Eiji Tsuburaya, the visual film techniques pioneer who gave the world Godzilla, also left an undeniable legacy on Japanese television. By 1963, he had established the foundation of Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd. During the time of 1964 to 1965, as audiences in Japan were crowding theaters in awe of Tsuburaya’s work on such Toho studios’ feature films as Mothra vs. Godzilla (Godzilla vs. The Thing), Giant Space Monster Dogora (Dagora, the Space Monster), Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Decisive Battle on Earth (Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster), Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster, Baragon (Frankenstein Conquers the World), or The Great Monster War (Monster Zero/Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), Tsuburaya was also attracting the current top Japanese special effects cinematography crews and science fiction writers to work under his supervision on a special science fiction television series to premiere on the TBS network of Japan.
When the concept was finally decided upon and developed, a series of 28 half-hour episodes were filmed in black and white and presented to Japanese televiewers on TBS from 7:00 to 7:30 PM under the title of Ultra Q. Ultra Q enjoyed a broadcast from January 2nd to July 3rd, 1966, with the special showing of a final episode on December 14th, 1967, fascinating its audiences with scenarios that explored territories not always focused on in the theatrical productions of Toho or other film studios of the day. Typically described in the west as a Japanese combination between The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, Ultra Q showcased a variety of monsters and bizarre life-forms that were often uncovered through the investigation of unusual phenomena.
The series starred Kenji Sahara, as Hoshikawa Aviation pilot and science fiction enthusiast, Jun Manjome. The cast also included Hiroko Sakurai, who would become a familiar actress of Japanese television in various Tsuburaya Productions, as a Daily News photographer, Yuriko Edogoawa. The Jun’s comical assistant, Ippei Togawa, was portrayed by actor Yasuhiko Saijo, and various actors familiar to Toho film fans would guest star in select episodes of the series, like Akihiko Hirata (perhaps best remembered as Dr. Daisuke Serizawa from the original 1954 Godzilla) and Jun Tazaki (Captain Shinguji in Undersea Battleship/Atragon — 1963, the Eastern Defense Forces Generral in King Kong vs. Godzilla — 1962, the Morning News Editor in Mothra vs. Godzilla/Godzilla vs. the Thing — 1964, to name only a few of his many TToho film roles).
Recurring characters included Yuriko’s editor (Yoshifumi Tajima), and the scientific authority, Dr. Ichinotani. A number of episodes were directed by Tsuburaya’s eldest son, Hajime (including the first three to air, episode 1; The Great Fall of Gomess!, episode 2; Goro and Goro, and episode 3; A Gift from Space, to name just a few), who would become a major talent behind the future creative endeavors of Tsuburaya Productions. Classic scenarios for the series were developed by such writers as Tetsuo Kinjo (episodes 2 and 3, among many others) and Masahiro Yamada (whose works include episode 5; Peguila is Coming! and episode 14; Tokyo’s Glacial Period, in which the Refrigeration Monster, Peguila, returns, both directed by Samaji Nonagase, to single out but a few of his contributions).
Music for the series, with diverse themes ranging from eerie arrangements that suggest horror or suspense, to children’s song instrumentals and marches, was composed by Kunio Miyauchi (who also did the soundtrack for Godzilla’s Revenge — 1969 and The Human Vapor). While some episodes of Ultra Q would borrow popular elements from Toho Kaiju Eiga, like adding a number of appendages, fangs, etc., to the basic Godzilla costume to create the monster Gomess of the first episode, portraying Goro, a giant monkey, in similar fashion to the Japanese King Kong in episode 2, a giant octopus called Sudar in episode 23; Anger of the South Sea (written by Kinjo), and a giant Magma (from Gorath/Gorath — 1962) like walrus beast of the 4th dimension in episode 27; The Disappearance of Flight 206 (written by Kinjo with Hiroyasu Yamaura?), named Todola, other episodes would present concepts and creatures that would seem to influence and inspire later films and their creations.
In episode 4; Mammoth Flower (written by Kinjo, with Koji Kajita who also directed), the deadly thrashing root vines of the destructive plant mutation, Juran, particularly in a sequence where they are discovered surfacing in the bay by an amazed and frightened crowd on the Tokyo shore, might come to memory when watching 1989’s Godzilla vs. Biollante, especially when the original Biollante form first appears in Ashino lake. Toho’s cinematic giant spider, Kumonga, introduced in 1967’s Decisive battle of Monster Island, Son of Godzilla (Son of Godzilla, the US version in which Kumonga was called Spiga) was preceded by Ultra Q’s 9th episode; Baron Kumo (written by Kinjo and directed by Hajime Tsuburaya) which featured the Great Tarantula, though of a much smaller scale than that of the Toho arachnid.
The original designs of various monsters from the Ultra Q TV series by artist-painter Tohl (Toru) Narita, such as Peguila, the Meteorite Monster Garamon (episode 13; Garadam, written by Kinjo and directed by Hajime Tsuburaya, and episode 16; Revenge of Garamon, also written by Tetsuo Kinjo, and directed by Samaji Nonagase) and the Kemur Alien Abductor (episode 19; Challenge from the Year 2020, written by Tetsuo Kinjo and Kitao Senzoku, and directed by Toshihiro Iijima), would become popular trademarks of Tsuburaya Productions to television audiences in Japan. Some of them, or at least their costumes, would appear in future Tsuburaya television productions.
Many of the story concepts to be developed and explored in Ultra Q were new, exciting, even shocking to the early era of Japanese television in which they were introduced. They presented ideas about the existence of other dimensions and alternative worlds, a delicate balance in nature that could be upset by the environmental abuses of an insensitive mankind with disastrous consequences, the possibilities of yet undiscovered forms of life, and the concept of human beings on Earth possibly disturbing or infuriating other advanced creatures or civilizations of the cosmos with our annoying space probes and attempts to contact other life beyond the realm of our own world.
