Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My undying love for Ultraman

If you have followed my blog for the last 6 months, you will know that I have long been a fan of Japanese cinema. I would have to say I have been a fan for about 30 years. That’s right, 30 fuckin’ years!! And I’m only 35. With many o my generation, my first exposure to Japanese cinema came to me on Saturday afternoon with what many TV stations referred to as the “Creature Double Feature”. This earliest exposure came in the form of a gargantuan lizard with a penchant for breathing fire and destroying Tokyo. That’s right kids…Muthafuckin’ Godzilla, or as I like to refer to him in the proper manner these days, Gojira! Back in the day, there was nothing cooler than watching grown men in monster costumes duke it out over model cities. As a child I didn’t have the jaded outlook of an adult, as I do now, so Gojilla and Mothra were just as real as ghosts and UFO’s. Over time, I would realize the socio-political aspects that went along with the Gojira mythology, and would come to enjoy the same movies of my youth with a different appreciation.

During the same period of my life, I also encountered a television show the would further exploit my budding love for Japanese cinema/tokusatsu, and the name of this TV show is Ultraman. As a friendless first-grader attending a new school in Oklahoma City, I found Ultraman to be a step above Gojira for a number of reasons.

First off, by the time I was 7 or 8 I had stopped believing giant monsters were real, but robots and aliens held a new place in my heart. To my naïve eyes, Ultraman was both a robot AND an alien. Completely more believable to someone who had recently made the jump from ghost stories to Jules Verne. Aliens are still believable to me almost 30 years later, while my obsession with cryptozoology has long passed.

Secondly, Ultraman was a good guy. This is long before I found a taste for the cinematic anti-hero as I do now. Gojira was never really anything more than a destructive force of nature surviving on a reptilian core. The concept of good vs. evil could never apply to him. I never really understood why at the time, but good vs. evil are very important concepts to a kid obsessed with sci-fi and comic books. Ultraman was truly good. He never destroyed Tokyo and killed countless innocents, as Gojira had. Ultraman protected humanity, never disregarding it as a lesser animal as Gojira did most of the time. Again, Ultraman wins.

Last, and perhaps the most important reason as to why Ultraman won out over Gojira…regularity. Gojira movies were on TV four times a month at the most. Ultraman, on the other hand, was given to me 5 times a week, which is far superior to 4 times a month. Even though the mid-60’s Ultraman available in the USA only consisted of 38 episodes, it was still on every day before school.. To a 7 year old, quantity is much more important over quality.

I have recently started watching the Ultraman series again, over 20 years later since last I had seen most of the episodes. I have to say, like watching Gojira, it is still entertaining, but on a different level. Instead of each episode being all about the Kaiju battle, I find much more interest in the story. Subject matter such as death and political corruption are not things you would find to be existent in children’s programming of today. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. If I wanted to point out all the adult subject matter I’ve come across, I would have to write a separate review for each and every episode. Maybe in the future when I have a blog devoted to nothing but Ultraman, but I don’t have the time for that right now. Instead, I will just watch the episodes of my past and enjoy them from a whole new perspective.

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