When the original 1954 version of Godzilla received an American theatrical release a couple of years ago, it even took viewers who'd seen the American version by surprise. The loss of dubbing and the extraneous Raymond Burr scenes, and the return of horrific sequences depicting the human cost of Godzilla's attack, restored the film's original scary solemnity. If there was ever any doubt that Godzilla served as a metaphor for the atom bomb, the re-release put it to rest. But some metaphors have a way of running away. By the time Godzilla returned for sequel after sequel—joined by oversized creatures he'd inspired—the big green monster didn't stand for much more than a big green monster.
But that's okay. Monsters can be fun, as the mid-'60s Japanese TV series Ultraman proved week after week. Created by Eiji Tsuburaya, who designed the original Godzilla, Ultraman brought the big-monster genre to the small screen. Each week, Susumu Kurobe, a Clark Kent-ish member of the snappily uniformed Science Patrol, would transform into the oversized hero Ultraman. Only able to maintain his Ultraman form for a limited time, he would attempt to wrestle dragons, steam-spewing platypus monsters, and other beasties into submission until the time limit required him to bring out big guns.
Calling Ultraman formulaic is insulting to formulas, but the predictability of the episodes is part of the show's strange charm, particularly for kids. (The series has continued off and on through the present, inspiring many imitators.) This first DVD set spotlights Japanese creature-makers at their most resourceful; the weekly grind required them to throw together ideas recklessly, with thrillingly ridiculous results. With apparently unlimited access to seaside locations and model kits, they create a Japan under constant threat from dinosaurs, sea monsters, and even laser-shooting mummies, all kept in check by the big guy in tights. It's the optimistic answer to all that post-war gloom and doom. Even when cities fall apart, there's always someone there to pick up the pieces.
Key features: A monster encyclopedia, interviews with the original dub team.