Film Review: Battle In Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Uchū Daisensō (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Jotaro Okami
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Leonard Stanford, Harold Conway

Toho, 93 Minutes

Review:

Battle In Outer Space was part of a trio of films unofficially referred to as the “Toho Outer Space Trilogy”. The other two films are 1957’s The Mysterians and 1962’s Gorath. All three films featured Toho’s triple threat of director Ishirō Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and musical maestro Akira Ifukube. This is the only film of the three that does not feature a kaiju of some sort. The Mysterians featured the giant alien robot Moguera, who would go on to become a part of the Godzilla mythos, while Gorath featured the giant walrus kaiju named Maguma.

Battle In Outer Space, while lacking the presence of a kaiju, doesn’t really need one. Besides, in those other two films, the giant creatures were used pretty sparingly and weren’t focal points. This film is no different, as the story and sci-fi action alone, carry this picture.

Frankly, I wish Toho would have made more of these types of films. They are visually alluring and magnificent works of moving art. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and his miniature work are absolutely top notch in this, more so than most of his other films. They are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, vivid lighting and the great directing skill of Ishirō Honda. Honestly, this is further ahead from a special effects standpoint than where most American films were at the time, which says a lot about the skill and ingenuity of Tsuburaya and Honda.

In this film, we start with a bunch of strange phenomena happening across the globe. In Japan, a railroad bridge is levitated, causing a train wreck. In the Panama Canal, an ocean liner is lifted and destroyed by a waterspout. In Venice, severe flooding destroys parts of the city. There is also the destruction of a space station. A United Nations meeting is held, where the best minds in the world theorize on the cause of these events. Eventually, other strange things begin to happen and it is discovered that aliens are attacking Earth in an effort to make it easier to invade. Discovering that the aliens are on the Moon, the UN sends two rocket ships there for reconnaissance.

This is one of Toho’s most imaginative films and the execution is phenomenal. While it may come off as cheesy and hokey to modern audiences, it is a pretty pristine piece of work for 1959. And while it played in the United States on a double bill with the American film 12 to the Moon, this was the superior picture. In fact, 12 to the Moon was lampooned on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1994.

Battle In Outer Space is a true space opera epic and ahead of its time, in spite of its limitations.

Film Review: Gorath (1962)

Also known as: Yōsei Gorasu, lit. Rogue Star Gorath (Japan)
Release Date: March 21st, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Jojiro Okami, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Kan Ishii
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Ken Uehara, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 89 Minutes

Review:

“If we could come together and cooperate to overcome the danger that threatened us, can’t we take this opportunity to work together for all eternity?” – News Anchor

Gorath is an old school Toho sci-fi epic from 1962. I’m a huge fan of Toho but this is a film that has eluded me until now. I had heard of it and seen stills of its sole kaiju, the giant walrus Maguma, but it isn’t an easy film to track down. I ended up having to get a bootleg version of it on DVD with Japanese dialog and English subtitles. Luckily, it was in glorious HD and I was able to truly enjoy this picture for the first time.

While the movie does have a kaiju, he only appears for roughly six minutes towards the end of the film. He also just mostly roars and presents a sort of roadblock for the heroes trying to save Earth from a rogue star that is soon to collide with it.

The kaiju suit is passable but nothing really spectacular. Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director, reused the Maguma suit for a kaiju named Todola in his Ultra Q television series (the show that started the Ultraman franchise that is still going strong today).

In general, Tsuburaya’s special effects are spectacular. His miniature work is great, the killer star Gorath looked pretty sinister and the the rocket ship sequences, while very dated now, look better than what was the norm for the time.

The highlight of the film for me is the opening fifteen minutes or so where we see the first rocketship confronting Gorath. It is a mission doomed for failure but the crew are able to get vital information back to Earth, giving the world’s leaders time to prepare for what could very well be the planet’s destruction.

The rocketship interiors are beautifully designed and have a certain quality that puts Gorath out in front of other Toho sci-fi extravaganzas. I wish there were more sequences that utilized the rocketship set.

Even though the highlight for me was the beginning, the rest of the film plays out really well. We get a lot of debate between the smartest men in the United Nations in a series of scenes that play out similarly to 2016’s Shin Godzilla, where politicians and scientists try to find ways to stop the threat destined to destroy their world.

The film also stars several of Toho’s regular actors: Yumi Shirakawa (Rodan, The MysteriansThe H-Man), Takashi Shimura (Gojira, Godzilla Raids Again, The Mysterians, Mothra, Ghidroah, the Three Headed Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Akira Kubo (Matango, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Space Amoeba), Kumi Mizuno (The Three Treasures, Matango, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, The War of the Gargantuas, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, Godzilla: Final Wars) and Ken Uehara (Mothra, Atragon).

Originally, there was no plan for a kaiju monster in this film but since Toho had more success with giant monsters in their movies, Maguma was added in at the last minute. Additionally, Maguma’s scenes were removed from the American version of the film and scenes with American actors were sprinkled in, similar to the US version of Gojira known in the States as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Gorath is a great special effects spectacle. It re-teamed Toho’s star director Ishirō Honda and special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and is one of their greatest films that isn’t associated with the Godzilla series that they kick started and worked on for years.

Finally seeing this picture, I was really impressed with it. In fact, it made me wish that Toho spent a lot more time making straight up sci-fi films. Of course, not at the expense of kaiju pictures but Toho just had great skill in creating science fiction. Gorath is exciting and just a really cool motion picture to look at and soak in.