Shinji Higuchi and Tomoya Nishino attended the North American premiere of Shin Ultraman, and participated in a Q&A after the film.
The 2022 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) took place this past July, from the 15th – 31st. On July 23rd, Shin Ultraman saw it’s North American debut at the festival. The film premiered with the original audio, with English subtitles included. Also in attendance on this day was Director Shinji Higuchi and Producer Tomoya Nishino, who participated in a Q&A after the film, answering various questions from staff of NYAFF and fans alike.
Higuchi and Nishino both answered the questions in Japanese, with a translator on stage translating and reciting their answers on their behalf.
When did you first realize you were a major otaku and when did your obsession with Ultraman begin?
Higuchi: Let me clarify that I am not an otaku, there are many major otaku out there and I am not one of them, I am one of the smaller scale otaku. In terms of when I first saw Ultraman, I can’t recall because it was when I was 1 or 2 years old, but I think there was some sort of “infanting” that took place at that time. I was really raised by Ultraman and Godzilla.
Mr. Nishino you are actually the main producer and are a younger person for a job this big, are you a Higuchi fan-boy? How did you end up becoming producer for this project?
Nishino: I myself am a very large Ultraman fan. Being born in 1987 I missed the Showa-era Ultraman, but I was able to see it when it was rebroadcasted on TV. My mom would video tape it on VHS, so maybe when I was 3-5 years old I was able to watch it. This really sparked my interest in film, to the point that I entered Toho, the studio that makes Godzilla. I actually prefer Ultraman to Godzilla, but that’s who I ended up working for. In terms of this film, I started as an assistant producer but it was the screenplay and working with Higuchi and the screenwriter Anno, this was really appealing to me. Of course I am not the only producer, there are three main producers, and I was one of them. I was so grateful to have this experience and I also feel like it allows me to give back to Ultraman.
Higuchi: If I could share a tidbit about Nishino, his thesis that he wrote a his thesis in college on Tohl Narita, who originally designed Ultraman and the Kaiju of the original series.
How did it feel for both of you to see the film with the first American Audience?
Higuchi: I was very moved. I was happy to see the audience was very receptive to the ironic dialogue created by Mr. Anno and hearing everyone laughing was very thrilling to me. With Japanese audience they do not make as much noise when they’re appreciating content, so there won’t be an audible laugh, so I was happy to hear that.
Nishino: I was also extremely happy to watch this with the American audience, especially at the end when Ultraman gets sucked into the black hole. I looked at the members of the audience around me and they were reacting physically with what was happening. Even though I’ve seen this many times, I was filled with emotion in seeing the reaction around me today. One thing I do need to apologize for is this film is pretty dense film with the amount of dialogue and I know that some people might have had a difficult time keeping up with the subtitles. They also weren’t able to capture all of the dialogue in the film. Let me assure you even for a Japanese audience most people can’t catch all of the dialogue the first time around.
I heard that Bin Furuya participated again as Ultraman, could you go into details on that?
Higuchi: Bin Furuya, was the original Ultraman, I thought that if it was not Furuya, it would not be Ultraman. For someone Japanese he is someone quite tall with long arms, fingers, and neck, but he has a small head. His proportions are very ideal for the Ultraman character. We knew we had to have him. He is older now, past 70 years old but despite that his proportions are still excellent. So we did a 3d scan, took all his data for motion capture purposes, and he is very distinct with his movements, that was another feature of him. He was perfect for this role. The first thing we did for this project was the scan where we took all the scans from Furuya. This was even before the story was established. We knew we had to capture how the movement of Ultraman was going to be from the beginning to end of this film.
We actually heard a fun fact when we first spoke to Furuya we were surprised to hear the origin of Ultraman’s pose. It’s actually was from James Dean and the way that he held himself when he was holding a knife. This was something that Furya really admired that he incorporated it into the Ultraman pose. So you could say that if it wasn’t for these American films and James Dean we would never have Ultraman.
Can we expect Shin Gamera in the future?
Higuchi: For me when I made Gamera, that was Shin Gamera. So if there was a new version that would come out, it should be made by someone younger then myself. I was 28 when I made Gamera. I think it should be made by someone in their youth currently, someone who looks at my work and says “Oh Director Higuchi’s work, that’s boring, I can make it a lot more interesting” so I’m ready to pass the torch. But if no one accepts I’d be glad to do it.
What is it about you (Higuchi) and Mr. Anno that lets you collaborate so well together?
Higuchi: I am a big carnivore, and Mr. Anno does not eat meat, so I eat all of his portions.”
What happened to the color timer on Ultraman’s chest?
Higuchi: The main reason is that the original design of Ultraman did not have a color timer on the chest to begin with. But a producer on the series at the time said that without the timer, the battle between Ultraman and the Kaiju will run on forever, and that will bloat out the budget, so as a result they had a timer, set it for three minutes and that’s how long the Kaiju and Ultraman fought.
In the same way for the older version of Ultraman, there were a couple of things that were necessary during shooting. One is that for the person who was in the suit, they had to get in and out and for that purpose there was a zipper that was covered by a fin. That was something that we didn’t want to put on, so that was taken off. And for Furuya who was in the suit, he had to be able to see outside, so there were holes under the eyes, this was another thing that we removed.
Thank you for the great film, please tell us about Ultraman’s real name, Lipia, where did that come from?
Nishino: Originally in the script it was a different name, but during the editing process it was Mr. Anno who said to change it. We did a lot of research into different literature and languages to see what possibilities might be. Our main goal was to find a word that clearly didn’t have determined roots in terms of the source of the word. Originally in the script, there was a word that had actual meaning that we found, so we came up upon Lipia because it does not have any discernable roots, even if you did a Google search, nothing will come up in terms of the origin, I hope that’s the care here in the States.
Were there any plans to include any more kaiju in the film?
Higuchi: It’s true that during the narrative kaiju are only in the first portion of the movie, in terms of comparing to the aliens that come later, they’re a bit more barbaric or wild, so I think it would be hard to have them appear again after the aliens, I think it would take away from the meaning of their appearance.
Did you have more fun working on Shin Ultraman or Shin Godzilla?
Nishino: I can defiantly say it was Shin Ultraman for me because I was not involved with shin Godzilla.
Higuchi: I was going to give you a totally honest answer, but this is partially honest. In terms of shin Godzilla, we were told that after us, Legendary would be making the Godzilla: King of Monsters film, so we had to release our film before that point. There was a bit of a time crunch, so I had this responsibility of making that film in a brief period of time. With Shin Ultraman, it was made during COVID, and the release date kept getting extended, so we had a lot of time to work on the CG for Shin Ultraman and to keep improving it. In terms of a Japanese film’s CG, it probably was the most amount of time, maybe even more then here in the States because the time can be limited. I was able to work on Ultraman to my heart’s content and that was something really satisfying to me.
Are you distributing in the west? Are there any plans for release?
Higuchi: That requires all of you to go on social media and spread the word!
Nishino: People in the states here don’t know Ultraman as well as Godzilla, so I think this film is a great opportunity to get the word out.
Following this interview, it was announced that Shin Ultraman will actually see a continued international release in addition countries.