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Thursday, June 3, 2010


This is the third of a loose "space trilogy" by Toho Studios and director Ishiro Honda. First came The Mysterians ('57), then its semi-sequel Battle In Outer Space ('60). Gorath ('62 in Japan) was not another step in the same story, but a new story with new characters. The plot is a variation of When Worlds Collide ('51), but with a less catastrophic ending. The english version suffered the usual pains of dubbing, which cast an unfortunate pal of cheapness.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Rocket ship JX-1 blasts off for a mission to study Saturn. En route, they get orders to check out something odd. They find a dense red dwarf star moving into the solar system. It's path will take it near earth, so they go study it. Unfortunately for the JX-1, they find out that the star -- named Gorath -- has massive gravity. They cannot escape but transmit data before they crash. Scenes of a happy, lively life and human-interest begin to give way to grave concerns. Dr. Tazawa tells a U.N. assembly that earth's only hope is to build giant rocket engines at the south pole and move earth out of Gorath's way. A second ship, the JX-2 is eventually sent to gather more data on Gorath. Meanwhile, construction begins on Operation South Pole. This massive project meets some setbacks, but presses on. A mini-rocket is dispatched from the JX-2 to study Gorath. Meteors damage an engine, but it gets back. The pilot suffers amnesia. The Antarctic engines are completed and fired up. The heat awakens (or frees) a giant (non-sequitur) walrus who attacks the base. He is eventually killed by lasers from a jet plane. On earth, people evacuate coastal areas. A sense of doom pervades. Tidal waves flood Tokyo. Clocks count down until Gorath passes. It does. Many congratulations all around. The flood waters begin to recede. People talk of rebuilding and a new world mood of cooperation. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
The underlaying optimism of Gorath is an interesting departure from the sense of doom that surrounds many 50s sci-fi disaster movies. The model work, while understated, is nonetheless, impressive in its scope. The rockets, and especially the shuttle landing bay on the JX-2, has a "modern" 60s look to it.

Cold War Angle
A subtle parallel to When Worlds Collide has the menacing planet (or star) as metaphor for total nuclear war. It's coming, and it will destroy the earth. Here, the nations of Earth set aside their differences and work together to avert destruction.

Random Kaiju? -- The American release, dubbed into english, had the giant walrus attack scene edited out. The story really did not need a giant rubber-suit monster. The Japanese producers insisted that a monster be inserted into the script because they thought that was what audiences expected from a Toho/Honda film. The walrus is a total non-sequitur, adding nothing to the story. Kaiji fans must have been disappointed to get only a few minutes of rubber monster action.

Wiser Nukes -- With some innuendos about the west's misuse, or potential misuse of nuclear power (weapons), Japanese scientists show they are the wiser heads who can use the power for real good. They harness even greater power to create atomic rocket engines. These, set deep into the Antarctic earth at the South Pole, push the earth up and out of the way of deadly Gorath. Once successful, the scientists do talk of needing to reverse the process and return earth to its original orbit.

WWC 2.0 -- Where the rouge star (Bellus) actually hits the earth in When Worlds Collide ('51), the Japanese adaptation shows an optimistic spin by having the earth escape and be okay when the rogue star passes.

Stoic Heroic -- A common feature of Japanese sci-fi, is the heroic (and often stoic) sacrifice of someone for the greater good of earth. Often, that sacrifice comes near the end. In Gorath, it comes near the beginning. The crew of the JX-1, having flown too close to Gorath to escape its gravity, bravely, stoically, continue to transmit vital data on Gorath while they are drawn to their fiery doom.

Space, the Next Generation -- A strikingly "modern" feature of the model work in Gorath is the smaller "shuttle" rocket aboard the JX-2. It's kept in a hanger bay, launched and retrieved. This pattern would get a lot of use in the coming decades. Star Trek and many other space drama films would make much of the shuttle and bay feature. Gorath had it in 1962.

Bottom line? Gorath is a fair story on its own, aside from the fairly evident borrowings. The giant walrus adds nothing, unless one is a rampant kaiju fan. Still, worth watching for the models alone.


Anonymous said...

I love this site. Could anyone help me with finding info on an old b&w sci-fi film? It's definitely foreign, Chezk I believe. The sets were all done using a type of old style lithgraph, huge sheets of it, and all with old style vertical pinstripes. This style of set design lended itself beautifully to the atmosphere of the movie.

Darci said...

I wonder if the film is "Vynález zkázy" (Czech, 1958)? I've only seen the Joseph Levine/Warner Brothers version Americanized version from 1961, "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne".
Hope this helps!