Ko NishimuraJun TazakiKenji SaharaKumi Mizuno
Medium: film
Year: 1962
Director: Ishiro Honda
Writer: Takeshi Kimura, Jojiro Okami
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese, English
Keywords: SF, giant rampaging monster, Toho Studios' space-opera trilogy
Actor: Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Jun Tazaki, Ken Uehara, Takashi Shimura, Seizaburo Kawazu, Ko Mishima, Takamaru Sasaki, Ko Nishimura, Eitaro Ozawa, Masanari Nihei, George Furness, Ross Benette, Nadao Kirino, Fumio Sakashita
Format: 88 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056709/
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 24 August 2011
It's the third in Toho's SF Epic trilogy, after The Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space. However it's different from them, because it has no aliens. Instead the Earth's under threat from a runaway star.
In other words, it's an Impact Event movie. There have been others, both in the 1950s and recently, such as When Worlds Collide, Deep Impact and Armageddon. Six years earlier there had even been a Japanese one, Warning from Space. In some ways it's a dry genre, since the story has no villains and it's just plucky mankind struggling against... well, against occasional film inserts of a red blob peaceably drifting through space. To bring it to life, you've got to make the threat apocalyptic. That they most certainly do, to such an extent in fact that the level of global catastrophe is way higher than the film has realised and if the events of this movie ever happened, the planet Earth wouldn't even be a grease stain.
Firstly, the impact object isn't a meteorite. It's a star, called Gorath. It's only 75% of Earth's size, but 6000 times its mass and so there's not the slightest chance of a Deep Impact or Armageddon solution, i.e. blowing it up. You can't divert its course. You can't even approach it, because any spaceship that does gets sucked into its gravity well and vapourised. The solution from When Worlds Collide also isn't an option, because there's no convenient planet to evacuate to.
You're probably wondering how mankind's going to get out of this one. Answer: they'll divert the Earth. Push it out of its current orbit and Gorath will pass us by, although even a close approach would probably see it ripping away our atmosphere, causing ten-metre tidal waves and so on. Now you might have noticed that the planet Earth is heavy. It's going to take more than a couple of horsepower to have any noticeable effect on its orbit, but Japan has the answer. Nuclear power! Nothing's badder than an H-Bomb! In other words, this film's plan to save the world is to set off so many nuclear explosions that they knock the planet out of its orbit... and just to be even more eco-friendly, they're going to do this in Antarctica. On the upside, this will mean no one will be living nearby. However the downsides include the ozone layer, global sea levels, the Antarctic ice shelf and quite possibly a chunk of the planet being blasted into space.
If this doesn't terrify you, you're braver than me. It also may or may not help that when we finally see the world's awesome atomic power going at full throttle, it looks like a row of gas jets. You'll expect someone to start cooking dinner on it.
In fairness, the film's aware of some of these issues. Their demonstration of a possible Gorath flypast is like the Book of Revelation. There's also a fascinating take on the possible effects of environmental damage in the Antarctic when a giant killer walrus (called Maguma) gets thawed out and starts tearing the place up. "It just wants the temperature to return to normal," comments one of the onlookers. This could have been a cool thematic counterpoint, except that...
(a) it looks a bit silly,
(b) it's a six-minute "man in suit" sequence thrown in at the last minute because Godzilla films did better box office than SF ones, which furthermore the Americans cut back out from the film before releasing theatrically,
(c) Maguma isn't badass enough. He causes a bit of property damage before the humans come along, but after that he's hopelessly outclassed as helicopters fly overhead and shoot him with lasers. Six minutes later: walrus steaks. We need our hero to put up a better fight if we're going to see him as a metaphor for the destruction of the environment!
Then there's the beginning of the film. It's not just that everyone on that spaceship is going to die. It's the fact that they're all being so damned Japanese about it. "Banzai! Banzai!" It's a macho self-sacrifice thing, along with lots of duty. Then later a bunch of astronauts hijack a helicopter in order to go plead that their superior let them go up into space (and die), in the course of which they become so happy that they sing a martial anthem about it. "I am an astronaut!" Even the vocabulary choices are such that a woman couldn't have sung that song without sounding ridiculous.
In addition the characters are surprisingly confident, probably because this is the third of a trilogy and so they're used to extraterrestrial menaces. (Not all of them, mind you. There's a scene near the end where the mission commander gives his indignant subordinate the brush-off, only to confide later that he knows it doesn't matter what they do because the world is doomed.)
So in other words, despite the inherent dryness of the genre, the film has personality. That doesn't make it a classic, mind you. It's okay. An audience that's ignoring the scientific implications might get a bit bored.
The character work is livelier than it might have been, to the point where it feels as if they cut-and-pasted it from a different film. Come to think of it, I suspect they did. You've got this wacky Japanese goofball who wants to be an astronaut and has one slightly shocking moment with a dead man's photograph. Then he gets amnesia. I don't know why. That one escaped me. They take him back to his girlfriend and he struggles for a while, then gets his memory back. None of that has anything to do with the main story of Gorath, although it's reasonably entertaining and considerably more colourful than any character in The Mysterians or Battle in Outer Space.
Takashi Shimura also comes back (yay!) although he doesn't get much to do, while Kumi Mizuno gets a bathtub scene like Shirakawa's in The Mysterians. You see absolutely nothing and you could show it to the vicar, but it's still welcome.
The subtitles are dodgy, but you needn't worry about that.
Overall, it's not bad. Not brilliant, but it's got a lot of personality and you've got to love Wally the Walrus. It's got its predecessors' reverence for international cooperation and the world working together, which is good. (Note the black scientist they carefully include after talking about the fact that the U.N. has saved mankind from being split into black, white and yellow races... although this black guy's only visible for about two seconds.) It's another good-looking movie, even if the model work is a bit obvious in the Antarctic. The scientific quirks (e.g. suspiciously maneuverable rockets) add to the film's charm, as often in the 1950s.
"But we'll need twice the nuclear power to put it back into its proper orbit." (Eh?)