Director: Ishiro Honda
Starring: Akira Takarada, Nick Adams, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Keiko Sawai, Yoshio Tsuchiya
Plot: After the discovery of a new planet, Planet X, two astronauts venture there and uncover a race of human-like individuals. However, their planet is terrorised by King Ghidorah and they ask if they can borrow Earth’s monsters, Godzilla and Rodan, in order to fight back.
GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER proved that Godzilla’s name in the title wasn’t a prerequisite for success. Although he certainly hadn’t been demoted, it was clear that Toho was willing to share the limelight between all of their monsters. Coming in 1965, INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER was a title that clearly acknowledged the science-fiction elements that dominate the entire film. A smart choice for a title, as it lets you know, loud and clear, that this isn’t a typical Godzilla film. This was also the only co-production with an American studio, which explains one of the two leads being played by American actor Nick Adams, albeit dubbed in the Japanese version. Despite this, the film was not released in America until 5 years after its Japanese premiere, finally arriving in 1970, after the premature death of James at the age of 36.
The opening credits make it clear that the monsters are not the main focus of this film. Stationary shots of flying saucers and satellites indicate a space set adventure, which is exactly what we get. A prologue also discusses the discovery of a brand new planet, Planet X, and we’re soon joining the first two astronauts set to land on said planet. These are our heroes Fuji, played once again with charm and sophistication by franchise regular Akira Takarada, and Glenn portrayed by Nick Adams, who is probably most famous for his role in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Adams is dubbed throughout the film, but his original recording is present in the American dub. The two have equal screen time and not only does it indicate the co-production of the film, but also how international relations have improved between Japan and America over the years. Let’s not forget that America received a lot of blame in earlier Godzilla films for dropping the atomic bomb. Now the two countries are working together in the name of peace and exploration.
Speaking of exploration, the space theme was also very timely and perhaps can’t be appreciated as much by today’s audiences. We were still 4 years away from placing a man on the moon and the limits of space exploration were anyone’s guess at the time. It truly was exciting, and although we’ve been spoiled as viewers over the years, when INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER was first released it echoed what was going on in real life. Not only that, but America was in the middle of The Cold War. People were genuinely frightened that the world would come to an end, and discovering and landing on a new planet would have been seen as an incredible achievement. In many respects INAVSION OF ASTRO-MONSTER could be seen as a plea for sanity at the time, as it suggests we need to work together as the human race, as we have no idea what dangers may lurk in space.
As Glenn and Fuji come to land on Planet X, it is clear just how impressive the effects are. This is why I love practical effects; it’s not just all done on computers, but was obviously a combination of great minds. The model work is highly detailed, and the costumes look practical and inventive (at least for the astronauts). Backgrounds are a series of realistic looking matte paintings, and everything is joined together in an impressive union of imagination and creativity. Lightning soon strikes from a cloudless sky and Glenn and Fuji are taken in by the planet’s natives, who are pretty much human aside from their wardrobe choices. At times it seems as though the identity of the titular astro-monster is meant to be a surprise, but it really isn’t. It’s our old friend King Ghidorah, up to his planet-destroying ways. The inhabitants of Planet X, who do not seem trustworthy in the slightest, ask to borrow Earth’s monsters Godzilla and Rodan in order to fight Ghidorah, who they refer to as Monster Zero. In return they will give Earth a cure for cancer. Seems like a very reasonable request, considering the fact that Godzilla and Rodan have done nothing but cause damage over the years. Mothra isn’t included in this, mostly for budgetary reasons, but it does result in a less cluttered film.
Meanwhile on Earth, Fuji’s sister, Haruno (Sawai) is dating a young inventor, Tetsuo (Kubo) who has recently sold a bizarre creation to a company. The company’s representative, Miss Namikawa (Mizuno), just so happens to enjoy the same colour scheme (face wise) as the aliens from Planet X. It must be such a relief to the writers that all major characters in Godzilla films just happen to be connected to those that have an impact on the plot. Anyone who has ever spent the shortest amount of time in the company of foreshadowing will be less than surprised to see how this element plays out. We also find out that Fuji is not supportive of his sister’s choice in mate, adding an overbearing and protective slant to Takarada’s performance. This also results in some discussions between Fuji and Glenn concerning the nature of love, which leads to the revelation that Miss Namikawa and Glenn are dating. The conversations between Fuji and Glenn could be seen as a battle between Eastern and Western values, as Fuji argues the necessity for a successful husband, while Glenn points out that love should have no such restraints.
Although not completely trusting of the aliens, especially after discovering them hiding under the water on Earth, it is decided that a cure for cancer (or all world’s diseases in the dubbed version) is simply too good to pass up on. Godzilla and Rodan are transported into space and sent to Planet X where they battle Ghidorah. The fight, like the plot itself, is a lot less messy this time around, with only three monsters getting involved. We see the traditional tactics used, and the space setting adds a certain sense of freedom to the movements of the beasts. After Ghidorah is chased away, Godzilla gives a little highland fling dance, which still seems ridiculous to some, me included. INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER avoids a lot of silliness, and even the director himself objected to the dance, but in the final cut it remains. It’s not enough to completely derail the film though, and we are then treated to a softer and more heartfelt moment wherein Godzilla and Rodan are left on Planet X.
It doesn’t take long before the humans to realise that the cure for cancer is non-existent, and now there are no monsters to protect Earth from the triple onslaught of King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Godzilla. Fortunately, that device mentioned earlier on is able to incapacitate the aliens and allows Godzilla and Rodan to fight back. It’s kind of refreshing to see a Godzilla film with only two fights/scenes of destruction in total. Honda obviously wanted to focus more on the plot, which deals with many different sci-fi elements. At one point Glenn discovers that all women on Planet X look exactly the same, to which the high commander argues they should not settle for anything less than perfection. All of the motives and methods of Planet X are controlled by an unseen computer, and love is forbidden, leading to a tragic love story for Glenn and Miss Narikawa. This is on top of the want for cures and the reduction in natural resources. They may not all be explored in great detail, but they are all present and tie-in with the main story perfectly.
INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER is a wonderful sci-fi adventure that tackles many issues that are still pertinent today, even if that relevance is accidental. “How could we find happiness controlled by a machine?” inquires Glenn at one point, which could easily be applied to a life of social networking and internet dating. Played straight for the most part, and not being over-reliant on monsters, means that we have a very different kind of Godzilla feature. Although such traits were incorporated into later films, they also tried to have their cake and eat it too, by inserting even more monster action. This was when there was a perfect balance between the two.
Dub-Misstep: Perhaps the best dub so far, and mostly because we had an American lead who was actually speaking English, meaning both versions are technically dubs. Nick Adams’ performance really shines through in this version, and so it may be one of the few ‘must watch’ dubs.
Monsters: Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah all return from the previous film. This time Godzilla and Rodan and good through and through, but have the misfortune of being mind controlled. Ghidorah is also mind controlled, and he remains so throughout the rest of the series.
Notes For GODZILLA (2014): This film certainly does show that with enough plot the monster fights can certainly take second place. However, we don’t want that for the first in what will hopefully become a series. Besides, Gavin Edwards has already proved that’s the case with his very own MONSTERS.
GODZILLA will be released 16th May 2014. It stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Akira Takarada, and David Strathairn.