Toho In America: The Mysterians

Toho in America
A Critical Comparison between the Japanese and
American Versions of the Toho Fantasy Films

Chikyu Boeigun (Earth Defense Force)
Released: December 28, 1957
Running Time: 88 Minutes

The Mysterians
Released: May 15, 1959 by MGM
Running Time: 85 Minutes

(Formerly available on VCI Home Video, United Home Video and Star Classics)

Analysis by Brian R. Culver

Fresh from the success of Gojira (1954, US title: Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, 1956) and Sora no Daikaiju Radon (1956, US title: Rodan, 1957), Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka reassembled the winning team of director Ishiro Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, composer Akira Ifukube, along with staff and cast members from both movies for another project.  As before, the new film would have a science-fiction premise, touch upon the dangers of the atom bomb, and feature numerous opportunities to depict sequences of spectacular destruction.  What this new film would not have was a giant prehistoric monster as the film’s focus.

The new film, Chikyu Boeigun (Earth Defense Force) was Toho’s first movie involving alien invaders, a story element which would play a large part in later films such as Uchu Daisenso (Battle in Outer Space, 1959), Kaiju Daisenso (War of the Monsters, 1965. U.S. title: Monster Zero, 1970. Video title: Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), Kaiju Shoshingeki (Monster Attack March, 1968. U.S. title: Destroy All Monsters, 1969) and a majority of the Godzilla films from the 1970’s.  Science-fiction writer Jojiro Okami, whose works would also form the basis for Uchu Daisenso, Yosei Gorasu (Gorath, the Mysterious Star, 1962. U.S. title: Gorath, 1964) and Uchu Daikaiju Dogora (Dogora, the Space Monster, 1964. U.S. title: Dagora (sic), the Space Monster, 1965) is credited with writing the story upon which the screenplay is based.  In fact, several characters in both Chikyu Boeigun and Uchu Daisenso share the same names.

Although the danger of atomic science is the running theme most associated with Japanese science-fiction, Chikyu Boeigun introduces another theme that would also permeate the genre (particularly Toho’s films): world cooperation. Chikyu Boeigun and future Honda films would promote international brotherhood by the depiction of global pooling of knowledge and resources, usually via the United Nations or some associated international organization.  The goal of this global unity was to develop often incredible technologies to solve problems rather than to wage war.  Honda’s idealistic vision of the U.N. is also present in Uchu Daisenso, Yosei Gorasu , Kaiju Daisenso, King Kong no Gyakushu (King Kong’s Counterattack , 1967. U.S. title: King Kong Escapes, 1968), and Kaiju Shoshingeki to name a few, and is felt even in films that didn’t involve Honda or Toho.  In a genre which regularly depicted and/or implied death and destruction on a tremendous scale, this notion of cooperation and unity provided a positive counterbalance, and also usually a means to story resolution. This recurring depiction of a technologically based world peace keeping force in so many films would eventually create a short of continuity in the  films of the “Toho Universe,”  certainly as strong as the return of any monster or human character.

It is reported that Tanaka insisted that a monster be written into Chikyu Boeigun to assure good box office, and so Mogera was born.  Instead of a prehistoric creature awakened by atomic testing, Mogera is a giant death ray-emitting robot created by the inhabitants of Mysteroid. Following the strange occurrences at the film’s beginning, Mogera emerges from a mountainside as the first phase of the Mysterians’ attack. Unlike later attempts to shoe-horn monsters into Toho films, Mogera is well integrated into the story and provides the first third of the film with some exciting sequences.

Whereas Sora no Daikaiju Radon had introduced color to Toho’s genre films, Chikyu Boeigun was the first to be filmed in an anamorphic wide screen process. At an aspect ratio of about 2.35 to 1, this process (introduced in America four years earlier) was created to give the theatrical experience something unique to compete with the up-and-coming threat of television.  Billed as “Toho Scope” through the mid-60’s, almost all of Toho’s special effects films were shot this way until switching to a less panoramic (and thus cheaper) matted wide screen in the early 1980’s.

Chikyu Boeigun was purchased for US distribution by RKO Radio Pictures, who titled the film The Mysterians after the film’s alien adversaries. The Mysterians was a genre first in that it was more or less left intact by the American distributor.  Although some changes were made, they were relatively small compared to the extensive techniques (such as rescoring , additional footage, narration to reduce dubbing costs, etc.) used to Americanize previous Toho monster films for stateside release. The changes are described in the following paragraphs.

