Behind The Scenes: Ultraman Max

Ultraman Max: A Return to Basics
By Bob Johnson (www.scifijapan.com)

After a very heavily publicized “Ultra N Project”, which led to the excellent film ULTRAMAN THE NEXT and a very serious, adult Ultra series, ULTRAMAN NEXUS, Tsuburaya Productions decided to go back to Ultra-basics with its follow-up series, ULTRAMAN MAX.

ULTRAMAN NEXUS was a departure from the normal Ultra series formula. It featured a series-long plotline, heavy character development and almost soap opera like writing. Despite the new, adult slant and quality of the series, the network it showed on still insisted on putting it in one of its kid-friendly time slots. The adults never found it and the children did not understand it, complaining that the stories were too complex to follow.

Now Tsuburaya returns to the action-oriented, kid-friendly, classic approach they have taken with Ultra series in the past. Single-episode storylines, monster of the week and lots of action! However, to insure that the series keeps up the production quality of its predecessor, TPC has brought in a couple of Japan 's more popular directors to helm some of the episodes.

Producer Takeshi Yagi, who directed the ULTRAMAN NEXUS series, shares directing duties with Hirochika Muraishi (ULTRAMAN TIGA and GRANSAZERS), Hiroaki Tochihara (who served as Assistant Director under Shusuke Kaneko on NEN NO NATSU YASUMI/SUMMER VACATION 1999 in 1988), as well as Japanese horror cult icon Takeshi Miike and Shusuke Kaneko.

Ultra designer Hiroshi Maruyama created an Ultraman character similar in design to the classic Ultra Seven and the series features some of the most famous monsters from the original 1966 ULTRAMAN and ULTRA SEVEN (1967). Returning are such fan favorites as Red King, Gomora, Eleking, Antlar, Zetton, Pigmon, Metron Seijin and more to join the gallery of new monsters created for the series!

ULTRAMAN MAX premiered on July 2, 2005. The world is at peace and people are enjoying a quiet and serene existence, until monsters begin attacking! The UDF (United Defense Force) dispatches Team DASH (Defense Action Squad Heroes) from Base Titan in Tokyo Bay , to confront the rampaging beasts! DASH member Mizuki Koishikawa's (played by Hitomi Hasabe) jet, Dash Bird One, crashes after it is downed by the monster Legoras. Kaito Toma (Sota Aoyama), who is a civil service volunteer, but aspires to be a member of DASH, pulls her from the jet and takes the controls, going after the monster himself. He is loses control of the jet while in battle and is saved by a mysterious giant. Given the Max Spark, Kaito is able to change into Ultraman Max to challenge the monsters and aliens that threaten the Earth!

In addition to Kaito and Mizuki, Team DASH is made up of Captain Shigeru Hijikakta (Kai Shishido), marksman Kenjiro Koba (Nobuyuki Ogawa), science officer Sean White (Sean Nichols) and Eri (Hikari Mitsushima), the team's android that oversees operations at Titan Base.

Rounding out the cast are two actors from the original ULTRAMAN series in key roles. Susumu Kurobe, who played Hayata, the original human host for Ultraman is now the big man in charge as UDF Chief Tomioka. Hiroko Sakurai, who not only played Fuji along side Kurobe in the original ULTRAMAN, but also starred in the first series ULTRA Q (1965), plays the science expert, Professor Yoshinaga.

As of this writing, Shusuke Kaneko has directed the following episodes:

• ULTRAMAN MAX ARRIVES! Origin story as the monsters Grangon and Legoras attack, Team DASH encounters the creatures, and civil defense volunteer Kaito Toma inherits the Max Spark to defeat the monsters and carry on the monster-fighting tradition as Ultraman Max.

• THE GIRL WHO KEEPS A MONSTER. The monster Eleking is draining electricity from the city and causing major blackouts and then mysteriously disappearing. Team DASH tracks down the monster, which is being kept by a young woman in her apartment! Eleking returns from episode 3 of ULTRA SEVEN.

• PROPHESY OF VALLARGE. The city is attacked by the magnetic personality of Antlar! A mysterious woman (played by Shusuke Kaneko favorite Ayako Fujitani) is in possession of a powerful blue sphere from ancient times that is the key to defeating the monster! Antlar returns from episode 7 of ULTRAMAN.

12- PURSUIT AT SUPERSONIC SPEED. Team DASH rocks to the sounds of a new band, Bad Scanners. Meanwhile, a supersonic monster, Heiren streaks over Japan at Mach 10. Team DASH tries to attack the giant flying beast, but it is much too fast. It is only when Kaito discovers that the monster is attracted to Bad Scanners' music that he is able to use the band to lure the monster out for the final confrontation! The monster in this episode is named Halen, after Eddie Van Halen. Shusuke Kaneko's brother, Jiro, wrote the episode and named the monster after his favorite heavy metal guitarist. Originally, the monster was going to be named after Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen!!

Another Shusuke Kaneko regular makes an appearance in ULTRAMAN MAX, but in an episode directed by Hiroaki Tochihara. In the two-parter, episode 5 -- Monster Island Appears and episode 6 -- Bombing, 5 Seconds Before!, actor Yukijiro Hotaru plays an Indiana Jones-type explorer who gets caught up in the action between classic Ultraman monsters Red King and Pigmon and new contenders Paragura and Slamandon, in an episode reminiscent of ULTRAMAN episode 8 -- The Violent Monster Region.

Shusuke Kaneko also directed two episodes that have not aired as of this writing, episode 35: ADAM AND EVE OF NEBULA M32, which is scheduled to air on February 25 and episode 36: EXTRA-DIMENSIONAL WORLD, scheduled for March 4.

Continue for exclusive photos from the set of Ultraman Max: