Thursday, October 29, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 24: The X From Outer Space (1967)

When you get right down to it, kaiju are weird. I don't mean in the sense of how strange the basic concept of an enormous monster destroying a city is, I specifically mean Japanese giant monsters. You can almost always tell a Japanese monster from a Western monster because Japanese monsters have no compunctions about being utterly ridiculous.

Just look at the various evil kaiju that Gamera has vanquished over the years. Watch a few episodes of Ultra Q and Ultraman to see some truly weird monsters. Hell, the titular superhero of Ultraseven fought a creature called Dinosaur Tank because it is literally a dinosaur fused to a tank. You see what I mean?

Yet even among the leagues of bizarre kaiju, Guilala is firmly in the lead.

I've spoken about Shochiku Studios on here before, but starting in 1967 they decided to get into the genre game in a big way. At the time, kaiju films and TV shows were all the rage in Japan. So it's not surprising that studios that had never attempted it before decided to jump into the game. (And not just in Japan, but we'll get to Yongary, Monster From The Deep another day) Of course, the newcomers all pretty well proved why Toho and Daiei Studios were the true pros. Just look at Nikkatsu Studios' Gappa: The Triphibian Monster for a good example of why kaiju eiga were best left to Toho and even Daiei.

Now, Shochiku had just as little of an idea of what they were doing as Nikkatsu, and there's no question that The X From Outer Space shows its "amateur" status clear as day. However, unlike Gappa: The Triphibian Monster, which just slapped together various other monster stories and played them off as ts own, this film actually tries to be its own thing. And it's a lot easier to forgive a film with ambitions beyond its reach than a lazy cash-in.

We kick off with the credits rolling over drawings of constellations and set to a theme song that is a delightfully inexplicable jazzy number. We open with a helicopter touching down at the base of Mt. Fuji and disgorging a white guy with a goatee, whose general demeanor screams "scientist in charge of stuff." We'll later discover this is Dr. Berman (Franz Gruber). The helicopter is clearly at some kind of rocket base and a group of guards rushes forward to unload the helicopter's cargo. The last guard does not close the door right afterwards, hilariously providing us the visual of the helicopter door popping back open and then swinging closed again. Naturally, this distracts us from the guard having Dr. Berman sign something.

The cargo is a metal box labeled in Japanese, but the subtitles say it says "Enriched Nuclear Rocket Fuel." So naturally, everybody gets nervous when the guys loading it into a station wagon almost drop it. Inside the rocket base, we see the crew of the AAB Gamma rocket mission to Mars being briefed. They are: mission commander Capt. Sano (Shun'ya Wazaki), medical officer Dr. Shioda (Keisuke Sonoi), mission biologist and token gaijin Lisa NoLastName (Peggy Neal), and the Japanese equivalent of "Brooklyn Guy", communications officer Miyamoto (Shin'ichi Yanagisawa). The director of the FAFC, which is the name of this fictional rocket group but I don't recall the acronym ever being explained, brings them up to speed on what they're facing:

Every Mars mission so far has ended in disastrous failure, after the missions reported back encountering a UFO. Their mission is to identify what this UFO is and, ideally, make it to Mars. Miyamoto uses his "concern" that this may be too scary for Lisa to awkwardly hit on her, but despite the fact that Lisa is the sort of character who seems to say 90% of her dialogue in a flirtatious manner she is not down for his antics. Well, in a 1967 good-natured annoyance kind of way. And then Dr. Shioda jokingly points out that Miyamoto is the one most likely to get anxious and forget stuff--which Lisa laughs way too hard at.

AAB Gamma is launched without a hitch, and separates from its rocket to reveal that it is one swank rocket. It looks like some kind of hot rod in space. And, naturally, as is the way of rockets in sci-fi from this period, it is constantly firing its propulsion rocket. Hilariously, Miyamoto forgets that they're in Zero G and lets his clipboard float away. Lisa starts to unstrap and retrieve it, but Sano stops her and then just flips on the artificial gravity. As is often the case in sci-fi films, we are given zero indication as to how this gravity is generated.

"Let's blast, Space Daddio!"
Almost immediately, AAB Gamma finds itself halfway between the Earth and Mars and is buzzed by the UFO. The UFO is, hilariously, out of focus the entire time. Presumably this is to disguise how silly it looks, since it's a fuzzy-looking flying saucer with blinking lights inside it. Miyamoto describes it as a gigantic "fried egg," while my girlfriend astutely described it more as a hamburger somebody sat on. Whatever the saucer is, it plays havoc with their communications and instruments. This will later be attrtibuted o the vessel being powered by some form of magnetic force.

