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Monday, February 4, 2013

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #11



"Dan Moroboshi was a hero to the whole Defense Force. We can't tell the other agents about his death at a time like this."

The Ultra Guard seek answers into the deaths of over two dozen people at Mt. Iwami. While there, Dan is apparently killed by an assassin using an unusual rifle. A man on horseback is seen escaping the scene. The remaining members of the team then investigate a creepy cave with monstrous sounds emanating from it. Meanwhile, Amagi learns that this rifle is some sort of lethal camera that traps the souls of its victims inside the gun while their body is lifeless in the real world. Back at the cave, a hairy ape-like creature appears stating to be from the planet Wild. Needing youths to survive, the alien barters for the return of the ingeniously evil rifle. Tricked by the Ultra squad, the being transforms into the metallic snake creature, Narse. The Ultra Hawk 1 engages the monster in an aerial fight till Dan's soul is returned allowing Ultraseven to save the day.

There's a lot to talk about regarding this episode and its curious blend of Cowboys & Aliens. Outside of being overly silly, confusing and extremely bizarre even by Japanese Tokusatsu standards, it also has some fascinating science fiction elements mixed with goofy monsters. 

The Narse creature (called Narcsis on these subs) looks similar to Manda, the snake creature that debuted in ATRAGON (1963), was featured in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) and also in the execrable GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004). Like Manda, it resembles a Chinese dragon, only this interplanetary snake is made of metal. It's Mecha-Manda!

The creature has the ability to transform into a spaceship and also gives Ultraseven a slight bit of difficulty during the big fight at the end. Some plot elements are recycled from episode ten; ie the inter-dimensional concept and others would turn up in the banned twelfth episode -- the use of youths to resuscitate the populace of a dying planet.

The ape looking monster from the bizarrely named planet Wild is yet another hyperactive Seijin who talks with his hands, flailing his limbs like he's had a few too many candy bars. The Wild alien is an apt description of this creatures design. There is also an incredible amount of special effects in this episode including various opticals and mattes.

The theme of superstition runs through this programmer and apparently the connotations of Friday the 13th have no cultural bounds as the notorious date is discussed at one point between Sogo and Moroboshi. 

There's a major cliffhanger here, Dan's supposed death, which no doubt made many a kid cry back then. Once the "soul" function of the devilish photographic weapon is unraveled, Dan's not so dead after all. The camera rifle itself is far and away the most engaging aspect of this one, and a very memorable piece of  science fiction weaponry. It's too bad the entirety of the episode isn't as elaborate.

The one mis-step is the inclusion of a bunch of Japanese cowboys. One is even decked out in a sombrero and pancho! There's an attempt to paint one of the cowboys as something resembling a red herring, but this goes nowhere fast. The handful of scenes featuring these Japanese men and their wild west lifestyle add a surrealism to the sci-fi backdrop of this episode. It's yet another instance of complete and total peculiarity where Japanese fantasy is concerned. 


It's also worth mentioning agent Amagi who, thus far, hasn't really distinguished himself from the rest of the Ultra Guard. Here, he stands out as something of a Japanese version of James Bond's trusty weapons creator, Q. He is able to figure out the usage of this alien rifle and also learns how to reverse its effect on those shot with it. It took two viewings to fully appreciate the outright weirdness this 25 minutes of ULTRASEVEN brings to the table.

MONSTERS: Narse; Narcsis, Wild Seijin

WEAPONS: Rocket Rifles, Camera Rifle (fires a deadly beam of light that seemingly kills the victim, but sends their soul to a two dimensional universe); Electro-H Gun (a special rifle that looks like a compact gatling gun that fires automatic rounds).

To be continued in Episode Twelve: FROM ANOTHER PLANET WITH LOVE!!!

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