ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS
A look at the 40th anniversary Ultraman movie
Author: James Ballard
Official Site: Ultraman Mebius & Ultraman Brothers
SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains plot details for a new Japanese film.
Soon after establishing his own effects house, Eiji Tsuburaya – revered as the “God of Special Effects” in his native Japan for his work on effects films such as Toho’s Godzilla series – founded Tsuburaya Productions in 1963. Their first science fiction television series, ULTRA Q (Urutora Kyuu), was first aired in January 1966. The success of the show lead to the creation of a new fantasy effects series, one which would lead to phenomenal and perhaps unexpected success. First airing on July 17th 1966, ULTRAMAN (Urutoraman) was the story of a man called Hayata, whose life was accidentally taken but subsequently revived by the alien known as Ultraman. After Ultraman joined his life force with that of Hayata’s, every week Hayata would transform in the mighty Ultraman to do battle with the giant monsters that threatened the Earth.
The popularity of ULTRAMAN lead to the creation of numerous sequels and variations in the years that followed, including ULTRA SEVEN (Urutorasebun, 1967), THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN (Kaetakitta Urutoraman, 1971), ULTRAMAN ACE (Urutoraman Eesu, 1972) and ULTRAMAN TARO (Urutoraman Taro, 1973). Following a 16-year hiatus after ULTRAMAN 80 (Urutoraman 80, 1980), Tsuburaya Productions returned with ULTRAMAN TIGA (Urutoraman Tiga, 1996) on the 30th anniversary, and have continued producing a strong array of television series, direct-to-DVD episodes and theatrical films since. To date, Tsuburaya Productions have produced 16 Ultraman television series in Japan.
In celebration of the Ultraman series’ 40th anniversary, Tsuburaya Productions have taken us back to the original (albeit loose) continuity of the original shows, following the story from ULTRAMAN thru ULTRAMAN 80 (Urutoraman 80, 1980). The latest television series ULTRAMAN MEBIUS (Uruotraman Mebiusu, 2006), currently airing at 5:30pm Saturdays on the CBC network in Japan, begins in a world that has been at peace from giant monsters for 25 years, since the departure of Ultraman 80 in 1981. However, with a new era of monsters on planet Earth approaching, the Father of Ultra sends the rookie Ultraman Mebius as the planet’s new protector.
Coinciding with the new television series was the latest theatrical feature, ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS (Urutoraman Mebiusu & Urutora Kyoudai, 2006), which opened to screens nationwide in Japan on September 16th.
The new film opens in 1986 as the four Ultra brothers Ultraman, Ultra Seven, Ultraman Jack and Ultraman Ace are in the midst of a deadly battle on the Earth’s moon with the monster U-Killer Saurus, who is – unbeknownst to the brothers – under the control of the other-dimensional being Alien Yapool (first appearance: ULTRAMAN ACE episode #1). The battle is soon lead to Earth, where U-Killer Saurus lands in the Kobe bay, and Yapool’s possession of the monster is revealed to the Ultra brothers. With no way of destroying Yapool, the four Ultras grudgingly decide to seal the monster into the bay using the Final Cross Shield, accepting that the loss of energy will mean they will have to remain in their human form and may never be able to transform into their Ultra forms again.
In the year 2006, the young rookie Ultraman Mebius is now protecting the Earth. In his human form of Mirai Hibino, he is visiting Kobe after sensing a disturbance in the bay. Once he arrives, he meets with the lovely young oceanographer, Aya Jinguuji. She shortly introduces Mirai to Takuto, her younger brother. Fellow oceanographer Hirokawa suggests that the young boy have his picture taken with Mirai, however the boy – looking uneasy – runs away. Mirai learns that Takuto used to love the Ultra brothers, until a recent incident when the monster Kelbeam attacked resulted in the death of the boy’s dog. Takuto was alone, and neither Ultraman nor CREW GUYS came to help him. For that, Takuto has rejected them.
Suddenly, a giant UFO flies into view over Kobe, before quickly cloaking itself. Inside the ship, it is revealed that a group of popular alien foes have united together; Alien Zarab (first appearance: ULTRAMAN episode #18: “Brother from Another World”), Alien Guts (first appearance: ULTRA SEVEN episode #39: “The Seven Assassination Plan”), Alien Nackle (first appearance: THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN episode #37: “Ultraman: Death at Sunset”) and Alien Temprer (first appearance: ULTRAMAN TARO episode #33). The aliens plan their invasion of Earth with the revival of U-Killer Zaurus, but first wish to dispense of Ultraman Mebius to rid themselves of any interference.
