I did not have cable when I was growing up, a pop cultural slight that I have now come to believe should be labeled a crime against humanity, so I had to find other ways to watch Transformers, GI Joe and anything else that might be showing only on the USA Cartoon Express. Thus, I had many an over night at my various friend’s houses where I would watch Nick at Night, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Godzilla marathons until the sun would rise.
Now I never really understood Godzilla films at the time, all I knew was that they had giant monsters, giant robots and it also was a pretty cool Saturday morning cartoon which starred an even gianter monster who was at the beck and call of American scientists. They also also blew up stuff in the movies, which is always pretty cool.
I like to think Godzilla, and those nights spent watching him destroy, and defend, Tokyo, were some of the first planted seeds that would eventually blossom into my love of film. As such I’ve always had a bit of a nostalgic kick for men dressed in monster suits stomping on model cities. It is just good clean family fun. Until Mighty Morphin Power Rangers went and crapped all over it.
Now I can understand the appeal of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to little kids, but the shows are such horrible camp (not to be confused with horribly campy) that you would have to be a moron to enjoy them as an adult. Toss in the blatant consumerism of the whole endeavor and the entire mythos of Godzilla seems lost in the translation as a result. And what’s worse, the Godzilla franchise has started to follow the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers lead.
You see while the Japanese monster movies of the 1950′s often times looked cheap, those were the standards of the day. Now I can understand staying with style for nostalgic purposes, and even to help keep costs low (These movies don’t make much money anymore so limiting cost is a necessity to production) but I do get uncomfortable with their repeated attempts at camping up the films in recent years.
For one, it is incredibly difficult to pull off being campy without it being seriously detrimental to the film. And while the original films were most certainly campy, much of that was a result of the horrible voice acting and the terrible script translations. So now, instead of trying to make a good Godzilla film that might get lost in the translation, they are purposely making bad movies. To me this can only be described as disheartening.
Something strange is happening in Japan. Catastrophic earthquakes, mudslides and a strange steam is rising from underfoot. Soon enough a race of alien super beings, The Mysterians, announce their presence with authority in an effort to scare the Japanese government to work out a peaceful treaty with them. All they ask for is a small parcel of land to live on and call their own, and the use of Japanese women to marry and procreate with.
One of the things so prevalent in these early Japanese monster movies that I had forgotten about was their environmental messages. Think for one second about how many more awards An Inconvenient Truth would have won if Godzilla had been running the Powerpoint presentation? The Mysterians is no different in that it hammers home its pro-environment message early and often. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it is just that nowadays such an in your face style of delivery is typically removed to prevent offending the audience or inciting backlash. It is refreshing to watch a film display its bias so openly and with such casual disregard.
But where The Mysterians really stands out is its insinuation that The Mysterians themselves represent the United States. With their blatant disregard for civilian life when they destroy entire cities in an effort to convince the Japanese government to surrender, to asking for small areas of land to use for military bases and even the soldiers wanting to mingle with the natives, The Mysterians are clearly a not so subtle knock against the United States and their military activities. And while much of this bitterness has dissipated over the years, it is fascinating to see it so clearly in display.
But, as is typical of films of that time period, the voice acting and the American script translation are laughably bad in The Mysterians, though it is still wildly entertaining. One of my favorite early head scratching, and laugh out loud, moments is a Japanese researcher who possesses a terrible Southern accent. If only he could have been more central to the plot I would have never been able to stop laughing.
Yet another odd quirk of the script is how often it seems that the translators are simply making up everything as they go along. For instance, during one sequence two scientists are looking through telescopes when one suddenly exclaims, “Look! Something is happening on the dark side of the Moon!” Now besides the fact that it is impossible for someone on Earth to view the dark side of the Moon, it was quite apparent that the activity of the spaceships being monitored were in fact flying in front of the Moon, not behind it. That was just one of several moments that will make you question if you heard what you think you just heard.
But those hiccups aside The Mysterians is a rollicking good time. The pace of the film is brisk, using just the first ten minutes or so to set the story before racing from one action set piece to the next. You’ll see giant bird robots named after moles, aerial warfare and hordes of tanks and rockets trying to blow up an impervious glowing dome.
But those fight sequences and the numerous natural disasters would be nothing without some outstanding special effects. The model work is nothing short of spectacular and the overlaying of the video of the explosions on top of the video of the models works incredibly well and looks surprisingly authentic for an age where such digital style special effects were rarely successfully attempted. Make sure to check out the models melting from the dome’s heat ray for some really eye popping visuals as well. Or even better, try and figure out just how they pulled off people exciting a miniature tank while it is being swallowed up by the ground.
Helping drive the action is a fantastic score by Akira Ifukube who turns every fight sequence into an operatic event. Kurosawa fans should also keep an eye out for Takashi Shimura, who is clearly slumming, yet still giving it his all like much of the rest of the cast. Director Ishirô Honda, the man responsible for much of the Godzilla canon, is clearly trying to make the most out of a relatively thin script and predominantly worthless characters. And sure, The Mysterians is anything but high art with its over reliance on action and special effects, but Honda has created an action film overflowing with fun. The Mysterians may not be a great movie, but you’ll be hard pressed to find something more enjoyable to watch.