Friday, 31 January 2014

The Mysterians (1957)

The Mysterians is a 1957 Japanese science fiction monster movie so you know what to expect. There’ll be a gigantic monster, unconvincing but immensely enjoyable special effects, Tokyo will get stomped and there’ll be lots of tedious lectures about how we’re going to destroy ourselves in a nuclear war.

This movie has all those ingredients but despite the lectures it’s mostly a great deal of fun. It was directed by Ishirô Honda, the director of the original Godzilla and therefore the grandfather of all Japanese monster movies.

The Mysterians is an alien invasion movie. A mysterious object is spotted in the skies by astronomers who immediately decide it has something to do with Planet 5, which no longer exists but now there’s a sort of planetoid or something where it used to be, a planetoid called Mysteroid. This is soon followed by the appearance of flying saucers, and then the inevitable giant monster. It’s actually a giant remote-controlled robot but it’s as effective in stomping Japanese towns as any giant dinosaur.

The Mysterians is slightly different from other Japanese monster movies in that the gigantic monster plays a relatively minor rôle. The threats posed by the aliens are more varied and therefore more interesting than the usual monster threat. 

The aliens, known as the Mysterians, seem at first to have rather ambiguous motives. They claim to be peace-loving and to hate the very idea of war although the fact that they have already wiped out an entire village, not to mention the other fact that their monster robot has already gone on a destructive rampage stomping everything and everyone in its path, leads the Japanese authorities to be (quite justifiably one would think) just a tiny bit suspicious of the peaceful intentions of the Mysterians.

The Mysterians inform the Japanese government that they don’t want to invade the whole Earth; they just want a tiny area of land, a mere three kilometres in radius. That might have been considered quite a reasonable request, but the Mysterians want something else as well. They want our women!

The Mysterians have irradiated their own world in a nuclear war (pause for a lecture about the evils of war) and now most of their offspring are abnormal. So they want to marry Earth  women. The idea that a species from another planet would be capable of interbreeding with humans is one of those remarkably silly ideas that the makers of science fiction movies and television series got fixated on for decades. But this is a Japanese monster movie so it’s hardly sensible to get bent out of shape about a bit of scientific silliness. Scientific silliness is exactly what you want in a movie of this type.

The threat to Japanese womanhood galvanises the Japanese government and an all-out attack is launched on the Mysterians. Unfortunately the Mysterians are operating from within a huge dome that seems impervious to all known weapons. The aliens have some pretty formidable weapons of their own, death rays that can blow fighter aircraft out of the skies and reduce Sherman tanks to a molten mess (the melting tanks are a major highlight of the movie for me).

The Japanese soon convince the other world governments that international co-operation will be needed to counter this threat. And soon a new secret weapon, a rather cool-looking rocket aircraft, is ready to be used against the invaders. Without any notable success. But scientists are also working on an electron gun for which they have high hopes.

This is one of those “scientists as heroes” science fiction movies although this is tempered by some tedious lectures about the dangers of the misuse of science so at times it veers in the direction of the “scientists as villains” sub-genre. But it’s a Japanese scientist who will prove the Mysterians’ undoing although not by using electron guns or rocket aircraft.

The special effects are often remarkably crude, although in a very entertainingly silly way. The Mysterians’ death ray is rendered in a way that will delight fans of bad special effects. The flying saucers are pretty dodgy as well. On the other hand the Mysterian space station  looks pretty cool and the giant robot is wonderfully silly. There’s enough action and enough explosions to keep things moving along sufficiently quickly for viewers not to worry too much about the silliness factor. The alien spacesuits are a major plus as well.

Ishirô Honda knows not to spend too much time on human interest angles or romantic subplots. His audience wants giant robots stomping Tokyo and death rays knocking fighter jets out of the sky and he makes sure he gives them what they want.

The movie was shot in colour and in TohoScope. 

The BFI’s UK DVD release appears to be region-free and although its barebones it’s an excellent 16x9 enhanced transfer. This is fortunate because the Region 1 DVD from Tokyo Shock is out of print and used copies are horrifically expensive. The BFI’s DVD on the other hand is in print and it’s ridiculously cheap and it looks great. 

The Mysterians has everything a fan of Japanese science fiction monster movies could ask for, all done with energy and style and with more imagination than usual. Highly recommended.

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