An Out of Body State: Shin Ultraman (2022) - Reviewed


All photos courtesy of Toho

Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi first worked together in 2016 on Shin Godzilla, with Anno penning the screenplay and Higuchi on the directorial and special effects duties. It was a startling reimagining of the Godzilla franchise, full of pointed social commentary and frightening imagery. Anno and Higuchi have teamed up again, this time on Shin Ultraman (2022), reprising similar roles, with Anno also picking up producer and co-editor responsibilities.

Right away, it's apparent that Shin Ultraman is going for a different vibe than Shin Godzilla, embracing the camp of the original 1966 TV series. Giant creatures, AKA kaiju, have systematically invaded Japan, and to protect themselves, they have formed the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol or SSSP. The SSSP is a defense force that tracks and studies the kaiju to understand and fight them better. 

Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh) is the principal strategy officer for the SSSP, and during a fight with Neronga, an electricity-based kaiju, he is killed in an explosion when Ultraman beams down onto earth to battle the monster. Ultraman then assumes Kaminaga's identity, hiding amongst the humans and only turning into Ultraman when his powers are required. Fellow SSSP member Hiroko Asami (Masami Nagasawa) starts to suspect that something is off with Kaminaga and covertly investigates his activities.

Structurally, Shin Ultraman feels episodic, with a "monster of the day" making an appearance periodically. Indeed, the film is four episodes from the 1966 series (with a few cameos from Ultra Q) remade with a higher budget and tied together with an overarching narrative. The film doesn't take itself seriously for the most part, poking fun at some of the story's sillier aspects and parodying the source material's low budget. One character notes that two of the kaiju look similar (on the original show, they would create new monsters by swapping around costume parts to save money), and it is explained in-universe that they are all sent by the same master. Alien Zarab still sports his ill-fitting hat and trench coat costume, the hat precariously balancing on his enormous head. The film is a love letter to the show, simultaneously embracing the goofier aspects and adding gravitas where needed. There is a palpable thread of sexual fetish running through the film, and there seem to be a lot of shots of women's feet for some reason, and even a touch of macrophilia at one point that is played off as a joke. It doesn't detract from the story, but it gives a few scenes a strange tone that is off-putting.

Although the special effects are mostly comprised of modern CGI, it is bolstered by traditional tokusatsu practical work. Ultraman's motion capture was provided by Bin Furuya, the suit actor from the 1966 series. There are a few changes to how Ultraman works, most notably the absence of the "color timer," a light on his chest that would flash when there were only three minutes of power left. Now Ultraman's suit changes from red to green, indicating he is low on energy. The monster redesigns are more slender and sleek and take advantage of the newer technology to add embellishments. The battles are awe-inspiring and feel alien and otherworldly, as they should. ShirĊ Sagisu's music is the perfect accompaniment to the action, bombastic and rousing, quickly switching between retro-sounding and modern pieces using sweeping strings and rock guitar to significant effect.

As the film transitions to the final act, the tone becomes more serious and philosophical. While it doesn't reach full-on deconstruction, Anno's style starts rearing its head with religious symbology and the imminent destruction of all of humanity. The redesign of Zetton is reminiscent of one of the Angels from Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the visuals start to become fantastical and surreal. Shin Ultraman is ultimately about how humans band together in the face of death and the sacrifices they make to save others. They are but a tiny blip in the context of the universe, yet they continue to survive with bravery. The message of Shin Ultraman is an energetic rally for humanity and a positive affirmation of love and truth.

--Michelle Kisner