The Bad Movie Report

The Mysterians

As those of you who have been with us a while might recall, during my viewing of Atragon I felt a nostalgic pull to revisit another Ishirô Honda tale of technological ingenuity vs. a superior invading force, namely, The Mysterians. You will recall that I also had some misgivings about a youthful favorite suffering from a more critical adult viewing. Were my worries unfounded? A little yes, a little no.

For those uninitiated in the ways of the Japanese Invader Film: Ryoichi, a "physical astronomer", suddenly takes up living in a small village "for health reasons". He also begins acting a little strangely."Look out, Ringo!  It's a fiendish thingie!" Suddenly, the village is host to a forest fire where the trees burn from the roots up, and, the next day, the earth simply swallows up the village. Radiation comes and goes in the area, until a hillside collapses, revealing this movie's Giant Thingie, a robot who goes about stomping on buildings and shooting heat rays from its eyes. Conventional weapons are predictably useless, so the Army lures the Thingie onto a bridge by having the civilian populace retreat over the selfsame bridge; as the murderous Thingie follows, the bridge is dynamited, and the Thingie falls to its doom.

The Class of '57.  Wotta buncha cards!Shortly thereafter, a luminous dome rises from the ground which once hosted the village; it's the new bivouac for the Mysterians, who (of course) hail from the Mysteroid, which used to occupy the orbit between Mars and Jupiter, until their dumb ol' Atomic War busted it up. All the Mysterians want is three kilometers of land for scientific study (yeah, right). And, oh yes, they want to "inter-marry" with our women.

This intermarriage hazerai does not go over too well with the United Nations, who go on the Melting tankoffensive and, predictably, get the crap beaten out of them. The Mysterians have a nasty heat ray that literally melts tanks like, well, like model kits with a blowtorch applied (it actually looks better than it sounds). The Americans (yay!) come up with a way to reflect the heat ray, the Japanese build an "electronic cannon", and Ryoichi, who has NOT Ryoichi, but his brave friend, Tatsumibeen collaborating with the Mysterians, drops a dime on them and blows up their power station (the naughty Mysterians had expanded their original 3 kilometers to oh, say, the whole world). What's left of the Mysterians run crying back to their orbiting "universe station", and the sage Head Scientist entones that the nations of the world must remain united, in case they ever come back. The end.

To answer the first burning question: The Mysterians held up better than Honda's later Atragon, if only because the invaders are given a more concrete screen presence and there are not an ungainly number of major characters. I still have a hard time connecting with the protagonists in any meaningful or emotional way, however; but I believe this has more to do with some of the Most Hideous and Unfortunate English Dubbing of Any Recent Memory.

It seems to be an unwritten rule that whoever writes the English dialogue for these things must have the scientific knowledge "EEEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEEeeeeeee!"of a slime mold - witness the Head Scientist using the term "star" interchangably for planets, asteroids, anything but a star... in the same speech! No wonder we grew up sneering at the Japanese, thinking them idiots at worst, childlike at best. And another personal gripe: the dubbing crew on any Japanese film can not seem to let a meaningful silence pass - you know, the sort that is always represented in Japanese comics by a word balloon with "...." in it. For some reason, these must always be filled with growls and grunts. (end of mini-tirade) Then there's the military officer who screams like a little girl the first time he sees the Giant Robot.

Gonzo.Robogonzo.Ah, the Robot. Possibly the weakest link in The Mysterians, at least to these western eyes. The robot appears to be a mecha version of the Muppet Gonzo, wearing samurai armor. I thought that the robot looked sorta goofy the first time I saw it as a kid, and time has mellowed me towards it nary a bit.

My cheap shots now out of the way, I must report that, as usual, the special FX in The Mysterians are almost uniformly top-notch... nobody does buildings consumed in sheets of flame or earthquake damage like a Japanese FX crew. There are also the aforementioned melting armaments and aRobogonzo inferno!  standout scene where a tank gets caught in the whirlpool of dirt as the Mystery-dome digs itself back into the ground.

Overall, the best use of The Mysterians would be the same way I discovered it: Playing on TV on a low-maintenance Saturday afternoon as No, I can't figure out out why we wear these helmets, alternative for geeky little kids like me who didn't like to watch sports. Alas, the children of today, sated on Independence Day and Mars Attacks!, would have little truck with the low-tech hi-jinx of Honda's be-helmeted invaders. And that's too bad. Since in my estimation, ID4 could've used some Giant Robots, and Mars Attacks was in desperate need of some terribly earnest Japanese scientists.


The archetypal Japanese invader film.

- January 18, 1998

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