Friday, October 17, 2014


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *poor,* (2) *fair*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

These two kaiju films debuted in the same year, both coming from studios not known for heavy involvement in the genre, unlike Tojo (home of Godzilla) and Daiei (domicile of Gamera).  THE X FROM OUTER SPACE originated from a studio called Shokichi, best known to Americans for their production of anime films, while MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET was the only kaiju to come from Studio Nikkatsu.  But their differences are far more fundamental.

I've seen reviewers who harbor quite a bit of affection for THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, with its reptile-chicken monster Guilala. I might have liked Guilala if he'd appeared in a film that showed some life. Unfortunately, before the monster appears, almost an hour of X's running-time is squandered with slow-moving scenes with no action and superficial characters.

The story begins by stating that a Japanese space program has already sent ships to visit Mars, and that none of the ships have returned. A new ship, commanded by Captain Sano, takes off for Mars to investigate, and although most of the crew is Japanese, there's one pretty white girl named Peggy, who's patently in love with the brave captain. Sano's got nothing but business in mind, though, especially when his ship nears Mars and almost encounters a UFO. The ship fails to intercept the UFO but the alien craft leaves some spore-like residue on the Earth-ship's hull. Having failed to unravel the mystery, Sano's ship goes home (because we all know that in the future space-ships will be able to simply turn around like you turn around your automobile).

There's not much to say about this. Once the ship returns to Earth, the spores, upon exposure to air, spawn the aforesaid giant chicken-reptile, which then goes on a rampage-- an exceedingly cheap rampage, with inferior visual effects and miniatures. Is the creature the tool in an alien conquest-plot? No one seems interested in the matter.  After the monster has rampaged for a while, Sano's team isolates an element from the detritus that birthed the monster. Just like Lex Luthor could synthesize kryptonite, the Japanese manage to synthesize "Guilalanium," which has a kryptonite-like effect on Guilala. The monster, after being coated by what must be tons and tons of white Guilalanium foam, shrinks back to spore-size, and the humans send it back into space.

MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET doesn't have a plot that's any more complex than that of X. However, even if its visual effects had been on the same low level as those of X-- which they aren't-- MONSTER plays fair with its simple story, and delivers a giant-monster tale with a little bit of heart.

I suspect MONSTER had a higher budget, since the director allows for a number of engaging shots even at the beginning, while the protagonists-- a Japanese exploring group, combining both scientists and reporters-- are simply riding in their chartered boat. The comedy-relief guy sees a shining UFO flash through the sky, but of course, he's the only one, so no one believes him.

The explorers have been hired by Japanese businessman Funazu to scout Obelisk Island. Funazu plans to find some way to dispossess the island's natives in order to remake the island into a tourist-trap. The explorers-- primarily represented by scientist Hiroshi, reporter Daize and lady photographer Itoko-- don't initially worry too much about their role in this dicey plot, so it's not clear how much they know about the tourist-project in advance. However, they end up committing a similar act of imperial aggression all on their own.

The natives are happy to meet the explorers, having had some previous contact with Japanese people, though it's never clear what that contact was. There are a few seismic rumblings, and the explorers attribute these to the local volcano, though a young native boy claims that the shocks are caused by "Gappa."  The curious explorers trespass on the cave-temple of Gappa, assuming that he's merely some non-existent local god. Within the cave, they find giant dinosaur bones and a giant egg. Hiroshi jumps to the erroneous conclusion that the bones belong to a mother dinosaur, whose only legacy is the egg. When the egg hatches, disclosing a bird-reptile, the explorers decide to take the creature with them. Hiroshi wants to use it for experimental biology, Daize wants a good story, and Funazu wants to exhibit the monster in the time-approved Carl Denham manner. Only Itoko feels squeamish about taking the creature away from its habitat, though neither of the Japanese males listen to her. While the three characters are merely stereotypes, the script attempts to ground them in reality with some reasonably lively dialogue.

The creature not only grows to small-dinosaur proportions, it's pursued by its two larger parents, twin bird-creatures who fly all the way to Japan from Obelisk Island. Even when it becomes clear that the twin monsters are seeking to recover their offspring, Funazu doesn't want to give up the creature. Granted, this sort of satire was better done by MOTHRA. But MONSTER has its heart in the right place.The ending is somewhat predictable, but in a pleasing manner if one isn't too demanding.

Strangely, after the demise of Nikkatsu Studios in the 1990s, Shokichi announced a crossover film that would have starred both Guilala and at least one of the Gappa-monsters.  I for one am just as glad no such film ever came to be.

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