Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mysterians

Director Ishiro Honda returned to straight up science fiction with The Mysterians. He also wants your women! So, hand over all of your hot Japanese women immediately!

Just three years after Gojira [1954] and only one year following the release of his latest kaiju-eiga [monster] picture in Rodan [1956], Honda opted for the science fiction jugular. Honda linked kaiju concepts into the world of science fiction for a nifty mix in his classic The Mysterians [1957]. This is the stuff that takes me back to days when all that mattered was running barefoot through the dry summer grass in the warm sun. I was essentially transported to exotic Japanese worlds thanks to the vision of one Ishiro Honda and a kind, local television channel that never hesitated to give us the very best in Japanese cinema monsters thanks to Creature Double Feature.
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Honda took a break from Godzilla for a period, opting out of directing Godzilla Raids Again [1955], but would return with King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], the first of several Godzilla versus smackdowns. In the meantime, Honda dabbled in everything from drama to science fiction in its purest sense establishing the creation of some Toho gems that still stand the test of time. The Mysterians, along with some of his other efforts outside of the Godzilla mythology, are sometimes overlooked, but remain some of his essential best. Matango [better known stateside as Attack Of The Mushroom People] [1963], Battle In Outer Space [1959] and Atragon [1963] are some fine examples.

Prepare for science fiction mystery with Director Ishiro Honda's 1957 classic production, The Mysterians. For it's time, Honda created an imaginative picture riffing on the alien invasion concept. Certainly part of the reason for the colorful classic was the team behind it. Honda largely relied on the same creators who brought us Gojira. Writer Shigeru Kayama returned for scriptwriting chores along with new names Takeshi Kimura and Jojiro Okami. Honda's wunderkind producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, was also on board as he was for most of Honda's work. Director of Special Effects, Eiji Tsuburaya, also returned. Tsuburaya, Tanaka and Kayama all participated on Godzilla Raids Again without Honda at the helm. Music compositions were provided by the returning Akira Ifukube. Three actors from Gojira including legendary actor Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi and Akihiko Hirata also returned. These three actors offered three of the four core perfomances in Gojira. One notable difference here is that the film is in color and for a DVD that certainly doesn't get the treatment one would hope for, it looks terrific.

The sci-fi film would be to some extent risque by today's standards. The back cover art depicting a giant robot mole "destroying everything in its path." It adds, "A dome appears out of the ground and a group of scientists are invited to meet the alien Mysterians from the planet Mysteroid. The Mysterians have come in peace." That's what they all say. There's just one minor little request. "All they ask of humanity is three-square kilometers of land and the right to interbreed with Earth women to repopulate their species." WHOA! That is a mildly significant request not to be taken lightly. It's a near gross premise and one that if remade today might be handled with some controversy. "Humanity declares war on the Mysterians." Grab your popcorn people.

One of the truly wonderful experiences when watching any kind of international film, in this case a Japan import, is to soak in the cultural subtlies or maybe even not so subtle cultural events of song, dance or social life. One of the things I personally love about the work of Honda or films distributed by Toho Studios is the sense of 'being there.' One of my personal goals is to someday go to Japan and get lost in translation myself. In the meantime, films like The Mysterians transport us to places through a medium that offers us the next best thing.

Akihiko Hirata and Momoko Kochi.
As the story begins, we learn Astrophysicist Ryoichi Shiraishi [played by Hirata; formerly Serizawa in Gojira] has broken off an engagement to the lovely Hiroko [played by Momoko Kochi; formerly Emiko in Gojira]. There sure are loads of scientists in Ishiro Honda films. I love that. Pandemonium breaks up the conversation as a forest fire is spotted across the water. Ryoichi runs to it and happens upon three young boys who are determined to put out the raging fire. The fire is burning from the roots upward and is clearly not your typical forest fire. Shiraishi spots something in the forest bubbling from the ground before the camera fades to black.

Kenji Sahara.
The next day Joji Atsumi [played by Kenji Sahara; a favorite of Honda] visits Doctor Tanjiro Adachi [played by Takashi Shimura]. He brings Adachi a report on a star named Mysteroid from Ryoichi. Mysteroid is located between Mars and Jupiter. Ryoichi calls it a mystery asteroid, Mysteroid. Atsumi gets a call that a landslide has occurred near Fuji where Ryoichi is staying. A whole village is swallowed by the Earth, trees and houses fall into the ground. Joji heads to the site.

