Battle in Outer Space (1959)

Pint-size aliens from the planet Natal are bent on conquering the Earth in this colorful space opera from the heyday of Toho Studios. Second in a trilogy of space-themed movies directed by the inimitable Ishiro Honda (the other two being “The Mysterians” and “Gorath”) this is pure mindless fun.

The special effects may seem dated now, but for the time they were first-rate, much better than your average sci-fi and far superior to any of the monster films Toho cranked out from the mid-60s onward. This was definitely not done on the cheap: The sets are well thought-out, the astronomical backgrounds detailed and quite convincing.

Eiji Tsuburaya’s intricate miniature work is amazing as always. The voyage to the Moon, the fight on the lunar surface, and the final showdown (with souped-up X-15s squaring off against alien saucers and a huge mother ship) are elaborately staged and exciting.

Which is why it’s easy to forgive the occasional cheesy bits. For instance, when the beautiful SPIP rockets are taking off for the Moon, Honda illustrates the effects of high-G by having one of the crewmen put his hands on either side of his face and *pull* the flesh back. I also suspect they were running out of funds (the film’s only 74 minutes long) when it came time to shoot the scene where the alien mother ship tears up downtown Tokyo with a gravity-reversing ray. Although it’s a clever effect, apparently achieved by building the models on top of compressed air jets, the sequence feels too short. Plus the miniatures just don’t look quite as detailed or realistic, when compared to other Toho films of the era.

My biggest complaint: In the one scene where you actually meet the aliens in the flesh (sort of) they’re in spacesuits which make them look like midget Michelin Men and they sound like a bunch of squeaky dog toys. When a crowd of them “menaces” the heroine, there’s not a ray gun in the bunch; all they can can do is shuffle, wave their arms and squeak. Not very intimidating, to say the least. (If anything, they’re hilariously reminiscent of that roomful of sex-crazed Cub Scouts in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex”.)

And of course there’s the usual havoc a dubbed Japanese accent can wreak on the English language: That announcer on “Tokyo Terrovision” always cracks me up!

But the good far outweighs the not-so-good in this romp. In a theater, in its original Tohoscope (Toho Studios’ equivalent of Cinemascope), it must have been something to see.

(Update: In 2007, an outfit called Monsters in Motion released “Uchu Daisenso” on DVD — in letterbox, in the original Japanese with English subtitles — as part of their “Toho Masters” series. With its companion piece “Gorath” available from MiM, and Tokyo Shock’s gorgeous edition of “The Mysterians”, Honda’s entire space trilogy is now obtainable in the original, unedited widescreen versions.)