While not all episodes of Ultra Q featured a giant monster, the high ratings of those that did (especially episodes 13, with Garamon, and 14, with Peguila, which averaged around 36.8%, closely followed by episode 27, with Todola, at 36.4%) would indicate the visual appetites and preferences of general viewers that would influence the future direction of Tsuburaya Productions.
Having already established the foundations of a fictional world in which bizarre phenomena, mysterious mutations, and alien life-forms had become prevalent enough to justify special investigations and strategic defense force operations exclusively devoted to these subjects with Ultra Q, Tsuburaya continued developing scenarios in this realm of science fiction and fantasy adventure with more giant monsters. Other concepts that were considered at Tsuburaya Productions, which predated Ultra Q, included the Unbalance (tales of unusual occurrences with unknown phenomena(, and Woo (stories about a mysterious extraterrestrial phantom life-form entity that comes to Earth).
The continued development of ideas after Ultra Q went from Bemlar, the adventures of a giant, intelligent winged creature that would fight other monsters on Earth (the design for Bemlar would evolve into the design of the creatures that were developed for Nikkatsu’s The Enormous Beast, Gappa-Gappa, the Triphibian Monster/Monster from a Prehistoric Planet — 1967), to Redman, a more anthropomorphized hero design, before the final creation of what would become one of Japan’s most adored superheroes, Ultraman.
In an article that saw print in US newspapers, written by Akiko Fukami, Noboru Tsuburaya, the second son of Eiji Tsuburaya and current president of Tsuburaya Productions, was quoted as having said, “It wasn’t like we suddenly came up with the idea. For the next show, we thought that there should be more giant monsters, and we needed something to defeat them. But we couldn’t have the Self-Defense Forces do the work because the story wouldn’t fit in the 30-minute time-frame of the show. So we decided to bring someone from outer space and say, he can only stay on Earth for three minutes to fight the monsters. In other words, if we didn’t have the 30-minute time-frame, we may have never come up with Ultraman.”
The original Ultraman was a revolutionary creation that would spawn a legacy of immeasurable proportions. The concept alone would become the forerunner of an entire genre of superhero programming that would populate Japanese television for decades and create a cultural sensation in popular Japanese entertainment that would secure a definite place in history. The original Ultraman TV series premiered on the TBX network and ran for 39 full-color episodes in a 7:00-7:30PM time slot from July 17th, 1966, to April 9th, 1967. The now legendary storyline of Ultraman introduced the Ultra visitor as an interstellar law enforcement agent from the galactic system of Nebula M78 who was in pursuit of the escaped ‘criminal’ Space Monster, Bemlar, when the chase led them to Earth where the M78 officer accidentally collides with the Delta VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) craft that is piloted by officer Hayata of the Science Special Search (SSS) Party (the “Science Patrol”) in the first episode; Ultra Operation No. 1 (directed by Hajime Tsuburaya, and written by Tetsuo Kinjo and Shinichi Sekizawa).
To make amends for the tragic accident, the alien, a citizen of the nation of the “Land of Light,” uses his power to extend his own life to Hayata and resurrect the Earthman with the ability to summons the extraterrestrial agent by pressing the button on the side of the Beta capsule that is exchanged between them, when Hayata raises it in his hand. Sharing the same life, the two become as one, and in situations of extreme crisis, Hayata uses the Beta Capsule to initiate the transformation to Ultraman. However, as the giant 40 meters tall being, Ultraman can only remain on the Earth for a short time before his body’s energy begins to diminish, signaled by the blinking of the Color timer alarm on his chest. In physical form on Earth, Ultraman is like an astronaut on a distant planet, and extended time in the foreign environment of Earth with the different conditions and distance from the solar energy source of the sun could result in his death if he exhausts his energy supply in battle.
The classic role of officer Hayata was brought to life by actor Susumu Kurobe whom Toho film fans might also remember for his minor appearances in the totally opposite roles of antagonist henchmen in such films as Three Giant Monsters; The Greatest Decisive Battle on Earth (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster) — 1964, Revenge of King Kong (King Kong Escapes) — 1967, The Great Operation of Latitude Zero (Latitude Zero) — 1969, and more recently as the elder Aviation Forces Staff Commander in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah — 1991, and Godzilla vs. Mothra — 1992. Hiroko Sakurai returned in what may be her most popular character, Science Special Search Party Communications Operations Specialist Officer, Akiko Fuji. And viewers of the current Godzilla films should also recognize the actor Shoji Kobayashi as the Science Special Search Party Captain, Muramatsu, long before his role as the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Changers Security Director, Ryuzo Dobashi, in Gojira Tai Kingu Gidora and Gojira Tai Mosura.
Akihiko Hirata also appeared in various episodes as the scientific consultant professor, Dr. Iwamoto, and Susumu Fujita (General Iwasa in Uchu Dai Kaiju Dogora — 1964, General Morita in The Earth Defense Force/The Mysterians — 1964, etc…) made the guest appearance of the Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff. Shinichi Sekizawa, who wrote the screenplays for many of Toho’s classic Kaiju and SF Eiga epics (The Great Space War/Battle in Outer Space — 1959, Mothra — 1961, Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira, Mosura Tai Gojira, etc.), contributed to the first episode that would set the premise for the series, and a notable director to have his talents emerge in the show was Akio Jissoji. Jissoji’s particular use of dark, dramatic lighting and his ability to establish bizarre, compelling moods through his surreal compositions of visual images have led some to place those episodes of Ultraman that he directed (episode 14; The Pearl Oyster Defense Directive, with the pearl-eating Gamakujira, episode 15; Terror of the Cosmic Rays, with the 2nd Dimension Monster, Gavadon, episode 22; The Plot to Destroy the Surface, with the Subterrestrial Monster, Terresdon, episode 23; The Earth is My Home, with the formerly human creature, Jamila, episode 34; A Gift from the Sky, with the Megaton Monster, Skydon, and episode 35; The Monster Graveyard, with the Dead Monster, Shibozu, all of which were written by Mamoru Sasaki) in a category of their own.
