Event Date & Time: Japanese Giant Monster Festival
Location: Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood
Out of a sense of nostalgia, I went to see the “Ultraman and More” program at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood today (part of the American Cinematheque’s Japanese Giant Monster Festival).
For those of you too young to remember, Ultraman was sort of a Japanese equivalent of Superman that played on some syndicated stations back in the 1960s. He was this guy who was part of an Defense Force that fought off giant alien monsters, which seemed to invade Earth on a weekly basis. Anway, the defense force wasn’t much good, because the only way the Earth got saved each week was that our hero would turn into Ultraman — a giant, robot-looking superhero who would karate chop the monsters to death (or shoot them with some kind of ray beam or whatever).
The show was produced by Eija Tsuburaya, who used to direct the special effects for the Godzilla feature films before becoming a TV producer (Godzilla even showed up once or twice on the Ultraman show, renamed and disguised with a few horns or a frill around his neck, as if that would fool anyone).
The funny thing about the successful show was that instead of simply doing a second season, Tsuburaya productions just kept remaking different versions of it, with titles like ULTRA SEVEN and ULTRAMAN LEO. The details changed (including Ultraman’s look and powers), but the concept remained the same: guy in a skintight spandex suit fighting rubber monsters. There were also some other spin offs, called FIRE MAN and MIRROR MAN, but they were also pretty much the same.
The program at the Egyptian included a short documentary about Eija Tsuburaya, not too detailed but still interesting, plus episodes from four of the different series: FIRE MAN, MIRROR MAN, ULTRAMAN 80, and ULTRA-MAN LEO. They were fun to watch — obvious precursors for stuff like POWER RANGERS — but they are definitely kiddie fare, of interest to adults mostly for nostalgia purposes only. The budgets were limited, and often times the episodes took up most of the running time with the characters standing around and talking about the weekly invasion, saving the big special effects finale for the last few minutes of the show.
One amusing element that recurs several times is that the elite unit, especially its commander, mostly just hear the bad news and fret over what to do about it, often without being in any big hurry to take action (later shows sped things up a bit, often beginning with the team in the middle of a fight with the week’s monster). When they finally do put some plan into effect, it falls apart, and it’s up to Ultraman (or Fire Man, etc) to bail them out. Then afterwards, the team stands around congratulating themselves for a job well done — as if they accomplished anything!
More recently, there have been some ULTRAMAN features shot in Japan with more modern special effects. The latest one is called ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT. The trailer for it looks pretty good, but I didn’t stay around to see it (the four episodes of the show was more than enough Ultra-stuff for one day). I’ll catch it next week when the Cinematheque plays it at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
On another note: After the show, a brief walk down Hollywood Blvd took us past El Capitan Theatre, where we saw the Love Bug from HERBIE: FULLY LOADED parked outside…
That’s the great thing about Hollywood: just walking down the street, you see so many famous stars.