By Jake Watt
17th June 2023

What does the "Shin" in "Shin Ultraman" actually mean? It's written in katakana, indicating there is no meaning attached to the characters like there would be if it was written in kanji. It could mean a bunch of stuff, like "new", "true", "advanced", or "divine being". The popular theory is that it's just a cool way of saying "reboot".

'Shin Ultraman', ' Shin Godzilla' and the upcoming 'Shin Kamen Rider' are all reboots of tokusatsu movies, directed by Shinji Higuchi and written by Hideaki Anno, connected by the barest narrative thread but existing in the same universe.

The Ultraman superhero series debuted with 'Ultra Q' and then 'Ultraman' in 1966 and has spawned an insane amount of media including television series, films, comic books, novels, video games, and other merchandise. He's the Japanese equivalent of Superman. There's even a Marvel connection - Peyton Reed, the director of the 'Ant-Man' films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, said that Ant-Man's costume design was influenced by Ultraman.


No prior knowledge of Ultraman is necessary to enjoy 'Shin Ultraman', but it does act as a companion piece of sorts to 'Shin Godzilla'. Whereas 'Shin Godzilla' directly criticised government incompetence and drew an unflattering image of how Japan handles disasters, 'Shin Ultraman' starts with establishing the SSSP, a scientific group of genius agents who analyse the weaknesses of each new kaiju from a base of operations called Ultra Q. As the opening five minutes or so establishes, this is a fast-paced film with a lot of talking, but is shot in a way that keeps every conversation visually interesting.

We are introduced to the SSSP team, including new member Hiroko Asami (Masami Nagasawa), who is partnered with our protagonist, Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh). At the site of a kaiju attack that leads to the unexpected arrival of Ultraman (referred to as a "silver giant"), Kaminaga is killed by a piece of flying debris while protecting a child. Ultraman takes up residence in Kaminaga's body, and returns to the daily life of his human alter ego. We don't see much of Kaminaga prior to merging, but his personality is shown to be strait-laced and direct, which Ultraman either impersonates or is even more so.

Instead of going for strict realism, the kaiju are a rubbery mix of puppetry, dudes in suits and CGI, which makes them quite charming and expressive.

The team (and Ultraman) clash with more kaiju, moving quickly between each new threat. As a TV series adapted into a film, 'Shin Ultraman' is crammed with plot, human characters and aliens. It feels like a live-action anime adaptation - it's no surprise that the film is written and edited by Hideaki Anno, of 'Neon Genesis Evangelion' fame.

As an almost complete newcomer to Ultraman, I was charmed by the retro sci-fi action and quirky aliens. Instead of going for strict realism, the kaiju are a rubbery mix of puppetry, dudes in suits and CGI, which makes them unusually expressive. From a design standpoint, my personal favourite was Zarab, who introduces himself to Ultra Q as an alien who is friendly to the Japanese government, dressed in a cloak with a little fedora hat on his big head. And who could forget Zoffy, a golden giant who arrives to destroy the solar system containing Earth, as per the orders of the Land of Light?

'Shin Ultraman' is an utterly charming film, even for a neophyte such as myself. It looks great, it's funny, the performances are fantastic, and the frantic pacing of the story makes the film feel tighter and shorter than it is. Bring on 'Shin Kamen Rider'!

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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