Saturday, October 29, 2016
Hubrisween 2016 :: X is for The X From Outer Space -- the American International TV Cut (1968)
With the arrival of some fissionable material, the latest rocket from the Fuji Astro-Flight Center (FAFC) is all fueled up and will now achieve its flight window to Mars. However, as Dr. Kato (Okada) and Dr. Berman (Bruber) reminds the latest crew of astronauts, each of the past six attempts to land on the Red Planet have ended in dubious disaster as every expedition first reported encountering some kind of UFO before all communications ceased, meaning they were most probably destroyed by the alien craft and all lives lost to the cold blackness of space. And though they mention no new safety precautions to hopefully prevent this from happening a seventh time, the crew -- Commander Sano (Wazaki), Medical Officer Dr. Kiowata (Sonoi), Communications Officer (and comedy relief) Miyamoto (Yanangisawa), and Chief Xenobiologist Dr. Lisa Somethingorother (Neal), all put on a brave face, focusing on the mission at hand and the assumption this won’t be another one way trip.
With that, the AAB-Gamma successfully launches, but once clear of Earth’s gravity there is a sudden spike in radiation, which they trace to the equally sudden appearance of the dastardly UFO -- that by all rights doesn’t look mechanical in origin at all, but more of a sentient and hostile Hostess Fruit Pie. Anyhoo, this spike in radiation also explains the abrupt lack of communications with the other lost flights as the discharge knocks out the AAB’s radio. With that, Commander Sano turns tail and floors it before they meet the same fate as the others, limping back to the FAFC’s moon-base for repairs.
Here, our movie makes one of many abrupt left turns as the apparent urgency of the situation is put on hold. (Hell, they don’t even bother to file a report!) Seems the AAB crew made it back in time for Happy Hour, and so, decked out in their hippest attire, they knock a few back at the base’s martini lounge, where we also run smack into a romantic triangle subplot between Sano, Lisa, and Michiko (Harada), one of the moon-base’s operatives. And if I’m reading my signals right, Lisa is openly pining for Sano, Sano is really secretly pining for Machiko, and Machiko is extremely jealous of Lisa’s proximity to Sano, and therefore, won’t give Sano the time of day. Or Lisa might have the hots for Michiko, too, as far as I can tell. *shrugs* Got all that? Good. Now, moving on...
Once the AAB is repaired, a Dr. Stein (Daneen) is promoted to flight duty (under protest) to replace Kiowata, who came down with a bad case of “space sickness” after being exposed to that mystery radiation. And so, he is buttoned up with the rest of the crew, who launch without incident -- unless you count Stein’s bitching about EVERYTHING all, the, way, to, Mars. But like with everything else, this is also cut short by another attack from the UFO, who, despite Sano’s best efforts at evasive maneuvers, manages to breach their hull this time with some enticed meteorites. And during the explosive decompression, a panicked Stein pushes Sano out of the way and ignites the boosters. And while this successfully allows them to escape the UFO before it can deliver a death blow, Stein’s actions burns up all their fuel, leaving them powerless and drifting toward deep space.
Stuck and thus, while Miyamoto tries to get the radio working again before the batteries die, too, Sano and Lisa go for a space walk to investigate something strange glommed onto the outside fuselage -- in the exact same spot the UFO bounced off of them, one should note, when they made their desperate escape. (I won’t tell them it looks like a splotch of semen if you all won’t.) Anyhoo, Lisa declares it to be some kind of alien spore and they take one of the glowing spheroids nestled in it for later analysis. And once back inside, with the lingering traces of the UFO either scraped off or sealed inside a shielded container, the radio crackles back to life and the FAFC is ecstatic to find them alive and sends a rescue mission, in which Machiko delivers another fuel cell and the AAB triumphantly returns to Earth without ever getting within sniffing distance of Mars. Hooray!
And after a cursory examination of the spore, sticking with proper protocols, apparently, Dr. Kato gives everyone the night off so they can come to his house for a celebratory booze-can. But the party is interrupted mid-cocktail with word from the lab saying there’s been an accident, the specimen has been destroyed, and it looks like something smashed through the floor. Well, upon further review it looks like something melted through the floor. And closer examination of the remnants of the spoor sure resembles broken egg shells to me. They also find what appears to be the footprint of a giant chicken seared into the floor.
