We’re now Six films into the Godzilla series and, already, we’ve moved away from what the original film was drastically. The dark thematic elements regarding Japan’s fear of the Atomic bomb has been replaced with cursory discussion. Godzilla is no longer the villain but has become almost an anti-hero fighting to protect Earth. Gojira was very much set in the real world, in this film the Earth in invaded by aliens from Jupiter’s recently discovered moon, Planet X. The change in tone and style over the first 6 films is so grand that, if were not for the iconic design of Godzilla himself, you’d think thee films were entirely unrelated. This would be akin to making a sequel to a film like RoboCop and giving him a jetpack or having him fighting ninja robots or something equally stupid. Thankfully that fate has never befallen RoboCop. Godzilla, on the other hand, is only part of the way through his Showa era transformation. Click the link below to see if I think these changes have worked out for the best.
Invasion of Astro-Monster takes the stronger Sci-fi element of Ghdorah, The Three Headed Monster and runs with it. Not content with a character just maybe being an alien, this film opens with two astronauts arriving on Planet X and being greeted by a race of Devo/Geordie La Forge cosplayers, the Xiliens. They propose being given the use of Godzilla and Rodan to combat the monster they call Monster Zero, King Ghidorah to his friends. In return they offer a cure for all cancer. This does seem a little like a win-win situation for Earth. They get a cure for cancer and don’t have to worry about the very real danger that their house will be trampled underfoot by a man in a rubber monster costume. The astronauts, Glenn (Nick Adams) and Fuji (Akira Takarada), note that the aliens seem to lack water, a substance the aliens mention being more valuable than gold. This gives them cause for concern… which they don’t mention as the committee meeting determining if they should go along with the Xilien plan. The most important decision makers on Earth, The Medical Industry and The Japanese Housewives Committee… I’m not kidding… decide they should take this chance as a cure for cancer would be a pretty cool thing to have. Guess what happens?
Turns out Japanese Housewives and a few doctors aren’t the best people to be making decisions for the human race. The Xiliens take Rodan and Godzilla to Planet X, as promised, they give the humans the cure for cancer on a tape, which looks suspiciously like a block of polystyrene painted gold. When the tape is played back a message is relayed by the Xiliens that they will soon be heading to Earth to take over the planet and will be using King Ghidorah and their newly acquired Godzilla and Rodan to trash anyone that doesn’t conform. Right, I’m gonna point out a glaring issue with this plot. Why did the Xiliens even make contact with Earth to begin with. They knew exactly where Godzilla and Rodan were, they already had King Ghidorah. Why not just come to Earth and take control of them from the get go? They even have a group of Xilien agents working on Earth under the guise of a toy company… again, not kidding. Like, they could have executed this plan with no trouble at all. They also wouldn’t have explained how their computers worked which was a key part saving the day. Hell, if they hadn’t had made one of their crew, Miss Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno) pursue a romantic relationship with Glenn she wouldn’t have fallen in love with him and given him the other clue needed to save the Earth. They also arrested Glenn and locked him in a cell with the boyfriend of Fuji’s Sister who happens to have invented a device called the Lady Guard that makes a load of irritating noise, exactly what the Xiliens are weak to.
Have I mentioned how incredibly stupid the plot is? Despite the near dribbling moron level of dumb that the film’s story progresses with, I still found myself really enjoying Invasion of Astro-Monster. It’s stupid in that adorable kind of way where you just want to give it a hug and let it wander onto the train lines. The resultant mess will be terrible but you’ll want to see it anyway, and you’ll probably get a laugh too… so… That was a dark analogy. It is also hard to dislike a film where, upon scaring off King Ghidorah for the time being, Godzilla celebrates by doing a Highland Fling. If you were not sure that the film was a little bit daft by that point the sight of a 50 metre tall monster doing a traditional Scottish comical dance will confirm all suspicions.
There is a couple of elements of Invasion of Astro-Monster that actually scrape the belly of daring and clever. For one, the film features an inter-racial relationship with a kiss and everything. Very rare for the time. Secondly there’s a strangely deep piece of subtext with the Miss Namikawa character. All the female Xiliens share her face. The Commandant of the Xiliens (Yoshio Tsuchiya) says that it is logical as it preserves beauty in it’s ideal form. Except the men do not share a face. This suggests that the Xiliens do not allow women to have any self identity. The entire race are told what to do by a computer controlled by the Commandant and Miss Namikawa was even ordered to marry Glenn, for some reason. Probably tactical. That subtle subjugation of women isn’t said out loud, but your brain noticed it was there.
As far as the effects go the film comes over fairly well. There’s a new Godzilla suit that has larger eyes and smaller spines, to reflect the more child-friendly approach. Rodan has a new look too which looks far better than the one used in Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster. The puppeteers appear to have gained a little more control of Ghidorah’s heads too, but not by much. The addition of a space setting has added a more diverse look to the film’s world, which provides a welcome change from the trampling of Japan. Not that they don’t get around to trampling Japan at the film’s climax. There is a few shots of footage reused from the original Rodan film during the destruction scenes and a few too many repeated shots of Godzilla’s foot stamping on identical buildings, but, on the whole, the film looks pretty decent. The film’s score, again by Akira Ifukube, takes on a little more of a adventurous tone, at times sounding not unlike a 60s Bond film score. It all works well with the increased presence of a technological science fiction element.
Invasion of Astro-Monster is a daft, silly, incredibly stupid film. But it is also charming, kitsch, camp, and the right kinds of daft and silly. I could not commit myself to saying it’s a “good” film, in the traditional sense. It doesn’t quite touch the sort of “good” qualities I would associate with classics such as Troll 2 or Ninja Terminator either. It’s too polished for that. But then again… maybe… maybe it is that sort of good. Usually I’d say that if the film makers have the means to make the film greater than it is then I wouldn’t class it as a good-bad movie. By definition the film is too well made to be a badly made film. But dammit… it’s so adorable. Like a dog that chases it’s tail until it runs into a wall. Or the child that sprays shaving foam in its mouth. You just have to kind of love Invasion of Astro-Monster for evoking that sort of feeling. Nest up is Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. I cannot believe I managed to source a copy of that.