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Ultraman Goes West
What does this mean for the future of Ultraman?
By Basil Yeo Posted in Columns, News, Ultraman on December 12, 2018
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If you were on social media earlier this morning, you would have stumbled upon this exclusive from The Hollywood Reporter.

Free from the shackles of a two decade-long legal battle with Chaiyo and its licensees, Tsuburaya Productions is quickly making up for lost time by announcing a partnership with US-based transmedia producer Starlight Runner Entertainment to develop the show outside Japan, with the hopes of securing the future of the franchise globally.

And this makes me excited. So excited.

Back in 2015, I wrote an article highlighting my concerns about the state of the franchise as it approached its 50th anniversary and well, I’m glad to say that my fears have almost quashed following this announcement.

It’s simply fantastic that Tsuburaya still sees the potential for an Ultraman outside Japan after a couple of failed attempts and twenty years of being ‘cockblocked’ by Chaiyo. It shows that they truly believe in Ultraman as a hero for the entire world and not just Japan, and I believe it too. 

I am excited for a foreign Ultraman adaptation because I have been dying to see how far and how creatively the basic premise can be stretched. There are so many ways an Ultraman story can be told outside Japan, and with the number of platforms available today, there is also much potential for the stories to be tailored to suit the preferences of various age groups. Think of it this way, Ultraman shows preach justice, love, peace, integrity and so on, which are universal values that are applicable to most cultures worldwide. 

The problem, however, is that when these shows are brought overseas, a lot of these elements get lost in the transposition exercise simply because it’s written specifically for a Japanese audience, thus reducing the show once again to its most basic premise – giant spaceman versus kaijuu spectacle. Some may be able to push past the language barrier, but most viewers won’t.

That’s not to say action isn’t an important element to getting Ultraman right. Two failed adaptations with lacklustre action scenes provide ample cause for improvement in that regard, but more must be done to capture the imagination of audiences who have been treated to more than a decade of philosophically-rich superhero movies from Marvel and DC, while staying true to the heart of the character.

For Ultraman to succeed outside Japan, he needs to be seen as more than a rubber-suited brute, and that’s exactly what they are hiring Starlight Runner to do, and after studying their company profile, I have immense faith that Tsuburaya is taking Ultraman in the right direction.

And as a non-Japanese Asian filmmaker living outside Japan, this just raised my odds of working with Tsuburaya to produce Ultraman from zero to one percent. The Plasma Spark Tower is shining as bright as ever.

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