Although producer Tomoyuki Tanaka had scored big with the kaiju films GODZILLA,GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN,and RODAN,he looked to score with other types of science fiction related films other than the "giant monster on the loose" genre.Hey may have found his inspiration in George Pal's WAR OF THE WORLDS,a materpiece of the "alien invasion" genre.In 1957 he unleashed THE MYSTERIANS[American release title]to theaters in Japan.
The film opens with a mysterious space station in Earth's orbit as well as saucers flying to and from it as the credits roll.From there we segway into a traditional Japanese festival in a small Japanese village.[WAR OF THE WORLDS featured a similar scene,this time a barn dance in a small country town.] We are introduced to the couples of Etsuko and Atsumi[Kenji Sahara] and Shirashi[Akihiko Kirata] and Hiroko.Shirashi has been drifting apart from Hiroko due to his work and as his would be brother in law confronts him about the situation a forest fire breaks out,interrupting the festival.Atsumi hands in Shirashi's report to his supervisor,Professor Adachi,who works at the observatory.Adachi seems disturbed at his colleague's behavior,not turning in his own work and delivering an incomplete report.Apparantly he is convinced a planet called Mysteroid once existed and it's inhabitants might still exist in the galaxy.Atsumi receives a call informing him the village Shirashi is staying at was wiped out by a landslide.As he and authorities investigate the tires on their jeep begin to burn.The road is blazing hot due to radioactivity.Just then a huge robot[called Moguera in press material but never in the film] bursts from the mountainside,frying the police jeep and a firing police officer with eye beams. Soon the robot is walking into town,air raid sirens wail,Japanese citizens flee,and the military is mobilized.As they flee the battlefield Atsumi and Etsuko spot flying saucers flying towards the lake.The Japanese puts up a brave but ineffective stand against the robot,who uses his beams to set fire to the country side.Then it happens:In GODZILLA,the monster was stopped by a powerful weapon dubbed the Oxygen Destroyer,in RODAN,the giant pterodactyls were subdued by causing a volcanic eruption,here the giant robot is stopped when a bridge is blown and he falls into the ditch.So in less than twenty minutes they have abbreviated the kaiju movies into a compact package with anti-climactic ending.Monster destroyed,movie over,right?Wrong!
Atsumi adresses a conference[of scientists?of the press?of his bridge club?]while back at the observatory Adachi spots more saucers.He and Atsumi deduce that the inhabitants of Mysteroid are behind all of this.As they and the authorities investigate the lake a huge dome appears from underground.A voice calls out,stating the Mysterians will only negotiate with Atsumi,Adachi,and three other scientists.Inside the dome the Leader informs them that if Earth forces use H-bombs on them they will retalliate with their own H-bombs,ensuring an atomic stalemate.He claims that all the Mysterians ask for is three kilometers of land and the right to mate with Earth women.There civilization suffers radiation poisoning,many of them are deformed and Earth women could replenish their population.They have already taken three and ask for Etsuko and Hiroko,which doesn't sit too well with Atsumi.The scientists are released to deliver the terms,which in turn are rejected by the military.As Atsumi warns Etsuko and Hiroko of the aliens' intentions when Shirashi interrupts the local t.v. programming.He has taken up with the Mysterians and wants Atsumi to persuade the military to call off the attack.The attack proceeds as scheduled but the dome isn't damaged.As the saucers shoot down the fighter planes the dome incinerates the tanks and cannons with it's gamma ray.
After their victory the saucers fly over Tokyo warning they want only peace,and that Earth should stop attacking them and accept their terms.Professor Adachi travels to the U.N. to plead for international assistance.He warns the Mysterians didn't come to Earth for just three kilometers of land.The invaders are secretly building an underground fault,which will allow them control of the East Coast.America sends two scientists to help the Japanese[I guess Americans had more important things to worry about than an invasion from space.]and soon Shirashi speaks to them via the t.v.He warns humanity cannot be allowed to control Earth since they would eventually destroy it.However the notion of turning control over to the Mysterians is rejected again.When will these pesky aliens learn we cannot be subjugated by asking us nicely?We have to be whipped into submission!Back at the U.N. military officers deduce the dome's ray cannot focus on aerial attackers[though it DID shoot down a plane.]and the aliens are succeptible to heat.Just try sccrewing around with their thermostat!Plans are underway for an electron cannon['cuz neutron and proton cannons just plain suck!]and giant airships called the Alpha and Beta are launched to engage the enemy.Although they believe the dome's beam loses potency fifing at objects above 3000 meters the dome has no problem shooting down the Beta.Back to the drawing board as the Earth forces are licked yet again.As Atsumi flees the area he disovers a secret tunnel in the forest.
