Next Fantasia 2022 Screening on July 30, 12:00 PM at the Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU (Théâtre Hall)
When Hideaki Anno was offered a chance to update Toho’s most beloved kaiju, not everyone knew what he would do until Shin Gojira played at movie theatres. Some fans hailed it as a masterpiece, while others said it was too talky. This talent behind the writing of Neon Genesis Evangelion even rebuilt that series. But as for Shin Ultraman, a reboot to the classic series, I thought, “As long as he delivers some classic moments from the series, it’ll be good.”
He was tasked by Tsuburaya Productions to create a pitch for a trilogy of films, and what I’m seeing in this movie’s North American debut is a beloved throwback to the old 80s style of filmmaking. Shinji Higuchi was in charge of directing, and Anno got to play the titular character! It was a childhood dream of his come true! And instead of digitising and realising these big kaiju sized fights on the computer, it’s done with miniature sets and rubber suits! That is, they’re more like motion capture suits these days, but to have the animation department recreate that look has me thrilled.
I really can’t imagine an all-digital film. Everything I loved about the old series would be taken away by it.
Shin Ultraman premiered in Japan on May 13th and July 20th at Fantasia Film Festival 2022. The first few minutes were exciting as it was paying homage to Kaiju films Toho style, before shifting focus to Ultraman’s arrival to save the day. This work is more nostalgic. And thankfully, I’m glad to say Hidiki is not repeating the bits of direction that people didn’t like in Shin Godzilla. It was slow and very talky. This latest is far more accessible because it’s the opposite.
In this film, Japan is terrorised by giant monsters. The SSSP can’t do too much to stop it, and sadly, agent Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh), dies in the line of duty. Ultraman takes responsibility and assumes his identity. But he isn’t too sure in how to ease his co-workers in the fact he’s gone. What this entity does instead is to learn about humanity just like Martian Manhunter did in the Justice League cartoon.
Meanwhile, another extraterrestrial identified as Zarab (voiced by Kenjirô Tsuda) claims that he’s come in peace and wants to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister. I had to laugh. Anno is taking ideas from The Day the Earth Stood Still and Saitoh’s performance is very much like Klaatu’s.
Interestingly, SSSP agent Hiroko Asami (Masami Nagasawa) gets mixed up in the shenanigans. Zarab and Ultraman sees her as a person of interest. Zarab’s intentions aren’t all that good, and Ultraman was supposed not to interfere with Earth affairs (and politics). But after bonding with Shinji, he learns what being human is about. He can’t and in good conscience let the species die. What Zarab tries to reason does not differ from, for example, the epilogue is very Rocky Horror, but as for why he’s adamant in total annihilation stems from the fact, he sees this world can’t achieve global peace.
The existentialism discourse Anno often likes to inject in his works is certainly present in this tale, but I can’t help but think it’s bogging the tale down. It’s not like Godzilla: Singular Point for example, and it could’ve been a 90-minute film, but it’s two hours.
Ultraman is here to protect this planet like the classic series. Earth has a place in the galactic order, but to get there will take time. A world destroyer will soon put an end to everything. The larger story arc barely scratches the surface of the lore only fans know. The expositions drag the pace of the film down. Thankfully, we have the Internet and reading various fan guides to get caught up.
The Ultras do not differ from the Green Lantern Corps by much. They were a humanoid species living in another galaxy, but over time, they lost a minor aspect of themselves and turned into “robots.” The transition happened after they made a new sun to replace their former one. Afterwards, the radiation turned them into what they currently look like. Thankfully, they were already a peaceful civilisation and as they lost themselves to a grander state of existence, they knew they could do good across the galaxy instead of hoarding this power for themselves. Unlike the Oans who are in charge of the Guardians, there’s only one specie.
However, not every world will agree and will invade if it suits them. The series is classic SF. Similarly, the Earth is doomed because certain countries have difficulty getting along. Although we don’t get to see what these other governments think, I suspect the eventual sequels (if they get greenlit) will look at the fallout from the events that we’ve seen in Shin Ultraman.
This film raises more questions than provides answers because the epilogue tosses in concepts a newcomer won’t get. They concern where Ultraman comes from, and what death means for an Ultra. In what Anno has set up suggests that the connection between man and machine (if Ultraman can be called that) goes beyond soul transference.
Although Ultraman’s fate is not sealed like how Superman died, we all know this superhero will be back. There’s more story to come that will reveal the world Ultraman comes from. We’ve seen two other Ultras visit Earth’s newest hero. Sadly, we won’t know when that’ll be. Shin Kamen Rider is the next work Anno is heavily involved in, and I don’t expect another movie to come until after a few more years. When concerning the pace this filmmaker works at, that timeline will be about right.
3½ Stars out of 5