[Review] Shin Ultraman: A Tribute to the Classic Series

On August 1, 2019, Tsuburaya Productions announced that Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi would be collaborating again for another production. Titled, Shin Ultraman, the film would be the second Shin film in the pair’s growing library of reimagining classic icons. As the title states, the pair would be rebooting Tsuburaya Productions’ most famous and largest hero, Ultraman.

 

Now, Shinji Higuchi served as the film’s director, while Hideaki Anno was its producer and wrote the script. Surprisingly, Anno also took part in the motion-capture process, portraying the titular hero, since being Ultraman was his boyhood dream. Especially, since Anno played the character in his own fan-film titled Return of Ultraman back in the 1980’s. However, Anno would share the role of Ultraman in Shin Ultraman with the character’s original suit actor, Bin Furuya. Whereas, Anno and Higuchi designed the titular character, kaiju and aliens based off Tohl Narita’s original artwork from 1966.

 

Originally Shin Ultraman’s domestic release was intended for Summer 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the production down. Interestingly, most of the setbacks during the pandemic occurred while the film was in post-production, before affecting its theatrical release. Eventually, the movie received its Japan theatrical release in late Spring of last year, on May 13, 2022. During its domestic running the movie was met with mix reviews, but became the most successful Ultraman film to date. Meanwhile, international screenings were announced for the film in multiple countries, but somehow North America’s release became a mystery. Especially, with how Shin Ultraman was toured around various film festivals in America and Canada throughout most of 2022. Thankfully, the American theatrical release was finally confirmed at last year’s Anime NYC at the Ultraman Panel on November 19.

 

Anyway, here we are today, days following Shin Ultraman’s North American screenings, where collectively Hero-Club will review the film. Now, unlike previous reviews on the site we will not feature any summary section to avoid spoiling the entire film. Specifically, for the viewers who were unable to attend screenings either due to their location, or personal lives. However, our staff’s reviews may feature details that some readers will say qualifies as spoilers, so read at one’s discretion. Additionally, some of our expressed views may discuss the dub, since that format was provided alongside most screenings. So, without further ado let us get into our staff’s collaborative review for Shin Ultraman presented by Fathom Events.

Billy “TaJa” Doyle (Wheelchair21)

Going into the film, I was very apprehensive towards this production since I was mixed on Shin Godzilla. However, when Tsuburaya Productions released the first 10-minute preview last year, I was quickly reassured on wanting to see it. Seeing the opening credits sequence be an Ultra Q recap had me hooked, as I love the original series. Also, having a continunity where its events are better contained within Ultraman’s story is truly welcomed in bridging the gap. Especially, since Tsuburaya Productions retroactively worked the two series into a shared universe years after their original airings. Surprisingly, the pacing of the film is mostly solid, and moves by pretty fast until the final act begins. Once Zōffy appears and unleashes Zetton, the film’s pacing fluctuates, most likely to add to the drama. Now, in regards of Zōffy and the Land of Light, I do not really like Anno’s interpretation of them. Personally, making them the lawful antagonists was sort of distasteful, even though they learned their lesson about humanity’s strengths. However, all of the previous challenges against the kaiju and alien invaders, I found fit the franchise’s usual format.

 

In addition, I found actor Koji Yamamoto as Alien Mefilas to have given the best performance within the entire cast. Yet, please know that I am not discrediting the other cast members within Shin Ultraman though. Particularly, I also enjoyed Takumi Saitoh as Shinji Kaminaga/ Ultraman, and Hidetoshi Nishijima as Kimio Tamura for their performances. Sadly, I wish that the other characters had more development since I often refer them throw trope-like nicknames. For example, I rarely can remember Masami Nagasawa as Hiroko Asami without Googling her, and just call her “Buttslap Lady.” Nevertheless, Shin Ultraman is a solid film made for longtime fans, as well as for any possible newcomers to enjoy. For those that missed it in theaters, I recommend pre-ordering the home video release as soon as possible!

 

Score: 4 out of 5 Stars, equal to or lesser than Ultraman: The NEXT

 

Michael Lederhos (Soundout12)

Having enjoyed Shinji Higuchi’s films, but usually not the works of Hideaki Anno, I was cautiously optimistic about Shin Ultraman. However, as time progressed, I got more excited for the film based on its previews for its domestic Japanese audience. As a result, I made the decision that I would see it in theaters if it was possible. While my colleagues will go into more details on the film, I wanted to highlight the actual theater experience. Especially, since seeing anything Ultra Series related in theaters was something that I often thought about in the past.

 

So, the thing I found magical was hearing the cheers and laughter from the audience throughout the film. In particular, the scenes with the SSSP team really hit well for the whole theater audience. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, particularly the woman behind me who laughed every time Ultraman did his spinning attack. Surprisingly, the audience was not full of super fans, and there was a wide range of age groups present. Yet, despite being such an eclectic group of people, everyone left feeling good and discussed what they just saw. Shin Ultraman is a film that, much like the Ultra Series itself, is about people coming together peacefully. Coincidentally, Shin Ultraman accomplished in real life what its characters managed to accomplish within the story.

 

Now, as an Ultra Series and tokusatsu fan, I of course have thoughts on Shin Ultraman as a film. What impressed me was how the production team managed to capture familiar looking characters but giving them a fresh spin. My favorite redesign is Zarab who is finally featured in the film as an actual 2.5 dimensional being. This was something that only advanced motion capture work could accomplish that typical costume work could not have done. In general, while I am a huge fan of practical effects, this film’s use of VFX and CG was great. The way characters were rendered really amazed me, and it justified the use of digital effects. It showed what could be done with modern technology beyond its common use of replacing practical effects with digital ones. Also, the film used interesting shot composition to make otherwise mundane scenes exciting, like cutting to different angles during conversations. Additionally, there are several shots where the filmmakers thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to see things from inside a bag?” Film is a visual medium, not just for fancy action scenes, but for conversations too, and Shin Ultraman proves it. From its presentation to its thematic story, Shin Ultraman is a wonderful film that invigorated an American audience last Wednesday.

