Japan’s infatuation with monsters continues with the brilliantly weird Shin Ultraman, reports Dan Slevin.
Halloween may be over but the parade of horror movies through cinemas and streaming continues.
Meanwhile, in that supposed lull before the Christmas movies arrive, we find ourselves in ‘monster movie’ season as a new – retro – Godzilla film is due in cinemas, and AppleTV+ delivers a new series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, taking place in the same kaiju universe as the big budget, big screen Godzilla vs. Kong series of pictures that have been going since 2014.
Shin Godzilla (“Shin” means “God” in Japanese) was a reboot of the venerable Gojira story with a satirical twist as Japanese bureaucracy and formal culture would find itself in the way of what was required to defeat the monster. Since then, those ad hoc government and military arrangements have been formalised into the SSSP (the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol) and a series of monsters have emerged from the depths to be defeated by the briefcase wielding civil servants .
One day someone will explain to me how a society that has experienced such physical tragedy can also embrace stories about unimaginable destruction. It must be cathartic but I can’t imagine the same thing working here.
When an atomic energy eating kaiju known as “Neronga” threatens a nuclear power plant, only the intervention of a giant silver humanoid from space will do the job. Dubbed Ultraman, due to his incredible powers and mysterious origins, the government at first attempts to take credit for it, then enlist it and then gets embroiled in a global battle for control of it, not realising that Ultraman itself is the tool of an extra-terrestrial power hell-bent on taking over planet earth.
As Dolly Parton once said, “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap” and Shin Ultraman has that wonderful combination of colossal digital destruction and homespun costume-clad characters. Indeed, Ultraman is a 60s TV character rebooted for this picture and the music especially will be pure nostalgia for audiences who are fans.
As the story goes on, the monsters become less important and the conspiracy behind the appearance of Ultraman become more important. The film goes from a straight-up monster movie to something closer to 2001 as the mysteries of the universe and the powers that are beyond our ken take control of the narrative.
Brilliantly weird, sharply satirical, and as snappily edited as anything you’ve ever seen, Shin Ultraman is pure entertainment with a few neat twists.
The “Shin” universe looks more like the one I inhabit than any of the Marvel, DC or Monarch ones and is all the more relatable for it.
Shin Ultraman is available on physical media as a Blu-ray from Madman Entertainment and also as a digital rental from AroVision.