Godzilla! One plaintive cry of fear, accompanied by the roar of the biggest baddest monster of the nuclear age, created a cinematic icon that has lasted for well over fifty years. Godzilla, and the associated kaiju movies that sprung up in its destructive wake, not only captured the cultural imagination of people worldwide in the 1950s, but carved out an incredibly vast new genre of science fiction movie that lasts well into the new millennium.
Welcome to Toho Kaiju Monogatari, a year-long weekly series that hopes to not only share the joy of these Godzilla movies, but all the kaiju movies that came out of Toho Studios from 1954 to 2004. Not just Godzilla, but Rodan, Mothra, Japanese King Kong, kaiju-Frankenstein, and dozens more! And you can play along with the adventure, following the full weekly schedule HERE, as we watch men in suits stomp miniatures of famous cities flat for not just our entertainment, but for the history of cinema itself!
We’ve been dealing primarily with kaiju-focused movies up until now, but part of what happened after Godzilla hit the stage was an explosion of all sorts of science fiction and special effects films. In fact, Japan has a word for these types of movies: tokusatsu, which translates roughly as a special effects film. Giant monsters, alien invasions, mechs, even superheroes all fall under this genre distinction that more or less doesn’t exist clearly in English.
I’m not planning on covering every tokusatsu movie, obviously, but sometimes they will be movies that aren’t giant monster focused but contain a giant monster. And sometimes those monsters would eventually show up way down the line in later Godzilla movies. So for the sake of prepping everyone with as much information necessary to enjoy all the Godzilla movies, I’m going to cover them if they seem particularly relevant. Which is why today’s movie is different than the others we’ve covered before.
By 1957, the tokusatsu movies that Toho was putting out were big business, and the champions of the genre were the team of director Ishiro Honda and special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya. For this small, golden period, they were given incredible resources to create increasingly ambitious stories and set pieces that would lay the ground work for a whole culture’s genre film making. Every film went further and pushed harder against the limits of budget and the capability of men in suits and miniatures to represent the increasingly wondrous events that these films depicted.
And with those pushes come the push for new technologies, from the revelatory advances in compositing and matte work that Godzilla made to the introduction to color film in these movies (in Rodan). In this movie, there were two significant technological advances: the use of TohoScope, an anamorphic widescreen format that had been developed by Toho but had not yet been used for a color or a tokusatsu film; and the use of stereophonic sound mixing for the picture. Maybe not as staggering on the surface, but part of the gradual march of technology that these films were married to.
If that seems to be a lot of not-talking-about-the-movie that’s because I feel the movie is kind of terrible outside of the effects and the technologies on display. The story of scientists in Japan who discover alien life, The Mysterians is a 50s alien movie that feels much more American than the kaiju movies, which (to me anyway) is a pretty terrible sign. It opens with scientists discovering evidence for something called the Mysteroid, a mysterious planet that used to exist but was long ago destroyed.
At the same time, a dome emerges from underground and from it comes an invitation: the five scientists who were our heroes have been designated the speakers for all of humanity (very convenient) and are asked to enter the ship. Inside the ship they meet the Mysterians, a race of humanoid aliens with crazy color-coded costumes, sunglasses, and giant motorcycle-helmet/daruma heads. No, seriously, look at that picture. I can’t even tell if that’s a real face or a plastic face inside on some of those guys. Either way, when they aren’t being devastatingly fashionable, they talk in weird robot voices and are generally weird and wise alien folk.
They lay out a tragic story for the scientists, where they were once residence of the Mysteroid, a planet that prospered technologically, until they invented nuclear weapons and had a series of wars that lead to the destruction to the Mysteroid and irradiated their race so irredeemably that 80% of their race is born with deformities and they’re in real danger of becoming extinct. So they decided to come to Earth for three purposes:
- warn of the dangers of nuclear weapons
- live somewhere that isn’t an irradiated ball of rock
- marry human women and have non-mutant babies.
Which seems kind of reasonable, I suppose, and that’s exactly how the scientists feel about speaking for human women like they’re a friend they know really well when they nod and say “Sure, whatever, that doesn’t seem like a problem.” Which is kind of creepy enough, but then the Mysterian Leader pulls out a list, complete with photos (!), of the five women their top leaders would like to marry. And the guys, being 50s science types, nod and rub their chins and go “This is highly irregular” until one of them realizes that his girlfriend is on said list.
