Saturday, November 21, 2009

THE MYSTERIANS (1957)

Watching Ishiro Honda's Battle in Outer Space a while ago gave me some confidence in Japanese science fiction films. Unfortunately, it set a standard that this earlier Honda effort couldn't live up to, perhaps because Toho Studios was confused about what they wanted. It pretty much is a sci-fi film, but someone felt a need to have some sort of monster in it, maybe because, at the time, this was a kind of experiment for Toho. Maybe the presence of a monster would reassure the audience they'd earned with Godzilla and Rodan. Maybe they wouldn't laugh the Mysterians' monster out of the theater. Maybe....


This godforsaken thing comes stumbling out of the side of a mountain as if it were the piece de resistance of an alien reign of terror that included forest fires and landslides. It blunders its way through some city before the Japanese self-defense forces manage to take it out on practically their first try. They manage to lure it onto a bridge which they then blow up, leaving the menace in a ruined heap below. That's how bad this miserable excuse for a monster is. But now we've had our monster and we can get on with the sci-fi film Honda and Co. wanted to make anyway.


Some researchers have had a hunch that all these natural disasters were products of an alien intelligence. One way they could tell was by detecting a level of radiation so intense in one location that it was melting the tires on their jeep, while having no apparent effect at all on their boots. These odd phenomena complement the theory that there's intelligent life lurking out around Jupiter, where we're told there was once a star or two in business. The Japanese decide to call this apparent alien outpost Mysterioid, because, I guess, it's sort of mysterious. The natives seem to like the name and adopt it for themselves when they announce their existence and claim responsibility for the disasters and the big robot-flightless bird thing. Causing natural disasters and embedding clumsy robots into mountains was there way of demonstrating their superiority in a non-violent manner. The demonstration being made, it's time to make demands. These are modest: a three-kilometer strip of Japanese real estate, and women. Mysterian women (if there are any) are FUBAR due to a few hundred thousand years worth of radiation, so our caped-and-helmeted visitors humbly request the right to marry human women. For do not aliens from other worlds need love, too? And shouldn't they have the right to choose whom they'll love? In fact, they have five specific women in mind whom their advance scouts had a chance to ogle while setting forest fires. And actually, they have three of them in custody already, but they'd appreciate the thought of our retroactively requesting them to take the girls, along with our giving them the other two.

Mysterioid. Needs. Women.

Who can say no to them, anyway, when their rotary plastic dome headquarters is impenetrable and their heat rays can melt all human ordinance? The world can, is who, and to show that we mean business we'll attack the dome in vain repeatedly until someone invents a superweapon, as someone inevitably will in such a picture. While that goes on we have to deal with a subplot involving a captive scientist who takes the Mysterian side, thinking their rule necessary to prevent humanity from killing itself through nuclear war -- you know, like the Mysterians did. He'll come around, though, but not before another scientist just happens to discover a tunnel that leads right inside the dome, where one determined dude with a ray gun can wreak more havoc than the world air force above.

Appearances are deceiving: this is an invulnerable alien dome.

Humanity attempts to penetrate the dome using high-tech (above) and low-tech methods (below)


While he makes mischief and the aliens accumulate women, the UN stages a two-pronged attack with multiple superweapons, not reckoning upon the fact that the Mysterians have another one of those -- things burrowing underground to undermine one of the human death rays. We see it here in its moment of surprise triumph.


The triumph is short lived.


These things don't even need us to kill them; they eliminate themselves, and I suppose they exemplify the clumsy, almost pathetic charm of The Mysterians, along with the pettiness of the aliens and their proto-Power Ranger costumes. But I suppose I'm unfair to it, having seen Battle in Outer Space first. That film does just about everything better than Mysterians, and I watched it in subtitled Japanese, while the Tokyo Shock DVD had to come up with its own awful English dub track, not having rights to the American edition of the movie. There are two scenes in the movies in which characters speak English on the original Japanese soundtrack, only to have their remarks translated into Japanese by interpreters. In this edition, the same characters speak English, and the interpreters repeat the same phrases in English. That's embarrassing.

A critical appraisal of The Mysterians is beside the point. I think anyone who's thinking about looking at it knows it's going to be dumb. The real question is whether the imagery and effects do anything for you. Some folks will dig the costumes (including the vampire-like capes humans must wear inside the dome to counter the cold) and the spectacle of aliens abducting women. Some may find the abject giant robot appealing. Some will not. I'm here to say that you can do better in Toho sci-fi, but if this makes you more interested in seeing The Mysterians, then have a blast.

Check out the ballyhoo on this U.S. trailer, uploaded to YouTube by JetJagga

1 comment:

Crhymethinc said...

I saw this movie years ago. It was entertaining. Were it to actually happen, I think we could probably haggle them down to 2 kilometres of real estate in upstate NY and give them Sarah Palin, Paris Hilton, Gwen Stefani, Julia Louise Dreyfus and Rosie O'Donell as their love slaves.