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Buckle up for a wild, incomprehensible, but spectacularly fun ride with the delightfully nostalgic Japanese export “Shin Ultraman”.

Self-defense against extraterrestrials through making humans giant.

Sometimes, when writing a review, crafting an attention-grabbing header is an art form unto itself. What to say, what tone to say it in, and how catchy can roughly ten words really be? So many things to consider.

Fortunately, while watching the latest Ultraman film, I was provided with a veritable cornucopia of viable options. The sheer volume of bizarre concepts and dialogue meant that actually PICKING an intro would prove to be the most difficult part. But I feel the one I ultimately picked really sums up the movie as a whole.

For those not in the know, Ultraman is one of Japan’s longest-running media series, first appearing in 1966. He is a staple of the kaiju genre, along with Godzilla and Gamera.

Raking in billions throughout Asia, the Ultraman phenomenon is akin to that of Superman in the US, which is far from ironic, considering they are both nearly impervious aliens from a distant planet with a vested interest in keeping humanity safe. They both fly, they both shoot beams of energy, and they both adore the color red. They also like to hide out of sight when they change into their superhero costume.

The only real difference is that one just so happens to be 50 meters tall.

I actually grew up watching the old Ultraman shows back in the 80s when I would visit family in Los Angeles. With a much larger Asian populace than Sacramento, there were several general-access channels available to LA residents that would air imported movies and television programs. Between early anime, classic martial arts films, and bonkers kaiju productions, I was a pretty happy camper, vicariously immersing myself in (largely Japanese) foreign media.

As such, I have a certain love for the kaiju genre, if not necessarily for Ultraman himself. I was more of a Godzilla guy myself, preferring the radioactive amphibian to the silver dude. But though I didn’t love Ultraman, I still watched the movies and recognized the appeal.

Released in Japan in 2022, fifty-six years after his original debut, this modern interpretation of the Ultraman story is a strange beast, part time capsule and part 21st-century overhaul.

That’s not hyperbole, folks.

Modern contrivances aside (cell phones, tablets, etc.), this is a story (and film) that could have been ripped from the 60s. Which is entirely intentional.

Clocking in at nearly two hours and directed by Shinji Higuchi, 2022’s Shin Ultraman is an homage to the original tokusatsu films in nearly every sense. Some of the special effects actually look pretty decent, but this is very much a “man in a costume fighting other men in costumes” movie. The creases and seams of the “alien metal suits” are often visible, with zero attempts made to hide them.

Instead of crazy CGI martial arts shenanigans, the action, including occasional fisticuffs, is almost lethargic at times. Think Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, just on less crack. Hero poses from the original are also very prevalent and are just as goofy as you’d expect.

Going into a film like this, viewers weaned on Hollywood’s interpretations of Asian monster movies need to understand that there is a large cultural gap between the US and Japanese cinema.

Case in point: there’s a very strange dichotomy between an electricity-loving kaiju causing untold damage across the Japanese countryside, while only a mile away, we have a roomful of SSSP (S-Class Species Suppression Protocol, our human heroes) personnel just clacking away on laptops, casually discussing kaiju physiology and bemoaning this latest appearance of a dangerous creature.

The monster is literally rampaging only a few blocks away, and they’re like, “Just another Wednesday.” When it is disclosed that the creature could devastate all of Japan with an electrical attack, the head of the SSSP simply utters, “What a pain,” in solemn exasperation.

Yes, it’s that kind of movie. And oh, so much more as well.

What else can you expect from Shin Ultraman, you ask?

Well, grab a seat, and I’ll list a few things in no particular order.

First, prepare for some self-inflicted ass-grabbing. Seriously, the main heroine of the tale has a habit of grabbing her own skirt-clad ass prior to big events going down. Two hands, both cheeks. Is this a pre-game warmup? A storage location where her endorphin emitters are located? A family tradition to bring good luck? Nobody knows because it’s never explained.

Second, I hope you like shoes, because this movie is obsessed with footwear. Not feet, mind you. SHOES. Shiny, un-scuffed, jet-black shoes on the feet of both genders.

Between that, a dude smelling a gal to “memorize her scent” for an interdimensional shortcut, and the self-ass grabbing mentioned above, there’s some freaky shit going on just below the surface. Then again, what else can you expect from the country that invented tentacle porn?

Third, just wait for the appearance of a Star Destroyer-sized planet-killing robot with light-up flower boobs (I kid you not).

Fourth, as mentioned earlier, be prepared for bizarre tonal shifts, as they are par for the course.

Scenes vacillate between ultraserious and ultra-irreverent, sometimes shifting from one to the other with no warning. Silly pseudoscience is delivered with absolute gravitas, and nobody ever seems particularly perturbed by the increasingly absurd events taking place all around them.

Fifth, even the dastardly villains that populate the film are unfailingly polite and appreciative. When the bad guys of a movie are kinder and more respectful than most Americans on their best day, that makes for a certain sort of incriminating revelation.

Do any of these things detracts from the film itself? Not in the slightest.

Shin Ultraman knows what kind of movie it is and goes for the gusto in nearly every way.

Sure, the budget is used in strange ways, the camera angles are INSANE, and the action is unintentionally funny (Ultraman hopping over a spinning kaiju tail like a kid at recess is fucking PRICELESS), but Shin Ultraman is consistently entertaining.

Big-ass beings beating the ever-loving tar out of each other while toppling skyscrapers in the process is never a bad time.

The acting is…well…I’m not sure. Everyone seems to be giving it their all, but much is lost with the pre-existing language barrier. We’ll just give it a pass and say the thespians are on top of their game.

On the technical side of things, it’s a mixed bag.

The audio is clear and diverse, and the shots are crisp and concise. There are a lot of quick edits taking place, though again, that’s not uncommon for Japanese cinema. I did struggle with the music, even though I know it’s supposed to be faithful to the old films.

That said, breezy jazz numbers really have no business being in a monster movie of any variety, and I will gladly die on that particular hill.

Is Shin Ultraman a dramatic reinvention of the classic character? No. Does the film have anything new to say about the “big creatures fight for the benefit of humanity” trope? Not even. Is it a film that’ll knock your socks off, the Matrix of its generation? Nope.

What it is, however, is a rollicking good time and a fantastic homage to a simpler time of moviemaking.

It’s the kind of ultra-enjoyable romp where a tall guy with a silver jumpsuit and lightbulb eyes, along with the buddy system, disappearing ink, and self-ass grabbing, can save the planet.

Highly recommended!

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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