Godzilla films had already begun to move into the cultural camp mode from the second film, Godzilla Raids Again, and away from the monster-threat-to-Earth and Atomic-bomb-symbol of the first film. It was firmly planted into it by the time 1965’s Invasion of Astro Monster came along (aka Great Monster War). It’s a rollicking, madhouse of a movie.
Camp — a term that entered the language in 1909 but remains notoriously difficult to define — was described by Susan Sontag in a 1964 essay as, “the spirit of extravagance.” She also said camp was playful, “anti-serious,” exaggerated, and artificial. Her analogy for the word was “a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” By those terms, the Godzilla films of the 1960s were undeniably camp. Although the term was originally applied to homosexuals, camp had already emerged as a term in the mainstream worldwide. US television via shows like Hogan’s Heroes, Get Smart, The Monkees, and Lost in Space (which began as a scifi drama and quickly became a campy comedy) were expressions of it. Camp is most often associated with the Batman TV series in 1966.
Invasion took many of the elements of the previous film and incorporated them in an extravagant, often over-the-top, manner: duplicitous aliens who look like they came from a Devo video, multiple kaiju, wacky James-Bondish plots, panicked civilians, space travel, ray guns, flying saucers, strange technologies, Godzilla dancing, Godzilla’s feet-first flying leap, then Godzilla saving the world again, and an American astronaut. All come together in this film. And who’s not going to love a film with Godzilla and Rodan rampaging over the model landscape while fighting King Ghidorah?
But wait, there’s more: increasingly anthropomorphized monsters. Godzilla and his fellow creatures began as brutes: basically giant animals wreaking unthinking havoc on humanity. They reacted but didn’t respond. Monsters were the result of our hubris, mistakes, or ignorance. They were threats that had to be met and destroyed. This was equally true in American scifi and horror films from the ’40s on.
Yet, starting with King Kong vs Godzilla, the kaiju acquired human traits: gestures clearly exhibiting emotional or intellectual responses, behaviour that was ethical (Mothra in particular). And in the previous film, they communicated with one another using their own kaiju language. Kaiju became more and more like larger versions of ourselves. True, some of the change was written in for humour, to give the films a lighter touch, make them more entertaining to a wider audience (especially younger viewers). And even more in this film, Godzilla morphs from a threat to a defender.
In his book, A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series (second edition), David Kalat wrote about the “monster talk” scene in Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster:
Japanese filmmakers… anthropomorphized giant monsters in ways American filmmakers never would have. While American monsters, big and small, stood as representations of something else, Japanese monsters were characters in and of themselves… Although silly in the extreme, the monsters have to be able to talk in order to become full-fledged movie heroes…
Godzilla’s transformation into a heroic defender of the Earth was more than just the softening of a once-terrifying movie monster into a fun, family-friendly icon. The change represented something about Japan as a nation.
IofAM takes place shortly after the previous film. We had seen Ghidorah chased off by Godzilla, but still alive, and still a threat to humanity, although where he has gotten to is not yet revealed. Instead, we’re taken on a space where an American (Nick Adams) and Japanese astronaut end up meeting an alien race. This was the first time an American actor had starred in a Japanese film. And, of course, here’s the spoiler alert…
It opens with a message that a “mysterious planet” (“Planet X” a very “dark” planet only found by radio waves) was discovered “beyond Jupiter” and the “exploratory space ship” E-1 has been sent to investigate. Lest you think the spacecraft might resemble the massive, complex craft from 2001: A Space Odyssey, this will disappoint you. It’s a tiny craft without even washrooms, where the two astronauts are still wearing very 1960s-style space suits when they arrive at the planet (and complain about their lack of exercise on the trip).
Given that it took NASA anywhere from 550 to 650 days to get a spacecraft from Earth to Jupiter, that’s a loooooong time to go without a bathroom break, wearing a single space suit. And if you plan to slow down and visit, it could take as long as 1,795 to 2,242 days! This mysterious planet is even further out!
