Directed by Ishii, Akira Mitsuwa, Koreyoshi Akasakai
Written by Ichiro Miyagawa
Tagline: “When evil Space Nazis from the Sapphire Galaxy seek to destroy the earth, only a Japanese man of steel in white tights can save us!” (OK, I made that up. I couldn’t find an official tagline.)
Run Time: 76 minutes
1957 was a seminal year for 3 reasons. It was exactly 25 years after the birth of Superman, it was exactly 9 years before the arrival of Ultraman, and it was exactly the year of Starman; the first Japanese super hero to star on television! Called Super Giants , his series was chalk full of evil aliens, Flash Gordon-esque derring-do, and tight, sequined space-wear. It was also, mysteriously, completely free of giants.
Now setting the knob of our time machine to 1964 we discover intrepid show biz hucksters Walter Manley Enterprises and Medallion Films cobbling together 2 episodes into one movie called Attack From Space . Would America survive this surreal assault from another dimension? Read today’s review and find out!
We begin with a loquacious and all-knowing Narrator. He will be our constant companion for the next 76 minutes, often looking into the mind of Starman and telling us his innermost thoughts – at great length. But for now he merely contents himself with setting up the plot, and explaining the universe!
With at least 2 billion stars in our universe, somewhere in deep space there are probably planets with civilizations built by living creatures: some peaceful, some warlike. From the distant Sapphire Galaxy a ferocious race of creatures has set out to conquer our universe, beginning with the planet earth.
Very disturbing, of course. Fortunately there is also the Emerald Planet, whose peaceful beings are led by the irresistibly goofy High Council. Sitting at their High Council table and waving their weird alien arms in weird ritualistic ways, this “great forum of the Emerald hierarchy” decides it must stop the Sapphirian’s war from spreading radioactive poison throughout the universe.
The Great Forum of the Emerald hierarchy.
To do this they bring forth the incredible Globe Meter. It’s a wristwatch with a nifty map of the world embossed on its face, and it enables its wearer to do three amazing things: fly through space, detect radioactivity, and speak every language on earth. Neat! Although judging from all of its complicated knobs I’d probably break it within a week if I had it.
“One of the most ingenious mechanisms the universe has ever seen.”
Fortunately the High Council doesn’t give it to me, but to “the creature known as Starman” instead. Creature? Well, that’s what the narrator calls him, and he’s an authority, so I’ll go along. And before you can say ohayo gozaimasu Starman has launched himself off into space towards the planet earth. Cue the first of many, many flying scenes in which we have plenty of time to notice how the wire rigs bunch the fabric of his bespangled tights.
This looks pretty uncomfortable.
Which is probably one reason why Starman always looks so serious.
Even before he reaches earth, however, Starman comes across a Sapphirian space staion/warship thing loaded with radioactivity, and we get our first action sequence as he bravely attacks it.
Starman bravely attacks the Sapphirean space station/warship thing.
Alas, a shower of fiery meteorites somehow forces Starman to break off his siege, so the warship continues on its sinister mission. For his part Starman decides to land on earth and uncover “who among the billions of earthlings is a traitor to mankind and is working with the Sapphirians.” Piece of cake!
How he pursues the traitors we know not, for now we cut to the Forecap Observatory and a “startling discovery.” The “GP Object lens” has been smashed, leading the chief astronomer to exclaim, “We won’t be able to use it anymore!” More devilry is afoot at a desolate patch of island nowhere in Tokyo Harbor know as the Yamanaka Space Laboratory. As the camera pans across a godforsaken stretch of rock and concrete, the narrator informs us this is where a spaceship to be used for “peaceful purposes” is being built.
The Yamanaka Space Laboratory. It must have taken years and years to build.
It is here that another discovery is made, “What’s that? It blew up again?!”
“What’s that? It blew up again?!”
And so we meet genius scientist Dr. Yamanaka himself, at home with his son Ryuichi (pronounced ryu-ee-chi) and daughter Kaoru (ka-o-ru.) What was it that blew up? – the spaceship? Thank goodness no. It was only a panel. A very explosion prone panel.
“It’s too bad.” frets innocent and possibly gullible Ryuichi, “I wonder why there are so many accidents there.” His sister is more astute, however, and she begins our descent into a swirling but justifiable paranoia by saying, “It’s very suspicious. As father’s ship nears completion there are more and more accidents.” And with this disturbing mystery hanging over their heads Dr. Yamanaka troops over to “the lab” – which looks to my untrained eye like an abandoned lighthouse. Once there he discovers the faulty part that caused the explosion. But when a technician advises he return it to the company that made it, he goes ballistic. There would be publicity and “our enemies mustn’t learn of this.” “Enemies could use the great ship against us!” And so the answer is secrecy! No one is to know anything until the first flight! (Dr. Yamanaka is kind of disturbing.)
