Saturday, 24 August 2013

Hanuman vs 7 Ultraman

Director: Shohei Tojo
Writer: Bunko Wakatsuki
Producer: Sompot Saengduenchai
Cast: Hanuman, several Ultramen
Year of release: 1974
Country: Japan/Thailand
Reviewed from: Thai VCD (Tiga)

Technically of course that should be Hanuman vs 7 Ultramen but it seems that Thai, like Japanese, does not distinguish between plural and singular. And there’s no concept of ‘vs’ here either. Unlike the previous team-up between Japanese and Thai giant superheroes in Mars Men, there is no element here of ‘fight each other until we realise we should team up to beat our common enemy’. No, Hanuman and the Ultra-brothers are pals from the off. But the most amazing thing about this film is that, well, let’s be honest here - there are only six Ultramen in it. Well, six at any one time anyway.

I love what little I have ever seen of the various incarnations of Ultraman (produced by Tsuburaya Productions, Japan’s greatest special effects house). But as my VCD of this film (obtained from the ever-reliable eThai CD) is in Thai I am indebted to the sorely missed Absolute Ultraman site (AU) for some of the finer details.

We start with a five-minute sequence explaining about the home of the Ultramen - some great Tsuburaya footage of futuristic city miniatures though presumably stock shots from one of the previous Ultraman films or TV series. Then we get a rollicking title sequence which is all footage from the movie’s climactic fight, but don’t worry about ‘spoilers’. It’s Hanuman and some Ultramen fighting some monsters - you were expecting anything different?

In an ancient ruined temple, a bunch of kids are dancing, one of whom, Piko, wears a mask based on Hanuman, the Thai monkey god. According to AU they are doing a rain dance because the sun has moved closer to the Earth causing a global draught - with that simple bit of info, a lot of odd things in the movie start to make sense!

Also in the group is a smaller boy named Anan, who may be Piko’s brother. Anan’s mother (and possibly Piko’s) watches over them. (AU gives Piko’s name as Kochan but perhaps that is in the Japanese version. He’s certainly Piko in the Thai dub because Anan spends a good part of the movie shouting his brother’s name.) Three crooks turn up in a jeep and steal the head from one of the temple statues - Piko spots them and gives chase but they give him a bloody good kicking. There was never violence like this in Children’s Film Foundation movies! But worse is to come: Piko recovers, takes a short cut and leaps aboard the jeep, only to be shot in the head at point blank range! Anan and the others find his body and carry it back to the temple (presumably his mum has left by this point).

But up on M78, where the Ultramen live, the Ultra-mother notices Piko’s death and reaches down through the clouds to him, much to the amazement of the assembled kids. The subsequent scene, in which Piko is restored to life as Hanuman, is apparently re-edited footage of Ultraman Taro being born, which is why as well as the Ultra-mother there are only five Ultramen on screen. AU says these are Ultraman, Ultraseven, Ultraman Jack, Ultraman Ace and Zoffy, and who am I to argue?

Hanuman is all-white with a scary monkey face and lots of superfluous Thai detail in his costume, as opposed to the smooth futuristic lines of the Ultra-brothers. He generally flies upright with his limbs bent, sometimes carries a short trident, and has a tendency to jump about scratching his armpits, on account of being a monkey god.

Back on Earth, Anan collapses from the heat. Hanuman talks to the Sun God - you can tell he’s the Sun God because he’s in a chariot - and endlessly chases a talking flower up and down a mountain before extending his tail and grabbing it.

The three crooks (remember them?) are amazed to see Piko jump out in front of their jeep and do a monkey dance at them. They take a few more potshots but the bullets bounce off him, then he magically transforms into Hanuman and grows to giant size. The crooks run off on foot but Hanuman treads on one, crushes another under a fallen tree, and picks up the third before squashing him in his hands! He then flies back to the Sun God, receives the magic flower, heads back to Earth, turns back into Piko and uses the flower to revive Anan. The stolen statue head, meanwhile, floats back to the temple and reattaches itself.

But that’s just half the story. Elsewhere we have a huge rocket base where a bunch of scientists (including Anan’s mother in an attractive pink dress) are hard at work on a scheme to break the drought. The first rocket launches successfully and explodes in the upper atmosphere, somehow causing rainfall. Much rejoicing. But the second attempt goes wrong, the rocket explodes on the launch pad and sets off a chain reaction among all the other rockets. I am pleased to report that from this point, about halfway through the 85-minute movie, until the end there is non-stop action. There is always either somebody fighting or something exploding or both. It’s fantastic!

