The TokuNet Film Club: Ultraman Zearth
In that strange time known as the mid 1990’s, there was a hero…who really hated getting himself dirty.
The story of Zearth is straight forward – you have a hero who has to overcome his own fears to protect the people and planet he loves. (and stop a monster bent on using all of Earth’s gold to keep itself alive and blow the planet up) This movie introduces MYDO, a worldwide organization tasked with defending the planet from monsters. Katsuto Asahi, played by Masaharu Sekiguchi, former manager of the comedy duo Tunnels, is a member of MYDO Japan, but due to his intense agoraphobia, he was never able to progress during his training. As a result of his lack of training, Katsuto is stuck as a janitor for the gas station MYDO Japan uses as their secret base. Secretly, he is actually Ultraman Zearth. When the rest of the team are out on missions, our hero uses his lowly status to his advantage and transforms, helping out his team in secret.
And that’s about as deep as the movie gets. You’ve got a basic plot, but not much more. It’s an interesting idea, but this movie has a very difficult time following up on this. The movie is short, very short. At only 51 minutes, it’s not quite as short as a Sentai movie, but for all that went into it, the viewer doesn’t get the best experience out of the time spent watching it. Thanks to that short running time though, you’re not exactly wasting an inordinate amount of time.
Ultraman Zearth was released as part of the 30th anniversary for the Ultraman franchise (and as promotion for a new brand of gasoline) and the reason for its run time being so short is because it was actually a triple-bill theater showing, meaning you had three back-to-back-to-back movies playing. Zearth was released alongside Revive! Ultraman, a pseudo-sequel to the original series and Ultraman Company, an animated short film. There was a sequel the following year, Ultraman Zearth 2: The Great Giant Battle – Light and Shadow, that was also part of a triple-bill but ran for a tad bit longer at 66 minutes.
The movie does unfortunately suffer a great deal thanks to having to share the spotlight with two other productions. As a viewer, you’re thrown into the story very fast, and not in a good way. I almost felt as if I was starting out at the middle of the thing rather than the actual beginning. A lot of the details are either untouched or left for the viewer to figure out here. Granted, there aren’t a whole lot of details to figure out, but it would have been nice for this movie to give us something better in terms of structure.
Zearth takes a different approach to itself from the other Ultraman productions – it’s very clearly supposed to be a comedy. Our hero is a guy who is deadly afraid of germs (he transforms with a toothbrush!), even in his Ultraman form, when he’s practicing his attacks, he goes nuts after he gets mud on his hands and rushes to a waterfall to wash himself off. This leads to the enemy of the movie, played by none other than Takeshi Kaga, to put two and two together and realize the timid germapobe gas attendant he regularly encounters is Zearth. This is sadly one of the few times we actually see Zearth in the movie. There are about two actual times our hero transforms, the first was merely for a gag, and the second for the final battle. (which in itself is uneventful but has a cool little midair chop attack)
The rest of the movie is essentially fluff. You have a silly little story about Katsuto needing to realize germs aren’t the worst thing in the world and that it’s all in his head, a few cameos from original series actors, oh, and did I mention? Freakin’ Takeshi Kaga. There are some exquisite shots sprinkled throughout the piece, but the viewer still gets the sensation of it being a bit of a rush job here. And it’s such a shame, the concept is interesting and the movie isn’t boring, I had fun watching it, but it feels like you’re watching a clip show from a full series rather than a movie.
I haven’t seen the second movie in the series, but this one did leave me interested enough that I have some hope that a longer run time will take care of a lot of this movie’s problems. The seemingly small budget didn’t bother me, it’s tokusatsu, so you can do a lot with a little. And it’s one of the earliest instances of true CGI in tokusatsu, so I’m sure that also took a chunk of monetary funds as well.
If you’re bored and looking for something to kill some time with, give Ultraman Zearth a watch. It is by no means required viewing for the best Ultraman experience, but there are worse tokusatsu productions out there. It probably won’t leave the strongest impression, but it’s an interesting snapshot of a time before Ultraman had come back strong with Ultraman Tiga.
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