The Mysterians (Japanese: 地球防衛軍, Hepburn: Chikyū Bōeigun, lit.'Earth Defense Force') is a 1957 Japanese epic science fiction film directed by Ishirō Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced and distributed by Toho Co., Ltd., it is the first Honda-Tsuburaya collaboration filmed in both color and TohoScope, and stars Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Susumu Fujita, and Takashi Shimura, with Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka as Mogera. In the film, Earth's defense forces unite to combat an extraterrestrial race that desires to intermarry with human women and settle on the planet.

The Mysterians
Theatrical release poster
Japanese name
Kanji地球防衛軍
Transcriptions
Revised HepburnChikyū Bōeigun
Directed byIshirō Honda
Screenplay byTakeshi Kimura[1]
Story byJōjirō Okami[1]
Based onAn adaptation
by Shigeru Kayama [ja][1]
Produced byTomoyuki Tanaka[1]
Starring
CinematographyHajime Koizumi[1]
Edited byHiroichi Iwashita[1]
Music byAkira Ifukube[1]
Production
company
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • December 28, 1957 (1957-12-28) (Japan)
Running time
89 minutes[2]
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
Budget¥200 million[3]
Box office$1.5 million[a]

Inspired by the success of big-budget science fiction films in Japan and the United States, Toho executives became keen on producing a science fiction epic of their own. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka recruited science fiction writer Jōjirō Okami to develop the story, which Shigeru Kayama [ja] later adapted for Takeshi Kimura's screenplay. Honda stated that three companies were involved in the film's production, which was the most in any tokusatsu production that he directed.

The Mysterians was released theatrically in Japan on December 28, 1957, as a double feature with Sazae's Youth. It was a box office success in Japan upon its release, earning ¥193 million against its ¥200 million budget during its original theatrical run, making it the tenth-highest-grossing Japanese film of 1957, and leading Toho to produce two further space-themed science fiction epics: Battle in Outer Space (1959) and Gorath (1962). An English dub of the film was produced by RKO Radio Pictures and distributed in the United States by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on May 27, 1959, where it grossed $975,000 and reportedly received mostly positive reviews. Western film critics praised Tsuburaya's special effects, but some criticized the plot as confusing and juvenile.

The Mysterians is now considered among the most renowned and spectacular Honda-Tsuburaya films and has gained a cult following from science fiction film fans. It inspired the famed garage rock band ? and the Mysterians and the 1968 made-for-television film Mars Needs Women. The film's robot kaiju Mogera later became a recurring character in Toho's Godzilla franchise, notably appearing in the 1994 film Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), the television series Godzilla Island (1997–1998) as well as numerous comics and video games.

Plot edit

Astrophysicist Ryoichi Shiraishi, his fiancée Hiroko Iwamoto, his sister Etsuko, and his friend Joji Atsumi attend a bon festival in a village at the foot of Mount Fuji. During the festival, Shiraishi rushes out to investigate a sudden forest fire that has flared up nearby and he disappears during the confusion. The next day, Atsumi meets his mentor, Dr. Tanjiro Adachi, the head astronomer, at the local observatory. Adachi hands him an incomplete report written by Shiraishi regarding a newly discovered asteroid he believed was once a planet between Mars and Jupiter, dubbed "Mysteroid". However, Adachi repudiates his radical theory.

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, Mogera, which bursts from the side of a hill. It emits rays that destroys most of the investigation team; only Atsumi and the lead policeman survive. The robot then advances to a town near Koyama Bridge that night, where it is met by heavy resistance from the Japan Self-Defense Forces. However, their artillery has no effect on Mogera, and the robot continues its rampage until it is destroyed by explosives detonated by Japanese troops near the Koyama Bridge.

After Atsumi briefs officials on what has been learned about the robot at the National Diet Building, astronomers witness activity in outer space around the moon. They alert the world to this discovery, and aliens emerge shortly thereafter, their gigantic dome breaking through Earth's crust near Mount Fuji. Dr. Adachi and five other scientists agree to hold a conference in the dome after a mysterious voice asked them to do so during an observation of the dome by a military and scientific entourage. The men are formally ushered into the dome, where a scientifically advanced humanoid alien race known as the "Mysterians", reveal their demands from the people of Earth: a two-mile-radius strip of land and the right to marry women of Earth. The Mysterian Leader reveals that thousands of years ago their planet—Mysteroid, once the fifth planet from the sun—was destroyed by a nuclear war. Although some Mysterians were able to escape to Mars before their planet was rendered uninhabitable, strontium-90 left of the aliens' population deformed and crippled and they thus desire to interbreed with women on Earth to produce healthier offspring and keep their race alive.