When Shioda is overcome by some myterious space sickness, Sano makes the call to bugger off to the moon base. Lisa objects that Shioda needs medical attention first, but Sano orders her to strap in--which she does, reluctantly. Luckily for them, the UFO lets them go.

They radio in their arrival to the moonbase, whose communications officer is Michiko (Itoko Harada). It seems there's something between Sano and Michiko, because Lisa excitedly tells Michiko that she's heard so much about her and can't wait to meet her--while Michiko reacts to Lisa's existence with instant icy jealousy. So jealous is Michiko, in fact that she cuts off the communication, overturns the framed photo of Sano on her desk, and rotates her desk so she can walk away. When one of the other moonbase officers points out that AAB Gamma is coming in too fast and needs to be radioed to adjust their speed, Michiko has to be badgered into calling to warn them!

Sure, the AAB Gamma crashing into the landing platform could kill everyone on board and possibly kill everyone in the moonbase, too--but her boyfriend has a woman working on his spaceship!

AAB Gamma does safely land, however. Amusingly, Michiko is totally fine with greeting Sano and Lisa in person now, so I have no idea what was up with her prior outburst. And Lisa is tremendously delighted to meet Michiko still, which I'll come back to later. Shioda, meanwhile, is rushed to Dr. Stein (Mike Daneen), who declares that he just had a minor bout of space sickness but he should stay in the moonbase and rest. Shioda says the Mars mission can't wait for him to get better, but Stein says that's not his problem.

The crew is invited to dinner, where we see that apples grown on the moon grow gigantic--which the moonbase director attributes to unfiltered ultraviolet light. He still prefers the flavor of Earth apples, though, because there's just no pleasing some folks. Oh, and Lisa brought some beautiful earrings for Michiko. Sano points out that those weren't on the manifest and jokingly accuses her of smuggling them aboard. Lisa replies that he ought to be able to overlook it since "after all, I am a woman--and they were for Michiko," which is followed by such a broad wink that Lisa might have wondered out of a bawdy Monty Pytho sketch.

The crew then go and frolic on the moon's surface, which mainly consists of the actors in space suits climbing on rocks--which appear to be mossy--and then bouncing on obvious hidden trampolines in slow-motion. Lisa observes Michiko and Sano with an obvious ping of jealousy, but she apparently handles it better than Michiko because she doesn't disconnect anyone's air hose.

Back in the moon base, Miyamoto and Sano enjoy a hot bath together. When Miyamoto asks how they found water on the moon, Sano explains that the water isn't real. It's somehow derived from moon rock, but when Miyamoto asks how it's different from real water, all Sano can do is go on a dull rant about how it's fake and artficial and how could you enjoy that? So Miyamoto turns on the cold faucet over Sano's head. Meanwhile, Lisa and Michiko are showering in adjacent stalls. Lisa literally drops the soap and then kicks it over to Michicko--which, aside from the obvious joke, seems really unsafe. What if Michiko slipped on it?

At any rate, Michiko and Lisa talk about Sano. Lisa clearly admires him as a commander, but Michiko still somewhat interprets this as Lisa being romantically attracted to Sano. This is because the movie does mean to infer that Lisa has an unrequited crush on Sano--however somehow this got mixed up in the filming process because it's impossible to read Lisa's feelings as anything but her having a crush on Michiko. I mean, seriously, how else can you interpret Lisa's behavior towards Michiko so far? She's barely acknowledged Sano in anything but a professonal capacity, whilst constantly talking about being delighted to meet Michiko and brought her a gift of jewelry! And that wink after she delivered the gift!

As my girlfriend so often says, I ship it.

"Dear Penthouse: I am a radio operator on the moonbase and I never thought this would happen to me..."
At any rate, the orders come through and since Dr. Shioda cannot come along on the Mars mission, FAFC orders Dr. Stein to be the mission doctor. Stein is furious because he was supposed to be going home to his wife soon, and he hates being in space. (He seems to be in the wrong line of work, then) Well, unfortunately for all involved, his whining does not stop once they are back on their way to Mars. When Lisa tries to serve the space food lunch, Stein gets angry about having to eat the foil-packed swill--and we get the feeling the crew has been tolerating his jackassness for days.

