Ultraman Rising: Superhero With A Side of Single Parenting

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Kick-ass, passionate, a love letter to Ultraman and Tokusatsu at large- just a few of many ways you could describe Ultraman Rising. Facing down a passion project that persisted through a state of limbo long enough to be able to legally drink in the United States, you can immediately understand why Shannon Tindle fought so relentlessly to present this to the world. It’s just so damn good, and is a movie that will light a fire under long and first time fans alike. Though that’s all lip service, so let’s take a deeper look into the mountain of work that comprises this latest Ultraman entry.

Superficially, the movie looks incredible. Earning another gold star for Netflix’s animation studio (as well as ILM & Tsuburaya Productions), Tindle, co-director John Aoshima, and cinematographer John Bermudes show off in every sense of the word. Bombastic kaiju combat marries touching drama and light humor to create an intensely colorful and creative vision, initially wild character designs settle into the intense visual appeal of Ultraman Rising, and of course the classic Ultraman visual effects feel right at home in this movie’s menagerie of visual creativity. It’s an assault on the eyes that feels at times like it could very well surpass the definition of ‘eye candy’ to some viewers.

Static imagery tells only a single story, however. While this trio of creatives has excelled at providing an intense and colorful presence in these stills, Netflix Animation and John Bermudes bring out the big guns when the camera gets to rolling. Using the CGI medium to its maximum, Bermudes continually employs long and flowing shots that track a subject or extend to provide a greater presence in the scene. A stellar example is within the first few minutes of Kenji’s life back in Japan. The scene (which is possibly a nod to Kamen Rider?) sees Ken Sato wheelie away on his motorcycle towards a metallic bridge that rises from beneath the ocean. The way the camera loves to remain moving (alongside the contents of the screen) provides such a dynamic sense of motion, and the flair from ideas like the drone-styled 180 turn as Ken drives off is just sublime.

Even camera work like this remains a simple appetizer though- a sort of “this is cool” primer in that initial 5-minute window. The entire movie constantly finds interesting ways to employ camera movement with various tracking shots, perspectives, rotations, and all manner of other ideas. I can almost guarantee that with every 10 minute slice of Ultraman Rising, viewers will find themselves saying “now this is my favorite shot in the movie”. Bermudes’ cinematography isn’t only employed to make things pretty, cool, or some mixture of both however.

One of the most important layouts in the entire movie is our characters set up against a vista typically framed via a window. We open the mythos of Ultraman with that shot, and it remains of incredible thematic importance throughout the movie; symbolizing change, ideals, deep thought, and ultimately, family. It’s the strongest point where the narrative crosses over into the world of exclusively visual expression, and the way it evolves is just incredible. How Kenji starts by looking out that window and seeing his dad the superhero, to a vast swath of empty ocean, and to it ultimately being the subversion for the climax is impeccable. The symbolism it speaks to for family is such a great idea, and is just one of many treats for viewers interested in a deeper experience with the work.

In addition, another easy example of that certainly has to be the use of sunglasses in Ultraman Rising– a personal favorite tidbit of mine. Kenji routinely uses either shades in human form, or his mask when Ultraman, to hide himself from the people around him. Even more interesting is how Tindle is able to use sunglasses to immediately connect Kenji to the movie’s antagonist, Dr. Onda. Both stunted by the loss of family, isolated from meaningful experience in life, the two share in their deeper insecurities when it comes to family and passion. The difference being, though, that Onda’s “normal” is wearing glasses, while Kenji’s is without- a fact further punctuated by the toy Ultraman mask Kenji has placed on him by reporter Ami Wakita’s daughter. It’s a great dichotomy that immediately humanizes the doctor as a hurt and insecure man that has chased after ghosts for most of his life… which is then even further darkened by plot points appearing in the final act of the movie.

That’s a lot to take in though, so let’s rewind and talk about the narrative and characters it’s presented through in proper. Ultraman Rising takes the electric Tokusatsu atmosphere and marries it with a drama centered around the impact of family in someone’s life. Through baseball and kaijus, Ultraman Rising addresses that impact (both in terms of presence and absence) with Kenji, but also with Dr. Onda. As the reflection of Kenji, Onda plays an important role in grounding Kenji through his story. Similarly, despite the screen time afforded, his missing mother remains a strongly felt presence through pieces like Mina being modelled after her, and little Emi taking part of her name. Then there’s additions like sports reporter and fellow single parent Ami Wakita, and when you put it all together you have this spider’s web of connections that pull together an impressively broad message about family. Struggles, sorrows, accidental frustration- even making that desperate turn to a parent when you’ve got nowhere else to go.

It’s a story that thrives off of the complexity of familial relationships, and is confident in its ability to show, not tell. Tindle and Haimes don’t need to verbalize things like Professor Sato’s grief over the loss of his wife, they don’t need to make a comment on the familial-esque bond that Dr. Onda shares with one of his subordinates. There is an innate trust that the viewer will pick up on what Tindle and Haimes want us to, and it makes the experience that much stronger. Of course, that visual storytelling extends far past the main narrative of the work too. There’s plenty of times where you can see anxiety and uncertainty eat away at Kenji as he sheds his tough and cold exterior. You can see how he struggles with anger and frustration, a detail that better contextualizes later plot points. There is a world of personality and emotion that bubbles up from these characters, ultimately bringing them closer and closer to a person rather than a convenience. It’s heavy leg work, but it makes the collapse of larger-than-life Ultraman and pro athlete Kenji Sato hit that much closer to home- and not in a “I’m human too, you know” sort of way. Ultraman has a family, Ultraman has his awful coffee-fuelled mornings and emotional breakdowns over taking care of a child. But every day, he wakes up and keeps going. Sometimes because the world needs to be saved, and other times because his daughter’s hungry or wants to play baseball.

So yes, it looks amazing, it feels electric, the story is top tier, the characters are incredible narrative vehicles, and the kaiju designs are 100/10 (love this explanation from Tindle re: their designs)- but there’s still more. In a world driven by pop culture relatability, Ultraman Rising finds it in itself to include that as well. Need an ultra hot character with emotional issues that makes the transition to super loving single girl dad? We’ve got it. Need Emi doing the Showa Godzilla dance? That’s neatly slotted in as a light joke. What about everyone’s favorite kaiju daughter doing a cute little transformation sequence to go get some food? Maybe hardcore Ultraman fans might be interested in the nod to the biological composition of the Satos? Or maybe we can generalize it to one of the dozens of gifs (or hundreds of Ken Sato edits) that have permeated the internet and are begging people to watch the movie.

The point remains, Tindle and co. knocked Ultraman Rising out of the park on all fronts, earning a grand slam in terms of success. Following on the heels of a previous (3 season) Netflix animated series for Ultraman, facing down a hellish incubation period on the project, attempting to break open decades of Ultraman, Tokusatsu, and Kaiju for a new group of fans. Ultraman Rising had hurdles set before it that seemed like skyscrapers, but in hindsight feel almost trivial when compared against the resounding success of this work.


3 responses to “Ultraman Rising: Superhero With A Side of Single Parenting”

  1. Marcos Mateu Avatar
    Marcos Mateu

    Such -phenomenal- camera work by John Bermudes. Simply extraordinary!!

  2. Mike Avatar
    Mike

    Animation quality left a lot to be desired. Perhaps due to a low budget?

  3. Shannon Tindle Avatar
    Shannon Tindle

    Thanks so much for such a thoughtful review. John Bermudes is the best!

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