(aka Space Men Appear in Tokyo, The Mysterious Satellite)
I finally saw the original Japanese version of this film.
It is amazing what a difference that can make.
Frankly, I didn’t think much of this one when I saw the American dubbed version of this film, bundled in a set with several other public domain films. But the original emerges as a far more serious and interesting film.
The set up is fairly familiar: mysterious lights appear in the sky, monsters appear in Tokyo Bay, and a series of strange incidents take place. Of course, we know it’s flying saucers and aliens from some distant world, but they aren’t invaders. Instead, they’ve come to warn us about an approaching rogue planet which will destroy the Earth (this seems to have been a very popular idea among Japanese filmmakers as it also shows up in Toho’s Gorath and Toei’s Italian/American/Japanese co-production, The Green Slime. But then, perhaps they‘d seen When Worlds Collide — or read the original novel).
The credits start with a sudden splash of red paint that covers the entire screen, and there’s a reason for that: this was the first Tokusatsu movie filmed in color, beating Rodan to the theater by a year and a half. There’s so much red in so many scenes that I found myself wondering if that was because their color process favored it. You see that in some early color films, whose palettes were tweaked for best effect with their limited process. However, I suspect that it had a lot more to do with their decision to hire avant-garde artist Taro Okamoto as their “Color Designer.”
But that isn’t the contribution Taro Okamoto made that everyone remembers. He also designed the aliens, which are…rather goofy, giant one-eyed starfish things which can’t do much. It is a wonderfully silly and surreal design. You can’t take it seriously for a moment, but then, the main audience for this one was children and I’m sure they loved it. I suspect he designed the interior of their spaceship as well, which is nicely strange, mostly empty with a few simple but inexplicable bits of equipment.
As “Planet R” approaches, its heat causes widespread devastation (and if you are worried about how scientific that is, then you are watching the wrong movie!) and tints the sky an ominous orange. There are the usual floods and earthquakes, and a group of school kids taking shelter in the observatory where our scientific heroes are hard at work (but don’t worry, they’re just there. They don’t contact the aliens or help the adults save the world. That would have to wait for later Tokusatsu films).
It’s a bit talky and slow in places, there are a few scenes (like a group of teens calling out to the aliens near a lake) which go nowhere, and the script is far from consistent. However, there‘s a striking transformation scene, a nicely designed alien space station and some interesting effects. The aliens themselves are very cool, even though they are also quite silly (Okamoto loved them enough that he had a giant statue of one of the creatures made up and displayed it at a lot of his exhibitions).
So we’re talking a fun little film which provides a little over an hour and a half of entertainment. It may not be brilliant, but it does offer a few thrills and chills. It would be hard to find too many midnight movies as good as this one.
No matter how silly those aliens with the one big glowing eye might be.