When it comes to science fiction Hollywood may have cornered the market on the cinematic adventures of stalwart heroes facing off against alien invaders or atomic monsters for that matter, but over in Japan the likes of Toho Studios were doing their best to give the “big boys” a run for the money and to accomplish this they tasked one of their best filmmakers, legendary director Ishirō Honda, to turn his talents from a rampaging atomic monster to telling a thrilling story about a certain Battle in Outer Space.
Ishirō Honda’s Battle in Outer Space tells the simple story about galactic invaders picking the wrong sandbox to kick over, and this particular outing begins with a series of mysterious attacks all over the planet and above. These incidents range from a railroad bridge being levitated off the ground and causing a train wreck in Japan, an American ocean liner lifted out of the Panama Canal by a waterspout and the canals of Venice exploding across the city, but to kick it all off an orbiting space station is blasted by a fleet of what look like flying saucers. Meanwhile, over at the World Conference – not to be mistaken for the United Nations as these dudes actually get things done – the various world leaders all question what these strange events could entail.
What’s odd is that members of the World Council hold out hope that whichever alien race is behind these events could still have come in peace, which seems a little optimistic considering the worldwide damage that has been inflicted so far. Do they think alien races have a different method of offering an olive branch, like wiping out entire cities is a friendly gesture where they come from? Lucky for the people of Earth, the members also prepare for the worst-case scenario and the military is engaged to display their ever so cool heat ray and two rocket ships that will be sent to the Moon on a reconnaissance mission as it is believed that the aliens have a base on the dark side.
The aliens, who learn are called the Natal during one of their broadcasted threats, weren’t going to take that kind of shit lying down and with their miraculous ability to beam a tiny radio transmitter into someone’s brain they can turn any human into a double agent, which results in our heroes having to thwart a mind-controlled member of the World Council who tries to sabotage the heat ray experiments, but just who are these stalwart heroes? First off we have the brave Major Ichiro Katsumiya (Ryô Ikebe) whose main job is to give curt directions and look stoic, next we have the beautiful Etsuko Shiraishi (Kyôko Anzai) but her job is mainly to be a damsel in distress when almost captured by Natal soldiers on the Moon, next is the mission Commander (Minoru Takada), who doesn’t really do much of anything, and finally, there is Iwamura (Yoshio Tsuchiya) who is the one astronaut to get mind-controlled by the Natal. There are a few other astronauts on the mission but they don’t do much more than ride around in their cool Moon Rover and help carry the heat ray around, and maybe hand out snack food and drinks?
• A speaker at the World Council points out that those survivors of the initial attack suffered from frostbite which implies “That by rapidly lowering the temperature of a certain object its gravity would also be decreased.” Now, I’ll admit to not being much of a science whiz but does that sound like utter nonsense to anyone else?
• When the scout ship reaches orbit one of the astronauts freaks out when he floats up to the ceiling after undoing his seatbelt, completely surprised by the lack of gravity, which raises the question “Does Japan skip the whole astronaut training process?” Weirder still is that he seems to be the only crewmember affected by the lack of gravity.
• The villainous alien Natal apparently has the same guided meteor technology as the Zagons from the science fiction classic This Island Earth.
• The crew go off to find the alien base while leaving their mind-controlled crewmember completely unguarded in their own spacecraft, “Do these people have any idea of security or even self-preservation?”
Narratively speaking Ishirō Honda’s Battle in Outer Space is an odd duck as the primary plot of the movie focuses on a group of intrepid astronauts flying to the Moon to destroy the alien base, thus saving the Earth, but when this is accomplished, with the mind-controlled Iwamura being freed who then sacrifices himself so his friends can escape, but after all that the movie still has ten minutes or so to go. What follows is a massive dogfight between the saucers and Earth’s quickly marshalled defences – we are told all nations put aside their differences to form a unifying force – and the movie ends after the Natal mothership launches Space Torpedoes that hit New York and San Francisco but is then destroyed by an Atomic Heat Cannon. This is if Star Wars: A New Hope hadn’t ended at the destruction of the Death Star but, instead, ended with Tie-Fighters striking various bases on the forest moon of Yavin until someone managed to blow up a pesky Star Destroyer with an Ion Cannon.
Note: The idea of cities being laid waste by an alien anti-gravity ray would later be “borrowed” by Roland Emmerich for his terrible sequel Independence Day: Resurgence.
The plot to Battle in Outer Space may be fairly ridiculous but the reason to watch these kinds of things is for all the cool and funky rocket ships on display and as Moon vehicles and alien bases fill a 90-minute run time and it doesn’t matter that every single character in the movie is pretty much interchangeable with each other because all we want to see is space dogfights and aliens blowing shit up, and in that area, Ishirō Honda does not disappoint and the end result is a delightfully goofy space adventure that is fun for the whole family.
Battle in Outer Space (1959)
Movie Rank - 6/10
This may not have the most scintillating script in the world but when it comes to cool model work Battle in Outer Space provides another perfect example of just how great the Japanese are at miniature work and blowing shit up. What’s not to love?