-The film credits (except for an extended title) are removed to the end of the American version, resulting in the following differences in the opening:

Japanese version
Toho logo with music. Fade to black.
Fade into Universe Station as the title music fades in and film’s title appears. The station makes a whirring sound and moves off screen to the right. The star background also moves but at a slower rate). After the station is off screen the credits continue as six flying saucers are seen and heard following it. The Earth comes into view from the left. Fade to black.
Fade into night sky above village.

American version
Fade into Universe Station as the title music begins. It silently moves off screen to the right as the words “RKO Radio Pictures Presents” appear on the screen. After the station is off screen the scene dissolves and the star field shifts suddenly to the right (editing out a few seconds of the original credits). As three flying saucers go silently by, a white speck appears which expands to become the film’s title above a copyright notice and MPAA logo. Fade to black. Fade into night sky above village.

-Jyoji Atsumi (Kenji Sahara) presents Riochi Shiraishi’s (Akihiko Hirata) thesis to Dr. Adachi (Takashi Shimura). The cover reads “The Mysterians” in English (the American dubbing script perhaps?) which replaces a similar shot of a Japanese cover.

-At a Diet Assembly meeting in Tokyo following Mogera’s destruction, Jyoji announces that the creature was not alive but was a robot made of an unearthly substance. “are you saying it’s from outer space?” asks a man in the audience.  Jyoji replies “I’m not sure yet.”  Dissolve to observatory telescope at night.

-The soundtrack on all known prints of the American version is distorted for the film’s first third, returning to normal sometime after the Mysterian dome appears. This most noticeably affects the music, but sound effects such as car tires screeching are also affected. It has been theorized that this might have been an intentional attempt to create a more eerie sound to Akira Ifukube’s music during the unusual happenings at the film’s beginning.

-A group of scientists are invited into thhe Mysterians dome. “It gives me great pleasure to meet such distinguished men of Earth” the Mysterian Leader (Yoshio Tsuchiya) tells them. Tsutomo Koda (Tetsu Nakamura) replies “After what you’ve done we cannot greet you so openly,” referring to the destruction caused by Mogera and the subsequent artificial earthquake. “A small sacrifice to avoid a large war” responds the Leader. “You call that a small sacrifice?” asks Nobuo Kawanami (Fuyuki Murakami).  The Leader  proceeds to justify their actions and explain their mission on Earth.  One scene of the Mysterian Leader lasts 4 seconds longer in the Japanese version, possibly the result of deleting a line of dialog (reportedly improvised by Tsuchiya) about Earth people selling real estate on the Moon and Mars without permission.

-Minor alterations were made to the scene of Jyoji telling Hiroko (Momoko Kochi) and Etsuko
(Yumi Shirakawa) of the Mysterians’ intermarriage plans before being interrupted by Riochi’s television communiqué.  The march music accompanying the news report they are watching is cued differently to the visuals and continues past Jyoji’s entrance, where it originally ended. Soft piano music, which plays from Jyoji’s entrance until Riochi appears, has been removed from the sound track. As Riochi addresses the trio, one shot of Jyoji listening has been cut short by 5 seconds. The cause for this edit is probably the simplification of the dialog for the English dubbing.  From this scene through the remainder of the film the American version gives Riochi’s dubbed the same unearthly speaker/echo reverberation as the Mysterian leader in all scenes of him either on TV or wearing a helmet.  In the Japanese version there is no such enhancement.

-Several brief but inconsequential effects shots were deleted from the first attack on the Mysterians.  Alien saucers intercept a squadron of jets.  Three saucers fly by and fire. Two more saucers fly by and one of them fires.  A jet is hit and catches fire.  As the fighting continues a jet is seen flying sideways to the right.  Later another jet crashes at the foot of the Mysterian dome creating a large explosion. The dome fires a ray in the direction the jet came from.  There is a sudden jump in the scene (as though the cameras stopped rolling) followed by another explosion and another ray fired from the dome, which melts a mobile dish antenna.

-Following the first battle, the first two newspapers out of a montage of five (depicting headlines of the Mysterian victory, the first two being in Japanese) have been deleted from the American version.

-Since English translations would be redundant in an English dubbed film, sequences of a translator (played by Heihachiro “Henry” Okawa) interpreting for Earth Defense Force Committee members were altered, effectively changing his role from parrot to peer.  Two scenes of him translating English into Japanese for Dr. DeGracia and Dr. Svenson (George Farness and Harold S. Conway, whose respective character names were Richardson and Immerman in the Japanese version) were dubbed to have him add to rather than restate their comments.  Later, as General Morita (Susumu Fujita) gives a strategy briefing to the EDFC in Japanese, he pauses twice to allow the translator to repeat the briefing in English each time.  The American version omits the translator’s scenes entirely, making General Morita’s dialog into one continuous (English dubbed) presentation.

