Pulgasari, the wild giant monster movie produced, yes produced, by North Korea’s Kim Jung-il in 1985 recently got a rare public showing in Brooklyn. I went. I saw. I wrote a review. Which you can read at The Monster Shack – FYI.
Writing for the New Yorker web site, Richard Brody has a thoughtful essay entitled “Godzilla’s Gray Credo.” He enjoyed the new movie, but his piece is mainly a list of things that disgruntled him. Since those are precisely the things I loved, I thought I’d write a response.
First is his assertion that “the giggly delight in [the monsters’] design, is completely absent.” Huh? Not for me.
The second “problem” is that Godzilla has no overtly sexual overtones, and therefore cannot properly terrify us, for it holds no “lurid fascination that reaches into forbidden or unconscious zones of pleasure or pain.” Sex is indeed a preoccupation of horror movies, but Godzilla movies have never been about horror. Like movies about volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, they are about the terrifying awe we experience when confronted by natural forces much larger than ourselves. This lack of concern about sex is one of the things I found refreshing, even liberating, as a kid and a teenager. Being gay and closeted I had ample daily experience with “forbidden or unconscious zones of pleasure or pain.” Sex, all of it heterosexual, also saturated movies, TV, and books. Homoeroticism only surfaced in those horror stories Brody is celebrating, and they mostly used the taboo in a cruel and sleazy way that didn’t produce insight, but policed viewers into conformity through fear. Not something to celebrate Mr. Brody!
Building on his argument about sex, Brody continues, “In the absence of a human realm with recognizably tangled inwardness, the shudderingly vast quasi-religious kick that this “Godzilla” offers…[is] an empty religiosity: grandeur without depth, complexity without insight, mystery without resonance.” – Hmmm. The “human realm.” This reminds of me a scene in “Enter The Dragon.” Bruce Lee is teaching a kung-fu student about understanding the nature of reality when he holds his hand up and says, “It is like a finger pointing to moon.” The kid looks at Bruce’s finger and gets a bop on the head as a reward. “Don’t concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory!”
I think the real horror story here is watching introspection turn into narcissism. Godzilla movies have always been a corrective for this by bopping us on the head to stop our navel gazing. “Look to the world around you, and remember that it is greater than you are!” is the message. How can that be empty, or lack depth and resonance? I think the answer lies in how one approaches religion. Brody seems to live in a monotheistic world where God is only concerned with people: in short, a Christian world. But Godzilla comes from a Shinto (meaning Pagan) and Buddhist tradition. Where Brody wants only to look inward for meaning, Godzilla pushes us to look outward, for everything we see is charged with a power we must respect. I think both approaches are essential, as embodied by the philosophy behind the Yin-Yang symbol, which evokes the essential play of opposites that together build the universe. It frustrates me that such capable thinkers as Brody value one side, but not the other. This is a form of hubris, and a kind of cluelessness.
So Godzilla is not “quasi-religious,” it’s religious – just not in a Christian sense. That “quasi” irks me, becomes it implies a certain chauvinism. To wit, Brody also says this, “[Godzilla’s] scale may feel Biblical, but it doesn’t risk the crises and ecstasies, the sheer moral turbulence provoked by existential menace (cf. “Noah”).” Full disclosure, I haven’t seen “Noah.” But I know the plot, and the “moral turbulence” Brody speaks admiringly about comes from a twisted story where a “good” and “loving” God destroys the people he created for unspecified moral transgressions. The Biblical account does not spell these out, so we are forced to project something into the void. In so doing we justify God’s action and save his reputation. This in turn leads to that “recognizably tangled inwardness” that Brody so appreciates. Indeed, the transgressions we project onto the people of Noah’s time are often sexual in nature, so we are also back to Brody’s “forbidden or unconscious zones of pleasure or pain.”
Godzilla does not trade in such nonsense. Man acquires great, in fact god-like power through his technology, and unleashes it into the world for his own purposes. But it doesn’t stop there. The unintended consequences come back to haunt us, and in so doing remind us that we are not the only game in town. Godzilla is fantasy, but it reflects the way the world actually works. Radiation poisoning and environmental degradation are no fun, but giant monsters are – they are the “spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down.” And that medicine is a healthy dose of humility. And by humility I don’t mean free-floating guilt or shame. I mean a mature awareness that our actions have consequences that we will have to live with. This approach to life leaves plenty of room for feeling good about ourselves, by the way, because we don’t need a constant struggle to “redeem” ourselves. Which means we don’t have to anguish over masturbation, etc. We merely need to take care not to fuck things up. (Easier said than done, I know, but still.)
The Biblical story is also fantasy, but does it reflect reality? Only if you believe that God creates natural disasters in order to punish mankind for its sins. Which is ridiculous. No, it’s the Noah story that is gray, empty, and offers no insight. Give me the thrilling spectacle of a 400-foot radioactive dinosaur battling Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms amongst the skyscrapers of a modern city any day. Or, to paraphrase Bruce Lee – “It is like a finger pointing to Godzilla…………”
One reason, at least. This is a quote from Andrew O’Hehir’s review in Salon, and he zeroes in on something important:
“Any number of monster movies preach karmic sermons about war or prejudice or environmental destruction or whatever; the hidden message in the genre is nearly always that we had it coming. But “Godzilla” never defaults to the myth of the heroic individual, in which one man stands outside the mass of human mediocrity, and can bring down any opponent with pluck, ingenuity and a few well-timed zingers.”
To celebrate the coming of the new Godzilla, I trashed the 1998 imitation. Here’s my review on The Monster Shack:
THE X FROM OUTER SPACE
(Japanese Title: Giant Space Monster: Gilala)
From the sublime (and tragic) to the ridiculous (and comic.) There’s a news and super promising Godzilla coming out next month, so I thought I’d celebrate by looking back at some classic kaiju screwball sci-fi from 1967 called “The X From Outer Space.” Hard to find for many years, the wonderful Criterion Collection has recently released it as part of a set called “When Horror Came To Shochiku.”
