Let me make one thing clear: you would have to work very hard to come up with a worse giant monster movie than Shochiku Studio's first and only venture into the genre. There are some pretty awful rubber-suit monster movies -- Gamera vs. Zigra comes to mind, as does Godzilla vs. Megalon -- but for sheer, jaw-dropping ineptitude, you have to wait almost thirty years to find a close competitor. That's right: only Full Moon's Zarkorr! The Invader manages to outdo The X from Outer Space in dull human interaction, bad science fiction, poor story, failed comedy relief and a distressing lack of screen time for the title monster.
Even Zarkorr! had a more dignified monster suit. Guilala -- that's the X when it's at home -- looks like an enormous, steatopygous rubber chicken1. The shape of its head makes it look like it's having difficulty swallowing an airplane; it has glowing red insect eyes, two floppy antennae and what looks for all the world like a spigot on top. Its skin is frilly, as though it were wearing one of those ridiculous "pirate shirts" from "Seinfeld". It's no wonder that Scott Foy from the New Orleans Worst Film Festival voted Guilala the goofiest screen monster in film history, beating out such worthy competition as The Giant Claw and Godmonster of Indian Flats.
As if this wasn't bad enough, director Nihonmatsu Kazui has absolutely no idea how to shoot a convincing monster attack scene. The experienced craftsmen at the rival Toho Studio shot their kaiju attacks from a low angle (to simulate the perspective of the human onlookers, and make it seem as though the monsters really were enormous), and shot the scenes at a faster frame rate (to make the effects seem more realistic when the film was slowed back down). The Shochiku team just filmed a guy in a rubber suit, flailing at normal speed through some shoddy models; as a result, Guilala looks like a guy in a rubber suit, flailing at normal speed through some shoddy models. As for his voice... a monster's voice is a major aspect of his personality. Neither Godzilla nor Gamera would be half as interesting were it not for their very distinctive roars. Unfortunately, underneath a few levels of processing, Guilala's voice sounds like a guy going "RAAAARGGH!" over and over again.
But I may be getting ahead of myself here. There are plenty of other things which contribute to the ruin of the film. In fact, the endearingly awful Guilala suit may be the movie's strong point. If the rest of the movie had been as wacky as the monster costume, Uchû Daikaijû Girara/The X From Outer Space might have been much more entertaining.
I hope you don't get the impression that I don't like the film. Just because the movie is terrible doesn't mean it isn't likeable, in its own silly way. The movie has a certain foolish charm, which is lacking in the slightly better-made Daikyôjû Gappa/Monster from a Prehistoric Planet which the rival studio Nikkatsu put out the same year. Guilala's exuberance also stands up pretty well by comparison to the feeling of desperation that was starting to creep into Toho's monster movies. And I doubt very much that anyone will be looking back fondly on Zarkorr! thirty six years after it was made.
Most of the things that make the movie so memorable are the same things that make it so difficult to sit through. Take the Theme Song: we know we're in trouble as soon as the opening credits start, and we're introduced to the happy little tune that we'll be hearing over and over again through the whole movie. It sounds like a cross between Pizzicato Five and a barbershop quartet. In the original Japanese version, after the men's chorus has finished, a man's and a woman's voice come on, describing our future in space with all its wonders, and how we should rush forward and embrace it. Then the men's chorus is back to ram the perky little tune firmly into our heads.
I think what they're singing is this:
The X From Outer Space Song
The movie then spends every moment of the following 87 minutes contradicting the optimism of the song.
We're introduced to the valiant crew of the spacecraft AAB Gamma. I'm not sure why it's called "AAB Gamma" instead of, oh, I don't know... "Alpha Alpha Beta G", or something. Perhaps, as in software development, the "gamma" means it isn't ready for release yet (much like the movie itself... ). AAB Gamma is about to be launched on a voyage to Mars. Unfortunately, the last 6 ships that have attempted to get to Mars have been lost with all hands. Japan's premiere space project, the Fuji Astro-Flying Center (FAFC), has come up with the brilliant plan of throwing ship after ship, crew after crew into the heartless void, hoping one will eventually make it to the Red Planet.