The crashing rockets cause an earthquake and from the fissure emerge, for no adequately explored reason, five giant monsters. AU tells us that they are all, unsurprisingly, left over costumes from old Tsuburaya TV series and that they are called Gomorrah (epic!), Tyrant (scary!), Astromonse (impressive!), Dorobon (mighty!) and Dustpan. Dustpan? Surely they could come up with a better monster name than Dustpan? Is there also a monster called Brush? Perhaps one called Duster and one called Broom? What are they going to do, clean us all to death? (One of the monsters, incidentally, has Godzilla’s distinctive roar.)

Anan and his mum go in search of Piko and find him doing his monkey dance in the forest. He swiftly changes into giant-size Hanuman to battle the monsters, which have various scary appendages and can blast beams of stuff from eyes, mouth or horns. But he needs help. Fortunately here come the six Ultra-brothers (the five we saw before plus Ultraman Taro) to help him kick some monster arse.

The last 40 minutes really is one huge fight and it’s bloody great. There’s an unresolved subplot when one of the monsters chases after Anan and his mum which is a bit odd and means we only ever see four monsters destroyed, but they do go in style. Hanuman fires energy bolts from his trident which slice the heads and arms off two of the beasts. The decapitated bodies then run in circles before crashing into each other and, as seems to be traditional with Thai monster flicks, exploding. Another monster is defeated when Hanuman magically turns his trident into a staff which fires a vertical energy bolt that cuts the monster in two vertically down the middle! (Both halves, naturally, explode...) But the best death is when Hanuman and Ultraman rip the skin from the head of a monster, leaving only a skull. They then rip the skin from its arms like pulling the sleeves off a jacket. Finally Hanuman blasts a bolt of energy at the monster and all the rest of its skin dissolves leaving a goofy looking skeleton. This is what we pay our money for!

With all the monsters disposed of (apart from the one last seen chasing Anan and his mother...), it’s time for Hanuman to do one last monkey dance, give each of the Ultra-brothers a kiss and a hug, and wave them bye-bye as they fly back to M78.

Traditionally Ultraman and his brothers have time-limit devices in their chests which keep all their fights down to three or four minutes. But not here. Non-stop giant-size hero-vs-monster action for more than half an hour - bloody hell!

The effects, credited to Kazuo Sagawa (who was still overseeing Ultra-FX as recently as 2001’s Ultraman Cosmos: First Contact), are well up to Tsuburaya’s usual standard, despite the use of some stock footage for the outer-space sequences. The rocket base miniature is excellent and the explosions would put an episode of Thunderbirds to shame. The limited usage of mattes and green screen to mix the giant characters into scenes with real people is also very effective (considering the time and the budget).

Shohei Tojo also directed episodes of the 1971 TV series Return of Ultraman as well as shows like Dynaman, Goggle 5 and Zyu Ranger (the original source of the Japanese footage in early Power Rangers episodes). He was also AD on Toho’s Lost World-style romp The Last Dinosaur. Writer Bunko Wakatsuki was one of several credited scribblers on the cobbled-together TV movies Star Force and Fugitive Alien, both of which were released in the UK by Xtasy Video.

Oh, and according to AU, when Hanuman chats with the Sun God he persuades him to move further away from the Earth, thus ending the draught.

So are there six or seven Ultramen in this thing? Well, I suppose there are seven altogether but only six at any one time. Ultraman Taro is missing from the M78 sequence - because he’s actually Piko/Hanuman in that bit, if you follow me - and Ultra-mother doesn’t come to Earth and fight monsters. The Japanese title (this was made in 1974 when Ultraman was big in Thailand but not released in Japan until 1979) is Ultra Roku Kyodai Tai Kaiju Gundan - ‘roku’ is Japanese for six - and many sources list this under the English translation Six Ultra-brothers Against the Monster Army. But the Thai title is Hanuman Pob Jed Yod Ma-nud and 'jed' is Thai for seven; in fact it actually has the title in English on the VCD. (The Chinese dub gets round this problem by using the title Fei Tien Cha Jen - ‘The High-Flying Supermen’.)

Allegedly there is a re-edited version called Hanuman Pob Sib Et Yod Ma-nud - ‘Hanuman vs 11 Ultraman’! - and my initial assumption was that this was just the original title translated into English then mistranslated back again. After all, the screen is so full of Ultramen, it’s difficult to see where you could fit another four of them in! But such a beast does in fact exist as proved by the gloriously colourful poster.. (Some footage from Hanuman vs 7 Ultraman was reused in a 1985 US-produced ‘spoof’ called Space Warriors 2000.)

MJS rating: B+
review originally posted before November 2004
Many thanks to Ultramong for the pictures

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