In pursuit of more realistic looks for a new feature film, "Ultraman" creators are breaking away from computer graphics and returning to "tokusatsu": live-action special effects.
"Ultraman Saga," the latest film adaptation of the long-running "Ultraman" superhero franchise, is currently showing nationwide.
Recent "Ultraman" films have featured battles in space created with a heavy use of computer graphics.
But the story of the latest movie is set on Earth. The production staff placed importance on traditional special effects involving miniatures and diorama sets featuring cityscapes to create more intense and real-life images.
"With computer graphics, anything can be shaped in a perfect way, but the irregular and asymmetric nature of hand-made things can bring reality," special effects director Toshio Miike said.
That said, it costs more money now to use miniatures in filmmaking. Staff members put their heads together to reduce costs. They came up with an idea to add computer-generated images of buildings modeled after miniatures to make the background set look more densely packed with structures.
The story of "Ultraman Saga" takes place on Earth where people across the world have been spirited away by an alien from space. The only humans remaining on Earth are "Chikyu Boei-tai" (Earth defense squad) member girls and children left orphaned.
But a protagonist, played by actor and singer Daigo, comes from a parallel universe and transforms into a gigantic superhero Ultraman to battle a monster called Hyper Zetton.
The Great East Japan Earthquake that dealt a devastating blow last year also brought impact on the production process.
According to director Hideki Oka, before the disaster occurred, he was planning to tell a story of invaders destroying cities to show the process of everyday lives being disrupted. But he scrapped the idea.
He once thought of having the story take place elsewhere.
However, "I thought it would be meaningless to make the movie now unless it starts with a difficult situation without taking the easy way out," Oka said.
Strenuous efforts made by humans are also highlighted in the story.
The seven members of the Earth defense squad, played by Sayaka Akimoto and other members of the all-girl idol group AKB48, feel how helpless they are and realize they are thrown into a hopeless situation.
But "they live their everyday lives holding on to their determination that they can only do what they can do now," Oka said, adding: "There may be a presence that will never abandon people who are doing their very best to live. That is the wish I wanted to entrust the Ultraman with in this time around."
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