The article below refers to the Japanese version with English subtitles from The Criterion Collection Spine #1000, “Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954–1975,” and contains spoilers galore for the film.
The Showa era was formative for me as a growing kaiju-lover when I was a kid. As I noted in my article on the original Godzilla (1954), I was both terrified of Godzilla and empathetic to his struggles, and I became a huge fan. I watched him morph from a monstrous allegory for atomic energy into a heroic figure protecting the earth from outside threats. I love to revisit these films as an adult, too.
Invasion of Astro-Monster (later released in the United States in 1970 as Monster Zero and even later as Godzilla vs. Monster Zero on DVD and VHS) is the sixth film of the Showa era of Godzilla’s cinematic reign. It’s a sequel of sorts to 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, but instead of Mothra and Rodan aiding Godzilla in defeating King Ghidorah, only Rodan fights alongside Godzilla this time. (As with a few other things in the film, Mothra fell victim to budget issues.)
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is considered the first film in the franchise to portray Godzilla as a hero, and Invasion of Astro-Monster solidifies that heroic status. It also marks a bigger injection of humor into the series, something director Ishirô Honda was reportedly not a fan of, as well as Honda’s last work as Toho’s on-contract Godzilla director. Honda would continue to work for Toho, of course, but not in the same capacity. By this time, Toho had shifted the Godzilla series’ emphasis to appeal to children, which Honda chafed against.
The story is fairly simple: A new planet behind Jupiter, Planet X, is discovered, and two of Japan’s best astronauts, Glenn Amer (Nick Adams) and Kazuo Fuji (Akira Takarada), are sent to explore it. While there, they discover the planet is inhabited by Xiliens, a race of emotionless people ruled by a computer. The Xiliens are plagued by a creature they call Monster Zero, who is revealed to be King Ghidorah (both astronauts recognize him). In exchange for borrowing creatures they call Monster Zero-One and Monster Zero-Two — a.k.a. Godzilla and Rodan, respectively — the Xiliens will give Earth the cure to cancer (in the English dub, it is referred to instead as “the cure to all diseases”).
Back on Earth, Fuji’s sister, Haruno (Keiko Sawai), who works for Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) at the World Space Agency, along with Fuji, is engaged to an inventor, Tetsuo Torii (Akira Kubo). Torii, who provides much of the film’s comic relief, has invented a sonic device called the Ladyguard which emits a high-pitched whine anyone can use when they’re in trouble. The invention is bought by a mysterious investor represented by Miss Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno). Tetsuo spends a lot of time trying to get any of the 50 million yen he’s contractually owed, but Namikawa and her company keep avoiding him. Turns out she’s part of an advance Xilien party; once the Xiliens get their hands on Godzilla and Rodan, they betray the earth and plan to either enslave or destroy humanity. The Xiliens lack water on their planet, and as we know, Earth is lousy with the stuff.
The human drama stems from Fuji not approving of Tetsuo because he has no faith in his ability to provide for Haruno, as well as Glenn becoming suspicious of the Xiliens, led by the Commandant (Controller in the dub),played by Yoshio Tsuchiya. Glenn is also dating Miss Namikawa, not knowing until too late that she’s a Xilien. She is killed for trying to save him and breaking Xilien law. Ultimately, Tetsuo’s invention saves the day, as it makes the sound Namikawa has alerted Glenn to that will disrupt the Xilien link to their computer ruler. The Xiliens decide to escape into the future (hello, Godzilla: Final Wars) and blow up their own ships and the earth base.
Once the Xiliens are defeated and their control over the kaiju is broken, it’s brawl time, and Godzilla and Rodan go head-to-head-to-head with Ghidorah. The fight ends when all three fall into the ocean, with only Ghidorah emerging to fly away and fight another day. Fuji gives Haruno and Tetsuo his blessing, and Sakurai sends Fuji and Glenn back to Planet X to do a thorough sweep.
Invasion of Astro-Monster was written by Shin’ichi Sekizawa, with music by Akira Ifukube and special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, all of whom worked on previous entries and are renowned in the Godzilla fandom. Adams is dubbed over in the Japanese version by voice actor Goro Naya, but is the only one not dubbed in the English version. Interesting side note: Adams pronounces Rodan and Ghidorah’s names with their correct Japanese pronunciations in the English version. From everything I read about his involvement with the film, he really enjoyed working on it and treated it seriously.
Another interesting side note is how many Godzilla films Takarada has been in: He was Ogata in the original Godzilla (1954); Sakai in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964); Yoshimura in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966); Environmental Planning Board Chief Joji Minamino in the Heisei-era film Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992); UN Secretary General Naotarô Daigo in the final Millennium series entry, Godzilla: Final Wars (2004); and is listed as “Japanese Immigration Agent” in Godzilla (2014).
As I mentioned earlier, Invasion of Astro-Monster had a smaller budget, which is why Mothra did not return. The film also contains stock footage from Rodan (1956), Mothra (1961), and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.