Takashi Shimura with Sahara.
At the location, radiation was detected the day before, but is no longer present. Devastation is all around. Ifukube's unsettling score really adds to the effectiveness of the sequence. Ryoichi is believed to be dead. A review of a nearby river bed determines floating dead fish coming down stream. With camera in hand, Joji, with assistance from the Fuji authorities, continue his investigation. On a road, smoke smoulders from the police tires, the ground is hot and Geiger readings indicate radioactivity present. A landslide unveils a frightening robotic mole that burrows out of the mountainside. This is Moguera and part of Honda's ongoing love affair with the kaiju-eiga genre. This sequence is a whole lot of special effects fun.

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With the jeep toasted, the men make a run for it. Later, back at the Fuji Police station, Joji learns Ryoichi's sister, Etsuko has arrived from Tokyo. An evacuation takes place. Is there ever a Honda picture where an evacuation doesn't take place? Firemen attempt to put out the fire [well, they are doing their jobs], but Moguera's eyes alight blue and fire lasers causing more random destruction. Evacuations to Koyama bridge continue as the military arrives. The army takes up position in the beautiful hills of Japan. Military men repeat over and over, "please, hurry and cross the bridge. It's the defense line." There's certainly no shortage of running down streets and across bridges in Honda films. Explosives are rigged on the bridge set against a beautiful Japanese backdrop. Flying saucers are spotted by Etsuko and Joji. The battle rages. In typical fashion, the Japanese throw everything they have at the thing except for the kitchen sink and nothing works against its extraterrestrial-generated metallic hide. Moguera makes its way toward the bridge. The army blows the bridge and Moguera falls and ceases functioning. Success.

A meeting is called in a capital building. Joji explains a retrieved part from Moguera proves the monstrosity was not of this world. You actually needed to confirm that? It was a robot controlled by radio waves.

In the observatory, Dr. Adachi notes activity on the moon. Joji visits and Adachi tells him that Ryoichi's report on Mysteroid is "invaluable."

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Adachi spots a satellite in space. The Mysterians are here. A visit of the lake indicates Ryoichi had been monitoring it for some time and witnessed a number of strange things. A dome surfaces from the ground. Adachi and Joji observe. The military are on standby. A voice announces "People of the Earth, let us avoid useless warfare." That's mighty swell of you, but let's not forget you drew first blood with your robot friend Moguera blasting his way through the village. So The Mysterians work in a bit of the old bait and switch. The Mysterians wish to "negotiate" with five men including Dr. Adachi and Joji. This is a pretty funny request from the military officer.

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Question: "Do you promise that you won't kill them?" Answer: "Please don't worry." Oh boy. Well, ya see, there's nothing to worry about. All they'll need is your hot and juicy Japanese women. I love Japanese women by the way. I know I mentioned loving British and American chicks, but Japanese women may be a favorite. They are exotic and absorbingly beautiful. There are a few in Ishiro Honda's films that I love to this day, in particular Kumi Mizuno. Stunning I tell you. Anyway, Japanese women are to die for. They are striking! I've digressed long enough on that subject. So, the scientists enter The Mysterians' dome. Ifukube's score continues to mount tension complete with violin section. Inside, the men are given capes to protect them from the cool temperatures. I guess.

