By Adam B. Vary
May 13, 2021
For 55 years, “Ultraman” has been one of Japan’s A-list superheroes — defending the planet from alien kaiju and inspiring all manner of global pop culture, from the “Power Rangers” to Paul Rudd’s “Ant-Man” suit. But while the character has a loyal following outside of Japan, Ultraman has never become a massive crossover phenomenon at the scale of Godzilla or Pokémon.
Netflix is hoping to change that.
The streamer is partnering with Tsuburaya Productions to develop “Ultraman” as a CG-animated feature film aimed at bringing a new, wider audience to the beloved silver-suited character. Shannon Tindle, an animator who’s worked on “Coraline” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” will make his feature directorial debut with the project, from a script he wrote with “Kubo” screenwriter Marc Haimes. John Aoshima (“DuckTales,” “Gravity Falls”) will co-direct.
Netflix is also home to an ongoing “Ultraman” animated TV series, also in partnership with Tsuburaya, that continues the storyline from the original live-action Japanese series of the 1960s. But the “Ultraman” feature will strike out on its own with an all-new storyline designed to honor the past mythology while introducing the character to a new potential global fanbase. Similarly, the animation — from Industrial Light and Magic — will be stylized but not strictly animé, as this exclusive first look at concept art for the film demonstrates.
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. Sato will also have to contend with his relationship with his estranged father and the schemes of the Kaiju Defense Force.
“Making this film is a dream come true,” Tindle says in a statement. “What began as an original story inspired by my love for Eiji Tsuburaya’s Ultraman somehow became an actual Ultraman film thanks to the incredible trust of the team at Tsuburaya Productions, and the support of the folks at Netflix Animation. We’ve assembled an all-star team and I can’t wait to share our unique take on Ultraman with the rest of the world.”
No actors have been cast yet, but the plan is for a mix of Japanese and western stars, coupled with a large number of below-the-line talent from Japan. Tom Knott will produce and Lisa Poole will co-produce.
“This partnership with Netflix will be the first full-scale endeavor to reach the global market for Tsuburaya Productions,” says Tsuburaya CEO and chairman Takayuki Tsukagoshi. “Ultraman, since it was created, has charmed many people around the world. And Shannon Tindle is one of those people. He was greatly influenced by Ultraman as a child, and he grew up to become a creator himself. I am delighted that families around the world will be able to watch Shannon and his team’s vision for Ultraman on Netflix and foster feelings of courage, hope and kindness.”
“Ultraman” is part of Netflix’s growing roster of animated features, including Oscar-nominated films “Klaus” and “Over the Moon,” and a vast upcoming slate that includes Richard Linklater’s “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Adventure” starring Glen Powell and Jack Black; Henry Selick’s “Wendell & Wild” with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key; Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” toplined by Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Christoph Waltz; Wendy Rogers’ “The Magician’s Elephant” starring Benedict Wong, Noah Jupe, Brian Tyree Henry and Mandy Patinkin; Aardman’s upcoming sequel to “Chicken Run”; and an adaptation of Lupita Nyong’o’s children’s book “Sulwe.”
“Having the opportunity to partner with our friends at Tsuburaya Productions to bring this beloved character to our members around the world is an honor,” says Aram Yacoubian, director of Original Content – Animated Features at Netflix. “We’re thrilled to be working with Shannon, John and an incredibly talented team of artists and lovers of Ultraman from around the world. We can’t wait to share our film with fans of this iconic Japanese hero and introduce a new generation to what’s sure to become their new favorite superhero.”
Tindle is repped by Verve and attorney Alex Andrews; Haimes is repped by Verve, Gotham Group and attorney Allen Vainshtein; Aoshima is repped by attorney Rob Szymanski.