ULTRAMAN ARCHIVES Premium Theater 2: ULTRA Q: GARAMON STRIKES BACK Event
Author: Edward L. Holland
Special Thanks to Tsuburaya Productions
On February 16, 2019 the ULTRA Q episode, GARAMON STRIKES BACK was screened at Aeon Itabashi, Tokyo theater during the second stage of the ULTRAMAN ARCHIVES series of events by Tsuburaya Productions with special guests SFX art directors Katsuro Onoue (PUNK SAMURAI SLASH DOWN, SHIN GODZILLA, ATTACK ON TITAN, GAMERA) and Toshio Miike (SHIN GODZILLA, ULTRAMAN SAGA, GAMERA, KAMEN RIDER BLACK). The artisans spoke about miniature filmmaking and highlighted the significance of the meteorite, robot kaiju Garamon, designed by Tohl Narita (ULTRA Q, ULTRAMAN, ULTRASEVEN) crafted into a suitmation costume by Ryosaku Takayama (ULTRA Q, GAMERA, ULTRAMAN, ULTRA SEVEN) and brought into Japanese homes on television sets across the nation in 1966.
The simultaneous feed to 14 Japanese theaters included promo videos, introductions by movie critic, Takashi Shimizu and the eerie appearance of a man dressed like the alien from the episode who addressed the crowd. Directors Miike and Onoue discussed their upbringing in 1966 when ULTRA Q aired. Miike, a Kumamoto native reflected on the times when the series premiered, his miniature craftsmanship which aided in reconstruction efforts of Kumamoto Castle after the 2016 catastrophic earthquake, and the infamous Tokyo 2012 Tokusatsu Exhibition directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. Later he spoke passionately of special effects productions and reminisced about Toho Studios designer Yasuyuki Inoue (GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS) and one of his favorite childhood programs, ULTRA Q which creatively united kaiju and television in an attempt to match the quality of films in theaters then. Onoue mentioned he was a big fan of professional wrestling first and grew to adore tokusatsu afterwards. He then spoke of their association with Anno and Higuchi on SHIN GODZILLA (2016).
After the first talk session, the episode screened to an enthralled audience, with notables: director Kiyotaka Taguchi (ULTRAMAN GINGA, ULTRAMAN X, ULTRAMAN ORB), actress Hiroko Sakurai (ULTRA Q, ULTRAMAN, OPERATION MYSTERY!) and kaiju illustrator Yuji Kaida, in attendance. After the screening, Miike and Onoue elaborated on Garamon, a slight retake on GARADAMA, episode 13 from the series, fusing elements into an invasion story during the first full-blown monster boom. They touched on the Garadama dam scene and how Tsuburaya’s key skill of trick photography created depth and massive scale with miniatures on a timely budget, when large scale photography was not feasible. “Creating surprises and making fantastic reality on screen possible was one of Tsuburaya’s maxims,” according to Onoue.
As making of images flashed on the big screen, the directors spoke of foreshortened miniature ships built for the Garamon descent and cataclysmic arrival on earth. The crews employed stages during ULTRA Q and ULTRAMAN that were only 1/8th the size of those used by Toho just down the street, according to Miike. The foreground objects closer to the camera were much larger with the pier miniature and freighter vessel’s stern narrowing, creating an illusion of a larger scale model in a smaller studio. Then, the directorial team dramatically unveiled an accurate as possible Garamon costume and Seimi-seijin head sculpture. The inanimate beasts took on a life of their own under the theater lights as further praise was bestowed on Tohl Narita’s artisty and monster fabricator Ryosaku Takayama, who brought Narita’s sketches to life with a variety of materials. Onoue commented, “Garamon really is a sad character, and he is weak, but look how great is this design? It’s my favorite kaiju.”
The discussion turned to their professional association with Anno and Higuchi on SHIN GODZILLA (2016) and the marriage of CGI and practical effects. They discussed miniature filmmaking versus computer graphics and limitations and benefits of both styles as miniature work continually decreases. Miike mentioned, “We would like to continue showing the unique charm which only miniatures capture and their high quality characteristics in both the digital and analog realms.” Onoue added, “Precise miniatures were built for SHIN GODZILLA and not photographed, but 3-dimensionally made with data orientation utilizing CG production efforts.” In essence the most appropriate expression method is chosen as in the case of the multi-award winning 2016 film which they worked on. Onoue also briefly spoke of his personal work on Toei Studios’ DAIRANGER (1993) and graduating to staff and special effects supervisor on ULTRAMAN VS. KAMEN RIDER (1993). From there, he adopted skills during the Heisei GAMERA (1995-1999) series, particularly the decisive aerial battle scenes directed by Higuchi.
Designers then showcased the new museum in Sukagawa, Fukushima in honor of Eiji Tsuburaya on the fifth floor of the tette Exchange Center. A captivated crowd were treated to images of diorama versions of Toho Studio sound stages you can only witness at the museum, hours north of Tokyo, in the birthplaceof the God of Special Effects. Onoue heralded Tsuburaya’s invaluable contributions and thriving career with Toho Studios, particularly emphasizing the impressive dioramas further preserving that era of filmmaking history. The two artists continually adopt such techniques from their ultimate mentor and hope to continue piecing together such valued treasures from the past in the present age.
The historic episode full of blinding, black and white destruction, the first aggressive alien force of the Ultraman series, flashy American and Japanese car chases, and kaiju demise is an opportunity to convey to multiple generations the magnificent basis for future ULTRAMAN universe characters like Pigmon. During the premium theater event it was announced that GARAMON STRIKES BACK on double disc Blu-ray and DVD will be released May 22, 2019 with: HD monochrome, and colorized versions of the episode, “Premium Talk” interviews with cast member Yasuhiko Saijo, who played Ippei Togawa, crew and current testimonials by innovators Miike and others. Finally, the festivities winded down with the announcement of the third installment of ULTRAMAN ARCHIVES ULTRA Q episode 14 TOKYO ICE AGE with kaiju Pegila,scheduled for Saturday June 15, 2019 supplementing such timeless, groundbreaking programs and characters from Japan’s yesteryear today.
Edward L. Holland is a photojournalist working in Japan. He is a longtime contributor to SciFi Japan and has written for Stars and Stripes Japan, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and assisted talented artists at events in the US and Japan.