 

Score: 4.5 ‘Interior Bag Shots’ out of 5

 

Touma Kaito

I enjoyed the movie, especially the homages to the original 1966 series, from the phone to the various kaiju sounds. Even the themes of certain episodes from the original series were reimagined into a modern aesthetic. But, a weak point of the movie was its characters, as several characters were not identified. For example, the Japanese Cabinet was not specified, so it was hard to tell between the Prime and Defense Ministers. Now, I did like the mystery of who Ultraman was since it was not a one-to-one adaptation of the source material. However, the lead female protagonist, Hiroko Asami, sadly did not get any development beyond being a former secret agent. Whereas, I found Zarab and Mefilas to be both great alien villains within Shin Ultraman’s overall plot. Although, Zōffy in this movie is surprisingly very different from his 1966 counterpart to say the least.

 

Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

 

Pak Hanu (Darkon633)

Shin Ultraman was a cool adaptation of the original series, with great cinematography and setup keeping to the franchise’s style. Some of the film’s earlier highlights include its opening segment, which Wheels previously stated is a homage to Ultra Q. Also, unlike Anno’s Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman gets to the action right away, which made me more invested. Yet, while it was great to see several action scenes, at times the action becomes a detriment the overall pacing. I believe this is because the film focuses more on its narrative, than further explore its human cast. Additionally, I felt that the scenes occasionally jumped around too much, causing some disconnect regarding the film’s passage of time.

 

Then regarding Shin Ultraman’s ending, I agree with Wheels that Zōffy’s ideals do seem a bit out of left field. Especially, when fans compare the more “friendlier” and “protective” attitude of the Land of Light within the main series. In conclusion, I did enjoy Shin Ultraman, although it does suffer from being a single film versus the proposed trilogy. Nevertheless, I do feel that Shin Ultraman has enough for both fans and newcomers to the franchise to enjoy.

 

Score: 4 out of 5… But, are we using Bens, Beta Capsules, or Bags instead of Stars though?

 

Jessie Elias (ZeltraxMillennium)

I have been looking forward to this movie for months, so finally getting to see it Wednesday was amazing. I actually took my PSW (Personal Support Worker) Ross with me as my guest, as he never seen Ultraman before. So, getting to have that theater experience was great for the both of us, and we considered seeing the dub. However, our schedules just could not allow us to double dip on viewing the film a second time.

 

Now, as for the film, Anno managed to combine multiple episodes from the original series to form a good narrative. Although the movie does move by quickly at times, especially with its given runtime. Also, when I saw the first kaiju in the movie, I immediately said, “that’s obviously a modified Shin Godzilla model.” That really surprised me, but then again, I should have expected that since the original Gomess was a Godzilla suit. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun watching Shin Ultraman, and hope more Ultraman films get theatrical releases too!

 

Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Alias Westgate

Shin Ultraman was my first major cinema experience with any Japanese tokusatsu production, and it was fully engaging. My theater was not too packed, but everyone in attendance were cheered and expressed their enjoyment for the film. Now, as something that is an homage and a love letter to older fans, Shin Ultraman really delivers. The film’s setup is flashy from the start, but it is a bit too quick for proper character introductions. As a result, I was not able to catch the characters’ names as fast as I would have liked. Thankfully, mostly everything else about the film worked better towards the pacing of the story, itself.

 

Anno’s ability to mix several different episodes into a story that spans over 2 hours worked fairly well. Whereas, for characterization I was amused with practically everyone aside from Asami, who really could have had better screen time. Additionally, their onscreen actors and voice actors that comprised the film’s villains were a joy to watch. Overall, I quite liked Shin Ultraman, and I think can be seen by anyone, new or old fans alike. It gives the right kind of unapologetic feel with its music, sound effects, and a blend of modern CGI. Ultimately, the film can make just about the most stoic watcher grin just a bit while watching it.

 

Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

 

Brian Benjamin (BenOdinson)

So, my review of Shin Ultraman is as follows for the “true super casual” Ultraman fans. Anyone can go into this film without knowing much about Ultraman or the greater Ultra Series. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised with how Anno condensed the original series for the modern era. Yet, my one gripe with Shin Ultraman is that it moves at a fast pace and barely ever slows down. Whereas, my theater experience was pretty good, as it was almost filled with the exception being the first three rows. So, it was nice to see that Ultraman has a strong enough fan base within my local community. Hopefully, more screenings get announced for it since it only had two days, or its home video release comes sooner.

 

Score: 5 Bens out of 5, better than Shin Godzilla!

 

In conclusion, our staff agrees that Hideaki Anno’s and Shinji Higuchi’s contribution to the Ultra Series is a must-see film. Shin Ultraman practically meets the expectations of longtime fans, and is a great start for newcomers. Thankfully, for those that missed its theatrical run, the Blu-ray release is currently in production and possibly coming soon. Additionally, we have heard reports that it made over $600K during its screenings, so maybe a second run will happen. Furthermore, hopefully Shin Ultraman’s success has opened the door for more tokusatsu production to get theatrical releases in North America. Nevertheless, to keep up to date with Hero-Club, we suggest that people should follow us across social media using @HeroClubLife!

 

Final Average: 87% Approval Rating (4.35 out of 5 Stars)

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