And now we finally get to see what all of the fuss is about, kind of. We cut to Kaoru and Ryuichi at “the plant,” where the space ship is being built. As the camera pans along a quite decent set full of bustling technicians it grazes the bottom of a full sized mock up of the ship itself. And you can sort of make out what it might look like between the struts and frets of the building dock. (One of the odd things about this film is the off-hand manner in which it presents new and important elements.)
The Great Ship itself! (It’s that dark patch along the top of the screen.)
Happily, the kids learn that the damage can be repaired quickly – once they get a replacement solenoid. The plant has no replacement solenoid on hand because, as a technician explains, “They are not supposed to melt. So we felt that we wouldn’t be needing any for spares, and therefore didn’t order them.” (!!!) It’s a big problem, until our spunky pair of kids volunteer to buy a new one, and off they go, unescorted, to get a critical part needed to build an interstellar spacecraft which has already been the target of possible sabotage. What could go wrong? Well, to begin with, the local hardware store is all out of solenoids.
The local hardware store is all out of solenoids.
FYI – this is a solenoid, and it’s critical for building interstellar spacecraft.
Mystery compounds on mystery as Kaoru exclaims, “It’s peculiar. That strange man took the whole supply just now. Isn’t that suspicious?” Boy, it sure is! Lucky the kids got there in time to see him. So naturally they decide to follow him, without telling anyone what they’re doing. And off they go in one of the cutest little taxis I’ve ever seen.
Cute little taxi. (Love it!)
Following the suspicious stranger to a cemetery, the kids are amazed to see him disappear down into a secret passage hidden by a gravestone. Gazing at the stone Ryuichi wonders if they should go down as well when Kaoru shocks me by being smart and deciding it’s time to call the police. Yea Kaoru! Only it’s too late, for the bad guys have them surrounded. Capturing our two hapless amateur sleuths they take them down to their bargain basement HQ where we discover that the warlike creatures of the Sapphire Galaxy are in fact evil Space Nazis!
Evil Space Nazis!
That night in the abandoned lighthouse he calls home, a lab-suited Dr. Yamanaka enjoys a cigarette while browsing through a technical manual. His kids haven’t returned with the critical part needed to complete work on the interstellar spacecraft they are building at “the plant,” but he and a fellow scientist wisely assume the kids are “enjoying themselves in the city.” (Laissez-faire parenting at its best!) Unfortunately, Dr. Yamanaka’s peace of mind is shattered when a visitor is announced. You see, no one is supposed to know about his installation – and remember, Dr. Yamanaka has this thing about secrecy. No one must know! No one!
But someone does know. It’s the evil Space Nazi who bought all of the solenoids, and now he’s come to deliver a letter from Kaoru which begs her father to save her and Ryuichi. Treachery is added to villainy as one of Yamanaka’s own staff reveals himself to be an agent of the Sapphirians! Pointing a gun at the good doctor he takes this opportunity to gloatingly explain that they’ve built their own interstellar spacecraft – only they need Yamanaka’s super engine to fly it! (Best not to dwell on this point, lest your mind boggle dangerously.) The agent, knowing the secret location of the engine plans, grabs them before he and his accomplice kidnap the doctor from the apparently unguarded and possibly top-secret facility.
Perhaps you’ve been wondering where Starman has been while all of this is happening? So have I, and I have no idea. Until now that is, when he shows up asking to address a security meeting which is discussing the stolen engine blueprints. Learning of this request one delegate throws caution to the wind and delivers some classic Attack From Space dialogue, “Who is this Starman? Is he someone we can call on to help us? If he is, then I propose that you ask for his assistance immediately.” No government gridlock here!
And in strides Starman himself. Looking sharp in a suit and tie he masterfully recaps everything we’ve just seen, omitting only why he didn’t stop any of it from happening. Usually I’d rag him out for this, but like I said, he looks sharp in a suit and tie.
Starman in mufti. (No doubt a welcome break for actor Ken Utsui.)
But no sooner has he finished his recap before an agog audience then he “hears” the Sapphirians. They are close by! (And by that I mean that they are orbiting the earth up in outer space.) Promising to return the blueprints, and the kidnapped doctor and his family, Starman does a nifty quick change behind a folding screen and catapults out the window. As he soars over the Tokyo cityscape we are treated once more to the sight of his wire-bunched costume. Sigh.
Another actor is martyred in the name of children’s entertainment.
