Ultraman: Rising - Shannon Tindle and John Aoshima

Family, Legacy and Ultraman: Rising with Shannon Tindle and John Aoshima

Ahead of the release of Ultraman: Rising I sat down and chatted to the directors of the latest adventure of decades-long hero from Japan. Shannon Tindle and John Aoshima were gracious, engaging and full of that magic that comes from two artists working on something they truly love.

The lad spoke about family, their experience with Ultraman and much more.

Congratulations on the film. What’s been your history with Ultraman? Have you always been fans of the character and the legacy?

John – You know, for me, I was born in Japan. And so Ultraman is already everywhere. My first discovery of Ultraman was in a Japanese manga called Dr. Slump by Akira Toriyama. So I just immediately became curious about what this fascination was all about.

And I, you know, discovered the show on TV and ended up you know, like, being an immediate fan with my older brother, to the point where we’re arguing which Ultras, you know, we got to be, you know, playing outside, it’s been part of my upbringing. Once I moved to the US I’d completely forgotten about it. Until this guy (Shannon Tindle) brings up Ultraman in college at CalArts.

Shannon – I grew up in rural Kentucky, but I was able to watch the show when I was about six years old. I was just flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon and found it. Then I just started watching it with my dad. It was one of those shows that we would watch together along with Star Trek and Battle of the Planets. Which was called Gatchaman in Japan. This was really my first introduction to a culture outside of mine.

It really engaged me on that level. Then when I moved to LA years later, I began to understand how huge the character was. That’s when I first started to have the ideas to make what would eventually become an Ultraman film. I keep saying that, it didn’t start as an Ultraman film called Made in Japan. So I say fanfiction became a reality, so I’m living the dream.

Shannon, you said there that you watched it with your father. And there’s a strong theme of family written into the film with you and Mark (Haime). What was it like almost putting yourself into the story?

It initially began as a son-to-a-father story, because that was my experience at that point. I was heavily inspired by Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s one of my favourite films and it’s about a father learning to love his son and his son learning to love him, accepting each of their faults and growing and maturing together.

Then, about 10 years after I initially had the idea, my daughter was born. And so now it became a story from that perspective and watching her grow and me not knowing the first thing to do. I didn’t know what to do as a father. They don’t they don’t come with a rulebook. So then I call my dad and my mom asking, “What do I do?”

She’s not sleeping at night, she’s sick, how can you tell if something’s wrong? And learning from their experiences, and all of that, you know, the longer it marinated and it needed to marinate the become richer with my personal experience. Then once I started to, you know, pitch it, we started to move forward with development.

John – For me, I’ve been, you know, a collaborator with Shannon, on Kubo and the Two Strings, but we go way back from our friendship in school. And so whenever he writes something, I find my own entry into his stories. Now I’m not a parent, but maybe I was when I babysat my little sisters. Or when I had to change my baby sister’s diapers when I was 12.

And, so I have my own experiences and, and so there are things that I can relate with. Once it became an Ultraman film, that’s where I approached it from my fan perspective. I wanted to find a way to get this Ultraman theme. I wanted to get the Ultraman spirit of an aspiring hero to go to work alongside this beautiful story about parenthood.

What kind of pressure was there for yourselves to get not only the story you wanted but also one that could be put up there with the rest of the Ultraman stories?

Shannon – To me, the greater challenge was, how can we pay homage to those series, but also engage with an audience who doesn’t know anything about Ultraman. There was job number one, let’s tell a compelling story. Let’s create characters that feel real, like characters you could meet, or you might know. We wanted to make them as real as possible. Then use whatever lore in Ultraman that could support that.

For example, in our film, there’s the colour timer. It’s usually associated with the sun. Well, in our case, it’s associated with emotion and clarity of mind. This reminded me of my daughter, she wasn’t sleeping at night. And I remembered that the doctor said, “Her stomach’s not big enough, when she hits three months, her stomach will hold enough food to sleep at night.”

And I remember, by the time that happened, I didn’t care. I had stopped thinking that this was just life and I was good with it, I was okay with it. So that felt like a parallel with, you know, with a colour timer, the idea of transformation, Ken literally grows up, he has to grow up. But that’s why he can’t, he can’t stay grown up that long, because he’s not mature, and he hasn’t earned the right to be Ultraman.

John – I definitely had a huge weight to take on for this legacy. And me being responsible for reintroducing it or introducing it to new fans or new groups of audiences around the world, right? But I think early on, we knew that we didn’t want to overload the audience with all that mythology, because there’s so much of it, and, so we quickly realised, to let the new audience discover Ultraman the way we did as kids, and then from there, you’ll find all the amazing mythology that’s been built around this franchise.

And for me on this film is really about like, tearing on the message of the Ultra and heroism I referred to as the ultimate spirit. And, that is because Ultraman is an aspiring hero. He’s a hero that learns. He’s also a hero, that’s not, you know, he’s not immortal like he can, he can be taken down.

And so you know, the stakes are high. This is a hero that’s always looking to find the right path to learn what the conflicts are, and find that neutral area or find a balance to. The reason is because he can look at both sides of the situation, not everything is black and white. And so the hero is very unique. I think it can inspire all of us in the same way and that’ll help carry on that legacy.

What do you hope that audiences get out of Ultraman? And do you know the story that you’ve told them?

Shannon – I hope that everybody in the family loves it. I hope they’ll watch it together. If somebody watches alone, maybe they haven’t connected with their parents in a while or maybe parents have connected with their kids, maybe they’ll call them up. I’m reminded that a friend just shared a story that she showed the film to her boys.

They didn’t know anything about it and the family absolutely loved it. When their dad came to pick them up the first thing they said was that they really wanted to watch this movie with him. I want people to talk and appreciate their families.

John – I have similar thoughts as Shannon. I’d also like to say there’s a whole world of Ultraman out there and I hope the film allows everyone to discover the amazing legacy that the franchise has built in the last six decades.

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