Hanuman vs. Seven Ultraman has to be the most bizarre mixture of sacred and profane, I’ve ever seen. A Western equivalent might be something like Jesus vs. Avengers. Except that Hanuman vs Seven Ultraman is a mistranslation. At least I think it is because Ultraman and his six ultrabrothers actually team up with Hanuman to fight off a giant horde of Kaiju. So, that would be more equivalent to Jesus joining the Avengers to defeat… what is the West’s equivalent of Kaiju? Professional wrestlers? There are an awful lot of suitcases to unpack here.
To trace the cultural roots of this insane film you would need to go back thousands of years to the Indus Valley where one of the longest epics in history, The Ramayana, was first told and Hanuman, the monkey god, first came into existence. You would also need to go to Japan and scoop up Ishirō Honda and his monstrous creation, Godzilla. To understand Godzilla you need to unpack the whole heritage of the nuclear age and World War Two. To understand that you would need to cover Japanese imperialism, which goes back to Japan’s ancient antagonistic relationship to China.
On top of all that there is the cultural heritage of Thailand, where the movie was actually made. There is the whole history of Ancient Indian imperialism and the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism and how the Ramayana and the other giant epic, the Mahabharata, were interpreted by the Thai people. The whole thing is a bubbling melting pot of epic proportions.
All that being said, the film is a disjointed mess of psychedelic imagery, low budget schlock, and nonsensical scenes. It appears to have several story lines which are only loosely related. Some seem like they are for children but others are pretty gory. There is a scene where a giant sized Hanuman crushes a man in one of his giant hands and blood squeezes out between the fingers of his fist. Oh, and our 10 year old hero gets shot in the face at point blank range and falls off a speeding jeep with his face covered in blood.
There is also an entire “comic relief” subplot, although it provides no relief at all. It's a clumsy duo of pilots who are often shown tripping over each other in fast motion, because everyone knows fast motion is hilarious. Equally hilarious is when they don women’s bathing suits, because having watched thousands of movies I have learned that there is nothing funnier than a man dressed in women’s clothing. Mostly the two pilots just grimace and scream. Apparently opening your mouth very wide is also very funny.
It all leads up to the climactic final battle between 5 kaiju, 7 ultramen, and one Hanuman. Its a very long and colorful battle with enough pyrotechnics for ten Kiss concerts. As earlier, the scenes get pretty gory. The best part is when one of the ultramen and hanuman systematically rip the skin off a kaiju progressively revealing his skeleton.
About a third of the movie is based on a very popular section of the Ramayana. Its a parable featuring Hanuman’s great loyalty and courage. It's far too involved to summarize here but it's actually the most touching part of the movie. After the Ramayana subplot resolves the movie just keeps barreling forward into new subject matter.
In the second half of the movie we see the The Ramayana set against science. There are those who believe that the future will be saved by faith in Hanuman and the spirit world, and then there are those who follow science like the handsome Dr. Wisut. Often in science fiction or monster movies the scientist is the hero, but not here. Dr. Wisut scoffs at all this make-believe kaiju crap, even as the monsters destroy his lab. He finally goes mad and is destroyed in an enormous explosion but not before he repents and calls out to Hanuman for help.
Some of this spiritual subplot may have been for the benefit of the censorship board and his highness King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The film was a joint effort between Tsuburaya Productions of Japan and Chaiyo Productions of Thailand. It was also co-directed by Japanese director Shohei Tôjô and Thai director, Sompote Sands. The film came out in 1975 and was actually a big hit. As a movie it has a slow start but once it gets going its nonstop action, explosions and crazy psychedelics. The screen often dissolves into bright bursts of color. Waves, bubbles and sliding pulses of garish hues bombard you, all over a soundtrack of traditional gamelan music.
In the opening credits there is a message from the director, “Watch this wonderful movie.” Well I did, and it was wonderful. It was also a mind bending, eye popping, fit of craziness but that only adds to its charm. Oh, and by the way there are only 6 Ultramen in the movie.
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