Sunday, January 21, 2018

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #30

Episode 30: Whom Takes the Glory (EIKO WA DARE NO TAME NI) ***1/2

Other titles: Trial By War (English dubbed title)

Directed by Shunsetsu Suzuki

With battle maneuvers scheduled for Ultra Squad members in spite of strange earthquake phenomena in the area, Furahashi and Amagi brush up on their guns skills at the shooting range. There they meet a crack shot named Aoki, who happens to be a new Garrison trainee. When an unidentified ship is detected, Aoki eagerly wishes to be the one to investigate. Furahashi tags along in case something goes wrong. It's all part of the maneuvers--with Commander Kiriyama and Dan masquerading as the "enemy ship". The brash Aoki is a little too much of a Top Gun, though. 

Acting on impulse, he later ditches Dan while setting a radar sensor and begins using the Pointer's Missile Defenses against a strange burrowing vessel emerging from the ground. Curiously, Aoki never reveals to Dan what he saw. Unknown to everyone else, Aoki sets a transmitter aboard the Magmalizer as a beacon for the unseen enemy that ultimately costs some lives. During the maneuvers, alien invaders hijack the Magmalizer and tank formations in an attempt to wipe out Ultra Squad.

Unlike the previous episode, #30 is a perfect balance of characterization and action. This is an explosion-heavy installment with lots of planes, rockets and tanks. The Pointer gets more screen time showcasing some of its futuristic hardware, too. The alien invaders even utilize similar weaponry (see insert) to the Ultra Guard's Magmalizer. Curiously, the monster department is where 'Whom Takes the Glory' is lax.  

Alien Plachiku is a peculiar creation. In the annals of Japanese Tokusatsu there have been some seriously wacky monsters; but their outrageousness was part of the design. Plachiku was from monster creator Toru Narita and the suit built by Ryosuke Takayama. Curiously, Narita's original design heavily emphasized the skeletal features. The final monster appears slapped together, looking like an exfoliating bath sponge with two big breasts on its face. Neither Narita nor Takayama envisioned the sponge-like plastic bits stuck all over the skeleton-like suit; this was reportedly done by others in the art department. Kunio Suzuki is inside the monster suit.

We learn nothing about the alien's origins since there's not a lot of time between Aoki's self-aggrandizing actions and the constant display of guns, rockets, and other military hardware invading the screen (this is a good thing, though). According to sources, Alien Plachiku's homeworld is made of plastic. The monster's weapons include a mist that petrifies its victims.... including Ultraseven. This is a rare occasion where the monster is seemingly destroyed, but upon reduced to its bony form, it's still alive.

Aside from the plethora of action, the highlight is the character of Aoki--whose attitude is referenced in the title. You're not sure where he stands at first, but his penchant for being a hot-head is established from his first appearance. A "Shoot First, Ask Questions Later" kind of guy, he ultimately suffers for his impetuousness. Actually, others suffer for it as well. Keisuke Fujikawa's screenplay is well over the top in depicting Aoki's erratic, narcissistic behavior, but actor Yamaguchi Takehisa harnesses the character's mannerisms and makes Aoki one of the most memorable of the series.

The year prior to appearing on U7, Takehisa starred in an episode of the popular AMBASSADOR MAGMA (1966-1967) series. He would share the screen with actress Chie Yamaguchi, the lady he would make his wife in 1972. In 1973, Takehisa was Riderman, Joji Yuki in MASKED RIDER V3 (1973-1974), a role he would reprise several times over the course of that wildly popular Tokusatsu series.

Sadly, Yamaguchi Takehisa would die at just 41 years old on April 6th, 1986 from liver cancer just 4 days after leaving hospital. His last work was in BIRTH OF THE 10TH! KAMEN RIDERS ALL TOGETHER! (1984).

Director Suzuki got his start as an actor, but later became an AD for Eiji Iwaki at Toho. Iwaki himself had been an AD on GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955); and a film where Suzuki had been an actor. Suzuki later became a director in his own right--predominantly in television work. Invited by fellow director Kazuho Mitsuda to work at Tsuburaya Productions, he became an AD on ULTRA Q and later was given command of the directors chair on ULTRAMAN beginning with episode 25. Both Suzuki and Mitsuda helmed 14 U-7 episodes.

Beginning with episode 29, the series began a slow dip in the ratings that would last for a good stretch of episodes before ascending to levels from earlier in the run.

If it weren't for the lackadaisical monster, this would be a near perfect piece of small screen SciFi escapism. Still, it's an enormous amount of fun--being that rare occasion where a human character is more interesting than the monster.
MONSTERS: Alien Plachiku
WEAPONS: TDF Pointer; Ultra Guard F-4 Fighter Plane

To be continued in episode 31: THE DEVIL WHO DWELLS IN A FLOWER!!!

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