Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Shin Ultraman Review
After months of uncertainty since its Japanese theatrical release in 2022, Tsuburaya Production’s Shin Ultraman has been released in theatres across the US. One of the most anticipated releases for kaiju and tokusatsu fans, Shin Ultraman comes to us from the co-director of its spiritual predecessor Shin Godzilla: Shinji Higuchi.
The third in a loose cinematic collaborative project called the “Shin Japan Heroes Universe“, Shin Ultraman comes off the heels of the critically acclaimed films Shin Godzilla and Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, many fans of the kaiju and tokusatsu genre have high hopes for this new interpretation of Ultraman. Thankfully it is safe to say Shin Ultraman truly lives up to the legacy of the ‘Giant of Light’ and its late creator Eiji Tsuburaya.
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Here He Comes, Our Hero Ultraman!
As said before, Shin Ultraman was directed by Shinji Higuchi with a screenplay written by Hideaki Anno, who also co-directed Shin Godzilla and created Neon Genesis Evangelion, with an ensemble cast that includes Takumi Saitoh, Masami Nagasawa, Daiki Arioka, Akari Hayami, Tetsushi Tanaka, and Hidetoshi Nishijima, with Anno and original Ultraman suit actor Bin Furuya as the titular hero via motion capture.
Intended to be a modernized retelling of the original 1966 Ultraman television series (with elements of the proceeding series Ultra Q), the film follows the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol or “SSSP”, a task force made by the Japanese government to deal with a growing rise of sudden Kaiju attacks. During an operation dealing with the electrical kaiju Neronga, a giant extraterrestrial humanoid lands on Earth and immediately kills the kaiju before disappearing.
Not long after one of the SSSP members, Shinji Kaminaga (Saitoh), begins to act strange as his new partner Hiroko Asami (Nagasawa) launches an investigation into the giant alien that is dubbed “Ultraman”. As it turns out Ultraman has merged with Kaminaga in order to save him as Kaminaga was killed trying to save a child during Ultraman’s battle with Neronga.
Soon after Ultraman’s appearance on Earth other, more malevolent aliens begin to appear on Earth such as the electricity-controlling Zarab (Kenjiro Tsuda) and the mysterious “former associate” of Ultraman known only as Mefilas (Koji Yamamoto). At the same time, Kaminaga/Ultraman ponder their current merger as they try to find a balance between their alien side and their newfound humanity.
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Watch Our Hero Fly!
One of Shin Ultraman’s biggest strengths is that it is very much an honest modern reimaging of the original Ultraman series. In this day and age of “modern retellings” meaning a somewhat cynical or deconstructionist view on a previously existing story, Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno unabashedly reject that notion to instead give one of the most straightforward Kaiju and Superhero movies within the past few years.
When watching the film at a theatre via Fathom Events, an interview with director Shinji Higuchi was shown before the film itself and in it, Higuchi said “…we have made an Ultraman that is new but nostalgic at the same time.” which is a very apt way to describe what made Shin Ultraman so engaging. As someone who has watched several entries of the Ultra Series to completion (including the original Ultraman), the film captures that childlike fun of seeing a giant superhero fighting giant monsters and aliens but translates and modifies some of the nuances to make it digestible for modern moviegoers.
Watching this with friends who are more casual fans of Ultraman, the film kept them engaged all the way through and after speaking with them and how much they enjoyed it, it is clear that was the kind of reaction Higuchi wanted for Shin Ultraman. The film in a way feels like a compilation of several Ultraman episodes strung together and while that may sound like a mess of a film, Higuchi and Anno managed to find a way to have these almost episodic beats flow as a film.
This is in large part thanks to Shin Ultraman’s tight editing and directing. Higuchi knows how to make something as mundane as several government agents talking visually engaging with unique angles, snappy dialogue, and sharp editing to keep the scene interesting. The snappiness of Shin Ultraman also greatly helps with the pacing as never once the film felt like it was dragging yet at the same not too fast to be overwhelming. Nothing goes too fast to be undercooked or slowed down to risk overcooking if that makes sense.
The cast did an excellent job at giving us some of the most fun human characters in recent kaiju media. Takumi Saitoh as Shinji Kaminaga/Ultraman gives a really strong performance of an alien trying to understand and learn from humans while tackling his own newly acquired humanity. In a way, it is very reminiscent of both Michael Rennie and Keanu Reeves‘ performances as the alien Klaatu in their respective versions of The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Another standout performance is Masami Nagasawa as Hiroko Asami, Kaminaga’s partner in the SSSP. In a way, she acts as the heart of the film as she brings much of the film’s hope and optimism that was seen in the original Ultraman. Many times her quirky performance brings so much joy to the film in both great bits of humor as well as truly touching moments of humanity.
Lastly, one aspect of praise that has to be given to Shin Ultraman is the films kaiju and alien fights. While there was some apprehension about the film’s effects in the early trailers, the final product is some very awesome examples of Tokusatsu filmmaking. Despite Ultraman, the kaiju, and the aliens being all CGI, the effects team, directed by Satoru Sasaki, ensured they still felt like the very charming suits made by Eiji Tsuburaya and his team that included concept artist Tohl Narita, who posthumously credited for the designs within this film.
From subtle details like seeing folds on Ultraman’s “skin” to some badass and sometimes intentionally silly choreography, all the fight scenes in Shin Ultraman are so cool and as said before capture that childlike fun of the OG series. Even some classic music cues and sound effects from the original series helped in that feeling along with a great new soundtrack from longtime Higuchi/Anno collaborator Shirō Sagisu.
If there are any negatives towards the film it’s that there are some shots where the effect looked a bit off. That and while the SSSP members were fun, some of the members did feel somewhat one-note aside from one or two moments where they shine a bit. But these are very minor issues in the grand scheme of this very well-made film.
It is clear Ultraman meant a lot to Higuchi and Anno as it was a major inspiration for both of them as seen in their respective works such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and the live-action Attack on Titan films. In all honesty, Shin Ultraman may be the best way to bring those interested in Ultraman into this legacy franchise. Easily digestible and having all the main ingredients of the original 1966 series, Shin Ultraman could help bring in a new wave of new fans of the giant of light.
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Did You See Shin Ultraman?
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