Friday, October 5, 2012
Yog: Monster From Space
Quick Plot Synopsis
Two parallel threads start the story. Thread One involves an earth probe sent to Jupiter to study it. En route, the probe goes "missing" because a sparkly blue "amoeba" being enters the probe and sends it back to earth. Thread Two involves a hotel developer who hires a photojournalist to shoot the remote island for promotion. He's not keen on the job, but the island is where he saw Helios 7 parachuting down. He and the pretty developer's rep, Ayako set out. They are joined by a Dr. Mida who wants to study the biology of the island and a shifty Mr. Obata who says he's an anthropologist keen to study the islanders. On the island, a giant squid monster rises up, terrorizes a villager named Rico, trashes some huts and disappears. The islanders think the outsider are angering their gods. The squid monster, named Gezora, attacks again, trashing the village. The humans use fire and leftover WWIi ammunition to drive Gezora back into the sea. The amoeba leaves dying Gezora and enters a crab which becomes Ganime. The crab does about the same and is eventually blown up. The amoeba leaves fragments of Ganime and returns in a giant turtle-thing: Kameba. Rico comes out of his amnesia stupor to recall that bats confused Gezora. The group search for bats and find a cave with many. The amoeba inhabits Obata (who was actually an industrial spy for a rival developer). The voice-over alien exposits about how they, the AstroQuasars, plan to conquer the earth with monsters. Possessed Obata almost destroys the bats (with fire), but human Obata resists and lets the bats out. The bats confuse a new Ganime and Kameba so they revert to their natural behavior -- fighting with each other. They epic-battle themselves into falling into a volcano. Possessed Obata throws himself into the volcano, so as to kill off the last AstroQuasar. Everyone is sad. The ship comes back to the island and everyone is happy, though no one will believe their wild tale.
Why is this movie fun?
The giant rubber-suit-monster genre became somewhat tedious in the 60s, but Yog has something more to it. For one, the monsters are somewhat interesting in their portrayal. A walking squid? The story of an amorphous alien returning to earth in an earth spacecraft, is SO 50s that there is nostalgia value.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, Yog is something of a bookend for the Toho/Honda era of kaiju. About the time Yog, Toho would undergo a management change and much of the team would be dispersed. On one end of their era is Godzilla, on the other is Yog.
Dubbing -- The english dubbed version was released in the summer of 1971 as Yog, Monster from Space or Yog: The Space Amoeba. The dubbing was problematic, as it usually was. Whatever sincere mood Honda might have created, was damaged with the shrill voice-over for Ayako or sound-booth grunting or footsteps or background crowd murmurs, etc.
Ro-Man, Plan 9 and AstroQuasars -- The rather shallowly written aliens, the AstroQuasars, give no reason for why they want to conquer the earth. They just do. Their use of monsters to do so, is reminiscent of Robot Monster ('51) in which Ro-Man uses dinosaurs to do his conquering (that is, recycled footage from One Million B.C. ('40)). It is also reminiscent of Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space ('59) in which dead humans are raised to do the conquering for the aliens. The trope had been used by Toho several times too, during the 60s. It was a bit cliche by 1970s.
Redeemed by Death -- A recurring trope in japanese movies (not just kaiju films) was the sacrificial hero. He was usually a good guy, like Sezawa in Godzilla, who gives his life to stop the monster and save the others -- all a very noble kamikaze sort of sentiment. In Yog, it was the shifty Obata who atones for his own shifty-ness by defying his AstroQuasar possessor and throwing himself in the volcano. Yes, he was bad, but he did good in the end.
Vicarious Victory -- Just a hint of vicariously rewriting history lurks beneath Yog. The islanders find a japanese ammo dump left over from the war. Using their WWII weapons, they successfully repel the invaders.
Bottom line? Yog is not a great film, and it's easy to see why it's fairly forgotten. It is almost just another multi-monster battle of the rubber suits, but it's just a little bit more. The dubbing can be annoying, but Honda keeps the pace brisk and the visuals varying. Gezora, while a bit hokey as a kaiju, is actually kind of fun to watch. Fans of the 60s monster vs. monster stories will find more of the same. Fans of Honda's Godzilla will find just enough of his human touch to the story to make it worthwhile. Not great, but worthwhile.