Overconfidently, Alien Temprer refuses the aid of his comrades and suddenly attacks Kobe alone, calling out to challenge Ultraman Mebius. CREW GUYS prepare to disembark for Kobe, but with Mirai already at the scene Ultraman Mebius appears before they arrive. As the two fight in the city, the other aliens – disguised within their ship above – carefully observe Mebius. Finally, up high above the city, the final showdown between Mebius and Temprer is made, resulting in the destruction of Temprer. The remaining aliens are unfazed at the defeat of their arrogant comrade, and begin their own plans.
Now back in his human form as Mirai, he finds Takuto once again alone after witnessing Temprer’s attack on the city. Mirai tries to help the child, but it is in vain. Suddenly, Mirai hears a voice. Standing behind him is none other than Hayata, the first Ultraman, today an employee at the Kobe airport. Hayata takes Mirai out on a boat – observing the area where the shield conceals U-Killer Saurus in the bay – along with the other three brothers; Dan Moroboshi (Ultra Seven), Hideki Goh (Ultraman Jack) and Seiji Hokuto (Ultraman Ace). All the men now live in Kobe, overseeing the seal in the bay, with Dan working as a rancher, Goh as a race car instructor, and Hokuto as a chef in his own hotel.
Understanding Mirai’s concern for Takuto, Hayata reminds him that an Ultraman is not a god, and they are not able to prevent all tragedies from occurring. Suddenly, the echoing voice of Alien Yapool is heard from deep under the bay, bringing great concern to the brothers. Back inside the aquarium, Aya is haunted by a strange shadow following her through the long, dark corridors. Suddenly, she comes face to face with the creature – “An alien!” As Alien Zarab reaches out for her, Aya lets out a loud scream. Returning to the aquarium, Mirai finds Takuto sitting alone outside, and is able to convince him to talk. Mirai reiterates to Takuto what his brothers had reminded him, and promises that the next time Mebius appears he will give Takuto the peace sign, as proof of his friendship. Inside the aquarium, Mirai goes to find Aya. She suddenly appears behind him, and offers him a cup of coffee. Mirai graciously accepts, but in moments after taking a sip he realizes the drink has been poisoned. Aya brings her hands to her face, and it is revealed that Alien Zarab had taken her form.
With Mirai now incapacitated and unable to transform, Zarab initiates their plans by transforming into an Ultraman Mebius look-alike, Imit (short for “Imitation”) Ultraman Mebius. The locals in Kobe city are surprised and confused by Mebius’ appearance. “Where is the monster?” one man asks. The Imit Mebius continues to stand motionless, as the crowds gather closer. Takuto is standing in the crowd, and becomes excited when he believes Mebius has appeared to give him the peace sign as Mirai had told him. Mirai stumbles out of the aquarium, falling to the ground, trying to warn everyone that it is not really Mebius. The crowds continue to watch, until suddenly Imit Mebius turns and destroys an entire building with a single shot. The crowds begin to run as Imit Mebius wrecks havoc on the city. Eventually, still under the effect of the poison, Mirai manages to transform himself into Ultraman Mebius. With the two Mebius’ now facing off in the city, Takuto slowly begins to understand what has happened.
Before long, Alien Guts has also arrived. Overpowered, Mebius is crucified in the sky, while the aliens’ UFO reveals itself and creates an impenetrable shield around Kobe, plunging the city into darkness. CREW GUYS arrive a moment too late and are blocked from entering the city, while the aliens announce the defeat of Ultraman Mebius to the citizens of Kobe. Understanding the risk due to the Final Cross Shield they performed on U-Killer Saurus 20 years ago, the four Ultra brothers – having watched the events unfold – use their remaining energy to transform into Ultraman, Ultra Seven, Ultraman Jack and Ultraman Ace for one final time.
The film’s story was scripted by Keiichi Hasegawa. Certainly no stranger to the genre, Hasegawa’s long history of writing credits include ULTRAMAN TIGA: THE FINAL ODYSSEY (Urutoraman Tiga The Final Odyssey, 2000), GODZILLA MOTHRA AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK (Gojira Mosura Kingugidora Daikaiju Sokougeki, A.K.A. GMK, 2001), ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT (Urutoraman, 2004) and the TV series ULTRAMAN TIGA and ULTRAMAN NEXUS (Urutoraman Nekusasu, 2004) but to name a few. Despite the impressive resume, the writing is unfortunately one the weaker aspects of the film. As far as storytelling and character development is taken, the film feels rather cut-and-dry. The basic story is nothing particularly original, nor is it executed in a very inspiring way.
