Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 13 - The Mysterians

Space aliens in a giant purple egg invade Japan and we fight back with satellite dishes and flying cigars.

"The Mysterians", AKA "Chikyū Bōeigun" (Earth Defense Force), is a 1957 Toho alien invasion movie directed by our old friend Ishiro Honda.  Unlike the other movies on our list, "The Mysterians" technically is not a giant monster movie, its just a movie that happens to have a giant robot creature in it - and a terrible one at that.  Ishiro Honda and his crew just wanted to make an alien war blockbuster with lots of lasers and flying weapons and aliens in colorful helmets, but they were told by producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka to include a man-in-a-suit effect in order to rub off the profits of previous Toho successes like "Godzilla" and "Rodan".  Personally I was pretty conflicted as to whether "The Mysterians" was worth including on this countdown... but then I remembered that in a few episodes I'll be covering "The Beginning of the End", so really everything is fair game.

As you would expect from all the other Toho movies we've covered, the special effects are wide in scope, showing everything from earthquakes and mudslides to airships firing laser beams while still finding room for tank battles, rockets, and a forest fire.  The music by Akira Ifukube is top-notch, the guy seems to do nothing but excellent scores.  Ifukube seems to be one of the most talented film composers of the 1950s.  However, despite those successes, "The Mysterians" also suffers from the main problems of Toho movies of this period, in that the human characters are vague and under-developed, to the point of being literally nothing but names attached to a body.  In fact this movie has some of the worst characterization I've ever seen, with two leading females who have nothing to do but stand around, do their feminine duty, and without complaint get kidnapped by the aliens.

That being said, "The Mysterians" is a pretty mixed film.  It features easily the lamest kaiju monster I've ever seen, the characters suck, the story has no pacing, and its really nothing but an action blockbuster from 1950s Japan.  However, there is still a charm to this thing.  The effects - again done by Eiji Tsuburaya - are pretty cheesy now, but are still exciting in their own cartoony way and give the impression of a high-fantasy interstellar war.  "The Mysterians" was also filmed in "TohoScope", a Japanese recreation of the Western "CinemaScope", meaning that its actually using wide modern cinematic aspect ratio.  Its no "Godzilla", its no "Rodan", but "The Mysterians" is still something special.

The main cast of "The Mysterians" are mainly Japanese actors we've met before in other movies.  Kenji Sahara is the lead, Atsumi, and ultimately he's just as bland in this movie as he was in "Rodan".  "Godzilla"'s Serizawa, Akihiko Hirata plays Ryoichi Shiraishi, Atsumi's best friend, and like all of Hirata's roles, a conflicted scientist.  Shiraishi is probably the only character in this movie with any sort of arc, actually joining with the Mysterian invaders because he thinks alien rulers will protect us from inevitable Cold War nuclear destruction.  However, he has so little screentime that one could argue that he only joined their side to finish his research paper.  Interestingly Takashi Shimura, the great Kurosawa actor, is here and completely sleepwalks through his role.  There are two females, their characters are so badly written that they are barely worth noting as characters and in fact are merely props.  Also, "The Mysterians" features a few White English-speaking actors to give this film some international scope, so its actually the first bilingual movie this giant monster series has covered.

Really, I never thought that "Godzilla Raids Again" was going to be become some kind of high-water mark for kaiju movie characterization, but there you go.

"The Mysterians" opens with the main characters at a Japanese mask-festival of some kind*, which is tragically interrupted by a huge forest fire.  Serizawa, I mean, Shiraishi, runs into the woods to discover what is going on, but then is passed by a group of kids who have decided they can fight the entire mile-long conflagration by themselves.  Unsurprisingly, they're all killed in a fiery ordeal which is the lone frightening moment in the entire movie.  This is the only part with any sort of tension or believability, the rest is pure alien fantasy crap, like you'd want.  Confusingly we then cut to some time later.  Is Shiraishi okay?  What happened with the fire?  I don't know, its very unclear.  Anyway Shiraishi has sent Atsumi to hand in his research paper on, "Mysteroido" a "planetoido" which apparently existed between "Mars and Saturn"**.  You mean Jupiter?  Also, Shiraishi's home town has been destroyed in a giant earthquake.

