Ultraman 1.32 – The Endless Counterattack

It’s all special effects this week, with about five times the explosions, and giant fires on at least three miniature sets. To compensate for that expense, there’s only one guest speaking part, and just one scene with any paid extras fleeing in terror.

In fairness, it certainly looks better than the average episode, but it’s pretty dull for any adults in the room. Our son, who had earlier chided the silly military for sending in tanks when “Only Ultraman can destroy monsters,” summed it up by telling us “I love explosions, especially when they’re on bad guys or monsters.”

Photo credit: Ultraman Wiki.

Ultraman 1.31 – Who Goes There?

Oh, dear. The giant monster wrestling is exceptionally tedious in this one, which is a shame because the director went for the look and feel of a horror film with the tempo sped up and for a while, and whenever that ridiculous plant monster costume isn’t on screen, it worked really well. Our son was very frightened by the weird guy and all the creeping around in dark shadows, so for him it was a big triumph.

For those of you keeping track, the plant creature is an alien called a Keronia, and its kind landed in the jungles of Bolivia twenty years ago and have been slowly growing. This is one of the minority of enemies in this show who can speak and make their space monster threats. Somehow this becomes even sillier when the speaker is a hundred feet tall.

Ultraman 1.30 – Phantom of the Snow Mountains

Tonight’s episode of Ultraman was one of those uncommon ones that’s more supernatural than science fiction. The monster of the week is called a Woo, and it’s a big abominable snowman beast that protects orphans. It’s another case where Ultraman and the Science Patrol get the wrong end of the stick and shouldn’t have interfered at all. Another Woo showed up in 1972’s Ultraman Ace.

Ultraman 1.29 – The Challenge Into Subterra

In keeping with that long and proud tradition in adventure TV of the heroes getting a new gadget immediately before it’s needed, Ito has just finished building a new underground tank with a whacking great drill on the front and what turns out to be a pair of underground gold-eating monsters shows up to devastate a town. The tank is immediately reminiscent of the Mole in Thunderbirds, and our son shocked us by saying that he likes this tank even better than the beloved Mole. I wasn’t expecting that!

While underground, Ito and Mura rescue a miner who’s going a little loopy, and he explains that the Goldon has eaten all of the gold he’s found. “That’s why the monster went outside the mountain,” our son reasoned. “It has eaten all the gold in that gold mine and now it needs to find another gold mine to eat all of its gold.” In the end, with both beasts destroyed, the narrator assures us in the show’s constantly clueless way that the miner received half of the 150 tons of gold extracted from the creatures, and the Science Patrol donated their half to rebuild the town.

Since there’s contradictory evidence as to when Ultraman is set, it’s not strictly possible to put a dollar amount on that quantity of gold, but I’m pretty sure that an immediate new source that large would have a pretty big impact on the Japanese market for precious metals.

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.

Ultraman 1.27 – The Prince of Monsters (part two)

In part two of this adventure, Gomora destroys a 500 year-old castle, but our son assures us that it’s not a problem. “When a monster destroys your building, all you have to do is just tell a builder to build a new one. Yep. That’s all you have to do!”

Pronouncing this episode as “really cool,” he enjoyed the setup and the explosives. You know those bits in Toho monster movies where the tanks and missile launchers and that big truck with the big dish laser move into position and, in the foreground, bombard the monster with rockets and bombs? This episode is twenty-five minutes of that, enough to put any little boy in complete heaven. Being the boring old man I am, I was more interested in the awesome aerial footage of Tokyo, proving that even fifty years ago, that was one freaking gigantic city.

Ultraman 1.26 – The Prince of Monsters (part one)

Maybe it’s just me, but growing up, it sure did seem like there were a lot more monsters sleeping in mountains than kids these days get to see. This one is called Gomora, and the Ultraman Wiki tells me that the beast, or others like it, will make many more appearances in the Ultra-series. This will start with tomorrow night’s episode, because, surprisingly, this is a two-parter! Gomora is so powerful that Ultraman cannot defeat him in the time allowed, and he has to retreat. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

Our son absolutely loved this one. He had Gomora pegged as “super dangerous” from the outset, and had some interesting advice on how to destroy it. See, in a credibility-straining moment, the Science Patrol gasses the monster to sleep and somehow tows the 9000-ton monster to Japan using three of their ships. Those things have a lot more lift than I would have thought. Anyway, instead of flying the sleeping monster to a lab in Japan, our son suggested they should drop him in the ocean. “The ocean water will make him dead because he’ll drink too much and it’s not safe to drink!”

A delightful Dr. Science moment: a paleontologist tells Arashi that Gomora’s dinosaur ancestor, Gomorasaurus, was the first living creature on our planet, one million years ago. Where did that clown get his doctorate again?

Ultraman 1.25 – The Mystery Comet Typhoon

The giant monster wrestling in this episode was really fun this time, and our son got into it. “Get up and use your super ray, Ultraman!” our son urged. “Use it right now!”

The situation was convoluted, but really quite fun. So a comet was passing by earth, and emitting rays that could set off any partially-deactivated nuclear bombs. One couldn’t be found, and Ito figured that a monster had swallowed it. So the team heads off to the northern mountains where they first run into a big Yeti monster called Gigass, and then a winged alien monster called Dorako flies in from the comet for a wrestling match. This wakes up a dormant Red King – we first met one of those back in episode eight – leaving Ito to conclude that it swallowed the bomb, and lament that they have to deal with three monsters now.

