By the time that the key creative team behind the original Godzilla - director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya, composer Akira Ifukube – made The Mysterians three years later they’d become dab hands at this brand of science fiction. Indeed, the experience shows as they throw us headlong into a punchy, spectacle-ridden opening act populated by natural disasters (or so they seem…) and a giant robot monster. There’s no time for exposition, rather miniature landscapes are wantonly destroyed and everything goes up in flames; even the innocent harvest festival which takes place in the opening scene is designed as a mass of expressive colour.
Of course, all this drama has to head somewhere and so it does: the Mysterians, sole survivors of an atomic war which destroyed a planet once situated between Jupiter and Mars, have come to Earth so that they may repopulate their dying race. Understandably, they need Earth women to do this as well as a circle of land three kilometres in radius – demands which provoke retaliation and yet more wanton destruction. Will their superior scientific intelligence allow them to win the day? Or will our assembled team of physicists and politicians come up with a solution to send them on their way?
Much of which is abundantly familiar from other science fiction fare, so much so in fact that our heroes barely register surprise once the giant robot begins its rampage. US genre flicks from The War of the Worlds to This Island Earth are readily recalled, whilst the repopulation gambit has served – albeit with a gender reversal – everything from Doris Wishman’s Nudes on the Moon to an episode of Red Dwarf. As such it’s impossible not to address The Mysterians as prime ‘B’ movie material, even if it does offer Takashi Shimura a prominent supporting role (part of his parallel career as Japan’s equivalent to Peter Cushing). Not that the film should be disregarded therefore, rather it offers a level of professionalism (not to mention its enthusiasm) usually reserved for more respectable projects. Ifukube’s score, for example, does broody, expressive, alien and sinister as well as the best of them. Honda approaches the whole thing with a bare minimum of fuss. And Tsuburaya’s special effects team do an admittedly variable, but often remarkable job. There are no doubts as to whether our robot monster is a guy in a suit, but the floods, earthquakes, landslides and exploding aircraft all demonstrate a terrific attention to detail and – more importantly – entertainment value.
That said, the camper dimensions cannot be fully ignored. Shot in Tohoscope The Mysterians offers up a flurry of pastel colours. Our alien invaders in particular look really quite dazzling in their brightly coloured crash helmets, cloaks and giant shades. And then, of course, there are their spectacularly designed environs: the giant subterranean dome (alternately white and pink) which plays host to numerous tubes, dials and other late fifties’ attributes. Moreover, if that doesn’t quite date the film enough then there are also the stern Cold War/atomic age considerations at work – all dealt with in such a such po-faced, downright serious manner than, ironically, they only serve to raise a smile nowadays.
Indeed, there’s a great deal of retrospective fun to be had with The Mysterians, though it’s not quite perfect. Sadly the screenplay lacks variation – the general structure being to alternate between immense destruction and talky exposition three or four times over – and the characterisation is paper thin; deaths mean nothing, not even that of one of our self-sacrificing heroes. As such it’s light thrills which The Mysterians has to offer, but that shouldn't be considered a bad thing. If you only buy one of the BFI’s Honda releases then Godzilla is the one to go for. Otherwise Asian cinema nuts, cult aficionados and genre completists should willingly snap this up if they haven’t already.
For the most part, the BFI’s handling of The Mysterians is one to be impressed by. The film comes in its original Tohoscope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (anamorphically enhanced, of course) and original Japanese dialogue (with optional English subs). Moreover, the print used is in generally spotless condition; only the SFX shots show sign of wear-and-tear, but then this was inherent in the film’s production and as such unavoidable. If there is an issue then it’s that the picture clarity isn’t quite as pin-point sharp as we’d hope, but never to the point that the film becomes anywhere near unwatchable. Indeed, the kitsch colour scheme is ably recreated, the designs look great and fans of giant monster movies should be duly impressed.
As for the soundtrack, whilst we’re getting the original Japanese recording, we’re not getting it in its original stereo. That said, this mono incarnation is mostly fine and handles both dialogue and laser blasts with equal aplomb. There is some moderate crackle, but again it’s never to any distracting degree. As already noted, the accompanying English subtitles are also of the optional variety.
Sadly lacking both the isolated score and the commentary by SFX supervisors Koichi Kawakita and Shinji Higuchi which adorned the Region 1 Media Blasters release, this disc instead makes do with some a handful of galleries, the original theatrical trailer and a nicely produced 14-page booklet containing new liner notes by Kim Newman, biographies for the key players and full credits. As such the two can’t really compare, though the galleries are notable for offering us a glimpse at various storyboards, poster designs, costume sketches and the like – some of which, it appears, weren’t included on the Media Blasters disc. (As with main feature, the trailer also comes with removable English subtitles.)
A giant robot intent on destroying Japan... An alien race of superior scientific intelligence intent on repopulation... Anthony Nield settles down to the latest Region 2 offering from the BFI, Ishiro Honda's terrifically entertaining 1957 slice of science fiction, The Mysterians.