Ultraman, Episode 05: “Secret of the Miloganda”

My comments and observations from watching through this classic Japanese TV series.

Much of this episode could have been a story from Ultra Q. I can easily see the gang from that series rushing around digging up clues about the mysterious murders that make up most of the plot. Instead it is the SSSP on the job, investigating the killings. Such detective work appears part of their duties, with the team being called in to handle “abnormal” cases.

The police procedural story plays against some authentically scary scenes that go beyond what you’d seen in an American kid’s show. There is a montage of quick cuts of an out of control car, an agonizing death shown only in shadows, and green slime that wipes across the screen from one scene to another. The horror movie feel of the killings is another element that seems like Ultra Q, which could shift between nightmare and child’s playtime from episode to episode. You get both here. It’s hard to reconcile the gruesome monster murders with Ide’s slapstick and silly faces.

There is a real mystery to be pieced together from the information the SSSP collect. Five men just returned from an expedition are being killed off one by one. The first being a scientist using radiation to genetically alter plants. A rare plant from the expedition is missing. Strange plant-like slime is found at the crimes scenes. It’s not exactly Sherlock Holmes difficulty (Arashi actually accuses Ide of playing at being Holmes as he tries to figure it all out), especially in a world where monsters and mutations are far from unknown. But you have to gather your facts though before you can act.

Optical compositing continues to be the star special effect here. At one point the investigation takes Ide and Arashi to a futuristic greenhouse. I believe the spherical building and surrounding complex are a real location, but the aerial camera work, along with adding the VTOL into the live action shots blends everything together.

They reach the reasonable conclusion that the surviving fifth member of the exhibition that brought back the flower will be the next target. It’s a little unclear if the monster is motivated to kill out of revenge for being taken from its natural environment and being subjected to weird science, or if it is just is seeking the rare nutrients it needs that the victims also unknowing brought back in their bodies. When the plant monster does show up, Arashi has a rough time, but the team manage to zap it with their weapons. We also see another function of those uncomfortable helmets: they have visors to project their vision from the bright light of the Super Guns. Each takes a safety first moment to lower the eye shield before firing — not that they did that in previous episodes. I’ll try to remember to watch for them ever doing it again.

The episode also introduces a new secondary character, science advisor Dr. Iwamoto, played by Akihiko Hirata, a veteran of Toho’s giant monster films, with his most notable role being Dr. Serizawa in the original 1954 Godzilla. Is this episode, besides advising about science, his main function is to provide the exposition that, far from being killed by the team’s Super Guns, the monster plant has likely to mutated further. And the plant monster (named Greenmons, literally “Green Monster”) has indeed grown to enormous size, conveniently for this to fully become an Ultraman episode for the last 6 minutes or so.

As a kaiju I find Greenmons works well, though that seems to be a minority opinion. Being a plant, it isn’t intended to have animal, let alone humanoid, proportions. It surges and flails around convincingly, and only when actually grappling with an opponent do we get glimpses of the human actor inside the suit. Plant monsters are rare in the genre. Biollante being one of the most memorable. It is also reminiscent of Hedorah, the Smog Monster, in its leafy floppiness.

Arashi tries to fight it single handedly to make up for his earlier defeat. He dials his Spider Shot to flame mode (our first glimpse that the weapon has multiple capabilities) but it has little effect. He’s injured again by Greenmons’ poison spray, which gives Hayata the opportunity he needs to, after taking his friend to safety, to transform into Ultraman.

There is a very atmospheric scene of the two giants squaring off in a city plaza, chimes ringing out the late night hour. I’m sure this is probably a well-known location in Tokyo, but I haven’t been able to identify it.

Greenmons’ gas attack is strong enough to even effect Ultraman, poisoning and weakening him — and making the flashing Color Timer seem extraneous. Our hero is able to gather his resources enough for a Specium Beam, which ignites the poor creature, not only setting it aflame, but reducing it to ash, which blows across the watching crowds. Another night’s work for the SSSP — though once again it is Ide who notices that Hayata had mysteriously vanished during the fight.

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