Under the circumstances, you might think the crew would be a tad apprehensive about their mission. However, when we first see them, they're sitting slumped in their seats like kids who've been forced to stay after school for a remedial algebra lesson. In a sense, they are getting a remedial lesson: the base's chief scientist, Dr. Kato (Okada Eiji from Hiroshima Mon Amour and Woman in the Dunes) explains to them in absurdly simple terms what they're supposed to be doing on this mission. Evidently the FAFC has so little hope for the success of the mission, it's not even bothering to train the crew. Another possibility is that this crew is made up of the last few people in the world who are dumb enough to want to follow the last six missions in an unproven spacecraft.
The crew members are Captain Sano, whose principal qualifications are that he's handsome and square-jawed; Dr. Lise -- that's all, just "Dr. Lise", like Dr. Ruth or Dr. Laura -- the ship's biologist (?); Dr. Shioda, nobody you need to worry about; and Miyamoto, the ship's Odious Comic Relief. Miyamoto bears a striking resemblance to Adam Sandler (i.e., you see him onscreen and you want to strike him).
AAB Gamma blasts off. Dr. Kato and his associate, the avuncular German scientist Dr. Berman (Franz Gruber... no, not that Franz Gruber; though I have taken to singing Silent Night to the tune of The X from Outer Space Song and vice versa), monitor the flight on a special instrument that consists of some colored lights and large paintings of the Earth, the moon and Mars. This remarkable piece of... er... equipment can place AAB Gamma precisely at four locations:
In spite of this high-tech infrastructure, things start to go wrong almost immediately. AAB Gamma is buzzed by a UFO that looks like a glowing apple pie. Dr. Shioda suddenly collapses from "space sickness" (brought on by Miyamoto's jokes, no doubt), and the mission must take an unscheduled detour to the moon.1. Orbiting the Earth;
These days, the moon is a thriving little colony, with hydroponic labs, "artifical water", and lots and lots of alcohol. Sano requests clearance for emergency landing... and wouldn't you know it? Who should be in charge of Space Traffic Control for today but Sano's ex-girlfriend, Michiko? Michiko takes one look at the viewscreen, and sees pretty blonde Dr. Lise is getting all chummy with Sano. So, Michiko gives some curt instructions and shuts off the viewer. As she stalks off, one of the moon base personnel comes running up to her: AAB Gamma is approaching too fast! They'll overshoot the runway! MY GOD, WOMAN, THEY'LL ALL BE KILLED!! To which Michiko merely turns up her cute little nose. Serves that two-timing Sano right.
By some miracle, and no thanks to Michiko, AAB Gamma manages to land safely. Now that our heros are stuck on the moon, we start on a seemingly endless series of parties that fill up much of the rest of the movie.
You know, I've come to think that Uchû Daikaijû Girara is what you'd have ended up with if an eight-year-old had rewritten Breakfast at Tiffany's:
"Well, see, there's this girl, and she likes this boy... but there's this other girl who likes the boy, too, and... and anyway, they go to these parties, and everybody drinks a lot. And there's this song with really silly words about the moon or something, and they keep playing it over and over again. Oh, and there's this Japanese guy, and he's supposed to be funny, but he's really pretty scary... and then... umm... (getting bored and improvising) ... and then, they go to the Moon, see, and there's this flying saucer that comes out, and it goes WEOWWWW! And then, she has this cat... no, not a cat. It's a big space monster, and it goes RAWRRRWARARRAAR! And it eats fire and stuff, and it's really cool, and they, like, can't kill it with bombs and death rays! And then...
Frankly, everybody in the film behaves like an eight-year-old. If any of the human relationships had progressed even to a junior high school level, I might be more inclined to be kind to the movie. But not only don't we get to see any really adult characters, we're stuck with the pseudo-adults for most of the movie. The X itself doesn't even show up until half of the movie is over, and he doesn't exactly have a generous amount of screen time thereafter3.
Dr. No-Longer-Appearing-In-This-Movie is placed under the care of the moon base physician, Dr. Stein4. After what seems like hours of cocktail parties on the moon, word comes from mission control that the AAB Gamma's new doctor will be... Dr. Stein himself. Stein doesn't want to go. In fact, he becomes so obnoxious that he starts to make Miyamoto seem sympathetic by comparison.