A voiceover from control says the craft is travelling at 1,000 kms/sec. Jupiter is, on average, 715 million km (444 million miles) from Earth. At its closest, the planet is 588 million km (365 million miles) away, but at its furthest, it is 968 million km (601 million miles). At 1,000 km/sec, even the closest would require about 7 days to reach. But then there’s that pesky thing about the time required for acceleration and deceleration (about 24 hours each)… and the radio communications with the distant astronauts are immediate, despite the 33-to-48-plus-minute time lag…
But let’s not let reality impinge on our voyage and break the suspension of belief. Quick segue to the home of an inventor (this film’s “mad scientist” who has made some sort of noise-creating device but can’t understand why it isn’t selling… until he gets a call from a mysterious source offering him a contract out of the blue for a large sum (which he signs at a fancy, expensive restaurant where he’s dining with his girlfriend who happens to work at the “World Space Agency…). Another nudge, nudge, wink, wink…
Two astronauts — one American (Nick Adams as Glenn) and one Japanese (Akira Takarada as Fuji) approach the planet. Meanwhile, an “inventor” is working on a device to make annoying noises. Don’t worry, they will be connected later. The spaceship approaches (zipping past a vaguely bland Jupiter that has none of the exquisite storms we’ve seen from NASA’s images). And the astronauts arrive at Planet X, apparently waterless and barren, only to be captured by Xiliens; aliens living below the surface.
Thus begins a complicated, somewhat plot about Xiliens wanting to “borrow” Godzilla and Rodan so they can together defeat King Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero) but, of course, they’re being disingenuous. The Xiliens (who look like a skinny Devo tribute band with a few too many members) con the astronauts into believing the aliens want to help Earth. But instead, they want to use all three kaiju via mind control to take over the Earth so they can steal our water for their desolate planet (if they made it today, the Xiliens would probably be executives working for Nestle…). And make Earth their colony (politically they’re libertarians…)
Godzilla is, in Xilien talk, Monster Zero-One, and Rodan is Monster Zero-Two. Got that? “You use words to name things. We use numbers.” Ghidorah is Monster Zero, and the reason the aliens live underground.
Ghidorah, it seems, is devastating the alien planet, but the scenes we see show only the kaiju’s lightning blasting bare rocks. The aliens seem friendly enough… like conservatives until they reach into your pocket or pass their repressive laws. In exchange for allowing the aliens to capture Earth’s kaiju to defeat Monster Zero, they promise to give Earth a “miracle drug to cure all disease.” The astronauts head back to Earth in their tiny ship and the same space suits (which must by this time smell of urine, feces, and sweat…).
Bwah ha ha, the head alien (“The Controller”) laughs as he watches the pair’s craft lift off. In my head, I hear a voice singing, “Are we not men? We are DEVO!” The UN council on Earth approves the alien request for the kaiju in exchange for the drug. The astronauts express skepticism about the aliens’ intentions but don’t share their opinion with others.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the science-nerd inventor got kidnapped along with his noise-generating device. More on him later: it’s part of the James-Bondish plot to conquer the Earth.
And after a brief search, the kaiju are located and the aliens drop by from their flying saucers hidden nearby. So, they’ve been here all along… sneaky! “Something about the way you taste / Makes me want to clear my throat…” Sorry, I keep getting these DEVO song lyrics in my head as I type… the alien saucers lift G and, later, Rodan, in force field bubbles from their resting places (at the bottom of a lake and inside a rock face, respectively). The kaiju are taken off Earth to Planet X. At 0:47:33 they arrive. And at 0:48:45 Ghidorah shows up.
This begins the first kaiju battle: Ghidorah vs Godzilla and Rodan. It’s a highlight of the movie and wonderfully choreographed albeit very short (with the infamous Godzilla jig being danced at 0:50:45). Ghidorah is defeated and flees. Glenn and Fuji have meanwhile snuck out to explore the alien facility… and they meet with a female who is the exact duplicate of Glenn’s girlfriend. Then a second one… then the pair are captured. Glenn is suspicious but can’t follow up because they are sent back to Earth with the supposed cure for cancer.
We learn that aliens have been among us all the time, in human disguise (how very conspiratorial of them… almost like they were playing the plot for today’s rightwing nutbars…), and, of course, we now know Glenn’s girlfriend is an alien clone, one of many look-alikes. The astronauts are sent back in an alien-recreated duplicate of their former ship (except that they now have room for three suited astronauts).
A brief shot as they leave shows Godzilla and Rodan prisoners on Planet X looking forlorn (another indication that kaiju are becoming more human-like). Fuji wonders if they’re “doing the right thing” by leaving them there. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink… we’re not told what the Xiliens have in store for them, but it can’t be good. Aliens, like conservatives, are almost always bad, sneaky, and deceptive. We see them in their Earth spy centre where they plan Earth’s demise.
