In the English-speaking world, the average kid’s strongest familiarity with the Japanese tradition of SFX-driven live-action known as tokusatsu would probably be Power Rangers, the long-running TV show about a group of mech-piloting superheroes. That show was derived from a Japanese program called Super Sentai, which was itself a takeoff from the ’60s classic Ultraman – an important lineage in light of the recent news that Ultraman will soon get a silver-screen reboot.
A trailer appeared over the weekend for Toho Studios’ upcoming Shin Ultraman, which will give the big-budget treatment to the alien character. (He’s technically a symbiote who takes over a host’s body, turns 50 storeys tall, and fights gargantuan monsters called kaiju. Somewhere, Venom is seething with jealousy.) In the brief 30-second clip below, he tangles with a large mutant turtle and does his trademark rocket-jump into the sky, all of it buffed to a shiny CGI polish.
Hopes for the project are high, in part because enthusiasts of this particular genre remember how well Shin Godzilla turned out back in 2016, with the same creative team (Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno being the secret-weapon screenwriter) and the same aesthetic of technical sophistication within throwback fun. Unlike the recent American-made Godzilla films, there was no po-faced sense of momentousness, as Toho stuck to the unserious tone of the original while introducing new wrinkles to the time-tested formula.
Toho now has designs for a whole ‘Shin Japan Heroes Universe’ connecting the recently refreshed Godzilla, Ultraman, and an upcoming reboot of Kamen Rider (the smash ’70s TV series about an insect-themed motorcycling battler of beasts). They’re clearly taking cues from their equivalents in the West, consolidating recognizable brands under a single banner that the public can identify and trust to deliver comparable enjoyment in future releases.
Maybe it’s just because Toho’s grand undertaking is still in its infancy, but they seem to be off to a better start than their Hollywood competitors, well aware of the appeal their properties had in the first place and not getting bogged down in mythology for its own sake. The most important part of giving the people what they want is actually giving it to them, as fate would have it.
Published 19 Apr 2022
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