AAB Gamma attempts to start its Mars mission over again, only to run into the flying pastry. The UFO traps the spaceship in some sort of energy field. Sano, realizing that any attempt to resist the field would be futile, sits back calmly to see what happens next. Dr. Stein then panics, injuring Sano while attempting to take control of the ship. This is not only mutiny, it also ends up wasting valuable fuel: the AAB Gamma is disabled, without enough resources to go either all the way to Mars or all the way home. You'd think this would be enough to get Dr. Stein imprisoned for the rest of his life, but the mutiny is never mentioned again. Come to think of it, practically everybody on the ship's crew except Miyamoto displays insubordinate behavior towards Sano, yet nobody's ever punished for it. It's a hell of a way to run a space program, if you ask me...
The UFO, having apparently made its point, disappears as suddenly as it came. This time, though, it seems to have left something behind: attached to the AAB Gamma's rear engines are tiny, glowing spores. Later, we'll come to realize they were probably attracted to the ship's energy source. Sano and Lise space-walk out to investigate the spores, bringing along a sample container that looks very much like those plastic things we used to hatch praying mantises in when we were kids. The space-walk is pretty well realized, up to a point... we see the two astronauts floating above the ship... then they start clearing off the engines. They're floating, floating... and then they take off one of the spores and drop it in the container. The film has reminded us several times that there is no gravity in space: earlier on, there was a bit of "comedy" involving Miyamoto's lost clipboard, and now, of course, they're floating, floating... But as they drop the sample into the conatiner, we see studio gravity re-asserting itself, and the spore lands with a thunk at the bottom.
The moon base sends an emergency rescue team to find the disabled ship (I suppose they're using that incredibly sophisticated positioning system I described earlier... the rescue ship simply sets its coordinates for "elsewhere", and that's that!). Michiko is one of the rescue team members, but despite her past behavior, she doesn't take this opportunity to sabotage the reactor or push Lise out a convenient airlock (though there was a scene earlier where meteors punched a hole in the ship's hull, leading to decompression... and Lise got her butt stuck in the breach. And no, the scene was not played for laughs).
Back on Earth, Dr. Berman reassures the crew that although the Mars mission has failed, the finding of the space spore is a discovery of even greater significance. In the logic of the film, this means only one thing: it's party time! But the party is interrupted by an emergency call from the space center: there has been some sort of accident in the lab where the spore is being held. The (probably half-inebriated) team rushes back to the lab, only to find that something has melted its way through the floor. There's also a weird footprint eaten into the tiles. It looks as though something has hatched from the spore... but what? And where could it be now?
They should ask the staff of the nearby power plant, who have noticed some fluctuations in the current.
Our heros are just getting back to the party, when Miyamoto notices a strange glow behind a nearby mountain (the glow is made all the more obvious by the power outage which happens just at that moment). All at once, the Big Space Monster Guilala emerges, not just over the mountain, but through it. He's grown quite a bit since he left the footprint in the lab. As Guilala pushes his way through the rocks, a river of thick brown liquid comes spilling out, suggesting that either he's destroyed a hot spring, or that Japanese food really doesn't agree with him.
Guilala may be ridiculous, but he certainly knows how to make an entrance. He looks like he's about to burst into song5. Pretty soon the monster is tearing up the countryside with abandon. Unfortunately, the scenes of Guilala's enthusiastic rampage are all fairly short, and made shorter by the fact that they're shot at normal speed. Just as the city-smashing scenes get going, we cut away back to our boring humans (though the parties get noticeably less frequent).
Almost immediately we're told the the military has used every available weapon against the monster... to no avail, of course. It would have been nice to see some of this. Yes, it's true we see a little later on, when Shochiku borrows some of those spiffy "markalite" laser cannons from Toho; but quite a bit of the devastation is explained to us rather than shown.
When we actually do get to see Guilala chewing the scenery, the results are mixed. There are some cool explosions and clouds of smoke. On the other hand, Shochiku's model makers seem to make some serious errors with regard to scale: at one point, Guilala picks up a large cargo ship and hurls it into the side of a factory. A few minutes later, Guilala is attacked by jet fighters, which the monster smashes out of the air; and the jets look almost as big as the ship was.
