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The Mysterians (1957, Japan)

15/03/2011

Director: Ishiro Honda    Starring: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Momoko Kochi

As I kicked back and relaxed to the Toho Company’s first full colour, widescreen science fiction epic it was difficult not to consider recent events in Japan. When I borrowed the DVD from a friend a week or two ago all was well in the land of the rising sun but as I cued it up in my DVD player a very different reality had unfolded with major earthquakes, a devastating tsunami and the threat of nuclear meltdown all offered their own sobering effects on the viewing experience. Put together by the same team and cast that were responsible for the original 1954 Gojira, The Mysterians shares it’s themes of apocalyptic destruction, the destructive force of scientific progress and the perils of foreign colonialism.

Current events in Japan make it easy to understand why notions of large scale devastation and disaster loom large in the Japanese psyche. If you didn’t know before you almost certainly know now that the country is sitting on a ticking time bomb of tectonic shift and volcanic activity, it’s history riddled with horrendously destructive natural disasters. Add to this the fact that it remains the only country on Earth to have suffered the use of nuclear weapons in anger against it, it leaves little wonder at the fact their cinema returns time and again, even now, to apocalyptic imagery and storytelling.

With the events of the Second World War still fresh in living memory, The  Mysterians is about the visitation of beings from another planet who, having destroyed their own world in a nuclear apocalypse, have arrived on Earth in a bid to rebuild their race by breeding with human women. Announcing their presence by annihilating an entire town with a show of force designed to make humanity understand the futility of trying to fight them they demand the cooperation of Earth. Us humans, acting entirely in accordance with our nature, aren’t willing to play ball and every trick in Earth’s arsenal is brough to bear in order to resist the invaders.

It unfolds in the schizophrenic way that will be familiar to fans of the Toho Company’s output (especially the various Godzilla movies). Straight faced and serious in terms of story and acting, the fun is had in the special effects department with men in rubber suits trampling beautifully constructed model landscapes and tossing scaled down tanks aside whilst their deadly, scratched into the negative, heat rays reduce cardboard buildings to ash. They shouldn’t get away with it, the garish, gaudy and borderline ridiculous effects should marr the experience beyond redemption but they don’t. The ingenuity that is often at work is actually quite impressive, especially when you consider it was made in the fifties and the integration that is achieved between the model work and the live action material is by and large very successful.

There is a serious slab of post-war politics at work, the Mysterians moving in and taking land and women suggesting a resentment of the American cultural colonialism that was rife after the war. The fear of atomic warfare is far more explicit, indeed this is the threat the Mysterians hold over the human race in an effort to get their own way. The positivity comes in the indomitable spirit humankind shows in the face of superior odds and aggression and the ingenuity shown in developing new ways to deal with the problem without having to resort to H-bombs. Optimism born from a cultural memory of horrific adversity? More than likely, but perhaps also stemming from a desire to believe that there is more to people than simply finding the easiest way to annihilate each other.

With the majority of the running time devoted to the various attempts to drive away the invaders the film threatens to repeat itself but keeps things interesting with the sheer variety of methods employed to defeat the extra terrestrial enemy and a plot that feels remarkably plausible. It’s B-Movie fun at its best, a smorgasboard of outlandish effects deployed in support of a high concept story and I absolutely loved it, all the more so for the exquisitely restored transfer on this BFI issued DVD.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 17/04/2011 02:47

    Interesting tone of sexual hysteria in this trailer

    • 17/04/2011 21:12

      Hysteria is the word. It’s an interesting foray into alien invasion territory, the Mysterians are literally taking their land and women (don’t know if they care much for their jobs) in an overt expression of the mistrust of the post war, new American colonialism. They have a ridiculously specific list of women with which they hope to kickstart their dying race ‘n all, a fact I find a little disturbing. Few films sum up the Japanese relationship with an environment that seems intent on annihilating them quite as well as this one.

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