The Mysterians (地球防衛軍, Chikyū Bōeigun, lit. Earth Defense Force) is a 1957 Japanese science fiction film directed by Ishirō Honda and stars Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa and Takashi Shimura. The film begins with a giant fissure destroying an entire village. This leads to an investigation whereby the source is discovered to be Moguera, a giant robot, who is then destroyed by the military. The remains are analyzed and discovered to be of alien origin. Shortly after, an alien race known as the Mysterians arrive, declaring they have taken some Earth women captive and that they demand both land and the right to marry women of Earth.
Japanese theatrical poster for The Mysterians
|Directed by||Ishirō Honda|
|Produced by||Tomoyuki Tanaka|
|Screenplay by||Takeshi Kimura|
|Story by||Jojiro Okami|
|Based on||An adaptation|
by Shigeru Kayama
|Music by||Akira Ifukube|
|Edited by||Hiroichi Iwashita|
For The Mysterians, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka recruited Jojiro Okami, a science fiction writer, to develop the story. Honda later elaborated that he wanted the film to differ from both Godzilla and Rodan and to make it more of a "true science fiction film," one to promote peace and understanding between cultures. The film was popular upon its release in Japan, where it was among the top ten grossing domestic productions of the year. Contemporary reviews from Western critics in the Monthly Film Bulletin and Variety praised the special effect work but criticized the plot as confusing and juvenile, respectively.
Astrophysicist Ryoichi Shiraishi, his fiancee Hiroko, his sister Etsuko, and his friend Joji Atsumi attend a festival at a local village near Mount Fuji. Shiraishi then tells Atsumi that he has broken off his engagement with Hiroko but gives no reason other than an undisclosed obligation to remain in the village. Then, a mysterious forest fire flares up, burning more rapidly than normal and emanating from the ground, and Shiraishi rushes out to investigate and disappears during the confusion.
The next day, Atsumi is at the local observatory, where he meets with his mentor, head astronomer, Tanjiro Adachi. He hands the doctor a report written by Shiraishi that concerns a newly discovered asteroid that Shiraishi theorized was once a planet between Mars and Jupiter. He has named it Mysteroid. However, Adachi does not believe in his radical theory and also points out that the report is not complete.
Meanwhile, the village in which the festival was held is completely wiped out by a massive earthquake. While investigating the area, Atsumi and a group of police officers stumble upon a giant robot, Moguera, which bursts from the side of a hill. It emits rays which decimate the investigation team; only Atsumi and the lead policeman survive. The robot then advances to a town near Koyama Bridge that night, and is met by heavy resistance from Japan's self-defense force. However, the conventional artillery has no effect on the war machine, and the automaton continues its rampage until it tries to cross the Koyama Bridge, which is detonated, sending the machine crashing down to the ground below and destroying it.
At the Diet Building, Atsumi briefs officials on what has been learned about the robot. The remains of the giant machine reveal that it was manufactured out of an unknown chemical compound. Shortly afterwards, astronomers witness activity in outer space around the moon. They alert the world to this discovery, and not long after, the aliens emerge, their gigantic dome breaking through Earth's crust near Mount Fuji.
As a combined military and scientific entourage observes the dome, a voice calls out to request five scientists, including Dr. Adachi, who is among the observers, to come to the dome for a conference. The men agree to this meeting and are formally ushered into the dome, where the Mysterians, a scientifically advanced humanoid alien race, list their demands from the people of Earth: a two-mile-radius strip of land and the right to marry women of Earth. The reason for this is that 100,000 years ago their planet—Mysteroid, once the fifth planet from the sun—was destroyed by a nuclear war. Some Mysterians were able to escape to Mars before their planet was rendered uninhabitable. However, owing to the nuclear war, Strontium-90 has left 80 percent of the aliens' population deformed and crippled. The proposed interbreeding with women on Earth would produce healthier offspring and keep their race alive. The latter part of their demands is downplayed, as they admit to already taking three women captive and reveal two others that they are interested in, one of which is Etsuko.
Japan quickly dismisses this request and begins the mobilization of its armed forces around Mount Fuji. It is also discovered that the missing Shiraishi has sided with the advance race because of their technological achievements. Japan wastes no time, though, and quickly launches a full-scale attack against the Mysterians' dome. However, the modern weaponry is no match for their technology, and Japan's forces are easily fought back. Distraught by this setback, Japan sends their plea to other nations that they join together to remove the threat of the Mysterians from Earth. The nations around the world answer the plea and in no time issue another raid against the Mysterians' dome, this time utilizing the newly developed Alpha and Beta class airships. Sadly, this attack meets failure as well.
The Mysterians then increase their demand, asking for a 75-mile-radius plot of land, as the Earth continues to develop a new method of attack. Earth's efforts in this matter pay off as a Markalite FAHP (Flying Atomic Heat Projector), a gigantic lens that can reflect the Mysterians’ weaponry, is designed. Meanwhile, the Mysterians kidnap Etsuko and Hiroko, causing Atsumi to search for, and locate, a cave entrance to a tunnel under the Mysterians' dome.