While on route to investigate the attack, Atsumi and some police officers discover that the road they're standing on is filled with radiation.  (Can't be a Fifties giant monster movie without some kind of reference to nuclear fallout, right?)  And then the giant monster Moguera bursts out of the mountain and attacks.

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Moguera is, as I mentioned before, easily the lamest kaiju monster I've ever seen.  Its got a pointy beak, its body is rather chubby, and its arms do not appear to work at all.  Basically all it does is walk forward and make a horrible repeating beeping noise.  It sounds like an electronic devise trying to annoy you into recharging its batteries, not really a death machine crushing humanity.  It also only survives for about ten minutes into the film, doing an excellent job tearing up a small Japanese town, but utterly failing beyond that.  We've only fifteen minutes in, and already the key monster is showing up, and only five minutes later he's beaten.  Yeah, Moguera is immune to small arms fire and flamethrower attacks, but beating him is actually very easy.  Just lure him onto a bridge and blow the bridge up, when he'll then fall into a ravine and get destroyed.  Mortar shells can't break that armor, but a hundred foot drop will.  What an awful friggin' monster.  "Tarantula"'s giant spider might have been hilariously weak to napalm, but at least he was a scary concept and there was some kind of poetry to the way they filmed him.  Moguera just looks like something thrown together in a garage a week before filming.  The highlight of this sequence is seeing Atsumi's girlfriend in the tub, with her naked back to the camera.

And now that Moguera is dead, the rest of the movie continues as if he never existed.  Because the Mysterians are here!

Go Go Power Rangers!!!

The Mysterians are the real threat.  They've come to Earth after the destruction of their planet several millenia ago following a nuclear war.  That threat of nuclear destruction is Ishiro Honda throwing a bit of anti-nuke subtext into his movie, which seems like a strange idea considering how utterly lowbrow the rest of the movie is in every respect.  Anyway, the Mysterians have a giant purple egg that they use as their home base, which is situated at the base of Mt. Fuji.  They demand from the Earthlings all the land three-kilometers outward from their headquarters, and five Japanese women, including the two females we've been introduced to previously.  Yes, the aliens are here for our women!  I told you this movie was going to get wonderfully cheesy soon.  Also, the Mysterians helped themselves to three Japanese girls already, they just want the other two for breeding.  This threat to the sacred virginity of the Yamato feminine is too much for Japan, who then launch a full offensive to take the aliens out.  Unfortunately, the alien egg is completely invulnerable to modern weaponry, and it can shoot lightning out, beating the Japanese attack.  It can melt tanks.  Apparently its death ray is   I think Japan needs something bigger to throw at this problem.

Worse, Atsumi discovers the Shiraishi has completely turned over the Mysterians side, who have another power far deadlier than you could possibly imagine:  they can control TV!  And they broadcast in color!   Shiraishi only shows up afterwards occasionally on the television set to warn the Earthlings that they should surrender or else.

This more or less sets the tone for the entire rest of "The Mysterians".  The Japanese and later United Nations forces come up with some new strategy to crack the enemy egg, this attack inevitably fails, then we retreat back to various meeting rooms to discuss new technologies being developed to defeat the aliens.  I find it interesting that "The Mysterians" actually bothers to include American personal and technology, as most kaiju films curiously ignore the fact that during the Cold War the US had a massive military presence in Japan, and still to this day we have an army thirty-thousand strong there.  If any Godzillas were to come along, I'm pretty sure the United States would have something to say about it.  But yet we're always absent, Japan fights the monster completely alone, but notably using American-made F-86 Sabres.  This time however, all the forces worked together.  The US, in this film, even beat the Russians into space, launching an artificial satellite in Arizona, while Sputnik won't be up until July.  Together the United Earth has built a fleet of airships which surely must be able to beat the enemy, right?

