REMEMBER Ultraman, the Japanese comic superhero of the 70s who grappled with Godzilla-like monsters amid Tokyo's skyscrapers?
The strange alien in the silver and red spacesuit is set to make a powerful global comeback, albeit with a new, Thai-textured character.
Huge cut-outs of the “space warrior from the nebula of light” have begun appearing at strategic points along Bangkok's highways, suggesting that a monster-sized marketing campaign is under way.
But why has the Japanese superhero descended on the land of Tom Yam?
According to Sompote Saengduenchai, Ultraman is as Thai as he is Japanese. The Thai tycoon has been fighting to get this recognised for the past seven years.
Sompote, who as a student in Japan in 1962 was involved in the creation of the Ultraman character, had been entangled in a tough court battle with Tsuburaya Productions Co Ltd to obtain promotion rights.
He finally won the fight last week. The Tokyo High Court gave him the rights to use the Ultraman design anywhere in the world, except in Japan.
“The tussle was not just for myself and my family, but for the dignity of all Thais,” Sompote said jubilantly on returning home.
His current mission is to make Ultraman the next megahero of the world – bigger than Superman, Spiderman or Daredevil.
People who were children in the 70s might remember how the series of the alien hero kept them glued to the television.
Eiji Tsuburaya, who is known as the father of Godzilla, created the series. The stories, meant for young audiences, were mostly banal and the special effects, if seen today, would be laughed at.
For those unfamiliar with Asia's best-known comic superhero, Ultraman came to earth to prevent it from being invaded by giant monsters and bizarre space creatures with built-in weapons of mass destruction.
On his first trip, while chasing a monster, he crashed into a fighter jet piloted by Hayata, a ranger of the Science Patrol -- a team entrusted to save the planet from evil aliens.
Hayata is killed in the collision, forcing the remorseful superhero to use his powers to bring him back to life by merging his body with the pilot's.
Each time there is danger, Hayata would change himself into Ultraman. But the transformation would only last three minutes.
Within that time, Ultraman would use his arsenal of weapons and hand-to-hand combat. In the end, only the Specium Ray, a laser beam fired from the right hand by crossing it with the left, would defeat the monster.
Back to the future: What can one expect from the new Thai-cast superhero?
Immediately after the court victory, Sompote's company, Chaiyo Co Ltd, resumed work on a movie called The Ultraman Millennium. Production was to have started two years ago but was stymied by the court proceedings.
Sompote has pledged that the new Ultraman is likely to promote things that are typically Thai, like using muay thai (Thai boxing) to fight off enemies.
Scenes in the movie would be set in famous spots in the capital like the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), the Floating Market, the Rama 9 Bridge and even on Bangkok's BTS Skytrains.
“I will start promoting Ultraman in Asian markets before taking the character to the United States, Europe and Africa,” said Sompote.
He said his company was also working on another major project, the Ultraman Town and Museum, scheduled to open next year.
Prospects appear to be rosy. The company has already entered negotiations to open an Ultraman-themed restaurant chain under a joint-venture.
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