1967 wasn’t just a time of Giant Monster Mania run amok, but of Space Fever, what with the Apollo moon landings coming up hard and fast. Smash these two obsessions together with some plastic models, rubber suits, and Japanese stylistic pizzazz, and you get a zany time capsule from the Future That Never Was.
BACK TO THE FUTURE!
Bouncy music and pretty constellations kick off “The X From Outer Space,” which has to be one of the most cheerful depictions of mass destruction ever. “X” fairly throbs with optimism – even if much of Japan ends up being destroyed by something the astronauts bring back. Accentuating the positive, in the Japanese language version at least, a young couple augments the credits with this excited dialogue:
She: Look, it’s our universe!
He: Look how it goes on forever!
She: It’s everybody’s future!
He: Come on, let’s embrace it!
Corny? Sure! But I can’t imagine that Carl Sagan, or even the more austere Neil deGrasse Tyson, would disapprove. In fact, I can just picture kindly Carl gazing down fondly from amonst the pretty constellations. Constellations that are made of bilyions and bilyions of stars.
(We now pause while Sean gets choked up, and moves away from the keyboard for fear of electrocuting himself – with his tears….)
“Oh what a beautiful morning!….”
Sorry about that, I’m back. And we are back on earth as the movie begins in earnest with a helicopter flying across a gorgeous Mt. Fuji. Once it lands a squadron of earnest men in crisp white uniforms men rush up and carry away a mysterious silver box with FAFC marked on its side. FAFC? Yes, FAFC. But what, one might ask, does FAFC mean? Patience, dear reader, patience!
One of the FAFC men stumbles, causing a tall Caucasian man with a goatee to look at them darkly and mutter sternly, “Watch out for concussions.” Um, is the equipment subject to brain trauma? Well, even if it’s not, his advise is still sound. Concussions are never a good thing. And it’s here we find out he’s German – compleete vit unt vonderfol Hollyvood Nazi ahksent!
The Man From FAFC. You can see what FAFC means by reading the sign behind the good Herr Doktor. What’s that? You can’t read it because he’s standing in the way? Let me rewind. There! No, he’s, almost. Oh geez. Let me try this again. He’s walking in front of the sign. He’s turning around to pose for the camera. Now he’s about to enter the building. Doh! They just cut to the next scene! Let me try again.
(30 minutes later)
OK, using cutting edge 21st century technology I have finally been able to combine several split second screen images to assemble a visual mosaic that allows me to read the sign. So….
FAFC stands for Fuji Astro –Flying Center. Yes, that’s Fuji Astro-Flying Center.
For diehard sign readers, the line above says:
Japan Astro Development Center
This means that that FAFC (Fuji Astro-Flying Center), is part of JADC (Japan Astro Development Center). Therefore the full and correct initialization is JADCFAFC. FYI.
Now we are inside the FAFC complex, and it’s clear we are not in “the present day,” but in The Future – possibly even as far ahead as 1987! The slightly off-kilter dialogue continues as the stern Herr Doktor greets dapper and elegant head of FAFC, Dr. Kato with the phrase, “Everything works fine.” And I for one, am glad to hear it.
The Fuji-Astro Flying Gang is all here!
Then we cut to a briefing where 4 astronauts learn they have a “wide safety corridor” in their flight plan to orbit Mars– again I am relieved to hear it. Because the previous missions “disappeared under mysterious circumstances.” All that is known about those unhappy rocket ships is that they reported a UFO before disappearing. This leads, logically enough, to our current mission’s 2nd objective – report any mysterious UFOs! The official giving the briefing optimistically states that this will tell them why the previous missions failed – all six of them! Ummmm…… Thanks goodness that “safety corridor” is “wide!”
Safety corridors are not only wide, they’re pretty too.
Even better, they’ll be flying a new spaceship, called AAB Gamma, which “represents safety and reliability.” No Honda salesman could not have expressed it better. (FAFC. JADC. AAB Gamma. Who comes up with these?)
Now we get a chance to meet the crew. We have Captain Sano – handsome and serious, he’s Mr. Right Stuff. Then there’s cute blond Lisa, who as the biologist on board, is in charge of “collecting specimens.” From the other crew? The knowing and slightly mysterious smile that plays across her face suggests this might be the case.
“As biologist on this expedition, you will be concerned with the collection of specimens.” – “Yes sir!”
But she’s not to have it all her own way. She is to “touch nothing without Captain Sano’s OK.” “Yes sir!” she answers smartly. Maybe too smartly. And by the way, she’s German too! Unt she ha’s ah vonderfol ahksent as vell!
Rounding out the crew is super-serious medical Doctor Shioda, and happy-go-lucky Communications Clown Miyamoto. Experienced sci-fi viewers might cringe at Miyamoto, certain he is the designated “Odious Comic Relief.” Well, he is, but he never gets schticky or twee enough to reach the level of “odious.” Which is kind of amazing, and one of the reasons I enjoy this movie so much.
OK Miyamoto, the Communications Clown!
In comes the head of the space program with escaped Nazi, I mean respected scientist Dr. Berman. Or Herr Doktor, as I like to call him. NOT because he’s a Nazi! Anyways, the mysterious container he brought turns out to be their atomic fuel! No wonder he was worried about “concussions.” Happily, Kato reports that “radioactivity leak readings were completely negative.” Phew!
They’re happy that the radioactivity leak readings were completely negative. And they make a cute couple.
As the astronauts prepare to board their spaceship, the program head assures them that their new ship was “designed with a high safety factor, to overcome any space emergency that the designers could foresee.” Like UFO’s? But if our plucky crew is worried, they don’t show it– bless them! They josh around with each other about whose heart is beating fastest. Until Right Stuff Sano tells Communications Clown Miyamoto that THIS time he better turn on the microphone before he makes his position report! Merry laughter rings out across FAFC (Fuji Astro-Flying Center).