Jissoji’s sequence in episode 34 wherein Hayata is in such a rush that he mistakenly holds up a spoon before realizing that he’s grabbed a dining utensil instead of the Beta Capsule, actually caused a controversy at Tsuburaya Productions about the implications of such a portrayal of the character and if the scene should be used or not. It was, and the decision to use it remains a topic of interest in retrospect of classic moments from the series to this day. For two episodes (episode 12; Cry of the Mummy, featuring the Mummy Beastman and the Great Dragon-like Mummy Monster, Dodongo, and episode 13; Oil SOS, with the Oil Consumption Creature, Pester), Hajime Tsuburaya would serve as both director and special effects director, simultaneously. Generally though, the special visual effects for Ultraman episodes were most often directed by Koichi Takano, who would see a long history of effects direction for Tsuburaya Productions.
Kunio Miyauchi would again develop the music for this Ultra series as well, composing memorable themes (like the classic Science Special Search Party march) that would continue to remain popular among fans long after the initial run of the series, seeing various re-orchestrations throughout the decades from Tokyo Symphony Orchestra performances to popular disco and rock versions of the Ultraman song. One of the first full-color television programs of its kind for Japan, Ultraman would feature a few monsters that would be portrayed with basic costume elements from the previous black-and-white Ultra Q series and variations on several Toho film creatures. In episode 3; The Special Party’s Sortie, the Transparent Monster, Nelonga, is the product from a remodeling of the Baragon (from Furankenshutain Tai Chitei Kaiju Baragon — 1965) and Pagos (from Ultra Q episode 18; The Rainbow Egg) costumes. This popular body design would see continued alterations and variations to create the Uranium (eating) Monster, Gabora, of episode 9; Operation: Instant-Flash, and the Subterranean Monster, Maglla, who briefly appears in episode 8; The Violent Monster Region. American fans are probably most familiar with the use of the Mosura Tai Gojira Battle-type style version of the Godzilla costume being used in combination with the Great Duel in the South Sea (Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster) — 1966 Godzilla head and a huge collar frill added around the neck (which Ultraman rips off during the battle) to create the monster, Jirass (known as Kira in the U.S.) in episode 10; Enigma of the Dinosaur Base.
The Peguila suit from Ultra Q (episodes 5 and 14) was also resurrected into Chandlar, the monster that lost its winged arm, having it brutally torn from its body by the vicious Red King in episode 8, and the basic Garamon costume (from Ultra Q episodes 13 and 16) was used to portray the curious, friendly little creature, Pigmon, who risks its life to help a surviving scientist and the Special Science Search Party in episode 8. Pigmon, also resurrected for episode 37; The Littlest Hero, would become a beloved character in Japan. The continued development on variations of the design for the Cicadaman invader, revealed in Ultra Q episode 16, would lead to the creation of the also insectoid Baltan aliens introduced in the second episode of Ultraman, The Invaders Attack. Reappearing in episode 16; The Special Party into Space, and making a brief cameo in episode 33; Forbidden Words, the notorious Baltans would become the arch villains of the Ultra series.
Also know as The “Space Ninja,” their devious mastery of illusions in their lethal invasion attempts would threaten the universe repeatedly in various Ultra series’ tales to come. Episode 4; 5 Seconds to Detonation, features the return of a now giant, Primitive Humanoid Sea Creature, Ragon, the species of which was introduced in Ultra Q episode 20; Kaitei Genjin Ragon (both episodes written, and the first also directed, by Samaji Nonagase). The Kemur alien of Ultra Q episode 19 made a brief appearance in Ultraman episode 33, and the suit was revised for the form of the alien Z-Ton agent that takes on the body of Dr. Iwamoto in the final episode, 39; Farewell Ultraman, in which Ultraman’s captain, Zoffy, is also introduced. Many of the other more original Ultra Monster designs would fascinate the early Japanese television audiences to the point of becoming popular enough to compete with the Toho film monsters for audiences and fans, with their images also reproduced in toys, model kits, candy, manga (Japanese Comics), etc.,. Such Ultraman monsters as the Red King, the savage “Skull” Monster (episode 8 and eposide 25; The Strange Comet, Typhon) and the Ancient Monster, Gomora (episodes 26 and 27; The Royal Monster parts 1 and 2), remain popular with Japanese fans to the present day. Although the monsters of Ultraman had characteristics as varied as their designs, a prevalent theme focused upon in the series was that of the monster who, without intentional evil or malice as motivation, becomes a dangerous or perceived threat because of its size or its adverse effects on a frightened populace. Human kind is unable, if not unwilling, often through ignorance, to find any solution to dealing with these forces other than to tragically destroy them.
It is in the climax of these situations, when the conflict becomes so devastatingly unmanageable, that terrestrial humans look to the extraterrestrial “salvation” provided by Ultraman, who must act under the pressures imposed on him by a possibly life-threatening limit of time, to deliver human kind from the threat of destruction. But Ultraman also understands that an evil intent is not behind every threat, and it was speculated by Noboru Tsuburaya himself that one of the factors influencing the great love that audiences have for Ultraman is the character’s understanding of this as shown through the paying of respect to the souls (or life-forces) of slain creatures through their symbolic ceremonial escort, or passage, into the region of the Monster Graveyard in outer space.
