Astronauts Fuji and Glenn pilot the World Space Authority rocket P-1 around Jupiter to explore the newly-discovered Planet X. There, they encounter a race of technologically-advanced aliens who are under siege by the three-headed dragon KingGhidorah. The denizens of Planet X offer the Earth men a proposition - "loan" them the radioactive reptiles Godzilla and Rodan to defeat the marauding creature and they will share with mankind a cure for cancer. World leaders are more than happy to aid their newfound cosmic neighbors (and to seemingly get rid of Godzilla and Rodan forever), but Glenn and Fuji suspect that there is more to the arrangement than meets the eye. They are proven right when, instead of a miracle drug, Earth receives an ultimatum from the Controller of Planet X and an unwelcome visit from all three giant monsters.
Toho´s original 1954 Godzilla film was a somber nuclear allegory, but the series shifted abruptly from serious horror to colorful fantasy in the early 1960s. By the time INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER (KAIJU DAISENSO in Japan, MONSTER ZERO in the U.S.) was released in 1965, the films were being marketed primarily to children, with the emphasis squarely placed on action-packed battles between two or more increasingly anthropomorphic titans. For this particular entry, this multi-monster formula was cleverly cross-bred with another popular Toho genre, the space opera, to set the blueprint for the majority of Godzilla films to come over the subsequent four decades. Though INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER lacks the narrative depth of earlier installments in the franchise, it is extremely lively, energetic fun that will keep the young (and young at heart) thoroughly entertained from beginning to end.
Fans of the series will recognize a host of familiar faces here. Toho´s most versatile player of the 60s and 70s, Akira Kubo, does a fine turn as a nerdy inventor romantically involved with astronaut Fuji´s younger sister, while ruggedly handsome Akira Takarada and American actor Nick Adams team up as the two-fisted protagonists. Takarada, Japan´s answer to Sean Connery or Cary Grant, is his usual cool, swaggering self, while Adams seemingly has a ball stealing lines and mannerisms from Humphrey Bogart and wooing glamorous co-star Kumi Mizuno, who plays a toy agency executive with ties to Planet X. Though Adams´ memorable delivery is lost in the Japanese print, where he is dubbed, he still manages to steal almost every scene he is in. Character actor Yoshio Tsuchiya adds another triumph to his long list of unusual and off-beat roles, essaying the sinister Controller of Planet X with both creepiness and condescension.
The usual suspects are on hand behind the scenes as well, with director Ishiro Honda, special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, unheralded production designer Takeo Kita, and composer Akira Ifukube teaming for their fifth Godzilla film. Honda does a fine job keeping things moving along at a brisk pace, painting the script´s messages about over reliance on technology and the dangers of blind trust in "benevolent" foreign powers with broad strokes so that the film never loses its focus on spectacle and action. Ifukube´s score might be the richest, most rousing work of his storied career, his eerie horror themes and glorious marches blending seamlessly to perfectly enhance the weird, wild happenings. Though forced by budget constraints to employ some stock footage for the first time in the series, Tsuburaya again displays his mastery of thrilling destruction scenes and exciting monster melees, presenting some of the most impressive miniature work in the history of the genre. Kita, however, is the unsung hero of the film, crafting wonderfully futuristic sets and colorfully bizarre costumes to give the whole endeavor the feel of a big budget, 1960s version of a FLASH GORDON serial.
INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER is certainly juvenile fare. Its science is at times simplified to an almost elementary school level (as in the scene where the crew of the P-I is shown upside down because, as Glenn explains, the ship is "180 degrees off course"), and its monsters are more lovable than frightening (Godzilla does a silly, celebratory dance after defeating KingGhidorah in their first run-in). When viewed with this deliberate bent toward the kiddies in mind, however, the film is an exuberant and engaging treat. Watching it is like picking up a comic book that you loved as a child and being pleasantly reminded that it´s nice to put both logic and worry aside for a little while to enjoy some broad escapism. It´s joyful sci-fi silliness worth recommending to children of all ages, from 5 to 95.