Shin Ultraman is a triumphant reimagining of the classic 60's giant

A staple of Japanese media for almost sixty years, one of our writers does a deep dive into the new Ultraman

George Neal
20th January 2023
Image Credit: IMDb
Ultraman has been a staple of Japanese media for almost sixty years. Few characters remain as iconic in the country as the red and silver giant and for good reason, for the franchise’s birth in 1966 resulted in countless sci-fi adventures and moments of practical action unlike anything else on TV.

But while it boasted stylish creativity in its suitmation action, hopeful messages of human progress and a colourful, uncaringly cheesy vision of the great unknown with its personality-filled monsters and aliens, what truly made Ultraman was how it utilised limitations of 1960s technology to inspire creativity in its effects and camerawork. The show’s effects master, Eiji Tsuburaya thus remains a legend for good reason, having inspired countless renowned filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro.

I can safely say this film does everything right in portraying the source material’s greatness while still having its own solid enjoyability for any casual viewer

With the original show having provided the blueprints for over thirty spinoff shows, which’s number only continue to grow today with the still-running Ultraman Decker, it came at little surprise that a full-budget modernised film would eventually be announced. Writer Hideaki Anno had already brought his unique auteur vision to making Shin Godzilla in 2016, adapting the original movie’s apocalyptic plot into a more focused political drama. With Anno also being an avid Ultraman fan, the franchise could arguably have not been in better hands with modernising the 1966 legend to the big screen this year. However, if you had told me Anno’s Shin Ultraman would be given a 2023 release to UK cinemas, this would have seemed a dream come true. Having returned from Shin, I can safely say this film does everything right in portraying the source material’s greatness while still having its own solid enjoyability for any casual viewer.

Giant monster appearances have become rampant in Japan, with the countering defence force called the SSSP becoming more stressed as the five members attempt to come up with military-guiding strategies to defeat these bizarre creatures and halt their feeding on uranium and electricity as they rampage through towns. Kaminaga, a strategy officer, is killed in action during Ultraman’s first sudden appearance. After disguising himself as the dead human, the emotionally blank alien attempts to connect with the human’s comrades whilst secretly transforming to put a personal stop to each threat with the nostalgic powers of colossal wrestling and laser jets firing from his arms. As he grows more affectionate for humanity and its willpower to protect, befriending the enthusiastic analyst Asami and the other quirky SSSP members, more deceiving threats begin to emerge and test their resolve.

Ultimately the film has a very episodic structure with its single-filing variety of adversaries, allowing the stakes to gradually increase but with a retained sugar rush of revisited 60s fun. Our cast are filled with funny arguments and their exasperated attempts to keep up with the increasingly bizarre needs to counter each foe makes them a witty band of misfits to follow. The alien villains that directly-intervene with political affairs only further develop our cast with their increasingly personal battles that more required trust placed in the silent hero, such as the sneering Zarab, who attempts to frame the hero and encourage distrust in the government, and the mild-mannered Mephilas, who markets his Beta technology that will supposedly advance human capabilities but at a grave cost.

Various popping monster designs from the original 60s show also reveal their timelessness, as their suit-acted origins are seamlessly adapted into CGI recreations with even more cinematic personality

But what makes Shin Ultraman such a charismatic enjoyment is its retained childlike hope embed in its figurehead hero, with Ultraman’s role as an immediately connectable and empathetic guardian hero being untouched throughout the film’s modern political turmoil. He is an ultimately innocent and selfless beacon of inspiration for our cast to look up to in tumultuous times but not a replacement for their own progress, as our humans gradually play greater parts in extinguishing the invasive plots. Various popping monster designs from the original 60s show also reveal their timelessness, as their suit-acted origins are seamlessly adapted into CGI recreations with even more cinematic personality.

Anno and director Shinji Higuchi ultimately brought their A game into retaining the gigantic scale from the show into a slick modern viewing while having an engaging frantic human plot. The iconic action is constantly entertaining and varied, retaining the heaviness of the show’s suit-acted movements while having enough movement for it to be newly spectacular with its careful blend of CGI with motion capture. Lots of engaging static is also brought from our character’s conflicting opinions on Ultraman’s meaning, also helped with Anno’s taste for obscure camera angles adding to the bizarre feel of meeting scenes. Some even feel akin to that of classic Japanese auteur Akio Jissoji, with unsettling off-kilter angles on discussions adding a note of there being competitors watching from the shadows, which there undoubtably are.

Shin Ultraman is a textbook example of how to rework the unique charm of an aged show into modern times, flawlessly revamping iconic tropes of golden age sci fi with intrinsic care to adapting old effects and stories whilst still holding its own energetic cast of characters and having an engaging plot. While Ultraman continues to find popularity in the west with its formulaic shows and ever-expanding lore, this film showcases the true malleability of its concepts and the timelessness of its hopeful message. With Hideaki Anno may having just showcased what a full-budget reimagining of the show can be capable of, accessible to anyone regardless of their familiarity with the franchise, it has never been a better time to join this giant of a franchise and hit that Beta Capsule.

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