In its initial showing on TBS, Ultraman is reported to have scored a 42.8% rating in its peak, maintaining a consistent 30% average. Other stations were quick to secure their bids for the show in re-runs, and recently, Ultraman has been shown on the NHK satellite broadcast. Having held a level of prestige comparable to that of the PBS stations in America, the scholarly NHK was before thought never to run anything produced by private stations. In Japan, Ultraman has achieved a fandom and acclaim similar to that of Star Trek in America, and he is thought of as Japan’s, or indeed Asia’s, equivalent to America’s Superman. As Superman has a history of “fighting for the America way” and representing American values, Ultraman could be thought of as representing Japanese values and Asiatic principles (interesting that both characters share extraterrestrial origins, thus are the ultimate foreigners, yet they have such an influence on the cultures from which their visions grew that they come into consideration as national heroes).
But Ultraman is represented with an even greater emphasis on being a defender of the entire Earth, for all people, and although certain stories might hint at politics or reflect on issues of national security, Ultraman never takes sides and only appears when human life is in danger from overpowering non-human forces. It is as if he follows a directive of non-interference in issues of human to human, or nation to nation conflict.
A best-selling book in Japan of recent years, published by the Chukei Shuppan Publishing Company, called An Introduction to Research on Ultraman, was written by a group of 25 researchers that included university professors specializing in such fields as physics, engineering, and law. With an average readership of salarymen and professionals, most in their late 20’s to early 30’s, this publication analyzes, in academic detail, such subjects as who or what government agency is responsible for financial compensation if your property or home is accidentally destroyed by Ultraman in his attempts to stop a life-threatening creature, who is responsible for disposal of the dead monsters’ possibly radioactive carcass, the questioning of ethics behind Ultraman’s killing of the monsters and use of force even if the purpose is to save human lives, the DNA composition of Ultraman’s body, the tracing and outlining of responsibilities for world monster control from Paris Interpol to Japanese Peace-Keeping operations, and a multitude of other issues surrounding the fantastic fictional universe of the TV series. The American dubbed version of the original Ultraman released by United Artists around the time of ’68 had a limited airing in certain areas of the States where it attracted a smaller number of devoted western fans.
With the tremendous success of the first series in Japan, Tsuburaya kept the basic formula of Ultraman alive and well with the development of more Ultra programming. Instead of returning the original Ultraman to Earth for another series, Tsuburaya pursued the development of another Ultra being from the same culture as that of Ultraman. This M78 officer would be known as Ultra Seven. Consisting of 49 episodes, originally airing from October 1, 1967, to September 8, 1968, at 7:00 to 7:30PM on TBS, Ultra Seven would gracefully accept the position maintained by its predecessor in popularity on Japanese TV.
This series introduced M78 agent 340, who was assigned the intergalactic duty of planetary observations, mapping the planets and charting their orbits. When he extends his study onto the Earth, agent 340 witnesses a near-fatal mountain climbing accident in which a young man, Jiro Satsuma, cuts the rope from which he hangs so that his friend will not also fall to his death because of Jiro’s additional weight. The alien observer saves Jiro and is so impressed by the human’s sacrifice that he models a human form for himself to assume on Earth after the image and soul of Jiro. As the Earth has come into the costly awareness of alien invaders and interstellar criminals, global defense organizations have been established.
The TDF (Terrestrial Defense Force) Network has positioned base locations that reach from Paris coordination headquarters to space station operations, and include a South Pole Science Center, North Pole Base, and major base locations in America (Washington), England (London United Germany (Berlin), The Soviet Union (Moscow), Australia (Sidney), Egypt (Cairo), and The Far East Asia; Japan (Shizuoka) locale. Japan operations are subdivided between The Ultra Garrison, The first line Defense Forces, The M.P Military Police Forces, The Science Corps. Medical Center personnel, The Military National Guard, and The Space Station V3 crew. The elite officers of the Ultra Garrison are the main characters focused on in Ultra Seven. When they discover a mysterious wanderer who calls himself Dan Moroboshi (Koji Moritsugu), the new identity adopted by the human form of Ultra Seven, his undeniable accuracy and superior skills in assisting them with terrestrial defense operations, in the rescue of Earth hostages abducted by, and defense strategies against, the Kool alien invasion attempt (episode 11; The Invisible Challenger, directed by Hajime Tsuburaya and written by Tetsuo Kinjo — retitled as Enter — Dan Moroboshi! in the TPS version in which the alien threat is identified as “The Emperor of Zundar”) qualify him for immediate induction into their ranks. In situations of great crisis, when giant enemy aliens or monsters make their lethal attacks and Earth defense operations seem disadvantaged, the extraterrestrial agent from M78 appears, when Dan puts on the “Ultra-Eye” glasses, to use his Ultra powers in defense of Earth.
Because of his proficiency in Earth defense, the six membered Ultra Garrison considers the alien as their 7th “phantom” member, Ultra Seven. Seven also has the allegiance of several creatures from other M78 ally worlds. Called the “Capsule Kaiju” (Capsule Monsters), Moroboshi keeps their miniature capsule forms, from which they can grow to giant size, in a small case box from which he can select the Living robot Creature, Windam, from the Metal Planet, the Great Buffalo Beast, Miclas, from the Buffalo Planet, or the Dinosaurian Monster, Agira (Berkin in the TPS version), from the Animal Planet. Popular actors to reappear in Ultra Seven include the return of Iyoshi Ishii, who is also credited as Sandaiyu Dokumamushi, who played the impetuous Science Special Search Party officer, Arashi, in the original Ultraman, this time as officer Shigeru Furuhashi of the Ultra Garrison. Susumu Fujita (Major Yamaoka), Akihiko Hirata (General Yanagawa), and Kenji Sahara (General Takenaka), also made appearances in this series. Toru Narita would again contribute the hero, aliens, and monster designs and Toru Fuyuki composed the soundtrack. As with the original Ultraman, Ultra Seven would have various versions produced of its popular theme songs including English variations to accompany the popular broadcast of the series on Hawaiian television.
