Monday 24 November 2014

The X From Outer Space

Guilala Land

The X From Outer Space
1967 Japan 
Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu
Shôchiku/Criterion US DVD Region 1
As part of “When Horror Came To Shôchiku” box set.

Wow. What can I say to start off this review other than, from a film which is part of a boxed set of Criterion films called When Horror Came To Shôchiku... I was expecting more of a scary movie to be honest. At least in intent, if not in the final presentation. However, sitting through what, for a Japanese movie of this nature, is an unexpectedly silly and almost intolerable cheesy opening credits song, made me wonder just what it was I was letting myself in for here.

As I started watching, signs were good that this would be some kind of IT! The Terror From Beyond Space/Alien kind of variant... with a smallish monster at loose on a rocket ship eating its way through various crew members. Right from the start of the movie, the plot seems to be going in that kind of direction, to be sure. It starts off dealing with a Japanese rocket crew, plus token American babe (you always have a few American or British actors in your cast at this point in time if you want to try and distribute your product overseas), who are launched into space towards Mars. They even have a second ship which flies out of their initial rocket via a front opening into four pieces, just like the one in the previous year’s box office smash You Only Live Twice (reviewed here), which also owed a lot to the designer of the clutch pencil. The hope for our crew here is that their mission will finally be the one that will, this time, get past the pesky UFOs which patrol the route to Mars and which have caused all the Earth’s previous rockets to crash or fail in their missions.

No, I’m not making that bit up and, it has to be mentioned here that Japanese films of this kind at the time were always making assumptions that their audience would not find a casual belief in space aliens from their highest scientific minds and intrepid heroes in any way... credibility straining. It’s just something everybody seemed to accept back then... like, it’s no big deal. I guess if you’re not familiar with these kinds of kaiju eiga films, for that’s what this eventually turns out to be, then you may find this open admission of common UFO activity a little strange, to say the least. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself again.

Our intrepid crew do actually meet the dreaded UFO on the way to Mars and one of their number is injured. So they postpone their trip to Mars and spend a night at a handy, well populated space station on the Moon. Here they chat and meet up with various colleagues and friends and then, the next day, set off with a replacement crew member on their mission again. This time they fail more spectacularly when attacked by a UFO but are rescued by their friends on the moon who send out a rescue rocket. During the process they collect some kind of weird space fluff sample, taking it with them back to Earth for further analysis.

Now so far we are something like a third to a half of the way through the movie and the majority of the scenes that make up the running time have been scored with the most ludicrous and unbelievably inappropriate music I’ve possibly ever heard for a film score. It’s deliriously upbeat and loungy, even when it’s being used to score scenes of suspense. I honestly can’t find the words to explain just how ham fisted and clumsy the scoring sounds on this one. Very strange.

However, it’s at this point that the film shows its true colours for, when it’s left improperly supervised, the furry sample of space flotsam grows itself into what is, it has to be said, a quite improbably looking giant monster which then goes off on a giant Gojira-like stomping tour of Tokyo. And it’s a pretty tough, if silly looking beast, it has to be said. It’s in the scenes of common or garden monster stomping that the film’s soundtrack cuts to a much more  appropriate, if not particularly complex or changeable, stomp style ostinato, which is definitely inspired from similar melodies and rhythms found in the best kaiju eiga movies by the likes of Akira Ifikube and Masaru Sato. This musical phrasing is then repeated ad infinitum whenever the monster is on and doing typically monster-like things. However, when our heroes find a purpose once more, it’s crosscut between cues scored like the first half of the movie and then back again to the plodding, monster stomp motifs... so it does get a bit jarring in those transitions, it has to be said.

That purpose being to go up into space yet again (what is this, a serial?) and use the special equipment they have on the moon to make something to combat the monster in question... known as Guilala, for some unknown reason. However, although he looks quite silly, we know he must be the real deal because he has a grumbling signature sound when he’s out on a decent night’s stomping and he also has special, kaiju powers. One of those powers being that he can absorb energy and, when he has enough of it, he turns himself into some kind of floaty, flying egg of destruction before crashing into a body of water and reverting to the former of his three forms... a less floating, non flying, stomp monster of destruction.

It goes without saying that our heroes are going to win out and reduce Guilala into something which resembles an actor in monster suit who accidentally filled his costume with an abundance of shaving foam but, it has to be said, the situations our team of lively scientists put themselves through in this movie just keep getting sillier and sillier... almost as silly as the opening title song, in fact.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about The X From Outer Space, I’m afraid. A short review I know but I’m a big lover of these kinds of giant monster movies and, while this is not among the most boring or the worst of them it’s... well... it’s not among the best of them either, to be completely honest with you. Give me Invasion Of The Astro Monsters or King Kong Escapes any day of the week as far as I’m concerned. However, if you are as gung ho about your Japanese giant monster movies as I am then you’d probably have to count this as one of, I’m sure, many reasons for purchasing Criterion Eclipse’s When Horror Came To Shochiku DVD set. When all is said and done, though I’d not recommend this particular movie to the casual fan, I am very glad to have seen it, you can be sure of that.

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