We’re all relatively familiar with the dai-kaiju (giant monster) genre films of Godzilla and King Kong – beasts that as early as 1954 roamed the Japanese and U.S. country sides and cityscapes, destroying everything in their path. And then of course there’s the most recent dai-kaiju film, ‘Pacific Rim’, which focuses on monsters with sea-themed horns and scales butting heads with giant robots reminiscent of Power Ranger Zords and mecha-themed “Japan”imated cartoons. While opinions may differ from film to film, for the most part it would be safe to say that these monster flicks are characterized by extremely farfetched narratives with one-dimensional characters, plots, and set designs – in a word: camp. An example would be Kazui Nihonmatsu’s ‘The X from Outer Space', filmed in ’67, and one of the early rapid-fire spin-offs to enter the Japanese market in an effort on the part of the film’s studio, Shochiku, to capitalize on the bandwagon benefits of the original dai-kaiju monster movie – Ishirō Honda’s ‘Gojira.’
A team of Japanese scientist-astronauts are tasked with traveling into space and landing on Mars to find out why the previous teams’ missions have been failing – “possibly due to UFOs.” Undaunted by the sort of ridiculous odds against their survival, the team is immediately led to a rocket and blasted off into space. After a quick stop at the Japan-based lunar headquarters, the team continues their mission only to come face-to-face with a UFO that looks very much like a “half-cooked omelet" and which briefly attaches itself to the team’s ship, the AAB-Gamma, before disappearing. Escaping the encounter unharmed, the team returns to Earth with samples of the spores left behind on their ship. But when an accident at the lab where the spore is being held releases the foreign substance, it grows into a gargantuan chicken-lizard bent on destroying our planet (but mostly Japan).
The first thing any of us notice when watching a movie is the “look”: are the sets top-notch; does everything look clean; do we even realize we’re watching events unfold on the other side of a camera lens? This is paramount – if we don’t like the look of something then we start to lose interest in the story even before it has begun, the characters seem bland and boring, and before we know it we’re spending half the viewing experience trying to put all the pieces together and playing catch-up (all while texting, heating up food, and getting distracted by Facebook). Which is why when you watch a film like ‘The X from Outer Space’ you need to go in with the understanding that this most definitely fits all the above criteria… and still manages to be a charming ball of fun.
Playing on the dying breaths of a fear of total annihilation that ripped through Japan following the U.S.’ dropping of the bomb, and coping with questions of taking on Western influence (denoted by the team’s one Western female member, Lisa, who has fallen for the gruff Capt. Sano), ‘The X from Outer Space’ is a camp-filled mess of a film, but one which uses its faults to build a mound from which to preach. The characters, although wooden, are vessels for much deeper questions of politically-driven motivations and resolve, of trading safety for security. The monster, a humanoid amalgamation of poultry and reptile, drives home a physical manifestation of the monstrous quality of said union. We have to ask ourselves: are some things better left the way they were?
For the record, ‘The X from Outer Space’ is a slideshow of absurdities. Several times during the viewing you may find yourself rewinding to see if you missed whole scenes (you didn’t), or trying to see the string holding up the airplanes in the still-fun confrontations between the monster and Japan’s military (the tanks are a riot). Despite its flaws, ‘The X from Outer Space’ is a film worth seeing, especially with a large group and lots of pizza.
Because ‘The X from Outer Space’ is part of an Eclipse Series release (No. 37 When Horror Came to Shochiku) it does not contain any special features. However, the release does come with one page inserts giving background on the history of Shochiku studios and, specifically, on the film reviewed above. It’s actually a pretty fun, history-laced read. We recommend it.
This film has been rated PG.
The Eclipse Series No. 37 When Horror Came to Shochiku is available at the following retail stores and online markets:
Target -- DVD ; Blu-Ray
Amazon -- DVD ; Blu-Ray
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