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Friday, January 9, 2015

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Episode #5


Directed by Toshihiro Iijima

Two men are found dead, one of which is famous botanist, Dr. Hiroshi Yamada. At the crime scene a strange substance is found. After Dr. Iwamoto inspects the viscous, sticky liquid, he uncovers both Chlorophyll and Mucin in the green slime. The mystery thickens when the Science Patrol learn that Yamada had been experimenting with exotic plant life; one in particular being a Miroganda found on Oirisu Island. More attacks occur, and each victim turns out to have been members of the Oirisu Island expedition. Only one remains, the beautiful photographer, Setsuko Hamaguchi. The Science Patrol offer protection, and end up battling the killer plant, only to witness it grow to giant size after it absorbs the energy from their laser gun blasts.

What could have been a four star episode about a killer plant ends up wilting and dying by the time it's over. The storyline by Keisuke Fujikawa is initially a strong piece of work, beginning with an air of horror; but the more we see of the beast, the less interesting, and sillier it gets. The creature doesn't attack at random; this particular bit of raging plant life has a vendetta against the exploratory team for drinking the special water found on Oirisu Island. Possibly the writers of JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) were inspired by this episode? No explanation is given as to how the thing got to civilization to track down its victims, yet the monsters "evolution" is at least intriguing. The Miroganda flower (Miloganda in the dubbed version) is actually its adult stage. Dr. Yamada's experiments (which include growing enormous carrots) cause the flower he brought back to revert to its aggressive larval stage. As for the monster itself....

The yellow-eyed, one-armed, poison-spewing vegetation looks like a cross between the people-eating, walking alien carpet in THE CREEPING TERROR (1964), and a potato that's gone bad. It also recalls Hedorah from GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971). Despite limited mobility, Greenmons possesses the unique ability to deflate its body and slither under thin surfaces to get at its victims. Allegedly the work of monster suit modeler Ryosaku Takayama, it's not one of his best works.

What lets this one down is not just the monster suit design, but the climactic duel between Greenmons and Ultraman. It really isn't much of a battle, and is over rather quickly. Ultraman drop-kicks it into a building. Greenmons blinds Ultraman with its poison spray. Ultraman sets the monster on fire with his Specium Ray. Crispy bits of Greenmons scatter in the wind. Plant monsters have been seen elsewhere in the alien superhero canon (and previously in ULTRA Q), but Greenmons is among the least impressive. 

Suit actors at Tsuburaya warehouse L to R: Yamamura Tetsuo, Teruo Aragaki, Haruyoshi Nakamura, Kunio Suzuki, Minami Akira

Haruyoshi Nakamura (above in middle) was inside the Greenmon suit. Nakamura first became a suit actor on the ULTRA Q series debuting as the rock monster Gorgos from episode seven. This was his first job on ULTRA MAN. He would later play one of the bat men in LATITUDE ZERO (1969) and also Kameba, the giant turtle in Ishiro Honda's flimsy YOG, MONSTER FROM SPACE (1970). 

The nighttime in-studio photography sets a nice mood and Matoba Toru's SPX direction has a couple nice shots tucked away in there. Some innovation is present in a number of scenes where green slime slides down the screen leading into the next scene. The use of B/W film for a flashback sequence adds some variety. The mystery angle in Keisuke Fujikawa's script creates a nice atmosphere for about half the episode. Fujikawa was a prolific writer of dozens of novels, anime, and tokusatsu television. This was his first of five scripts written for ULTRAMAN. Some of his work for the series would go unrealized. 

Akiko Wakabayashi guest stars as photographer, Setsuko Hamaguchi. She's the sole surviving member of the team that succumbed to Greenmons rampage. Wakabayashi starred in a few of Toho's SciFi-Monster movies, most notably in GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1965). She also starred in Toho's spy film, KEY OF KEYS in 1965, and became a Bond girl in 1967 in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

A recurring character on ULTRAMAN is that of Dr. Iwamoto. Essaying him is Dr. Serizawa himself, Akihiko Hirata. A familiar face in many of the best Toho monster movies, Hirata appeared in countless Japanese television shows in regular roles, or guest spots. 

Toshihiro Iijima's third (of six) directed program is the least of his Ultra work thus far. As the Science Patrol inventor and clown, Ide's comic shenanigans subdue some of the seriousness, but it's a kids show, after all. As specified, there's ideas here, but the episode as a whole doesn't sufficiently bloom. 'Secret of the Miroganda' had the lowest rating of the entire series run. But at 29%, that's not a bad showing.

MONSTERS: Greenmons
WEAPONS: Jet V-TOL; Spider Shot

To be continued in Episode 6: THE COAST GUARD COMMAND!!!

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