I’ve been watching 帰ってきたウルトラマン for a while while exercising and I finished over the weekend - with 51 episodes covering maybe around 200 miles on an exercise bike across a couple of months.
I love the first three “Ultra” shows - Ultra Q, Ultraman, and Ultraseven, each in slightly different ways and would have some difficulty picking which of the three was my favorite since they’re each consistently fun despite different strengths.
This show, Return of Ultraman… while I still enjoyed it and there’s plenty of interesting stuff going on, it does feel a bit of a step down. At first it was interesting because they actually show the main character’s life outside of work, which was noticeably never done in the previous shows, and it seemed like they focused more on relatively realistic monster destruction and human strife (there’s a lot of “the rest of the team doesn’t believe Go about something” episodes in the beginning), but especially after Ultraseven, which was practically wall-to-wall invading aliens, it felt a bit mundane.
And I guess contemporary audiences or someone backstage must have agreed with me, because late in the series, Go’s non-work-related supporting cast, his love interest and his best friend, are both killed off. It happens at the start of a two-parter and I was absolutely 1000% convinced they would be revived somehow at the end of the second episode and they just… aren’t, with the love interest unceremoniously replaced with a different woman who has less screentime, and I was completely flabbergasted. After that there’s a noticeably larger amount of invading aliens.
That’s… not the outcome I would have wanted at all! And ultimately I think that hard pivot just prevents the show from ever really forming its own identity. Like with the title, in the end it just feels like… more Ultraman.
My most positive takeaway though, is that when I started watching I had mixed feelings about turning subtitles off, and now I’m happy keeping them that way. Comprehension does definitely vary - depending on mood or episode sometimes I do feel like I’m missing details, but other times I feel like I’m tracking perfectly. I was grateful to an episode involving a kid who’s actually a telepathic alien since the whole point of the episode was about Go receiving information impossible to detect visually, so since I knew the information too… I must really have been listening!
My favorite monster was プリズマ, the giant crystal:
It’s fun to watch Ultraman fight a giant crystal.
In other news, t’s been a bit since I watched 妖怪百物語 - I remember it being a good vehicle for a lot of fun yokai special effects, both zany and eerie.
It’s the first in the “Yokai Monsters” trilogy that recently got a really nice English-language set from Arrow Video… but I confess that before that was announced I jumped the gun and got an even nicer Japanese-language set, that comes with a very cool fascimile script and storyboard for 妖怪百物語, and weirdly, three seemingly-unrelated bonus movies for some reason… but no subtitles as far as I can tell. So the script might be useful for filling in some blanks in my comprehension… I know in general the story’s about a villainous landlord-type guy in the Edo period hassling some folks, before eventually getting a Yokai-based come-uppance, but I don’t really know the exact reason he was hassling them in the first place…
I remember finding the 百物語 candlelit storytelling scenes super captivating, the ones about the “simple” comic relief character interacting with the からかさ小僧 puppet a bit less so…
Across the board these movies make great using of shadowy groups of yokai dancing into the mist, and of ろくろ首 - it’s always great whenever she shows up.
The day before Halloween I celebrated with candy corn, Hawaiian barbecue, and a double feature that I hoped would be 1 spooky fun movie + 1 spooky scary movie… and it was!
妖怪大戦争 is extremely spooky and extremely fun, and ノロイ is extremely spooky and extremely scary, so this was pretty much exactly what I was going for and I enjoyed both thoroughly.
妖怪大戦争 is the second “Yokai Monsters” movie and definitely the simplest: an ancient Babylonian god comes to Japan to cause trouble and who’s going to stop him? The hometown heroes, Japan’s Yokai of course!
I love the execution of that simple premise - it manages to be a fun adventure without sacrificing a pervading eeriness, so it still feels like watching a ghost story instead of a theme park ride, and the yokai make endearing heroes, with their protagonist status meaning the movie’s just nonstop with the yokai effects you came to see.
And ノロイ’s just scary. The version I watched had baked-in subtitles but I just sort of tried not to look at them since the “I can comprehend enough that the sound has much more flavor than the text” effect was in full effect. And since the movie takes the form of an unreleased documentary, complete with lots of clips from variety shows and the like, explanatory captions abound, so I think I could have managed without English subtitles even through the kind of convoluted plot, as you’re essentially given a parade of weird things that slowly braid into one very scary thing. So while it’s slow-paced in a way, I never felt bored since you never quite knew what was going to happen next and you want to know how it fits together.
I’m not ever like, terrified, of horror media (I think I just have too much distance built up to it), and sometimes religious supernatural horror doesn’t interest me at all, but I thought ノロイ did a great job blending supernatural, religious, and lovecraftian horror, and thoroughly unsettling me in my new non-first-floor apartment with the “hey upstairs neighbor, could you stop rhythmically thumping all of the time? What’s that, you haven’t been doing that? You haven’t heard anything like that? … Okay” scene. And the final scene is a hell of a thing.
I tried to replicate that success on Halloween proper by swapping in the related movies 東海道お化け道中 and オカルト, but while I still enjoyed them both, despite the similarities both are really very tonally different from the movies I watched the day before. So it was fun, but lacked that perfect Halloweenness…
東海道お化け道中 is the last and least Yokai-centric of the three Yokai Monsters movies. It’s kind of more of a drama where ghosts happen to show up. And while I like enjoyed the drama (about a young girl looking for her dad after gangmembers slaughter the priest she was living with), I definitely missed my friends からかさ小僧, 油すまし, ろくろ首, 二面女, 河童 etc… At least のっぺらぼう shows up…
And オカルト is a very strange slow burn, about a documentarian following a survivor of a mass stabbing who reports seeing UFOs and miracles in the years since. It’s captivating to watch, since it’s interesting to see this unassuming guy and wonder what it’s all leading toward, and without subtitles it was a lot of good mumble-listening practice (with more thanks to explanatory documentary-style intertitles). There was one part where they went to an Indian restaurant and then started talking about Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it was bleeped like Indi******* (as though the documentarian wanted to avoid stepping on trademarks or something) and I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about until I went back and reviewed with subtitles on. But otherwise I think I did okay! This is one movie where if I didn’t understand any Japanese, it would surely be tremendously boring, and it wasn’t for me, so it’s not all context clues after all now is it!
The ultimate payoff is well… a bit of an anticlimactic punchline. The concept is fine, but the last shot would be more at-home special effects-wise in House than after two hours of extremely mundane and restrained slow-burn - just a ludicrous and silly-looking collage. I’m kind of endeared to it but it’s definitely a different vibe than the last scene of Noroi, that’s for sure.