Dorako gets finished off by the other two, though there would be plenty more where it came from. Dorakos turn into pretty common recurring villains in the Ultra-series. The Science Patrol bombs Gigass into atoms with a disintegration bomb, and Ultraman fights Red King, having a much tougher time than he had against the one back on the island of monsters. But our son’s pleas were answered, and our hero eventually uses one of his “super rays” and slices the Red King into three sections (!!!) and flies the chunk with the H-bomb in it out into space.

I decided against including a photo of all three beasts as I certainly should have, because the director steadfastly refused to show all three monsters clearly onscreen at the same time as he certainly should have. A cursory look around has not turned up a publicity photo of all three together, either. So I picked a photo of Hiroko Sakurai in front of three of her co-stars; she’s much prettier than the monsters.

Ultraman 1.24 – The Underwater Science Base

I’ve resisted the temptation to start a second blog, maybe called Grown-Up Stuff, about all the other things that I watch without my son. Things like ITC adventure shows, Hammer horror films, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and so on. Lately I’ve had a hankering to see more of those various productions that tried getting some of the 007 box office in the sixties: Matt Helm, Fu Manchu, Modesty Blaise, Bulldog Drummond, and so on.

I don’t want to do this because it would turn into even more work, but I do love seeing familiar actors in new-to-me roles and noting when they were made. This morning, I watched a pretty good and very, very fun Hammer called Taste the Blood of Dracula, with Christopher Lee and the gorgeous Linda Hayden, along with a pile of stars like Geoffrey Keen, Peter Sallis, Ilsa Blair, Michael Jayston, and Ralph Bates. The movie might have been the very next thing that Roy Kinnear filmed after his guest part in the final episode of The Avengers.

Sadly, the actors in Ultraman live in a vacuum to me. Other than Akiji Kobayashi having a decent role in a early 1990s Godzilla film (the one with King Ghidorah and time travel), I don’t think that I’ve ever seen any of these artists in any other part. The overwhelming majority of Japanese television shows and movies never make it to America, of course. That which we do see is pretty much just science fiction. Police shows and romances and historical dramas and most of the costume dramas and the comedies never make it here.

So I wonder about these actors. Wikipedia tells me that Kobayashi passed away in 1996 and that Masanari Nihei had a few other roles in science fiction and monster movies (including the original Mothra, but I haven’t seen that in thirty years and don’t remember him in it). I love Nihei’s rubber face. He has a great line in slapstick and wacky physical comedy, and Ito keeps threatening to steal every episode. Did he ever get a big part as the overworked dad in a situation comedy that ran for years? He certainly should have.

This episode, for what it’s worth, features a giant fish creature with a drill nose. Our son has suggested that the reason Ultraman was able to defeat it so quickly: it didn’t have much room for a brain with so much space taken by a big mouth and a drill.

Ultraman 1.23 – My Home is Earth

I’ve never enjoyed “My Home is Earth,” in which a French astronaut named Jamila returns after having been mutated into a monster by some alien force. Strangely, our son didn’t enjoy this episode at all, either. He thought Jamila’s design was really grotesque and a scene where a little boy puts himself in danger to rescue some pigeons had him muttering “I don’t want to watch this!” aloud for the first time in several weeks. What a shame he didn’t enjoy it; he was wondering over supper what tonight’s monster would look like.

I don’t like this one because they’re trying to do something different and present a sympathetic and tragic enemy, but it all descends into the usual wrestling. I don’t like the way that Adam, their fellow agent from the Science Patrol’s French Division (we met him in episode seven) sees this hideous giant monster and instantly deduces that it is M. Jamila, and I don’t like how the heroes somehow know that water will kill the creature. You can chalk both of these up to something being lost in translation, but it all makes for a very clumsy and disappointing episode.

(Not to pause on a low note, but we’ll be taking a short break from Ultraman, and will resume this series in three weeks while starting something new. Stay tuned for more!)

Ultraman 1.22 – Overthrow the Surface

Anybody worried about all the collateral property damage that goes on when our heroes shower the monsters with rockets and bombs can rest assured that our son shares your concern. “The Science Patrol should know that they’re going to set the whole world on fire!” he shouted as the monster Telesdon shrugs off another barrage of missiles and the city around it explodes. He really enjoyed this creepy episode.

It may be pushing things to use phrases like “cinéma vérité” when writing about a clunky old kids’ show, but this episode has the most downright bizarre set of visuals in the series so far. Almost the whole thing seems to have been filmed by hand, with the actors framed behind objects like desks or stairwells that dominate the screen. All of the sets – including the headquarters we’re so used to – are lit so low that we can’t see the walls. At one point, the camera lingers on Ito for a tracking shot that lasts for several seconds while he walks down a corridor, nervously fingering his gun.

Things get even weirder when we meet the villainous Underground People, who live 275 miles beneath Tokyo Bay and dress like the Men in Black. The director is more interested in showing off empty chairs or ceiling lights during these sequences, which are tinted brown. The Underground People, who returned in at least one of the subsequent series, don’t have eyes underneath their Ray-Bans and know that Hayata uses the Beta capsule to become Ultraman. Telesdon apparently returned even more frequently than his subterranean masters, and even made a cameo in a seventies Godzilla film when a production drawing of the beast was used to illustrate a dinosaur.