Saturday, December 22, 2012

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #8

Episode Eight: THE CURSED TOWN (also listed as THE TARGETED TOWN) ****


"...A terrible scheme to exploit man's trust in his fellow man. But please don't worry, this story could only happen in the distant future. Why is that, you ask? Because in today's world, there isn't enough trust to exploit."

In the town of Kitagawa, a string of perplexingly fatal accidents have claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Furuhashi and Soga attempt to find answers regarding this seemingly cursed town. While patrolling the town, a crazed man with a rifle runs through the street shooting at people. Not long after, Dan is intercepted by a gravel truck. Discovering the truck has no driver, he is suddenly confronted by a disembodied voice telling him to leave the town. Later, both Furuhashi and Soga go on a rampage and have to be detained. It's finally learned that space seeds hidden within cigarettes by the evil Metrons drive smokers insane, turning them into violent, potentially deadly killers.

The eighth show in the ULTRASEVEN series is light on monsters and high on intrigue and mystery including some oppressively eerie use of shadows and silhouettes. It's mostly a police procedural in the Ultra Guard's search for answers as to the reason behind deadly violence in the town of Kitagawa.The premise for this episode is unique and deviates from the glut of other 'alien invasion' programmers. It seems to have gotten inspiration from the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode, 'The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street'.

It turns out that a race of aliens have utilized these space seeds to push humans into wiping themselves out providing entertainment for the Metrons watching it all take place in front of them. Again, taking a cue from reality, the Metron states that when you strip away the trust from man, they attack. This episode is hauntingly relevant today, most notably in the episodes closing dialog (see at top); also in that smoking is very, very bad for you.

The sequence near the beginning showing a villager going berserk and shooting at women and children with a rifle will no doubt offend some; and raise the eyebrows of many considering the equally inexplicable spate of mass shootings that have occurred over the last few years. The Newtown, Connecticut school shootings of a couple weeks ago instantly come to mind during this sequence.

There's a great scene at the climax where the Metron ship, hidden inside what looked like an apartment building, escapes into the sky with the Ultra Guard in hot pursuit. The red sky provides a gloomy backdrop for the aerial dogfight between the Ultra Hawk 1 and the Metron ship which can split into two separate saucers.

The battle between Ultraseven and the Metronian is relatively brief, but again, the red backdrop adds surrealism to the scene modestly redeeming what is an otherwise uninspired giant monster battle.

Ironically, this astonishing episode works best when there aren't any monsters onscreen at all. The makers of ULTRASEVEN were often prone to experimentation with this series, and this episode is an example of that.

MONSTERS: Metron alien

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1

To be continued in Episode Nine: ANDROID ZERO DIRECTIVE!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #7

Episode Seven: SPACE CAPTIVE 303 (also listed as ALIEN PRISONER 303) *

Aboard Space Station V3, agent Mizuno receives multiple transmissions from an alien source, but has been unable to decipher them. Meanwhile, two hunters find a small, single passenger alien spacecraft in the woods and are attacked by the fish-eyed, gas drinking alien traveling inside. Upon transcribing the messages, it turns out the monster is a murderous fugitive escaped from an intergalactic prison. The Ultra Guard members and local police seek him out before the beast can kill more people. After the monster kidnaps Anne and hijacks one of the ships that make up the Ultra Hawk 1, the chase is on.

This is a mediocre show, and among the weakest, if not the weakest thus far; and not necessarily because there's no monster fight at the end. The Kyuraso grows to giant size, but never engages Ultraseven in action. It's also a fairly poor creature design and looks a lot like Eric Stoltz from MASK (1985). 

Unfortunately, you only see Ultraseven fleetingly as he transforms to escape the crashing of the Beta ship; one of three aerial ships that can link up to form a powerful flying machine.

As the Kyuraso has now gone Giant, he's encircled in flames and just seems to stand there. Apparently the shows makers had no idea where to go with the last two minutes. Instead of a monster battle, we're treated to a Moroboshi monologue instead just before the monster is blown to smithereens from all the gasoline it's consumed; a beast that would be pretty easy to destroy if you ask me.

This minor episode is essentially a Sci-Fi version of a cop show. It's an interesting premise, but flatly directed and never quite takes off till the finale. Only in the world of Japanese rubber suit mayhem will you see a news broadcast about an alien criminal at large. All citizens please remain indoors!

The nighttime air chase is about the best part of this one. The monster attacks on civilians are shot differently than usual. The camera hides the full form of the creature at first, as opposed to revealing him right away; possibly they knew it was best to hide this slapdash design till the last minute. However, that the beast can kill three people at a gas station in broad daylight and no one sees anything is hard to swallow, even for a Japanese monster series.

MONSTERS: Kyuraso (subbed here as Curio)

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1 (Alpha, Beta, Gamma)

To be continued in Episode eight: THE CURSED TOWN!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #6

Episode Six: THE DARK ZONE ****

Upon returning from investigating a mysterious light source, Dan is called to agent Anne Yuri's quarters after a strange shadow like figure appears there. Claiming to be injured, Dan and Anne sit and talk to the shadow shaped figure, although the alien is equally shadowy about answering questions. Meanwhile, central control receives an alien signal from the planet Pegassa asking that Earth adjust its orbit to avoid a collision that would destroy both the Earth and the Pegassan metropolis. In an effort to avert total annihilation, Commander Manabe orders the city of Pegassa destroyed. But the aliens have plans of their own as well.

Episode six poses another riveting idea; this time regarding interplanetary race relations. This is the best of the early episodes up to this point. It's not high on monster action till the end, and even then, neither Pegassa nor Ultraseven go Giant. This is more of a suspense programmer. The Pegassans are highly intelligent, if reticent. It's easy to figure them for antagonists considering how they avoid answering questions especially once they realize Earthlings aren't as technologically advanced as they thought.

It also paints a picture that, despite having faced many galactic foes up to this point, the Terrestrial Defense Force is openly naive, almost gullible in their trust of the mysterious alien shadow. This is diametrically opposed to the pretentiousness of the Pegassans who are pleaded with to evacuate their city as the Ultra Garrison has launched nuclear missiles to destroy them to prevent the collision. 

The Pegassans, believing themselves to be superior, do not accept that an inferior race such as human kind would be capable of destroying them. One could say the Pegassans represent the Japanese military in WW2 and the Terrestrial Defense Force the Allied Forces.

The episodes finale is also enthralling once the sole remaining Pegassan finally reveals his intentions were to destroy the Earth all along should the Pegassan scientists not divert their vast city's orbit. Both sides had the same goal of destruction, it just amounted to which one would get there first. Showing his true form, the Pegassa Seijin tells Anne to take Dan and leave as quickly as possible as he plans to send a bomb straight to the Earth's core that will destroy the planet. 

Upon confronting Ultraseven, Pegassa realizes his people are all dead. The creature escapes, Ultraseven removes the bomb and the Earth is safe once more. An unusually poignant episode, although fans looking for lots of effects and monster action may wish to skip this episode entirely.

It's worth noting the plot point of a devastating collision between the Earth and an enormous alien city recalls the plot of Ishiro Honda's obscure (in America) GORATH from 1962 about Earth's scientists coming together to devise a means to change the Earth's orbit to avoid colliding with a runaway planetoid dubbed Gorath.

MONSTERS: Pegassa alien

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1

To be continued with Episode Seven: SPACE CAPTIVE 303!!!

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