Japan quickly dismisses their requests and begin the mobilization of its armed forces around Mount Fuji. Shiraishi—who vanished during the forest fire—reveals that he has sided with the Mysterians because of their technological achievements. Without hesitation, Japan quickly launches a full-scale attack against the Mysterians' dome, but their modern weaponry is no match for the Mysterians' technology. This setback causes Japan to plead with other nations to join forces in eradicating the Mysterians threat. The nations around the world respond and issue another raid on the Mysterians' dome within a short period of time, utilizing the newly developed Alpha and Beta class airships, which also fail against their advance weaponry.

The Mysterians then increase their demand, asking for a 75-mile-radius 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 kidnapped by the Mysterians, alive and unharmed, in an unguarded room. He takes them back to the tunnel, where he finds Shiraishi, who admits the Mysterians deceived him and truly have no good intentions. In a final attack on the base from the inside, Shiraishi sacrifices himself in a final attack on the base from the inside while the Markalite FAHP's assault the command from the air. In the midst of the battle, a second Mogera deployed by the Mysterians is disabled after one of the FAHPs falls on top of it. As Adachi and the women reach safety in the hills above the Mysterians' occupied land, the dome collapses and explodes. While some of the surviving Mysterians flee into space in their spaceships, Dr. Adachi comments on the need for continued vigilance.

Cast edit

Themes edit

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."[6] 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."[7]

Production edit

Development edit

Inspired by the success of big-budget science fiction films in Japan and the United States (such as the Byron Haskin-directed 1953 epic The War of the Worlds and Fred F. Sears' 1956 film Earth vs. the Flying Saucers), Toho executives became keen on producing a science fiction epic of their own.[8][9]

Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka hired sci-fi writer Jōjirō Okami to write the story after reading Okami's novel A Small Box of Lead.[10] Even though Tanaka requested that his story be written as a novel, assuming it would later be published in a magazine,[10] Okami's story treatment for the film was never published.[11] Okami's treatment did not include Mogera, Shiraishi betraying humanity or the Mysterians seeking marriage with human women.[11] Okami was reportedly told by Shigeru Kayama—who adapted it for Takeshi Kimura's screenplay—to the treatment "make it more romantic."[11]

Casting edit

Seven Samurai (1954) costar Yoshio Tsuchiya notably played the Mysterian Leader in the film. Tsuchiya was unconcerned by the fact that he would be covered in a helmet, glasses, and a skin-chafing costume made of flameproof fiberglass fabric. In his attempt to compensate, Tsuchiya created his own staccato gestures - "space acting". In an interview, Tsuchiya stated: "Toho said no [to casting me in this role], because my face would be covered. I disagreed, saying that being an actor isn’t all about just showing our faces. This impressed Honda-san very much, and we formed a relationship, both at work and outside of work" According to director Ishirō Honda, "It was [Tsuchiya’s] wish [to play the role], but I also knew him very well, so I thought he would be well cast".[12]

The Mysterians was Takashi Shimura's third supporting role in a Toho-produced tokusatsu film, following his role as a paleontologist in Honda's Godzilla (1954) and Motoyoshi Oda's Godzilla Raids Again (1955).[13] Likewise, Godzilla stars Momoko Kōchi and Akihiko Hirata and Rodan (1956) stars Kenji Sahara and Yumi Shirakawa have major roles in the film as Hiroko Iwamoto, Ryōichi Shiraishi, Jōji Atsumi, and Etsuko Shiraishi respectively.[14]

A large amount of foreign actors were cast in minor roles in the film, indicating Toho's overseas ambitions for the Honda-Tsuburaya films. Among the actors cast as United Nations scientists in the film were George Furness, a British lawyer who represented former Empire of Japan defendants at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, and Harold S. Conway, a Tokyo businessman. Their interpreter was Heihachiro Okawa, an actor with a prolific eclectic career in Japan and overseas,[4] who played a bit part in the film as the Defense Headquarters External Relations Director.[15]

Filming edit

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.[7]

Release edit

The Mysterians was released in Japan by Toho on December 28, 1957.[2] The film earned ¥193 million during its theatrical run, making it Toho's second highest-grossing film of the year, only behind Hiroshi Inagaki's Rickshaw Man, and was the tenth highest-grossing film in Japan overall.[4] The film was reissued theatrically in Japan on March 18, 1978.[16]

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.[2] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released the film in the U.S. on May 15, 1959, as a double feature with Watusi.[2] It grossed $975,000 during at the American box office[5] but only made MGM a profit of $58,000.[17]

Home media edit

In 2005, The Mysterians was released on Region 1 DVD by Media Blasters under their Tokyo Shock label. It contained the Japanese version with English Subtitles and a brand new unedited English Dub courtesy of Bang Zoom! Entertainment as Toho did not have the original masters for the RKO Dub. As of 2019, their DVD is out of print. In 2006, the BFI released the Japanese version of The Mysterians on DVD.[18] The film is available on The Criterion Channel.[19]

