MONSTER ZERO: Invasion of Astro-Monster

Invasion of Astro-MonsterInvasion of Astro-Monster (original Japanese title, 1965); Monster Zero (original American title, 1970) – The 6th Godzilla Film – Directed by Ishiro Honda – Starring Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Haruo Nakajima.

Originally titled INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, the film was re-titled MONSTER ZERO for its American release five years later. I’m reviewing the American version because that’s what Netflix played when I hit play. It’s not surprising, of course, that they’d play the American version of the film for the American audience, but it is a little weird that they don’t give you the option on which version to watch. Perhaps this is a right’s issue, or perhaps they’re lazy, or perhaps research tells them this is what people want. To be honest, I don’t really mind because it’s just nice that they have some of these films streaming since most Godzilla films are marked with the unfortunate “Short Wait” designation.

It’s also important, I think, to watch the American versions from time to time as these would have been the films I was raised on, if I actually watched these entire films growing up instead of just watching the bits where the monsters beat the monsters out of each other.

MONSTER ZERO / INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER is the sixth film in the Godzilla franchise and after the original GOJIRA, that this is my favorite of the lot, so far. This is an amazing, amazing, amazing, movie, hitting all sorts of proper notes. Once again, it shows just how amenable Godzilla is to all kinds of genres. This time out, we get Ishiro Honda’s version of a 1950s sci-fi invasion flick. Like the bulk of his Godzilla work, Honda gives us a simple, but compelling human story to support the monsters.

This time around, we get an American added to the mix. Nick Adams plays Glenn, an American astronaut sent with his partner Fuji (Akira Takarada), to investigate Planet X, a newly discovered planet just beyond Jupiter. When they arrive they find a 1980s New Wave rock band that opened for Devo on the New Traditionalists Tour. Glenn and Fuji are politely captured by the aliens, who tell them that they have a kaiju problem – Ghidorah. Glenn and Fuji recognize the monster from the last Godzilla film and the leader of Planet X, the Controller, tells them they need the Earth’s help to rid them of Ghidorah, or as they call him, “Monster Zero.”

What the Controller needs is Monsters 1 and 2: Godzilla and Rodan.

Glenn and Fuji think this is crazy, which is kinda silly because if I lived on Earth and had two massive monsters occasionally showing up to destroy a city and some New Wave playing aliens hiding behind Jupiter wanted them to help beat up a third monster … well, I mean, the aliens wouldn’t have to promise me a cure to all diseases to get me to let them borrow my monsters.

MONSTER ZERO succeeds, in part, for the sheer insanity of the plot – aliens want to borrow Godzilla and Rodan to beat up Ghidorah because they watched the last movie and saw Godzilla and Rodan beat up Ghidorah. (They don’t mention why they don’t want Mothra, but it’s probably because the Shobijn creep them out.) What makes all of the oddities work, though, is the very human relationship between Nick and Fuji.

The movie was filmed with Nick Adams speaking his lines in English and Akira Tarada speaking his in Japanese. Did either of them understand what the other one was saying? You’d be hard pressed to convince me that Adams and Tarada weren’t pals in real life because their chemistry is the heart of the film. More than any previous Godzilla movie, I feel like ASTRO-MONSTER survives and thrives based on personality. Where previous films have often given us characters that felt functional (which is not to say they weren’t often also excellent characters), MONSTER ZERO has personality oozing out of Americans, Japanese, and Kaiju.

Check out this exchange between Fuji and Glenn. After coming back from Jupiter, they’re sitting in a restaurant waiting on Fuji’s sister to arrive with her nerdish boyfriend, looking like two swinging dudes at a Vegas joint waiting for Danny Ocean to come fill them in on the night’s plan. Glenn tells Fuji he’s got a date of his own to get to.

“Japanese girl?” Fuji asks. “Not the wrong kind, I hope.”

“If you had to check up on a girl’s past every time you went on a date,” Glenn replies quickly, “you’d never fall in love.”

Glenn and Fuji have this type of back and forth chemistry throughout the film, with Fuji playing the straight man to Glenn’s more cavalier approach to life, but it’s not just the humans who get a dose of individuality in MONSTER ZERO, it’s the Kaiju, too.

When Godzilla and Rodan get taken to Planet X and beat up Ghidorah for the first time, Godzilla dances. Yes. Dances. It’s not an overly complicated number that you’d set to the musical accompaniment of “Suit and Tie” or anything, but Godzilla happily jumps in place. The film’s sound emphasizes the BOOM whenever he lands, but it’s pretty clear Godzilla is so pleased with what he and Rodan did that he’s dancing in place. Even better, however, when Glenn and Fuji climb into a rocket to head back to Earth, Godzilla and Rodan watch them go like they’re sad puppy dogs in the window not wanting to be left behind. The astronauts even make a point to mention it, and you can see the continuation of the theme from earlier films that there’s more to these monsters than being monsters.

The Controller and Planet X folks then pull the “Ha, ha! We’re actually interested in conquering you!” move, and now they’ve got Ghidorah, Godzilla, and Rodan under their control. It’s the Fuji’s sister’s nerdy boyfriend who comes up with the solution, thus saving the Earth and proving himself to Fuji. The aliens are defeated, the boyfriend proves himself, Glenn sees his lady friend get killed because she’s really an alien spy who loves him and love cannot be tolerated by the logic-driven aliens, and when it’s all done, Glenn basically slaps Fuji on the back and says, “Let’s go to the Playboy club. I heard Draper’s in town.”

But the scientist standing near them isn’t having it. “Oh, no,” he says in response to Glenn saying they need a vacation, “you’re going to be our first Ambassador to Planet X.” Glenn’s like, “Are you kidding?” but says it in a way that tells you his first thought was that there’s a whole phalanx of women on Planet X who are look-alikes for his dead girlfriend and he intends to enjoy himself. The best part, though, is Fuji laughing at him and giving him a thumbs down, the more restrained astronaut finally relaxing and enjoying himself.

There are few movies about which I would say that if you haven’t seen this film, your life is missing something, but INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER / MONSTER ZERO is definitely one of those films. I can’t wait to buy it and add it to the collection. This is an amazing movie.

This is why popcorn was invented.

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