Miyamoto is already cracking everyone up!
LIFT OFF! Is it realistic? Heck no! But it’s full of cheesy Googie-style goodness as straight-laced technicians stare at dials, radars screens and colorful maps of “safety corridors” in space. And hats off to the effects crew; when we first see the ship escaping earth, they give our planet an atmosphere! Not bad for 1967. They also give us a two-stage rocket that lets us know someone’s been watching that popular new TV series, Ultraman. Again, groovy – especially when the Happy Hour cocktail lounge music kicks in! If you want to fix yourself a “martooni” before you finish this review, please go ahead. (I’m having one, or more, as I write this.)
Space music to drink by.
Rocket ships are go!
Back on earth Herr Doktor gives a gloomy warning about the danger of a new UFO sighting. Each time it happened, all the instruments went dead as if bombarded by cosmic rays. How the crew is supposed to report on any UFO sighting if all the instruments go dead is left courteously unasked, and the good Herr Doktor wonders if the UFO’s are controlled from Mars, or from Earth. (!?!) He and Dr. Kato cut the tension by lighting up a smoke. (cough, cough.)
In the space ship Lisa turns on something that looks like a space corn popper, but she isn’t happy. “Radioactivity is increasing” she warns the captain. He’s confident it’s merely solar flare activity, but they soon lose contact with FAFC. Then Lisa exclaims, “What’s that?” When we finally cut to a view through the space window we see something that made my 11-year old nephew shout, “It looks like a turd!” And indeed, alas, he was not too far wrong. The effects crew tried to give us something that looks like the product of an alien and super-advanced civilization. But there is only so much you can do with an out-of-focus lump of plastic. Thus, we have, our movie’s UFO….
Um, yes. Well…..
Beating my nephew to the punch by 40 years, Communications Clown Miyamoto exclaims, “It looks like the world’s largest fried egg!” Thus does the movie graciously admit to it’s own shortcomings.
Lisa notes that the UFO seems to be following them, when they suddenly notice that Dr. Serious is having some sort of attack. Wanting to get some distance between the ship and the UFO, Captain Right Stuff orders an immediate acceleration – and this brings on the movie’s first big dramatic confrontation. Lisa begs the Captain to let her administer first aid to the doctor before the acceleration. He rebukes her sternly and continues the acceleration procedure while Lisa spirals into some sort of existential crisis. “Human life must be given priority,” she pleads in a heartbroken voice. Dr. Serious, however, has recovered to the point that he can gasp out “I’ll be OK,” as his sweaty hands shakily fasten the buckle on his seatbelt. Captain Right Stuff, meanwhile, is so pissed off he takes a swat at Lisa. Ah, Japanese discipline!
The captain was right, of course. The UFO falls away and communications with FAFC come back. Reporting the doctor’s stricken condition, they are ordered to make an emergency landing at the Moon Base, and this they do, accompanied by more groovy cocktail lounge music. Love it!
Moon Bases of the future (past-tense) have more than just space domes and moon buggies – they also possess the romantic sensibility of a high school. Space Traffic Controller Michiko guides the ship in, and she’s all smiles until she sees cute, blonde Lisa on the video screen. Suddenly the temperature drops to somewhere near absolute zero, and she breaks communication just as Captain Right Stuff is about to ask her something. Lisa is mystified, but we soon figure it all out when we see Michiko petulantly turn away the framed picture of Captain Right Stuff that has pride of place on her revolving space desk. (I want one! A revolving space desk, that is. Oh heck, I’ll take the photo of Captain Right Stuff too.) As she storms off to the Lady’s Room, or somewhere, an earnest space technician accosts her and says she should tell AAB Gamma to slow down, they are approaching too fast. “Tell them yourself,” she glares. “But we can’t!” “All right, I’ll inform them!” and off she stomps. But not back to her revolving space desk, so we are not sure when, or even if, she actually ever tells AAB Gamma that they might crash into the moon. In her wake several mystified space technicians look at each other and shrug. Women – who can figure them out!?! (Not men, apparently.)
“Don’t ask me!”
Unaware of the heavy weather they will soon confront on the Moon Base, and possibly unaware they might crash and die, the AAB Gamma crew enjoys a space coffee break. Lisa serves, because women, besides being mysterious, are excellent at this sort of thing. (It’s a known fact that men are biologically unsuited to serving coffee. It’s got something to do with brain chemistry and opposable thumbs.) Noting the tender solicitation Lisa serves Dr. Serious along with the coffee, Communications Clown Miyamoto heckles her with his desire for coffee too. Now it’s Lisa’s turn to turn frosty, “No!” she snaps. But he persists and so she hands him the space cup without even looking at him. (Did some sort of sub-plot between Lisa and Miyamoto end up on the cutting room floor?) Oh well, who can understand women? Not Miyamoto. Missing the brush off, he merely sits in his chair grinning like an idiot. Men!
Now we get the Moon Base landing. “2001: A Space Odyssey” it’s not, but it’s pretty lavish for a 60’s B-Movie space opera, and loads of fun. Happily, AAB Gamma does not crash and burn, and even better, Michiko puts on a convincing smile when she greets Lisa. Thus are the menfolk spared the awkwardness of dealing with female sexual obsession.
These innocent looking domes are clamping down on a seething cauldron of repressed emotions.
Dr. Serious is in sick bay getting checked out by, my God, another German! Did the Nazi’s win World War II? – at least in the bitter and fevered imagination of some Shochiku executive? We may never know, but I’m beginning to suspect the first draft of this script was called “The Axis Powers Conquer the Moon!”
Back to the story, where we find out what is afflicting Dr. Serious. You’ll never guess what it is – yes, it’s Space Sickness! It’s a condition that sometimes strikes – when people travel in space.