The appearance of the main cast of CREW GUYS – the monster attack team from the television series – is mostly wasted, to the point of questioning why their appearance was even made. Most of the characters have little more than one or two lines of dialogue each, only making several brief appearances, and being excluded for all of the actual battles altogether.
The appearances of the Ultra characters Zoffy and Ultraman Taro are very awkwardly placed. To date, Zoffy’s human host or form has not been revealed, and the original actor who played the host of Taro does not appear in the new movie. This results in the two Ultra characters inexplicitly entering through the aliens’ Kobe barrier ready to fight during the midst of the final battle. Much like the recent anniversary film GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004), the film’s climax also leads the protagonists to such imposing and improbable odds that it is forced to resort to such a tiresome and typical deus ex machina as the only means to resolve the situation.
As far as the quality of acting is concerned, there are no major complaints to be made, though nor are there really any outstanding performances to be mentioned. Albeit a few forgivable moments, leading actor Shunji Igarashi – only 19 years old whilst shooting the movie – provides a fairly strong and entertaining performance as Mirai Hibino, the human form of Ultraman Mebius. While on the surface another teen idol, Igarashi has proven himself through both the movie and the TV series to be a more than capable actor, unlike many of the previous idol actors in the franchise.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws for the new film is the return of the original actors Susumu Kurobe, Koji Moritsugu, Jiro Dan and Keiji Takamine, returning to their roles as Hayata, Dan Moroboshi, Hideki Goh and Seiji Hokuto respectively. All four provide very good performances, and it’s highly entertaining to see them actually reprise their original characters, rather than taking on cameo roles as many of them did in some of the recent productions like ULTRAMAN ZEARTH (Urutoraman Zeaasu, 1996) and ULTRAMAN MAX (Urutoraman Makkusu, 2005). At times one may feel that the four were perhaps not used as extensively as they could have been, but nevertheless the characters are treated respectfully and all are a joy to watch.
The lovely young oceanographer, Aya Jinguuji, is portrayed by 26 year old actress Aiko Ito, who fans may remember as Ranru Itsuki, the AbareYellow ranger in the Super Sentai series BLAST-DRAGON TASK FORCE ABARANGER (Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger, 2003), the show used as the basis for Disney’s POWER RANGERS: DINO THUNDER (2004). 9 year old actor Ouga Tanaka plays the young boy Takuto. With a surprisingly long history of credits for such a young actor, Tanaka is able to provide a fairly good performance – especially in comparison to many such young actors – even if it is a little rough around the edges.
With Kazuya Konaka once again serving as both director and special effects director, as he did for films such as ULTRAMAN TIGA & ULTRAMAN DYNA (Urutoraman Tiga & Urutoraman Daina: Hikari no Hoshi no Senshitachi, 1998) and ULTRAMAN GAIA: THE BATTLE IN HYPERSPACE (Urutoraman Teiga & Urutoraman Daina & Urutoraman Gaia: Choujikuu no Daiketsugeki, 1999), there is a strong visual continuity between both the live action and special effects footage, something that is often lacking in such films. Unlike many modern Japanese special effects films, such as the recent Godzilla entries, ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT or GAMERA THE BRAVE (Chiisaki Yuusa-tachi Gamera, 2006), the film makes no strong attempt to appear visually “realistic”. Rather, the special effects are more in tone to the late-1960s and 1970s effects films, in that they simply attempt to appear bright, colorful and otherworldly. The special effects are well executed and highly polished, and seem to meet Konaka’s intentions. There are only a very small handful of poor shots, most of which are limited to – perhaps unsurprisingly – the CGI animation. On the whole however, the CGI is quite impressive, once again lead by CGI Motion Director Ichiro Itano from the 2004 Ultra N Project’s ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT movie and ULTRAMAN NEXUS television series. The battles between the Ultras and the aliens are both paced and staged nicely, and will perhaps provide a nice medium for those who found the fight sequences in the recent Godzilla movies too sluggish, or too fast in the case of movies like GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.
Alongside the leading Ultra and alien characters are several other appearances. The monster Kelbeam from episode #4 and #20 of the ULTRAMAN MEBIUS TV series makes an appearance in a newly-shot flashback sequence, in which we see the death of Takuto’s pet dog. The revived U-Killer Saurus awakens as the towering 300 meter monstrosity, U-Killer Saurus Neo, comparatively over seven times taller than the Ultra brothers. Ultraman Mebius also gains a new form known as Ultraman Mebius Infinity.
