Its 9:53 am
Growing up my friends and I used to love Japanese monster movies. We would get excited whenever our local station would show a Godzilla or King Kong double feature.
Now many of my friends would also talk about another cool Japanese show called “Ultraman”. Ultraman was a alien who could be summoned to fight various monsters around the world,he was incredibly powerful but he had a HUGE weakness,he could fight for a few minutes before his power would run out. He had to leave before his energy did or risk dying.
Now I only watched 2-3 episodes growing up,no station ever ran Ultraman when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a Ultraman series set in Australia that ran for 2 years in 1990-92. It was a very exciting show and yep,Ultraman still had his warning beeper on his chest letting him know he was in danger.
When our pals at Mill Creek Entertainment broadcast that they were going to release several seasons of the Ultraman show,I was pretty jazzed up!! Now fan boys/girls like myself who never got a chance to see the show are getting a chance to watch a truly iconic figure,a figure that has spawned so many popular shows like RoboTech,Gundam Wing,The Iron Giant and Pacific Rim.
Mill Creek graciously sent over five seasons and what really surprised was the first season of Ultraman wasn’t called Ultraman and that it didn’t feature Ultraman. The first season was called “Ultra Q” and it plays out more like a Twilight Zone/Outer Limits anthology show.
Japanese special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya had become famous in his homeland for his incredible work on several of Toho Studios biggest and best kaiju movies,movies like Godzilla (1954) and Rodan (1956) and Mothra (1961). He was so successful that he created his own studio where he not only continued work on Toho Studio films but others who came looking for his cutting edge special effects and costumes for their own projects.
Toho would invest in Eiji’s company Tsuburaya Productions while he continued to gain more knowledge and better equipment. One piece of that equipment that Eiji badly wanted was called a Oxberry Optical Printer but it was far too expensive for the new production company to afford.
In 1964,the Tokyo Broadcasting Network approached Eiji and offered to buy him his Oxberry if he would produce a TV show for them.
Because of Toho Studios working with Eiji,he would be able to maintain the same high level of excitement and quality that his feature film had which was pretty rare for a TV series where budgets are always much lower.
Tsuburaya would be able to use props,costumes and the monster suits themselves in whatever way he felt fit. The new show,now called “Ultra Q”,now looked to its central casting,there would be four main characters on every show.
First was Kenji Sahara who played pilot Jun Manjome,he was young,brash and a hell of a flier,then you had Hiroko Sakurai who played Yuriko Edogawa the young ace reporter (she would star in the Ultraman series). Then of course we had to have the best pal to lean on and that would be played by Yasuhiko Saijo as Jun’s partner and fellow pilot Ippei Togawa,whose wisdom often balanced Jun and Yuriko’s gung-ho style.
They all worked for the editor of the big newspaper,Seki played by Yoshifumi Tajima.
Tsuburya originally created the show and based it more on sci-fi as he wanted his cast to explore different themes each episode but TBS asked him for more monsters because that was Eiji’s calling card. He agreed and turned to his long time friend and fellow kaiju creator Tohl Narita to help create several new creatures (while using several of the Toho suits). Eiji also had to change the name of the show from “Unbalance”,TBS suggested using an term a Japanese Olympian had used when describing the level of difficulty he used in his routine with “Ultra C” being the hardest. Eiji took that concept and named the show Ultra Q with the Q acting as an question mark…..as in who knows what our heroes will being facing week to week.
2 Jan 1966 saw the first episode drop on TV and I’m sure the Japanese audience reacted the same way I did when “Defeat Gomess!” came on….the first face we saw was Godzilla but of course it wasn’t,the suit had been reworked by Narita but you instantly recognized Godzilla!!
And with that,the season kicks off in high gear. The season consisted of 28 episodes and while many were stand alone,many creatures did make several appearances as the central story line consisted of a alien plot on Earth.
As mentioned,Tsuburya was able to repurpose old favorites and besides Godzilla,other classic kaiju that popped up in episodes included Manda,King Kong,Rodan and Baragon,all with slight tweaks and new vocals.
Because TBS wanted a more mature audience,the acting was very good and that has always impressed me about Japanese monster films,the actors,despite the premise,always gave it their best efforts. There is no hamming it up or chewing the scenery here. It really helps in making Ultra Q pretty exciting and you can see everyone worked really hard. Which was great because it opened the door to Ultraman which was coming very soon.
“Ultra Q” ran only the one season but the ratings were well,monsterous and led the show becoming the series with the most spinoffs which is at 36 and counting. The show remained hugely popular with a feature film being released in 1990 and various radio shows featuring the original cast being broadcast in the early 2000s.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released several of the Ultraman series and also the one that started it all,Ultra Q,in beautiful BluRay. You can order a copy of it by visiting the website of Mill Creek Entertainment. The series is in black & white and is subtitled as well.
The cheetah and I both loved this series quite a bit and he wants to see what this Gabara dude is about and why was he picking a fight with Godzilla. That is a story for another day however….we both gave “Ultra Q” a thumbs/two paws straight up!!
Have you ever watched “Ultraman”? Let us in know in the comments below!!