Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Invasion of Astro-Monster / Monster Zero












Invasion of Astro-Monster is barely even a Godzilla film. Produced in the middle of an electrifying run of science fiction stompers by Ishiro Honda, Astro-Monster instead revolves around the duplicitous residents of Planet X. In year of the future 196X, the World Space Agency sends a Tintin rocket off to explore a newly discovered Jupiter satellite. On the arrival the super rugged astronauts are rescued from a rampaging King Ghidorah by an underground society of faintly mechanical pixies. Desperate to rid themselves of the golden space dragon, the Xians offer humanity a cure for cancer if they'll loan them Godzilla and Rodan, Earth's mightiest monsters.

Unlike the trepidatious Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Astro-Monster imagines a near future ruled by Japan. Although the space mission is fronted by an organisation called The World Space Agency, the delegates convened to discuss and make decisions on the operation are entirely Japanese. When the time comes to debate whether or not Planet X can be trusted, it is a kimono clad lady representing the world's housewives who has the casting vote. Looks like Japan is a benevolent overlord then. They even allow an American to tag along on the space mission for old times' sake.

Astro-Monster is also unusual in that the human story is much more engaging than the monster element. Typically in this series anything after the sixty minute mark is an agitated count down to the Big G's climatic appearance. Here, he barely matters. The humans are able to see off the Xians by amplifying an ornate rape alarm constructed by the boyfriend of the lead astronaut's sister. The ear piercing screech proving fatal to Xians, much like Indian Love Call's effect on the red planet punks in Mars Attacks!. Godzilla and Rodan are only really necessary to chase off King Ghidorah, a task they're not even particularly successful with.

Astro-Monster features production design indebted to the cavernous, concrete palaces of Ken Adam's SPECTRE lairs. The Xians favour architectural brutality and European colonial pomp, a kind of corrupt opposite to the functional, industrialist landscapes glimpsed in this modern Japan. Perhaps the Xians are intended to represent a different post-war path for the country? Planet X is governed by terse, Godlike computer signals, and self-expression is punishable by death. Their misogynistic stance on women also stands in stark contrast to hero Japan's constitutional deference.

So far, the Godzilla series has seemed to be about a country's national identity struggling and transforming after a seismic, nuclear blow to their confidence. The first two films were about the immediate aftershock, King Kong vs Godzilla and Mothra vs Godzilla talked about an emerging cultural shifts - does Japan look to America or its own past for guidance? Ghidorah proposed Japan as a median, calming influence on Russia and America. Astro-Monster sees the country charting a hopeful, inclusionist future by defining who they are not.

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