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.
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.
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.
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.
hazerai does not go over too well with the United Nations, who
go on the offensive 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 been
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.
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.
to be an unwritten rule that whoever writes the English dialogue for
these things must have the scientific knowledge 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.
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.
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 a standout scene where a tank
gets caught in the whirlpool of dirt as the Mystery-dome digs itself
back into the ground.
the best use of The Mysterians would be the same
way I discovered it: Playing on TV on a low-maintenance Saturday afternoon
as an 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