You can imagine what happens next.
So suddenly the Mysteroids are here, already have a giant house set up, and are ready to make Mystery Men (just go with it) and now the humans are going to shut them down over a little something like (kind of) respecting the individual right to choose? The Mysterians decide to just abduct the women on their list, and to hell with the humans. When people get upset, and the Mysterians respond by summoning the Moguera, a big robot bug/chicken thing that apparently was hiding out in a hillside waiting to make humanity an offer it couldn’t refuse. It bursts out of the side of a mountain and proceeds to shoot and melt all sorts of military structures and buildings, stomping its way around a town and generally being a proper kaiju menace.
That is, until it stands on a bridge that collapses under it and is destroyed. You see, when it’s not being impervious to all conventional weapons, the Moguera is a dainty robot menace who doesn’t like heights or things falling on it. Later in the film, during the only significant battle of the Mysterian/Earth War, a second Moguera rises up out of the ground seemingly out of nowhere, summoned as a last ditch effort by the Mysterians only to have one of the Marcalite Farps (we’ll get to this, don’t worry!) fall on it. It is so undignified an end for a cool robot thing that someone must have been bullied by a giant space bug/chicken as a kid. Poor Moguera.
Either way, what’s most interesting here is that without their Moguera the Mysterian dome goes crazy and starts shooting heat rays out of the dome, which manage to wipe out most of the conventional Japanese military by melting tanks and missile batteries. It’s one of the best parts of the movie, watching these tanks melt, a great miniature effect that works way more than you might think. That said, it’s relatively actionless, since it’s a stationary target, but then again this isn’t really an action movie by normal standards.
The incredible Earth defeat bolsters the entire militaries of all the powers of the planet, who decide to set aside all of their differences and unite to form the Earth Defense Force, a coalition built to create a weapon capable of countering the Mysterians. What they come up with is the Marcalite Farps, an amazing name for what is essentially a parabolic dish that can focus radiation into beams similar to the Mysterians’ heat technology. What’s more interesting than the technology is that name, which I can only assume was picked because it’s the only words that don’t make sense in every language, but it’s certainly evocative of something. Like … yogurt.
These are used to fight the dome to a standstill, as the EDF rolls out their other superweapon, a heat beam attached to some sort of rocket/jet, which they use to puncture the dome. This, coupled with some of those scientists infiltrating the dome to rescue the kidnapped women and sabotaging some of the Mysterian equipment, is enough to make the Mysterians second-guess their intentions of colonizing Earth and they pick up their domes and fly off into space to find a planet without bridges or yogurt where they can steal women at will.
If this sounds silly, that’s because this whole movie is pretty dumb. No, I’m not going to try to make excuses for this one. I didn’t like Godzilla Raids Again but this makes it look like high art, with its bad (more like rad) alien designs and stupid, paper-thin invasion plot. It’s not even like the Moguera stuff looks particularly good, so all you’re left with is some heat rays and some melted military and the brilliant of Marcalite Farps, which should probably be the name of a band if it isn’t already.
What’s most interesting, then, isn’t the badness of the movie, but that this is the first movie that suggests a unified Earth response to a threat. I haven’t seen movies past this one yet, admittedly, but I somehow doubt this will be the last time the Earth Defense Force or some permutation of it crops up in a kaiju movie. And it all starts here, though admittedly outside of one guy who speaks hilariously broken English, it’s not exactly a cornucopia of international representation.
So this is the first movie without a really significant English cut. Apparently there was a really terrible dub back in the 50s upon release, that was panned up and down, but it doesn’t exist anymore that I can find. Toho claims to have lost the rights to it, and the DVD I have has a re-recorded dub that’s essentially just the subtitles spoken in English, so ultimately this is one time that poor Zilla doesn’t have much to contribute. Not his fault, the movie’s bad in any language.
height: 50 meters
mass: 50,000 metric tons
origin:underground caverns, originally the Mysteroid
- being a giant robot
- radiates searing heat
- goofy legs
- susceptible to things fall on it and out from under it