Dr. Serious frets that the Mars mission can’t wait, and we cut to the Mid-Century Modern Space Cafeteria where Communications Clown Miyamoto is noisily enjoying a huge salad. Perhaps too noisily, as he’s been exiled off to his own table while Lisa, Michiko, Right Stuff Sano and the Base Commander bond over more coffee and some freakishly large apples. The Commander casually blows cigarette smoke into the faces of his tablemates as he explains how all the food grown on the base grows huge because, “with no atmosphere, the sun’s ultraviolet rays pour right into the dome.” Hmm, OK. But the commander adds that he prefers the flavor of earth apples. From the next table, his mouth full, Communications Clown Miyamoto chimes in “Whal, qual-eh-ty i-zhant e-va-ri-shing!” Oh, so he thinks like an American! Merry laughter floats up into the smoky haze above the Commander’s cigarette. Oxygen scrubbers anyone? (cough, cough) – One of the few ways the actual future is better than the movie future is that cigarette smoking is now punishable by death….Wait, what’s that?… Google tells me it is merely banned in many public spaces. Oops.
There’s a new juice bar down in the East Village that looks just like this.
Lisa is not only a humanitarian concerned with human life in space, she is a diplomat supreme, and gives Michiko a present of German-made earrings. Right Stuff Sano pretends to be angry and chides her for smuggling them on board the AAB Gamma. “Well, I am a woman after all, and they are for Michiko.” Here she winks at Sano, who blushes charmingly at this semi-open reference to S-E-X.
“Run Captain Sano, run!”
Social Harmony restored, before it’s even disrupted, we all proceed to a carefree scene of the astronauts playing in the moon’s low gravity – jumping up and down, and down and up, while the music track sounds like it was stolen from a kindergarden. It’s impossible to imagine an American movie being ridiculous in this way – regrettably – because why else travel to the moon then to jump up and down in low gravity?
Well, that was fun – and now it’s time for a bath. A group bath. A sex-segregated group bath. Again, this is not an American movie. (Remind me to tell you about the time I noticed a local Osaka guy was a yakuza gangster when I saw his tattoos – at the local bathhouse.)(P.S. – nothing happened, so it’s a dull story.) The men splash around in a beautiful wooden tub that must have been quite difficult to ship all the way from earth. Communications Clown Miyamoto ponders how the Moon Basians knew just where to drill for water. Right Stuff Sano sets him straight by telling him “This isn’t real water.” (!?!) No, it’s man made, and it was synthesized from lunar rock. That makes it “phony.” “How can you enjoy something that isn’t real, like smelling a plastic flower?” he continues, soaking luxuriantly in the steaming liquid.
Communications Clown exhibits good sense, says, “Oh come on. Have some plastic water,” and sprays Captain Right Stuff with some cold stuff. But enough innocent boyish joshing! We are about to take a dark psychological journey into something that’s almost like adult sexuality. We are going to the women’s shower!
Warning! Parental guidance advised.
Even though this movie seems pitched toward the younger set, there’s always time for cheesecake! Well, a close approximation of cheesecake: a kind of cheesecake that could almost pass the censors in Saudi Arabia. Between glimmers of naked feet, naked shoulders and wet hair, we enter dangerous waters (ha ha!) as Michiko asks, very very innocently, if Sano is taking “good care” of Lisa. Suddenly stupid, Lisa starts babbling on about “No matter how long or dangerous the journey, I’m sure I could carry on with him!” Michiko gives the oblivious Lisa a look that tells us if this were a truly adult film, someone would find themselves “accidently” shoved out of an airlock. Without a spacesuit.
Run Lisa, Run!
All cleaned up, everyone heads to the lounge for cocktails! (Low gravity, sexual tension, alcohol – what doesn’t the moon have?) Dr. Serious marvels that he could still be on earth. Herr Doktor Number Two shows himself a grouch when he says, “But it’s not a place you should remain too long. After all, earth is man’s home ground.” Whatever you say Herr Doktor Number Two! His name is Stein, by the way. (As in Frankenstein? – Bu, bu, bummmmm!) Soon he’s even grumpier when he’s told he’ll have to replace Dr. Serious for the flight to Mars. “I refuse!” he practically shouts. But Captain Right Stuff, using his most authoritative voice, tells the petulant physician that he will indeed go to Mars.
Captain Right Stuff goes on to prove he’s a) No Fun, and b) No Fool – when he refuses to dance with Lisa. In front of the woman we have to assume is his girlfriend. Then off he scampers to bed, leaving it to the gallant Communications Clown to offer to dance with Lisa. Her coffee-time contempt for him forgotten, she agrees. As they waltz about the lounge the Base Commander notices Michiko’s furrowed brow and pours her another cognac. Don’t worry everyone, she isn’t pregnant so this won’t have any harmful consequences! At least I don’t think…..Boy, this is getting kind of sordid, isn’t it?
Once more, into the outer reaches! And once again Lisa gets to play the role of domestic servant as he hands out everybody’s foil-wrapped space food. She rolls her eyes when she reaches Dr. Stein, and no wonder, for he starts obnoxiously berating her over the space food’s blandness. “I’m a biologist, not a cook,” she very reasonably answers, but this just makes the Stein-Monster angrier. “Oh pardon me! When meals become a trial, not a pleasure, it is a crime!” God this guy is a pill.
No matter where you travel, there’s always one.
But when Sano hears something strange he shuts the Stein-Monster down. Everyone pricks up their ears and starts wandering around the cabin. Then Miyamoto shouts, “It’s a meteor shower!” – That’s what they heard: approaching meteors. Which goes to show you that human ears are more effective than radar, even in space. (Up With People!) But before they have a chance to change course, a meteor pierces a small hole in the hull, and the rushing atmosphere scatters debris all about the cabin: debris that includes a surprising number of paper plates. Fortunately, everyone has their helmet on by this time, and they manage to “turn the oxygen off.” No more windstorm in the cabin, but they have lost communications with the moon and with FAFC (Fuji Astro-Flying Center). This leads to a worried discussion between Kato and Herr Doktor Berman, back on earth. Maybe we’ll just have to forget about going to Mars all together, they brood.
