Godzilla returns for his sixth adventure in Invasion of Astro-Monster which teams him up with Rodan to defeat the dreaded Monster Zero!
Godzilla, Rodan and Monster Zero duke it out for the freedom of the Earth in the slightly forgettable, yet enjoyable, Invasion of Astro-Monster!
On Planet X, a race of aliens has adopted King Ghidorah, rechristening him Monster Zero. They plan to use Ghidorah to wreck terror on Earth. It looks to be a battle royale between Ghidorah, Godzilla and Rodan. Unfortunately Tokyo is once again in the path of destruction.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
Invasion of Astro-Monster starts off with World Space Agency rocket P-1 speeding towards newly discovered Planet X, just past Jupiter. Upon landing on the planet, astronauts Fuji (Akira Takarada) and Glenn (Nick Adams) are captured by the aliens living on the planet. Their leader, the Controller (Yoshio Tsuchiya), explains that they must hide underground due to the attacks from Monster Zero. Both astronauts recognize Monster Zero as King Ghidorah, who fled to Planet X after Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra chased him off Earth.
The aliens of Planet X would like to borrow Godzilla and Rodan to destroy Monster Zero. In exchange they can offer the Earth a cure for cancer and other diseases that they’ve developed. Back on Earth, an inventor Tetsuo (Akira Kubo), who happens to also be dating Fuji’s sister Haruno (Keiko Sawai), get’s an offer from a toy company, World Education Corporation, to buy one of his latest inventions. It’s a loud alarm he calls the Lady Guard. Ms Namikawa offers him a tidy sum of money. Later, Tetsuo sees her leaving a restaurant with Glenn on a date [NOTE: this is never really explained – it’s just assumed that they’re dating for some reason].
The two astronauts return and give the WSA the request. They have been told where Godzilla and Rodan might be found, and confirm the locations. Three flying saucers from Planet X emerge from the lake where Godzilla is sleeping. The delegation from Planet X meets with the WSA representatives to make the final arrangements. Glenn, Fuji and Professor Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) head back to Planet X, with Godzilla and Rodan stuck in force fields below two of the saucers.
Glenn and Fuji don’t trust the aliens, thinking that they may be trying to steal Earth’s water. While in the aliens base they discover huge amounts of gold, and two female aliens that appear to be clones of Ms Namikawa, which freaks Glenn out. The aliens have made a replica of P-1 and send the astronauts back to Earth, as Godzilla and Rodan stop Ghidorah from attacking. Unfortunately when they arrive the “cure” they were promised turns out to be a fake. In turn, they are requested to become a colony of Planet X, or the aliens will unleash all three of the monsters on the planet.
In a bid to to get his payment, Tetsuo follows Ms Namikawa back to her island base, and discovers that the toy company is actually a front for an advance group from Planet X. He is captured and put in a cell. Glenn heads for Namikawa’s office and is captured by the aliens as well. When he does see her, she admits she is from Planet X, and has honestly fallen in love with him. She slips him a note before being killed by her comrades for failing their strict code of not becoming involved. Glenn is locked up with Tetsuo.
Fuji and the Professor work on a plan to stop the magnetic waves that the aliens are using to control the monsters. Tetsuo and Glenn come up with their own plan, after reading Namikawa’s note, by using a prototype of the Lady Guard that Tetsuo has on him. The soundwaves disrupt Planet X technology causing the flying saucers to crash, and allowing the jamming devices created by the WSA to free the monsters. Godzilla and Rodan beat up Ghidorah, causing him to fly off into space as they crash into the ocean. The aliens self-destruct rather than be captured. Tetsuo is reunited with Haruno, and Fuji finally gives them his blessing to date.
“King Ghidorah was driven from Earth only with the combined strengths of Godzilla and Rodan. Would you help us?” – Controller from Planet X
History in the Making
Godzilla has been a busy kaiju since his debut, 11 years prior to the release of Invasion of Astro-Monster. This represents his sixth film after the original Godzilla, which include Godzilla Raids Again (1955), King Kong vs Godzilla (1962), Mothra vs Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (both in 1964). During this time, the great kaiju has: fought and killed Anguirus, been buried in an avalanche, had a fierce series of battles with King Kong, accidentally tried to destroy Mothra’s egg leading to a battle between the two kaiju, and eventually teamed-up with Mothra and Rodan to fight King Ghidorah and drive him off into outer space.
It’s not unusual for Japanese sci-fi films from this era to be released up to several years later in the states, as well as being renamed. The original Godzilla, which was released in Japan in 1954, didn’t come stateside until 1956 with the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters! That version featured edits with Raymond Burr as an added character existing through the events of the film. Invasion of Astro-Monster (not “the Astro-Monster”, just “Astro-Monster”) was not edited for release in America, but it was delayed for five years, until 1970, showing up with the titles Monster-Zero or Godzilla vs Monster-Zero. It also featured a dubbed soundtrack, where Nick Adams’ voice is the only one actually in English – he was dubbed into Japanese for the original release.
