Review: GREAT DECISIVE BATTLE! THE SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS
Author: James Ballard
Official Website: Great Decisive Battle! The Super 8 Ultra Brothers
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
It’s Saturday morning on September 13th, and despite a late night out I’ve woken up unusually early, as today is the premiere of the latest Ultraman feature, entitled GREAT DECISIVE BATTLE! THE SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS (Daikessen! Chou Urutora Hachi Kyoudai).
I’m looking forward to seeing my second Ultraman movie in Japan, following 2006′s ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS (Urutoraman Mebiusu & Urutora Kyoudai).
After kicking off with a bowl of pork udon in Ueno, I make the ride over to Shinjuku station, where I meet the film’s director Takeshi Yagi just before 8:00am. I first met Yagi through my good friend Norman England almost two years ago, and in that time he has simply been one of the nicest and most generous people I’ve had the pleasure to be acquainted with.
Although he has had a long association with Ultraman — working as a director, FX director, producer and series organizer on many of the TV shows over the past decade — this film is his first theatrical feature. Although almost unheard of in the Godzilla series, he took on the dual role of both Director & Director of Special Effects as normal for the Ultraman movies.
He hands me my complimentary ticket, and we both make our way towards the Shinjuku Piccadilly theatre, where the film is about to have it’s first public screening, and where Yagi will make the first of many stage greetings in the coming weeks over the film’s theatrical run. Outside the theatre, hundreds of eager viewers have already formed a queue around the building and down the street. With a greater number of female attendees than the typical Ultraman feature usually attracts, Yagi suggests the film is not only attracting fans of Ultraman, but also those of the lead actor Hiroshi Nagano, who is a member of the long standing idol group V6.
As soon as the doors open the crowds begin to flood in. Reportedly the largest of its kind in Tokyo, the Shinjuku Piccadilly is Shochiku’s new 10-screen multiplex which opened in July this year. Adequately described as a “pure white and glass” theatre, inside and out the entire building seems to be comprised of white plastic, glass and oddly angled lighting. Some might say “contemporary”. The theatre is also home to the world’s largest LCD TV, the 108″ screen hanging in the middle of the main lobby running all the latest trailers.
On the way through I’m given my free theatre exclusive gift, a trading card from the “Daikaiju Battle Neo” series featuring the film’s new mega-monster, Giga Kimaira. Completely sold out, it is a full house with 580 people in attendance, and I find my seat next to none other than Yagi’s mother. A delightful lady, we engage in one of my usual conversations in Japan which I can only describe as ‘Japanglish’. The film began at 9:00am following the usual trailers for upcoming films from Shochiku. With no real time to think about the movie since I arrived in Japan, as the first shot fades into view, I realize I have no idea what to expect.
As the film opens, sweeping into view from above is a wonderful CGI recreation of a 1960s Yokohama, accompanied by a beautiful piece of music from composer Toshihiko Sahashi. It is here we are introduced to three young boys; Daigo, Asuka and Gamu. The three enjoy playing around the town, but tonight they cannot be late home. It is July 17th 1966, and at 7:00pm a new TV show called ULTRAMAN is about to begin. Right from the start the three boys are utterly captivated, and they continue to follow the amazing adventures of the Ultra heroes as they grow up.
Three years later, while playing in the park, they encounter a young girl in a white dress with red shoes, and Daigo invites her to play with them. A bright star appears in the sky, and the three boys all make the same wish: to become an Ultraman when they grow up.
In present day Yokohama, the three boys have now taken regular jobs and are living ordinary lives. Daigo (Hiroshi Nagano) is working for the Yokohama government taking tourists around the city, Asuka (Takeshi Tsuruno) is a ball boy at a baseball stadium, while Gamu (Takeshi Yoshioka) is a museum curator.
One morning, a strange mirage appears over Yokohama bay. Staring into it, Daigo has a vision of a dying world being destroyed by giant monsters. As he turns around, he sees a mysterious Ultraman towering above him. In another vision, he sees his four friends Shin Hayata (Susumu Kurobe), Dan Moroboshi (Kohji Moritsugu), Goh Hideki (Jiro Dan) and Seiji Hokuto (Keiji Takamine) transforming into the famous Ultra Brothers from TV. He tells of his dreams to his friends Asuka and Gamu, who soon after have similar dreams in which they become Ultramen called “Dyna” and “Gaia”.
Daigo continues to be visited by these visions, until in one dream he is confronted by the giant monster Gesura. Just in time, a mysterious new Ultraman appears — it is Ultraman Mebius! This time Daigo is convinced: “This isn’t a dream! That’s… a real Ultraman!” Recalling how Ultraman defeated Gesura on TV, Daigo tells Mebius how to destroy the monster. As Daigo returns to his own world, he finds Mebius’ human form, Mirai Hibino (Shunji Igarashi), has been pulled into his world as well.
Daigo explains to Mirai that Ultramen and monsters do not exist in his world. Mirai tells of a mysterious red shoed girl he encountered while on patrol, who told him he must seek out “seven heroes”. Daigo believes Hayata, Dan, Goh and Hokuto must be four of the seven and takes Mirai to see them, but none of them recognize him.