In the meantime, the Markalite FAHP's are deployed by large Markalite GYRO rockets, and the final battle against the Mysterians' base of operations commences. Atsumi enters the dome and finds the women, alive and unharmed, in an unguarded room. Taking them back to the tunnel, Atsumi finds Shiraishi, who admits the Mysterians duped him and have no good intentions, and then returns to the dome and sacrifices himself in a final attack on the base from the inside while the Markalite FAHP's assault the base from above ground. The dome collapses and then explodes as Adachi and the women reach safety in the hills above the Mysterians' occupied land. A few enemy spaceships are observed fleeing into space, out of range of Earth weaponry, and Dr. Adachi comments on the need for continued vigilance.
- Kenji Sahara as Jōji Atsumi
- Yumi Shirakawa as Etsuko Shiraishi
- Momoko Kōchi as Hiroko Iwamoto
- Akihiko Hirata as Ryōichi Shiraishi
- Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kenjirō Adachi
- Susumu Fujita as General Morita
- Hisaya Itō as Captain Seki
- Yoshio Kosugi as Commander Sugimoto
- Fuyuki Murakami as Dr. Nobu Kawanami
- Tetsu Nakamura as Dr. Kōda
- Yoshio Tsuchiya as Mysterian Leader
Director Ishiro Honda described the film, saying it was "larger in scale compared to Godzilla or Rodan and is aimed to be more of a true science fiction film ... I would like to wipe away the [Cold War-era] notion of East versus West and convey a simple, universal aspiration for peace, the coming together of all humankind as one to create a peaceful society." For The Mysterians, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka recruited Jojiro Okami, an aeronautical engineer and military test pilot who later became a science fiction writer. Reflecting on the period of developing the film, Honda stated that he respected scientists, but "feared the danger of science, that whoever controlled it could take over the entire Earth."
The Mysterians marks the first collaboration between Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya that was shot in anamorphic Tohoscope, which the studio had just recently introduced. In their book on Honda, Ryfle and Godziszewski stated that accurate budget figures for The Mysterians are elusive. Honda had stated that the film was more expensive than Godzilla and Rodan.
The Mysterians was released in 28 December 1957 in Japan. The film was re-issued theatrically in Japan on 18 March 1978. The film was described by Ryfle and Godziszewski as a "significant hit", earning 193 million yen in the domestic box office. It was Toho's second highest grossing film of the year, only being behind Hiroshi Inagaki's Rickshaw Man, and was the tenth highest grossing film in Japan overall.
In the United States, The Mysterians was originally purchased by RKO Radio Pictures, which provided the dubbing, but was sold to Loew's Inc. for release due to RKO's failing fortunes. The film was double-billed with Watusi and released in 15 May 1959 via MGM. According to MGM records the film made the studio a profit of only $58,000 in the United States.
From contemporary reviews, The New York Times called the film "an ear-splitting Japanese-made fantasy, photographed in runny color and dubbed English," and concluded: "This Metro release is crammed with routine footage of death rays and scrambling civilians, not one of whom can act." Variety called it "well-produced", noting "special effects involving sliding land, quaking earth and melting mortars are realistically accomplished proving the facility with the Japanese filmmakers deal in miniatures." but found the film "As corny as it is furious" noting that "While Junior may be moved by the arrival of outer-space gremlins, big brother and all like him will laugh their heads off." The review commented on the English dub, stating that it was "understandable enough, but one might easily believe something was lost in translation." The Monthly Film Bulletin noted that the version the reviewer viewed was a "banal American-dubbed version" and that its "main weaknesses are a slight and confused plot, under-developed characterisation and artless acting;" The review praised the films "imaginative art direction and spectacular staging" which the review stated as "possibly the most dazzling display of pyrotechnics in the genre to date."
In a retrospective on Soviet science fiction film, British director Alex Cox compared The Mysterians to First Spaceship on Venus but remarked the latter as "more complex and morally ambiguous." AllMovie praises the film for its special effects. In a retrospective review, Sight & Sound found that "Its space-age visuals and colourful design anticipate the spectacular fantasies Honda would go on to make for Toho in the [1960s], including Mothra, Godzilla vs. The Thing, Ghidrah The Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of the Astro-Monsters."
- Galbraith IV 1996, p. 301.
- Galbraith IV 1996, p. 302.
- Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 137.
- Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 139.
- Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 140.
- Galbraith IV 2008, p. 311.
- Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 141.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- H.H.T. (July 2, 1959). "Screen: A Double Bill; ' Watusi' Arrives With 'The Mysterians'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
- Willis 1985, p. 138: "Revieed on May 15, 1959"
- "Chikyu Boeigun (The Mysterians), Japan, 1957". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 26 no. 300. British Film Institute. 1959. p. 58.
- Cox, Alex (June 30, 2011). "Rockets from Russia: great Eastern Bloc science-fiction films". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
- Mannikka, Eleanor. "The Mysterians". Allmovie. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Hollings, Ken (March 2006). "Reviews: DVDs: Close-Up: Origins of the Species". Sight and Sound. British Film Institute. p. 92. Missing or empty
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (1996). The Japanese Filmography: 1900 through 1994. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0032-3.
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (2008). The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 1461673747.
- Ryfle, Steve; Godziszewski, Ed (2017). Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819570871.
- Willis, Donald, ed. (1985). Variety's Complete Science Fiction Reviews. Garland Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-8240-6263-9.
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