Monday, November 13, 2006

Happy 40th Birthday Ultraman!

In the near future, sinister aliens and giant prehistoric monsters threaten civilization! The only one equipped to handle these disasters is the Science Patrol, a special police force with high-tech weapons and vehicles at their disposal. Led by Captain "Cap" Muramatsu, the Science Patrol is ready to protect the Earth from the ravaging monsters. But when the situation becomes desperate, Hayata, one of the Patrol's members holds the key to our salvation. Fate has given Hayata the ability to secretly transform into an amazing, superpowered giant from space. A being known as Ultraman!

I don't remember Ultraman having a surf board...

Ultraman was created by Eiji Tsuburaya, the father of the tokusatsu (special effects) genre in Japan, who also worked for the Toho studio on many monsters pics, beginning with Godzilla in 1954. Ultraman, however, was not the first special-effects TV show made by the company he founded in 1963. That honor goes to Ultra Q, a 28-episode black-and-white series modeled on The Twilight Zone. Broadcast from January to July 1966 on the TBS network, Ultra Q featured a human team that investigated extra- terrestrial phenomena and fought Tsuburaya's signature Toho monsters under new names (Godzilla became the odd-sounding Gomess). Nonetheless, for Tsuburaya and his company, Ultraman represented a big, ambitious step forward. The show was filmed in color, with a budget then considered huge for Japanese TV.

One outstanding feature of the Ultraman series was the use of various monster costumes, often wildly imaginative, and would later influence other series like Gatchaman and Himitsu Sentai Goranger. The principals were played by famous stunt actor Haruo Nakajima, who played the original Godzilla. His apprentice, Bin Furuya, started out as Ultraman. Nakajima had a martial arts background and used it to create a sense of drama in order to be dramatically effective in costumes that had little potential to show emotion. For the first episodes, and this is clearly evident in the action sequences, simple wrestling was done that gradually evolved into more complex fighting that would later be reflected in anime productions (dramatic windups, extravagant gestures prior to unleashing an energy attack, bellicose roars and threat displays, etc.). Often costumes of famous monsters like Godzilla or Gamera would be recycled and altered, sometimes with nothing more than spraypaint and often while the actor was still inside. Nakajima quipped once that the staggering gait of some of the monsters he portrayed was due less to his acting than to the fumes he had to endure. Some of the costumes could not be shown fully as his feet would be exposed, a necessary allowance to maintain balance in the often cumbersome outfits. Also, the expense of repairing the scale cities and landscapes used for battlescenes required economy of movement and meticulous planning.

Altogether, in the franchise's 40-year history, there have been a total of 16 official live-action TV series (not counting Ultra Q) and 19 movies.

God I loved Ultraman as a kid, watched the show faithfully, but I had no idea it had been around so long.

Click here to watch the very first episode of Ultraman from 1966:
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Anonymous said...

Awesome! I loved Ultraman as a kid. I always wanted one of those orange uniforms they wore.

Anonymous said...

When I was in primary school I wrote a series of comic books (as you do) called SuperDude - then batman the film came out and SuperDude had to go all dark and tortured and thus have a new name which I chose Ultra Man thinking I was ever so original and clever. A year later I discovered Ultraman and have always had a fascination with him since!

Once again I find myself sharing a little too much.

Becca said...

Yes, Ultraman is the coolest, I wonder if they ever made any Ultraman toys? Well off to ebay for me...