This film also brings the Godzilla franchise firmly into the space-age, with the advent of the World Space Agency. It appears that the filmmakers wanted to make Japan a member of the space race, along with Russia and the United States, by having the WSA be located in Tokyo. The mission also brings along a token American, Glenn, who brings a lot of levity and “okay’s” to the trip. Unfortunately, the spacesuits they wear do not look very appropriate to interstellar travel. In terms of realism, the suits from Robinson Crusoe on Mars are more authentic looking. But the off-duty jumpsuits look pretty sharp, which is a staple of Japanese sci-fi films and television shows from the 60s and 70s.
Giant monster movies have been around since 1933 when King Kong burst onto the scene. Mighty Joe Young (1949) copied the “King Kong” formula, and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) presented a dinosaur, unleashed from frozen slumber by atomic testing. Godzilla (1955) took this premise to new heights having the titular monster, also awoken by atomic testing, attack Tokyo. But instead of just a monster ravaging the landscape, the cultural subtext is one of mankind destroying itself. It was a watershed moment for Japanese cinema, giant monster films – termed Kaiju – and it unleashed a monster that captured audiences imaginations so much, he has starred in over three dozen motion pictures, not to mention cartoons, comic books and other pop culture ephemera.
But make no mistake, Invasion of Astro-Monster is no Godzilla! This film, while fun, is more a popcorn monster film. It does not have the same stakes as the original, even while promising a fight by three of the biggest kaiju in Japanese cinema. Godzilla and Rodan don’t show up for 38 minutes into the 93 minute runtime, and when they do, the fight is a little awkward. In fact there’s only two brief battle scenes, the one with the three monsters on Planet X, and then the monsters terrorizing Tokyo, with the subsequent fight once Godzilla and Rodan break free of the aliens control. Godzilla does get some fun “dance” moves during the battle which provide some enjoyment!
What the film does promise is the actual team-up of kaiju together in a single film. These team-ups were still relatively new at the time. In 1962 Godzilla had fought King King, in 1964 he fought Mothra, and then later that year he teamed up with Mothra and Rodan to fight Ghidorah. The idea of taking characters from individual films and creating a shared universe for them to play in was starting to take shape. Universal Pictures had a done something similar in the mid-40s with The House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, but the continuity between these films was not as strong as the Toho Studios films.
Another strong element that defines the kaiju films of the era is there uses of models and miniatures. The effects technicians would not only create miniature towns for the monsters to destroy, but also environments and vehicles that didn’t exist. For example, Invasion of Astro-Monster has a series of military vehicles that carry the electro jamming devices, built completely from model kits. They exist on roads and in mountain locations that were also built as scale replicas. This type of technology would only continue to get better as the films went along. It’s a long way from the computer graphics of modern films, but Japan was pioneering large-scale model work at this time.
Invasion of Astro-Monster presents Japan looking ahead to the future of space flight when the people of Earth might at one point encounter aliens. Unfortunately, in this encounter, the aliens are evil. Aliens from this era end up being in one of two camps: highly advanced with knowledge to share or highly advanced and ready to kill all humans! Of course the type of alien that shows up depends on the filmmakers and the story they want to tell. In this case, having an evil group of aliens allows for the World Space Agency to show their strength and ingenuity in combating this threat.
The Science in The Fiction
Scientifically speaking there is little of any sort of accuracy to this film. Space travel between Planet X and Earth is incredibly fast, not counting when the aliens have souped up the rocket ship the heroes travel in. Soundwaves interfere with magnetic waves, which control the monsters. And the interference from the personal alarm that Tetsuo has created, causes the alien craft to self-destruct. These are hardly issues, as the film is more concerned with the adventure of space travel, and the thrill of seeing giant monsters fighting.
The Final Frontier
Between 1954 and 1975 Toho films Shōwa series released 15 films featuring Godzilla. Nine other films would come after Invasion of Astro-Monster including: Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966), Son of Godzilla (1967), Destroy All Monsters (1968), All Monsters Attack (1969), Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), & Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). This series combined elements from multiple movies to tell the stories of kaiju battling one another. Friendly questions have been raised about the potential of any other film series having the reach of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this case, I present the Godzilla Monster Universe, or GMU!
While Invasion of the Astro-Monster may not be the best film from this era of Kaiju monster films, it’s a fun film that provides some interesting monster battles as well as setting the stage for future Japanese sci-fi films.
Coming Next Week
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.