It’s Time For An ULTRAMAN Movie
Kong: Skull Island is finally arriving this week (get your tickets here)! We're celebrating with a week of articles in honor of cinema's most famous ape.
The character of the kaiju-fighting superhero Ultraman is hugely popular in Japan, though not as well known in the United States. This tokusatsu (special effects) TV series ran from 1966-1967, though the spinoffs, marketing, etc. around it has become a cornerstone of kaiju culture. Ultraman’s main characters were created by Eiji Tsuburaya from Tsuburaya Productions who was responsible for Godzilla in 1954. In fact, the monsters of the week were performed by Haruo Nakajima, who was the original Godzilla.
If you didn’t get to watch as a kid, or you haven’t seen the various spinoffs, video games, manga, comics and more, here’s the essence of the show. Set in the future (which, for the original TV series was 1993), the Science Special Search Party, otherwise known as the Science Patrol is an agency that uses state-of-the-art technology to protect the earth from anything that threatens civilization. One day, science patrol member Shin Hayata crashes after following glowing orbs reported by some campers. He’s killed, but one of those orbs contained the alien Ultraman. He revives Hayata, gives him something called a beta capsule. When this beta capsule is used, Hayata becomes Ultraman, who is using his body as a host. He helps the Science Patrol fight the kaiju that keep appearing on Earth. However, no one around Hayata knows about his secret identity. A number of sequels followed the first series, including Ultraseven, The Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, Ultraman Taro, Ultraman Tiga, Ultraman Cosmos and Ultraman 80.
Ultraman was unusual in kaiju culture when it first came out. In Japanese cinema, we’d had King Kong Appears in Edo (1938), Godzilla (1954) and his numerous sequels. We had Rodan (1956), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1962) and monsters like Gamera, Ghidorah, Dogora and more. In these films, we either had the population dealing with a single kaiju or kaiju fighting each other. Ultraman had more of a Western superhero team feel. In cinema, we saw an hour-and-a-half of one or two monsters. In Ultraman, we had a different one every week and a team of heroes that continued to take them on. Though an earlier series called Ultra Q had a number of kaiju, it was Ultraman that really captured youth consciousness. Ultraman was the true beginning of the kaiju craze in Japan, something that’s influenced American popular culture as well.
Ultraman has appeared in The Simpsons, X-Men: The Animated Series, Ben 10, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Robot Chicken, South Park in the famous “Mecha-Streisand” episode and more. You’ve seen his mask in Big Hero 6. He’s even a part of the book “Ready Player One,” which is going to be turned into a film with Steven Spielberg. (Whether or not we’ll see Ultraman in the film remains to be seen.)
The recent revival of the kaiju genre with films like Pacific Rim and its upcoming sequel, King Kong, Godzilla and more may mean it’s time for an Ultraman film. I mean, we’re getting Anne Hathaway controlling a kaiju in Colossal. Not that there haven’t been a number of Japanese Ultraman films, but I’m talking about a big budget Hollywood flick — that is, if Hollywood could keep from whitewashing it. They’d likely pull out the old argument about a big name star selling a film. The thing is, you could really do something cool with this. Everyone in the industry is looking for a known franchise to build a story around. Though it’s more well-known in Japan, Ultraman as a character certainly has a cult following here. Think of the marketing possibilities. “Who Is Ultraman?” Viral websites, pre-release comic books — the toy marketing alone makes me wonder why it hasn’t been done. Go to downtown Los Angeles or places in your town that sell foreign toys. You’ll find a zillion Ultraman action figures. Look on Amazon, and you’ll see very, very few.
So what could you do with a film like this? Unlikely hero who already works for a government organization has a secret identity that turns him into a 40 foot tall protector of the world. He battles huge monsters a la Pacific Rim but no one knows where he’s from. The hunt for his identity! The unlikely hero! Any number of kaiju to choose from as villains! I feel like it’s only a matter of time.