Sano has to practically throttle the man to get him to shut up long enough to confirm he is, indeed hearing a meteor shower hitting the outer hull. Hilarity ensues when the crew rushes to strap themselves in--Lisa just drops her lunch to the floor, then Miyamoto oddly hads his to her so she then throws his aside before rushing to her chair. One metoer burns a hole in their hull. They all don their helmets, but in the struggle to get the oxygen in the cabin shut off, Miyamoto is sucked butt-first towards the hull breach. He is spared having his intestines sucked out of his anus when Sano shoves the useless Stein aside and shuts the oxygen off, thus stopping the violent decompression.

They barely have the hull beach patched when the UFO comes calling again. This time it traps them in some kind of tractor beam or magnetic pull. Sano cuts the engines, realizing that a full burn against the force is just wasting their fuel. Stein panics, sure that they're all going to die, and wrests the controls away from Sano. Just as Sano predicted, though, a full burn does nothing but leave them with an empty tank and adrift in space when the UFO apparently loses interest in them. Luckily, this means they can radio the moonbase to bring fuel.

However, Lisa notices their latest brush with the UFO has somehow left some strange objects on their rear rocket. Sano and Lisa do a space walk to investigate. Whatever it is it looks like a fuzzy, powdery substance with flashing chunks of rock inside it. Lisa puts one rock in a sample jar that looks like an empty lantern, while Sano tries to clear the rest of the hull. Luckily, Michiko and her co-pilot soon arrive with more nuclear fuel, which Stein eagerly helps them load. Of note is that Stein is now, inexplicably, helpful and willing to defer to the others' orders. I am therefore outraged that were clearly deprived of the scene where they all took turns kicking Stein in the ribs.

"Let those who worship evil's might, Beware my power, Green Lantern's light!"
Well, the Mars mission is scrubbed for now so the sample of space pollen can be brought back to the FAFC base in Japan for analysis. (But not, you know, the base on the moon where it could be studied with no risk to nearby inhabitated areas) Lisa has barely begun any tests on it when Berman and Kato suggest everyone come to a party at Kato's house to celebrate, leaving the sample alone and unsupervised. So naturally, Kato gets a call from the base guards almost at once that someting has gone wrong at the lab and the sample is missing.

Inside the lab, the group finds a hole burned through the floor that apparently goes deep underground. The sample is not entirely gone, actually, but remains is a brittle outside covering--almost like an eggshell, though nobody makes that observation as Lisa puts it back into another container with tongs. And then Miyamoto notices an impression in the floor and grabs a nearby beaker of liquid (!) to pour into the impression to confirm that it does, in fact, appear to be a three-toed footprint. Sano observes it looks like a chicken, but I wouldn't go that far.

Meanwhile, a power station observes a drastic drop-off in their power output, as though it's being drained from somewhere. Sano, Michiko, Lisa and Miyamoto meanwhile head to a nearby hotel bar for drinks--and one of the hotel staff comes out to mention they've had rolling blackouts lately. Now, this seems to be maybe an hour after they got news of the sample going missing, but it almost sounds like it's been much longer. Anyway, the hotel lights go out as they walk up: and the a nearby hillside explodes as something big groans and growls.

And then Guilala bursts forth from the hillside, framed by explosions as he stretches his arms out like he's in a Busby Berkeley musical and roars. Then, inexplicably, some boiling hot liquid pours down the hillside. Lava? Hot mud? Guilala urine? I have no idea. At any rate, our heroes stand around looking stunned--which is the only possible reaction to Guilala--and we fade to black.

There's really no way to adequately describe Guilala. Like many kaiju his overall body structure suggests a dinosaurish creature, and his bumpy skin does rather suggest scales. His hands are four-fingered claws, his feet are rather bird-like talons, and his tail terminates in a crab-like claw. However, his arms look like big puffy sleeves, his head is shaped vaguely like a Diplocaulus if it had a beak, he has glowing red eyes, a pulsating bulge under his jaw like a frog's vocal sac, and the top of his head has two floppy antennae and a structure that looks rather like an old boat horn. He is, to put it lightly, odd.

"Make 'em laugh!"
The next day, Sano, Miyamoto, Lisa, and Michiko investigate the hill where Guilala appeared. They find a hot spring and then a foootprint. They take a photo of this footprint, apparently, because Sano presents it to a meeting of the big brass. He tries to say it's identical to the footprint found in the lab, but the two photos really don't match. During this conference, it comes out that they are calling the monster Guilala, even though we have no idea why. Naturally, Guilala is heading right for Tokyo, but the JSDF is confident that they can stop it.

