Godzilla vs. Monster Zero / Monster Zero / Invasion of the Astro-Monsters / Invasion of Astro-Monster / Invasion of Planet X / Kaiju Daisenso (1965/1970) **½
Curiously enough, the 1965 Godzilla movie ended up being practically a remake of its immediate predecessor. Or on second thought, maybe that wasn’t so curious after all. Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, despite being both a fair commercial success and, in retrospect, the shape of things to come for kaiju eiga, was also a disjointed shambles of a movie that played almost as though it had been filmed directly from notes taken at a screenwriters’ brainstorming session. Had it been my movie, I’d have been sorely tempted to do it all again, and see if I couldn’t force it to make some kind of sense the second time around. Whether or not that was their intention, it is essentially what Ishiro Honda and Shinichi Sekizawa did with Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. Again we have Godzilla and Rodan (Mothra was apparently cut for budgetary reasons) squaring off against the tri-cephalic space dragon King Ghidorah; again there are beings from another planet involved; and again the handling of Godzilla himself is such that he winds up fighting both for and against mankind over the course of the film. But in contrast to Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero weaves all the elements together into a halfway coherent whole.
It isn’t clear to what extent on the basis of the US version, but it seems likely that this movie is set at least some distance into the future— far enough, anyway, for the United Nations to have begun evolving into a more or less functional world government with, among other things, its own multinational space agency. Scientists in the employ of that agency, led by the Japanse Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki, from King Kong vs. Godzilla and Atragon), have discovered a previously unknown planet just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It’s a smallish world, and its surface is so dark and unreflective that it is completely invisible to conventional telescopes. Planet X (as Sakurai has dubbed it) is, however, a powerful radio source, and it is those emissions that tipped off the astronomers. Sakurai also believes that the radio waves from Planet X are behind a recent rash of atmospheric disturbances on Earth, and thus it is that the UN Space Authority has dispatched astronauts Glenn (Nick Adams, of Die, Monster, Die! and Frankenstein Conquers the World) and Fuji (Akira Takarada, from Godzilla vs. the Thing and King Kong Escapes) to Planet X on a mission of investigation. To the considerable surprise of both explorers, Planet X harbors a civilization the advancement of which puts our own to shame, although no one would ever guess that from a survey of the planet’s desolate surface. As the Controller of Planet X (Yoshio Tsuchiya, of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and The Human Vapor) explains, this is because his world is subject to frequent attacks by Monster Zero— known to us Earthlings as King Ghidorah— which have long since forced the X-ites underground. The depredations of Monster Zero are a point which the Controller would very much like to take up with the leaders of Earth, for it has come to the X-ites’ attention that Ghidorah was once driven away from our world by some of Earth’s own native kaiju. In fact, the Controller hopes to persuade humanity to part temporarily with Godzilla and Rodan, so that the Earth-monsters might reprise their previous victory on Planet X— and he’s prepared to offer us the formula for a drug that will cure all disease in exchange.
King Ghidorah happens to put in an appearance while the Controller is parleying with his interplanetary guests, and the resulting chaos gives Glenn and Fuji reason to suspect that the aliens are just a bit less than fully trustworthy. No sooner does word come over the intercom that the monster has seriously damaged the “hydrogen oxide plant” than the Controller triggers some sort of sound- and light-proof forcefield, in which the astronauts remain sealed until the end of the attack. The aliens fend off Glenn’s and Fuji’s questions about what happened with an obvious smokescreen of glib non-answers before sending the visitors home to negotiate on the X-ites’ behalf for the loan of the two monsters. Neither man can quite put his finger on why, but it gives both a bad feeling to consider that the aliens would want to maintain such secrecy over a little damage to a water-treatment plant.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Fuji’s little sister, Haruno (Dagora, the Space Monster’s Keiko Sawai), is dating a young man named Tetsuo Teri (Akira Kubo, of Gorath and Yog, Monster from Space), of whom Fuji disapproves strenuously. Tetsuo fancies himself an inventor, but since none of his contraptions seem like they could possibly be of any practical use to anybody, it’s simple enough to understand why Fuji would look askance at him. Plus, he’s pretty much the hugest imaginable dork, the kind of guy that the brothers of Lambda Lambda Lambda would keep around in the hope of making themselves look cooler in comparison. His latest worthless widget is a device about the size of a lady’s powder compact, which, when activated, makes a god-awful shrieking noise at volumes sufficient to be heard halfway across town— that’s really all the thing does. Nevertheless, even Haruno considers it only a little bit strange when a representative of the International Educational Products corporation by the name of Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno, from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and War of the Gargantuas)— who, by an interesting coincidence, has recently begun dating Glenn— shows up with a contract to buy Tetsuo’s invention for $100,000.