Reception edit

Contemporaneous edit

According to Boxoffice, The Mysterians garnered generally positive reviews in the United States.[20] 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."[21] 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."[21] The review commented on the English dub, stating that it was "understandable enough, but one might easily believe something was lost in translation."[21] Harrison's Reports felt it was "far better than most American-made pictures of its type" and "although the story idea offers little that is novel [sic], the action holds one's interest well mainly because of the imaginative settings, the elaborate space ship used by the invaders along with its many electronic gadgets, and the very good special effects by which catastrophic scenes of destruction are depicted while the invaders and the Earthians battle each other with all sorts of weapons."[22] Motion Picture Daily praised the film's effects, writing that "even the most jaded action fan will have to admit that some of the scenes of mass catastrophes, the seemingly endless sky and ground skirmishes and the ultra-modern 'Buck Rogers' settings have seldom, if ever, been equalled."[23]

Some critics panned Peter Riethof and Carlos Montalban's English dub version of the film, including "H. H. T." of The New York Times and an uncredited writer for The Monthly Film Bulletin.[24][25] The latter said that its "main weaknesses are a slight and confused plot, under-developed characterisation and artless acting" but praised the film's art direction and staging, calling them "possibly the most dazzling display of pyrotechnics in the genre to date."[25]

During its theatrical run in the United States, some theatergoers accused the film of being communist propaganda.[26]

Retrospective edit

In a retrospective on Soviet science fiction film, British director Alex Cox compared The Mysterians to First Spaceship on Venus but described the latter as "more complex and morally ambiguous."[27] AllMovie praises the film for its special effects.[28] In a retrospective review, Sight & Sound found 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 [sic]."[29]

Legacy edit

The Mysterians is now considered among the most renowned and spectacular Honda-Tsuburaya films and has gained a cult following from robot and science fiction film fans.[18] Japan Society called the film one of Japan’s most celebrated "sci-fi classics".[30] The film inspired the famed garage rock band ? and the Mysterians[31] and the 1968 made-for-television film Mars Needs Women.[32] The film's robot kaiju Mogera would later become a recurring character in Toho's Godzilla franchise, notably appearing in the 1988 video game Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, the 1994 film Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla,[33] the television series Godzilla Island (1997–1998)[34] as well as numerous comics.

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ The Mysterians' documented worldwide box office:
    • Japan – ¥193 million[4] ($530,000)
    • U.S. – $975,000[5]

References edit

Citations edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Galbraith IV 1996, p. 301.
  2. ^ a b c d e Galbraith IV 1996, p. 302.
  3. ^ Motoyama et al. 2012, p. 27.
  4. ^ a b c Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 141.
  5. ^ a b Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 148.
  6. ^ Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 137.
  7. ^ a b Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 139.
  8. ^ Newman 2006, p. 1.
  9. ^ Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, p. 138.
  10. ^ a b Toho 1986, pp. 155–157.
  11. ^ a b c Motoyama et al. 2012, p. 26.
  12. ^ Ryfle & Godziszewski 2017, pp. 140–141.
  13. ^ Nollen 2019, p. 101.
  14. ^ Tanaka 1983, p. 535.
  15. ^ Tanaka 1983, p. 528.
  16. ^ Galbraith IV 2008, p. 311.
  17. ^ The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  18. ^ a b "The Mysterians (DVD)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 14, 2023. Retrieved April 14, 2023.
  19. ^ "The Mysterians". The Criterion Channel. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  20. ^ Boxoffice 1960, p. 6.
  21. ^ a b c Willis 1985, p. 138: "Reviewed on May 15, 1959"
  22. ^ "The Mysterians with an all-Japanese cast". Harrison's Reports. Vol. 41, no. 21. May 23, 1959. p. 83.
  23. ^ "Chikyu Boeigun (The Mysterians), Japan, 1957". Motion Picture Daily. Vol. 85, no. 95. 1959. p. 5.
  24. ^ H.H.T. (July 2, 1959). "Screen: A Double Bill; ' Watusi' Arrives With 'The Mysterians'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  25. ^ a b "Chikyu Boeigun (The Mysterians), Japan, 1957". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 26, no. 300. British Film Institute. 1959. p. 58.
  26. ^ Stewardson, Christopher (November 26, 2020). "Thoughts on Film: The Mysterians (1957)". Our Culture Mag. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  27. ^ Cox, Alex (June 30, 2011). "Rockets from Russia: great Eastern Bloc science-fiction films". The Guardian. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  28. ^ Mannikka, Eleanor. "The Mysterians". Allmovie. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
  29. ^ Hollings, Ken (March 2006), "Reviews: DVDs: Close-Up: Origins of the Species", Sight and Sound, vol. 16, no. 3, British Film Institute, p. 92
  30. ^ "Directing Godzilla: The Life of Filmmaker Ishiro Honda". Japan Society. February 21, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2023.
  31. ^ "Question Mark and the Mysterians". The Ponderosa Stomp. Retrieved 2021-01-29.
  32. ^ Newman 2006, p. 2.
  33. ^ Mamiya 2000, p. 47.
  34. ^ Mamiya 2000, p. 183.

Sources edit

External links edit