Shin Godzilla was a pretty clever modern adaptation of Tōhō’s mythical monster under the prism of the Fukushima disaster; a thinly veiled criticism of Japanese public and corporate institutions’ incompetence when facing a crisis well beyond their means and selfish priorities.
There is nothing as clever to be found in Shin Ultraman. Superficially, you still get the crazy camera angles that Higuchi and Anno love to pull out to live up discussion scenes and give a sense of space to fetishized office spaces. And you still get the bumbling politicians, but they are just a foil to a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the first TV series – basically adapting, mixing and modernizing five notable episodes into a condensed narrative. I’ll let the hardcore Ultraman fans among you(?) ponder which ones, but you’ll probably be right.
Compared to Shin Godzilla, Shin Ultraman is much moreso a flick by Ultraman fans for Ultraman fans. I wonder if Anno’s well-documented love for the series hasn’t blinded him into delivering too faithful of an homage to its original bible, whereas he had used Godzilla more freely as a critical tool for his personal means.
The biggest deviation from the original movie is how the SSSP (the scientific and military squad of Earthlings who help Ultraman) is portrayed. No more flashy costumes. No more gadgets and advanced aircrafts à la Thunderbirds. They are now a group of typical salarymen and office ladies from Tokyo, with the foibles and issues and shitty Panasonic laptops any typical office department would recognize. That might be the most interesting aspect of the movie to analyze, maybe? Still, I would have given them at least an orange tie.
Anyway, the most interesting characters of the Ultraman franchise are never the heroes – especially Ultraman himself who is often less charismatic than a plate of boiled endives. Just like Batman, it is typically the Ultraman villains that make a good Ultraman story, and suffice to say we get plenty of them here. Strong beast-like monsters and devious schemers abound, sometimes stepping on each other’s toes for screen space (there is enough contents for a Marvel trilogy in those mere 113min).
Their new designs are great, the battle scenes are excellent with tons of practical effects that marry rather well with the CG effects. The artistic direction is faultless. Not a great motion picture, but pretty much the ultimate fan-film to open Daicon XXIII.
Tōhō and Tōei have taken the opportunity of Shin Ultraman’s release to unveil Shin Kamen Rider, which is scheduled for a March 2023 release.