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Soon after graduating from Kansai University in 1940, Tanaka joined Toho Studios. After four years with the company, he began producing his own films. In his 60-year career with Toho, Tanaka produced more than 200 films.
He is best known as the creator, with director Ishirō Honda and special-effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, of Godzilla, the towering embodiment of post-World War II anxiety. Tanaka created Godzilla in 1954 in an effort to illlustrate the terror Japanese felt after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The classic Godzilla would spawn a series of sequels, adding up to 28 films by 2004.
In addition to other sci-fi thrillers (often with the other three members of the Godzilla team: Honda and Tsuburaya, and composer Akira Ifukube) such as The Mysterians and Matango, Tanaka produced films directed by the acclaimed Akira Kurosawa. One of them, Kagemusha was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar and took the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes, tying with All That Jazz.
He has a dedication to his death in GODZILLA.