Short comments and observations on this classic 1960’s Japanese tokusatsu, or “special effects” series. Assume some Spoilers for each episode.
I Saw a Bird
Many episodes of Ultra Q reveal their premise immediately, as when that week’s monster appears in the opening credits. This time there a real mystery. Some aerial phenomenon leads to zoo animals bursting from their cages and disappearing. A 1000 year old sailing ship appears in a fishing harbor. A young boy runs away to his private island playground. They are all linked by a small white finch — which is also giant prehistoric bird that maybe is moving through time and space along an unknowable 4th Dimensional journey. Maybe. Just because there is a mystery doesn’t mean there is a solution.
Even in the 1960’s when Ultra Q aired, we were already sending automated probes into space. Since it does not get much headline news coverage it’s easy to forget that a plutonium powered robot is prowling around poking at things on a Mars this very minute. If there was primitive life on Mars, what would it make of such an entity? And what would we make of a probe sent to Earth by a species vastly more advanced than us? Could we only comprehend it as a bizarre monster with inexplicable goals and behaviors? We might, with our human ingenuity, manage to damage or deactivate it, but could we ever understand it or its purpose?
Tokyo Ice Age
Something of a new phase begins for Ultra Q, with the return of Peguila, a monster from an earlier episode. Ultra Q can be very efficient in telling a story in a half-hour episode, but occasionally ideas show up that could have worked in a longer format. A boy walks to Tokyo in search of his father, a seasonal worker who never returned home. This man is actually an ace Zero pilot from the War, who has turned to drink and become a jewel thief. At first he cares little about the giant monster destroying the city, but a reunion with his son inspires him to take up his old skills and defeat the monster, at the cost of his life. In what time the episode actually has to work with, the plot points of that story are only briefly touched on. And that’s not even getting into topics such as how climate change was already a concern back in the 60’s. We do get to see Yuri-chan busy at her job as reporter and photographer, which is always fun.
The opening credits of an episode are often our only clue as to what kind of story is heading our way. They might empathize the scary, go for the surf-music jive of the show’s usual main theme, or as in this case, a playful march with prancing ragamuffins. The earlier “Grow Up! Little Turtle” mixed a child’s fantasy with reality and folklore, but this time almost everything could be attributed to an elaborate let’s pretend — except the surreal sequence when Kaneo transforms, which is like something out of Dali. The Japanese folklore tradition of “yokai” seems important to comprehend the craziness of this episode, with Kameo’s parents warning him that his misbehavior would turn him into a living, cursed money purse — which is exactly what does befall him. Neither Jun, Ippei, nor Yuriko appear at all in this episode, a first for the series so far.