The Return of Ultraman: Episodes 13-14

Some quick thoughts from watching through this Ultraman TV series from 1971.

13. Terror of the Tsunami Monster: Tokyo in Peril
14. Terror of the Two Giant Monsters: The Great Tokyo Tornado

Two-part episodes allow some variation in how Ultraman episodes usually work, departures from their almost ritualized structure. They offer rising stakes from Ultraman being defeated in his first encounter with the two-parter’s monster — or monsters in this case. Normally there’s not much actual suspense about whether our hero will defeat that week’s kaiju. An initial defeat raises the tension and offers at least the illusion of doubt about whether the monster can be stopped (though of course we know Ultraman will be victorious in the rematch).

Having a breeding pair of kaiju is also a nice variation on the monsters-of-the-week and gives them a logical motivation for their behavior. It’s odd how often legends and folktales about monsters are dismissed in Ultraman’s world. You would think researchers and anthropologists would be scouring the world for clues that any culture’s traditions would offer about monsters, given the high likelihood that there’s some truth in them. They sure tend to be helpful when a the legendary creature does, in fact, show up. Given the premise of a mated pair of monsters without malevolent intent, it was a sympathetic touch for this to be one of the rare stories where the kaiju are allowed to live.

This story is one of several in a row that will center on an individual’s physical and psychological trauma from encountering a kaiju, something that would be a logical consequence of living in such a world. These stories also involve disasters and accidents caused by monsters, but blamed on individuals who survived the events. They saw the monster, but no one believes them, which is another trauma they must endure. Again, I have to wonder with monster attacks being so common, why are these witnesses met with such skepticism? Are the courts of this world filled with people using monsters as excuses for their mistakes or incompetencies? This episode does suggest that insurance laws are pretty brutal here, with “acts of kaiju” not covered, unless definitively proven.

I doubt this was intentional, but a close reading of these episodes also suggests some important facts about the political situation about Japan in this narrative world. I mentioned in discussing “Dinosaur Denotation Order” that MAT appears to have very little authority to over public situations. That’s the case here as well: the owners of the industrial site where Seagorath and Seamons are trying to nest not only can easily ignore MAT’s requests, but also can order around the Self-Defense Force. Are these episodes depicting a dystopia Japan where corporations are the main authorities, with the government and military just their puppets? Another notable moment was when the plant operator expressed his belief that Ultraman would always just show up to save them if there was any trouble. Ultraman being the dependable savior, and not MAT.

Natural disasters are the stars in the tokusatsu of this episode, as much as the kaiju. Seagorath’s ability to summon up a storm and tsunami makes him one of the few actually scary monsters we’ve seen so far. I thought it interesting that even in Japan — which gave us the word tsunami, to replace our inaccurate term “tidal wave” — the phenomenon is depicted as a huge, crashing wave, rather than the slow, relentless, overwhelming flood that an actual tsunami is. Maybe until the modern day, when video recordings of them are widely available, few people anywhere had actually seen a tsunami. As for the other meteorological menace in these episodes, the tornado, I have the perspective of living in the Midwest of the United States. I have not personally seen a tornado, but I have grown up with them as a potential menace all my life. My dreams are certainly haunted by them. I know they do occur in Japan, but are rare. I don’t know how exotic or unnatural they might have seemed to Ultraman’s audience.

The special effects for both wave and twister are, for the most part, quite impressive here. Tsuburaya’s effects people has been masters of water for a long time. Winds are less common, and I don’t recall a full vortex before. Now sometimes they do resort to little more than swirls drawn on film, but other effects shots make up for those budget saving techniques.

One thought on “The Return of Ultraman: Episodes 13-14”

  1. “You would think researchers and anthropologists would be scouring the world for clues that any culture’s traditions would offer about monsters, given the high likelihood that there’s some truth in them. They sure tend to be helpful when a the legendary creature does, in fact, show up.” You would, indeed. Who would let such relevant data go to waste?

    Liked by 1 person

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