-As the air attack on the Mysterians is about to commence, Jyoji, Captain Seki (Hisaya Ito) and Police Officer Miyamoto (Yutaka Sada) enter an observation post. While watching the dome from a lookout the following exchange takes place:
Jyoji: “I wonder what’s happening.  They gave the order didn’t they?”
Miyamoto: “Did they call it off?”
Seki: “The battle has begun. Such a quiet war. No cannon fire or the appearance of planes or tanks.”

-Several brief shots were trimmed from Hiroko and Etsuko’s abduction.  Both miniature shots of the women being carried into the saucers remove the first part of the shot where the floating aliens can be seen moving their arms.   As the alien approaches Etsuko, the American version cuts away before Etsuko is seen fainting into his arms. A few moments of Etsuko and the alien floating into the air outside the patio door were also trimmed.  The music cue for this scene, which begins with a violent burst of instruments, is heard as Etsuko first sees the alien rather than the following shot (as in the Japanese version) of the detectives and Etsuko’s mother witnessing the abduction.

-Numerous minor cuts and music reediting occurs during the final assault on the Mysterian dome. The battle march plays continuously and at a constant volume in the beginning of the American version, whereas it stops in the Japanese version whenever the scene shifts to Jyoji at the underground entrance to the Mysterian base.

-At one point a segment of the battle lasting almost 30 seconds has been deleted, primarily consisting of shots almost identical to others in the film. Two Markalites fire on the dome followed by another rocket launch. An explosion hits the dome, which fires a ray in retaliation. The ray hits the Alpha and the dome sends out two more rays, one of which hits a Markalite dish. More rays from the dome, followed by a Markalite firing on the dome (from behind another Markalite in the foreground) and causing an explosion.  Cut to the Alpha descending as the footage common to both the American and Japanese version resumes.

-Later in the battle the Earth Forces assault intensifies. The Mysterian dome begins to lower back into the ground amidst much smoke. A Markalite advances as the dome rises again and takes another hit. Another Markalite fires as the dome fires a ray in its’ direction that strafes the ground (in a King Ghidorah-like fashion) sending blasted dirt and foliage into the air. Another ray hits the Alpha as the footage seen in both versions resumes.

-During the flood caused by the Mysterians, a scene of a Markalite being knocked over by the deluge has been omitted.

-Music in the American version plays consistently during the heat cannon attack. In the Japanese version the music reverently stops each time the scene cuts to show the death and destruction inside the dome.

-During the end of the final battle, the Mysterian dome keeps returning fire despite being badly damaged within. A second Mogera is seen below the Earth digging to the surface by rotating its arm-like appendages and back fin.  On the surface a Markalite begins tipping over when it runs into the mound caused by the emerging robot.  The airship begins its final assault against the Mysterian dome. Mogera’s head comes to the surface just as the Markalite falls on top of it.

-Dr. Adachi and the others watch the remaining saucers escape into the sky.  In space, saucers are seen flying to and from the Universe Station.  Back on Earth Etsuko sees a distant light in the sky.  Jyoji explains that it is an observation satellite that will prevent the Mysterians from returning to Earth undetected.  The camera pans up and away from Jyoji and the women, cutting to the sky while panning upward.  Dissolve to several of spherical observation satellites around the Earth as the Japanese character “Owari” (The End) appears.

-The American version places the credits at the film’s end. The following is a description of how the Japanese credits (described earlier in this article) were altered :

American version ending
The camera pans up and away from Jyoji and the women, cutting to the sky while panning upward. Fade to black.
Fade into credit sequence with English credits (minus the film title) and no sound effects. The ending music continues for 15 seconds, fading out before the final two signature Ifukube end notes, followed by the title music. The credit sequence plays out as seen in the Japanese version’s opening but is shorter by 7 seconds. The removal of two brief segments of the sequence accounts for this and results in sudden background shifts both times, in one case causing a flying saucer to disappear from the middle of the screen. The Earth comes into view as the scene fades to black.
Fade into the credit “A Toho Production” against dark blue background. Title music stops and is followed by last two notes of ending theme. Fade to black.
Fade into the credit “The End” against a shot taken from credit sequence of two saucers flying by. Fade to black.

In terms of reflecting the original Japanese film, The Mysterians stands out as one of the best Americanization of Toho’s 1950’s films, since the majority of alterations either are of no consequence, or actually improve the film.  Regarding the edits during the attack sequences, most consist of minor footage or sequences that are practically duplicated at other points in the battles. While it is debatable whether or not these changes are improvements, these edits do not hurt the film, nor is there a void in the narrative caused by their absence.  Many of these edits are virtually detectable without undertaking a thorough scene-by-scene comparison with the aid of a stopwatch.

