Interviews – Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe and the Filmmakers of Netflix’s Ultraman: Rising’ (2024)

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About Ultraman: Rising Related

Netflix’s new animated film, Ultraman: Rising, brings one of the most iconic Japanese heroes to western audiences with a distinctly Asian American lens. While the story itself it still very much set in Japan and focused on Japanese characters, the cast and filmmakers responsible for making the surprisingly emotional family film are largely made up of Asian Americans.

I had the opportunity to speak with the cast and filmmakers in advance of the film’s release, including Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe, co-director John Aoshima and director/writer Shannon Tindle.

In Ultraman: Rising, Tomita voices Ultraman’s artificial intelligence support Mina, as well as Emiko Sato, Kenji’s mother. Tomita, who has been an Asian American staple in Hollywood for decades, appearing in projects like The Karate Kid Part II (1986), The Joy Luck Club (1993), and more recently the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series, has seen it all. I asked about her career journey and watching the industry evolve.

“It’s been a real wonderful journey to be in partnership and fellowship and familyship with so many talented Asian and Asian-American actors, that I just hope the world can see that these stories are worth telling and that they’re a part of the universal story and that Ultraman really really is imbued with all the best qualities of what it means to be a family. I think everybody can relate to that,” Tomita said.

Interviews – Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe and the Filmmakers of Netflix’s Ultraman: Rising’ (1)

The title character in the series, Kenji, is voiced by Christopher Sean, whose personal experiences allowed him to connect and relate to the character who moved to the United States, found stardom, and moved back to Japan to take on the “family business.” Sean talked about how several elements of his personal background added depth to Kenji’s characterization, but also made it a point to credit his colleagues as well.

“Being half Japanese and half white, I felt kind of like the outsider looking in in both cultures many times, and Kenji as well having traveled from America to Japan and not really fitting in. Being a stepfather and a caretaker to a sister with special needs, Down Syndrome, is just like [Kenji] having been thrown into the role of a parental figure for Emi,” Sean said. “As well as being extremely charismatic and good looking, it’s hard stuff to do! [Laughing] Trying to walk that line of humor and confidence, I’ve kind of dealt with that my whole life, as I moved often with a father in the Navy; we moved every 2 to 5 years. So finding that I was able to traverse these worlds with the guidance and the chemistry of amazing people like Tamlyn, Gedde, Shannon, John, [writer] Mark Haimes, so many amazing people helped me create this, so I can say with 100% confidence, it was a team effort and my experiences did help, but really I relied on them.”

Watanabe rounds out the Sato family trio as Professor Sato, who was the previous Ultraman before Kenji. Watanabe, like Tomita, is a veteran of Hollywood and also has a substantial background in theater. He talked about how he approaches his characters with personal experiences of “joy” and “pain” and celebrating those around him.

“Staying open as I get older and enjoying other people’s success, especially the younger Asian and American Asian actors that, I mean, God it’s amazing now what’s happening out there for us. So I can’t wait to play their fathers, uncles and grandpa, because that’s what’s going to happen.” Watanabe said.

For co-director John Aoshima, who has an extensive art and animation background from Kubo and the Two Strings to DuckTales and Gravity Falls, Ultraman enabled him to imbue much of his own unique perspectives, similar to Sean, but from behind the camera.

“Our main hero, Ken Sato, knowing he’s a Japanese American character like I was. A lot of the details and persona, not the swagger of course, but the persona element, I share some of my own personal stories of my childhood and feeling like an outsider, so it helped develop the backstory for Ken Sato and made a more deeper, authentic character that way,” Aoshima said.

Director Shannon Tindle may not be Asian, but he’s had a life-long love of Ultraman since he was a five-year-old growing up in Kentucky. Tindle represents the universal nature of stories like Ultraman, which may be distinctly Japanese, but also have broad appeal.

“I think the great pop culture characters are global. For me at first, as a kid, when I first saw [Ultraman] when I was five, he’s just such a striking, design…I just didn’t have any connection, growing up in Kentucky, I didn’t know how big the character was until I moved out to LA and I’m like, ‘Oh my God the legacy of this character is absolutely incredible,’…I think it’s one of those characters that speaks to everyone and we wanted to do the same thing with the film, speak to as wide an audience as we could,” Tindlesaid.

Ultraman: Rising premieres June 14, 2024 on Netflix.

Interviews – Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe and the Filmmakers of Netflix’s Ultraman: Rising’ (2)

About Ultraman: Rising

With Tokyo under siege from rising monster attacks, baseball star Ken Sato returns home to take on the mantle of Ultraman. But the titanic superhero meets his match when he reluctantly adopts a 35-foot-tall, fire-breathing baby kaiju. Sato must rise above his ego to balance work and parenthood while protecting the baby from forces bent on exploiting her for their own dark plans. In partnership with Netflix, Tsuburaya Productions, and Industrial Light & Magic, Ultraman: Rising is written by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes, directed by Shannon Tindle, and co-directed by John Aoshima.

For more information, visit www.netflix.com/ultramanrising.

Interviews – Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe and the Filmmakers of Netflix’s Ultraman: Rising’ (3)

Ron Seoul-Oh

Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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Interviews – Christopher Sean, Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe and the Filmmakers of Netflix’s Ultraman: Rising’ (2024)
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