I have a stack of VHS tapes that I picked up at Japanese video stores over the years containing episodes from Japan’s long-running “Ultraman” franchise. They’re all in Japanese without subtitles and some of them have been made moot by my purchase of DVD box sets, all with English subs., of the entire runs of “Ultra Q” (1965), “Ultraman” (1966), and “Ultra Seven” (1967). But there’s a lot of material on those VHS tapes that isn’t duplicated anywhere else on an available source. Four of them are compilation tapes featuring clips of monster battles from the franchise over the years.
I love the way these tapes look on a cathode ray tube set. They have that analog film look that I find captured so well on Japanese pre-records, especially of color TV shows from the 1960s to the ’80s. It’s like it must have been watching these shows every week on a brand-new color TV when they were first on. The DVDs may technically be sharper, but they don’t capture that celluloid texture that we used to see on color TV back in the days when these shows were broadcast directly from projected film and not transferred to tape. And, for some reason, certain VHS pre-records capture that look, at least to my eyes–something difficult to convey with any images here.
My favorite compilation in my collection is called ULTRAMAN ZOFFY: ULTRA WARRIORS VS. THE GIANT MONSTER ARMY (1984), which is 84 min. long and apparently played in theaters. It’s got footage from several different Ultraman series, including the original black-and-white Ultra precursor, “Ultra Q,” and it reedits the sequences and adds new voiceovers to some of them. I’ve been rewatching these tapes and frantically going through episodes of “Ultra Q,” “Ultraman” and “Ultra Seven” to find out where the clips originated from.
I was fascinated by one such clip in the Zoffy compilation. It focuses on a comically cute red monster, who is first seen in a department store freaking out the customers, and then has flashbacks, narrated by the creature in a childlike voiceover, compiled in a montage of black-and-white clips that included three other monsters. Since the only “Ultra” show done in b&w was “Ultra Q,” they had to come from there. I did some research on the web and found out the monster was named Pigmon, but had originated as Garamon in a serious episode of “Ultra Q,” in which he was more of a threat than he was as Pigmon. I then found all the other episodes of “Ultra Q” featuring the clips used in the montage and watched all of them. I also watched the two episodes of “Ultraman” in which Pigmon appeared.
Here’s the montage sequence from “Ultraman Zoffy” as found on YouTube:
In “Ultra Q,” Garamon was a rather neutral monster who emerged from a meteorite in #13: “Garadama” and rather innocently terrorized some people at a dam in rural Japan.
In #16: “Garamon Strikes Back,” a number of Garamon (well, we see two) emerge from meteorites that have struck Tokyo and begin knocking down buildings and shaking the Tokyo Tower. These scenes are used in the Pigmon montage from “Ultraman Zoffy” but with comical voice-over narration that softens the monster’s terrorizing of innocent Tokyo residents.
The Garamon suit is used again in Ultraman, where the character is now called Pigmon, who originally appeared as a friendly monster in Ultraman #8: Lawless Monster Zone, where he distracts the Godzilla-like Red King while the Science Patrol prepares their attack. It doesn’t end well for Pigmon, who is unceremoniously killed by Red King.
In the Ultraman episode, #37: “The Little Hero,” Pigmon is resurrected and pops up in the toy section of a department store where he spots an action figure of himself (as well as his nemesis, Red King). The police are reluctant to tackle a monster so they call the Science Patrol, which responds and clearly recognizes the creature. They determine that he’s trying to give them a message and they soon take him off to a lab to try and translate his language. Eventually, they figure out that Geronimin, a red-plumed, bearded monster, is out to revive 60 monsters vanquished by the Science Patrol and attack again. In no time, the battle begins, although with only a couple of the 60. (TV budget) Poor Pigmon gets stomped again. (In the montage found on the compilation tape, no member of the Science Patrol appears.)
Action figures of one “Ultra Q” monster and two from “Ultraman”:
Yuriko (Hiroko Sakurai) is the most adept at bonding with the creature:
The other cute monsters seen in the clip came from “Ultra Q”:
In #8: “Terror of the Sweet Honey,” a mole somehow gets into a supply of experimental honey at a bee lab out in the country and turns huge, necessitating an unlikely battle with a rampaging, roaring mole!
(Not so cute in the actual episode was it?)
In #10: “The Super Underground Express Goes West,” a biological specimen created in a lab gets accidentally taken aboard a new underground express train and when it’s exposed to the flash of a camera turns into some kind of apelike creature who takes control of the express train. This actually could have been a neat episode about an underground express train and didn’t need a monster at all. The miniature trains and sets are superbly crafted (as expected from Tsuburaya Productions, the company that produced every Ultra series). Instead, it signaled the silly and comical direction it would take right from the start, thanks to the presence of a (literally) snot-nosed kid who shines shoes at the station and then sneaks onto the train, eventually getting trapped in the engine with the monster and winding up far, far away!
In #15: “Kanegon’s Cocoon,” a street kid who struggles to get spending money by selling junk items in an outdoor market winds up inside some supernatural cocoon and turns into a monster who feeds on coins and will starve if his friends don’t supply him with money.
Interesting historical reference here:
Interestingly, none of the regular cast of “Ultra Q” characters (two pilots and a female journalist) appear in this episode.
Another clip from “Ultraman Zoffy” originated in “Ultraman” #11: The Ruffian from Outer Space and focuses on a crystal ball that can create anything its owner wishes. When a madman steals it from the scientists who have taken charge of it, he goes to a seaside resort hotel and conjures up a garish monster to act out his revenge fantasies. When he’s knocked unconscious by the monster’s rampage, the monster doesn’t vanish (as previous conjurings routinely did), but continues to wreak havoc until Ultraman takes him on.
In the clip found in the “Zoffy” tape, there is a blow-by-blow description supplied by a sports announcer, something not in the original TV episode:
This next clip comes from an unidentified “Ultraman” episode and features three monsters in battle in a high snowy region, with no Ultraman appearing at all. One of them looks like the Abominable Snowman. The clip is also accompanied by blow-by-blow sports commentary, as if the announcer were covering a wrestling match. I’m pretty certain they used an actual sports announcer to do the voice-over.
Here are a couple more monster battle clips from the Zoffy tape:
Finally, here’s a segment from “The Return of Ultraman,” episode #27, in which Ultraman’s battle with a monster who has defiled a giant statue of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, is intercut with a kickboxing bout featuring a friend of Ultraman’s:
This clip came from this tape:
I’m grateful that a number of series have come out in DVD box sets with English subtitles, esp. “Ultra Seven,” which I find superior to its predecessor, “Ultraman.”
But I’m also glad I discovered so much of this stuff on VHS first–on tapes that cost from $1 to $3 each at Book Off!