Will Starman be in time to save the doctor and his children from being brain washed by the Sapphirians? Surprisingly, no! For he’s gone after the Sapphirian space station/warship thing, not their underground base. Opening a cargo ship hatch, Starman enters the Space Station/Warship Thing and beats the crap out of the bad guys in what looks like a primitive Cirque du Soleil act.
♪ Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother – they’re here! ♪
He is victorious and the Sapphirian vessel is destroyed – but what of Dr. Yamanaka? We cut to see hordes of Space Nazis in satin jump suits boarding their “Great Ship.” If you pay attention, you’ll notice that the doctor and his family are among the company, so I think they’re brain washed. But rather than look evilly enthusiastic or totally zombified, they seem fretful and anxious. That is, when you can get a good look at them. It’s shot so off-handedly they’re in the background or out of the frame most of the time! Paging the directors, paging the directors: – What the heck’s the matter with you guys? (This shocking incompetence in the respected science of mind-control continues as the ship’s commander is forced to threaten the “brain-washed” doctor to make him do his bidding. I mean, what?)
So now the Great Ship, somehow newly equipped with Dr. Yamanaka’s super engine, hurtles into space towards an even bigger space station/warship thing than Starman just destroyed. Detecting that Starman is following them, they craftily chart an insanely dangerous course right over “the Death Star.” (!) This is a fiery asteroid of doom which seemingly orbits the moon. I guess. Anyways, it’s an ingenious plan because they know that the unwritten code of space flying super heroes demands that they follow the exact flight plan of any enemy craft they are pursuing. And thus Starman will perish in the Death Star’s super-heated atmosphere!
Does he survive? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by subjecting yourself to the full insanity of Attack From Space !
SEE the evil, satin clad Space Nazis break the laws of Nature herself, and impudently parade about in the vacuum of outer space!
It’s a Triumph of the Will – in Space!
GASP at the havoc wreaked by these evil, sneering, gloating villians on New York , London and Tokyo !
Independence Day , eat your heart out!
DISAPPROVE of how they force the “brain-washed” Dr. Yamanaka to design a whole fleet of interstellar Ships with only a pencil and a ruler. (The fiends!)
What’s a computer?
CHEER when Girl Power surges up in the 2nd half and Kaoru morphs into an action heroine!
Princess Lea’s Japanese sister.
Disclaimer: I am NOT recommending you see this movie. I am merely saying I would not lodge a protest should you decide, on your own, to see it. If you do see it and suffer any emotional or psychological harm, please send your protests to Web Meister Dennis – as I will be on vacation in some remote spot that is beyond the reach of the Internet.
Sean Ledden (May 2009)
Tooling around the Internet I came across this item of interest: The producers, thinking that female viewers were attracted to well-hung heroes, had Starman’s package enhanced with cotton stuffing. That, along with the rest of the embarrassing costume is probably the reason why actor Ken Utsui hated the role and refuses to talk about it to this day. Hard to blame him. And perhaps it strikes you as odd that in 1957 the producers of a fantasy TV series aimed at younger viewers would have the hero stuff his package? Well, having lived in Japan I can say that sexuality over there sometimes pops out in ways weird to an American sensibility. I once accompanied a group of adorable junior high school students to a Saturday anime double-feature. One was a sci-fi space epic whose deadly space-samurai hero had a very feminine appearance. Playing off the space-samurai was a comically macho “space trucker,” who got drunk and tried to kiss him! None of the kids even noticed that bit – but my mind was blown.
But getting back to poor Ken Utsui, perhaps all is not lost. I also did a little reading around the Japanese Internet and found a fan-written site with an affectionate recap of the whole Super Giants series. Here’s a quote about the episodes that made up Attack From Space:
There is absolutely no sense of the vastness of space, and the ships themselves look like something out of an Ed Wood movie. But still, Ken Utsui’s presence has a certain charm that puts the whole thing over.
I don’t know about you, but I experienced a weird, and probably dysfunctional thrill on learning that Ed Wood’s celebrity spans the globe. As for the take on the movie, I agree with the part about Ken, and I half agree with the over-all assessment. For me Attack From Space is a jumbled mix of fun Japanese-fantasy camp and lazy, buzz-killing direction. I mean, it’s one thing to have squadrons of satin clad Space Nazis breathing air in outer space. It’s another to botch the “brain-wash” scenes. I mean, really! It’s for this reason I can’t rate this movie a perfect storm of retro-sci-fi cheese, enjoyable goof though it is.
FINAL NOTE: At the start of the review I raised the question of whether or not America could survive Attack From Space. My answer? ‘It’s too soon to tell.’
Read more about Attack From Space at