Shin Ultraman

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67 | Shin Ultraman (2022) Camp Kaiju: Monster Movie Reviews

The latest reboot of a longstanding Japanese franchise (or at least, the latest one to get a wide American release) is Shin Ultraman, helmed by one of the co-directors of Shin Godzilla, Shinji Higuchi. If you’re a newcomer to this series and its characters (like me), that doesn’t really matter: the plot is so slapdash and overstuffed that it probably won’t make much make sense regardless. 

Director: Shinji Higuchi
Producers: Hideaki Anno, Takehiko Aoki, Minami Ichikawa, Kurosawa Kei, Tomoya Nishino, Takayuki Tsukagoshi, Hisashi Usui
Writer: Hideaki Anno
Cinematographers: Osamu Ichikawa, Keizō Suzuki
Editors: Hideaki Anno, Youhei Kurihara
Cast: Takumi Saitoh, Masami Nagasawa, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Daiki Arioka, Akari Hayami, Tetsushi Tanaka, Ryo Iwamatsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Keishi Nagatsuka, Toru Masuoka, Hajime Yamazaki

Runtime: 118 minutes
Production Companies: Tsuburaya Productions, Toho, Khara Corporation, Cine Bazar
U.S. Distributor: Fathom Events
Premiere: May 13, 2022 (Japan)
U.S. Release Date: January 11, 2023

The movie opens with a kaiju attack from an invisible monster named Neronga (the CGI is hit-or-miss here like it was in Shin Godzilla, with some carnage a little too obviously pixilated, but the graphics on Neronga are impressive, making it almost-but-not-quite invisible). A giant extraterrestrial named Ultraman appears to save the day. When another kaiju (this one a subterranean, armadillo-like creature named Gabora) shows up soon afterwards, Ultraman appears once again, though this time he seems to grow from the ground up instead of crash-landing on Earth from outer space. A government agency named the SSSP, which is tasked with eliminating the kaiju beasts that appear with increasing frequency, investigates Ultraman and finds that his origin is closer to their own group than they might have expected. There are also three villains who show up to endanger SSSP and the planet (none of their storylines overlap significantly) and a world-destroying device from an alternate dimension that puts the last act into motion.

A giant robot with glowing eyes shoots white beams of light out of its upraised hand.

All that, as well as a fun homage to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and philosophical musings about individualism vs. the social collective (offered by Ultraman as he tries to adapt to the ways of earthlings), global geopolitics (Japanese politicians gripe that the rest of the world wants them to use nukes to eliminate kaiju and expect Japan to take care of the situation), the evolution of humanity (are we essentially benevolent or destructive creatures?), and other food for thought. Admittedly, the satire seems more pointed and effective in Shin Godzilla, but you have to give credit to Shin Ultraman for updating a goofy, superhero-style romp with political and thematic undercurrents.

Despite those philosophical interludes, this is a ridiculous, jam-packed movie that’s honestly pretty exhausting at almost two hours. The visual style here is similar to that in Shin Godzilla: rapid montages (the average shot length must be less than a second) with bewildering camera angles like a remote control’s POV, a shot from inside a chip bag, etc. I normally hate that kind of short-attention-span editing, but in this case it seems like an intentional depiction of how hurried and bureaucratic modern life is, with threats coming from every direction and everything moving at a bullet’s pace. 

A giant robot crouches to the left, looking at three much smaller humans who are standing next to a helicopter.

Objectively, it would be easy to lambaste the sloppy story, uneven pacing, and sense of redundancy, but some of those elements are also what make Shin Ultraman so fun. The first villain we meet, an alien named Zarab without a back half of its body, who wears a fedora and trenchcoat and has glowing jewels for eyes, probably doesn’t have to be in the film at all, but damn it looks awesome. There have already been approximately a dozen subplots by the time the third act comes around, with a character named Zoffy from the “Planet of Light” threatening to destroy humanity to protect Earth, but this jarring narrative shift allows for some crazy late scenes set in an alternate dimension. A bumpy plot is a small price to pay for such delirious entertainment. 

There’s a lot of camp here, but most of it seems intentionally humorous, including a running joke that’s amusingly non-PC: one female agent of the SSSP, Asami, motivates herself by enthusiastically slapping her own ass (and eventually others’, which you would have to assume the Japanese government would frown upon). Like a lot of Shin Ultraman, it’s sublimely silly.

by Matthew Cole Levine

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