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Friday, April 18, 2014

From Beyond Television: The Return of Ultraman Episode #7



Directed by Ishiro Honda

Goh, Jiro, Aki, and Ken are all on a mountain excursion. While enjoying the day, Jiro takes a photograph of Goh and his girlfriend atop a precipice. As they pose, Goh's super hearing picks up a shrill sound that nobody else hears. Later, Aki has the pictures developed and to her surprise, some sort of monster has photo bombed their picture without them knowing it. MAT investigates the location and comes up with nothing except scratch marks on some rocks by the river. They think that little Jiro has somehow doctored the photo as a prank. When the monster does reveal itself, MAT members discover it's a rock-like chameleon beast, assimilating with its surroundings. They devise the 'Rainbow Plan', an air and ground maneuver where the Monster Attack Team will pellet the thing with a myriad amount of colors so that the monster will remain visible.

This episode is of special significance in that it's one of five directed by master of Japanese giant monster movies, Ishiro Honda; who, for the first time since directing YOG, MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970), turned to directing monsters on the small screen. Unfortunately, this episode is not as good as the series opener that Honda also directed. Shozo Uehara's script is awkward, and kinda jarring to say the least.

The program starts off very strong echoing a robust sense of mystery. What are those strange high-pitched noises that only Goh can hear? How is it this monster was picked up in Jiro's photo, but remained unseen by the human eye? None of these questions are sufficiently answered (the piercing sound is obviously from the monster, but once we see him, it's not heard again), and the suspense angle is abandoned a few minutes later. MAT finally becomes aware a monster does exist -- in the form of a rock-like creature named Gorbagos (Gorubagosu)

Curiously, the monster is glaringly benevolent. A scene with some rock n' rolling teenagers shows the creature is disinterested in harming anyone so long as he's not disturbed; yet MAT is persistent in killing the beast. Goh even comes to the conclusion that "it'll run away when we attack it in the daytime. But at night, it becomes monstrous." Oddly enough, we never see Gorbagos become monstrous at any point. The bulk of the episode is MAT members, grinning from ear to ear, trying to kill the poor thing.

This is among the clutch of 'blood lust' episodes dotted throughout the Ultra series' (up to this point) wherein the science investigative unit mercilessly pelt seemingly benign beasts with laser fire and rockets. Then when Ultraman appears, he throttles the monster (who tries to get away virtually the entire time) before killing it, then flying away, and successfully making himself out to be the villain of the piece.

Possibly due to budget constraints, the action is confined to rocky terrain in what is described as Hell Valley -- a mountain region with a river and plentiful fauna unlike any artist interpretation of what hell is supposed to look like.

What's good about this episode is that it delivers what most folks watch these shows for in the first place -- the action. For episode seven, said action is virtually non-stop, and there's a rather well stage final fight. There's also some nice work manipulating the MAT Arrow model jet fighter. Instead of the 'straight line flight pattern' of previous series', they now perform spiral moves while in combat against the monsters.

Despite MAT, and humans in general antagonizing the hell out of him, Gorbagos is the least threatening looking kaiju of U-JACK thus far. The suit designed for him looks to have been a rushed affair; not to mention the back entrance of the suit is visibly open on a couple of occasions. Of the monsters weapons, Gorbagos burrows underground and has a fireball attack. His battle with U-Jack is a highlight, even if the good guys come off as bad guys in this one. Eiichi Kikuchi as Ultraman puts his martial arts background to good use here with a few flips, chops and throws. The modified suplex U-Jack gives to his rock monster opponent doesn't appear to be wire enhanced; and if not, it's a testament to Kikuchi's abilities.

After the ruthless MAT and co-conspirator Ultraman have brutally snuffed out Gorbagos, the last scene turns all sappy as MAT admires the rainbow that has suddenly appeared across the sky ("It's going to Heaven"). Toru Fuyuki's pleasing, cheerful end cue, combined with the big rainbow, attempts to leave the audience with a smile on their face in spite of the violence perpetrated on a big monster whose only crime against humanity was just wishing to peacefully sleep soundly within rock formations. For its jarring tone alone, it's barely average, but Ishiro Honda directing will be this episodes major drawing point for fans.

MONSTERS: Gorbagos
WEAPONS: MAT Arrow 1; MAT Gyro; MAT Gun; MAT Bazooka

To be continued in Episode 8: MONSTER TIME BOMB!!!

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