Shin Ultraman is, for those unaware of it, a reboot of the original 1966 TV show Ultraman. That show launched a massively popular franchise in its native Japan and, reruns of the dubbed American version helped launch my love of kaiju films and eventually science fiction and horror in general. So you can understand I sat down to watch the film with both anticipation and worry about how well it would live up to my memories.
The film opens with a fast explanation of how the SSSP came to be as we see several rampaging creatures in the background. And when I say a fast explanation I mean fast, by ten minutes into the film Ultraman is on Earth and battling an energy-eating kaiju. One of the SSSP team Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh, Space Battleship Yamato, Cube) is caught in the midst of it while rescuing a child but somehow escapes without a scratch.
It doesn’t take long before another creature appears and Ultraman arrives to fight it. But not until Kaminaga goes missing, something he has a habit of doing much to the consternation of his partner Hiroko Asami (Masami Nagasawa, I Am A Hero, The Confidence Man JP: The Movie,).
Director Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan Part 1&2, Doomsday: The Sinking of Japan) and writer Hideaki Anno (Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, Cutie Honey), the team responsible for Shin Godzilla, have captured the spirit of the original show. Even though Shin Ultraman and his opponents are CGI creations, they still look like men in rubber suits rather than more realistic animations.
And while politics and governmental machinations and bureaucracy do play a part in Shin Ultraman it’s not nearly as large, or as serious, a part as in Shin Godzilla. And that’s fine because this is a much less serious film than that was. In his original incarnation, Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear war. Ultraman, as far as I know, was always simply about aliens and kaiju fighting.
And we do get plenty of fighting in Shin Ultraman. Our hero brawls with a couple of kaiju, two other aliens, Zarab (Kenjirô Tsuda, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 – Sustainable War, Kamen Rider Revice) and Mefilas (Kôji Yamamoto, Fullmetal Alchemist: Final Transmutation, Startup Girls) as well as an evil version of himself and a giant alien war machine.
These clashes are backed up with some solid effects work. As I mentioned it is done with CGI this time around but it is well-done give or take a couple of shots. When it gets to the final showdown however Shin Ultraman takes on an anime-styled look for some of it as the characters end up in another dimension. It’s an abrupt shift, but it works for the scenes it’s used in.
I don’t really have a lot of complaints about the film overall. Yes, the characters are fairly thin and underwritten, wasting several well-known performers. But that’s a recurring theme in kaiju and effects-driven films in general. There are also a few title cards that pop up and between the original Japanese and the English translation are hard to read in the brief time they’re on screen.
If you’re a fan of Ultraman or kaiju films in general you should have a great time with Shin Ultraman. Along with Kong: Skull Island it’s one of the most fun films of its kind since the 1990s Gamera trilogy. Hopefully, it gets a full North American release in the near future.
After having its release pushed back due to COVID, Shin Ultraman was released in its native Japan earlier this year and was a major hit. It makes its North American debut at Fantasia on July 21st with a second showing on July 30th. You can check their website for details. And you can check FilmTagger for something similar to watch while you wait for its international release.