A while back I reviewed the wonderful film Shin Godzilla, a very modern take on the popular mythological monster who has been alternatively destroying and saving Tokyo for almost 70 years. What made the film so appealing was that the production team managed to blend the daft, cheesy style of the original Godzilla movies with a wry and biting satire about modern Japanese bureaucracy, offering up great scenes that cut from Godzilla destroying Tokyo to government agencies convening more committees to study the problem and ascertain the best way to proceed. The “shin” preface translates to “new” or “true”, but as with Shin Godzilla, it really denotes a new reimagining of the subject.
Ultraman, for those of you who don’t know, debuted with the 1966 Japanese TV series “Ultra Q” and focuses on an alien race of superheroes who fight kaiju (monsters) and other aliens. This is the 37th film in the Ultraman franchise. Shin Ultraman is another very modern reimagining of the basic story, this time with Ultraman having a secret identity as S-Class Species Suppression Protocol agent Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh). Fellow SSSP agent Hiroko Asami (Masami Nagasawa) is assigned as his partner in the agency, and she gradually realizes that Shinji is Ultraman.
Meanwhile, Ultraman is protecting Japan from a parade of kaiju, including Neronga and Gabora. Then things get interesting; another alien called Zarab appears and seeks to establish an accord with the Japanese government. But is Zarab trustworthy, or is he going to turn on the humans? No worries, yet another alien appears, Mefilas, who spill the proverbial beans. Who will the government deal with? Who’s really going to help out the Earth, and is Ultraman actually trustworthy or secretly in cahoots with one or the other aliens?
There’s something charming about a film that uses modern visual effects to reproduce monsters that started out as terrible low-budget effects. Indeed, everything about Shin Ultraman is well done and part of its fun is that they’re taking the theme and story quite seriously. All of the SSSP interactions with higher-ups and the national government are jaded and cynical, offering an entirely different interpretation of the film. Is it about a space alien defending Earth from even more nefarious aliens? Yes, but… it’s really about whether other countries can be trusted when they insist they have Japan’s best interests at heart with their latest proposal or project.
As with Shin Godzilla, there’s more than a little bit of snark in the film, particularly towards the United States. There’s also a fair bit of ironic self-awareness too, including one great line where an official bemoans “Why do these monsters only attack Japan?”. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see a fleeting reference to Shin Godzilla too, which I particularly appreciated.
I quite enjoyed Shin Ultraman and am glad to have received a DVD copy of what was one of the top-grossing Japanese movies of 2022. If you enjoy monster movies or films that explore the strengths and weaknesses of bureaucracies, then Shin Ultraman is for you. Recommended.