In the past couple of months, we’ve gotten a handful of questions like “What Ultraman was it that Takashi Miike worked on again?” “Has Koichi Sakamoto ever directed an Ultra show?” “Which episodes of Return of Ultraman were directed by Ishiro Honda?”
This is to be expected as a new audience breaks into the franchise; a familiar director is a good entry point, much like how someone unfamiliar with CSI could still be keen to tune into an episode directed by William Friedkin or Quentin Tarantino. To that end, I’m writing a handy guide to the various big-name filmmakers who’ve gotten to yell “cut” on an Ultraman production.
These may not necessarily be the most important directors for each show, but as the most famous ones to new Ultra fans, their episodes make a good gateway (and once you’re hooked you can learn all about your core auteurs like Hajime Tsuburaya and Kazuya Konaka and whatnot). Also, we’ll only be looking at full episode directors, since it’s not always well-documented which episodes, say, Ichiro “Itano Circus” Itano did action sequences for.
Without further ado, let’s start at the beginning:
Where someone recognizes Akio Jissoji from depends to some extent on who you ask; some will know him for his Ultraman work, some for his Ranpo Edogawa adaptations, some for his artsy erotic movies about Buddhism. But the literary adaptations available internationally (like 10 Nights of Dreams, Tokyo the Last Megalopolis, and Ranpo Noir) came relatively later in his career; he started with Ultraman and Ultraman started with him. I mean this literally: the Birth of Ultraman special that aired a week before the show started was directed by Jissoji, though he took his name off since it was sort of a disaster. He later went on to direct many of the most iconic episodes of Ultraman and Ultraseven. There’s even a compilation movie made from his episodes specifically, and it’s easy to see why: when I’m recommending episodes for a novice to try out, it’s Jissoji’s moody, phantasmagoric, experimental episodes that I tend to point them to.
Jissoji’s original Ultraman episodes are 14, 15, 22, 23, 34, and 35, his Ultraseven episodes are 8, 12 (the infamous banned episode), 43, and 45. He came back to directing the franchise with Ultra Q the Movie in 1985, then Ultraman Tiga episodes 37 and 40, Ultraman Dyna 38, Ultra Q Dark Fantasy 24 and 25, and Ultraman Max 22 and 24 (a sequel to Ultraseven episode 8).
While we’re at it, it’s worth mentioning that he directed an Ultra Q documentary in 1966, wrote Return of Ultraman episode 28, wrote ideas for Ultra Q, Ultraseven, Return of Ultraman, and Ultraman Taro, wrote an Ultraman novel and an Ultraseven novel, and produced for the Ultra Q Club radio show. That’s quite a lot for a completionist to track down!
It’s under-recognized that the director of Godzilla, Mothra, Atragon, and a slew of other genre-defining kaiju pictures spent a chunk of the 1970s working on TV projects such as Zone Fighter, Mirror Man, and Thunder Mask. Also included is Return of Ultraman, and his episodes are 1, 2, 7, 9, and 51. Fun fact: Return of Ultraman’s first episode is titled Kaijuu Soushingeki… the same as the Japanese title of Destroy All Monsters.
The original Gamera series’ director was the lead on Ultraman 80, directing episodes 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17, 18, 21, 22, 25, 26, 29, 30, 33, 34, 39, 40, 43, and 44. Yuasa also directed many episodes of the 1978 series Comet-chan, including 17, 43, and 63 (in which Ultraseven, Ultraman Taro, and Ultraman Leo guest star, respectively), and the 1984 Anime-chan movie, starring Kanegon, Pigmon, and Booska.
Our favorite monster designer and director of works such as Zeiram, Moon Over Tao, Mikazuki, Hakaider, and Garo, Amemiya was very involved in all things Kamen Rider in the 1990s. Naturally this includes directorial duties for the Ultraman vs. Kamen Rider crossover movie.
The mastermind behind the Heisei Gamera trilogy (a high-watermark of kaiju cinema) as well as Giant Monsters All-out Attack and the Death Note duology, Kaneko is a big fan of Ultra Q, and thus was eager to participate in the 2004 revival Ultra Q Dark Fantasy, where he directed episodes 3 and 7 (he’s got a cameo in episode 9, too). Also on the Ultra Q subject, he helmed the 2005 DTV movie Ultra Q Monster Legend: Jun Manjome’s Confession, with the original Ultra Q actors reprising their roles.
Kaneko returned to the franchise for Ultraman Max episodes 1, 2, 11, 12, 35, and 36 (the original TV broadcast of episode 11 included a scene of children playing with Godzilla and Gamera toys, a nod to Kaneko’s history with the other franchises, but it’s been removed from DVD/streaming versions). Lastly, he did another DTV movie, Ultraman Monster Legend: Truth of the 40th Year, celebrating Ultraman’s 40th anniversary by catching up with SSSP members in their later years.