The removal of the second Mogera’s appearance, probably the most noteworthy deletion, was a wise move since the scene is all too brief, unexplained and slows down an otherwise exciting battle.  The Mogera model in this scene is also not one of Eiji Tsuburaya’s better miniatures.
This digression would have been worthwhile if Mogera had joined in the battle.

While the music was tampered with, unlike previous Americanization’s nothing significant has been deleted and no attempt has been made to add music from other sources; the score is all Ifukube. The few changes made seem to merely  be a slight rethinking of how to most effectively enhance a few scenes. The moving of a music cue to an earlier point during Etsuko’s abduction seems more dramatic compared to the anticlimactic placement in the Japanese version, which is after the visual shock of the scene has already occurred. The decision to keep the music playing during Jyoji’s entry into the dome increases the drama and excitement of these otherwise slowly paced sequences. While having the battle march play during the images of radiation scarred Mysterians inside the dome de-emphasizes the scene’s horror, this treatment is preferable to deleting the footage altogether.

The dubbing, credited to Peter Riethof and Carlos Montalban, is well done other than the-over-the-top Spanish and French accents given respectively to George Farness and Harold S. Conway. However, it was of necessity that Farness and Conway were dubbed, since they spoke both English and Japanese in the Japanese version.  The voice characterizations for the rest of the cast are adequate and literate. The English dialog conveys most of the Japanese script, occasionally straying from literal translation to sound more dramatic to western ears.  The Mysterians‘ dubbing features voice actors who later worked for Titra Sound Studios (a.k.a. Titan Productions).  In fact, the entire Americanization here is remarkably similar to that of numerous Japanese films that Titra would work on in the following decade.

One unfortunate omission to the American version was the sound effect of the Mysterian Leader speaking in the Mysteroid language.  In the Japanese version this foreign mumbling sound could be heard underneath the alien’s amplified mechanical speech.  Together with the design of the Mysterians’ helmet (a microphone like beak flanked by two devices resembling speakers) this conveys the use of a translation device without devoting dialog to explain it.  As this type of subtle storytelling was all too rare in American sci-fi of the period, it was probably decided that this notion was over the head of the audience, who would be confused by the strange sound.

RKO went out of business around the time The Mysterians was due for release, and the film was later purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  U.S. release material exists crediting both companies as presenting The Mysterains.  May of 1959 was an eventful month for Toho films released in America; MGM released The Mysterains on May 15, Warner Bros. released Gigantis the Fire-Monster (a.k.a. Godzilla Raids Again, see Kaiju-Fan #6) on May 21, and Columbia released The H-Man on May 28!

“As corny as it is furious,” wrote Variety, “‘The Mysterians’ is red-blooded phantasmagoria-made in Japan and dedicated to those undiscerning enough to be taken in by its hokum.  While Junior may be moved by the arrival of outer space gremlins, big brother and all like him will laugh their heads off.”  Commenting on the effects, Variety wrote that “. . .  (the) production values (are) comparable to those in high-budget American pictures.  The special effects involving sliding land, quaking earth and melting mortars are realistically accomplished, proving the facility with which the Japanese filmmakers deal in miniatures.  But, as has been the misfortune of more than one Hollywood science-fiction entry, the omnipresent robot monster (Mogera) is so outlandish, it draws more snickers than gasps.”  Nor did Harold S. Conway’s timely entrance, carrying a set of over-sized blueprints, escape Variety’s comments; “. . . an American blurts, ‘Good news!  Good news!  The United States has developed a machine that will . . . “And, sure enough it does.”

Since the mid-70’s, The Mysterians has been exhibited almost exclusively  by Video Communications, Inc. (also known briefly as United Home Video), based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The Mysterians was available on home video from 1978 to 1994, while VCI prints used to occasionally play in theaters.  Unfortunately, the color of the VCI prints has long since faded, undermining much of the film’s visual appeal.  By comparison with the Japanese videos (as well as TV prints struck prior to this acquisition), VCI does the film an injustice with their poorly preserved version.

Thanks to Ed and Mariko Godzizewski and Ronnie Burton for translations/gathering information for this article.

-Michael J. Weldon, The Psychotronic Encycclopedia of Film, 1983
-Greg Shoemaker, (Potpourri column discusssing Tanaka’s requesting monsters in all SF films),  The Japanese Fantasy Film Journal.
-Guy Tucker, Unpublished Yoshio Tsuchiya IInterview

©1998 Brian R. Culver/Daikaiju Publishing