Ultraman 1.28 – Human Specimens 5 & 6

Somehow, I’d forgotten just how creepy and odd this episode, which was circulating back in the VHS tape trading days under the title “Dada is Death,” is. It’s actually a really effective story. The inevitable wrestling is always a disappointment, but it’s at least triply so this time, because the space creature who’s conducting weird experiments in a remote scientific base is much more interesting as a human-sized villain. Our son was very, very creeped out. The first half of the story is very strange and eerie.

As is the way of things, little in the English dub is really explained – and I’m increasingly of the opinion that Japanese viewers had to get more backstory and stuff from trading cards or comics or supplements in the TV guide when this show was broadcast to get all the details anyway – but the villain is a creature called a Dada. It’s not three different beings as seems to be the case; it’s a single agent who has three different, albeit similar faces. The Dada is looking for appropriate specimens, which it has shrunk via a “microniser” weapon and stuck in test tubes. Dadas have the power of teleportation, can walk through walls, and can send electrical currents through metal. I’m not entirely clear whether each of the Dada’s three faces has a different power, but of course it can also grow to giant size, which at least makes for an unusual moment when the Dada temporarily zaps Ultraman with the microniser…

Most bizarrely, the creature is called a Dada in tribute to the anti-art movement that started in Switzerland a hundred years ago. I think that Duchamp gets credited/blamed for it; without dadaism, we wouldn’t have had The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. I’d argue, perhaps poorly, that dadaism was critical to the early careers of surrealists like Dali and Man Ray, and that Warhol was especially inspired by Duchamp’s readymades.

I’m not entirely sure what about these weird space scientists particularly screams “dadaism” – as far as I can tell, they could have called the aliens “Neoclassicists” and it wouldn’t have impacted the story any – but the Dadas returned in several of the later Ultra-series and have, in their weird way, served as ambassadors to young students curious about art. Think I’m kidding? Last year, Switzerland celebrated a century of dadaism. Here’s Urs Bucher, Switzerland’s ambassador to Japan, tripping the light fantastic with our old pal Dada in Tokyo last spring.

Photo credit: Japan Times.

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