With the company’s Ultraman franchise slowly beginning to make its proper debut into the wider world following years of licensing troubles, Tsuburaya Productions CEO Takayuki Tsukagoshi has vowed to grow the tokusatsu hero’s fan base without making changes to its sense of self for Western audiences, asserting that “in order to compete on the world stage, we need to make use of Japan’s identity and Japaneseness as a strong point in our stories.”
Tsukagoshi outlined his vision for the future of Ultraman during an interview with Yahoo! Japan published on December 27th.
Asked by site editor Yasuyuki Takei if the franchise would “be entering a new era of Ultraman that is different from the past,” Tsukagoshi replied, “We are developing a different type of Ultraman. What will change is not the shape or form of Ultraman, but the content and nature of the work.”
“It is possible to create a work that has a message that is easy for children to understand and a universal work that will move and satisfy adults,” he continued, according to a machine translation of the interview. “That’s what I’d like to create with Ultraman. However, the details will be announced a little later. In the meantime, we will continue to produce works other than Ultraman. The future of Tsuburaya Productions is to use new technologies to create new, original works.”
Previously – in a situation not unlike that which formerly plagued the Macross series – Ultraman’s licensing rights were at the center of an ownership dispute between Tsuburaya Productions, who created and produced the franchise, and Chaiyo Productions, a Thailand-based studio which had helped the former produce the Ultraman movie The 6 Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army (as well as the unrelated Tsuburaya tokusatsu hero film Jumborg Ace & Giant).
In 1976, Chaiyo Productions founder and president Sompote Saengduenchai claimed, that prior to his death, Noboru Tsuburaya, son of late Ultraman creator and Godzilla co-creator Eiji Tsuburaya, had given him the full rights to the Ultraman franchise outside of Japan in exchange for a financial loan.
Though Tsuburaya Productions maintained that the document – which contained a number of errors including the misnaming of each series under contention – was a forgery, the apparent fixation of Noboru’s personal seal to the contract led both Japanese and Thai courts to legally recognize Saengduenchai’s claim to the series.
However, in 2006, Tsuburaya Productions mounted a new legal campaign against Chaiyo Productions, suing the latter for copyright infringement and plagiarism over their creation of original Ultraman characters.
Eventually, following a series of ever escalating appeals and counter-suits, Tsubaraya Productions was awarded full rights to the series in 2019, a ruling which allowed the company to begin properly licensing and releasing their works outside of their home country.
Eventually, Tsukagoshi moved to explain his production philosophy towards expanding Ultraman’s presence on a global scale – particularly in Western markets – telling Takei, “I have been thinking about the content of films. Whether it’s an action blockbuster about heroes or a general drama, it’s based on personal conflict and growth. On the other hand, Japanese and Asian films have different ideas and concepts.”
“One of them is the way we relate to nature, community and society. In other words, the idea of coexistence,” he said. “We Japanese are a country blessed with nature, surrounded by the sea and mountains, and we have grown up working together in this environment. This is the message that characterizes our work.”
Recognizing that “there are a number of cultural standards in the West, especially in Hollywood,” Tsukagoshi then told Takei that rather than change Ultraman in an attempt to garner more mass appeal, he believed that there was “a chance for our unique works to be accepted around the world, even in the form of collaboration with Hollywood.”
The CEO then adamantly declared, “From a Western perspective, most of the world’s popular Japanese characters are already being made into films by Hollywood major studios and global media groups. However, Ultraman is not one of them.”
Ultraman may be the last big IP left in Japan,” affirmed Tsukagoshi. “We have received many offers from overseas companies, but if we do the same thing in Hollywood when we go out into the world, Ultraman will be buried among the many hero characters. In order to compete on the world stage, we need to make use of Japan’s identity and Japaneseness as a strong point in our stories.”
“This is the way I want to present the Ultraman brand,” he added. “This will lead to the creation of powerful works on a different level.”
Further, Tsukagoshi stated that, ultimately, he wanted “to send out new value-added works that are not in the Hollywood standard, but have our unique genes, from Japan to Asia and to the world.”
“I would like to put a message into our products and events based on our works,” he opined. “I would like to work with people from different industries to come up with concrete ideas for this.”
Ultimately, Takei concluded the interview by asking the CEO for some insight into his own personal management policy, to which Tsukagoshi replied, “I value the relationships I have with the people I meet.”
“No matter how much you talk about your vision or dream, you can’t do anything alone,” he observed. “I want to work together with people, both inside and outside the company, who share my goals and ideas, and who share my aspirations and awareness. The basis is people.”
Currently, outside of the latest entry into the Ultra series, Ultraman Trigger: New Generation Tiga, Tsuburaya Productions is working on two new Ultraman films, with one intended to celebrate the franchise’s 55-year legacy and the other aimed at bringing more Western attention to the interstellar hero.
In May 13, 2022, Tsuburaya Productions is set to release Shin Ultraman, a cinematic reimagining of the hero as written and directed by Neon Genesis Evangelion Creator Hideaki Anno.
Though details surrounding the film are scarce, it currently received a new theatrical poster, courtesy of the recently held Tsuburaya Con 2021.
Additionally, the studio is also working with Netflix and Industrial Light and Magic to produce a CGI Ultraman film featuring an “all-new storyline designed to honor the past mythology.”
According to a synopsis from Netflix, “The film will follow Ken Sato, a superstar baseball player who returns to Japan to become the latest hero to carry the mantle of Ultraman.”
“His plans go awry, however, when he is compelled to raise a newborn kaiju monster — the offspring of his greatest enemy — as his own child,” the synopsis concludes. “Sato will also have to contend with his relationship with his estranged father and the schemes of the Kaiju Defense Force.”