By the time that Ultra Seven had reached its conclusion on Japanese TV, average ratings would reportedly hover around 22.3% to 28.5%, while in retrospect, many fans would come to consider this series to have presented some of their favorite character development scenarios, writing, and drama, out of the general Ultra series of television productions. One might never guess this, however, from watching the TPS (Turner Program Services) version of Ultra Seven that began its broadcast on the TNT Network. This dubbed presentation from Cinar Films, Inc. of the original Tsuburaya Production contains enough inept dialogue and narration, slash editing (sometimes we don’t even see how Ultra Seven defeats the adversaries, leaving some episodes without appropriate endings), and poor story translations, to send any viewer racing to the nearest channel showing the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Fortunately, they have chosen to retain the Japanese names of the main characters at least (which is a shameful noteworthiness in and of itself, that such other western distributors of Japanese productions, like Sandy Frank, have consistently changed the names of obviously Japanese characters in Japanese settings to such westernizations as “Johnny,” “Caroline,” “Uncle Charlie,” “Rocky,” etc.), except for Anne (Ann) Yuri (actress Yuriko Hishimi), the lone female Medical Center and biochemistry specialist member of the Ultra Garrison (prominently referred to as “Ultra Squad”), who is now called Donna Mishibata. Sometimes the voice-actors have obvious difficulties pronouncing some of the Japanese names, particularly Furuhashi, and through the rewritten English dialogue, characterizations of the Ultra Squad members sometimes come across that are overly male chauvinistic (Donna is consistently told, and often rather rudely, throughout numerous episodes of the series when danger arises, that “This is no place for a girl!” or “This is a man’s job!”, or that she should leave the scene immediately, “Go back to the ship!”, “Stay inside!”, etc., whereas Ultra fans are definitely more accustomed to the efficiency of many of the female officers throughout the Ultra series who may be occasionally teased, but are generally respected as part of the teams and often accompany the men in their most dangerous operations), and nationalistic (occasional references overemphasize an exaggerated pride in their use of superior Japanese technology over the original internationally realized Terrestrial Defense Force technology theme, and reactions as if to be defeated by any alien invader would mean a particular loss of face for the Japanese even thought hey are a part of the international Terrestrial Defense Force for the entire Earth, which is emphasized in the original version) in comparison to the original Tsuburaya vision.
Such dialogue as that of Commander Kiriyama (Shoji Nakayama) in Toys in Crisis (originally episode 9; Android Directive Zero, featuring the Android Girl, Zero One, who is called “Barbie” in the TPS version) when, after flicking his cigarette lighter and counting to the last 32nd flame, he mumbles, “(sigh) American trash!” may be amusing, but some of the responses and statements that are dubbed into so many scenes just bring question marks to the mind or inspire a shaking of the head. Like in The Brave One (originally episode 38; The Courageous Fight) when Donna offers to carry the case of international surgeon Dr. McClaine who arrives in Japan to perform a life-saving operation on the boy, Osamu, and the doctor replies ever so seriously, “No, no. I’m a Democrat, we carry our own luggage.” Interestingly, when he arrives, over the airport intercom comes the request, “Will passenger Mr. Tim Reid arriving from Canada, please proceed to the information desk.” (Tim Reid is the name of one of the writers and directors in the new credits, which list none of the Japanese staff or actors other than Eiji Tsuburaya as one of the producers, and original version produced by Tsuburaya). Later, after so many automobiles have disappeared from the highways, abducted by a giant robot, a traffic report broadcasts, “…and now the traffic report. Any of you who would rather not go home by way of outer space would do well to avoid the expressway…” Dan identifies it as a Zantar Battlebot from Zantar, planet of scavengers, who have no cars of their own so they come to Earth to steal ours, along with the drivers of course, because they will want chauffeurs too (in Yuki Aru Tatakai, which was written by Mamoru Sasaki and directed by Toshihiro Iijima, the robot was called Crazygon, a product of Banda aliens sent from their roving space station to capture automobiles like prey for scrap metal, as a source of iron, with little regard for the drivers or passengers at all).
Even through such alterations, the human drama between Dan and Osamu still exists, as Dan tries his best to be ther for the boy who is afraid to face the operation that he must have without his Ultra garrison hero by his side, while also trying to stop the renegade robot. In Planets in Conflict, a double episode story (originally episodes 14 and 15; The Ultra Garrison Goes West, written by Tetsuo Kinjo and directed by Kazuho Mitsuta), The Ultra Squad is unable to prevent the destruction of a submarine carrying foreign delegates. Reflecting on their deaths, Kiriyama’s response is “Too late. Boy. I just hate it when that happens.” Another reaction from the squad is, “I know sir. It hurts. But even Ultra Squad can’t win them all.” As they are trying to determine who the spy from planet Rodon really is (originally planet Pedan, and their giant space robot was called King Joe), The Ultra Squad mistakes an agent from Washington as the assailant, whom, after a brief struggle, proudly proclaims, “I’m not an alien, I’m an American!” But one of the most insane alien interpretations has to be in Wayne, Lord of the Universe (originally episode 19; Project Blue, written by “Ryu Minamikawa,” a pen name for Samaji Nonagase, who also directed this episode under his real name in which the alien agent identifies itself as “Wayne” (the Bado alien, a space Emperor with the mad goal of proclaiming itself as The Emperor of the Universe, in the original version). By the “Law of Wayne,” the creature is determined to turn the Earth into “Wayne’s World!”
