Friday, April 11, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Tokusatsu in TohoScope

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody scopes out some old school Japanese sci-fi.


Wilderness fires. Earthquakes and sinkholes. Massive fish die-offs. UFO sightings. These aren't just things being reported on the news from all around the globe in our present day, in the 1957 Japanese sci-fi movie The Mysterians such events are the build-up to an alien invasion that could destroy the Earth.

An astrophysicist named Ryoichi Shiraishi has been studying a cluster of planetoids located between Mars and Saturn that he believes were once all part of one large planet that he has dubbed Mysteroido. While staying in the area the aforementioned strange occurrences have been centered around, Shiraishi disappears.

A dome rises from the ground in the Japanese countryside, a base for a race of beings called The Mysterians. Shiraishi was correct in believing that there was a planet called Mysteroido, a planet that was destroyed long ago when the citizens of the planet waged nuclear war on each other, having created nukes long before Earthlings caught up with their technology. After Mysteroido blew up, the Mysterians sought refuge on Mars... and now they're interested in having a safe haven on Earth as well.

The first request of these aliens, who are humanoid in appearance and sport capes, sunglasses under helmets, and large plastic utility belts, is innocent enough: they just want ownership of three kilometers of land surrounding their dome. Their second request is where negotiations fall apart: the nuclear war on Mysteroido has left the Mysterians so affected by Strontium-90 that 80% of their children are born deformed. They must cross breed with Earth women to save their race, and they're not interested in courting them like gentlemen, they want women delivered to them to serve as breeding slaves.

Earth is threatened with war from the Mysterians if we don't comply with their demands... and threats are not the way to deal with Earthlings. Despite Shiraishi revealing via communications broadcast through televisions that he is with the Mysterians and believes that we should allow the aliens to be our rulers, because humans will likely destroy themselves with nuclear weapons within twenty years if left to their own devices, the militaries of the world band together as the Mysterians plot to take over the Earth by force, from their dome and from flying saucers waiting to attack from a space station in orbit.

The Mysterians prove to be formidable foes; their dome cannot be damaged by our weapons, our military forces take heavy losses from the gamma rays that the dome blasts out. They also have a giant robot called Mogera, made out of a metal that can't be found on Earth, that walks around, causing damage and shooting heat rays from its eyes that look like blue cartoon fireballs... But the Mysterians didn't count on the Earthlings coming up with things like a "Super Sonic Atomic Ray Heat Cannon" or "Atomic Heat Ray Reflectors".

Directed by Gojira's Ishirô Honda from a screenplay that was worked on by Gojira writer Shigeru Kayama, Rodan writer Takeshi Kimura, and Jôjirô Okami, The Mysterians is a highly entertaining, action packed sci-fi (or tokusatsu) adventure. It moves along at a great pace, the special effects provided by Gojira creator Eiji Tsuburaya are fantastic to watch, as always, and the Mysterians are total creeps... Nuclear warmongers and rapists, these guys are some of the most despicable alien invaders ever. Shiraishi comes to realize that Mysterians are not a group to side with it, but this realization comes long after it should have. The film has a strong anti-nuke stance, allowing Honda to continue delivering the message he started sending out into the world with the original Godzilla.

When reading up about Toho's sci-fi and monster movies, you come across many references to The Mysterians, and it turns out there's good reason for that - it's a really great movie.

This was the first of Toho's sci-fi movies to be filmed in their trademake TohoScope, a widescreen anamorphic lens system they developed in answer to America's CinemaScope.

There was no rampaging monster in the original script, but after bringing audiences two Godzilla movies and Rodan, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka thought they really should get a kaiju of some sort into the story. The initial plans were for a subterranean monster that was basically the creature that would come to be known as Baragon when it appeared in Frankenstein Conquers the World, but then Honda came up with the idea for the robot Mogera instead. Baragon and a different version of Mogera would both also end up appearing in Godzilla movies.


This sequel to The Mysterians is set in the futuristic year of 1965, and while it features some returning characters and the concept of Heat Cannons, it doesn't pick up on the idea that the previous film hinted at, that the Mysterians could someday return to terrorize the Earth again. The Earth is terrorized by an alien threat, but this time our antagonists are a race called the Natal, who are from the moon.