“Our space picnic is ruined!”
Back on AAB Gamma the crew has managed to stabilize the ship, and Right Stuff Sano gives Lisa, who has fainted, some oxygen. Her melting look of admiration is his just reward, but we have no time to relax with this tender scene, as the UFO is back! They try to accelerate away from it, but can’t. Caught in a “magnetic vice” Sano turns off the thrusters to save fuel. This freaks out the Stein-Monster, who is not only obnoxious, but hysterical, and he stages a one-man mutiny. Pushing Sano into a metal railing he attempts to turn the thrusters back on as Miyamoto and Lisa try desperately to stop him. All the while the UFO zooms around in space, as if laughing at the problems of the silly humans.
Back on the moon base, Michiko volunteers to man a rescue ship to save AAB Gamma. But the commander will have none of this. His sensible position is that enough lives have already been lost. No need to sacrifice more.
Could the AAB Gamma be lost?
Back on AAB Gamma the mutiny appears to be over. The Stein-Monster is back in his chair taking orders from Sano, and the ship appears to be working. The radio is not back up, but soon will be. However, Lisa finds something strange and shouts for everyone to come look. The rocket exhaust nozzle on the back of the ship is covered with strange glittering rock-like formations. Sano suits up to go out and investigate, and this brings on a fresh round of Freak Out as everyone warns him it’s too dangerous. Undeterred he continues his prep when Lisa steps up and insists on going out with him.
Who needs tethers to the space ship?
We now get a classic movie space walk sequence. “Gravity” is isn’t, but still, pretty darn good for 1967. Sano and Lisa collect something that looks like a glowing space egg into a specimen jar, and after cleaning away the remaining gunk off the rocket nozzle, return to the ship’s interior. Back inside they find the radio is up and working, and the UFO has disappeared, so that’s good. But they’ve suffered a 50% power loss. Contacting FAFC, they are informed that a rescue mission will now be sent. Michiko is on that mission, and when she appears on AAB Gamma’s view screen Lisa gushes in delight, “Why look, it’s Michiko!” I’m beginning to see how this movie could provide a Master’s Essay on “sexual tension,” “psychological blind spots,” and “strange and confused motives.” And happy for once, the good Doktor Stein-Monster quips, “Looks like I’ll be able to keep that date with my wife after all!” My condolences to the lady.
As the rescue ship flies towards the stricken AAB Gamma, back on earth Herr Doktor Berman floats the disquieting theory that the “strange radiant substance” Sano and Lisa found could be connected to the UFO. Let’s hope he’s wrong!
Having reached AAB Gamma, Michiko puts on her space helmet and carries over a shiny metal suitcase with a radiation warning sign on its side. This is the spare rocket fuel that AAB Gamma needs to return to the moon! The good thing about atomic fuel is that it’s light enough for a woman to carry easily from one spaceship to another. Once Michiko delivers the fuel to Sano, Lisa squeals with delight and grab her hands. Michiko puts on a convincing display of pleasure at seeing Lisa again. What would Edward Albee, the cheerful scribe who wrote “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” have made of this?
See, everything is great! Really!!!
Thank God we’ll never find out, and we cut to earth, with everybody home safe and sound. Dapper Dr. Kato, Herr Doktor Berman, and Lisa, debate the best way to begin research on the recovered space-egg-thing, when in comes Communications Clown Miyamoto suggesting that “work has its place, but so does relaxation.” Loosening up to a surprising degree, Right Stuff Sano adds, “He’s right. Let’s forget about it until tomorrow.” Perhaps he’s so relieved not to be sharing a cramped spaceship with both Lisa and Michiko that he’s giddy. At any rate, off they all troop to have a party, while the space-egg-thing sits blinking in its container. In the lab. All alone and with no supervision……………and cut!
Nothing to worry about here!
Before T-shirts and jeans became mandatory for all adults.
It’s a swank party, with quiet music playing in the background and no one dressed like a teenager. (!!!) Very Mad Men – minus the sense of impending moral doom. Communications Clown happily shoves more food in his face over at the buffet table, but then a call comes for Dr. Kato and he has everyone rush back to the lab. There they find that the sample has burned down through the table and has disappeared. Looking at the whole it left in the floor at well, Sano says wisely, “That took some temperature!” Now we discover, and this is kind of confusing, that some of the specimen is still there on the table. It looks like a styrofoam ball, and is about the size of the original sample. Oh well, when Lisa tries to pick it up with a pair of forceps, it disintegrates. Then Sano sees a mysterious footprint on the floor next to the table. “Like the foot of a big chicken,” he muses. Could the “radiant spore” have contained some form of cosmic life? – Muses the Herr Doktor. Ba-ba-buuuum!
“Like the foot of a big chicken.” Cue ominous music.
Everyone looks at what looks like, the foot of a big chicken.
As our heroes head home to their hotel for a well deserved sleep, we briefly see a power company technician consulting on the telephone about a mysterious power drop. Just as our crew arrives home, the lights go out. Noticing strange lights behind some nearby hills, everyone stops to look. A mighty explosion rips open the ground and out stomps Guilala, the mightiest space-lizard-chicken the world has ever seen! Every one looks amazed, and who can blame them? With his strange space-roar echoing across the land, Guilala glows with a sinister blue energy, then stomps away over the horizon.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, the star of our show – TA DA!
The next morning our intrepid crew reaches the crater, from which Guilala emerged, to investigate. Surveying the blasted landscape Lisa points and shouts, “Look, what’s that?” It is a giant footprint, and it looks just like the one found the night before in the lab. Later, at a briefing with the military, Dr. Kato notes that a “careful study” of the two footprints leads to “a strong possibility that they are identical.” It’s nice to see a movie scientist stay calm, cool, and collected, and thus open to the possibility that they are NOT identical. Too often in movies, as in life, we jump to unwarranted conclusions. Bringing everyone back to down to earth, a military officer tells the assembled people that the monster is now headed to Tokyo. What to do?
