The Mysterians (Japan 1957)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/22/09
Director: Ishiro Honda
Music: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura

"Don't use science in the wrong way."

Alien invaders arrive on Earth to steal land and mate with Japanese women! After a series of unexplained natural disasters occur near Mt. Fuji, a ridiculous looking robot shows up and starts destroying a nearby town. Later, a mysterious dome appears from underground and the Mysterians introduce themselves, wishing to negotiate terms with the scientific community. The space visitors claim to come in peace, asking only for a small strip of land and permission to marry Earth women in order to help repopulate their dying race. Of course, being the 1950's, the women don't have any say in the matter. The scientists reject the Mysterians' proposal and are suspicious of their intentions, so the military steps in to tell them that they're not welcome and to leave Earth at once. This leads to an escalating war in which the people of Earth amazingly manage to overcome a considerably superior force, AND save their women at the same time.

This is classic science fiction all the way, with strong messages about The Cold War, nuclear weapons, the moral and ethical responsibility of the global scientific community, and the indomitable strength of the human spirit. As a cautionary morality tale, it still feels surprisingly fresh and relevant. I watched this during the Covid-19 crisis, which highlighted some eerie parallels. The Japanese government decides to take swift defensive action in the matter, saying that "This is Japan's problem right now, but tomorrow it will be America's and Russia's problem as well." Nuclear options are fielded several times, but are always countered with the rationale that it will ruin the planet, just as it did the Mysterians' home world hundreds of thousands of years ago. This is a common theme in Ishiro Honda's work, and speaks to the cultural trauma that Japan suffered after World War II. Despite all of the gloom and doom in the picture, it's ultimately a story of hope, as all of the world's leaders come together to protect the planet and find a solution against a common foe that threatens us all. Sadly, our real life leaders are doing the exact opposite with the Covid-19 situation.

It's a big budget spectacle film with lots of destruction and pyrotechnics. The miniature work is fantastic and Akira Ifukube's Godzilla-inspired music creates an appropriate atmosphere of tension and dread. The visual effects are thrilling, but not always effective, and drop-frame editing often ruins the continuity. The acting is good for the most part, although the Mysterians are dull and uninteresting. The film's pacing can be challenging, but it's typical for the time period. Even with all of the action, explosions, and human drama, the climax drags on a bit too long, which caused my interest and attention to wane. But overall I found it to be a very thoughtful and entertaining outing from the golden age of Japanese science fiction cinema.