Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ultraman Lives!

The live action Sci-Fi series Ultraman was a staple of my childhood, surpassed in esteem only by Star Trek and Doctor Who. The U.S. English Language release stopped airing around 1980. I was overjoyed to find that it was finally available in a non-bootleg release. Although some of the original footage has been replaced with black and white (very minimal) and the English language version occasionally drops into Japanese due to the loss of portions of the dubbed release, the quality of this production is quite excellent.

The story involves Hayata, the hero, (pictured in blue, below) and the other members of the "Science Patrol" the damsel Fuji, the clownish Ito (Ide), Captain Mura (Muramatsu), dependable Ayashi, and boy sidekick Hoshino. The Science Patrol is called in to investigate strange phenomena, natural and scientific disasters, and, of course, monster sightings. In the first episode, Hayata is accidentally killed by a benevolent alien who merges with Hayata in order to restore him to life. Hayata is normally human, but when danger calls (almost always in the form of a 200ft Godzilla analog, but with ingenious variations, including lobster-clawed bug men, carnivorous space algae, and abominable snow men) Hayata transforms into Ultraman, (above, shooting his signature hand ray) a giant bug-eyed red and silver bio-mechanoid, who can shoot various death rays, fly, "Shuwach!" and do amazing Sumo moves. On watching this show again as an adult after 30 years, I am struck by the show's refreshing lack of political correctness. The contrasts between the English dialog (often cynical) and the Japanese (overblown and exaggeratedly technical) are striking, and show the difference between the post-60's anti-intellectual attitude of the U.S. compared to the earnest sincerity of the Japanese.

I strongly recommend that English speakers listen with English audio and the subtitles (which show the contrasting original Japanese dialog) simultaneously.

This show is certainly intended for children or those nostalgic for things of their childhood. As such, it is a wonderful addition to my library. I have watched all the episodes again, recalling the joy which they brought me as a child, and can't stop singing the theme song. I hope this would translate to present day children. The special effects are done with blue-screen imaging and men in plastic monster suits, but, as with Doctor Who, the plot (however minimal) and the monster concepts drive the series. Many scenes have a spookiness or poignancy which one wouldn't expect from today's merchandise-driven shows.

This is one of my least favorite episodes. The monster is meant to be clownish, the product of the imagination of a deranged man. But there are almost no other clips of the show to be found on the internet.

The series of 39 episodes is available in a two volume release, here at Amazon.

No comments: