This is part of an ongoing series called Godzilla & Friends: Reviews from the Godzillaverse and Beyond!. Feel free to look around.
Invasion of Astro-Monster, or as it was known in Japan as Kaijū Daisensō (literally, Great Monster War) was another Japanese-American co-production with Henry Saperstein. It’s basically a direct sequel to King Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster. Like Frankenstein vs. Baragon, it starred Nick Adams, once called “the poor man’s James Dean.”
For me, this had charm and Nick Adams is the reason for that. Oddly, Henry Saperstein is also the reason. He worked a bit with Godzilla script-writer Shinichi Sekizawa and mixed up the formula a bit.
This would be Toho’s first mixing of Godzilla with outer space. Space-based sci-fi wasn’t new to them. Veteran Godzilla director Ishiro Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya (along with most of the other regulars) made 1959′s The Mysterians, which I’ll get around to reviewing soon enough.
Though this is the first space age Godzilla flick, this would be the last collaboration between Tomoyuki Tanka (producer), Ishiro Honda (director), Eiji Tsuburarya (special effects), Shinichi Sekizawa (script) and Akira Ifukube (music). All would work on Godzilla again, but never all together.
Here is the plot…
Astronauts Glenn and Fuji are zooming towards newly discovered Planet X in their rocketship and are ready to planet a flag and explore this distant world. They soon discover that they are not alone. The Xians are a human-like race who lived on the surface of the planet – that is, until giant Monster Zero drove them underground.
Monster Zero attacks and Glenn and Fuji are taken into safety by the Xians. This monster is known to the earthlings as none other than the three-headed King Ghidorah. The Xians then ask Glenn and Fuji if they could borrow Godzilla and Rodan for a bit. They’ve apparently seen the last Godzilla movie and know that that’s the only way to defeat their Monster Zero (though no mention is made of Mothra, poor gal).
In return for the use of said monsters, the Xians promise to give Earth the cure for cancer. That’s right! Earth gets rid of two monsters that have ravaged Japan AND gets the cure for cancer! Win-win! But is there a catch? Glenn and Fuji return to earth to tell them the good, but fishy, news.
Back on earth, Fuji’s sister’s boyfriend, Tetsuo, wants to marry Fuji’s sister. Fuji is against it because Tetsuo seems like he’s kind of a load. However, Tetsuo has invented a device called the Lady Guard that emits a horrible noise to ward off attackers. He sells this invention to Miss Namikawa, a represenative of a mysterious toy company.
When Glenn and Fuji arrive back on Earth, the scientists and military immediately start searching for Godzilla and Rodan. Glenn starts to date Namikawa and thinks he sees the commander of the Xians. Both he and Fuji are growing suspicious of this win/win deal. It’s then that the Xian commander reveals himself. The Xians have been on Earth all along! But why?…
The Xians capture the two monsters and take the suspicious, but still trusting, Glenn, Fuji and Professor Sakurai back with them to Planet X. Godzilla and Rodan waste no time in besting Ghidorah. A few kicked rocks and a flying tackle by Godzilla and Ghidorah is defeated. It all seems too easy. Triumphant, Godzilla does a funky little dance and Ghidorah flies off with his tails between his legs.
Glenn and Fuji wander off and discover that Glenn’s sweetheart, the mysterious toy company rep, Namikawa, is on Planet X! Actually there are a bunch of her! All the women of Planet X look like Namikawa! Glenn soon figures it out – his true love is a space alien!
But that’s ok, because Glenn and Fuji leave Planet X, saying good-bye to Rodan and Godzilla (who don’t seem so thrilled about their new home). They return to earth with a tape recording of how to cure cancer.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Tetsuo feels like he’s being jerked around by this toy company, so he trails Namikawa to an island where he’s promptly captured via Looney Tunes style trapdoor.
When the tape to cure cancer is played, it’s actually a recording of the Xian commander telling Earth that they are now a colony of Planet X!
The Xians arrive back on Earth and threaten to unleash Godzilla, Rodan and Ghidorah upon the world if Earth does not surrender. They tell Earth that they can control the monsters via magnetic rays. The Xians gives Earth 24 hours to comply.
But only twenty hours later, Ghidorah attacks America while Godzilla and Rodan attack Japan! The deal is off!
