Interview with ‘Shin Ultraman’ director Shinji Higuchi

The Japanese Superheroes vs. Aliens Movie ShinUltraman not only does it look different – ​​some might even say better – than any recent American monster or superhero movie, it moves and sounds like nothing in American multiplexes right now. Director Shinji Higuchi and writer Hideaki Anno’s modernized reboot of the ’60s action TV series strikes the right balance between adult-oriented sci-fi and campy, tailored tokusatsu (“special effects”) adventure to children. With tense monster battles and inspired kaiju cameos, it’s a perfect summer movie for diehard Ultraman fans and uninitiated viewers alike.

ShinUltraman (which will premiere in the United States this Saturday at the New York Asian Film Festival) is the second installment in a planned tokusatsu film trilogy that began with 2016’s shin godzilla and go conclude finally with Rider Shin Kamen. In their latest collaboration, Higuchi – 2015’s live action director The attack of the Titans films – and Anno (creator of the influential Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series) reintroduces Ultraman (Bin Furuya) as one of the many aliens who have recently appeared in modern Japan. After Ultraman bonds with kind-hearted government man Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh), the Japanese government and other giant monsters begin hunting down the psychically bonded duo. To his enemies, Ultraman is a valuable weapon, but to the people, Ultraman is a selfless hero.

Some American monster movie fans have been anticipating whatever Higuchi and Anno will do next since 2016, when shin godzilla reminded fans what a smart, modern kaiju movie looks like. In both films, Higuchi uses fast-paced, fast-paced editing and handheld photography to capture the instant chaos of humanity’s first contact with Ultraman. Tibia Ultraman’Old-school dynamic battles also thankfully focus on choreography and creature design instead of changing camera perspectives and computer-generated collateral damage. It’s a film about how its characters view the world, more than their perilous situation.

What kind of feedback did you and Hideaki Anno receive from Toho after shin godzilla and how did that affect the way you planned ShinUltraman?
In fact, some Toho people are here in the room with me. So I feel a certain pressure not to talk about Toho. [Laughs.] Rather than worrying about studio feedback, Anno and I really focused on audience feedback. What would a large audience expect from a Ultraman film? Ultraman originally premiered in the mid-1960s as a 30-minute television series, some ten years later Godzilla. The challenge for us was how to turn a half-hour TV show into a feature film?

What is Ultraman meant to you as a child and how did its impact on you influence your view of the character?
When I was a child I saw Ultra Q and Ultraman when they first aired on television. These shows stunned me and kind of turned my life upside down until I became an adult. For today’s kids, Ultraman comes from the distant past – 50 years ago! But for my generation, Ultraman represents the future. The original series was an ambitious fantasy: society will be like this when I grow up. With ShinUltramanwe tried to give young viewers the same thrills and surprises we got from the original show when we were kids.

Both ShinUltraman and shin godzilla seem upbeat and lighthearted compared to American MonsterVerse apocalyptic movies, like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla versus Kong. i know you are a fan of 2014 by Gareth Edwards Godzilla film, but did the American MonsterVerse films appear in the discussions during the making ShinUltraman?
We immediately ran into a practical problem: we didn’t have as big of a budget as those American MonsterVerse movies, so we couldn’t really destroy the world like they did. We tried to compensate by offering a particularly attractive scenario and really interesting characters.

shin godzilla were reminiscent of the then recent national disasters: the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Would you say that ShinUltraman was also made with a focus on Japanese current affairs or politics?
We weren’t trying to reflect specifically Japanese concerns when we made ShinUltraman. Like with shin godzilla, we tried to use monsters to reflect the social issues of the time. Either way, we were concerned about what would happen to ordinary people if Godzilla or Ultraman were real. The Fukushima collapse and the Tohoku earthquake are the kind of natural disasters we haven’t seen for several hundred years. In a way, these disasters are the Kaiju of our day.

Some have interpreted the path shin godzillaMild-mannered protagonist Yaguchi cuts red tape and upends American plans to shut down Godzilla as an endorsement of jingoism and Japanese nationalism. Would you say that ShinUltraman reflects or prolongs shin godzillais it politics?
we did not found shin godzillacharacters about real people. In fact, it was more like a wish come true: I to wish there were people like Yaguchi. For ShinUltramanwe assumed that the problems of the previous film had already been solved, so we tried not to dwell on the same problems.

