Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Mysterians

Over at the mighty Nostalgic Attic blog, all hell has broken loose with monsters of every shape and size (mostly of the thirty storeys kind) marauding across it's pages, so be sure to stop by and lend a hand to the Attic's harassed caretaker John Mulvanetti for the clean-up operation. Inspired by the Nostalgic Attic's monster jamboree, I've been revisiting Godzilla helmer Ishirô Honda's 1957 space invaders epic, The Mysterians. Strictly Saturday morning fare of course but for anyone interested in dipping their toe into the radioactive waters of Japanese Sci-fi, the film makes for a fine introduction.

Mysterians

The Mysterians, Ishirô Honda's fourth special effects extravaganza for Toho sees the director deviate from from the successful Kaiju formula of his previous monster movies for something more akin to HG Wells' War of the Worlds, with planet Earth fending off an invasion force of radiation stricken aliens looking to relocate from the cold wastes of Mars to the more agreeable terrestrial climates and kick-start their civilization using healthy human females... For all the comic book pulpiness of the plot, The Mysterians is a lavish well-mounted production, with bright, garish photography and art direction (as was the Japanese taste), the film notable for being Toho's first feature shot in 'scope. Admittedly the state-of-the-art special effects have greatly diminished over the years, but the film still boasts some fine model work - like the Mysterians' souped-up flying saucers - wonderful to behold in motion as they zip across the sky in attack mode. Although not a monster movie in the strict sense of the genre, there is a little kaiju icing around the sides with an appearance early on in the film of a colossal bird-like robot monster which reduces towns to ash in the firestorm left in its wake.

Flying Atomic Heat Projectors... fire !

But beyond deadly automatons, death rays and melted tanks, the film delivers grave tidings of the hazards of nuclear energy, the itinerant aliens might well be considered tragic, made homeless after their planet was annihilated by nuclear war (and in a nice bit of popular science, the fragments of the destroyed planet have resulted in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter). The film is given considerable weight too by the casting of Takashi Shimura, imparting a sad-eyed melancholic look throughout. Ultimately, the film is most successful for striking the right balance between juvenile and smart clever science fiction and in this regard is far more accomplished than say the Star Wars prequels whose plots are most likely incomprehensible to their intended audience. Incidentally, the film has left its own dent on popular culture, the Mysterians themselves look like a forerunner for the Japanese TV superheroes Super Sentai (or the Power Rangers if you prefer), while the Mysterians name was borrowed by 60's garage rockers Question Mark and The Mysterians. Interestingly, Gerry Anderson's late 60's creation Captain Scarlet battled a deadly foe called The Mysterons, a race of intergalactic aliens who used Mars as base to attack Earth. Perhaps, Anderson had Honda's film in mind when he conceived his models and marionettes series and used a bit of judicious tweaking to avoid the ire of MGM ?

4 comments:

  1. thanks for the shout-out, Wes! And thanks for the write up on The Mysterians. As I mentioned, I'm shocked I haven't seen this one yet, as I'm a card-carrying 50's sci-fi nerd - but I'll be rectifying that as the BFI dvd just went into my amazon shopping basket. I'm a big fan of War of the Worlds (either the story or the films, yup, even the Spielberg one) so this sounds right up my street. My preferred time for watching this kind of thing is well after midnight on a Friday or Saturday. The lights are off, your brain is in that right space for enjoying something that doesn't always have to make perfect sense... I tend to be much more forgiving in that state of mind!

    The only person I know who enjoys the plotting of the Star Wars prequels is my wife, and that's because she has a degree in politics. Why Lucas thought that kids/man-children would be interested in trade embargo's and the like is beyond me. It shows how out of touch with the world of film he really was, I guess.

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  2. Yeah, all that trade war intrigue in the Star Wars prequels really makes me feel more dumb than I ought to be, but strip away the effects and the big set pieces, the films are like wading thru a dry lecture on geo-political economics on a sunny day. But as my friend Dave, once put it succinctly, George Lucas doesn't give a fuck what you or anyone else thinks of Star Wars... I've always been a habitually early morning kind of a guy, so I do my best, most attentive film watching in the mornings and afternoons - in fact, I dozed off a little watching Shutter Island on RTE2 Friday night - this was only my second time seeing the film, and I enjoyed its operatic excesses - I kept thinking if only Scorsese had made Cape Fear like this. Oddly enough the film reminded me, not in any obvious way, of Suspiria, most likely it was the volume of the soundtrack that put Argento's film in mind but it made for an interesting juxtaposition... Fully agreed on Spielberg's War of the Worlds, it's very good, and compared to say Independence Day, the film is obviously made by the hand of a master. I caught a very good documentary on the Mercury Theater radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, a few months back, on the PBS or History Channel, and it's well worth seeking out with lots of good Orson Welles footage... Yeah, I think you will like The Mysterians, although it must be said John the BFI/Media Blasters DVD had less than stellar elements to work with - it's extremely watchable, but make sure you pick up the disc cheap...

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    1. I'm actually a huge fan of Shutter Island, despite what the critics/average Joe's were saying... it was beautifully crafted film, and the soundtrack was fantastic. I actually picked it up a few days after seeing the film. Interesting note on Suspiria, never picked that up myself but will keep it in mind when I pop the Blu Ray in again soon!

      Cheers for the heads up on the documentary, will see if I can get my hands on it. The disc is 7 pounds for The Mysterians, which I consider reasonable... though it can be got used for £3.50, and seeing as my wife will be in the UK in a week, I could get it delivered there for next to nothing on postage...hmmm.

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    2. The BFI Mysterians has a really lovely cover, much cleaner and nicer than the Media Blasters. I really hoped Warners would give The Green Slime a fitting release, but sadly it's only available on their burn-on-demand Archive series which I've always been slightly suspicious of... Yep, I did enjoy Shutter Island, and in fact it's actually the second Scorsese film I've seen inside of a week - last w/end I revisted his Bob Dylan film which is just great - I'm not a big Dylan fan, I like the man and the times more than the music, but No Direction Home and Scorsese's George Harrison film really are masterclasses in biopic film making...

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