It's during the initial conference between the scientists and the military that Guilala gets his name. On the face of it, it seems as though the name "Guilala" is a combination of "Gila" (as in Gila Monster) and the traditional monster-name suffix "-ra" ("-zilla"). Whatever rationale may have gone into naming the creature in real life, we're given no explanation in the film. The scientists simply announce the monster's name is "Guilala". Possibly the name comes from the new substance they've discovered in the remains of the space spore, stuff they call "Guilalanium" (mispronounced "Guilalium" in the American International TV print). The term "Guilalanium" is in turn derived from the name "Guilala". Good ol' circular reasoning: you really can't argue with it.
Thinking of Guilalanium: it seems that this strange substance may be the key to stopping the monster. Somehow Guilalanium manages to neutralize the energy of anything it comes into contact with (much like this film). Since Guilalanium can only be refined in a vacuum, everybody piles back into the AAB Gamma for another trip to the moon. Once they've got the Guilalanium, though, the intrepid scientists find themselves in the old "cut-a-hole-in-the-boat-to-let-the-water-out" scenario: their new stock of Guilalanium deadens the power on the ship as they try to get back to Earth! Fortunately, somebody (I think it was actually Miyamoto) comes up with an idea that just might work, and everything is pie.
While we're on the subject of "pie", it's time for that weirdly delicious-looking UFO to reappear. Normally, in a movie like this, you'd expect the ongoing confrontations with the UFO to lead to some sort of climax. Perhaps it would be something as simple as learning the aliens' plan -- if indeed there are any actual aliens on the strange craft. Perhaps there would be a final battle, with the UFO being defeated by the brave Earthlings. Not here, though. The UFO just flies off, and that's that. Maybe more information was going to be provided in the sequels this movie failed to spawn.
AAB Gamma rushes back to Earth with its precious payload. The team gets back just in time for Guilala to arrive at the FAFC, drawn by the yummy scent of nuclear rocket fuel. Though Guilala hasn't yet reached the base, he's still managed to do some damage by throwing things and spitting fireballs. In the resulting explosions, Lise gets trapped under a huge piece of equipment. Sano and Miyamoto rush to save her, before the monster arrives. Don't worry about Lise: though her leg is supposedly crushed, she's up and running on it in just a few minutes.
Then, in one of the best scenes in the movie, Sano and Miyamoto attempt to distract the monster by driving a jeep full of rocket fuel right in front of him. Guilala goes stomping after them, only a few feet behind the speeding vehicle. The astronauts bail in the nick of time -- naturally. The Japanese Air Defense Force then strafes Guilala with the Guilalanium, at considerable risk to themselves. The exploding planes are some of the worst effects in the film, with some of the burning bits left hanging in mid-air by the strings that kept the models in place.
Once Guilala gets hit by the Guilalanium bombs, his body starts to ooze shaving cream. Our heros, watching only a few feet away, remark that nothing seems to be happening, even though Guilala is collapsing into a pile of suds. Then at last they seem to notice that the monster has shrunk into a sad little heap of soap bubbles. Lise reaches into the bubbles with a forceps and withdraws... the space spore, back in its original form.
While the scientists prepare to blast the spore back into space where it belongs, Lise puts on her pouty face and goes out looking for worms to eat. Dr. Berman finds her moping by a cliff, kicking rocks over the edge, and ignoring the audience's shouts of "JUMP! JUMP!!" Dr. Berman asks her if she's told Sano how she feels about him. The teary-eyed Lise says no: there is another who loves him more. Er, that would be Michiko, I suppose. Lise then gives the hands-down worst "what I learned from the monster" speech of all time. She says, among other things, that Guilala taught her that things should stay where they belong. In Daikaijû Gamera or Nikkatsu's Daikyôjû Gappa, this message meant a girl should stay home and be domesticated, which is bad enough; but in this case I'm not sure if the message isn't a little worse. There's the implication that Lise's realy talking about miscegenation... she's saying that she doesn't belong with Sano because Sano should stick with someone of his own race. Again, I might be inclined to give the film the benefit of the doubt, if we'd seen any hint of intimacy, or chemistry, or -- hell -- even mild interest going on between Lise and Sano.
