‘Shin Ultraman’ Review: “A Cheesy and Entertaining Reimagining”
In 2016, director Shinki Higuchi ushered in a new era of Godzilla with his film Shin Godzilla. Returning to the roots of the kaiju, Shin Godzilla was a dark reimagining of the king of the monsters that reflected the current social and political climate of Japan. The film was a stunning tour de force that reminded viewers of the original intention behind Godzilla as an allegory for the troubles that plagued Japan.
That same director has returned for another reimagining, though nowhere near as dark. Shin Ultraman is the latest film from Higuchi, that brings the character of Ultraman into a new era. While Shin Godzilla stayed true to the dark roots of the character, Shin Ultraman stays equally loyal to its 60’s cheesy superhero television show roots.
Higuchi seems to have a fundamental understanding of the pop culture icons that permeated throughout not just Japan but the world. From the film’s opening moments, Shin Ultraman fundamentally has the same intentions as Shin Godzilla but is tonally and structurally different in almost every way.
Takumi Saitoh plays Shinji, the vessel of Ultraman, and Ultraman himself, as the film reimagines the character’s origin story and his place as a protector of Japan. The cast is rounded out by Hiroko (Masami Nagasawa), Kimio (Hidetoshi Nishijima), Akihisa (Daiki Arioka), and Yumi (Akari Hayami). They play a government team known as the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol (SSSP). Shin Ultraman wastes no time setting up its premise and characters, and the fast pace at which the film moves is reminiscent of the original series.
Just like the original series, the movie has a cheesy sci-fi tone. The self-seriousness of the last Shin film is nowhere to be seen with this iteration of Ultraman. Watching the character make his appearance 20-something minutes into the film and immediately start fighting a Kaiju shows that the film is aware of why fans go to watch movies like this. Moreover, the movie’s lower-grade special effects help accentuate the film’s tone.
The story is simple on a surface level, with one alien threat after another showing up to challenge Ultraman and his place as protector of the planet earth. The script and the actor’s performances lean heavily into the cheesy aspect, which sometimes can be too much. However, between the cheesy sci-fi threats and the incredible Kaiju battles, Shin Ultraman throws in some commentary about humanity and its place in the universe.
While Shin Ultraman entertains the audience with all-out kaiju battle royales, there is commentary between every big fight. The hilarious high-concept sci-fi villains and their cheesy, overpowered abilities are also used for the human characters to reflect on how small they are. Higuchi cleverly uses the inherent silliness of Ultraman and his enemies to throw in the sort of existential crisis so well-used in Shin Godzilla, albeit without all the dreariness. Expect the same criticism of Japan’s bureaucracy and its position in world politics seen in Shin Godzilla to be in Shin Ultraman, with a nice comedic twist.
One glaring issue with the movie is its repetitiveness. Although Shin Ultraman is endearing for its loyalty to its origins, and the battles are expertly scaled to give the creatures and Ultraman the big-screen presence they deserve, the story and themes are one-note. The film’s interesting the first time the existential themes and humanity’s questioning of their worth are introduced, but by the third time the film rehashes these themes, it gets a little old.
We don’t go to an Ultraman movie for its themes and thought-provoking story. Despite some story moments that sometimes seem a little too cheesy, Shin Ultraman is a fun and engaging time at the movies. Just as Shin Godzilla successfully brought a new image of the Kaiju icon to a different Japan, Shin Ultraman does the same.
In today’s age of uncertainty, it’s nice to see a timeless character like Ultraman, though given a modern makeover, still retain his optimism and hope for a better humanity. Of course, there are also the epic Kaiju fights, which are the film’s saving grace. Each monster Ultraman takes on is cleverly designed, and the choreography is the right amount of over-the-top that reminds viewers why you go see movies like this on the big screen. Shin Ultraman is a cheesy and fun reimagining that doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s all the better for it. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Shin Ultraman is Pending a North American Release Date
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