After watching Christopher Nolan’s stunning Batman trilogy, it would be fascinating to imagine what that filmmaker would do with the quintessential Japanese superhero, Ultraman.
Unfortunately, that’s just never going to happen, so Ultraman remains stuck in the same kind of cheesy retro land that Batman once occupied. But cheesy or not, there is no denying Ultraman’s enormous influence as a prototypical figure in Japanese manga, anime, and TV, as well as his endearing appeal for children. This is exactly why this show at the Museum of Modern Art Saitama is being held during the school holidays.
The show has more or less what you would expect, with models and artwork used in the making of the TV series. This means lots of scale models like the diorama of the secret base for the “Ultra Police” and human-sized suits of giant monsters made from latex. Some of these, like the mask used to depict Gomora, a monstrous 40-meter-tall opponent, are clearly a lot worse for wear, testifying to the action-packed nature of the Ultraman TV series. Others, like the costume for the fiendishly clawed Alien Baltan are in remarkably good condition and ready to pose for photographs with visitors.
One of the most fascinating items at the exhibition is a relatively simple rotating machine with painted clouds that is used, along with a tiny model of Ultraman and a few pieces of cotton wool, to create scenes of Ultraman flying. In a world where CGI now makes too much possible, items like this point to a magical era where the imagination drew strength from the technical limitations it had to constantly overcome. Perhaps this, rather than Ultraman’s many battles against his monstrous foes, is the really fascinating struggle enshrined in this exhibition.
Museum of Modern Art Saitama, until Sep 2. (listing).