The Ultraman franchise has shown massive success in Japan since the late 60s.
While I did enjoy watching some of the Ultraman movies in middle school, the franchise didn’t experience the same level of crossover success as other Japanese franchises like Godzilla or Super Sentai. Regardless, Ultraman maintained a massive following that’s only growing in the U.S. As such, fans were excited when director Shinji Higuchi announced his follow-up to the commercially and critically successful Shin-Godzilla (which he directed alongside Hideaki Anno) was a reimagining of Ultraman. Upon seeing the film at NYAFF, I shared that excitement, as Shin Ultraman is the perfect reboot and jumping on point for the franchise.
Following directly from Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman follows the Japanese government’s SSSP division as they work with Ultraman (voiced by Issey Takahashi) to fight off alien invaders. As a reboot, Shin Ultraman provides enough context and shorthand to make it accessible for anyone unfamiliar with the franchise. As a sequel to Shin Godzilla, while the film directly follows the previous film’s events, Shin Ultraman acts as a stand-alone. It features new characters while maintaining the last film’s high-energy tone and even continues the biting satire, so it still feels a part of the same universe.
Shin Ultraman is incredibly fun. It’s fast, wild, and has zero shame in its sincerity. While the action sometimes uses CGI that looks like a GameCube, it feels so in-tune with the film’s fast pace that I wasn’t bothered. I loved how joyful and wild the film was. While its satire of Japanese bureaucracy and arms trade is on point and helps lend the film substance, its fast pace and larger-than-life heroism keep the film in flight. It never wallows in cynicism, maintaining an optimistic, hopeful tone through Ultraman’s growth as a character. These moments highlight Higuchi’s satire, as it’s baffling to see how easily the government gets so lost in their bureaucracy that they become easily manipulated by the aliens. As such, they lose the perspective that Ultraman develops regarding the value of individual human life.
While the characterization is sometimes a bit one note, it’s clear that director Hideaki Anno is more interested in theme and story than character. Still, Ultraman’s growth feels natural, built up through his work with the SSSP. The rest of the cast, who make up the SSSP, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Daiki Arioka, Akari Hayami, Takumi Saitoh, and Masami Nagasawa, are all charismatic and match the high energy of the film’s pace well. Takumi Saitoh and Masami Nagasawa stand out as a fitting contrast, with the assertive and energized Nagasawa playing well off the more reserved Saitoh.
Shin Ultraman is a popcorn-infused blockbuster with enough bite and substance to reward rewatches. It’s a fitting entry in the franchise that I hope encourages Americans to dive into the world of Ultraman. With Shin Ultraman’s sequel already announced, Shin Kamen Rider, this time being helmed by Hideaki Anno, I’m intrigued about where this new franchise will wind up.