Shinji Higuchi on Setting SHIN ULTRAMAN Loose on the World

After a massive (and we do mean massive) box office haul in Japan and most of Asia, Shin Ultraman director Shinji Higuchi’s follow-up to the 2016 crossover hit Shin Godzilla, has made its way to North America. The movie had its sold out North American premiere at Fantasia Fest in Montreal last week and will screen at more festivals in the coming months. It’s a darn fun movie, and one that both fans and newcomers will enjoy. And that’s just what Higuchi intended. We spoke to the director, via interpreter, who let us know how he brought the silver giant to life for a whole new audience.

“Obviously there are a lot of people that did not see Ultraman ever in their life,” he began, “and that was our primary focus. Of course, I made it so that the old fans would enjoy it as well, but we really wanted to make sure that first time people who never saw Ultraman in the past would enjoy it.”

Shin Ultraman punches a kaiju in its face.
Tsuburaya Productions/Toho Studios

The movie is a modern day reimagining of the original 1966 Ultraman series, introducing a kaiju-riddled Japan to the mysterious alien. But whether Ultraman is friend or foe is very much at the center of the movie. In that way, it feels of a piece with Shin Godzilla without copying it directly. “Shin Godzilla had a lot of emphasis on the bureaucracy, the politics, etc,” Higuchi explained. “But if we just did the same thing, it’s kind of pointless. So one of the things we wanted to do is to go one step further, one step after. How would humanity and the government face off with aliens?”

“Obviously yes,” he continued, “they would be the bureaucracy, but more than that, we kind of wanted to show how the scientists are facing the challenge, how to fight the kaijus. But of course, this is not our idea. This is from the original series. They already had that back in the day. So we really just took that idea and tried to modernize it and to make it fit with the current situation.”

The push and pull of the modern depiction and the original series was at the forefront of the filmmakers’ mind. One thing they had to maintain was the look of Ultraman, his physical appearance. Which was easier said than done. “The body proportion of the original suit actor, Bin Furuya, was really not the typical Japanese body shape. He has long arms, long legs, long fingers; it was very unique. So we kind of wanted to incorporate that in the design.”

Shin Ultraman fires a spacium beam at a kaiju.
Tsuburaya Productions/Toho Studios

What better way to do that than to bring in the original actor himself? “He is currently 75 years old,” Higuchi told us. “He’s still alive, doing well, but the staff went and made a digital copy of his body and tried to make kind of a 3D model of that model. And then we created a physical model as well. Because before what [the show] did was to make many different molds, but each mold is slightly different. So each suit model that would come out of it would be slightly different. And so before they would basically choose out of all the model models that came out of the mold and they would choose which one would be the most likely to be Ultraman. Ultraman himself is definitely the thing we wanted to keep the most as the original.”

Shin Ultraman will screen for a special encore at Fantasia Fest on Saturday, July 30, at 12pm ET.

Kyle Anderson is the Senior Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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