I would recommend sitting back and enjoying the spectacle of large superimposed space-lizard-chicken feet stomping on hoards of fleeing people. Does this infer something disturbing about my own psychology? None of your business. Back at the briefing Lisa fills them in on the monster’s connection to the “cosmic spores” they found in space. As an aside, Dr. Kato tells everyone “Guilala is the name we’ve given to the monster.” A government minister then sits back and savors the new word, “The monster Guilala,” while nodding his head in satisfaction. Yes, it’s quite a name!
One of the many, many money shots in “The X From Outer Space.”
Downtown Tokyo, meanwhile, has become an explosive battleground as tanks, rocket launchers, laser ca nnons, and F-104 fighter jets try to destroy Guilala in a Technicolor orgy of cheesy goodness. Perhaps aware he has arrived rather late to his own movie (47 minutes in, to be precise) Guilala now makes up for lost time with an extended attack that includes such classics as: knocking over mid-sized office buildings, walking through elevated freeways, trashing high-tension power lines, and throwing cargo ships onto giant power transformer stations. That last action causes the adjacent oil storage tanks to explode. Two thumbs up!
Laser cannons? Bah, foolish humans!
Back at the FAFC labs the ranking menfolk, and Michiko, cluster around Lisa’s spectrograph and ask her how it goes. This inspires her to give us all a serious science lesson.
“It seemingly exercises an unknown function. It’s probably a substance produced as a result of an explosion of an ultra-heated heavenly body. In a vacuum, it possibly contracts, and develops a complicated molecular structure.”
Herr Doktor Berman takes the ball and runs with it, noting that Guilala seems to “deflect and control energy sources in its surroundings. Which would account for how the spore was able to contain so much super-energy.” Michiko says nothing, but follows attentively – it appears…
Got all that? Good, there will be a test at the end of this review.
“What the hell are they talking about?”
“In a complete vacuum, such as I found surrounding the moon, it might be more practical to conduct (something something) experiments.” I can’t for the life of me understand what she’s saying at this point. But Dapper Dr. Kato understands – he’s a scientist too! “You’re right,” he confirms. Then after a dramatic pause, inspiration strikes – “Lisa, our moon station!” How did he ever think of that?
“Lets go,” says Sano, in his best Right Stuff manner. “If we can’t find the answer, our country will be completely destroyed.”
Right Stuff Sano, being righteous.
“Captain, I’ll go along! All right?” pipes in our spunky Communications Clown. “Me too!” chimes in Michiko. Dr. Kato looks warmly on her can-do sense of team spirit – but for myself I think she’d rather drink lighter fluid than let Sano and Lisa go off on another space mission together, un-chaperoned, so to speak.
And so off we go, again, to the moon. This time the fate of Japan and its citizens hangs in the balance, but the music is the same carefree Happy Hour Cocktail Lounge suite we’ve heard before. I’m both nonplussed and delighted.
But the music is serious down on earth where Guilala continues his rampage through Tokyo. Then it’s to military command HQ, where officers gather before a wonderful wall map that is following the progress of Guilala’s path of destruction. Shinjuku has been “wiped out,” but there is a hopeful development. The monster’s “back fin” seems to be “fading,” (???) and this leads the military to surmise it is losing energy. How you would infer one from the other, I don’t know, but there is more. “He must be searching for some kind of energy source,” another officer speculates. Man, this military is sharp!
Tracking the Battle of The Great Chicken Lizard From Outer Space.
From the moon base, Lisa reports that the “Vacuum synthesizing of Guilalanium is a success!” What’s more, there is an “ample” supply of Guilalanium found in lunar rocks. And in case you don’t know, Guilalanium is the substance from which Guilala is made. (As a scientific experiment, try to say “Guilalanium” three times very fast- and then send me the results.) Lisa continues that Guilalanium is a substance capable of deflecting heat and cosmic rays. “I see,” says the dapper and authoritative Kato. “Get a supply of it back here right away!” Which would indicate he wants another monster stomping around the planet, but we’ll just have to see. As usual, Herr Doktor Berman clarifies the situation. Placing his hands together in a most intellectual fashion he states, “If this substance Guilalanium from outer space could be used to envelop Guilala, it is possible that the monster will become unable to absorb further energy, and weaken.” Got that? The world’s best hope, other than an A-bomb, is to cover Guilala in Guilalanium. A Guilalaniumized Guilala, in other words, would be unable to absorb further energy, and thus weaken. This too will be on the test at the end of the review, which is why I am stressing it now. Perhaps this will inspire you to ask:
Intelligent Reader: “Sean, didn’t you tell us before that Guilala is made from the substance Guilalanium?”
Sean: “Yes, that is correct. Guilala would indeed be made of a substance, if that substance were called “Guilalanium.”
Intelligent Reader: “But now Dr. Berman is telling us that covering Guilala with Guilalanium is the best way to destroy Guilala!”
Sean: “Yes, that is correct.”
Intelligent Reader: “If Guilala is indeed made of Guilalanium, why would covering him with the substance, from which he is made, be the best way to destroy him?”
Sean: “………Please shut up.”
I assure you, these two men know what they are talking about. After all, they are space scientists!
AAB Gamma is speeding back to earth with its precious cargo of Guilalanium when what do you suppose happens? The radar communications system goes down – again! “It must be that UFO!” says Miyamoto in disgust. “Wrong!” snorts Sano, “It’s something in the ship.” Moving to investigate, Lisa has some sort of Communication System Jamming Signal Source Detector-Thing (CSJSSDT), which she drops near the silver suitcase marked “Guilalanium.” Her eyes widen in amazement when she sees that her Communication System Jamming Signal Source Detector-Thing, now pointing at the silver suitcase containing Guilalanium, shows a strong reading. Pointing a Geiger counter at the silver suitcase containing the Guilalanium, Sano discovers that Guilalanium is also radioactive. A good think to know if you are traveling with it in a spaceship!
