In Review: Shin Ultraman

Review by Tim Robins

Shin Ultraman

I never thought I’d want to see a Toho Kaiju movie in the cinema (too much silly wrestling in rubber costumes – but enough about my private life) but Shin Ultraman enjoyed a brief run at my local Odeon and word of mouth was generally good. I can recommend that you keep your eyes open for further screenings.

In the United States, Cleopatra Entertainment has acquired territory rights to the the film from Tsuburaya Productions, and has announced it will be released there on VOD Platforms and also as a Deluxe Home Entertainment package, in Blu Ray and DVD formats.

“New” Ultraman is from director Shinji Higuchi (of the live-action Attack on Titan fame) and Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion), its writer, co-editor and co-producer. It follows in the gigantic footprints of the hugely successful Shin Godzilla, the previous collaboration between Toho and Tsuburaya Productions. Both films are of a piece, although copyright restrictions mean the characters can’t formally inhabit a shared universe. A third reboot, Shin Kamen Rider, another tokusatsu, a live action special effects-laden film or TV programme, is slated for later this year.

My first inkling of an Ultraman revival was seeing the Titan Comics tie-in title on the shelves of my local comic shop. Shin Ultraman is the 37th film in the series, so there’s a whole life-time of catching up to do. There have been many different iterations of the so-called “ultras”, so that, much like Doctor Who fans, everyone has their favourite Ultraman, depending on who they grew up with.

You don’t need to know the extensive character continuity to enjoy the movie. However, I am grateful to the YouTube channel, Blunova, for filling me in on the film’s many references to its progenitor, including repeated shots, music and monsters. The music is partly lifted from the old TV series and has a nostalgic feel, gesturing to the beats of old cop shows, spy adventures and Thunderbirds.

Shin Ultraman

The new Shin Ultraman won me over largely because of its sense of humour. The various members of a government organisation set up to protect Japan from giant monsters bicker among themselves, for example, and point out the absurdity of Kaiju names and abilities. One member of the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol (SSSP) notes a Kaiju’s ability to turn invisible seems pointless, but is told “After charging (it eats electricity), it reveals itself to intimidate!” OK, if you say so – but I still have my doubts.

After an SSSP member swells to enormous proportions, a terrifying prospect that nearly befel Michael Gough’s tabby cat in Konga, a colleague is chided for using out-dated references, “It’s like Sleeping Beauty mixed with Gulliver’s Travels!”, says one. “Too old!” he is told, in no uncertain terms.

The human cast are an assortment of types. One, Akihisa Taki, played by Daiki Arioka, is described as a typical geek and has filled his work space with models of sci-fi craft including the U.S.S. Enterprise and various Thunderbirds (hooray!). Film director and actor Takumi Saito plays the enigmatic SSSP member Shinji Kaminaga, who seems strangely at odds with human interaction after he returns from rescuing a child threatened by the fight conflict between a Kaiju and Ultraman.

The various Kaiju steal the show in the first act. My favourite was a giant flower. I wished they had hung around till the end. However, the film takes a different turn to become a cautionary tale in the manner of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’. A lot of the final act is talky, as Ultraman must argue for human beings’ continued existence on Earth in the face of his superior’s idea to have him take the planet for himself.

Masami Nagasawa, a former model and acclaimed star of Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (2004) and Before We Vanish (2017), plays analyst Hiroko Asami. The character’s face-reveal is delayed thanks to shots that are either taken behind her as she walks down corridors or focus on parts of her clothing. I guess this was to build up the character’s presence as a dynamic new addition to the SSSPS , but I found the editing disjointed and weirdly fetishistic. Elsewhere, the director makes the scenes with the SSSPS team as interesting as possible, with a variety of lenses and dynamic composition.

There’s an entertaining theme around Japan’s relationship to the rest of the world even while neglecting Earth’s relationship with the rest of the Universe. The Japanese government is suspected of wanting to nuke the Kaiju, just to get their hands on nuclear bombs, while America wants Japan to pay for any Kaiju-related destruction, until they learn the country has made contact with an extraterrestrial. Meanwhile, the Kaiju’s role as a warning to Earth and a means to clean up its industrial waste is misunderstood by all concerned.

The final acts are a little less compelling than the Kaiju scenes. They focus on a suave-talking visitor from Ultraman’s home world. Eventually, things go a bit Celestial as a gigantic world-destroying robot carries out the aliens’ judgment on Earth and Ultraman is caught in a moral dilemma to either save his human host or live on as an energy being. The visuals also go a bit 2001: A Space Oddity.

(It is helpful to know that some of the effects replicate classic ways in which Ultraman is represented because I honestly thought the production had run out of money, particularly when a two-dimensional Ultraman was flipping around a black hole).

There is an English language dub of the film, but I was more than happy with the subtitles and I enjoyed hearing the performers’ own speech.

Apparently, there are a further two Ultraman movies to come. It would be great if copyright issues were resolved and we could get to see a face-off between Godzilla and Ultraman. Watching them grapple each other above Tokyo’s skyline would be a hoot, even if the characters end up only kicking their shins.

Tim Robins

Check out Kamen Rider-related publications on Forbidden Planet (Affiliate Link)

Blunova: A look at Shin Ultraman, Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno’s reimagining of the original Ultraman series

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1 reply

  1. We don’t need Ultraman to fight Godzilla, we already have a superior robot to do it…JET JAGUAR!

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