And as the base suffers an inexplicable power failure, are you all thinking what I’m thinking and that something monstrous hatched out of that egg, is feeding off the base’s energy grid, and escaped. If so, you guessed better than our group of heroes, who can only shrug and then head off in search of more booze (-- and I am so not making that up); but when they arrive in town, the nearby valley erupts with a cacophony of fiery explosions, announcing the arrival of the world’s most adorable kaiju-eiga of ever, who’s hopped up on electricity and ready to go on a rampage...
Since it’s founding in 1920, making it one of the oldest film production companies in Japan, Shochiku Studios had always been innovative. It was the first to abandon the use of female impersonators and hired actresses, as well as adapting many Hollywood principals to filmmaking, including the use of sound stages, resulting in the release of Japan’s very first “talkie.” After World War II most of the studio’s product centered around melodrama aimed primarily at female audiences, with the likes of Hiroshi Shimizu's Children of the Beehive (1948), Yasujirō Ozu’s truly wonderful Tokyo Story (1953), and Hideo Oba’s What’s Your Name (1953).
But by the 1960s, Shochiku’s films started to be criticized as being too old fashioned, and so, they adapted and helped usher in the Japanese New Wave to compete with rival Nikkatsu Studio’s Taiyo-zoku youth-orientated movies, with Nagisa Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth (1960) and Night and Fog in Japan (1960). But as the decade wore on and Japanese cinemas were destroyed by television, and studios like Shintoho and Daiei went bankrupt, while Nikkatsu and Toei turned to gangster movies, Pinky Violence and Roman Porno, Shochiku changed course again and focused on family-oriented features, which meant it was time to finally take the plunge and make their own giant monster movie.
It only takes about ten minutes into The X from Outer Space (1967/1968) to realize first time director Kazui Nihonmatsu was in over his head. From all appearances, Shochiku threw quite a bit of money at this picture as the production design is actually kind of nifty as the Fisher Price spaceships zip around and the crew occupies extensive control rooms, command decks, or lounges around in some super-swanky party pad. And then that monster shows up, and the feature gets really ridiculous and at ludicrous speed. And this is where Nihonmatsu’s inexperience really shows, making one truly appreciate the skills of Tsuburaya and company over at Toho.
Yes, the monster, Guilala, looks patently asinine, whose origins appear to be a prop rubber chicken with bulging thighs, wobbly antenna, and the inexplicable aero-dynamic noggin; but the real problem lies not in his appearance but in his execution as the director fails to shoot him at a higher speed so it will play back looking slow and ponderous as it accumulates all that extensive property damage. Nihonmatsu also stubbornly refused to hardly ever shoot the monster from any other angle except straight on, giving Guilala no real sense of scale. The miniatures the giant alien gets to demolish, courtesy of Hiroshi Ikeda, are quite effective but, again, due to a lack of technique the tanks, the knock-off masers (-- which prove equally ineffective), and the jets it fights will never be mistaken for anything other than the toys and models they really were. (Some stock military footage might’ve helped here.)
The whole middle-third of the movie is dedicated to Guilala’s reign of terror as he trashes a good chunk of Japan, drawing a bead on Tokyo, as kaiju are often wont to do, belching up gobs of devastating plasma as he goes, absorbing all the energy of any power source encountered. It’s pure bedlam, and entertaining enough on a visceral, rubber-suited mayhem level, but there is no real weight to it, just chaos on top of havoc as the military is unable to halt the rampage, leaving it up to those who brought the infernal thing here to find a way to stop it.
Luckily, Lisa is able to pull a solution completely out of her ass -- well, not quite, but close, as she examines the discarded shell fragments and deduces the material, dubbed Guilalanium, can contain the monster by blocking its ability to absorb energy and, from there, she concludes it will revert back to its original form. But to synthesize more of it, she’ll need the vacuum of space; and so, the AAB-Gamma crew load up and head back to the moon, where, for once, their mission is a complete success.