I just wanted to prove that this substance actually exists.
Back at military HQ, a super serious colonel is called to the phone. “What, you can’t confirm we’ll get our Guilalanium?” “At this point, we don’t even know where it is,” answers a chagrinned but still dapper Kato. “All communications are out.” “The damage is increasing in scale,” rebukes the colonel. “All we can do is wait, and hope the cargo ship makes it back,” answers Kato, as Guilala takes out another power station in the Japanese countryside.
Mammy! Mammy!! (Always stick with the classics.)
This isn’t good, because now AAB Gamma is not responding to controls. “On our present course, we will orbit the earth,” says Sano. “A man-made satellite,” adds Miyamoto, helpfully. “I don’t like the prospect,” says Sano, grimly. And I wouldn’t either!
But Sano snaps out of his funk. “Lisa, what can we do to neutralize our Guilalanium cargo?” “The only way is to cut off all outside contact within some kind of (something) compartment.” “But how?” asks a hopeless Miyamoto……Silence……Then a light bulb flashes over Michiko’s head, “Why not a nuclear shield?…I think we should try.” Miyamoto is impressed, but Sano worries it might cause their nuclear core to go critical and explode. A look of fiery determination comes over Lisa’s face, “I think we should try!” And try they do!
Back on earth our super-serious colonel is back on the phone. “What? The atomic energy plant is destroyed?” Yes – what!?!?!?! “That means Guilala can revitalize himself on nuclear fuel!” And sure enough, a revitalized Guilala turns into a glowing red ball that flies and destroys everything in its wake. Mr. Super-Serious Colonel did not need this additional headache. It’s a headache for the dapper Dr. Kato too, as the “big flaming ball” is headed in the direction of FAFC!
One headache after another…
The only way this could possibly get worse is if the UFO shows up again – and it does! “Beat it! We’re busy!” says a cranky Miyamoto. Attempting to outrun their nefarious foe, we are treated to an epic duel between our heroic plastic rocket ship and the giant fried egg. The AAB Gamma succeeds in throwing off the UFO and prepares for landing, but will it have time to reach the FAFC command center before Guilala arrives? Everyone’s nerves are shredded! But the AAB Gamma does indeed land before Guilala strikes, and a helicopter hurries the precious Guilalanium away to the military command. Left behind at FAFC, our heroes worry that Guilala is now after their own nuclear fuel. Sano suggests getting rid of it, but too late, Guilala has arrived!
I LOVE MY WORK!
The titanic space-lizard-chicken begins to destroy the base, but Sano and Miyamoto still have time to load the center’s nuclear fuel, neatly packaged in shiny metal boxes, onto a trailer hitched to a jeep. Just then Michiko comes scampering over with the news that Lisa has managed to get herself trapped under the wreckage of a destroyed building. Sheesh, women! Everyone rushes over to save Lisa, and this scene is actually pretty affecting. The actress who dubs Lisa’s voice does a horrendous job of sounding like she’s in extreme pain. As Guilala ramages outside everyone strains to lift the wreckage pinning Lisa to the floor. When they finally succeed you expect her leg to be mangled. Fortunately this is a movie for kids, so all she has are a couple of mild abrasions. Phew!
Lisa saved, Sano and Miyamoto start to leave. Lisa looks plaintively at the brave captain and says a hoarse, “Sano!” But he’s got a job to do, so he can’t stop and comfort her. Off he goes to the jeep with the shiny nuclear fuel box attached to the back. Out on a country road next to the FAFC facility he stops to check that the nuclear fuel is still, um, nuclear. Opening the shiny box, and seemingly radiating himself in the process, he uses his trusty Geiger counter to check that the fuel is still lethal. The Geiger counter pings away like mad. Man, this guy is one heck of a perfectionist.
Umm, should you be standing there?
Making sure they have caught Guilala’s eye, our intrepid pair drive off with the fuel, leaving the titanic space-lizard-chicken to chase after them. I’ll just say this chase is one of the “visual highlights” of the movie and leave it at that. After many nail-biting close calls our heroes make a near escape as Guilala grabs and devours the nuclear fuel.
Guilala has been diverted, temporarily, from FAFC, and an earnest air force officer briefs a squadron of pilots on their desperate mission to stop the monster using Guilalanium. (Remember, a Guilalaniumized Guilala will not be able to absorb energy, and will thus weaken.) As the F-104’s take to the skies, Sano and Miyamoto pull themselves out of the roadside mud they bailed into to escape the monster. Over a rise Lisa and Michiko appear. Like homing pigeons they apparently have a magical ability to find things (and/or men) that they love. The women scamper down a slope, and we are relieved to see that Lisa’s crushed leg is completely healed! Now it’s her turn to administer first aid to a wounded Miyamoto. “Where are the planes?” he wonders. Here they come!
A Guilalaniumized Guilala.
Modified to shoot Guilalanium, they do not bother with missiles, but foam-bomb the menace from outer space. Said menace appears very angry with this new strategy. Soon he is covered with gooey white foam and begins to shrink – all the way back down to his original space egg size. The gallant Lisa approaches, almost touches the stuff with her hands (!?!) and then uses a pair of forceps to place the radiant spore back into a specimen container. Warning everyone that it could indeed return to its horrifyingly destructive form, she inspires the others to send the thing back up into space.
The earth is saved!
The menace from outer space has been vanquished, and Japan has been saved, but we still important business left, for another menace must be vanquished, and that is the horrifying prospect of miscegenation. The one genuinely dismaying scene in this movie now comes as a heartbroken Lisa, standing on a rocky outcropping, pours out her heart to a tragic looking Herr Doktor Berman.