Finally, with the arrival of Pandon, monsters have appeared in Daigo’s world! “There shouldn’t be real monsters in my world!” he exclaims. As Mirai transforms into Mebius to fight the beast, the city is astonished at the presence of a real life Ultraman and monster. But all of it was a trap set by Alien Hipporito, who transforms Mebius into solid bronze. Unleashing the monsters Silvergon and Goldras, the city falls into chaos.
Without the help of Mirai, how will Daigo find and awaken the seven heroes?
The screenplay was written by Keiichi Hasegawa, who wrote 8 of the last 9 Ultraman films and co-wrote the popular GODZILLA, MOTHRA & KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTER ALL-OUT ATTACK (aka GMK, Gojira Mosura Kingugidora Daikaiju Soukougeki, 2001).
Although on the surface the film would appear to be an extension of ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS, it is ultimately a very different kind of movie. While still retaining kind of “monster melee” approach from the previous film, it is more strongly centered around the growth of the characters Daigo, Asuka and Gamu, and their road to understanding their true potential. In the broadest sense, it is their realization that they are actually Ultramen, but it is also in the way they are living. While there is nothing predominantly wrong with their lives, somewhere along the way each of them has lost sight of their dreams, and perhaps lost the motivation to better themselves. While not explicitly stated, the theme is perhaps best described as “hold on to your dreams”. Overall the screenplay feels tighter this time, perhaps aided by the better established theme and direction of the story.
While SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS is a family film through and through, the film still delivers some darker moments. The peril after the defeat of Mebius and the invasion of the monsters plays out well; the city unable to defend itself, residents made homeless taking up shelter at rescue stations, and hospitals filled with the wounded. With no Ultramen to defend them and a world that is facing real monsters for the first time, everything starts to seem a little more bleak than usual.
There are also lots of light hearted moments. In a fun little scene, Mirai encounters Goh from Daigo’s world, running towards him calling out “my brother, Jack!” Goh, unaware that he himself is Ultraman Jack in the parallel world, seems perplexed by this. Mirai follows with “then how about brother ‘New-Man’? Or brother ‘Man-Who-Returned’?!” The scene is an inside joke. The name ‘Jack’ was never used in his original TV series, and was chosen as the official name years after as a way to differentiate the character from the original Ultraman. In the TV series, the character was only ever referred to as ‘Ultraman’, while fans at the time would refer to him as ‘New-Man’ or ‘Man-Who-Returned’ (taken from the show’s title THE RETURN OF ULTRAMAN). With an audience of fans, this scene drew a lot of laughs.
While I have always enjoyed director Kazuya Konaka’s approach to the recent Ultraman films, SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS certainly benefits from the fresh take by director Yagi. Ultimately played as a straight family film, it is not as experimental as some of his episodes of shows like ULTRA Q: DARK FANTASY (Urutora Q Daaku Fantajii, 2004) or ULTRASEVEN X (Urutorasebun X, 2007), however the whole film has this kind of feel to it that I can only describe as “kinetic”. As I was expecting from Yagi, the film is photographed beautifully with lots of great angles and unique framing.
Also worthy of mention, this is the first Ultraman movie to be shot entirely in HD, and there is certainly a difference to be seen. There are a number of flashbacks to ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS which makes it quite obvious that on HD the new movie looks a lot more vibrant, cleaner and sharper. On the downside, it seems quite apparent that it has been shot on video when looking at the movement of smaller objects such as building debris in some of the FX shots.
Accompanying the end credits is the new song “Light In Your Heart” from the band V6, of which main star Hiroshi Nagano is a member. I must admit that I’m not really a fan of J-POP music, but “Light In Your Heart” seems to suit the film and has a somewhat catchy tune, although perhaps not as memorable as V6′s song “Take Me Higher” for the ULTRAMAN TIGA (Urutoraman Tiga, 1996) series.
Following the movie was the live stage greeting from the cast and director. Unfortunately, due to the appearance of certain actors, visitors weren’t able to take photographs inside the theatre. Each cast member joined by the Ultraman alter ego. First on stage was Igarashi and Mebius, followed by Yoshioka and Gaia, Tsuruno and Dyna, Kurobe and Ultraman, Moritsugu and Seven, Dan and Jack, Takamine and Ace, Nagano and Tiga, then finally director Yagi. Everyone gave and opening statement about the film before being asked a round of questions.
On the following Tuesday evening, Yagi kindly treated myself, Norman England and John Lipartito to an okonomiyaki meal in Shinjuku. In good spirits as always, he was especially happy as the film is performing better than most of the recent Ultraman movies.
According to Variety Japan, over 288,000 people attended in it’s opening weekend, taking in 325 million yen (over $3 million). By comparison, the box office gross for ULTRAMAN MEBIUS & ULTRAMAN BROTHERS is reported as 580 million yen (approx $5.4 million), meaning the new film has already taken more than half of the last film’s gross within it’s first weekend alone.
With production on the film having begun before TYO’s takeover of Tsuburaya Productions in October 2007, the film could be considered the last of an era. What’s in store for the future of Ultraman still remains to be seen…
For more photos and information on GREAT DECISIVE BATTLE! THE SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- DECISIVE BATTLE! THE SUPER 8 ULTRA BROTHERS
- Guilala and Ultra Seven at World Characters Convention in Tokyo
- Ultraman Exhibit at Yokohama Doll Museum