I read that you and Hideaki Anno were particularly inspired by a 1983 original painting by Ultraman creator Toru Narita, called Embodiment of truth, justice and beauty. Can you talk a bit about this painting and how it influenced your character design?
In interviews, Narita has talked about the small light on Ultraman’s chest, the one that signals, when it flashes red, that he has no more energy. Narita never really wanted to use this light in Ultraman’s design. He wanted a more streamlined look, like in his painting. So Anno and I wanted to reflect Narita’s original desires.

Quick assembly in both ShinUltraman and shin godzilla give these films a very modern touch. How did you negotiate the look and pace of these films?
When we shot them, we filmed with the idea that the finished product would come together as we edited it. We shot tons and tons of footage. Maybe I should call it “raw material” because we knew a lot of it wasn’t going to go into the finished movie. But we made sure that our actors had their lines set and that their delivery was exactly what we wanted, because if we had small variations, we would have even more takes to choose from. So we made sure that the tone and structure of our film was established among the cast and crew.

The theme music from Ultra Qthe first Ultraman series, plays during the film’s monster battles, suggesting you want to give ShinUltraman a semi-classical feeling. How did you want the music for the film to reflect your vision of the character?
You can’t beat the impact of watching Ultraman and Ultra Q back when these shows originally aired. We weren’t so confident that we thought we were going to do anything better than those shows. So when it comes to the music selection, we felt that featuring music from the original shows was just right. On the other hand, it wouldn’t have been a very modern movie if we had only used music from those older shows. And as the story progresses, the original series’ music also feels more modern and updated.

You used what looks like motion capture technology to ShinUltraman. Anno was also one of the models for Ultraman’s physical moves. Why didn’t you also try on the Ultraman costume?
[Laughs.] As you can see, I’m a far cry from Ultraman’s physical type. There was talk of me playing a monster, but no one wanted me to. Bin Furuya, the original actor who played Ultraman, has this amazing physique. The Japanese tend to be short with big heads and short legs, and while I might not be the right physique to play Ultraman, Furuya is. He is very tall with long thin arms and a small head (compared to the rest of his body). Not very Japanese…maybe not very human. So really, perfect for playing Ultraman.

A lot of people have played Ultraman and his siblings since, but they didn’t have Furuya’s proportions, so we wanted him to play the character. And he did, since he is still there. First we took his physical and turned it into 3D data. Then we made him move like Ultraman, which we recorded using motion capture technology. We also recorded Anno’s movements since playing Ultraman back in the day in an amateur movie. “I want to play with him too,” he said. It’s very brave to do this kind of motion capture performance, because you have to wear a very tight full bodysuit. But Anno did.

I love that there is a Larugeus cameo at the start ShinUltraman stage. If you had to recommend an episode or three of either Ultra Q or the original Ultraman series – or maybe just tell us some of your favorite kaiju – which one would you recommend?
Harunosuke Nakagawa directed “I Saw a Bird”, the episode with Larugeus, and two more Ultra Q episodes. All three are great. As for my favorite kaiju: I really like Kanegon, a little boy who turns into a kaiju. I want to use it in a movie.

ShinUltraman however, director Shinji Higuchi will not be involved in Rider Shin Kamen, according to Higuchi. Hideaki Anno will write and direct this project separately.

Toho is the Japanese film studio and parent company of Godzilla. shin godzilla (2016) was Godzilla’s first feature film in Japanese since Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). In 2017, Higuchi and Anno both received an Oscar from Japan for co-directing shin godzilla.

They were standing right behind him.

Higuchi once used the word “masterpiece” to describe it.

Some parallels between shin godzillaThe plot and nationalist politics of Shinzo Abe were drawn by Steve Macfarlane, writing for Brooklyn Magazineand Steve Ryfle at In these times.

Also known as: Ultraman color timer!

You can watch a fully subtitled version of Return of UltramanAnno’s 1983 student film, here on Youtube.

Kanegon originally appeared on Ultra Q in an episode titled “Kanegon’s Cocoon.” Like “I Saw a Bird”, this episode was also directed by Harunosuke Nakagawa.

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