The “Father of J-Horror” behind films like Ring 0, Orochi Blood, Dream Cruise, and Premonition directed episodes 12 and 14 of Ultra Q Dark Fantasy. Even revisiting material from the original show, he got to flex his kaidan muscles a little.
One of the most prolific genre movie directors in Japanese cinematic history (see Zebraman, 13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, One Missed Call, Audition, Dead or Alive… he’s got a lot of classics), Miike squeezed episodes 15 and 16 of Ultraman Max into his schedule a couple months after the similarly kaiju-filled Great Yokai War. In particular, episode 16, with its amnesia-inducing space cats, has become one of the most iconic Ultraman episodes of the 2000s.
Sakamoto is a name well-known to the tokusatsu community from his work on Power Rangers, Kamen Rider W and Fourze, and Kyoryuger, and when you see his name you can generally expect to be impressed by dynamic martial arts and explosions (and sometimes thighs). He hit the Tsuburaya scene hard in 2009 with the kitchen-sink-including Daikaiju Battle Ultra Galaxy Legends the Movie, and has continued on since directing Ultraman Ginga S 1-3, 15, and 16, the Ultraman Ginga S movie, the Ultra Fight Victory miniseries, and Ultraman X episodes 4, 5, and 12-14.
Haraguchi is best known as a SFX technician on movies like the Gamera trilogy, Cutie Honey, and Onmyouji, and he served in this capacity on Ultraman 80, Ultraman Mebius, and Ultraseven X. However, he’s also an accomplished film director in his own right, of great stuff like Mikadroid, Sakuya: Slayer of Demons, and Kibakichi. His directorial duties on Ultraman include the very memorable episode 16 of Ultraman Mebius, Ultraman Ginga 3, 4, 7, and the Ultraman Ginga: Ultra Monster Hero Battle Royale movie.
Noboru Iguchi and Yoshihiro Nishimura
The masters of 21st century Japanese splatter and body horror both directed segments for the bizarre monsters-going-about-their-everyday-lives sketch comedy show Ultra Zone. Iguchi (Machine Girl, Robo Geisha, Karate Robo Zaborgar) did segments in episodes 7, 9, and 13, while Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver) contributed to 11, 20, 21, and 23. Also of note, Takanori Tsujimoto (Hard Revenge Milly, Red Tears) did segments for episodes 18 and 20.
The wunderkind of the modern tokusatsu era, Taguchi broke onto the scene with his independently-produced Daikaiju Eiga G, before proceeding to do effects for theatrical monster flicks (e.g. Henge, Love & Peace, Jellyfish Eyes) and directing the excellent The Long Haired Monster Gehara, plus episodes of MM9 and The Next Generation Patlabor. He’s extensively involved in Tsuburaya Productions now, having directed segments in Ultra Zone episodes 6, 8, and 10-22, Neo Ultra Q episodes 2, 6, and 9, Ultraman Ginga S 6-8, 11, and 12, Ultraman X 1-3, 15, 16, 21, 22, and the Ultraman X movie. Keep an eye on his stuff; it just keeps getting better and better!
The man behind monochrome punk-rock/scifi movies like Burst City and Electric Dragon 80,000 V (as well as Crazy Thunder Road and Gojoe) directed the similarly dark episodes 1, 4, and 8 of Neo Ultra Q.
The zany comedian responsible for Den Ace, Monster X Strikes Back, The Calamari Wrestler, and more finally got to leave his mark on the Ultra franchise with a series of web anime shorts titled Kaiju Sakaba Kanpai. About the monstrous fictional employees of the real-life Ultra-kaiju-themed bar, the series highlights Kawasaki’s sense of humor with lots of puns and deadpan retorts.
We’ve mentioned at least three times on this blog that the director of Gunbuster, Evangelion, and Godzilla Resurgence is an avid Ultraman fan, and his college-made fanfilms were later semi-canonized with official DVD releases and merchandise from Tsuburaya. In addition to this, Anno’s first two such efforts were recreated shot-for-shot by Yuichi Fukuda (The Hero Yoshihiko series, Hentai Kamen, Jossy’s) for the TV drama Blue Blazes.
That’s a wrap for now; it’s anyone’s guess which other hot talent may be tapped to work on the franchise in the future or if other up-and-comers may go on from their Ultra-work to make a major mark on the film industry. In the meantime, if we’re leaving someone out or got some episode numbers wrong (or used a photo of the wrong person… that would be embarrassing), please leave a comment! Now I’ve gotta go plan some director-themed marathons!