The film’s soundtrack was composed by Toshihiko Sahashi, who is also scoring the TV series. Much of the film’s score is comprised of revisions from his work on the show, but also introduces several new pieces for the movie. Several older themes have been revised as well. Sahashi is another genre veteran, having previously scored ULTRAMAN GAIA: THE BATTLE IN HYPERSPACE, as well as TV shows including ULTRAMAN GAIA (Urutoraman Gaia, 1998), MASKED RIDER KUUGA (Kamen Raidaa Kuuga, 2000) and MASKED RIDER HIBIKI (Kamen Raidaa Hibiki, 2005). Whilst not a tremendously unique or memorable score, especially when compared to the work of composers such as Kow Otani (Heisei Gamera series, GMK), the music sounds good, flows well and reflects the colorful, fast-paced nature of the movie. It’s quite a traditional orchestrated score, unlike the rock-n-roll soundtracks produced for GODZILLA: FINAL WARS and ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT.
In place of the main theme used in the TV series, the new song “Mirai” (Future) by solo J-Pop artist Kiyoshi is utilized for the film’s rolling credits. The title “Mirai” can be seen as both “the future” and as a reference to the main character Mirai Hibino. As a side note, the character name “Mirai Hibino” is correctly rendered as “Hibino Mirai” in Japanese, and “Hibi no mirai” means “Everyday’s Future”, reflecting the importance of Ultraman’s battles.
As a celebration of the series’ 40 year history, it’s only fitting that references and appearances from some of the newer productions are made.
One particular scene set on the Kobe port liner – about to be attacked by Nise Ultraman Mebius – sees cameos by three modern veteran actors. Horiuchi Masami plays the character of the Kobe Mayor Matsunaga, named after his recurring character Youichiruu Matsunaga in ULTRAMAN NEXUS. Masami also made appearances in ULTRAMAN TIGA and ULTRAMAN MAX. As the mayor receives a call on his cell phone, his ring tone is heard to be the Night Raider theme music from ULTRAMAN NEXUS. Joining the mayor on the port liner is Midorikawa, played by actress Mariya Yamada, once again a homage to her character of Midorikawa in the TV series ULTRAMAN DYNA (Urutoraman Daina, 1997). The port liner assistant Kauada is played by actor Toshikazu Fukawa, who also played a leading character of the same name in ULTRAMAN DYNA, and who made appearances in movies such as GMK among several others. The oceanographer character Hirokawa is played by yet another veteran actor, Shingo Kazumi, who first appeared in ULTRA Q THE MOVIE (Urutora Kyuu Za Muubii, 1990), and subsequently as the character Kido in the three movies ULTRAMAN COSMOS: THE FIRST CONTACT (Urutoraman Kosumosu The First Contact, 2001), ULTRAMAN COSMOS 2: THE BLUE PLANET (Urutoraman Kosumosu 2 The Blue Planet, 2002) and ULTRAMAN COSMOS VS. ULTRAMAN JUSTICE: THE FINAL BATTLE (Urutoraman Kosumosu vs Urutoraman Jyasutisu The Final Battle, 2003).
During the rolling credits at the end of the film, footage of almost all the Ultraman characters is shown, limited not just to the basic TV shows, but productions such as the foreign-produced ULTRAMAN: TOWARDS THE FUTURE (Urutoraman Gureeto, 1990) and ULTRAMAN: THE ULTIMATE HERO (Urutoraman Pawaado, 1991), and the animes THE ULTRAMAN (Za Urutoraman, 1979) and ULTRAMAN: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS (Urutoraman USA, 1989).
The film opened at #3 in the Japanese box office, the best ranking domestic film, behind X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006) and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006) at #1 and #2 respectively. While a highly uneven film in many aspects, if nothing else ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS succeeds in being an entertaining film that successfully reestablishes the story of the original Ultra brothers, and comes across as a much more honest anniversary film than both GODZILLA: FINAL WARS and GAMERA THE BRAVE. The movie has an incredibly good sense of pacing, something that even technically better films often fail to achieve, and which can be quite vital to the enjoyment of the movie as a whole for many. The last two theatrical films, ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT and ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS, present fans with two radically different takes on the same basic character. Fans looking for a darker, mature and perhaps more “realistic” approach to the character will undoubtedly prefer ULTRAMAN: THE NEXT. Meanwhile, those simply looking for a colorful, nostalgic, fast-paced action adventure should look no further than ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS.
ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS is due for Region-2 DVD release in Japan on January 26th 2007, and will be available in both a single-disc Regular Edition and a 2-disc Memorial Edition box set. Neither edition will contain English subtitles. Pre-orders are now being accepted by online retailers.