Additionally, the injection of humor into the series, which again didn’t sit well with Honda, did do the job of cementing the Godzilla series as a family-friendly creature feature you could plop the kids in front of and walk away while they were entranced but not too scared, because Godzilla would predictably save the day.
When I was a kid, I saw most of the Showa-era films on TV, where they were Saturday afternoon staples. I wasn’t allowed to see a Godzilla film in theaters until the release of Godzilla vs. Hedorah in the U.S. in 1972 and even then, I had to be accompanied by an adult.
As an adult, I can see the seams and artifice; the baggy new Daisenso-Goji suit, which has a friendlier look than the Mosu-Goji suit of the previous film to reflect Godzilla’s more heroic nature; the models used for the towns and rockets, as well as the wires attached to make things fly; the difference between the giant Godzilla foot crushing the model towns to smithereens versus the foot on the Godzilla suit; the silly lights used to denote the computer working.
As a kid? All that stuff was real and I freaking loved and believed all of it.
The film is heavier on human interaction and antics than I would like; Godzilla fighting other monsters and stomping around is more my style. However, I was always engaged with what was happening, and I marveled at some of the stylistic directorial choices Honda makes, such as the lights in the tunnel on Planet X as they shut off behind Fuji as he walks along, sort of pushing him forward to where the Xiliens want him to go. Another great scene is when Godzilla and Rodan are left on Planet X as part of the exchange. As the rocket back to Earth gets farther away, the kaiju look smaller and less significant, the way we probably look to them.
Another thing I loved as a kid and even more as an adult? Godzilla’s victory dance after the first battle with Ghidorah on Planet X (I even have a little figurine of it). The dance comes from a character named Iyami in the manga Osomatsu-kun by Fujio Akatsuko; Iyami strikes the pose while declaring “shê!” Godzilla strikes the “shê” pose a few times in a row while skree-onking. Honda allegedly hated the dance because he didn’t want the monsters, or the movies starring them, to be comical. Toho insisted and Honda acquiesced. There’s room for some goofiness in the world of Godzilla. Of course, some of the subsequent entries would lean into the goofiness a little too hard (hello again, Godzilla: Final Wars).
The addition of American actor Nick Adams also appealed to kid me. Famous for playing Johnny Yuma in the TV show The Rebel (1959–61) and going on to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Twilight of Honor (1963) (he lost to Melvyn Douglas), Adams’ career had stalled when Invasion of Astro-Monster came along. He was added at the suggestion of associate producer Henry G. Saperstein to help market the film in the United States. Glenn’s American swagger juxtaposes nicely with Fuji’s patriarchal overprotectiveness, plus Adams and Takarada have a nice, easy camaraderie onscreen. Sadly, Adams died before the film was released in the United States.
Unlike with the U.S. release of the original Godzilla, where Raymond Burr was added after the fact, Adams isn’t shoe-horned in and doesn’t take away from other parts of the story. The U.S. version, apart from some mostly minor differences, was more faithful to the original. They did mess around a bit with Ifukube’s score, though.
For adult me, it was certainly different to see Invasion of Astro-Monster in Japanese after only having access to the English version for so long, but it’s still basically the same endearing adventure. It’s definitely fun to see what kid me accepted uncritically back in the day versus what makes adult me raise an eyebrow at the very least; e.g., there’s a Medical Delegate at the discussion about the Xilien’s offer, as well as a Housewives delegation, which helps explain Fuji’s paternalism but is also an interesting counterpoint, as it’s the women who are “tired of all the conflicts around the globe.”
Also, the Xiliens want global domination but their fight is localized entirely in two parts of Japan. On the trip with the Xiliens on their spaceship back to Planet X, Fuji wears sunglasses the entire ride. Furthermore, the Xilien plan is elaborate. They could’ve easily taken control of the kaiju without going back and forth between planets, but they drag out their inevitable betrayal for plot reasons.
Tetsuo’s arc from comic relief to hero (but still comic relief) is fun as well. Poor guy gets no respect, is captured via falling through a trapdoor, and even after saving the whole darn world, he barely gets Fuji’s blessing to marry Haruno.
Finally, the end battle is everything I waited the whole movie for as a kid and still enjoy today. After being freed from Xilien mind control, Godzilla awakens totally pissed off. He kicks a rock at Ghidorah to wake him up and thumps Rodan with his tail to get him up and fighting. Ghidorah, his heads occasionally moving willy-nilly and hitting each other (my favorite part of the old costume), gives Godzilla a hot foot that makes him hop around. Rodan picks Godzilla up and flies him into Ghidorah, after which they all tumble into the ocean, starting a tsunami. The water roils but only Ghidorah flies out and away. THE END! Bring on the sequel!
Apart from solidifying Godzilla’s heroic status, Invasion of Astro-Monster upped the comic relief factor to eleven, which was taken even higher in the next film, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, wherein Godzilla and Ebirah play volleyball with a rock). While adult me will forever prefer the more serious Godzilla pictures, kid me will always sneak an Astro-Monster or an Ebirah or especially Destroy All Monsters into the rotation, sit back, and giggle with delight and wonder at all the dancing, flying, rock-fighting I can get.