While Henry G. Saperstein was already involved in Honda’s Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965) to a certain extent, his involvement from the very beginning in the creation of Invasion of Astro-Monster made this the first full-fledged coproduction between Toho Co., Ltd. and UPA. Of course, for the sixth film of Godzilla, Ishiro Honda returned to the director’s seat and Eiji Tsuburaya helmed, once again, the filming of the special effects.
In 1966, the tracking of strange and interfering radio waves leads to the discovery of a yet unknown planet beyond Jupiter and an exploratory mission with two astronauts, Kazuo Fuji (Akira Takarada) and Glenn (Nick Adams), is launched. During a call to the world space authority centre in Japan, Kazuo asks professor Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) to tell Harone Fuji (Keiko Sawai), his younger sister, to not do anything foolish with her lover, the inventor Tetsuo Torii (Akira Kubo). Not much later, Tetsuo Torii is approached by Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno) of the World Education Corporation to buy one of his inventions, the Lady Guard.
While Planet X appears deserted, it does not take long for Kazuo Fujii and Glenn to encounter the Xiliens, an alien race that lives under the stony surface of the planet. Moments after being ushered in their underground base, Monster Zero, King Ghidorah (Shoichi Hirose), starts terrorizing the surface. After the attack, the seemingly good-natured Controller (Yoshio Tsuchiya) asks the astronauts to lend them Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) and Radon (Masaki Shinohara) to exterminate the planet-destroyer. He offers them the cure of cancer in return.
As underlined in our analysis of Ghidorah, The Three Headed Monster (1964), the bursting forth of the three-headed dragon kaiju constituted a radical thematical break within the Showa Godzilla series. While the films before Ghidorah explored the friction lines within the post-war societal fabric (e.g. the integration of Japan’s defeat into the societal fabric, the dangers of the rise of consumerism and capitalism for the subject and his/her social bonds), Ghidorah stages the danger of phantasmatic otherness that seduces the societal field to, in the name of imaginary cooperative harmony, repress the societal fracture lines and the ills that fester within the societal field.
By structuring his narrative around a phantasmatic Otherness, Shinichi Sekizawa radically erases the satirical dynamic that structures his previous narratives. Rather than utilizing the bursting forth of kaiju on the Japanese archipelago to question certain societal currents and visualize the dangers these discourses pose for the social bond, the kaiju and their bursting forth are introduced as cut off from societal dynamics. By radically decontextualizing these monstrous beings, Sekizawa shifts the uncomfortable exploration of societal fractures lines to the more appeasing imaginary dynamic of wareware versus a phantasmatic otherness (General-note 1).
So, does Invasion of Astro-monster shift the thematical field again or does structure its narrative, once again, around an imaginary threat of otherness? As the English title clearly implies, Sekizawa continues his imaginary opposition (General-note 2). Yet, while in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) Ghidorah gave Otherness its monstrous form, the otherness is now embodied by the Xiliens, an alien race that vaguely resemble the human shape. This shift allows Sekizawa to approach the imagined danger of a phantasmatic otherness from a different angle. Be letting those in power be persuaded by the promise made by the Controller and by repeatedly casting doubt on the truthfulness of his signifiers, Sekizawa reveals that his narrative is structured around a (moralistic) warning: do not put any trust into an other that cannot be perfectly mirrored and cannot be considered one’s semblable.
While this warning appears as innocent and apolitical at first glance, it should be evident that, within the narrative of Invasion of Astro-monster, it is grounded in the phantasy of cultural sameness, relational harmony, and cultural homogeneity (Narra-note 3). Yet, does Namikawa’s deception of Tetsuo Torii to get hold of his invention not counteract the image of cultural sameness and harmony? Not at all. As the narrative progresses, we come to learn that members of the World Education Corporation are Xiliens, others clothed in the image of Japanese cultural homogeneity. They appear, at first glance, to be the same as any other Japanese, but they are radically Other – they have Other intentions. This twist helps illustrating that what creates discord within the societal field and what persuaded subjects to deceive and exploit each other is otherness as such. Rather than highlighting certain discourses that creates frictions within the societal field, Sekizawa shows that otherness, as that what can easily exploit the imaginary dynamic of ego and alter-ego, is the sole threat to the phantasmatic but homogenising image of harmony.
