Thursday, August 27, 2009

Now Playing: Ultra-Nostalgia

In honor of our Jiras figure's recent arrival, I re-watched episode ten of Ultraman, "The Secret Dinosaur Base." It's the story of a truly mad scientist and his prize creation--a gigantic, frilled monster that bears an eerie resemblance to Toho's biggest star (and is, in fact, made up of Goji parts--see the "Toybox Treasures" post below).

Episode Ten has loads of off-kilter charm, such as the insanely crazy car the lady reporter is riding in, not to mention her nighttime fishing trip with Ito. (How come neither of them had fishing gear? Hmm.) It is also interesting to see how Loch Ness is used as a cultural touchstone in this tale. The main attraction, however, is the climactic battle between Jiras and Ultraman. It is marvelous--and in true Tsuburaya style, in includes whimsical flourishes such as a giant boulder skeet-shooting contest and Ultraman playing matador with Jiras' forcibly removed frill. Given the jaunty nature of this clash of titans, Jiras' death is handled with a surprising level of diginity--an implicit acknowledgement, perhaps, of his true identity. Episode Ten also shows what happens to Hayata immediately after activating the Beta Capsule--he is enveloped by a corkscrewing beam of light in the instant before he transforms. The original series gives little tidbits and details like that along the way, rewarding careful viewers.

Part of what makes Ultraman Max such a fun series to watch is its deliberate connection to the Ultra-series of the past, including the original. Susumu Korobe, who played Hayata in that first series, (and who is shown here with his daughter Takami Yoshimoto, who starred as Rena in the magnificent Ultraman Tiga series) has a recurring role as Chief Tomioka, and his character takes center stage in Episode 23 of Ultraman Max, "The Return of Youth." Hiroko Sakurai--Fuji from the orginal series--is featured throughout Max as Professor Yoshinaga. However, what adds a charge to this episode is the appearance of Masanari Nihei, who provided much of the Science Patrol's comic relief as Ito in the first Ultraman series. In Max, he is a UDF scientist and inventor whose submarine/airplane eventually subdues the mutant flying fish Flaigular. His jovial prescence and comedic timing are still very much intact (as my son succintly put it, "he's still funny,") and it is just a hoot to see "Hayata, Fuji, and Ito" together again onscreen (although their backstory in Max is somewhat different--they refer to their shared past as "fighter pilots"). There is a great scene in which Chief Tomioka (Korobe) resolves to pilot the submarine/airplane and do battle against Flaigular, and you just know that "Hayata" is going back into action. Tsuburaya Productions does a wise thing in honoring and celebrating its own past, and in this episode they really give a valentine to Ultra-fans.

No comments:

Post a Comment