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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Invasion of the Neptune Men

Since this English-dubbed version of a japanese superhero movie went straight to television with no American theatrical release, it technically falls outside of the scope of this study. However, it features three things in common with the film just reviewed (Invasion) -- invading aliens, a force-field dome, and a woman named Yoko. Invasion of the Neptune Men (INM) was also requested by one of the followers of this humble blog. So, here it is. The Japanese title was, "Uchu Kaisoku-sen" (Space hypership), released by Toei Company. It stars Sonny Chiba before he was famous for his martial arts film roles. Many viewers rail on INM as one of the "worst films ever." True, it does suffer from being a variation of a copy of an adaptation (more on that below), but most complaints center around the dubbing in the english version released by Walter Manley Enterprises in 1964. In truth, the original Space Hypership was not a great film, but not all that terrible either. What it did have, was atrocious dubbing.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Mr. Tachibana shows his science club (six 10 yr old boys) a film about a satellite going to the moon. They blather praise for Tachibana as a scientist, then go out to watch for a satellite (in the daytime?) with telescopes. The runty boy sees a rocket land. They all run to see. Around town, people experience electrical things running backwards. The boys find the rocket, but instantly surrounded by aliens in bullet-headed spacesuits. The Neptune Men close in and start to strangle the boys, but a blast of wind knocks everyone down. Space Chief rides in to the rescue in his rocket car. The boys run off. Space Chief fights the aliens. They withdraw to the ship and blast off. The boys interrupt a press briefing by famous scientist Dr. Tanigawa. (one of the boys is his son). The reporters ask what caused the electrical reversal. The boy say it was space men. Tachibana believes them (because he is really Space Chief). They take a reporter out to the site. They find an unearthly bit of metal shot off the rocket by Space Chief's ray gun. Tests show trace elements only found on Neptune. Tanigawa thinks they will return. They do, firing missiles at the city. The city's electro-forcefield-dome stops the missiles. The Neptune Men fly off. Later, a small pod lands outside the boys' home. They carry the little Weber Grill pod into space headquarters to show Tanigawa. He figures out that it's a message pod. The Neptune Men tell earthlings that they will return and defeat the electro-dome. Resistance is futile, etc. etc. See you tomorrow at 12:30. Soldiers are stationed all around the dome's power control building (and space lab HQ) At 12:40, a storm brews up. People take cover. Lightning strikes a tree. Evil copy soldiers step out from behind it. They kill some real soldiers (Hiroshima style). Some go in the power building, some accost the boys. Space Chief, once again, saves the boys with a blast of wind. He then zaps the evil soldiers with his ray gun. They briefly resume their bullet-headed true form, then fade to nothing. Too late, though, the power is destroyed. Dr. Tanigawa is left unconscious from their attack. The aliens return, launching six-pointed saucers from their mother ship. The saucers shoot up a bunch of city buildings, making them blow up dramatically -- including the "famous" Hitler building. Space Chief arrives and dogfights the many spiky saucers. He eventually shoots them all down. Meanwhile, back at the underground base, Tachibana shows up to help fix the missile defenses. When up and running, they fire their Nike-esque missiles at the Neptune Men's mother ship. It is hit and explodes. Cheers. Pan up, pan down to the boys, Tachibana and Yoko sitting at a fountain. The boys talk of inventing stuff cooler than what Space Chief has and flying to Mars. They walk arm in arm back to the lab. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
After reading about how awful it was supposed to be, it was actually somewhat entraining to look for silver linings or nuggets amid the ample dross. The rocket car has a sort of 50s kitsch cool to it. Sonny Chiba as a lanky young string bean of a nerd is kind of amusing too.

Cold War Angle
The Neptune Men blow up a few nuclear reactors trying to get the nations of earth to start a nuclear war with each other and thereby make conquest easier. Instead, the nations band together in noble solidarity to face a common enemy. Of particular note, is how the Japanese soldiers "died" when zapped by the Neptune Men. They left silhouettes on walls, like were found in Hiroshima. The power of this was not lost on Japanese audiences.

Super, Thrice Removed -- Toei Studios' 1961 super hero "Iron Sharp" (Space Chief in the English version), was a copy of Prince of Space, which Toei marketed in 1959. Prince of Space was himself a copy of Toho Studios' serial hero, "Supa Jaiantsu" (Super Giant), who was himself a copy of Superman. Like Prince of Space, Space Chief had his secret mild mannered civilian guise. Walter Manley Enterprises brought Super Giant to American audiences as "Starman," in such films as Evil Brain From Outer Space

Iron Sharp -- In the beginning of the japanese version, the boys lament that their science club advisor, Mr. Tachibana is smart, but too weak and nerdy. They fantasize about a super hero. They decide to name him "Iron Sharp." Curiously, they use the English words, though pronounced: Ion Shop. In the English version, he is dubbed as Space Chief. The original film includes a heroic song and some extended shots of Iron Sharp flying in his rocket car under the credits. The English version cut this useful backstory.

Shifting Credit -- In the Japanese version, Tachibana talks about following up on the success of Yuri Gegarin's flight (in April '61, so very topical) and working with scientists in Moscow on rocket designs. In the English dubbed version, Tachibana is made to say "Major Glenn's" flight (February '62, INM released in '64) and working with a Dr. Strauss. Can't have the Soviets getting any credit in the space race -- to American audiences.

Rocket Car -- The overall tenor of INM is low-budget matinee fare aimed at young boys. There are a few areas where it is evident that Toei spent some money -- probably in anticipation of doing sequels. Some of the control room and "lab" sets are more extensive than the usual slap-dash cheapie. Space Chief's rocket car is another. In the edited American version, it gets less screen time. It is actually powered (though apparently having no suspension). It looks kind of retro-cool in its flying closeups.

Cathartic Air War -- There is something vaguely wishful in the fight against the Neptune Men. In WWII, Japan did not fare well under American air power. In INM, Space Chief successfully dogfights and shoots down all the invading fighters. Japan's missile defenses successfully destroy the mother ship bomber. Were Japanese audiences enjoying a sort of analogy history as it wasn't?

The Hitler Building? -- The crew of MST3K had great fun with the destruction of a building with a large painting of Hitler on its side. Indeed, it is still a bizarre non sequitur in INM. Actually, the destroyed buildings footage are recycled from a prior Toei film, World War III Breaks Out ('60). Toho's The Last War ('61) was a similar doom story.

Bottom line? INM is not great cinema, but matinee fodder aimed at young japanese boys. They didn't expect deep plots with subtle nuances. Yet, it is not really as bad as its many critics say. Get over the clumsy dubbing and you have a mild story with a hero thwarting some invading aliens.


Randall Landers said...

Thanks for what I feel is the only fair and balanced review I've read of IotNN. My favorite scene is the "Hiroshima" deaths of the security forces. It was a meme repeated in FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, and it's one of those striking things that a child never forgets. The space car, as you noted, was pretty cool. It looks like the back end of an American big finned car reversed to serve as the front end with a jet plane attached. And don't forget Sonny Chiba. :)

Nightowl said...

Yes, I recall the visual reference in First Spaceship... Moody stuff, especially then, only a dozen, plus years after the fact.

I forgot to write about the amusingly "mild" fight scene with Sonny battling all the Neptune Men. It was a FAR cry from what Chiba would go on to become famous for. Perhaps because the film was aimed at young boys, the "fight" looked like what young boys would do, play-acting a marshall arts fight.

Maurice Mitchell said...

The "silhouettes on walls" are pretty powerful. It's amazing how the Japanese were emotionally scarred by Hiroshima. Neptune Men sounds like a fun film.
- Maurice Mitchell

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