However, on the way back to Earth, their ship is attacked by that damnable UFO again, whose origin and true motivation is never really explained aside from the assumption that it laid its eggs on the ship. (Is this the Martian way to say, “Stay the hell off my planet, Earth Scum?”) To make matters worse, the synthesized an improperly stored Guilalanium does its job too well, disrupting the AAB’s instruments, leaving it powerless once more to orbit the Earth indefinitely unless someone can come up with an idea. This time it’s Machiko who gets the bright idea of moving the unstable material into the reactor room, whose radiation shielding should suffice -- if it doesn’t destroy the atomic pile first, ‘natch.
But this strategy proves sound and the AAB makes it back to the FAFC ASAP, where the Guilalaniumumimunumum is loaded into the warheads of multiple missiles, which are then loaded onto several fighter jets. And this all happens just in the nick of time, too, as Guilalalalala, drawn to its multiple atomic power sources, is making a beeline for the FAFC, which appears to be S.O.L. And as it lays waste to most of the base, Sano and Miyamoto are able to use some of the leftover Guilalaniumumimunumumnumnum to lure the monster far enough away to save their friends and give the planes enough time to arm up and go on the attack, pasting Guilala with salvo after salvo, coating him with what appears to be a thick layer of shaving cream.
Soon reduced to one large shambling mass of goo, the monster quickly shrinks back down to its original spore-size. A spore that is quickly put into a rocket and sent back to where it came from, leaving Sano with only one more problem to solve: Lisa or Machiko? You know, Sano, as the old bull once said to the young bull...
Back in 1967 Hollywood was also feeling the pinch of television, even way down the ladder at American International Pictures, who briefly followed the old axiom: if you can’t beat them join them, opening a new subsidiary, American International Television. Originally, there was talk of turning the Beach Party and Dr. Goldfoot franchises into TV series but nothing really came of that, and the only original programming produced for this new division was a half-dozen WTF-MFTV feature remakes helmed by Larry Buchanan down in Texas: Attack of the Eye Creatures (1965), Zontar the Thing from Venus (1966), In the Year 2889 (1967) etc.
And so, most of AIP-TV’s contribution came from repackaging foreign imports for television: Mexican fairy tales, Italian sword and sandal epics, and sci-fi and monster movies and TV series from Japan, including Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot (1967–1968), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965), Son of Godzilla (1967) and, you guessed it, The X From Outer Space, which never had a theatrical release in the States and debuted on the small screen, dubbed over by the familiar voices of Titra Studios.
I’ve never seen the original Uchû daikaijû Girara version of this film, so I don’t know how much was changed in tone or content for the AIP-TV cut, so maybe some of the messier elements aren’t all on Nihonmatsu -- or maybe not, like, say, the wonky soundtrack because, unless Taku Izumi was a huge fan of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, I’m thinking the two main themes for this flick were patched on later by someone trying real hard to be Les Baxter.
Also, there’s a moment in The X From Outer Space right after Guilala first appears, where we cut to a conference room where Dr. Kato is informed Tokyo has been lost -- and lost completely off-screen; and for one brief, scary moment the audience fears we’re gonna get screwed out of seeing what brought us all here in the first freaking place. These fears prove unfounded, as Guilala’s rampage, though incompetently directed, is one for the ages, but with Nihonmatsu’s penchant for shifting focus away from the action and zeroing in on the search for booze or the trite love-triangle instead, can you blame us all for worrying? I mean, just look at the monster? How can that NOT be the focus of your movie?!
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The X From Outer Space (1968) Shôchiku Eiga :: American-International Television (AIP-TV) / P: Wataru Nakajima / D: Kazui Nihonmatsu / W: Moriyoshi Ishida, Eibi Motomochi, Kazui Nihonmatsu / C: Shizuo Hirase, Chitora Ôkoshi / E: Yoshi Sugihara / M: Taku Izumi / S: Eiji Okada, Peggy Neal, Toshinari Kazusaki, Itoko Harada, Franz Gruber, Mike Daneen, Shin'ichi Yanagisawa, Keisuke Sonoi,