Costume and set design is superb on The Mysterians. The scientists are greeted by a man in a yellow space suit. No faces are exposed. They are tantamount to a preliminary version of the Power Rangers. The scientists are seated in a room filled with orange and blue electrical thing-a-ma-bobs. The Mysterians are pleased to meet the scientists. One of the scientists is rather brave. "We're not so glad after what you've done to us." Yikes! Keep it cool brother. The Mysterian leader tells the scientists it was "a little sacrifice to avoid a war." What the viewer learns from a Mysterian viewing screen is that the Japanese military attacked them first. Interesting twist. The alien identifies their planet Mysteroid as Planet No. 5. Could this be another allusion to Lucky Dragon No.5 [as covered extensively in my review of Gojira]? Adachi indicates the planet disappeared one thousand years ago, which is confirmed by the mysterious Mysterian. It was the result of an atomic war between The Mysterians. There is no question references to the Japanese attacking first, Planet No.5 and the atomic war are all allusions to the events of World War II. Some survivors fled to Mars. The alien humanoid indicates militaries start and cause war, but wasn't it Oppenheimer, a scientist, that developed the bomb? It's like the chicken and the egg theory. The Mysterians indicate they had H-bombs when humans were in the Neolithic Age. There is definitely an allegory to war here and it is a bit preachy. It is perhaps less than subtle. The Mysterians request a strip of land "and one more thing...," full access to sex with Japanese women. Alright!

Once again, with the consequences of World War II and the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima informing the work of this Japanese creative team much is in play that references this is indeed a product of their surroundings. The Mysterians have a high dose of Strontium 90 in their bodies. 80% of their babies are born deformed and disposed of. Their race is in jeopardy of extinction as a result of their own atomic wars, hence the need for babes. The Mysterians request five women and they already have three. The remaining two are stars Horiko and Etsuko. "Absurd!" declares Joji.

The Mysterians hold the scientists at gunpoint yet ironically announce they are "pacifists." That's a pretty tough argument to make considering you have guns pointed at heads and giant robots with laser beam eyes destroying homes. The meeting is adjourned and left to the scientists to decide the fate of their future.

Later, at the Ministry Of Defense, a meeting is called once again. The Japanese love meetings. As the meeting points out, The Mysterians have already seized land without request. They have also already abducted three women. This is unacceptable and counter measures are taken concentrating forces at Mt. Fuji.

Later, Joji informs the girls they are on The Mysterians' request list. This is a good sequence and one that indicates our friend Ryoichi is still alive as he is able to speak to his friends directly through their television. You see, the Japanese always seemed to be speaking to me and other youngsters this way when I was growing up. Here's Joji and the pussycats.

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This isn't going to go well. Joji informs Dr. Adachi that Ryoichi is with The Mysterians and he has asked the attack be stopped. Before long the Japanese fire upon the dome. The dome is impervious to the assault by tanks, cannons and jet fighters. The Mysterians just sit back and watch from inside their dome and inside their dome heads. Some nifty effects are applied by Tsuburaya as UFOs zap the jets and take them out. Earth's defenses are simply no match for The Mysterians. These are some nifty effects shots.

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Those shots are a nice precursor to King Ghidorah's own magic. The dome melts everything it touches with its gamma rays. It's kind of funny as I sit watching this mighty military do battle with a giant dome. It's kind of amusing, but I was kind of riveted by this killer dome [for a bit].

The Mysterians' power is equivalent to the Japanese earthquake of 1923 [referring to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, 7.9 on the Richter Scale]. The Mysterians address the cities of Earth via their UFO transmissions. "Dear People of Earth. We do not like wars." These guys are tough hombres. They simply want their land and a few hot Japanese babes. It's a small price between intergalactic friends. The military and scientists regroup and rethink their plan against The Mysterian invaders. The military considers a design for a new weapon called an Electron Gun. Headlines make the newspapers like The Liberal Times [sure to go out of business] and taglines like Down With The Mysterians and Doomsday On Earth? "The Earth is one," declares Dr. Adachi. Even America and the Soviet Union now have a common foe. Dr. Adachi worries the alien invaders may establish a kind of beachhead and more invaders will come. He also alerts the media to their final purpose. Yes! They desire sex with hot Earth women. Bastards! Who doesn't? But get in line alien invaders! Hmm, maybe I'm a Mysterian. Can you imagine wars on Earth if such demands were made? We want your attractive Russian women and we will stop at nothing. Well, it is often said women have brought down civilizations. This time women truly are the root cause of the war.

Inside the dome, we get the accompanying weird sound effects that are attributed to the voices of the aliens. The Mysterians are working on a project of their own ready in 500 Earth hours. When completed Eastern Japan will fall under Mysterian control. So much for those peace-loving Mysterian ways.

