Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Godzilla: Invasion of the Astro-monster (1965)

Godzilla: Invasion of the Astro-monster is a 1965 entry in the long-running Japanese Godzilla movie series from Toho Studio. I’m not the biggest fan of these types of movies but this one is slightly unusual and on the whole it’s pretty good.

We start with the discovery of a mysterious new planet just beyond Jupiter. The World Space Authority sends spaceship P-1 to investigate. The crew comprises American astronaut Glen (Nick Adams) and Japanese astronaut Fuji (Akira Takarada). 

Rather unexpectedly Planet X (as it has become known) is inhabited, and the inhabitants are seemingly humanoid. The X-people have big problems. Or rather they have one big problem - Monster Zero. Monster Zero (recognised immediately by the earth astronauts as King Ghidorah) is ravaging their planet. 

They have a plan to deal with this. They want permission to travel to Earth and then to take Godzilla and Rodan (known to the X-people as Monster 01 and Monster 02) back to Planet X to destroy King Ghidorah. To sweeten the deal they offer Earth the secret of curing cancer.

Godzilla and Rodan are transported to Planet X (in giant bubbles towed by flying saucers) and immediately start beating up on King Ghidorah. The plan seems to be working out most satisfactorily.

In fact things are not at all what they seem to be, as Glen and Fuji soon come to suspect. Earth will soon be facing deadly dangers of its own from rampaging monsters.

Fuji’s sister Haruno (Keiko Sawai) is hoping to marry a geeky and not very successful inventor named Tetsuo (Akira Kubo). Tetsuo’s latest invention will later play an important plot role. The other romantic sub-plot also ties into the main plot.

This is as much a space opera as a monster movie. The monsters are really subsidiary to the main plot and they are not the major villains or the major threat.

Ishirô Honda had directed the very first Godzilla movie as well as a very large proportion of the monster movies that followed it and he’s once again at the helm for Godzilla: Invasion of the Astro-monster. This time he has a pretty good script (by Shin'ichi Sekizawa) to work with.

The special effects are a little uneven. Some are quite crude and the flying saucers are very disappointing. On the other hand the monster sequences are very well executed.

The miniatures work is quite impressive (apart from those flying saucers). The spaceship P-1 looks cool. The sets have the right 1960s vibe and the X-people costumes are restrained but look good. It goes without saying that Japanese towns will get stomped and by this time the crews at Toho had a lot of experience with that sort of thing and those scenes are effective.

The acting is perfectly adequate by monster movie standards.

There are several welcome things that make this an enjoyable monster movie - there’s very little comic relief, no cute children and amazingly no preachiness.

The Region 4 DVD from Madman offers a pleasingly handsome anamorphic transfer (the movie was naturally shot in the Tohoscope 2.35:1 aspect ratio). 

By 1965 a straightforward monster movie would have been just another rehash of previous  productions so the decision to make this primarily a space adventure with added monsters was a sound one and works extremely well. Godzilla: Invasion of the Astro-monster (also released under several other titles including Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) is great fun. Highly recommended.

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