Glenn and Fuji, upon arriving back on Earth, deliver the X-ites’ message to the United Nations Supreme Council. After hearing both the astronauts’ report and some testimony from a succession of do-gooder organizations around the globe, the Council votes to accept the offer from Planet X. The X-ites may come to Earth to collect Godzilla and Rodan, and the leaders of humanity will accept the aliens’ wonder-drug in compensation. But despite the apparent unanimity of opinion within the Council, it ruffles a few feathers when a trio of X-ite spaceships emerge from a lake in central Japan, revealing that the aliens at best presumed an affirmative answer, and at worst intended to run off with the monsters anyway, no matter what the UN Supreme Council had to say on the subject. It’s a minor incident, as diplomatic scuffles go, but again it gets Glenn and Fuji thinking that somebody ought to be keeping a closer watch on the X-ites. Both men volunteer to return with the aliens to Planet X, so as to look out for any further suspicious behavior while taking possession of the tapes on which the instructions for making the X-ite drug are recorded.
Anyone who’s had even the slightest exposure to 50’s and 60’s sci-fi movies will surely not need me to tell them that treachery is waiting in the wings. Upon reaching Planet X, Glenn and Fuji learn that the aliens are able to use magnetic waves to control Godzilla and Rodan, raising the interesting question of why they couldn’t just do the same with King Ghidorah to keep him from attacking their world. Glenn also discovers that every woman on Planet X is an exact duplicate of Namikawa, meaning that Namikawa herself is almost certainly an X-ite agent. That, in turn, probably goes a long way toward explaining why International Educational Products has suddenly begun giving Tetsuo the runaround on the subjects of when his invention is slated to enter production, and when he can expect to get paid. And if the X-ites want to keep the Shriek-O-Matic under wraps, then chances are the gizmo is more useful than even its inventor recognizes. The big reveal comes when the UN Supreme Council plays the tape that was supposed to contain the drug formula, and hears instead an ultimatum from the Controller, demanding that the people of Earth accept X-ite suzerainty. Presumably all that water covering seven tenths of our planet’s surface is the big draw for the aliens. If we do not comply, then Planet X will unleash the magnetically controlled Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah to act as their invasion force. We have 24 hours in which to decide.
It’s rather a shame that Shinichi Sekizawa didn’t have this script ready to go in 1964. In most respects, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero is a significant improvement over Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. The human story is related to the monster battles in an obvious and meaningful way; all of the plot-threads do eventually tie together, even if a few of the joins are somewhat loose and untidy; and the goofiness of the goofiest thing in the film (Tetsuo’s ridiculous shrieking machine) is expressly acknowledged as a plot point. Taken together, these refinements address most of my biggest complaints with the previous movie. But the tighter budget constraints under which the production had to operate meant that the follow-up film was forced to scale back the monster action a bit, and as a consequence, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero is one of the slowest-moving entries in the entire series. It also inaugurates the lamentable tradition of reusing Ghidrah’s most impressive effects shots— although, thankfully, it doesn’t take the recycling to anywhere near the extremes that we’d see in Godzilla on Monster Island seven years later. The high quality of the new city-smashing footage— especially the stuff involving the huge Godzilla-foot prop used for close-up house-stomping shots— suggests that if it had been capitalized to the same extent as its predecessor, it might have come close to matching the impact of Godzilla vs. the Thing.