The intention of our Others is a colonizing one – a desire to control and conquer. In a revelation that echoes the fear that led Japanese culture to model itself according to Chinese governmental customs after the fall of the Korean confederated kingdom of Baekje and the push for westernization after seeing the black ships of Commodore Perry, Sekizawa equates the otherness that divides with the desire for control and domination. Once again, rather than revealing that the blossoming of such desire within the societal field has a fracturing effect on social bonds, the desire is posited as radically Other and, thus, as a threat to the societal ‘wa’ (harmony).
While one might assume that a certain unity will, once again, save the Japanese archipelago of destruction, what ultimately saves ‘humanity’ from the colonizing desire of the Xiliens is nothing other than the possibility to love. Via the dynamic between lover and beloved and the sacrificial act of the lover to safe his beloved, love us posited as that what harmonizes them, as that what glues the fractured pieces of the societal field together to create a fiction of harmony.
While Invasion of Astro-Monster offers a more globalized approach than previous Godzilla narratives, this element of globalization (e.g. World Space Authority, World education corporation, …etc.) is complicated by various spatial and visual elements (e.g. The headquarters of the World Space Authority is in Japan, the flags on the space rocket are the hinomaru, and the representative of the World Education Corporation is Japanese, the Japanese government needs to decide to accept the Xiliens’ request). All these elements underline that Sekizawa remains fully committed to exploiting the imaginary dimension to repress the societal fracture-lines that previous Godzilla narratives laid bare. Rather than echoing the current fractured state of post-war Japan, Sekizawa offers a phantasmatic image of Japan that has become a dominant technological and economical force within the international field.
Ishiro Honda, once again, delivers a pleasant composition with a engaging rhythm. As we’ve come to except from the Godzilla series, the integration of effects-footage within the visual fabric is fluid and created composite images are quite convincing. This spatial and temporal continuity helps the spectator invest in the narrative.
Honda spends a little bit more time to show off the beauty of the intricate nature of some of the miniature models (e.g. the space-rocket, the ufo-ships, …etc) and set-designs (e.g. the living quarters of the Xiliens). Yet, this emphasis cannot hide the less elaborate nature of the miniature city landscapes, the messy framing of their destruction, and the sneaky use of footage shot for films like Rodan (1956), Mothra (1961), and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964).
The two short brawling-sequences in the narrative are, while short, quite enjoyable. While the anthropomorphic tendences are evident throughout fighting-sequences, Tsuburaya has made these moments less silly and implausible by integrating the ‘signs of intelligence’ our Kaiju exhibit in a more natural way into the ‘choreographies’. Of course, some of his effort is undone by the inclusion of Godzilla’s silly and detracting victory dance – something we have to thank Yoshio Tsuchiya and Tsuburaya for (General-note 3).
Invasion of Astro Monster is a great narrative that is marred by budget and time-constraints. While one can, of course, lament the fact that Sekizawa continues to invest in the phantasmatic image of Japanese societal unity (wa) and the demonisation of Otherness, this (infantilising) shift does not hamper one’s enjoyment. What diminishes the spectator’s pleasure is the messy framing of the scenes of destruction, the short nature of the brawling sequences, and the use of old footage to stuff the visual composition. With more budget and time, Invasion of Astro Monster could well have been one of the best Godzilla narratives of the sixties.
General-note 1: In our view, Sekizawa could have improved this shift tremendously by staging a Japan that, in a certain sense, comes to terms with its traumatic past and its present challenges. The element of ‘forgiveness’ in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) could have exploited to turn the ‘cooperation’ between the kaiju into a representation of the Japan that does not run away from its fracturing lines.
General-note 2: The Japanese title of Invasion of Astro-Monster is Kaijū Daisenso or The Giant Monster War.
General-note 3: Godzilla’s actor Haruo Nakajima, effects cinematographer Sadamasa Arikawa and Ishirō Honda were against the inclusion of the dance.
Narra-note 1: Some spectators might argue that the inclusion of an American actor introduces an agreeable kind of otherness in the narrative. Sadly, his otherness is radically diminished by letting a Japanese actor dub his lines. Moreover, his role within the narrative is not related to otherness. He could be easily replaced by a Japanese actor and nothing would change.