‘He-Low the Final,’ a milestone of tokusatsu superhero films

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The three top superheroes in “He-Low the Final” strike poses. They are performed by experienced suit actors wearing full-body suits and masks.

“He-Low the Final” is a new tokusatsu sci-fi superhero film directed by Hassei Takano, an actor known for playing the human personae of superheroes in tokusatsu TV shows and films, such as “Ultraman Gaia” and “Kamen Rider Ryuki.”

The new film, which has been showing across the country since late May, is the third installment of a trilogy directed by Takano, who called on his “superhero friends” to take part in creating superhero movies that they want to produce. The first two films of the series are “He-Low” in 2017 and “He-Low the Second” in 2019. Throughout the trilogy, the main cast members are Takeshi Yoshioka from “Ultraman Gaia;” Takamasa Suga, who played the lead in “Kamen Rider Ryuki;” and Takaya Aoyagi, who appeared in “Ultraman Orb” among other works.

The actors who joined Takano on the project formed a brilliant cast. Key roles are played by Nao Oikawa, a villainous queen from “Engine Sentai Go-onger” and Takashi Hagino, who played Kamen Rider Oja. Also, you will have to stay attentive because otherwise you might miss seeing such cameos as Nao Nagasawa from “Ninpu Sentai Hurricaneger,” shown on-screen for about three seconds; Shun Shioya from the same show standing on a beach in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture; Taiyo Sugiura of “Ultraman Cosmos” working on his muscles; or popular voice actor Kazuki Yao walking with Shogo Suzuki from “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.”

Even taking into account the project’s big success in crowd-funding, budget alone would not be able to bring together such an amazing cast in a commercial film produced by a major studio.

It is difficult to explain the story. Is its genre a fantastical mystery or a work of absurdism? Let me try to give a rough idea without giving away any spoilers. It can probably be summed up as a story of heroes, played by Yoshioka and others, regaining the hearts of heroes. No, that may sound too serious. The film features heroes who exhibit many unheroic behaviors and villains who do not act like villains at all. The final scene is also a tad different from the usual grand finale of a superhero film.

It makes a clear departure from films that are made to merely make its creator feel good and not with the audience in mind. Sure, there are many scenes that seem unscripted and to just go with the flow, but they never end up being cliched antics. Moreover, the film’s tokusatsu scenes look superb with their utilization of elaborate miniature sets. The special effects used in the flying scenes are brilliant, too. The theme song is performed by JAM Project, the internationally popular vocal unit that specializes in anime and tokusatsu songs.

Above all, the script by Kei Taguchi, whose past works include “Garo,” is outstanding, to say the least. Even though the protagonist often behaves outrageously, you can’t help but feel connected to the character. Since Takano asked me to contribute an article for the film’s brochure, I watched it many times. And the more I watched it, the more I could see a wide range of things in the story. It is an impressive film indeed.

“He-Low the Final” was released in Tokyo and several other cities in late May, followed by a few more cinemas since then. I’m sure you can enjoy the film even if you have not seen the previous two, so please go and see it if it comes to a cinema near you. There have been many reports on the success of “Shin Ultraman,” another tokusatsu film recently released, but “He-Low” also makes you feel the underlying strength of Japanese tokusatsu films.