REVIEW: Battle in Outer Space (1959)

battleouterspace_posterFor fans of old Japanese science fiction films, this truly seems like a golden age. Countless archive works, never before given their due in international markets, are finding themselves available in restored editions with English subtitles – in many cases for the first time. This is not quite the case with Ishiro Honda’s Battle in Outer Space, which has been available for English-speaking viewers for quite some time, but as the range of genre works expands it is good to be able to contextualise it properly.

A series of natural disasters across the Earth are revealed to be the work of alien invaders, preparing to take over the planet from their secret moonbase. Etsuko Shiraishi and Kenjiro Adachi, two scientists who defended the Earth against the dreaded Mysterians, reunite to lead a mission to the moon in order to destroy the alien base before it is too late.

Battle in Outer Space is the 1959 sequel to The Mysterians, Honda’s 1957 science fiction drama. That film had the alien Mysterians actually arrive on Earth and attempt to steal the planet’s women for breeding purposes. The aliens in Battle in Outer Space are never actually seen in person: they maraud the skies in flying saucers and simply want to wipe out the humans and colonise the planet for themselves. As a result this feels a much more simplistic film than its predecessor, but it does retain a sort of naïve charm that a lot of viewers might find quite charming.

Mysterians star Takashi Shimura did not return as Dr Adachi, replaced by Koreya Senda (Life of a Woman, Gate of Hell). Senda does a solid job with a rather two-dimensional character. Likewise Shiraishi is no longer played by Yumi Shirakawa but instead by Kyoko Anzai. As a result the film feels like the loosest sort of sequel: no crossover in cast, no particular crossover in story, and a completely different set of villains.

The film’s various model and special effect sequences are its main selling point. They’re relatively primitive and cheap, but occasionally a shot will leap out at you. Much of it remains highly impressive even now, more than six decades later. Also unexpectedly impressive is Yoshio Tsuchiya (Seven Samurai) as Iwamura, a member of the rocket crew who falls under the mental control of the invading aliens. In a film packed with identically bland characters, he stands out as some with a bit of internal conflict and personality.

This is definitely a second-tier Honda production. Anyone wanting to sample the director’s works at their best should start with Godzilla, Mothra and The Mysterians. Assuming that they are to your taste, then you will likely find plenty to enjoy in Battle in Outer Space as well. As an example of Japanese ‘tokusatsu’ cinema in the 1950s, it generally stands up more impressively. When it comes to visual effects pictures of the period, Honda really does tower over the crowd.

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