Things ought to stay in their place. Ha. Contrast the optimism of the Theme Song with this downbeat "message". Man has tried to venture out into new worlds of exploration, and what's happened? He's been defeated by Space Pastry from the Planet Entenmann's. He's been sent an unstoppable monster menace, presumably as a hint not to try reaching the other planets again. He's been sent packing, apparently with a stern reminder to keep his bloodline pure.
Geez, this is a lousy movie.
And yet, I just spent an absurd amount of money ordering the new Region 2, remastered widescreen DVD from Japan (it's also available in a special Collectors Edition, and as part of a four-disc set). I found out about the new DVD by following a lead from a website in French, which led me to a web site in Japanese, which told me what I needed to know. And I only went looking for it in the first place because some strange instinct told me I should look for it. Then, having ordered the disc, I tracked the shipment diligently via the Internet, and stood outside all afternoon on a Saturday, jumping up and down and waiting for the mailman to arrive... like a little kid who'd sent in all his box tops for a super decoder ring. I haven't been so excited in a very long time.
In spite of the movie's numerous failings in plot, pacing, and acting, and its lack of a coherent theme, I have to admit that it looks fantastic in the newly-remastered DVD. Most of the production design is really pretty good, and the wacked-out 60's sense of color in the space sequences is a treat for the eyes. If I watch it with the Japanese audio track, it improves a little: since my Japanese is terrible and there are no subtitles, I can pretend they're saying something more reasonable than the babble the script has given them. Also, the Japanese audio track is mixed better; the ambient noises are more clearly defined, which makes the whole production seem less stilted and artificial.
And yes, it's true: I can't stay mad at the monster Guilala. He's just too stupid to be taken seriously.
I really don't think the people who made the movie stopped to think about any single aspect of it very carefully. As a result, I think they ended up saying a lot of things they didn't realize they meant. Oh, well. There's enough wrong with Uchˆ Kaijˆ Girara; I don't have to try to find hidden meanings. In the end, as any dog owner will tell you, it really doesn't matter if something is incredibly stupid and smells a little funny. You love it anyway.
So c'mere, ya big rubber lug. Let's have a big hug, huh? Who's my Big Green Space Chicken?Awww... you are, that's who! I think we've got just enough time for a little karaoke here, so come one everybody! If you've seen The X even once in your life, you know how the tune goes; if you're like me, you could probably sing it in your sleep. All together now:
1. This is one of the few details the <scorn>Medved Brothers</scorn> got right without exaggeration in their Golden Turkey books.
(Note: the preceding statement contains exaggeration for comic/ironic effect)
2. "... Because that is where we will be spending the rest of our lives!"
And if you thought I was going to translate the next line as "All your Galaxy are belong to us", well... phooey.
3. The movie even wastes an incredible opportunity. The action segues from a discussion between Sano and Miyamoto about "artificial water" to Lise and Michiko in the showers. Lise then starts chattering about what a big, strong, handsome man that Sano is, and how he's going to keep her safe and warm in the cold depths of space... stuff that's supposed to be comically suggestive to the jealous Michiko. At one point, Lise drops her soap; she then kicks it over to the other girl...
Now, honestly guys: with a setup like this, what would you do?
There were apparently three minutes cut from the Japanese version in the print that was distributed to American television. Since I have a dirty mind, I was hoping the missing three minutes would turn out to be from this particular scene, and that -- ahem -- whatever was missing might be restored in the Special Unrated Director's Cut. It almost goes without saying I was bitterly disappointed. I... I don't want to talk about it any more. Sob.
4. In this universe, the Japanese space program seems to be run in cooperation with Germany: Dr. Berman, Lise and Dr. Stein, the principal non-Japanese characters, are all German (I'm not sure about the actress playing Lise, "Peggy Neal", but at any rate, she's dubbed by a German girl; thus my decision to use the alternative spelling of her name). There don't seem to be any Americans anywhere, which is a little odd considering the US's preeminence in space technology at the time this movie was made.
5. ...and I wish he would: whenever we see Guilala attacking, the happy lounge music goes away. It's replaced by a single, grating, migraine-inducing chord, played over and over and over...