Man, isn’t it annoying how many alternate titles some Godzilla movies have? Godzilla vs. Monster Zero alone has no fewer than five interchangeable names (“The Great Monster War,” “Invasion of Astro-Monster,” “Invasion of the Astro Monster,” “Invasion from Planet X” and “Monster Zero”). Personally, I grew up with the “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero” branding, but in recent years Toho has decided to “lay down the law” regarding the official English title of their Godzilla films. “Invasion of Astro-Monster” won out, so for posterity’s sake I’m going with that one (even if I never call it that in discussions).
Okay, now that that tangent is out of the way, Invasion of Astro-Monster takes the series in a new direction. There were elements of monster humor in the previous film, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, but this one lays it on nice and thick. Invasion of Astro-Monster also introduces a theme that will appear time and time again throughout the rest of the Showa series: Alien invaders! Aliens controlling Earth’s monsters or manufacturing monsters to kill us will happen quite a bit as the series goes on and, quite frankly, will eventually grow a little tiresome. And yet, despite taking the series in a kid-oriented, goofy direction many fans dislike, Invasion of Astro-Monster is often remembered favorably among fans and revered as one of the more nostalgic Godzilla films from the Showa era. Do you think it has anything to do with those snazzy outfits the Xilians wear?
Okay then, never mind.
The year is 196X and two astronauts, Glenn (Nick Adams) and Fuji (Akira Takarada), have been deployed to investigate a mysterious new planet in our solar system: Planet X. After arriving on Planet X, they make peace with the locals (the Xilians) who are being ravaged by a fierce space monster whom they’ve dubbed Monster Zero, but we know him better as King Ghidorah (Shoichi Hirose)! The Xilians humbly request to borrow Earth’s monsters, Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) and Rodan (Masashi Shinohara) to do battle with King Ghidorah and save their planet. What’s in it for Earth? The cure for cancer! Of course, it doesn’t take long for Glenn and Fuji to realize that the Xilians have a double-cross in mind, and Earth’s only salvation may lie in the hands of the down-on-his-luck inventor, Tetsuo (Akira Kubo).
One of these days, if you have the time and the patience, I recommend you sit down and watch the grim, gritty and utterly depressing 1954 Godzilla, then immediately skip ahead to Invasion of Astro-Monster. The violent shift in atmosphere and approach will be jarring, to say the least. It’s like watching Schindler’s List and then skipping ahead to Schindler’s List Part VI: Adolf’s Hawaiian Vacation. And yet, while so many fans disparage the sillier direction that would dominate the remainder of the Showa series, you can’t deny that many of the Big G’s most popular and well-remembered films came from this time period. Hell, of his fifteen Showa era escapades, nine came after Invasion of Astro-Monster. He must have been doing something right.
Anyhow, so far as humor goes, you’ve got plenty of it in this installment. Godzilla does his infamous “Irish jig” after the defeat of King Ghidorah on Planet X. Director Ishiro Honda apparently protested the living hell out of that scene, but Eiji Tsubaraya managed to coax him into it under the insistence that “Hey, the kids’ll love it!” And he was right. I still break out laughing every time I see it.
Other instances of monster humor have Godzilla channeling Muhammad Ali during the battle against King Ghidorah on Earth, getting himself into a “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” stance. Lastly, those outfits the Xilians wear are freaking epic. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything stupider. And yet, stupid though they may be, everybody loves them and they were even worked into the villain’s wardrobe in Godzilla: Final Wars.
Being made in 1965, the outer space sequences, featuring rockets and space suits and what have you, all have a retro “Buck Rogers” vibe to them. It was very chic back in the 1960s, I’m sure, though it doesn’t gel with more modern space age aesthetics. Still, our human cast carry the film quite well, thanks in no small part to Nick Adams. Maybe it’s because I’m American and I like seeing some of my kinfolk in these movies (outside of being shoehorned in via questionable editing techniques), but the guy is just cool. He previously appeared in Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World, in which he played a different character. I wish Toho had used him in more of their movies, as they were very fond of recycling actors back in those days.
Speaking of which, Akira Takarada had also previously appeared in Frankenstein Conquers the World, Mothra vs. Godzilla and the original 1954 Godzilla. The recycling doesn’t end there, though, as both Akira Kubo and Kumi Mizuno (who plays an Xilian seductress, Namikawa) had previously appeared in Gorath and Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, while Mizuno had also appeared in Frankenstein Conquers the World. Rounding out the list of returning players is Keiko Sawai (who plays Fuji’s sister and Tetsuo’s love interest), who had previously appeared in Frankenstein Conquers the World and Dogora (an underrated gem about giant space-jellyfish that steal diamonds). Toho is very good to its people, it seems.
On a side note, all of Nick Adams’ dialogue is dubbed over by a veteran Japanese voice actor named Naya Goro. Some of you might recognize him better as the gravelly-toned Inspector Zenigata from Lupin III. He, of course, provides a voice that’s nothing like Zenigata’s, but as a Lupin III fan, I think it’s a neat piece of trivia.
At the end of the day, Invasion of Astro-Monster tries to be nothing more than a fun, family-friendly Godzilla movie. It works out great in that respect, providing lots of comedy value and an all-star cast of both Toho players and recognizable monsters. Of all the films in Godzilla’s library of “family” efforts, this is certainly one of the most entertaining.