By Ben Dower
Astronauts Kazuo Fuji (Akira Takarada) and Glenn Amer (Nick Adams) are sent to investigate the newly discovered Planet X. They meet a race of humanoid aliens who live underground in fear of Ghidorah, which is attacking the planet’s surface. These Xillians request to borrow Godzilla and Rodan in order to drive Ghidorah away, and in exchange will provide Earth with a drug to cure cancer.
Tetsuo Torii (Akira Kubo) is an inventor who is in a relationship with Haruno Fuji (Keiko Sawai), Kazuo’s sister. Though they want to get married, Kazuo isn’t keen on giving his blessing. Tetsuo has invented a loud alarm, and it has caught the interest of Miss Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno) and the toy company she works for.
Astronauts Kazuo and Glenn come back to Earth and present the Xillians’ request to the authorities. While the governments of Earth debate whether or not to allow the Xillians to borrow Godzilla and Rodan, Haruno and Tetsuo meet Kazuo at a restaurant and try to convince him to permit them to marry. While at the restaurant, they see Glenn go on a date with Miss Namikawa.
The Xillians show up on Earth in flying saucers and trap Godzilla and Rodan, despite Earth not reaching an agreement with them. The authorities on Earth agree to the deal for the cancer drug, and the Xillians take Godzilla, Rodan, Kazuo, Glenn, and Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) to Planet X.
Almost as soon as they arrive on Planet X, Ghidorah appears and attacks Godzilla and Rodan. The two monsters fight back, quickly driving the space dragon away. During the battle, Kazuo and Glenn sneak off and have a look around the Xillians’ underground base. They discover that all the women on Planet X look like Miss Namikawa. The Controller of Planet X (Yoshio Tsuchiya) forgives them for sneaking off and sends the humans back to Earth with a recording of how to make the cancer drug.
The recording turns out to contain an ultimatum demanding the complete surrender of the Earth. Miss Namikawa reveals herself to be an Xillian spy, but says she really loves Glenn. Just before she is destroyed for disobeying the Controller of Planet X and acting on her emotions, she slips a note into Glenn’s pocket. The note informs Glenn that the Xillians can be injured by a sound, which Tetsuo realizes is the same sound his alarm makes.
The Xillians attack Earth using Godzilla, Rodan, and Ghidorah. Kazuo, Glenn, Dr. Sakurai, and Tetsuo manage to interrupt the aliens’ control of the monsters and the sound of the alarm is broadcast around the world, forcing the Xillians into retreat. Freed from Xillian control, Godzilla and Rodan turn on Ghidorah, driving him from Earth for the second time.
With Japanese monster movies proving to be profitable for their U.S. distributors, UPA had producer Henry G. Saperstein work directly with Toho to co-produce movies. As part of this colaboration, Hollywood actor Nick Adams starred in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and Invasion of Astro-Monster, and Russ Tamblyn starred in War of the Gargantuas (1966). Nick Adams brings great energy and charisma to his role. Despite speaking all his lines in English on set, there is still a real sense of chemistry with his Japanese co-stars, especially Akira Takarada and Kumi Mizuno. There is also a very brief kiss between Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno, and it remains the only kiss in a live-action Japanese Godzilla movie to this day.
As with all good scifi, Invasion of Astro-Monster has relevant themes woven through it. The Xillians take orders from the Controller of Planet X and are all of one mind under his rule, while humanity is full of individuals who each bring different skills to the table. This portrayal of humanity’s diversity is enhanced by Nick Adams’ presence among the Japanese cast. In 1965, the world was divided, almost to the point of nuclear war, between the communist nations and democratic ones. It’s not hard to read the Xillians as a metaphor for a communist country and humanity as a stand in for a democratic one.
Also, the two main female characters in the film have men in their lives preventing them from marrying the man they love. For Miss Namikawa, it is the Controller of Planet X and his imposed social order that is restricting her ability to marry Glenn. For Haruno, it’s her brother who won’t allow her to marry Tetsuo. Miss Namikawa ends up being destroyed for her forbidden love, but Haruno eventually receives her brother’s blessing after Tetsuo’s invention literally saves the world.
With much of the Americanization of Invasion of Astro-Monster being incorporated into the initial production, very little was changed upon its release in North America. A few minutes were trimmed from the film, some music and sound effects were changed, and all the Japanese cast were given an English dub. The English dub, which keeps Nick Adams’ original English delivery of his lines, is fantastic, and one of the few Japanese giant monster films in which I prefer the English dub over the original Japanese version.
For decades, the American version of Invasion of Astro-Monster was the only version distributed in North America. In 2007, both the U.S. and Japanese versions of the film were released on a single DVD by Classic Media. Invasion of Astro-Monster is currently available as part of The Criterion Collection’s Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975Blu-ray set featuring the first 15 Godzilla movies. This Criteron Collection release of the film contains the original Japanese version and the English dub synced to the Japanese cut, reverting to the Japanese audio during scenes trimmed from the U.S. edit. Unfortunately, there seems to be no cut available anywhere keeping the film as it was shot, with Nick Adam’s original English dialogue alongside the Japanese spoken by the rest of the cast.