In spite of such horrid re-writings, certain episodes manage to retain their elements of notably solid human drama, which has come to characterize the Japanese Ultra Seven version in general. The Fugitive Fortune Teller (episode 23; Look for Tomorrow, written by “Ryu Minamikawa” with Shozo Uehara, and directed by Samaji Nonagase) shows the depth of Kiriyama’s convictions when he risks his own credibility over the predictions of an elderly fortune teller whom others disregard as lunacy, to the point of taking a vacation day away from the squad so that he may personally see to the man’s safety against the threat that aliens are trying to kill him because of his ability to predict both the future and their plans of sabotage against the Garrison (The Shadow aliens, Space Guerrilla agents originally of the Shadow Star). In Mother Knows Best (episode 24; Return to the North!, directed by Kazuho Mitsuta), Furuhashi’s mother desires for him to come back home and lead a more traditional Japanese life with the family in their home region of Northern Japan; Hokkaido. But Furuhashi’s dedication to the international defense causes of the Terrestrial Defense Force as an Ultra Garrison officer is the direction that he has chosen for his life. Without any loss of genuine love between them, Furuhashi’s mother comes to Ultra Garrison headquarters where she comes to realize the importance of the organization and how much her son is really needed as a part of it.
Unfortunately, Furuhashi has just been sent on a mission from which he may not return when his ship controls jam (alien sabotage, originally the Cannan alien Aurora beings) as his flight path leaves him on collision course with a passenger airliner and considerations must be faced that Furuhashi may have to self-destruct his own craft, which he is unable to jettison from, to avoid the crash that would kill those aboard the uncontrollable approaching jet as well. As the crisis grows, and Ultra Seven’s attempt to use Windam backfires when the aliens take control of the Capsule Monster’s electronic brain to turn him against Seven, the other squad members and Kiriyama cannot bring themselves to tell Furuhashi’s mother of the danger that her son is in as they struggle to find a solution without revealing the emergency to her. Another episode worthy of mention because of an exceptionally well directed climax sequence was The Devil’s Angel (episode 37; The Stolen Ultra Eye, directed by Toshitsugu Suzuki), in which an alien girl (Maya, actually a Mazaran being) steals Dan’s Ultra Eye task mask. Unable to transform without it, Seven cannot stop the great intergalactic missile that her people have sent to destroy the Earth.
When the Ultra Garrison decodes her transmissions that are being sent to her supervisors, they discover that she is asking when she will be retrieved. However, she has apparently been considered to be expendable, but does not yet know it. In a very dramatic sequence of pure mood, Dan confronts the girl in a dark, atmospheric club (dubbed “The Purple Onion”) with an interior design reminiscent of American 60’s rock culture that she is using as a temporary base station, to reclaim the Ultra Eye. They share telepathic communications and Dan explains, sympathetically, “No one is coming for you. We intercepted this message from your superiors.” When he gives her the printout tape strip to read for herself, the young lady is so stunned that she is unable to even reply. All she can do is just stare at Dan. The silence and the close-ups on their eyes create a more powerful, serious mood than any dialogue of any language could ever create through words. Then, Dan mentally tells her, “Earthlings aren’t perfect, but most try to do good. Stay. Live with us. You could be happy here. We wouldn’t betray you.” As if in a state of shock, still unable to issue a reply, she simply gives the Ultra Eye to Dan so that he can become Ultra Seven and reverse the course of the gigantic doomsday missile.
Before Dan can return, the girl walks over to the jukebox and makes a selection (J, 7) which activates a device in the machine that sends out a cloud of gas to envelop her body, exterminating her existence. The eerie silence is broken only by the sound of the clock’s chimes. In the close-up, we get a final shot that includes the painting of a hand with the English words “I Love You” painted into it (which could also be seen from prior perspectives). All that Dan finds when he returns is the amulet that she wore, which he picks up from the floor.
Eiji Tsuburaya’s groundbreaking and influential work created a similar phenomenon in television as it had done in cinema. With his motion picture monsters having become such big hits in Japan, what is referred to as “The First Monster Boom” was created in the history of Japanese Cinema, commencing in 1966, with nearly every major film studio of the time producing a monster film to compete, thus contributing to the entire genre that would come to be known as the “Kaiju Eiga” (literally the “Monster Cinema”). Just as Tsuburaya and Toho inspired such other film studios’ entrees as Shochiku’s The Great Space Monster, Guilala (The X from Outer Space) — 1967, Nikkatsu’s The Enormous Beast, Gappa (Monster from a Prehistoric Planet) — 1967, Daiei’s Gamera Film Series that began in 1965 and their Dai Majin Film Trilogy of 1966, the successful television works of Tsuburaya Prod. led other television production studios to hit the air waves with their own giant heroes to combat giant monsters, like Toei’s innovative “Giant Robot-to-be-controlled-by-a-young-boy” theme highlighter of 1967, Giant Robo (Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot). The 1970’s would see enough “Giant Superhero vs. Giant Monsters” genre television, from P Productions’ Spectralman (Spectreman) — 1971, Hiromi Productions’ Thunder-Mask — 1972, or Nippon Gendai Planning & Senkosha’s Silver Mask — 1971 and Iron King — 1972, to Toho Eiizo’s The Human Meteor, Zone/”Zone Fighter” — 1973, and Toho’s own The Blazing Superhuman, Megaloman — 1979, that this decade would come to be known as both “The Second Monster Boom,” and “The Golden Age of Japanese Heroes” when including the many action heroes of Toei TV such as The Artificial Human/Android Kikider — 1972, or their famous long running and continuously developing Masked Rider series’ that began in 1971.
