The Japanese government has created the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, a group designed to deal with the large number of kaiju attacking the country. During an attack by one such monster, the group are surprised by the appearance of a giant humanoid being in a silver suit that defeats the monster. The giant is given the name Ultraman and there is debate whether it is a monster or on the side of humanity. The alien Zarab then appears, offering to help the country fight against monsters. Zarab imprisons Ultraman and then unleashes a copy of Ultraman, which proceeds to wreak havoc. New SSSP officer Hiroko Asami is suspicious of the mysterious absences of colleague Shinji Kaminaga and deduces that Kaminaga is the human secret identity of Ultraman. Kaminaga has left his Beta Capsule, the device with which he affects his transformation into Ultraman, with her and she is able to help him escape and defeat the fake Ultraman. Asami is then turned into a giant. The alien Mefilas appears and reduces her to normal size, while offering help to the government, but Ultraman exposes his true intentions. Ultraman then faces Zoffy, a being from his own planet, who orders him to return home. However, Ultrman refuses to leave the human body he has fused with. In response, Zoffy unleashes the Zetton super-weapon that will destroy Earth and the entire solar system.
Ultraman is a Japanese superhero. The Ultraman phenomenon is massive. It began with the tv series Ultra Q (1966-7), although Ultraman did not appear until the follow-up series Ultraman (1966-7), which appeared a few months later, and ran for 39 episodes. The series was produced by Eiji Tsuburaya who created the effects for the Godzilla and other Toho monster movies of the era, where he simply reused the monster costumes in the show. Since then, Ultraman has appeared in over forty different tv series devoted to his exploits. There have also been over 40 Ultraman films, both in live-action and anime, although several of these are English-language versions edited from the various other films and tv series. In addition, there have been a long line of Ultraman videogames and manga, and more recently Ultraman comic-books produced by Marvel. Shin Ultraman is a big budget film revival.
Director Shinji Higuchi had premiered with the J-pop fantasy film Minimoni The Movie: The Great Sweet’s Adventure (2002) and co-directed Lorelei (2005), an alternate history scenario about Japan winning World War II, the remake of Sinking of Japan (2006) and the historical comedy The Floating Castle (2012). Most recently, he had enjoyed international success with the two-part live-action anime adaptation Attack on Titan (2015) and Attack on Titan II: End of the World (2015).
Crucially, the work that influences Shin Ultraman is Hideaki Anno’s previous film Shin Godzilla. Like Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman grounds the original’s fantastical premise in the question of how something like a giant monster attack would happen in reality. We see various levels of the political apparatus – the government and defence ministers, the agencies formed to deal with kaiju – as they scramble to deal with the threat. Hideaki Anno has a sardonic take on some of this – the rather amusing scene where the military have to ask the Americans to drops bombs on one of the monsters and then, when the load is dropped without effect, make snide comments that it will now be six months before they have to go through the red tape to get more bombs.
The other influence of Shin Godzilla comes in the determination to translate the vast battles that take place in Japanese Monster Movies and show the giant monsters into the realm of real world physics. In the early scenes with Ultraman battling the various kaiju, we get various scenes with them tearing up vast swathes of countryside, blasting through hillsides, demolishing power plants, or Ultraman’s appearance causing earth tremors as he arrives from orbit and impacts with the ground. Against these, we see humanity as essentially powerless.
Shin Ultraman gets a good deal of the tv show. We get faithful replications of Ultraman’s costume. There is his Beta Capsule and reference to his origin on the Planet of Light. The opening montage gives an assortment of monsters from the series. We get the SSSP – in the original series, this stood for Science Special Search Party but here has been changed to the more bureaucratic sounding S-Class Species Suppression Protocol.
On the other hand, Shin Ultraman works far less effectively than Shin Godzilla. One of the reasons for this is that this film is a whole lot more complicated. Shin Godzilla had a fairly simple pitch – a reboot of the Godzilla series that showed the vast amount of mass destruction and devastation that would occur as a giant monster rampaged through a city, alongside the bureaucratic and civil defence apparatus as they sought to deal with this. Shin Ultraman has fairly much the same approach. Both films are essentially predicated on translating the older tokkatsu stories into an era of grounded realism and Mass Destruction Spectaculars.
This is something that Shin Ultraman does for about the first third. However, the plotting of the film then gets complicated, introducing secret identities, multiple sets of invading aliens, assorted science-fictional devices, including a Doomsday Weapon and even the heroine of the show (Masami Nagasawa) transformed into a giant at one point. These are far less realistic plotting elements and, although the presentation is always grounded, they drift away from the realistic presentation.
Amid this, you also feel as though the film has way too many plots for its own good. These include three sets of alien menaces threatening the Earth in different ways. When you get two different groups of these aliens that both try to convince the government of Japan that their intentions are benevolent and to trust them, it starts to feel as though the plotting is being repetitive, or perhaps even more so that this was another film has been patched together from different episodes from the tv series.