"There is so much writing in English on Japanese cinema that can't be accepted at face value — not because the writers are careless, but because the differences in culture and language are just too intricate. When I see August Ragone's name on a piece of writing, it gives me permission to place my faith in it completely. Among Japanese fantasy film historians, he's the best working in English." —Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

Monday, March 17, 2008


Tsuburaya prepares to shoot the Earth Forces' sortie to the Moon.

Uchu Daisenso (Toho, 1959), 90 minutes
Director ISHIRO HONDA • Director of Visual Effects EIJI TSUBURAYA

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE opens with a shot of an evocative orbital space station, a title card pronouncing the year as "1965" — an odd date in retrospect, since we know that these advances did not come to pass (the first Moon landing still over a decade away). "Why 1965," one might ask? This is because the film is a loose sequel to THE MYSTERIANS (1957), and within that context, it makes perfect sense — the nations of the world dropped their petty hostilities to unite against a common foe, and were ultimately able to narrowly repel the invaders. In the eight years between the settings of THE MYSTERIANS and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE, Mankind has absorbed the alien technology, and have advanced in science by leaps and bounds — and are just reaching out into space with these technological advancements.

Another confusing element for some viewers was that while a number of the characters from THE MYSTERIANS are carried over to this spectacle (both based on short stories by former test pilot-turned-science fiction writer, Jojiro Okami), the roles were cast with different actors (the original actors were unavailable when the production went into full swing). Most notably, Takashi Shimura (Kanbei in SEVEN SAMURAI) was replaced by Koreya Senda (GATE OF HELL) to essay "Dr. Adachi"; while the stunning Kyoko Anzai (TOKYO HOLIDAY) replaced Yumi Shirakawa (EARLY AUTUMN) as "Etsuko Shiraishi." BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE also features one of the largest non-Japanese supporting casts in a genre film, with Leonard Stanford (THEY WERE EXPENDABLE) stepping in for George Furness as "Dr. Richardson," while Harold Conway (TORA! TORA! TORA!) returned as "Dr. Immelman."

Even though the film lacks the presence of the great Takashi Shimura, it gained an intense performance from Yoshio Tsuchiya, who played "Rikichi" in SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), as the alien-enslaved "Yuichi Iwamura." Tsuchiya (b.1927) excelled in complex or tortured characters, and because of his acting prowess, was hand-picked for Kurosawa's ensemble of actors. Tsuchiya jumped at the chance to play the masked leader of the Mysterians, rather than play one of the human characters, despite the studio’s wishes, and continued to play roles as monsters or madmen in THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960), MATANGO (1963), MONSTER ZERO (1965) and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968). Leading man, Ryo Ikebe (b. 1918), played "Ichiro Katsumiya," a top-billed leading man and renown actor who appeared in such films as Kaneto Shindo's PALE FLOWER (1964), and was still playing leading men well into his 40s. He also appeared in the science fiction films GORATH (1963) and THE WAR IN SPACE (1977).

Artist Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1915-2001), who conceived the iconic '50s spacecraft designs, also provided similar chores on THE MYSTERIANS, which refined by Art Director Akira Watanabe and his staff. Komatsuzaki would later go on to create one of the most memorable icons of science fiction cinema for ATRAGON (1963). BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE is one of the most action-oriented and miniature-filled of Toho's early special effects productions, trumping the vast majority of space pictures of the time, and Eiji Tsuburaya outdid himself in regards to the sheer number of effects scenes, especially during the final battle above the Earth — which floored audiences in 1959 — and can only be fully appreciated on the Big Screen, the way these films were meant to be seen.

Executive Producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA Original Story JOJIRO OKAMI Screenplay SHINICHI SEKIZAWA Production Design TERUAKI ABE Cinematography HAJIME KOIZUMI Film Editor KAZUJI TAIRA Music AKIRA IFUKUBE Sound Effects ICHIRO MINAWA Special Effects Production Design AKIRA WATANABE and SHIGERU KOMATSUZAKI Visual Effects Photography SADAMASA ARIKAWA Optical Photography HIDESABURO ARAKI

Starring RYO IKEBE (Major Ichiro Katsumiya) KYOKO ANZAI (Etsuko Shiraishi) KOREYA SENDA (Dr. Adachi) LEONARD STANFORD (Dr. Roger Richardson) HAROLD CONWAY (Dr. Immelman) YOSHIO TSUCHIYA (Yuichi Iwamura) HISAYA ITO (Kogure) NADAO KIRINO (Okada) ELSIE RITCHER (Sylvia) GEORGE WYMAN (Dr. Ahmed) ED KEANE (US General) and MINORU TAKADA (Defense Commander)

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE plays with MOTHRA (1961) at Landmark's Clay Theater in San Francisco on March 20th as part of "Monsters of Mass Destruction: A Tribute to Eiji Tsuburaya" at 5:30 & 9:30 PM


Brian Darr said...

I really enjoyed the evening; I'd never seen either film before, much less in such great Tohoscope prints. Thanks so much for putting it together for us! I hope there's more events like it in the future- I'm still kicking myself for having missed all but one of the Castro double-bills back in 2004.

It was also great meeting you, and learning from your book that Eiji Tsuburaya had gotten such a career boost from Teinosuke Kinugasa, as I'm just embarking on a research project on the latter figure. I'd love to learn more about the connection. (my e-mail address is boingdiddleypop@xxxxx.com -- the x's representing a common provider named for something a cowboy might shout)

August Ragone said...

Thanks for coming to the event, Brian! Hopefully, this will launch more such events with the Clay and other venues.

The one thing I had forgotten about the U.S. version of BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (I'm not a snob, but I only watch the Japanese DVD of the film), is that they turned all of Ifukube's score down so low, that it was detrimental, not to mention the battle marches that were jettisoned for canned stock cues.

Also, I didn't remember how lackluster the English dubbing was. Almost painful, but far from the worst that I had endured. In any case, I hope that Sony Repertory will eventually strike a Japanese print with English subtitles, as they did with MOTHRA (and several Godzilla titles that they have acquired).

As for Kinugasa, I will e-mail you about some English-language books that might help you in your research.

Great to meet you, too!

kelsci said...

I saw BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE 7 times in one week at the local theater in 1960. I thought this film was stunning in its special effects for its time. In fact I think it still stands up very well in the 21 century because it is done so well.