Quick Thought: Ultra Q, Episodes 20-23

Short comments and observations on this classic 1960’s Japanese tokusatsu, or “special effects” series. Assume some Spoilers for each episode.

The Undersea Humanoid Ragon

Ragon

It would be fascinating to see a natural history textbook from the world of Ultra Q. The existence of giant monsters seems an accepted part of things. People are surprised at the appearance of a kaiju, but not shocked and horrified. In the 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Gillman is a discovery that overturns every conventional theory of biology and evolution. In Ultra Q, a geologist can casually pick up a text book that explains, with illustrations, about the race of aquatic humanoids that existed 250 million years ago — and continue to thrive today, beneath the sea. Supposedly they only have the IQ of “a gorilla,” but it is hard not to think of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Deep Ones,” who, immortal and vastly more advanced that we apes, have been the true superior life forms of Earth for eons.

As other episodes have shown —with the week’s monster appearing in the opening credits — Japanese shows have a different sense of mystery and suspense than we are used to in the West. Fans of anime from the 80’s and 90’s are used to major “spoilers” being given away in just the title of an episode. If Citizen Kane had been an anime, its title might have been: “Rosebud: the Mysterious Sled of Nostalgic Youth!” So with Ultra Q we are used to episodes begun with titles such as “The Undersea Humanoid Ragon,” which kind of gives away a lot.

Space Directive M774

Bostang

If you had a friend who started going on about seeing a UFO and how a voice starting talking to them through a doll, warning of alien invasion, you’d probably be justified in suspecting a joke, mind-altering substances, or mental disturbance. But given what the characters of Ultra Q have experienced so far, I think Jun and Ippei are a little too quick to dismiss Yuriko’s account of such things. Those are not the strangest things that have happened to these characters so far in this show.

Despite ominous warnings, the monster Bostang is that most unusual of mysterious creatures, one that is easily dealt with by human military power. The would-be invaders from Planet Keel didn’t do due diligence in researching Earth’s defenses. The true creepiness in this episode comes from the “good” alien Zemi, who can hijack our technology, instantly create a false human identity, and reveals that extraterrestrials have thoroughly infiltrated Earth society and live among us everywhere, enjoying the paradise our planet appears to be.

Metamorphosis

Either for budgets reasons or just because it’s an idea that’s hard to resist, this series featuring giant monsters decided to have an story about a giant… giant — that is, a human who grows to Godzilla proportions. What’s interesting visually is that this episode does much more with low camera angles, lenses, and slow motion to create the effect of an enormous creature than is usually done when featuring a ”normal” monster of the same scale. The “realism” of the giant required more careful cinematography than the fantasy of a 50 meter tall lizard, ape, or weirdo space alien. Contrast this with the early “giants” in “The 1/8th Project,” which were shot with more conventional camera work. Even though their proportions relative to their environment were exactly the same as here, they came across as normal human in a miniature world, rather than as giants.

Also this was anther episode where I wondered if the English translation left something out of the script, such as some more explanations about why Prof. Ichinotani had so conveniently invented a weapon that could counter-act the butterfly gigantification poison almost immediately just before it was needed to save the day.

Fury of the South Seas

Though it might not seem that way from our contemporary media experiences, Ultra Q was an expensive program for its time. Even with that budget, in this episode we have some fairly obvious stock footage, both of soldiers, and of reused effects shots from another film. There are pretty good effects though, including an actual octopus photographed to look gigantic — these come off better than the iguanas used as dinosaurs you seem in many American monster films.

Some sociopolitical issues get raised but glossed over in this story, with how casually outside forces decide to try and kill the “god” that has been protecting an isolated island culture from the rest of the world. But that’s a wide-spread mythic form, with a local group sacrificing of lives (either deliberately or through complaisance) to a dragon or other beast, in return for its beneficence. Until, that is, a hero arrives to reveal the monster’s evil, and then slay it

If you are interested in the popular culture aspect of Ultra Q, I recommend checking out the website Black Sun. Among other things they have some fun images from Ultra Q manga adaptations.

Ultra Q Manga

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