The Mysterians (1957)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:


Godzilla vs. Monster Zero

Destroy All Monsters

The Mysterians

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Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

"For my next trick I'll
be fired out of a cannon!"
Unsurprisingly, when Toho decided to make their first foray into the popular 1950s genre of alien invasion films, they chose Ishiro Honda for the job. Though the main focus of The Mysterians is on the aliens’ flying saucers and underground base, Honda does not miss the opportunity to introduce another kaiju for a few brief appearances.

In scenes that are a bit too obviously inspired by George Pal’s War of the Worlds (1953), scientists Atsumi (Kenji Sahara) and Shiraishi (Akihiko Hirata) and their dates Hiroko and Etsuko spend the first few minutes of the film enoying a local village festival until a huge forest fire breaks out across the lake on which the town is situated. Shiraishi, who has been strangely disaffected up to this point, dashes towards the fire’s source and disappears. The next day the authorities investigate and find that the ground near the now-extinguished fire is so radioactively hot that that it melts the tires on their jeep!

Before they can worry about radiation poisoning, however, a giant robot (not named in the movie, but Moguera according to written sources) burrows out of the nearby mountainside. The drill-nosed contraption lumbers to the closest town, where it knocks down buildings and incinerates cars with its eye-beams. Though Moguera proves impervious to tank fire, the military defeats it by detonating a bridge upon which the robot stands. The aliens then reveal themselves by raising their dome-shaped base from the ground near the lake.

"We represent the lollipop guild."
As Shiraishi hypothesized in an unfinished report he sent scientist Dr. Adachi (Takashi Shimura), the aliens are from the Mysteroid, the fifth planet of the solar system that was destroyed and became the asteroid belt. These Mysterians, who are apparently human but always wear color-coded padded flight suits and helmets, destroyed their own planet with nuclear weapons and now want nothing more than 3 kilometers of land and five earth women with whom they may perform fertility experiments. For some reason they want five specific women, including Hiroko and Estuko. Only Atsumi is around to protest, however, because Shiraishi defected to the alien camp during his off-screen disappearance for reasons that are never fully explained. The aliens easily shrug off conventional attacks and in their spare time they send troops in extra large helmets to kidnap Hiroko and Etsuko. These later scenes may have had some influence on our current alien abduction mythology, as the big-headed aliens silently grab their victims and float up to waiting UFOs.

Boys and their toys.
As in so many pictures before this one, the authorities of the world conduct interminable meetings in which they argue over what super weapons to build and in what order. (Board rooms and men in business suits are cheap and easy to film.) In the end heavily armed air ships, giant “Markalite” ray guns, and an “electron cannon” heat ray are successfully deployed against the Mysterians. During the final attack on the base, Atsumi sneaks in to free the women; he also runs into Shiraishi, who has somehow found time in all of this to finish his report on the Mysteroid. Atsumi takes the report and flees while Shiraishi destroys the alien power generators, causing a huge explosion. Their earth base destroyed, the Mysterians retreat to their orbiting satellite base. The End.

"Mysterian color-reproduction,
on the other hand..."
Moguera (Japanese for “mole”) is the first giant robot in Toho’s menagerie of monsters. Another one wouldn’t appear until the late 1960’s. Unfortunately Moguera is a silly creation, rather resembling an overweight Gonzo from The Muppet Show. Two different Moguera appear in the movie, one at the beginning and another very briefly during the climatic battle. Moguera’s presence is also implied in the expansion of the aliens’ underground base and some scenes where tanks and the like are sucked underground, but we don’t see the robot in this instances. The possession of such tunnelling technology by the Mysterians makes sense when you consider their hundred-thousand-year stay on the inhospitable planet Mars. It does make one wonder, though: if the ancient Mysterians had the technology to escape their exploding planet and make it to Mars, why not go the extra distance and settle on the more welcoming planet Earth?

This is not, however, a picture that rewards penetrating questions. If you can accept the basic premise as necessary to the film's sporadic entertainment value, then you'll probably make it through without brain damage. Wading through some of the perfunctory dialogue, on the other hand, may drive you to contemplate the buttons on your remote control. Not everything has to make sense during a giant monster movie, but forgiveness for such nonsense is usually dependent on a certain amount of cinematic pageantry. Taciturn scientists droning on about electron cannons while garbed in late-'50s fashions generally don't count.

And this happens just when
Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears
are off the market.
Toho must have liked the Mysterians very much, because similar alien invaders appeared in Godzilla films for the next two decades, including the Planet X aliens in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965) and the Killiaks in Destroy All Monsters (1968). Straight-laced hero-scientist characters, on the other hand, rarely appeared on their own after this point. Perhaps fearing that young audiences would lose interest in nerdy Boy Scout-type leading men, Toho (and the studios to follow later) began pairing the square-jawed adventurers with young sidekicks. Before long, the scientists themselves became the sidekicks to prepubescent protagonists known to Godzilla fans “Kennys.” The Mysterians contains prime examples of the kind of earnest (and unlikely) eggehead heroes who were popular in ‘50s science fiction, but it would be one of the last kaiju films to take the idea so seriously.

Own it!

Review date: 07/10/2004

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