To be fair, in this reality the JSDF has never had to discover that they are useless. Unfortunately, they're about to find out in a big way. Guilala wades through Tokyo, unfazed by the tanks and fighter planes opposing him. And, hoo boy, this film makes you respect the work of Toho because the model work in this film is hilariously bad. Buildings crumble with obviously no internal structure, a few model tanks blow up in the process of firing, structures (like satellite dishes, for example) fall off of buildings in a way that implies they were never attached, and the film has not been slowed down nearly enough to lend Guilala any sense of scale.

"Making my way downtown / Moving fast..."
Hilariously, several of the planes attacking Guilala fly too low so he can easily swat them out of the sky. One plane actually flies right into Guilala's head! Then Guilala reveals he can spit fireballs, which he uses to wipe out the tank battalion ahead of him. (Amusingly the corners of his skull flip up (!) as he spits the fireballs) And then what appears to be a passenger jet flies overhead and Guilala gives it the fireball treatment--and the fireball clearly bounces off the plane before the model explodes.

The JSDF command center is apparently either set up in the FAFC HQ or they invited the FAFC personne to surpervise, but to my delight the tactical map the JSDF is using involves a huge wall map of the Tokyo area with one guy on a small scissor lift being pushed around by other guys so he can apply magnetic symbols to represent assets in play. Delightfully, destroyed areas are indicated by red cartoon explosions and Guilala is represented by a magnetic Guilala silhouette.

"We can't let Guilala in here! He'll see the big board!"
After being attacked by the expected useless maser tank knock-offs and destroying them, Guilala finds a seaside refinery and wades into the harbor to pick up a tanker and throw it into the refinery. Well, it's not Pacific Rim's boat-bat, but it'll do. Also, another way you can tell Teruyoshi Nakano was not involved in the special effects is that an exploding refinery results in a few wimpy explosions and some flames. If Nakano had done it, it would be a gigantic fireball--even if his budget didn't really allow for it.

Well, somehow Lisa gets the idea that the best way to defeat Guilala is to encase him in the material that was surrounding his spore in the first place, which she has dubbed the absolutely unpronounceable name "Guilalanium." Seriously, I can't say it aloud and the poor bastards dubbing this couldn't either, given almost none of them pronounces it the same way twice. Lisa and Berman hypothesize that the Guilalanium can be synthesized only in a vacuum, so they need to take the sample into space to make more of it.

Meanwhile, Guilala has still been smashing Tokyo well into the night. After destroying a couple tanks that had apparently been too worn out to shoot at him, he wanders into the countryside to attack a nuclear plant and feed on its energy. Hilariously, during this bit we see the JSDF map and the map guy suddenly gets an update on the location of Guilala and suddenly tosses the magnet to move it what appears to be dozens of miles. And this happens before we see Guilala glow red and turn into a giant glowing red meatball to fly away from the wreckage of the power plant. Just passing over the city in this form exercises the Flying Monster Rule, in that his mere passing blows up buildings for no reason.

And then Guilala-ball crashes into a reservoir which causes the nearby dam to immediately rupture. As he rises out of the water, we discover that they found a way to make him look even worse because the prop or suit for Guilala in the water has a longer, thinner neck and a smaller head.

Well, the Guilalanium synthesis appears to be going well, as far as anyone in the audience can tell--until the UFO shows up again as they're returning to Earth's orbit. As they attempt to flee, Sano notices a power drain, which isn't coming from the UFO. Lisa tracks it to the container of Guilalanium. Unless they can shield it, they will just be stuck in orbit around Earth. Michiko suggests that they put it in the sealed reactor chamber, but Sano points out this means putting it next to their only power supply. Still, they have little choice. Once the container is safely in the reactor chamber, control returns and they leave the UFO in the dust.

And that is, no joke, the last time the UFO will be relevant.

Back on earth, the Guilalanium is quickly unloaded and sent to the JSDF--hilariously transported in metal boxes where the word "Guilalanium" does not fit on the box without separating it with dashes. Unfortunately, Guilala then begins to make his way to the FAFC HQ to feed on the nuclear fuel stored there. (And no, I have no idea why he didn't go there first) Now, despite the fact that Guilala is on foot, when he gets close enough to chuck a crane at the launch pad and cause a massive explosion, the base staff are still loading the fuel onto trucks. Surely you guys had hours of warning!

