Monday, December 17, 2012

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #3

Episode Three: SECRET FROM THE LAKE ***

"Men on this planet can't resist pretty girls like us!"

An unidentified object has landed somewhere near the Kiso Mountains. Dan and Furuhashi are sent to find any wreckage, or signs of life. They find a young girl swimming in Lake Azuma as well as a spaceship nearby. Both men go aboard the craft where they find a girl that looks exactly like the one they saw swimming in the lake. The two men are temporarily knocked unconscious by gas emitting from the walls of the ship. When Dan comes to, he realizes the Ultra Eye is missing. Without it, he can't turn into Ultraseven. 

Not long after, a giant monster named Eleking emerges from Lake Azuma. Till he can locate the Ultra Eye, Dan uses one of his space capsules to send Monster Mikuras to battle the amphibious Eleking, a beast under the control of two insectoid twin creatures posing as little girls with plans to wipe out all of mankind.

Again the script isn't fleshed out to a great degree, but for this sort of thing, it's not totally necessary. There are hints that the two insect-like fem-aliens disguised as little girls are on some twisted environmental mission to wipe out mankind to have the planet all to themselves, but details aren't elaborated on. 

Environmentalist propaganda was commonplace in 70s cinema and TV both here and abroad. Japan often commented on the results of atomic testing particularly in Ishiro Honda's Toho Sci-Fi films; it was a subject that was devastatingly personable for them after the effects of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What's of minor interest on an apocalyptic note is the resemblance of the two alien twins to insects (see above). It's said that if man were to destroy himself, insects such as cockroaches could possibly survive a nuclear holocaust. It's also curious that in so many Japanese science fiction movies and television programs from the late 60s onward, women are almost always the antagonistic leaders, or sole representation of an alien race.

With its threadbare storyline, 'Secret From the Lake' has a ton of action and special effects. It's heaviest on the monsters of the three episodes up to this point. Eleking is onscreen for about half the running time. The battle in and around the lake with Mikuras is a lot of fun as is the skirmish with Ultraseven. The last moment of the fight with Seven contains a graphic moment of gruesome violence that was often seen in the fights in the 'Showa' Gamera series of films and totally unexpected.

This is also the first time we see the Ultra Hawk 3 air ship as well as the second appearance of Ultra Hawk 2, a spacecraft used primarily for outer space exploration.

Overall, this is a superb action episode, and a highlight of the series in terms of the fun factor that Tokusatsu shows bring to the table; enabling older fans to remember what it's like to be a kid all over again.

MONSTERS: Eleking (amphibious monster of alien origin), Mikuras; Miclas (One of Ultraseven's monster helpers)

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk #1, #2 and #3

To be continued in Episode Four: THE STOLEN EYE!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #2

Episode two: THE GREEN TERROR **1/2

Dubbed title: SHRUBS FROM SPACE 

A strange metallic rock lands outside the home of Agent Ishuguro, one of the Ultra Garrison members. Having spent six months in solitude aboard Space Station V3, Ishuguro returns to Earth for vacation. Escorting him home, Moroboshi spies the large, peculiar space rock. Using his telepathic powers, he recognizes it as being from another planet. Later that night, agent Ishuguro transforms into a blood-drinking plant creature. He roams the street killing passersby who eventually come back to life as plant monsters who likewise spread the contagion.

This bizarre episode is an intriguing take on vampirism, this time from an interplanetary virus seemingly controlled by a hunk of rock from outer space. Unfortunately, the origin of this virus is never fully explained. 

A peculiar postman delivers a box to the Ishuguro household that contains a smaller metal rock (Moroboshi identifies this space metal as Chillsonite 808 from the planet YR), but we never learn just who he is. He's obviously connected, but the script never gives an explanation. 

This second episode, despite having an idea of great interest to play around with (shades of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH from 1964 starring Vincent Price and particularly INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), has enough plot holes for a full length feature. Who is the weird delivery man? What sort of aliens are these? Why is the host being kept comatose within a large metal rock? Why does the alien creature imitating the body of the host need a smaller rock with a hidden transmitter? The answers to those questions won't be found here.

Even with its murky plot details, this 25 minute take on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) told via Japanese Tokusatsu conventions is a fun programmer benefiting from some choice effects work.

Ultraseven gets to "grow" this time unlike the first episode where he remains normal size. He briefly battles this likewise gigantic plant monster from another world (not referred to by name; at least not in the subtitles). It's also the first of many times Seven is seen using his Emerium Beam. 

Agent Anne gets to partake in the action (she doesn't do much the rest of the time leaving the sandbox for the guys) in a scene where she incapacitates one of the beasts (with the hand laser called The Paralyzer) after it transforms while the Ultra Guard study the body of a victim.

MONSTERS: Wyarr; Wyaan (blood drinking alien plant creature from planet YR)

WEAPONS: The Paralyzer (laser pistol that neutralizes a potential threat), Ultra Hawk 1 (cameo at end)

To be continued in Episode Three: SECRET FROM THE LAKE!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven episode #1




This has to be the work of aliens. What else can it be?

 Aliens from the planet Kuuru have kidnapped a number of humans for experimental purposes leading to an impending invasion of the planet Earth. The Terrestial Defense Force is sent to investigate and meets a mysterious wanderer named Dan Moroboshi who helps destroy the invading alien forces. No one knows his true identity, but Moroboshi transforms into Ultraseven, a silver and red dressed superhero from another galaxy committed to protecting the Earth from monsters and alien threats.

