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Gedde Watanabe, Tamlyn Tomita and Christopher Sean Discuss ‘Ultraman: Rising’ & the Iconic Asian Superhero

Netflix, Ultraman Rising, Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe
Netflix

Ultraman: Rising stars Gedde Watanabe and Tamlyn Tomita occupy an auspicious space in Asian American cinema history having starred in ‘80s classic Sixteen Candles and the landmark film, The Joy Luck Club, respectively. It’s without hyperbole to say that Watanabe and Tomita lay down the groundwork for the far more active role Asians play in Hollywood today, and with their voice performances in Netflix’s Ultraman: Rising, they continue to break ground.


“We get to see an Asian/Asian American superhero,” Tomita, who currently stars in another Netflix adaptation, Avatar: The Next Airbender, tells The Asian Cut over Zoom. “He is sexy and strong, funny — humble and very caretaking. [He’s a] father figure, as well as child and son.”


The Ultraman franchise has deep roots in Japan and across Asia. A character whose impact can be likened to the cultural standing Superman has in the West, Ultraman first made his debut in 1966 on a Japanese television show (aptly titled, Ultraman) that ran for 39 episodes. Since then, nearly 50 iterations of the character in television, film, and Manga series have appeared as sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots, creating one of the most celebrated and successful superhero franchise in Japan.


Growing up in the U.S. during the ‘60s and ‘70s gave Watanabe and Tomita little access to the phenomenon developing overseas, though. “You got these weird little channels that you could possibly see [Ultraman], and it was the first time that you saw an Asian American or Asian hero,” Watanabe explains. “I was not familiar, [but] we knew of him.”


“But we didn’t grow up with him,” Tomita adds.


Netflix's Ultraman: Rising Christopher Sean
Netflix

Conversely, for Christopher Sean, the latest actor to take up the Ultraman mantle, the superhero was a part of his childhood. “I knew Ultraman as a kid, I would buy his masks at the festivals in Japan, and I would see him on TV,” recalls the actor. “But after booking the role, I studied him and I learned that there is so much lore from Ultraman to Ultraseven to The Return of Ultraman, and so on.”


In Ultraman: Rising, Sean plays an unwilling Ultraman in the form of baseball superstar, Ken Sato. After moving to the U.S. from Japan as a young boy with his mother Emiko (Tomita), Ken grows up disconnected from his father, Professor Sato (Watanabe), who currently dons the Ultraman mask. But as Professor Sato grows old, Ken, who has returned to Japan to continue his professional baseball career, feels pressured to take up the role and protect Tokyo from the ever-present kaiju attacks.


Netflix Ultraman: Rising
Netflix

Ultraman: Rising will be the first exposure to the character for many in the West and around the world, and Sean hopes this will buoy the interest of the uninitiated and prompt them to understand the nuances of the character and the film. “I truly hope that [audiences] see what this movie is really about,” says Sean. “It's about humanity. It's about love. It's about family. It's about learning from your mistakes, and not living in the past. But looking at the same situation, using a positive perspective and looking towards making the future better.”


He continues, “This movie encompasses so many quips that we deal with: inter-generational relationships, your relationship with your parents, having the courage to battle through issues and as you get through the end of that issue, you find that you're a better person in the end. These are the things that I hope that audiences will take from our movie.”


As Sean discusses his thoughts about the film and the character, Tomita and Watanabe look on with an almost parental pride. There’s a poignancy to Tomita and Watanabe playing Sean’s parents in the film — a generational passing of the torch from two actors who have meant so much to Asian American cinema to an actor who’s just getting started. 


Tomita and Watanabe’s generation fought battles on sets and in meeting rooms, and made sacrifices just to wedge their feet in the door. We’re currently experiencing a shift in Western society where stories are being told for us and made by us. Ultraman: Rising may just appear to be another Netflix animated film, but it denotes another step forward — another territory gained.


 

Ultraman: Rising premieres June 14 on Netflix.

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