Fearing that because of Namikawa, Glenn knows too much, the Xians arrest Glenn and kill the girl. But before she dies, she slips a note into Glenn’s pocket. He is taken to a holding cell where he finds Tetsuo. They put their heads together and with the help of Namikama’s note, they discover that Tetsuo’s Lady Guard can completely impare the Xians!
They escape with help of this device and swim back to Japan.
The signal is broadcast and the Xians painfully freak out. The monsters are set free, but is that really such a great idea? Thankfully, Godzilla and Rodan are now friends of the Earth. The two monster pals attack Ghidorah, forcing him to flee back to Planet X… but for how long?
So let’s talk about this…
This one is somewhat schizophrenic. The human-centric scenes are fairly serious. The monster-centric scenes, however, are comical or even childish. There is a reason for this.
Godzilla “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee,” mimicking Muhammad Ali’s boxing techniques. He runs across the set, hitting Ghidorah with a flying tackle. And last, but certainly not least, Godzilla’s little “Shie dance” where he kicks up his heels in celebration. All of this is in direct contrast to the heavy dramatic scenes of intrigue, betrayal and survival.
This was not done by director Ishiro Honda. In fact, he was against it, even calling it a disgrace. Eiji Tsuburaya, special effects director, thought up the idea and was fully behind the move to make Godzilla more kid-friendly. He added the scene, remarking, “it will make children happy.” And honestly, as out of place as it is, who can argue?
Though it was never officially stated that this was the reason, but Ishiro Honda sat out the next couple of Godzilla movies.
Not only is the movie schizophrenic, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you are the Xians and can control Godzilla and Rodan via magnetic impulses, why take them back to Planet X? Why also take the astronauts back? If the Xians are already on Earth and can control monsters (including Ghidorah), why not just take over Earth? Why go through what is basically the entire plot to achieve your goal?
Suspension of disbelieve is important in sci-fi movies, but for this one, check your brain at the door. Seriously, don’t think about this stuff, it’s just a movie, relax and enjoy the drama, the monster fights and the wonderfully American, Nick Adams.
This would be Adam’s first and last Godzilla flick and though he would make one more movie for Toho, upon returning to America, he most co-starred in TV and B-movies. During the filming of Invasion of Astro-Monster, he fell in love with Kumi Mizuno, the woman who played his love interest and undercover Xian, Namikawa.
The problem was that Nick was married and had two kids (one of whom was named Jeb Stuart Adams). One day Nick phoned up his wife, Carol Nugent, and told her to watch The Les Crane Talk Show. Nick would be appearing on it that night. On the show, he announced to the world (and to the wife) that he was getting a divorce. What a gentleman!
The marriage was on again, off again for some time and he even tried to marry Mizuno, but she was already engaged to another.
On February 7, 1968, Nick was found dead in his apartment. The official cause of death was (accidental?) suicide by prescription drugs and tranquilizers. He is buried in Berwick, Pennsylvania (he was born in Nanicoke).
Invasion of Astro-Monster was released in the US in 1970 under the name Monster Zero (the Invasion title comes from the UK release). The American version is basically identical to the Japanese version. Nick Adam’s lines were overdubbed by a Japanese voice actor in the Japanese release, but for the American release, his own voice was used.
During the filming, the Japanese actors would speak Japanese and Nick would speak English. It seems an odd way of doing things, but it does work. In the American version, however, you do get to hear Nick say things like, “You stinkin’ rats!” and “In defense of earth, we’re gonna fight till the last man, baby!” So it really is important that you see both versions.
Sadly, Invasion was the first Godzilla movie to recycle stock footage from past Toho monster movies (Rodan and Mothra). This practice would be recycled for the rest of the 60′s and 70′s Showa era. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious.
Through all its flaws and goofy dances, Invasion of Astro-Monster is an important film in Godzilla history. It’s a turning point for the series, a rubber suit filled with firsts and lasts. From here on out, things would be different, baby.
Monsters: Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah
Locations: Tokyo, Mt. Fiji, Planet X
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka | Director: Ishiro Honda | Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya | Score: Akira Ifukube
Released: December 9, 1965 | 96 mins | Color | 2.35: 1 Aspect Ratio