As the electron cannon is prepared the Mysterians announce they now control 120 km of land.American scientists introduce plans for the Mrkalite cannon,sort of a giant satellite dish that can fire heat beams.However it is a close range weapon meaning it would have to get real close to the dome.Meanwhile the aliens kidnap Etsuko and Hiroko.Meanwhile the military sense the aliens are about to complete their plans and order an evacuation.For the second time in the film Japanese citizens flee as the military plans to attack,regardless of the fate of the captured women. As the attack begins Atsumi enters the dome via the secret tunnel.A rocket delivers the two Markalite cannons to Mt. Fuji which are controlled from within the Alpha's cockpit.The two ray guns open fire on the dome,commencing a battle of the deathrays.Missiles pound the dome,providing cover for the Markalites.Inside the dome Atsumi overpowers a guard,takes his ray gun and starts shooting up the interior,but is captured by the Mysterians.Although effective the Markalites begin to lose power.The Mysterians cause a huge flood,taking out one Markalite and an entire unevacuated village.Should've left when you had the chance,morons!Inside the dome a captured Atsumi is led by a supposed alien to the exit,where the women await.His captor is really Shirashi,who is letting them escape.He now knows the Mysterians' true intentions were to wipe out humanity,and he will remain behind to stop them.He begins to destroy the dome's interior with his ray gun.Outside a second robot tunnels underground and topples the second Markalite,which just happens to fall on the robot,taking him out of the fight.These robots are a tad clumsy for technology from and advanced race.Luckily,the Beta 2 ship arrives armed with the electron cannon,which looks like a rather normal chin mounted gun,as opposed to the huge,awesome Markalite. However the electron cannon blasts the dome to smithereens as a few remaining saucers flee into space.As they watch Atsumi warns humanity may yet again meet up with the Mysterinas.
For this film producer Tomoyuki Tanaka once again called on his dream team of director Ishiro Honda,FX man Eiji Tsuburaya,and music maestro Akira Ifukube,who all worked on GODZILLA,it's sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN,and RODAN.Tanaka obviously wanted their Midas touch for this forray into the "invaders from space" film.Sadly,the idea falls short of it's potential,being nothing more than a special effects vehicle,more typical of today's American summer blockbusters than something made by the masters who brought us GODZILLA.Ishiro Honda seemed tied up by the story focusing on the FX scenes,as all human drama is almost nonexistent.The hero,Kenji Sahara,is mostly a spectator throughout the film,only getting slightly heroic at the film's end.This is hardly the type of character the audience can root for.Though it is established he is a scientist,we never learn his area of expertise,so it seems odd he would be allowed to accompany the military in their investigations.The women are typical damsels in distress and are little more than window dressing in the film.The other scientists and military officers run around looking like they've been listening to Barry Manillow all day and can't take it any more.Akihiko Kirata attempts to give his character some personality,as every time he appears on t.v. to deliver an ultimatum he does so with a smile,reminiscent of a slimey used car dealer.No wonder the military always refused.The Mysterians are also void any personality,except they get to wear these cool color coded space suits,capes,and helmets,which seem to distinguish some sort of military/social hierarchy,with blue being the lowest,yellow is for the officers,and red reserved for the leader.This sort of military pecking order may have influenced George Lucas's Imperial forces in STAR WARS.The Mysterians' dome has a spacious,futuristic interior,worthy of being in a James Bond film.Akira Ifukube's contribution to the film was a rousing military march and nothing more.The film lacks the musical depth he brought to GODZILLA,not that there is anything in this film that merits any musical depth.
As written previously,the film was a vehicle for the special effects.Tuburaya may have wanted to take his craft to a new level,but the execution left something to be desired.The animation of the rays was sloppy,some looking like they were made by highlighter marker,others being only scratches in the film.The miniature vehicles were a step up from the ones in GODZILLA,but the tanks and cannons lack recoil when firing,giving away their nature.Matted shots of actual military vehicles results in transparent tanks.The wires pulling the flying saucers are painfully evident,plus the saucers are pulled on the same wires,restricting independant movement.The film's best moment is the robot's attack on the village,as it is done with meticulously crafted miniature edifices and suitmation.Portrayed by Haruo Nakajima,it comes off as a ponderous,slow moving,war machine.The suit was made to appear metallic and angular,an evil,unearthly image,sadly the construction of the suit allowed for little mobility and emoting.All Nakajima can do is walk straight forward and move from side to side.The second robot was an unconvincing wind up model and seemed to be played for laughs,surprisingly out of place for a rather dead serious science fiction film,which perhaps explains why the scene was edited out for U.S. release.The film would have perhaps benefitted by having the first robot's rampage occur at the film's climax,since afterwards the film slowly loses steam.If anything good can be said about the film is that introduced many concepts that would become regular in the Godzilla series in years to come:The alien invasion plot,an airship to protect humanity,the Maser cannons which seemed to evolve from the Markalite,and even Moguera,who would return in 1994 as a robot built by humanity to stop Godzilla.THE MYSTERIANS was no grand masterpiece by the Toho boys.It was,however,an important step in the right direction of their sci-fi films,kaiju or otherwise,and deserves a looksee.Two stars.**.