PLEASANT BEAST BUSKA
Eiji Tsuburaya’s house of ideas would expand to focus on other original television projects as well, that would also captivate the imaginations of TV audiences in Japan. Another 1966 production from Tsuburaya Productions was The Pleasant Beast, Buska. With 47 episodes in the half-hour format that were originally shown from November 9th, 1966, to September 27th, 1967, on Nippon Television (NTV) at 7:00-7:30PM, this comical children’s show featured the bizarre young creature, Buska. Looking more like a big plush teddybear with an overbite and a crown comprised of a row of three oddly shaped horns on its head, the child monster comes to think of a clever young boy named Daisaku Tonda as its parent. Together, they share unusual adventures and encounters with other strange characters and creatures, including Buska’s younger Brother beast, Chamegon.
Music for the series was by Kunio Miyauchi. More costumed children’s fantasy adventure comedy shows would follow from Tsuburaya Productions, such as Chibira-kun, first broadcast on NTV in 1970 in 15 minute color installments. This series featured the comical juvenile hero sharing in misadventures with his parents; Papagon and Mamagon, their household pet Pochi Pochi, and an assortment of bizarre characters in over 400 segments.
In 1968, Tsuburaya would produce what has been considered by some to be one of his studio’s finest quality television works, Mighty Jack. Ambitiously taking on a full hour format for 13 episodes, this series is perhaps the most probable and realistic of all popular Japanese science fiction television productions. Airing on Fuji TV from 8:00-9:00PM, from April 6th to June 29th, 1968, Mighty Jack has sometimes been described in the west as a conceptual combination between Mission: Impossible and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
The stories of Mighty Jack focus on the agents and crew of the great Mighty Jack, a flying submarine battleship vessel, the product of some of the most modern technology of the world which it was built to defend from “Q,” a terrorist organization that has set its eyes on the glory of global domination. The 11 MJ officers based in Japan are called to duty when the international threat of Q strikes. The plots involve heavy espionage, including bloody assassinations, issues of international infiltrations, and the sacrifice of one’s life fro personal ideals or on behalf of one’s homeland, with serious, sometimes grim, intense human drama.
Among the actors that American fans might recognize in Mighty Jack, Masanori Nihei, who portrayed the eccentrically comical Science Special Search Party officer, Ide (Science Patrol officer Ito), in the original Ultraman, is in the totally opposite role of the impulsive and sometimes aggressively daring test pilot and skydiving MJ officer and Captain’s Assistant, Akira Genda, known by nickname as Gen. Hiroshi Minami, who appeared in Ultra Seven occasionally as Space Station V3 Combat Captain Kurata, plays MJ Vice-Command officer and Pro Golfer, Ippei Amada. Hideyo Amamoto, also credited sometimes as Eisei Amamoto, perhaps best known in the U.S. for his role as the notorious Dr. Whoo in Toho’s King Kong Escapes, was an elder MJ officer, and guest appearances in the series included Hiroko Sakurai, Jerry Ito (Nelson, the cruel captor of the tiny twin fairies in Mothra), Harold S. Conway (a scientist aboard the U.N. Submarine, Sea Hawk, destroyed as Godzilla emerges from the iceberg in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Rolisican ambassador in Mothra, scientist in The Mysterians, etc.), Kenji Sahara, and Akihiko Hirata.
Writers for Mighty Jack included Shinichi Sekizawa, Tetsuo Kinjo, Masahiro Yamada, Hiroyasu Yamarua, Fumizo Wakatsuki, and among the directors were Kazuho Mitsuta and Samaji Nonagase. Tohl Narita designed the mechanics and uniforms and the grand soundtrack was composed by Isao Tomita, now widely known for his computer music recordings (he also did the soundtrack for Osamu Tezuka’s original 1965 animated series from Mushi Productions, Jungle Emperor, which became Kimba, the White Lion in America, and the seductively haunting score for Toho’s The Great Prophecies of Nostradamus/Catastrophe: 1999/The Last Days of Planet Earth in 1974).
Absent from the scenarios of Mighty Jack are the monsters and aliens that have become the expected trademark of a Tsuburaya series. Instead, the battleships and war machines of Q would provide the conflicts for the main characters and their arsenal of weapons and combat crafts as they engage in battles beneath the sea, on the surface, across the Earth, or in the skies. Man’s inhumanity to man, as represented by Q and its many agents throughout the world as they move to conquer governments from within, destroying the lives of those who fall into their plans, becomes as horrible a threat to the world as anything non-human, if not more so since the potential threat always rests among us from within our own borders and race. Sandy Frank Productions strung together footage of several episodes and hastily dubbed them to release as the Mighty Jack movie to American television in 1988 through King Features Entertainment.
Although the original Mighty Jack series is now recognized for its innovation and challenging scenarios, general ratings for the who were not rewarding with some going as low as 6.7%. After the 13 hour format episodes concluded, a sequel series was created to immediately follow. The second series, called Fight! Mighty Jack, saw its premiere on July 6, 1968, and enjoyed a broadcast up to December 28th of the same year at 7:00-7:30PM. Returning to the more standard Tsuburaya television format of half-hour shows with 26 episodes and a new score composed by Kunio Miyauchi, this series would introduce monsters and aliens into the storylines in familiar fashion. Another unique TV series that Tsuburaya introduced kin 1968, on September 15th, was Great Operations: Mystery.
Through 26 episodes that were shown on TBS from 7:00-7:30PM until March 9th, 1969, this series of bizarre unexplainable and supernatural occurrences would have the SRI (Science Research Institute) agency officers investigating mysterious incidents and murders to reveal ghosts, vampires, cursed or possessed objects, paranormal phenomena, unknown entities, and a host of horror elements that the SRI would attempt to resolve with their organized strategies, research, special inventions and weapons. The regular SRI cast included Shin Kishida who, ironically, would be cast in the lead vampire role of Toho’s “Kyuketsuki (vampire” films in a trilogy of the 70’s which included Curse of the Mansion, Vampire Eyes (Lake of Dracula) — 1971, and The Vampire Rose (Evil of Dracula) — 1975, in addition to the character of Interpole agent Nanbara in the original 1974 Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla (Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster). Shoji Kobayashi also starred in Kaiki Dai Sakusen.