The Americans meet with the Japanese. The USA is also watching The Mysterians from a satellite in space. The meeting convenes and Joji asks the Americans if they would like to speak with Ryoichi. They contact him via television. The Americans ask if he is ashamed abandoning his people. He conveys that he is a scientist and The Mysterians are interested in ending atomic wars. Ryoichi informs the men that humankind will perish in 20 years if atom bombs are not eradicated. It's fairly evident just how devastating the two atom bombs were on the Japanese psyche. Ryoichi drops a bit of a bombshell of his own, not that it should be surprising, but The Mysterians want to rule the Earth. They left that bit out earlier. All the hot women in the world would definitely do the trick. Ryoichi clearly believes in The Mysterians and that their intentions are noble. Ryoichi displays a visual of The Mysterian satellite in orbit around the Earth and expresses the superiority of The Mysterian UFO power. They have command of the skies. If you control the skies, conventionally, you control the war. The men determine they must fight back.

People from every nation join the fight. For a film from 1957, Honda does a pretty impressive job of expanding the playing field and creating the impression of a global conflict. He implements just the right complement of character drama and special effects. The men discuss the dome and its weakness. It is immobile and it's electric ray grows weaker over distance. The Mysterians are susceptible to heat as well. This information comes by way of Dr. Adachi. You'll recall the scientists needed capes to keep warm inside the dome. We shall see.

The military men stand by in bunkers and discuss the quiet stand off. Their discussion could easily be a reference to the growing Cold War [1947-1991]. Massive rocketships are launched toward The Mysterians' dome by the allied forces. Bombs are dropped on the dome. The Earth defenders grow weary in their seemingly futile efforts to stop The sex-starved, child-bearing hungry Mysterians. The Electron Gun appears to be [almost] ready and will be loaded.

The Mysterians contact Earth Defense and inform them they have now usurped a seventy-five mile radius and if anyone enters they will be destroyed. Meanwhile the scientists and meeting of the minds are placed in a situation that sounds strikingly familiar and uncomfortable. The men consider hydrogen bombs as their only option. Dr. Adachi insists they mustn't be used. They have a lens reflector they plan on using against The Mysterians as an option. The question is how to use it and where to place the lens. The Japanese response: "We'll hold a conference." HA! Great idea! Let's give The Mysterians more time to dig in.

In the evening, Horiko is abducted from her home by, you guessed it, a Mysterian. I suspect Horiko and Etsuko were requested by Ryoichi who is now with The Mysterians. Etsuko is abducted next. Some military personnel and others enter their apartment and witness the abduction of Etsuko into the sky where a UFO awaits. With all of that advanced technology the best The Mysterians can do is essentially float up to the ship via strings?

With the Electron Gun still unavailable and The Mysterians' underground base nearly complete, the Earth Defense Force feels an attack on the alien invaders must be made. This conference yields the same result as the last conference. We must attack now. "Let's do our best." It wasn't good enough last time, so enough conferencing already. What needs to happen before the attack? Evacuation! Of course, people must evacuate a 75 mile radius. Whew! Those poor Japanese citizens. This must get tiring. There's always a shot of someone from the military waving folks along. These people are running too! I mean, if the poor guy waving ever stepped in their way he'd be run over quicker than you'd say "road kill."

Dr. Adachi fears Hiroko and Etsuko are lost to The Mysterians. It will be "impossible" to save them. Joji feels differently and informs Dr. Adachi of a cave he found that leads into the aliens' lair. The attack on The Mysterians will commence with Marcalite Farps [dish arrays] and Joji makes a run for it. A rocket is propelled toward the sky. Joji makes a play for rescuing Hiroko and Etsuko.

Meanwhile, the skyship is impervious against the Mysterian attacks thanks to the lens technology. They launch two dishes and they make their way toward The Mysterians' dome. The dishes angle toward the dome. I was a little surprised the dishes weren't blown out of the water before getting set up. The laser battle commences. Rockets launch. This appears to go on almost endlessly. Joji makes his way underground and jumps one of the Mysterians taking his weapon. He should have taken his outfit too. He puts the gun to another's head and asks for the women. Elsewhere, the women are held in confinement and a Mysterian in yellow gets them all and tells them to follow him. Could it be Ryoichi? I suspect so.

