Saturday, June 9, 2012

LIE #14: Hero Zero (an appreciation of Godzilla movie, “Monster Zero”)

Monster Zero (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero; Invasion of the Astro-Monster; 1965; Ishiro Honda; special visual effects by Eiji Tsurubaya) is a dopey movie that’s awesome.

A kid’s favorite—
If you like giant monsters, flying saucers and the swingin’ 60s, check out Monster Zero (my preferred title of the many this movie seems to have).
All the best Godzilla movies are mash-ups (more on that theory in a moment), and Monster Zero is a combo of Toho’s popular space battle/alien invasion movies (like The Mysterions), kaiju (men in monster suits), and Japanese New Wave detective flicks, like Go to Hell, Bastards.

In the near future, Planet X is discovered behind Jupiter, and astronauts Fuji and Glenn are sent to investigate.
There, they discover/are captured by the alien rulers of the planet. The Xers live underground because they’re constantly under attack by three-headed, gold-scaled electric space dragon King Ghidrah (one of my all-time favorite monsters), whom the cybernetic aliens call Monster Zero.

The aliens want to “borrow” Earth monsters Godzilla and Rodan to defeat Ghidrah, but really it’s all a plan to take over our world!
Will astronauts Fuji and Glenn save the day?
Who cares as long as Tokyo gets shattered first!

First, let’s get the ridiculous out of the way: Why do the Aliens from Planet X even bother with subterfuge?
With their flying saucers, death rays, gravity beams, and monster mind-control devices, the aliens could’ve just started kicking ass without “asking” to borrow our monsters in the first place.

But it’s the addition of the detective genre that requires the subterfuge as Glenn and Fuji play private eye, sneaking around both Japan and Planet X gathering intel. Because I do think the brain-boys at Godzilla’s studio, Toho, sat around figuring out the best marketing and/or genre combos—see what’s selling, and add Gojira to the mix.
Meanwhile, the subplot about the disappearance of Fuji’s sister’s goofy boyfriend, Tetsuo, is exactly like some of the more comedic Japanese detective crime movies—and it effectively dovetails right into the space invasion storyline. (Tetsuo has invented the LadyGuard Alarm, a kind of sonic taser that causes the invaders intense pain but is harmless to humans.)

The design of Monster Zero is wonderfully mod, in the bars and restaurants shown on earth, or the control rooms of Planet X and its flying saucers. The saucers are a unique design, as well, and even I’ve got them incorporated into one of my tattoos.
The leather DEVO outfits of Planet X are shamefully outrageous, and make you wonder if a Rocky Horror-style New Wave music number will bust out.
But those crazy outfits sell the heck out this movie! If people randomly watch, the minute they see those kinky space fascist uniforms—with antenna on top!—
they don’t change the channel.

While the film often borrows scenes of destruction from other Toho productions, especially Rodan, to pad the flick out,
effects wizard Eiji Tsurubaya has created enough indelible images to satisfy everyone’s inner special-effects geek—monsters fighting on alien worlds, lots of animated electricity beams, those beautiful saucers, and much more.
Akira Ikufube’s score is very haunting, and the movie is a wonder of odd sound effects, from the saucers’ whining engines, to Ghidrah’s squeaky roar.

Also: I’m surprised no one has sampled the dialog of this movie—it’d be perfect looped against techno or big-beat:
 “Escape! Escape into the future! Into that dimension… we’ve never seen! Escape!”
“Turn up your radios as loud as possible so that we may broadcast this unpleasant noise.”
“A happy moment.” (said as unemotionally and robotically as possible)

For those who seek out those things—wink!—there’s a R. Kern/melancholic sex-death aspect about the alien females in the movie, as well: so beautiful, but so disposable as well…. Very much like the secondary female leads of James Bond movies, the sexy women of Planet X are used, and only for fucking, extracting info from, and dying. Poor gals…
Regarding Godzilla films as genre mash-ups:
Godzilla hadn’t made a film since the original movie’s sequel in the mid-1950s, and he was brought back (unfrozen out of the ice, actually) in King Kong vs. Godzilla.
This was kaiju bolted on to the then-very popular “salaryman” comedy genre (working stiff dealing with lamebrain bosses, usually)—perhaps the producers were worried that nothing but monsters fighting would turn off some potential ticket buyers.

It’s a formula that works in my opinion, making subplots intriguing on their own, or to provide counterpoint:
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster was kaiju and the Polynesian/surf genre aimed at the teenagers of Japan—
Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster brought the “dark sunglasses international spy” subgenre into the mix.
Gojira Tai Hedorah (or Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster to us Yankee barbarians) is a psychedelic movie first (think Yellow Submarine, or Psych-Out) coupled with a heavy pro-environmentalism theme and kaiju (and by 1971, Godzilla was in his “friendly” phase).

Meanwhile, Godzilla’s Revenge (1969) is an unsung, usually vilified-before-seen, entry in the field—one that bolts Godzilla onto itself as a cultural phenomena, with an afterschool special stirred into the mix.
Godzilla’s Revenge is a genuinely good film—as long as you watch it not expecting the latest monster mash, but instead a tale of a sad, bullied pre-adolescent with an excessive imagination, a little boy’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. My mega review of that HERE.

Both Godzilla’s Revenge and Monster Zero (listed at the site under the title Godzilla vs. Monster Zero—but when you start to watch it, the on-screen title card is for Monster Zero!) are available via Netflix Streaming—both are worth it depending on your mood, but Godzilla’s Revenge even more.


  1. Yes! This is the Gojira film that I remember most, and upon re-watching not too long ago, was struck by the amazing, near-psychedelic-cum-pop art prod design. No wonder it struck a chord. I remember digging the whole journey to mars / the aliens live inside the planet stuff, and of course the battle royale between G and 0. I remember anticipating G V. King Kong more (because they're both superstars) but this one really delivered, and isna truly awesome kaiju epic.

  2. One thing I forgot to mention: 1968's Destroy All Monsters (and later, Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) are essentially remakes of Monster Zero.
    But that's what series do: Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me are remakes of You Only Live Twice. Who are we to argue with success?