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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Episode #7


Directed by Nagase Samaji

A meteorite crashes near a village close to Mt. Ararat in the Middle East. Strange occurrences are reported and the Science Patrol, along with Doctor Adam Jeffers, fly overseas to investigate. Upon nearing the area where the meteorite fell, the Science Patrol are forced to land after a strange beam of light interferes with the ship's controls. The team soon encounter a giant beetle monster that quickly destroys the VTOL. Now stranded, the patrol make their way to a nearby settlement lorded over by the telepathic Princess Chartham. The beautiful princess tells them a 5,000 year old story about this ancient monster being defeated by the God of Noa possessing a magical blue stone. Building a stone statue of their savior holding the stone in his palm, the effigy is strangely familiar to a certain interplanetary savior from M-78. 

The director of the composite-heavy episode 4 and the cocoa-craving creature of episode 6 returns for this vastly entertaining, serious segment that crams a feature-length worthy storyline into a 25 minute mini-epic.

In addition to a script marinated with an international flavor, director and co-writer Nagase Samaji swap out the all-too familiar cityscapes and water based sets for a desert location in the Middle East. It might seem like a bland setting, but the crew at Tsuburaya Productions bring it to life with a healthy dose of mythology and monsters.

One of the Ultra series' most popular monsters debuts here, the giant beetle-like ant-lion, Antlar. Another Ryosaku Takayama creation, Antlar is one of the more intricate designs of the prolific monster maker. With its seemingly impenetrable exo-skeleton, Antlar is able to repel Ultraman's death-dealing Specium Ray. His other weapons include a magnetic ray emitted from its enormous mandibles; and burrowing abilities that come in handy during the concluding battle with Ultraman.

The battle itself isn't too exciting, which is a shame since Antlar is, up to this point, the most exotic looking monster yet seen. The depiction of Ultraman as vulnerable, nearly beaten by his opponent likely riled up a lot of kids when it premiered. I remember being startled a handful of times by this series when I saw it as a small boy.

Teruo Arakaki is credited with being inside the Antlar suit, although Nakamura Harekichi (who played plant monster Green Mons in episode 5) is seen in pre-production photos (see above insert) wearing the costume for creature creator Ryosaku Takayama (far right in above insert). Antlar was one of the handful of monsters seen in ULTRAMAN EVE (THE BIRTH OF ULTRAMAN), a live special inside an auditorium designed to introduce the character and some of its antagonists that aired July 10th, 1966. On this occasion, suit actor Izumi Umenosuke was inside the Antlar costume.

The script (by director Nagase Samaji and Kinjo Tetsuo) goes into surprisingly profound territory. Giant monster movies had frequently displayed a fascination for native cultures who worshiped gods, but on this occasion the story contains glaring biblical elements. Both Samaji's and Tetsuo's screenplay tinker with the theories of ancient aliens visiting the Earth and being responsible for man's civilization, his culture, and his religion. This being a 25 minute monster show, the script writers find a way to link Ultraman with theology and the sort of conjecture popularized in Erich Von Daniken's 'Chariots of the Gods?' published in 1968.

The alien from M-78 is linked with those ancient astronauts in that another, or others like him had been to the Earth centuries before, destined to return again. Noa (or Noah), seen in the form of a stone statue within the city of Baraji, is supposed to be the oldest of the Ultra aliens. The character appears in later Ultra series's and has a pivotal role in the adult-oriented ULTRAMAN NEXUS (2004-2005). 

The blue stone gripped in the palm of the statue of Noa is what actually defeats the monster, putting a nice spin on a mythology still in its infancy. For a show aimed primarily at children and prone to nostalgic fits of joy for grownups, it's intriguing to find cerebral ideas, subtle as they are, sprinkled throughout the occasional program.

Elsewhere, there's a few (obvious) matte paintings that accentuate the location change. One of which is a nice painting of the Baraji city. The open set of the main castle was the same one seen in the same year's Toshiro Mifune action-fantasy, ADVENTURE IN KIGAN CASTLE (1966) directed by Senkichi Taniguchi.

'The Blue Stone of Baraji' was the fourth episode produced but the seventh to air, on August 28th, 1966.

One of the best, most fascinating episodes of this series, 'The Blue Stone of Baraji' gets bonus points for its epic feel and radical change of scenery. Within the span of 25 minutes, we get an exotic locale, primordial Ultra backstory, and a memorable monster that Ultraman doesn't defeat. 

Next time, ULTRAMAN ramps up the monster action and introduces one of the goofiest, but one of the most popular creatures that had been seen previously in Tsuburaya's monsterless SciFi series, ULTRA Q (1965-1966).

WEAPONS: Jet VTOL, Spider Shot, Super Gun

To be continued in Episode 8: THE LAWLESS MONSTER ZONE!!!

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