Sunday, May 3, 2015

Kaiju Goes To the Moon: "The X From Outer Space"


Shociku went nuts in the 1960s. Although the studio began making films all the way back in the 1920s, it was the decade of revolution and political assassinations that really made the Japanese studio a power player in the world of monster movies. And no kaiju flick is more awesome and awful than 1967's The X From Out Space -- a film that channels Godzilla through the prisms of sci-fi and tepid romance. 


As with all big, bad green lizard movies, the most important thing is how good the supporting actors are. JK. Let's talk about the real star of the film -- the "X" in The X From Outer Space. The monster in question is Guilala, a hammer-headed and chicken-footed space reptile that begins the movie as a globular spore attached to the butt of AAB Gamma, a "space boat" traveling from an Japanese moon base to Mars. After scraping off the barnacle, Lisa (played by Peggy Neal, a gaijin stalwart of late '60s Japanese cinema), the ship's scientist, and Sano (played by Shun'ya Wazaki), the ship's handsome captain, confine the specimen in a jar in order to bring it back to Earth for further examination. 

Not long after coming to the small, blue planet, Guilala gets frisky and decides to break out of its glass tube. Why and how he does it is anybody's guess, but one thing is for sure: Japan is fucked. For the next forty minutes or so, Guilala goes on a rampage that almost destroys the entire island of Honshu. He wrecks cities, breathes fire on tanks, and drinks nuclear energy from reactors, which just makes him stronger. The measly Japanese Self-Defense Forces cannot stop him, nor can the Air Force penetrate his thick, extraterrestrial hide. The only thing that manages to halt Guilala's advance is "Guilalalium," a vague chemical substance that has some sort of connection with moon rocks. When a fleet of fighter jets start dropping "Guilalalium" on Guilala, the monster begins bubbling with white foam before eventually shrinking back down to his original size. Threat contained. Film over. 


There's nothing really unique about The X From Outer Space, and yet somehow this movie just exudes schlock cool. Maybe it's the groovy moonbase full of Star Trek-esque and color coordinated uniforms. Maybe it's the whacky pop soundtrack sung entirely in Japanese. Or it could just be the whole package, which combines Shociku's trademark zaniness with ham-handed attempts at sex appeal, melodrama, and futurism. 

The love in the film comes in the form of a triangle. You see, Lisa loves Sano, but so does Michiko (played by Itoko Harada), a moonbase controller with a Swinging Sixties bob haircut. Throughout the film, Lisa and Michiko try to show their love for Sano in various ways, all the while maintaining their friendship. In one instance, director Kazui Nihonmatsu even tries to tickle his audience's fancy by putting Lisa and Michiko together in the shower. Sadly, they are separated by a partition. 

By the film's end, Lisa sacrifices her own happiness by telling the goateed Dr. Berman (played by the German actor and Shociku regular Franz Gruber) that although she loves Sano, there's someone who loves him more. While Dr. Berman and Lisa stumble into the sunset, Sano and Michiko hold hands and exchange a couple of laughs. 


Rounding out the rest of cast are Miyamoto (played by Shin'ichi Yanagisawa), who is the film's pudgy comedian, the annoying and overly nervous Dr. Stein (played by Mike Daneen), the stoic Dr. Kato (played by Eliji Okada, a former member of the Japanese Army during World War II and an international sex symbol thanks to Alan Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour), and the grandfatherly Dr. Shioda (played by Keisuke Sonoi). Overall, the world portrayed in The X From Outer Space is one in which Japan not only leads the globe in space exploration, but also exemplifies the Cold War ideal of a well-run technocracy. Eat your heart out, President Kennedy. 

I guess the only question to come out of The X From Out Space is whether or not you're a Lisa or Michiko type of guy. Well, that and the many questions concerning this film's numerous narrative jumps. From Dr. Stein's turn from a hysterical hijacker to an obedient subordinate to AAB Gamma's unexplained races with a flying omelet thing, The X From Outer Space swims with inconsistencies. But, hey, it's a Shociku film. Shut up and enjoy the gaffs, goofs, and good vibrations. 

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