Friday, April 1, 2011

Uchū Kaisokusen (Invasion of the Neptune Men) (1961)
JAPAN --- science fiction

Dir: Koji Ota

I'm a Gen-Xer, not a baby-boomer. I did not grow up in the 1950's or 60's. So, looking back on the films and television properties of that era is always interesting for me. I guess my main attraction would be to see how the science fiction genre evolved. In Japan, Tokusatsu (which is loosely translated from meaning "special photography" or "special effects"), became a genre in the mid-1950's following the massive success and inspiration of the Gojira films. Theatres ran serials of a character called "Sūpā Jaiantsu" (Super Giant), which was a success. Of course, Japanese television began to air Tokusatsu shows, the first being "Gekkō Kamen" in 1958. Soon after this hit, a slew of copy cats invaded the airwaves for the children's television market. These shows inspired series that even came to America as late as the 90's with shows like "Ultraman" and "Power Rangers". Of course anything that gets too successful is going to have multiple knockoffs. This film is no exception. Uchū Kaisokusen (Invasion of the Neptune Men) is a pretty cheesy fun children's science fiction film from the cold war era.

This review is going to be biased because it's going off the dubbed American version, and not the original Japanese dialogue, though I doubt it would matter much. Featuring the debut of Shinichi Chiba (later to be named Sonny Chiba of The Streetfighter, Kill Bill fame), Uchū Kaisokusen involves a scientist, Tabana, who's alter-ego happens to be the superhero "Iron-Sharp" (or Space Chief in the English dub). When a group of boys mistake a UFO for a fallen satellite, they are attacked by bullet-helmeted alien beings; it's "Space Chief" to the rescue. After a quick defeat, the aliens rocket back into space and the hero "Space Chief" receives his name from the boys. Soon, a strange electronic band wave causes a series of odd events such as clocks running backwards and trains reversing. Scientists (including Tabana) learn that the wave is coming from the earth and emitted into space. Later, the kids find a left over piece of the alien ship, which eventually lead scientists to pinpoint the source of the wave is coming from Neptune. Of course, this means war, as the aliens plan to invade earth, and only "Space Chief" can save the day.

American producer Walter Manley snatched up this film along with the "Prince of Space" serials, which he edited together into films. The dubbed American actors over the Japanese dialogue has not aged well. Something that has become acceptably standard for the anime or Shaw Bros. kung-fu genre is not all that great here. Maybe it's just me. While this films progenitor, "Prince of Space" serials, had an over-the-top villainous Hitler-inspired Krankor and his minions, the aliens in this film are pretty lame. It also brings up the fact that using WWII file footage in a children's film is kinda strange.