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SYFY WIRE ultraman

Ultraman boots up for new Netflix movie — with an animation assist from ILM

By Benjamin Bullard
Ultraman Movie Teaser Art via Netflix

One of the oldest of the old-school Japanese heroes is prepping for a fresh introduction to modern-day fans. Netflix is readying to relaunch Ultraman — the iconic franchise responsible for influencing superhero tales from the Power Rangers to Ant-Man — on a brand-new course, revealing plans for a new animated feature film that’ll tell an original Ultraman story...complete with kaiju monsters.

The film reboot will be made as a CG-animated movie in partnership with original franchise owner Tsuburaya Productions and ILM, according to a report at Variety, and is being conceived as a way to introduce the long-revered series to a “new, wider audience.” Like fellow sci-fi icon Godzilla, Ultraman’s roots date back decades to post-WWII Japan, and frame its silver-skinned, red-suited hero as a speechless, almost aloof force of nature who allies with humanity against threats both monstrous and humanoid.

Intended to “honor the past mythology while introducing the character to a new potential global fanbase,” via the report, the new Netflix movie tells the story of Japanese baseball star Ken Sato, the latest human ascendant to the role of Ultraman. Sato’s ambitions are derailed, though, when he’s “compelled to raise a newborn kaiju monster — the offspring of his greatest enemy — as his own child,” all while balancing family drama and the nefarious “schemes of the Kaiju Defense Force.”

Though Ultraman has remained consistently popular (and profitable) in Asian markets, the franchise’s popularity in the U.S. has ebbed and flowed through the years, remaining largely in the realm of niche fandom among lovers of anime-adjacent Japanese superheroics. The new project adds to a recent uptick in western studio interest in all things Ultraman: Netflix already streams an animated Ultraman TV series, while Marvel teamed with Tsuburaya Productions on The Rise of Ultraman, a five-issue limited comics series that debuted last year.

The new Netflix project reportedly is being co-helmed by John Aoshima (DuckTales, Gravity Falls) and first-time director Shannon Tindle (an animator whose previous credits include Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings), with a script from Tindle and Marc Haimes (also a Kubo veteran). ILM and Tsuburaya Productions are reportedly creating the animation, which appears to follow a visual style that will balance conventional anime with a more modern CG aesthetic.

While a premiere date and casting haven’t yet been announced, Netflix reportedly is aiming for “a mix of Japanese and western stars” for the movie’s key roles.