the first few minutes. We have the complete English version in our company vaults, but whoever put this together apparently didn’t have access to those.
After Ultraman, Jissoji floudered a bit. He obviously had talent. But his films tended to go over audiences heads. In the 90’s he started directing Ultraman episodes again and produced some more truly unbelievable stuff. One of his episodes of Ultraman Max (2005) has a guy who writes Ultraman Max episodes for a living finding himself trapped in one of his own shows. Very surreal stuff for the 6 year olds who form the main audience.
I never really knew Jissoji personally. But his long-time assistant Shogase is a friend of mine. Jissoji was a great talent and I’ll miss him.