Berman: “Lisa, have you told Sano how you feel about him? Love demands courage. ”
Lisa: “Yes, I know. That’s the lesson Guilala taught me. All things should remain where they belong. And there’s another who loves Sano, even more than I.
Sad but brave, the two wonder off into the blasted, rocky wasteland of an unhealthy and unnatural love.
Over in a prettier patch of land, with a beautiful sunset view of Mt. Fuji, Sano and Michiko are also wondering around. All smiles, Michiko beams, “Say, Guilala – where is he now?” “On an endless journey. The rocket was sent out of our solar system,” answers Sano. It’s more smiles and corny music as the sun sets over Mt. Fuji. Things get racy as Sano shows surprising romantic initiative for the big finale. He and Michiko reach out and….hold hands.
I’ll begin this wrap up with the bad news, and thus get it out of the way. That’s the racism that comes out in the open at the end of “The X From Outer Space.” The fact that it’s expressed with nice, polite, G-Rated language makes it all the more sinister. “Nice” people can be racist because all it wants to do is “keep things where they belong.” Who could argue with that? (Sarcasm alert!) But here’s something weird, while “racial purity” is something the Japanese have historically been proud of, when you go to the Japanese version, Lisa says nothing about keeping things where they belong. Here’s a translation of the Japanese dialogue:
Herr Doktor Berman:
Love requires courage.
Yes, you’re right. That’s an important lesson I learned from Guilala. Thanks to him I understand it well now. There is someone who loves Sano with all of her heart.
How did Guilala teach Lisa this important lesson? Your guess is as good as mine! But at least Guilala wasn’t preaching racial intolerance. Which begs the question, who put that nonsense into the English script?
While not openly stated in the Japanese script, squeamishness about a mixed “race” couple still might be a key to Captain Sano’s strange passivity when it comes to romance. The other factor, and maybe a more important one, is that this is a sci-fi fantasy for younger viewers, so the filmmakers didn’t want any real fights or rejection, or anything genuinely upsetting: in other words, real drama. So we get this weird bi-polar scenario that keeps opening a can of worms only to close it back up again. Sano can’t dump his Japanese girlfriend for the sexy blond. Nor can he reject Lisa, possibly because she’s white. So Michiko comes off as a psycho and Lisa as delusional, but it’s up to them to decide whom he spends the rest of his life with. Girl Power!
Speaking of the women, the period sexism on display isn’t so bad. While Lisa is pressed into serving all the food and beverages aboard the AAB Gamma, she’s never subjected to insulting comments or lectures that imply the only career for a “real” woman is raising children – as her counterparts in American movies so often were. Even better, she’s shown professional respect. The men who run the space program rely on her to solve the mystery of the extraterrestrial spores, and her work provides the key that lets the military destroy the monster. Michiko also has her moment in the sun. She’s the one who thinks of the solution to AAB Gamma’s final power crisis. With Lisa’s backing the women convince the men on a plan of action that saves the ship, and gets it back to earth. All in all, pretty darn good for 1967, and no problem for me when it comes to enjoying this movie.
On to the good stuff! I’ll start with Shigemori Shigeta’s groovy space age pop production design. American sci-fi films of the period shied away from overt fantasy, but not the way-out adventures from Japan. (Or Italy, for that matter.) They can be so surreal they’re goofy, but that’s OK as long as they have lots of style and dash. A bonus with movies from the 60’s is that they often contain a cheerful and optimistic humanism. A number of the filmmakers remembered pre-war and wartime Japan with dismay, and as Japan’s economy started to really take off they put their hopes for a peaceful world with a less arrogant mankind into their stories. In “X” international cooperation has led to a highly successful space program, and one that’s fun! (See Moon Jumping, above.) Whether we’re at FAFC, the moon base, or Herr Doktor’s cocktail party, Shigeta’s sets deliver, filling the screen with color and zippy compositions. (Not all of the sets are completely successful, but I think that’s an issue with budget limitations.)
Speaking of good cheer, let’s move over to the Ultra Swank Sci-Fi Lounge, where Taku Izumi’s soundtrack is now playing. I think the basic concept is “Wheee!” Except when Guilala is stomping a city flat, and then we get jagged percussion with weird space age sounds thrown in. Either way, it’s time for another cocktail.
Kazui Nihonmatsu’s direction is lively, and no one in the cast embarrasses themselves. Though as usual, the Japanese members are more professional. That’s because they have training, unlike the white people Shochiku scooped up off the streets of Tokyo to fill the international roles. (Actually, I’m exaggerating here. A big chunk of the white cast members show up in other films, so they do have some experience.)
Finally it’s on to our star, Guilala himself! I’m not sure who’s responsible for Guilala’s design, but I’d like to thank them for adding a crown jewel to my Gallery of Goofy Space Monsters. Guilala shares this honored space with the Giant Claw and the Brain from Planet Arous, and they are all a source of continuing delight for me. (An honorable mention goes to the Creeping Terror.) Hiroshi Ikeda and his crew did a very decent job in bringing Guilala’s rampage to life. Some of the processing shots are not up to the Toho standard, but “X” is always a step above the Gamera series.
Well that’s it for “The X From Outer Space.” Thanks for sharing the trip with me. I’ll sign off with this message from tomorrow:
Look, it’s our universe!
Look how it goes on forever!
It’s everybody’s future!
Come on, let’s embrace it!
Producer: Wataru Nakajima
Screenplay: Eibi Motomochi
SFX: Hiroshi Ikeda
Art Direction: Shigemori Shigeta
Music: Taku Izumi
Director: Kazui Nihonmatsu
CAST: Toshiya Wazaki – Captain Sano
Peggy Neal – Lisa
Itoko Harada – Michiko
Eiji Okada – Dr. Kato
Franz Gruber – Dr. Berman
Shin’inchi Yanagisawa – Miyamoto
Mike Daneen – Dr. Stein