The Natal first make their presence known by destroying a space station with their lazer-shooting flying saucers, flooding Venice, Italy with a water spout, and blasting objects with a freeze ray that lowers their temperatures so much that it decreases their gravity, enabling the Natals to do such things as lift a bridge out from in front of a train, causing the train crash. They're also capable of long distance mind control and have weapons that can completely vaporize a human body.

Like the Mysterians before them, the Natals seek to rule the Earth as a colony, so in answer to this threat two SPIP spaceships are equipped with heat rays and sent on a trip to the moon, where the ships' crews are meant to track down the alien base.

True to the title, battles in outer space do ensue - the spaceships must blast space torpedoes out of their path, there's lazer-blasting action on the moon, a chase scene with flying saucers firing at the astronauts as they traverse the landscape in their moon buses... Although the Natal communicate through a deep, booming voice while addressing humans telepathically, when a couple of the astronauts encounter aliens on the moon they're little, spacesuit-wearing humanoids that make noises that sound like an ape crossed with a squeaky toy.

In retaliation, Natal space ships make a final assault on Earth, which our military forces attempt to fight off with jets that have been modified to fire heat rays and are capable of leaving the atmosphere.

Although The Mysterians director Ishirô Honda and story writer Jôjirô Okami returned to work on Battle in Outer Space, with the screenplay being completed by Mothra/frequent Godzilla screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, this sequel is much less known that its predecessor, apparently for the reason that it's a much lesser film.

Sure, it's a rollicking adventure movie with tons of special effects, but the characters are very plain, the Natals are primarily presented as nothing but objects firing weapons, and there is no depth to the story. It's nothing but action on action, which is alright, that makes it an enjoyable movie to watch, it just doesn't live up to what came before. It's still a fine film to watch on a relaxing afternoon.

GORATH (1962)

In the futuristic decade of the 1980s, a star called Gorath enters our solar system and is found to be on a collision course with the Earth. This will be no simple meteor strike, either. Gorath has a gravitational pull six thousand times stronger than Earth's, so even if it were to pass within 125,000 miles of our planet, it could still be a catastrophic event. Getting caught in Gorath's gravity would cause the Earth to experience earthquakes, mountains would crumble, volcanoes would erupt, the tides would rise, our air would be stripped away, we would have no clouds. The atmosphere would be filled with debris. Survivors would have to get oxygen through artificial breathers.

The U.N. gathers to discuss countermeasures and find if anything can be done to prevent this disaster from occurring. Led by some of the greatest minds in Japan, a plan is devised: the Earth will be moved out of Gorath's way with the use of nuclear powered rocket thrusters being built at the South Pole. Exerting a force of 6,600,000,000 megatons, these thrusters may be able to propel the Earth out of Gorath's course... But the size of Gorath's mass, the strength of its gravity, is growing as it moves through space. Can Earth be moved in time?

Gorath isn't connected to The Mysterians or Battle in Outer Space, but the three films together are considered to be "Toho's Space Opera Trilogy", so it's fitting that the disconnected series was finished out with Ishirô Honda coming back to direct from a story by Jôjirô Okami and a screenplay by Takeshi Kimura. The result is an entertaining sci-fi disaster movie that moves along at a quick pace over its 89 minute running time. All three films in the space opera trilogy have refreshingly brief running times, given that most movies of this sort would probably be in the 2 hour range.

Most of the film focuses on how scientists and engineers pull off the thruster plan while astronauts observe the approaching Gorath in space. Dangerous situations are dealt with both on the ground and out beyond other planets in our solar system.

The movie is largely straightforward in dealing with the Gorath issue... but late in the film, there's an oddball five minute interlude that seems so out of place that it was removed from the first version of Gorath to be released in the U.S... The heat from the thrusters melts away some of the ice of the South Pole, unearthing and reviving a huge prehistoric walrus called Maguma, who proceeds to do some damage at the project's control center. This walrus issue has to be dealt with before it causes any more trouble... As with Mogera in The Mysterians, this giant monster was dropped into the movie at the insistence of producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, the man who first thought up Godzilla and Mothra. Honda was reluctant to include the walrus beast, but it made it to the screen and is dealt with as quickly as possible.

Despite Honda's initial resistance to Maguma, the filmmaker did consider including the walrus in the monster mash epic Destroy All Monsters. Unfortunately for Maguma, he didn't make it any further in the process than early drafts of the script. However, Baragon, that subterranean monster first thought up for The Mysterians, did make it into the finished version of Destroy All Monsters.

No comments:

Post a Comment