The Mysterians (1957)


Introduction

The Mysterians (地球防衛軍, Chikyū Bōeigun, lit. ’Earth Defense Force’) is a 1957 Japanese tokusatsu science fiction film directed by Ishirō Honda, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya.

The film begins with a giant fissure destroying an entire village. This leads to an investigation whereby the source is discovered to be Moguera, a giant robot, who is then destroyed by the military. The remains are analysed and discovered to be of alien origin. Shortly after, an alien race known as the Mysterians arrive, declaring they have taken some Earth women captive and that they demand both land and the right to marry women of Earth.

Also known as Chikyû Bôeigun (original title) and Defence Force of the Earth (Japanese, Literal English title).

Outline

Astrophysicist Ryoichi Shiraishi, his fiancee Hiroko, his sister Etsuko, and his friend Joji Atsumi attend a festival at a local village near Mount Fuji. Shiraishi then tells Atsumi that he has broken off his engagement with Hiroko but gives no reason other than an undisclosed obligation to remain in the village. Then, a mysterious forest fire flares up, burning more rapidly than normal and emanating from the ground, and Shiraishi rushes out to investigate and disappears during the confusion.

The next day, Atsumi is at the local observatory, where he meets with his mentor, head astronomer, Tanjiro Adachi. He hands the doctor a report written by Shiraishi that concerns a newly discovered asteroid that Shiraishi theorised was once a planet between Mars and Jupiter. He has named it Mysteroid. However, Adachi does not believe in his radical theory and also points out that the report is not complete.

Meanwhile, the village in which the festival was held is completely wiped out by a massive earthquake. While investigating the area, Atsumi and a group of police officers stumble upon a giant robot, Moguera, which bursts from the side of a hill. It emits rays which decimate the investigation team; only Atsumi and the lead policeman survive. The robot then advances to a town near Koyama Bridge that night, and is met by heavy resistance from Japan’s self-defence force. However, the conventional artillery has no effect on the war machine, and the automaton continues its rampage until it tries to cross the Koyama Bridge, which is detonated, sending the machine crashing down to the ground below and destroying it.

At the National Diet Building, Atsumi briefs officials on what has been learned about the robot. The remains of the giant machine reveal that it was manufactured out of an unknown chemical compound. Shortly afterwards, astronomers witness activity in outer space around the moon. They alert the world to this discovery, and not long after, the aliens emerge, their gigantic dome breaking through Earth’s crust near Mount Fuji.

As a combined military and scientific entourage observes the dome, a voice calls out to request five scientists, including Dr. Adachi, who is among the observers, to come to the dome for a conference. The men agree to this meeting and are formally ushered into the dome, where the Mysterians, a scientifically advanced humanoid alien race, list their demands from the people of Earth: a two-mile-radius strip of land and the right to marry women of Earth. The reason for this is that 100,000 years ago their planet – Mysteroid, once the fifth planet from the sun – was destroyed by a nuclear war. Some Mysterians were able to escape to Mars before their planet was rendered uninhabitable. However, owing to the nuclear war, strontium-90 has left 80% of the aliens’ population deformed and crippled. The proposed interbreeding with women on Earth would produce healthier offspring and keep their race alive. The latter part of their demands is downplayed, as they admit to already taking three women captive and reveal two others that they are interested in, one of which is Etsuko.

Japan quickly dismisses this request and begins the mobilization of its armed forces around Mount Fuji. It is also discovered that the missing Shiraishi has sided with the advance race because of their technological achievements. Japan wastes no time, though, and quickly launches a full-scale attack against the Mysterians’ dome. However, the modern weaponry is no match for their technology, and Japan’s forces are easily fought back. Distraught by this setback, Japan sends their plea to other nations that they join together to remove the threat of the Mysterians from Earth. The nations around the world answer the plea and in no time issue another raid against the Mysterians’ dome, this time utilizing the newly developed Alpha and Beta class airships. Sadly, this attack meets failure as well.

The Mysterians then increase their demand, asking for a 75-mile-radius plot of land, as the Earth continues to develop a new method of attack. Earth’s efforts in this matter pay off as a Markalite FAHP (Flying Atomic Heat Projector), a gigantic lens that can reflect the Mysterians’ weaponry, is designed. Meanwhile, the Mysterians kidnap Etsuko and Hiroko, causing Atsumi to search for, and locate, a cave entrance to a tunnel under the Mysterians’ dome.

In the meantime, the Markalite FAHP’s are deployed by large Markalite GYRO rockets, and the final battle against the Mysterians’ base of operations commences. Atsumi enters the dome and finds the women, alive and unharmed, in an unguarded room. Taking them back to the tunnel, Atsumi finds Shiraishi, who admits the Mysterians duped him and have no good intentions, and then returns to the dome and sacrifices himself in a final attack on the base from the inside while the Markalite FAHP’s assault the base from above ground. In the midst of the battle, a second Moguera is deployed from the dome, but is disabled after it attempts to emerge from the ground underneath one of the FAHPs, which falls on top of it. The dome collapses and then explodes as Adachi and the women reach safety in the hills above the Mysterians’ occupied land. A few enemy spaceships are observed fleeing into space, out of range of Earth weaponry, and Dr. Adachi comments on the need for continued vigilance.

