Starring: Takumi Saitoh, Masami Nagasawa, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Akari Hayami, and Daiki Arioka
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Directed by: Shinji Higuchi
“Ultraman…have you grown so fond of humanity?”
From The Planet of Light and the pen of self-professed mega-Ultra fan Hideaki Anno comes Shin Ultraman – a brand new take on the iconic and long-running Ultraman franchise aimed at new audiences.
“S-Class” species (aka kaiju) have started to crop up throughout Japan. In response, the Japanese government forms the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, or SSSP, to combat and study the emerging kaiju threat. But when a brand new being from space, a giant of silver, enters Earth’s orbit and seemingly stands for humanity, the SSSP team are swept up in a grander game with intergalactic stakes. The SSSP team are armed with nothing more than their burgeoning friendship and faith in the better angels of humanity’s nature.
Well, that and a ten-story-tall super-being that can shoot lasers from his hands.
Heavily inspired by the original “Ultra shows” of the 1960s, Ultra Q and Ultraman, Shin Ultraman is an absolute feast for old fans and newcomers alike. Kinetically, sweepingly directed by Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan Parts 1&2), Shin Ultraman distills nearly 60 years of action, heart, and humor into a buzzing, consistently entertaining Tokusatsu epic. They present passion, scope, and unabashed optimism to audiences when we need it the most.
Shin Ultraman doesn’t rely solely on spectacle and shout-outs to the past series alone. (Rest assured, there is plenty of both.) That said, the film’s cast and keen humor are the real secret weapons of this massive feature film.
Anno’s first round with a Japanese icon, Godzilla in Shin Godzilla, was caustic and unrelenting; Shin Ultraman is poppy and keenly clever. The iconic character is always loaded with a funny turn of phrase, further armed with deftly deployed running gags. Anno’s satirical voice transfers admirably into the SSSP’s day-to-day operations — providing a deeply funny, well-developed bedrock to the fantastical A-story of the new Ultraman and his human allies.
And a good script requires a good cast. Thankfully, Shin Ultraman has that in spades. Longtime fans will be happy that iconic Ultra enemies like Zarab and Gomess make appearances and their human counterparts soar. Shin Godzilla’s Takumi Saitoh anchors the film as the ethereal, slightly off-putting Kaminaga, the SSSP agent who is chosen by chance to be Ultraman’s human host. Voice actress and The Crossing breakout Masami Nagasawa plays his newly assigned partner Asami, an outwardly charming goof, who provides a wholly engaging, genuinely sweet dynamic with Kaminaga as they navigate a new world of gods and extraterrestrials.
The incandescently charming Akari Hayami and Daiki Arioka round out the SSSP team lead as Funaberi and Taki, the team’s biologist and chief technician, respectively. While these characters immediately slot into “comedic relief,” both performances translate far more affectingly and sweetly than usual takes, who might only be around for exposition. Instead, Funaberi and Taki sprint away with whole sequences! Simply by a droll line delivery or some physical business cutting through director Higuchi’s showy scene setups.
Ultimately, Shin Ultraman just flat rules. A showy, deeply loving tribute to a Japanese superhero icon. One designed not only for fans, but for new fans and audiences alike. Shin Ultraman threads the needle impressively between deeply dorky and undeniably impressive blockbuster filmmaking.