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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Fantasia Review: “Shin Ultraman” (2022)

Shin Ultraman Captures the Magic of the Original Series
by Joseph Perry

Watching the original Ultraman television series (1966-67) after school every weekday was practically a ritual for me and countless other kids around the world growing up. Although that original series is the one most popular and well-known in the United States, there have been new Ultraman series and films in Japan ever since that classic introductory series. Now the filmmaking duo behind the divisive Shin Godzilla has made a reboot film of the original Ultraman series, Shin Ultraman, and I am thrilled to report that, in my opinion, it captures the magic of what I loved as a pre-teen and has me hoping for more in this tokusatsu dynasty. 

If you are hoping for kaiju, don’t fret — you’ll get multiple ones within the opening few minutes, and you also needn’t worry about a lack of Ultraman. He arrives within 10 minutes and his first appearance will put a lump in the throats of nostalgic fans like yours truly, and you’ll get to see lots of him throughout the film. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, so suffice it to say that there are multiple foes, and not all are giant monsters. 

Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh) is a member of Japan’s S-Class Species Suppression Protocol (SSSP), a government group tasked with researching a sudden surge of giant monsters that attack only that country. He becomes the earthly form of the extraterrestrial Ultraman, a silver giant who destroys a pair of kaiju but later creates chaos when governmental bureaucracy sets in, instigated chiefly by an alien life form. Kaminaga’s new partner Hiroko Asami (Masami Nagasawa) and their SSSP leader Kimio Tamura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) get wrapped up in the intrigue.
As they did in Shin Godzilla, director Shinji Higuchi and screenwriter Hideaki Anno take satirical jabs at their country’s governmental bureaucracy, but in a lighter manner and with less frequency. The rapport between the SSSP members is often fast-paced as they try to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the attacking creatures along with the mysterious giant from space who seems to want to help Earthlings in their battles against them.

But what long-term Ultraman fans are probably most interested in are the looks of Ultraman and his foes — again, there is no need for worry here. Although our hero and his foes are rendered in CGI, the effects are terrific and reminiscent of the rubber-suited characters we all loved in our youth (and that many of us still prefer).
Shin Ultraman is a blast, chock full of action, mystery, nostalgic nods, some unexpected laughs and “What the . . . ?!?” moments, and fully committed performances. Anno’s screenplay is sharp, as is Higuchi’s direction. The pair obviously put a lot of heart into the project, and it shows on the screen. The film heads into philosophical territory, keeping a message about the goodness of humanity at its center. With this reportedly being the first part of an Ultraman trilogy by Higuchi and Anno, I can’t wait to see what else they have in store — and this film bears plenty of repeat viewings until the next installment arrives.

Shin Ultraman screens as part of Fantasia, which takes place in Montreal from July 14–August 3, 2022. For more information, visit https://fantasiafestival.com/en/.

Shin Ultraman
Directed by: Shinji Higuchi
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Produced by: Tsuburaya Productions, Toho, Khara Corporation Management
Genre: Science fiction, action, superhero
Starring: Takumi Saitoh, Masami Nagasawa, Kyusaku Shimada
Runtime: 1 hour 52 minutes
Rated: NR
Release Date: May 13, 2022 (Japan)

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