The magnetic tape with the supposed cure turns out to have a demand for Earth to surrender and become a colony of Planet X. Surprised? Neither was I. Panic ensues. Global protests. Resistance. Stock photos and clips.
Back at home, Glenn confronts his girlfriend (in real life Kumi Mizumo with whom Adams was having an affair) about her alien self. She admits her origin but also she loves him. They quarrel and the Xiliens arrive to capture Glenn, then they zap her into non-existence with a ray gun. “You rats! You stinking rats,” yells Glenn in his best Bogart impersonation as they lead him away (in the English dub: in the subtitles of the Japanese edition he says more meekly, “What did she do? Why did you have to kill her?”
Alien saucers zap things to prove their seriousness and demand Earth surrender.
Meantime the aliens return the kaiju to their home planet (travelling 450 million kms in under four hours). This we’re told is “one-tenth” the speed of light, and by my calculations, that’s correct… assuming they didn’t need time to accelerate and decelerate.
King Gidorah, we learn, is in the USA (controlled by the aliens’ “magnetic waves” in the dubbed version, “electromagnetic waves” in the subtitles) and the Japanese diplomats resist the demand by the military to use nuclear weapons to kill him. I didn’t know the Japanese even had nuclear weapons, but, apparently, they did. “We’ve a tiger at the front door and a wolf at the back,” exclaims one diplomat. The Xilens arrive in a saucer and blast things while broadcasting another warning, giving them 24 hours to capitulate.
Glenn is tossed into a cell along with the kidnapped inventor of the loud noise device, and notices everything around him is soundproofed. (Hint, hint…)
There’s an ironic bit where diplomats and the military discuss how to respond (nukes!), or whether to surrender. One suggests prayer. “We can at least save our souls.” Kind of reminds you how the Talibangelists offer their useless “thoughts and prayers” after every mass shooting in the USA, rather than actually doing something about gun control. But I digress… a scientist offers a solution: to “sever” the magnetic waves that control the kaiju. The next scene gets all nerdy in a science lab with dials, buttons, charts, and blinking lights. I really love the science sets in ’60s films like this. They’re so delightfully geeky.
Back in the cell, the inventor and Glenn realize the aliens can’t stand sound. The inventor pulls a device from his pocket (why wasn’t he searched before being incarcerated?) and turns it on. The sound it makes incapacitates his aline jailors and the two escape. The Xiliens send a saucer after them and it zaps a boat they were supposed to be fleeing on. But they had jumped off and swam to safety. They reappear in the lab, miraculously dry after a long swim.
The Xilens commence the attack hours ahead of the deadline via their kaiju (Godzilla and Rodan). Models of military vehicles race into action as the kaiju stomp model sets and civilians flee in the foreground. The kaiju rampage, the military fight back to no avail (you’d have thought by now they would have learned…). But among those military models is a giant ray gun meant to break the aliens’ hold over the two kaiju.
Crowds panic as the three kaiju join forces to destroy. Buildings, trains, bridges, homes, factories, apartments, refineries; all crumble before the monsters. Some of the best-to-date models are turned to rubble. The military can’t slow them down. Is this the end of humankind? Well, of course not. Back in Tokyo, the radio stations broadcast the sound that drove the aliens mad. Citizens are asked to turn up the volume. Saucers wobble. Aliens wobble. Then they flee. And the ray gun trucks move out. They blast the saucers with more noise. Aliens hold their heads, scream, and wobble more.
More ray gun trucks appear and fire. Their rays disrupt the magnetic waves and free the kaiju from alien control. The kaiju collapse. The alien colonial command collapses. Saucers burst into flames and explode (one crew escapes “into the future”). The kaiju arise and both Godzilla and Rodan start fighting Ghidorah again. It’s lovingly choreographed like a pro-wrestling match. It is, to date, the best battle scene made in the franchise.
In the end, Godzilla and Rodan defeat Ghidorah, and Earth is saved. Rodan lifts Godzilla to crash into Ghidorah and the pair tumble into the ocean. Ghidorah escapes and flies into the sky. The other kaiju… mysteriously vanished. An ending left open for all to return (which, of course, they do). But for now, Earth is kaiju-free.