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Fantasia 2022 Cinematic Delight: A Fresh Look at the Iconic Shin Ultraman

My fascination with Ultraman kicked off when I was twelve, stumbling upon the classic 1966 series on a rather dodgy website. The risks of cyberspace were no match for the profound effect this show had on me, with its mesmerizing kaiju and endearing cast. Growing up, I expanded my horizons to other entries in the series, like enjoying Ultraman X over a bowl of morning cereal during my freshman year at college.

The original 1966 series, however, always had a way of pulling me back. The latest installment, Shin Ultraman, feels like an extended love letter to those early episodes, woven together in a seamless narrative arc. Despite seeming daunting for newcomers, its universal themes of hope could resonate with a broad audience, holding true to the franchise’s foundational spirit.

Our Culture’s coverage of Shin Ultraman highlights the film’s premiere at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, promising a synthesis of retro nostalgia and contemporary cinema.

Japan has found itself under frequent kaiju attacks, prompting the establishment of the SSSP – a specialized unit aimed at thwarting these threats. When an immense silver hero descends from the heavens to combat a destructive monster, the story unfolds familiarly. Merging with SSSP’s Shinji Kaminaga, Ultraman becomes humanity’s silent guardian. As global focus zooms in on Japan and the celestial newcomer, an array of extraterrestrials arrive with their own complex agendas, setting humanity on a new trajectory in the cosmos—a journey fraught with planetary and personal stakes.

Ultraman’s arrival instantly disrupts the global chessboard. While interstellar guests further complicate the landscape, revealing our global vulnerabilities, it’s the nuanced critique of human pettiness that the film presents through these circumstances that shines.

The vastness of space, paired with the commentary from both extraterrestrial and human perspectives on our insignificance, could be disheartening. Yet, Shin Ultraman flips the script, finding profound hope in our collective decision to value and cherish one another despite the indifference of the cosmos. Ultraman personifies this beautiful defiance.

Unlike earlier versions where Ultraman’s kin embody a simplistic heroic code, here, the beings from the “Planet of Light” show scant concern for our welfare. This sets the stage for Ultraman’s independent resolve to aid Earth, leaving a resonant impact on the SSSP and culminating in an uplifting finale that delivers its message with finesse.

The film’s stylistic homage to 2016’s Shin Godzilla is evident, with loving nods to its predecessor through music and meticulously recreated battle sequences. Though the shift to CGI for Ultraman and the monster ensemble was a departure from the tradition of practical effects—a point of mild disappointment—it still manages to captivate in its own digital artistry, arguably surpassing mainstream Hollywood’s use of similar technology.

Character development, however, is a mixed bag. While alien personalities, particularly Koji Yamamoto’s portrayal of Alien Mefilas, are exquisitely crafted, the human cast of the SSSP doesn’t shine as brightly. Additionally, the film’s occasional dips into awkward humor slightly clash with its overall serious tone, but these moments by no means overshadow its numerous strengths.

Drawing parallels yet again to Shin Godzilla, I anticipate my impressions of Shin Ultraman to evolve with time. But for the moment, I revel in its ode to my childhood passion for the original series and eagerly await my next viewing.

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