Turns out, no, the airships are very slow-moving despite being rockets, and they are easily destroyed by the alien's death ray.  We do so badly against the Mysterians that they expand their land demand to 175 kilometers, conquering half of Tokyo Bay.  So then the UN anti-alien forces come together and build giant satellite dishes that reflect the enemy death ray and shoot our own bit of fuzz on the film stock.  And we build a fiery red thing on one of the airships.  So now we got the satellite dishes marches forward, blocking the enemy death rays, airships blasting them in the skies, finally that egg is going to crack.

Do those things get HBO? "Game of Thrones" is coming back soon.

Remember Atsumi?  And the other characters?  Well, the movie did too.  A Mysterian breaks into his girlfriend's house and easily kidnaps her by simply lifting her up, which makes her entire body go limp.  Then a second Mysterian does the same thing to the other girl.  As it turns out, Japanese women are so polite that they won't even complain if you're an alien trying to capture them into sexual slavery.  So Atsumi has to break into the Purple Egg, which turns out to be very easily entered, and save the day.  Which he does with the help of Serizawa, who has turned back to the side of good just long enough to blow up the Mysterians from the inside.

Meanwhile, our old friend Moguera is back, somehow.  He tries his back to be helpful to the aliens by digging underneath one of the satellite dishes and breaking it.  Instead he stupidly causes the thing to fall on him, smashing his body and ending his kaiju career for the next forty or so years.  Seriously though, Moguera sucks.

Anyway, the humans defeat the aliens, the egg explodes, and even as the Mysterians try to flee in their flying saucers, we still chase after them and kill some of their retreating ships.  Just to show them not to fuck with Earth.

"The Mysterians" today is one of the better-known SciFi films from Toho during the 1950s, and it definitely had an impact, because alien invasion plotlines became pretty common in Godzilla movies after this.  This movie itself had a direct sequel in 1959's "Battle in Outer Space", a movie I won't be covering because that one does not have a giant monster of any kind.  "Gorath" was a spiritual successor, finishing the "Toho Space Opera Trilogy" - that one we will cover because it actually does have a kaiju monster in it.  Moguera, despite being the single lamest giant monster ever, actually would get a second chance at stardom, this time being a human-controlled robot in 1994's "Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla".  As I recall, he isn't very badass in that movie either. 

In conclusion, "The Mysterians" is not a very intelligent movie... actually its a very stupid movie.  People complained that "Independence Day" was nothing but a space alien movie with no real plot behind it and terrible characters.  Well, they might have been right, but clearly none of those people have seen "The Mysterians" because this actually is nothing but an alien war movie.  But the alien war itself is a very interesting, often-hilarious adventure, as the humans and the aliens fight each other with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink.  And the kitchen sink only missed this battle because it got lost on route 95 and showed up an hour after Earth had already won.  The effects are cheesy, the aliens wear silly helmets, the giant monster is more a joke than a threat, but its still a fun movie in its own way.  I wouldn't think too hard about any of the science... or the storyline... or even anything.  Just sit back and enjoy.  Yeah, "The Mysterians" is perfect Mystery Science Theater 3000 material and is probably a crapfest of a movie - but you can't deny its not a fun crapfest.  If you want a serious alien invasion movie from the Fifties, there's always "War of the Worlds", but if you want cheese, "The Mysterians" is your movie.

Next time on All-Out Giant Monster Attack! - Ray Harryhausen sets an alien monster loose in the Colosseum in "20 Million Miles to Earth".


* Some of the extras are wearing the Keaton Mask from "Majora's Mask". 

** The version of this movie I watched was using online subtitles, which might appear to not be very trustworthy.  Though considering this movie is just about 70% special effects and 30% dialog, I doubt it would make very much difference.

1 comment:

  1. I liked Independence Day, although that may have only been because of Will Smith's presence. No matter how good or bad a movie is, if Will Smith is in it, I'll like it.

    Your description of this movie reminded me of Prince of Space, one of my favorite MST3K episodes.