This first episode of ULTRASEVEN is standard monster fare, but is integral to the series in that it introduces the core of the Ultra Garrison and also some of their assorted technologically advanced war craft. It's an average, if tightly directed intro that sets up the episodes to follow. Granted, many of the episodes are interchangeable to this one, but generally most kids (and grown up kids) watch these things for the monsters; anything else is a bonus.

For this premiere show, it's a bit of a shock that the title spaceman doesn't battle a monster in his giant form. Ultraseven does confront an alien, but he quickly dispatches it using his "Eye Slugger", a crest aligning the back of his helmet that is used as a laser slicer to cut the monsters into pieces. He does go Big to destroy the Kuurian spaceship. The episode also benefits from a good amount of special effects such as the destruction of a refinery.

The scenario, characters and science fiction elements are familiar from ULTRAMAN, but there's notable differences to make it stand out. These would become more apparent as the series progressed. One of the most notable differences is in the Ultraseven character, an alien being who walks among mankind as Dan Moroboshi. Among the differences that sets Seven apart are his telepathic abilities and the use of an "Ultra Eye" to transform into the alien superhero. It looks like a pair of sunglasses he places over his eyes enabling him to change into Ultraseven.

One of the most intriguing differences is the use of Moroboshi's monster capsules. These are small pills that look like Tylenol. Dan throws them into the air when he can't transform. and lets one of a few different monsters have a turn at some action (see image above). Curiously, there's no reason Dan can't change into Ultraseven during this sequence, it just seems like an excuse to introduce the monster capsules. 

Tokusatsu fans will surely recognize Sandayu Dokumamushi from the first ULTRAMAN series as Arashi. He's the only main player from the previous Tsuburaya show to take a lead role on this second series in a Science Patrol type capacity. Bin Furuya, who previously acted inside the Ultraman suit, is Garrison member, Amagi.

GODZILLA fans will also recognize Akihiko Hirata in this episode. Hirata was Dr. Serizawa in the 1954 GODZILLA. He also played another despondent, borderline insane scientist in TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA from 1975. Other Japanese Kaiju films he appeared in include RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER (1964), GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966) and LATITUDE ZERO (1969).

It's worth noting that there are multiple translations of the monsters (see below) and episode titles, so I have included as many of them as I can find throughout this guide. The subtitles on this set aren't the best, but they get the point across even if they don't feel wholly accurate. These are not, after all, licensed from Tsuburaya, but from the Thai company Chaiyo; so these will not be definitive presentations. It's good to have this set, but the downside is, we will likely never receive a presentation representative of the company that made ULTRAMAN, ULTRASEVEN and the others that followed.

MONSTERS: Kuuru; Coul (tentacled, crustacean-like, floating beings from the planet Kuuru), Windham (one of Moroboshi's capsule monsters)
WEAPONS: The Pointer (Ultra Garrison weapons laden vehicle), Ultra Hawk 1(An enormous fighter plane that can split into three separate planes -- Alpha, Beta and Gamma)

To be continued in Episode Two: THE GREEN TERROR!!!

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Flash Gordon Edition!


By Alex Raymond

208 pages; hardcover; color; editions: December 2012

Gordon is alive and well and battling Ming the Merciless and other monsters of Mongo in this second volume of (so far) three hardbacked volumes (volume three streets in March of 2013) of Alex Raymond's classic, and influential Sunday comic strip hero. This is stunning artistry, gorgeously reproduced for lovers of vintage comics and fine art everywhere.

I remember my first exposure to Flash Gordon was on Saturday Morning airings of the B/W serials starring Buster Crabbe as Flash and Charles B. Middleton as Ming. I'd seen other serials on Saturday mornings, but FLASH GORDON was a favorite. When I got older, I eventually bought several of the FG comic books and the 1980 movie left a huge impression on me as a child, as well. However, I never came to appreciate (till much later) where it all started -- from the artistic hands of Alex Raymond.

Now, the fine folks at Titan Books have tasked themselves with their own production of the complete library of this iconic character. So far, three hardback volumes are available. The one reviewed here is volume two (available for purchase December 18th, 2012), considered the apex of the Raymond strips about the earthling hero.

These are stunning reproductions of those original color comic strips covering the years between 1937-1941. An opening chapter by Doug Murray puts the series in perspective with startling insight into the brilliance of Raymond's artistry that's flanked by some rare, and revealing photographs. This includes his use of live (fully nude) models to capture unique physical positioning for his myriad number of characters brought to life in Sunday newspapers.

Fans of the character, the serials and the movie from 1980 will surely find this an immersive experience. The level of detail is mesmerizing. Many of the panels seen here are instantly recognizable from the opening credits sequence of the cult 1980 production -- itself, deserving of a volume on its making!

Reading through these Sunday strips will no doubt bring about a renewed interest in the character and his exploits. All three volumes are a must for comic book lovers and anyone with an appreciation for vintage, and exceptionally well mounted artwork. FLASH GORDON: THE TYRANT OF MONGO is due for release on December 18th, 2012.

To purchase this book through amazon, click HERE.

To read more about this book, and the other two volumes as well as purchasing through Titan Books, click HERE. You'll also find interviews with well known artist and FLASH GORDON fan, Alex Ross. Titan Books also has a blog regarding the FLASH GORDON COMPLETE LIBRARY which can be read HERE.

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