HCF REWIND NO.41. THE MYSTERIANS
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Troubled astronomer Ryochi Shiraishi, his fiancee Hiroko, sister Etsuke and her boyfriend Joji Atsumi are attending a village harvest festival. Ryochi ignores Hiroko, then a mysterious fire sweeps through the nearby forest and Ryochi, going to investigate, disappears. Joji visits Ryochi’s colleague Dr. Adachi who tells him Ryochi was studying the shattered remains of a planet called Mysteroid which exist between Mars and Jupiter. When an entire village is wiped out in a landslide, Joji, along with the police, goes to the site and witnesses a robotic bird-like machine coming out of a mountain. The military quickly go into action but their weapons have no effect, and it is only destroyed when a bridge it is crossing is detonated and the machine crashes down to the ground. Upon examination, it is discovered that it was constructed from materials not present on Earth. Shortly afterwards, astronomers spot flying saucers heading for Earth and a huge dome emerges out of the ground near Mt Fuji. Inside are the Mysterians, and they have certain demands for Earthlings…………….
The Mysterians is a colourful, toy-like science fiction actioner from the team who made most of the early Godzilla movies. For a considerable amount of time, the films featuring the Big G were not the only science fiction or fantasy movies from Toho Studios, nor did all of them feature giant monsters on the rampage. They also made quite a few other fun films which, as with their creature features, were, and still are, generally dismissed by mainstream critics but have attained a strong cult following and in actual fact are more imaginative and entertaining than many American genre movies of the time. Titles like The H-Man [blob creatures and gangsters] and Attack Of The Mushroom People [people turning into mushrooms] sound like tacky fun, but actually there is more to them then you might think. The Mysterians, which is the first of many Toho features about an alien invasion, is for the most part, a pretty juvenile endeavour, even if it takes itself fairly seriously. It has several problems, and overall seems a little stiff and awkward, while Toho would do much better with the concept two years later with Battle In Outer Space. However, its goofiness and innocence is very endearing, and, even if you think it’s rubbish, I doubt you’ll actively dislike it!
The Mysterians was a prestigious production for Toho, it being the company’s first movie in widescreen and their first science fiction film to not feature a giant monster. Well, that is originally, but because of the popularity of the movies featuring Godzilla and Rodan, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka insisted that a monster was added to the script, albeit a robotic one. Moguera was initially intended to be a mole-like creature able to burrow underground, but that concept was discarded and replaced by a weird bird-like monster that doesn’t fly, though Moguera actually only appears in the first third of the movie. When released in the United States, and afterwards to other Western countries like Britain and Canada, Toho’s movies were often totally mucked around with by the distributor, with scenes removed or added, music replaced etc, but The Mysterians was treated very well. It only received minor alterations, some of them, such as the cutting of some effects shots which duplicate earlier ones, the music playing continuously during the climax rather than in bits, and the removal of another Moguera shown briefly near the end, actually improving the film. The movie did well for MGM, who took it over after RKO the intended distributors went out of business. In the UK it formed part of a double bill with the rather darker The First Man In Space.
If I was a kid growing up in the late 1950s, I reckon that The Mysterians may have seemed the best movie ever made. Full-on tales of mass alien invasion were actually quite a rarity in western cinema, with the only major films depicting it being The War Of The Worlds and I suppose Earth Vs The Flying Saucers. The majority of films dealt with the subject in a more low key manner [such as aliens taking the form of human beings]. The Mysterions opens in very ominous fashion, as composer Akira Ifikube’s sinister note patterns set against a twinkling vibraphone background play over shots of outer space, every now and again interrupted by a high pitched whine as flying saucers fly past the screen. Dispensing with character stuff, the build-up is handled very quickly and the film has a rather dark tone until Moguera appears to go on his rampage. Kind of a cross between a bird and a humanoid robot, he just looks silly and the serious feel of the film goes out the window. Still, even though the special effects are variable [more on them later], the lengthy sequence is exciting and tightly edited, with even frames removed at certain moments to increase the excitement.
Sadly after this the film loses some of its pace as it gets into the main story, even though we never really get to know the main characters properly at all [I wonder if the introduction of Moguera to the already-completed script led to the removal of some scenes featuring the chief protagonists?]. After much chit-chat about what to do with the Mysterians, we get into the main action, and it goes on forever. Tanks, planes and more unusual machinery such as the Markalites [basically ray-firing satelite dishes which appeared in some later Toho movies] fire endlessly at the Mysterion’s seemingly indestructable dome base and the dome, sometimes helped by the flying saucers, shoots back. It’s all quite visually pleasing but the action is very static and some shots are repeated over and over again, meaning that, especially towards the end, the film seems to drag, despite the late introduction of a massive flood.
Technically The Mysterians is all over the place. Fantastic compositing shots and detailed miniatures mix with awful superimposed beams and explosions. The climactic tidal wave boasts an incredible shot of the wave moving over a bridge and tiny people being swept away that must have taken ages to get right, but is followed by a shoddy foreground shot of the wave supposedly infront of the town but looking like it’s nothing to do with it. Some of the more elaborate effects shots have scratches on the negative due to excessive handling, but overall the film is still quite an impressive technical achievement for 1957. One of the things I admire so much about these movies is the sheer amount of effects work, the way they’d try everything out and throw it in there. The script though is undoubtably a bit of a mess. While it is interesting to have alien invaders who come from a planet which was destroyed by nuclear war [director Inoshiro Honda working in his usual anti-nuclear message], the film is quite confused about them. Their dome manages to land under Earth’s ground undetected, they ask for Earth women to mate with despite having already kidnapped some, they let their human helper Ryochi list their weaknesses in his ‘report’ despite him being in their headquarters, and such a big deal is made of this ‘report’ it just seems very odd. There’s also a strange moment where human visitors to the dome are asked to put on black capes to protect them against the cold.
Then again, with its gaudy alien costumes [yellow and orange helmets and capes] and huge aerial craft which in no way would have been able to fly, realism rarely comes into it, though a nice attention to detail comes into play at times, such as us being able to hear brief snatches of the Mysterion language before it is translated. The cast do okay rather than good, with the potentially interesting role of Ryochi, who helps the Mysterions, rather thrown away by the usually good Kenji Sahara, though the script doesn’t give him much to work with anyway. A great asset to the film is Akira Ifukube’s score, from the ominous figures of the early scenes to an incredibly rousing battle march which is actually one of my all-time favourite film themes! The tune, which sometimes goes into a more dissonant passage before returning to the main theme, is to me as good as anything John Williams has written. It is perhaps played too often – the score is one of Ifikube’s most repetitive – but its quality means that it never becomes boring, and it goes some way to keeping interest in the sometimes tedious action. Despite having many flaws, The Mysterions has great charm and if you have young boys they will probably adore it [the R1 DVD has a dubbed option]. Being a bit of a young boy myself, I adore it too, no matter how easy it is so pick apart, though it’s really just a dry run for Toho’s follow-up, the incredible Battle In Outer Space, the review of which is Coming Soon!