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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Mysterians

Toho Studios produced another big budget sci-fi in 1957, entitled "Chikyu Boeigun" (Earth Defense Force). MGM released an english-dubbed version in 1959 retitled as The Mysterians. MGM's promotion pushed the envelope of the usual turgid hype. While the original japanese version took itself completely seriously, an english-dubbed japanese film already has one strike against it as far as the audience taking it seriously. Filmed in lavish TohoScope color, and directed by the famous Ishiro Honda (of Godzilla fame), The Mysterians is an epic invasion film for Japan, on the scale that War of the Worlds ('53) was for Americans. In fact, there are many similarities. The characters aren't as well developed and memorable as in Godzilla, but there is plenty of action and cool gizmos.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A local village festival is interrupted by something falling into the countryside. This sparks a forest fire. Local astronomer, Shiraishi, is lost and presumed dead. Later, another scientist, Atsumi, delivers a copy of Shiraishi's unfinished report to Dr. Adachi at the observatory. It tells his theory that the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter was once a planet, which he named Mysteriod, that may have been inhabited. A village near Mount Fuji is swallowed up by a sudden sink hole. Investigators find radioactivity. A huge war machine robot emerges, but is neutralized when it falls into a ravine. Saucers are seen coming from the moon. Beside a lake near Fuji, a white dome rises from the earth. A voice commands 5 scientists to enter. They do, and are told the back story by Mysterians which look much like proto-Power Rangers. Their home world was the 5th planet, but an unchecked nuclear war destroyed it. Some escaped and lived on Mars. Now they only ask for a 2 mile radius of land, and the right to marry earth women. They ask for 5 women in particular -- which includes Shiraishi's fiancee, and Atsumi's girlfriend. No deal. Japan's army fights back, but lose to the aliens' heat ray. The Mysterians up their demands for now a 75 mile radius, which includes Tokyo. Earth leaders develop some super weapons. The Mysterians kidnap the two women. Atsumi finds a backdoor cave to the Mysterians' underground base. A huge battle ensues as a united Earth employs its super weapons. Shiraishi, ashamed that he had been duped by the aliens, sets free all the captured women. He then sabotages the base so that the Earth Defense Forces win. Some surviving saucers flee to space, but Earth is safe now. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There is much to enjoy. It is a classic alien invaders tale. There

Cold War Angle
Though less subtle and artistically delivered than in Godzilla, Honda's usual anti-nukes cautions are present. Nuclear war can destroy a planet, as it did Mysteriod. At the end, Shiraishi makes the moral plain. "The tragedy of the Mysterians is a good example for us. Don't use science in the wrong way!" Don't repeat the tragedy!"

They ARE After Our Women -- One of the delightful features of The Mysterians is how blatantly the traditional abduction theme is treated. Usually, the aliens' interest in OUR women is implied or suggested. In The Mysterians, there is no innuendo. "We want to marry your women." The ancient inter-tribal conflict is made interplanetary. They need new women, so come onto our turf to take (by force) our sexually prime women. This means WAR!

Old Fashioned Protocol -- An interesting tip of the hat to the "old world" (especially old-world japanese culture) is that the aliens ask permission to marry our women. Granted, this might have been because Shiraishi convinced the Mysterian leader to be so polite as to ask for the women who might have simply stolen and ravaged. Still, it is interesting that they asked. Japanese culture placed great importance on honor. Women who were stolen and ravaged lost all honor. To have been asked for, kept the women honorable and therefore worth a world-scale war to rescue.

WotW: Japan -- There are many similarities between Paramount's 1953 War of the Worlds and Honda's Mysterians. The opening has a small town celebration interrupted. There is a big, hot pit. There is a towering war machine. They have heat rays which melt or destroy just about everything. The aliens seem invincible and aim to rule the Earth. Kayama's story is no mere copy, however. There are a great many differences too. More in keeping with the growing optimism of the later 50s, Earth does unite and uses its genius to defeat the invaders.

Models Mania -- Later japanese pulp-movies would scrimp on their models and give models a bad reputation. In The Mysterians, however, all the model work is great. Careful, and almost loving attention to detail is evident in the little tanks and buildings, etc. Many hours must have gone into the little hill village that is swallowed up by the earth, for instance. This movie is a model maker's delight.

Whither Moguera -- Before the Mysterians announce their "peaceful" intentions, they unleash their giant war machine robot. It's name comes from the japanese for mole. It's presence is a bit of a non sequitur, except that Toho was famous for its Kaiju (giant monsters), so japanese audiences may have expected one. Moguera does the usual Kaijiu duty of destroying a model town, though this seems almost an aside to the plot. The Moguera design is revived in a much later movie.

Heroic Sacrifice -- Also similar to Godzilla is the trope of the noble hero scientist who gives his life to save his homeland. Here, astronomer Shiraishi realizes that he had been played the fool by the Mysterians. They promised him a sort of benign scientific leadership of unstable mankind. He realizes that he's been duped and that the Mysterians simply want to dominate, rule AND take our women. Shiraishi turns on the aliens. He frees the women, then sabotages the base at the cost of his own life. In keeping with the archetype, the scientist who made his mistake, rectifies it via a savior's death -- a very japanese ethos.

Retro Rockets -- The two (or three) curious air ships, Alpha, Beta 1 and Beta 2, have a curiously retro feel to them. They look like rockets, but hover and move slowly, like zeppelins. They make a sort of whirring turbine sound. Their movements (especially traveling in wide arcs) and sound can't help but remind viewers of Flash Gordon's rockets from the early serials.

Bottom line? The Mysterians is well worth watching. It is a great example of the alien invaders theme, but has enough other story threads to add depth. Granted, the acting is a bit flat and the story can drag a bit at times. But for visuals, The Mysterians is eye candy worth the wait.


Anonymous said...

Hello:; I've seen every film on your site-nice job.Moguera in the Mysterians is as you noted translated as Mole from the Japanese. There is some lost footage which clearly shows it tunneling underground. The implication is that it set u the underground caverns that became the host sites to the domes later on or simultaneously with the domes. That big buzz-saw on its back was part of the apparatus. I myself born in 52 saw it in the theater and said look at those rotating antennae it's like our tv set becoming an animal. There is a book about TOHO Super Weapons which I have which covers all of this. Miniature landscapes are very basic to gardening in Japan and China. I liked your comment about consensual Marriage and it is well reflected in the ceremonies in Rodan as well. But as to my take on the Mysterians-let me put it this way by way of Starman-just who were the Atomic Rulers of the World? After all it was the Americans stationed in Japan who proposed marriage. Really an ebb-tide in these movies where a big american car delivers you t the U.N. but the Space Agency is in Japan . You should add The Final War into this Pantheon , The bit about Two spaceships is classical Chinese/ Japanese. Vases are always given as doubles. m Note the Siblings sacrifice remains inside the Family. Very old and Deep. Anyway, a great job. Thanks, John

Anonymous said...

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