Outside, the dome is ineffective against the dishes. The dishes have 20 minutes of power remaining. The dome is significantly impacted and The Mysterians request the attack stop. Earth defense indicates they will stop if The Mysterians leave and leave their hot babes alone of course. Water spouts from the lake flooding the valley and the village below. The Mysterians are quite impressed with their own devastating power. Things go awry when Joji throws a wrench in the works and blows up their electronic modules with his newly acquired ray gun. Joji is captured. The dishes have five minutes remaining. All hell is breaking loose inside The Mysterians dome. Joji is captured by Ryoichi. Ryoichi releases them, but will remain with The Mysterians eventhough they tricked him. Ryoichi has to set things right.

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The Mysterians are dying. It's all over for them. Meanwhile, their ace in the hole, Moguera is digging underneath the Earth and it takes out a dish, but the dish crashes on top of the poor robot. Game over! Ryoichi is blowing everything up. As the survivors make an escape. Ryoichi considers killing them, but decides not to fire upon them. It would have been symbolic of their extinction had he done so, but Ryoichi would not do it.

In the end, the battle is extensive and a bit overdone. In an effort to showcase the special effects of Eiji Tsuburaya, Honda and company get a little carried away with the visuals and the film tends to suffer for it slowing down in the final act. It just seemed to go on endlessly. A bit of editing may have been in order. The Mysterians do escape. Dr. Adachi takes their message as a warning and Director Ishiro Honda would like us to us to take away that same message. The Mysterians, while humanoid, were essentially a representation of ourselves. It's certainly a product of its era and one that still looks fairly impressive given its production limitations. I'm not entirely certain I could recommend it, but it is an interesting period piece that holds up reasonably well. I've seen younger films that have dated far worse. The Mysterians may be dubbed "The Greatest Science-Fiction Picture Ever Conceived By The Mind Of Man," but that may be a stretch. Toho enjoys exciting taglines like Marvel Comics enjoyed "In The Mighty Marvel Tradition." Toho, in Toho Scope, is all about proud tradition and empire building, but while The Mysterians is probably not all that, it's a crazy ass treat when you consider that bit about the women.

The Mysterians: B-

Producer Footnote: Tomoyuki Tanaka [1910-1997]. Tanaka headed Toho Studios for a period. Tanaka produced every Toho monster movie from the first Godzilla, Gojira[1954] through Godzilla vs. Destoroyah [1995]. He also produced several of Akira Kurosawa's best pictures. In total, he was involved with the production of more than 200 films in his fifty-one year career.

Actor Footnotes: Akihiko Hirata [1927-1984]. He appeared in Gojira [1954], Rodan [1956], The H-Man [1958], Varan The Unbelievable [1958], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Atragon [1963], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Ebirah, Horror Of The Deep [1966], Son Of Godzilla [1967], Latitude Zero [1969], Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla [1974], Terror Of Mechagodzilla [1975] and The War In Space [1977].

Kenji Sahara [1931-1984]. He appeared in Gojira [1954], Rodan [1956], The H-Man [1958], Mothra [1961], Gorath [1962], King Kong vs. Godzilla [1962], Matango [1963], Atragon [1963], Godzilla vs. Mothra [1964], Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster [1964], Frankenstein Conquers The World [1965], War Of The Gargantuas [1966], Son Of Godzilla [1967], Destroy All Monsters [1968], Godzilla's Revenge [1969], Space Amoeba [1970], Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla [1974], Terror Of Mechagodzilla [1975], Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah [1991], Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II [1993], Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla [1994] and Godzilla: Final Wars [2004].

Momoko Kochi [1932-1998]. Kochi appeared in Gojira [1954] and returned for Godzilla vs. Destoroyah [1995].

Yumi Shirakawa [1936-]. Shirakawa appeared in Rodan [1956], The H-Man [1958] and Gorath [1962].

2 comments:

Mark (at RMR) said...

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a VHS of the show at an estate sale a couple of weeks ago... I forgot how fun this show was!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks for stopping Mark. Yes, great point in general about many of Honda's pictures. These pictures are alot of fun and who can beat Honda at the Saturday matinee features rain or shine. You're always happy to pull up a seat for one like this.