Saturday, May 10, 2014

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Episode #2


Directed by Toshihiro Iijima

"Why don't you go live on Mars!"

Late one night, a UFO is spotted over Japan. After a run-in with a strange, insectoid creature that leaves a few humans in suspended animation, a Defense Council meeting is held as to what to do with this potential menace from another world. Captain Muramatsu decides the best way is to attempt to communicate with it. When this goes sour, the aliens take control of Arashi's body and declare their true purpose -- to colonize the Earth with their own race, billions of which, are already here.

The second episode of ULTRAMAN is simplicity with its tale of invaders from outer space. Virtually every interplanetary conqueror attacked Earth (mostly in Japan) in the 1960s and 70s. This one, known as Alien Baltan, became one of the most popular Ultra adversaries. An insectoid creature with scissor-like claws that emit red freeze beams and explosive attacks, the Baltans fled their homeworld after their own scientists destroyed it with nuclear testing. Possessing the ability to shrink their bodies into bacterial forms, they can maneuver virtually undetected. The bug-crustacean-like beings can multiply itself via holographic imagery. Over 2 billion (60 billion in the dubbed version) of them live aboard their invisible ship.

Toru Narita (blueprint for Sanda and Gaira from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS) designed the Baltan (see sketch at left) while Sasaki Kimyo (masks for Ultraman and U7) modeled the monster on Ryosaku Takayama's existing suit for the Semi-human Cicada alien from episode 16 of ULTRA Q, 'Garamon's Counterattack'. Narita was reportedly dissatisfied with the final result for some of his creations, including Baltan and those enormous scissor claw hands of his. Takeshi Sato was inside the suit for the popular alien's debut.

Baltan appeared once more in the original ULTRAMAN in episode 16, and many other times over the course of the Ultra shows that followed. Additionally, as a testament to the monsters popularity, Tokyo's Billboard Live News featured a collaboration between French pop singer Sylvie Vartan and Alien Baltan in their February issue from 2013. The magazine featured information on the origins of the popular unfriendly alien and an interview with this episodes director, Toshihiro Iijima.

Screenwriter Senzoku Kitaotoko (director Iijima under a pseudonym) keeps things moving at a fair clip, if offering up some muddled details. At one point the alien that has taken over Arashi's body states they're only on Earth to repair their ship, but a few seconds later, he exclaims they're going to take over the planet. The episode is unnecessarily told in flashback while acting as a comedic showcase for Nihei Masaya, who plays Ide (Ito in the English version; seen in above picture). Some of his schtick is genuinely funny, and other bits are just goony. The framing device of Ide's inability to go to sleep leading to a black eye is forgotten about till the last minute. It adds nothing to the story aside from cementing Ide as the clown prince of the Science Patrol.

Where this episode excels is in its exciting finale culminating in an aerial dogfight between Ultraman and Baltan. It's not just two models of the two beings suspended on wires chasing each other, they clash and brawl in flight. Some of Matoru Toba's photographic shots are very creative and are rarely, if ever seen much again in later shows. Some of these eye-catching moments include shots where the camera is fixed above the miniature cityscape. Ultraman flies below as Alien Baltan fires on him. The camera is almost always shooting the flying scenes from the same angle every time, so seeing shots like these are intriguing in comparing with later shows. 

For the first time Ultraman battles a foe at night. The nighttime duels always had a surreal quality about them. Ultraman also debuts his X-Ray Perspective Beam (akin to the high beams on your car) to find the invisible ship of the Baltans.

There was definitely some experimentation going on that would dissipate over the years. ULTRAMAN was a series that got progressively better with each episode. Other Ultra programs would fluctuate in terms of quality and energy. This first Ultra hero show was primarily consistent. Each succeeding episode would feature little nuances in its SPX shots that seemed to vanish in later years.

MONSTERS: Alien Baltan
WEAPONS: Spider Shot

To be continued in Episode Three: SCIENCE PATROL, MOVE OUT!!!

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.