Cast

  • Kenji Sahara … Jōji Atsumi.
  • Yumi Shirakawa … Etsuko Shiraishi.
  • Momoko Kōchi … Hiroko Iwamoto.
  • Akihiko Hirata … Ryōichi Shiraishi.
  • Takashi Shimura … Dr. Kenjirō Adachi.
  • Susumu Fujita … General Morita.
  • Hisaya Itō … Captain Seki.
  • Yoshio Kosugi … Commander Sugimoto.
  • Fuyuki Murakami … Dr. Nobu Kawanami.
  • Tetsu Nakamura … Dr. Kōda.
  • Yoshio Tsuchiya … Mysterian Leader.

Production

Director Ishiro Honda described the film, saying it was “larger in scale compared to Godzilla or Rodan and is aimed to be more of a true science fiction film … I would like to wipe away the [Cold War-era] notion of East versus West and convey a simple, universal aspiration for peace, the coming together of all humankind as one to create a peaceful society.” For The Mysterians, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka recruited Jojiro Okami, an aeronautical engineer and military test pilot who later became a science fiction writer. Reflecting on the period of developing the film, Honda stated that he respected scientists, but “feared the danger of science, that whoever controlled it could take over the entire Earth.”

The Mysterians marks the first collaboration between Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya that was shot in anamorphic TohoScope, which the studio had just recently introduced. In their book on Honda, Ryfle and Godziszewski stated that accurate budget figures for The Mysterians are elusive. Honda had stated that the film was more expensive than Godzilla and Rodan.

Release

The Mysterians was released in 28 December 1957 in Japan. The film was re-issued theatrically in Japan on 18 March 1978. The film was described by Ryfle and Godziszewski as a “significant hit”, earning 193 million yen in the domestic box office. It was Toho’s second highest grossing film of the year, only being behind Hiroshi Inagaki’s Rickshaw Man, and was the tenth highest grossing film in Japan overall.

In the United States, The Mysterians was originally purchased by RKO Radio Pictures, which provided the dubbing, but was sold to Loew’s Inc. for release due to RKO’s failing fortunes. The film was double-billed with Watusi and released in 15 May 1959 via MGM. According to MGM records the film made the studio a profit of only $58,000 in the United States.

Trivia

  • For The Mysterians, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka recruited Jojiro Okami, a science fiction writer, to develop the story.
    • Honda later elaborated that he wanted the film to differ from both Godzilla and Rodan and to make it more of a “true science fiction film,” one to promote peace and understanding between cultures.
    • The film was popular upon its release in Japan, where it was among the top ten grossing domestic productions of the year.
    • Contemporary reviews from Western critics in the Monthly Film Bulletin and Variety praised the special effect work but criticised the plot as confusing and juvenile, respectively.
  • Yoshio Tsuchiya was offered the lead role but turned it down, instead opting to play the Mysterian leader.
    • Tsuchiya, known for his work in the films of Akira Kurosawa, enjoyed working on Toho’s science fiction films. and preferred to play alien characters.
  • Shortly before his death in 1993, director Ishirô Honda was said to have mentioned that this was his favorite of all his films.
  • This was one of the last films to be distributed by RKO in the US.
    • When RKO ceased operations, most of the first run was handled by MGM.
  • Japan’s Self-Defense Forces gave assistance to this production and allowed the filming of military equipment and personnel.
    • Through them, the production was also allowed to shoot TôhôScope-wide footage, especially of military aircraft, at US military installations in Japan.
  • There are in fact two versions of this film.
    • The original dub was released by RKO/MGM in 1959, and corresponded to the three minutes of edits in the American cut.
    • This dub was released on VHS a few times, panned and scanned with warbly sound.
    • For the DVD release, Media Blasters created a new dub which corresponds to the Japanese cut.
    • This dub is generally regarded by the fandom as poorer, and is responsible for the goof mentioned in the Goof section, wherein it is mentioned that one of the firefighters has a Southern accent.
    • This is an error only present in the DVD dub.
  • An early concept of Mogera was of a four-footed mecha, more along the lines of a mole.
    • The name” Mogera” was based on the Japanese word for mole (“mogura”), which was not in the original script, but was added at the insistence of producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who felt the movie needed a giant monster.
  • After seeing the film, an American viewer reported the film to the FBI by sending a letter that claimed the film was communist propaganda.
    • In the letter it was written that “My children and I saw ‘The Mysterians'” and the person was “so deeply disturbed that I must give voice to my concern.”

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Ishirô Honda.
  • Producer(s):
    • Tomoyuki Tanaka … producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Takeshi Kimura … (written by).
    • Jôjirô Okami … (story).
    • Shigeru Kayama … (story).
  • Music:
    • Akira Ifukube.
  • Cinematography:
    • Hajime Koizumi.
  • Editor(s):
    • Koichi Iwashita.
  • Production:
    • Toho Company.
  • Distributor(s):
    • Toho Company (1957) (Japan) (theatrical).
    • RKO Radio Pictures (1957) (USA) (theatrical) (dubbed) (intended release).
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (1959) (USA) (theatrical) (dubbed).
    • Rank Film Distributors of Italy (1959) (Italy) (theatrical).
    • Jarofilme (1960) (Portugal) (theatrical).
    • Mercator Filmverleih Bodo Gaus (1960) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • Rank Film Distributors of Sweden (1960) (Sweden) (theatrical).
    • Rosenbergs Filmbyrå (1977) (Sweden) (theatrical) (re-release).
    • Tokyo Shock (2005) (USA) (DVD).
    • BFI Video (2006) (UK) (DVD).
    • Alive Vertrieb und Marketing (2015) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Rank Film (Netherlands) (theatrical).
  • Release Date: 28 December 1957.
  • Rating: PG.
  • Running Time: 89 minutes.
  • Country: Japan.
  • Language: Japanese.

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