One of the most important kinds of relationships we see in anime is osana-najimi, or childhood friend, that special person you’ve been close to for as long as you can remember. There’s nothing quite like meeting a childhood friend again after many years apart, and that’s how I feel writing about the new Shin Ultraman film that was just released in theatres here in Japan, produced by Hideaki Anno. Let’s see how I liked the film!
Shin Ultraman: The Hero Returns!
Japan is under constant attack by strange monsters which somehow only appear in that country. In response, the Japanese government creates the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, a special team attached to the military that can combat the new threat. During an attack by monster Neronga, a mysterious silver giant crashes down on Earth and defeats the creature, but accidentally kills SSSP member Shinji Kaminaga. Impressed with Kaminaga’s final act (throwing himself over a young boy to save him), Ultraman merges with Kaminaga’s soul so he can better understand humanity, as he continues to defend it from new monsters.
As with Shin Godzilla, also by Shinji Higuchi and Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno, this is a totally modern reboot, which brings television’s most popular tokusatsu hero into our gritty, complex world. Gone are the classic silver-and-red VTOL jets and iconic orange jumpsuits of the 1966 original, which are replaced by modern military hardware and a more realistic story. For example, the mysterious giant monsters that appear only in Japan alter the political reality between Japan and the rest of the world, especially the U.S. military. When Japan tries to sign a treaty with Alien Mefilas giving it access to advanced Beta Capsule technology, this creates all kinds of political issues with other countries.
And yet, the work is filled with easter eggs for fans of the original series, from the way the phones match the sound of the first Ultraman to re-using the original music, re-arranged by the great Shiro Sagisu, who handled soundtrack creation for all of Anno’s other works, including Evangelion, Shin Godzilla, and Nadia. The care and respect shown to the series, as with Shin Godzilla, is extremely impressive to me.
All the hallmarks of Hideaki Anno (who wrote the script and produced the film) are here. The obsession with organizations and how each member fits into the larger hierarchy. Beautifully set up shots of urban settings. Ridiculously precise dialogue. Japanese characters speaking English despite not actually having skills in that language.
When did you become a Tokusatsu fan? Here’s a blog post about my own personal journey!
Hideaki Anno Did the Impossible
When I was a boy, watching Godzilla movies and Ultraman re-runs on television, I wanted nothing more than for the two to fight each other. Of course I didn’t know that Godzilla was owned by Toho and Ultraman by Tsuburaya Productions, so a crossover was as unlikely as Spider-Man battling Superman. However, thanks to the new Shin Ultraman film, my two favorite tokusatsu universes have finally become one. Although the name Godzilla is never mentioned in this film, it’s implied thanks to a few actors in the same roles that this is the same universe we visited in 2016. Considering that Eiji Tsuburuya was the special effects genius who made Godzilla possible before forming his own competing production studio, it seems fitting that these two universes should merge, at least spiritually.
What I am sad about is the worldwide brand of Ultraman hasn’t held up well over the years. The Heisei Ultraman trilogy of series was really excellent, but they failed to make a splash in international markets, perhaps because of the preference for anime over dubbed live-action at the time, or competition from Power Rangers. The result is that there isn’t the kind of worldwide popularity behind the franchise to justify a worldwide film release for Shin Ultraman, meaning fans will likely have to wait for the Blu-rays. Here’s hoping I’m wrong!
A Unique Way of Filming
Hideaki Anno is always using cutting-edge technology to tell bold new stories to fans. For the final Evangelion film, he developed a system in which a miniature room is created with a computer-controlled camera inside, allowing the director to get the camera angles for his animated characters to be a part. The creators got experimental with the new film too, shooting some scenes with as many as 17 different cameras to get some unique shots.
The History of Kaiju
Ultraman was the first kaiju show on TV, starting back with the black-and-white Ultra Q, a kind of “X-Files with giant monsters” in which humans investigate supernatural reports involving kaiju. Japan was in the middle of the First Kaiju Boom, with Godzilla and Gamera exploding in popularity and distribution to international markets giving film studios a taste of the profits that anime studios would later enjoy during the anime DVD licensing bubble. Today the various monsters that Ultraman fans grew up watching are beloved as each iteration of Doctor Who or American comic book heroes, and fans love to debate who their favorites are.
A Licensing Bonanza for Tsuburuya Productions
The Shin Ultraman film has turned out to be a smash hit, earning more money in its opening weekend than Shin Godzilla. The film looks to be bringing in lots of money from crossover marketing projects, as companies line up to promote their brands alongside the silver hero. Bandai, Tsuburaya Productions, Toho, and Khara have smartly decided to create the Shin Japan Heroes Universe, allowing for cross-promoting of Godzilla, Ultraman, Evangelion, and Kamen Rider products. What a time for a tokusatsu fan to be alive!
Thanks for reading this post about the new Shin Ultraman film. Are you a fan of television’s most famous tokusatsu hero? Tell us below, or reply to us on Twitter!
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