Michiko delays the removal of the fuel even further by calling to all the men for aid because Lisa has gotten trapped in the wrecked lab. Somehow, what looks like a boiler fell over and pinned her leg under some other rubble. This would be a really uncomfortable sequence, what with the men able to raise the wreckage a little only for it crash back down on her leg, if it weren't so silly. First off, despite the urgency of needing to keep Guilala from eating all that fuel, every ma at the base gradually trickles in to help free Lisa.

Eventually they do--with Lisa somehow only requiring a light bandage on her ankle--but Guilala is now right on top of the base. So it falls to Miyamoto to drive a jeep while Sano sits in the trailer behind it so they can lure Guilala away with some of the fuel. Thus follows a truly adorable chase scene as Guilala pursues the jeep. There's some truly unfortunate shots that try to optically insert Guilala's hands into frame with the live actors, but naturally Guilala would have to be maybe a fourth of his actual size for the hand we see to be the proper scale.

"Oh no, he's getting closer! Turn off the 'The Entertainer', for God's sake!" 
Eventually Guilala does catch the trailer and dumps poor Sano into a ditch. Miyamoto dives out of the jeep just before it goes off an incline, naturally exploding at the top. Guilala eats the fuel and turns back toward the FAFC base for more. Somehow, Michiko and Lisa find their way to where Sano is tending to an injured Miyamoto in a ditch. Sano yells at them not to come down, which they ignore, but for once I'm on the side of the man telling women not to do something because why the hell is Lisa climbing down a steep incline with a busted ankle?!

Well, luckily it's time for the JSDF fighters to engage Guilala with rockets full of Guilalanium. Of course, he gets a few shots in, including one that blows up a jet and leaves its fuselage dangling on a wire like in The Brain From Planet Arous. The truly funny part begins, though, when the Guilalanium starts to take effect. Because holy crap does all the white stuff splattering on Guilala make it look like he's being, um...well...I guess "kaiju bukkake" will be a search keyword to bring folks to this site.

"I better be getting paid extra for this!"
After being splattered in white stuff, Guilala shrinks. Which just makes it funnier, of course. Somehow he shrinks down to the original spore. Lisa recovers it and places it in another lamp, and then it is immediately put onto a rocket and launched into space. According to Sano it's being sent out of our solar system, so hopefully it doesn't end up on an inhabited planet and cause a war. Michiko and Sano embrace romantically. Berman notices Lisa looking sad over this development and tries to comfort her. Lisa tells him that she has learned a lesson from Guilala that things should stay where they belong (!) which means that this film ends with a deliberate anti-interracial romance message.

Cut back to the rocket disappearing into space. The End.

When Teletubbies go bad.
If there was ever a movie that was painfully rooted in the time it was made, The X From Outer Space is it. From the smooth jazz soundtrack that so often sounds like it's supposed to diagetic muzak playing on the various rockets' PA systems, to the space effects, to the ambitious yet incompetent monster scenes, and the painfully awkward attempt at an interracial love triangle.

And I love it so.

Oh, this is not a very good movie in many ways. Having so many token gaijin characters means quite a bit of bad acting--and you can't blame the bad dubbing on the filmmakers, but it's hilariously dire, too. The music is hilariously inappropriate, and in fact repetitive because there only seems to be two or three themes that get repeated. The script also has no idea what should be important, since the mysterious UFO that has prevented the FAFC from reaching Mars turns out to be a complete MacGuffin despite it clearly being something that ought to be the crux of a story like this.

Then there's the monster, the most important part of a kaiju film. The sheer oddity of Guilala manages to carry the creature through and make him charming and memorable, despite the worst efforts of a suit actor who clearly has no clue what he's doing. In half the scenes the suit actor is just halfheartedly stomping forward with his arms dangling at his sides. Inspiring it is not.

Yet, when put all together this film is inexplicably charming. I don't mean in an ironic way, either, though it is certainly fun to mock. No, I mean that this film is just plain delightful in an earnest sort of way. It feels impossible to say anything bad about, despite it not being all that good. I'd be happy to tear Gappa, The Triphibian Monster down to size but I'd feel bad about being too hard on The X From Outer Space. This is a movie that gets by a lot on its simple enthusiasm that outstrips its ability, like an eager yet clumsy puppy in film form.

If you want a good kaiju film, pick up a Godzilla or Gamera flick. But if you want a charming misfire, then Guilala is definitely your friend.

Today's review brought to you by the letter X, the hardest letter of all! Hit the banner above to see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for X!

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