Having seen his creations reach uncharted peaks of popularity with a generation of fans, many of them coming to respect his creative genius and dedication to his craft with honors attributed to great revolutionary leaders (in the context of honorable Japanese titles, he has been called “Tokusatsu No Kamisama” — The Honorable God of Special Visual Efffects), Eiji Tsuburaya would be officially listed as having passed away on January 25th, 1970. But the legacy and popularity of his creations refused to die. Although a number of fans would remain loyal only to those works created with his hands, a popular desire continued to exist among audiences to see more of the creatures, characters, and heroes that be introduced.
Hajime Tsuburaya moved into the position of producer to continue the Ultra series in 1971 with Return of Ultraman. Comprised of 51 episodes, originally broadcast from April 2nd, 1971, to March 31st, 1972, on TBS at 7:00-7:30PM, this series brought to Earth a new Ultraman in a similar role as that of the original. Now known as Ultraman “Jack” in some present references back to the Ultraman of this series, who has also been called “New Ultraman” or simply “New Man,” he merges his identity with that of Hideki Go (Jiro Dan) who was buried beneath the debris of a crumbling building when two giant monsters, the Oil (consuming) Monster, Takkong, and the Water Pollution Sludge Monster, Zazarn, carry their battle from the waters of Tokyo Bay onto the shores of the city (episode 1; Total Monster Attack, or, interestingly, the same Japanese title for “Destroy All Monsters,” written by Shozo Uehara and directed by Ishiro Honda). From a miraculous recovery with heightened perceptions and skills in dilemmas of “kaiju crises,” Go comes to the awareness of, and is recruited by, MAT; the Monster Attack Team, part of an international defense operations network extending from United Nations New York headquarters.
The Tokyo Bay floor based MAT of Japan is specially equipped to deal with the increasing threat of monsters and dangerous life-forms in this era. Unusual climates, terrain fluctuations, solar disturbances, hydrogen bomb experimentations, the destruction of nature, cosmic disasters, and factors of the unknown, have all come into classification as phenomena that have adversely affected or mutated various terrestrial life-forms and greatly contributed to this period in Earth’s history which some have come to think of as “The Age of Monsters.” There are also extraterrestrial threats that would find this to be a most opportune time in which to attempt invasion of the planet and the eradication of human existence. When the dangers seem insurmountable, MAT officer Go signals the transformation for the Ultraman to appear and challenge the menacing forces. However, the sometimes brash and impulsive auto racer and factory mechanic, lacking a substantial background in military discipline, must learn to use the ability wisely and to act less selfishly as part of the team, especially when irresponsible acts could jeopardize the lives and property of an entire populace.
Returning to assist their younger brethren, Ultra Seven presents the New Ultraman with the Ultra Bracelet weapon to slay the rogue Space monster, Bemstar (episode 18; Enter! Ultra Seven), and both Seven and the original Ultraman appear in the 2nd part of a double episode story developed by Uehara (episode 38; When the Ultra Star Shines), as do Moroboshi and Hayata, to resurrect Ultraman Jack from the brutal assassination attack of the Nackle alien and its Guard Monster, Black King. Tragically, Go loses his love, Aki Sakata (Rumi Sakakibara), and her elder brother, Ken Sakata (Shin Kishida), a past-racing mentor for Go (main supporting characters in the series until this point) in the onslaught of the Nackle plot. Eleven years-old Jiro Sakata (Hideki Kawaguchi) survives the loss along with Go. Already known Ultra villains to resurface in this series include one of the Baltans (episode 41; The Retaliation of Baltan Jr.) and a second Z-Ton (the final episode, 51; The 5 Ultra Vows). Ishiro Honda, famed Toho film director perhaps best known for Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters — 1954) and the early films of the Godziilla film series, directed five Return of Ultraman episodes. These included episodes 1; Kaiju Soshingeki (with the Oil Monster Takkong, the Sludge Monster Zazarn, and the Vicious Monster Arstron/Earthstron), 2; Takkong’s Great Revenge, 7; Operation: Monster Rainbow (with the Transparent Monster, Gorbagos), 9; Monster Island SOS (with the Ancient Monster, Dungar), and 51; Urutora 5 Tsu No Chikai (with the second Space Dinosaur Alien Z-Ton, and the Batt alien).
This series features the designs of Norikatsu Ikeya who also contributed designs for Ultra Seven with Narita. The score by Toru Fuyuki was accompanied by musical arrangements for theme songs by Koichi Sugiyama, who would compose the soundtrack for Toho’s Godzilla vs. Biollante in 1989, with vocals by Jiro Dan himself. Actor Susumu Fujita appeared in the series as Terrestrial Defense Chief Director Kishida, and episode 34; Forgive This Life, was based on a 16 year-old Japanese senior high school student’s original story idea that impressed Tsuburaya Productions. This episode dealt with the concept of creating artificial life that would be the synthesis of animal and plant life. The resulting monster, Leogon, would traverse the waters of Ashino Lake. In 1985, the same fan who originally envisioned that Return of Ultraman episode, a young man named Shinichiro Kobayashi, would send a story idea into the “Godzilla Story Finals Committee,” which was in search of a fresh concept for the film to follow Gojira (84)/Godzilla 1985.
His writing again met with great enthusiasm and was finally selected as the premise for Godzilla vs. Biollante, which, interestingly, also focused on the concept of synthesizing plant and animal life, with Ashino Lake providing a point of focus in the story. Though the higher ratings of Japanese TV would remain the domain of its original Ultra predecessors, Return of Ultraman did find its own devoted national audience and would usher in the further development of the Ultra series, as well as other programming to feature giant superheroes.