The X From Outer Space
One of Japan's longest-standing studios, Shochiku took an inordinate amount of time to catch on to the international success generated by Toho's Godzilla series for the past decade. The X from Outer Space (1967), a combination of giant monster mayhem and outer-space intrigue, offers a substantial amount of entertainment value (and unintentional humor), thanks to its dual menaces of a gloppy space entity and a rampaging chicken monster, but by this point Western viewers had begun to grow weary of the formula; in fact, in America The X from Outer Space (Japanese title: Uchu Daikaiju Girara) was shuttled off straight to television courtesy of American-International Pictures one year later. Interestingly, Toho would in turn lift a few points from this film for one of their own later titles, Space Amoeba (1970, aka Kessen Nankai No Daikaiju), which posits a similar floating cosmic menace, while Toei and MGM mimicked it even more closely with one of the more famous late '60s space-monster films, The Green Slime (1968).
Using much of the supporting cast from the previous year's Sonny Chiba vehicle, Terror Beneath the Sea (1966, aka Kaitei Daisenso), first-time director Kazui Nihonmatsu also co-wrote the bizarre, fractured screenplay with two other novice screenwriters (Eibi Motomochi and Moriyoshi Ishida), and while his move-fast-and-don't-ask-questions approach yields an undeniably enjoyable film, he only went on to make one more feature, 1968's little-seen Genocide, before bowing out of the film industry. His grasp of the kaiju eiga formula established by Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and their ilk is only middling at best, with nearly half the film elapsed before the main monster even appears. However, the human subplot earns its stripes with the peculiar love triangle which finds a Caucasian and a Japanese woman vying for the attentions of the hero while showing far more physical interest in each other; by this point the genre had begun to be regarded as silly family-friendly fluff, but Michiko and Lisa's antics must have surely raised a few parental eyebrows, along with the jaw-dropping and vaguely pornographic dispatching of the beast at the end.
As the male hero and central love interest, Eiji Okada was still considered a marquee name nine years after his big international breakthrough and had already starred in a number of high-profile films, including two masterful films with Hiroshi Teshigahara, Woman in the Dunes (1964) and The Face of Another (1964). The X from Outer Space proved to be an anomaly in his career; he never made another kaiju film again, instead opting for violent period fare like Lady Snowblood (1973) and the fifth Lone Wolf and Cub film Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973), as well as a rare leading Hollywood role in The Yakuza (1974).
Apparently successful enough to generate respectable revenue in most countries outside America and strong enough to generate a cult following in the U.S. based on its TV screenings, The X from Outer Space was quickly followed in 1968 with a much stronger and more adult Shochiku stab at space monsters, Goke, Bodysnatcher from Hell (1968, aka Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro), a futuristic vampire tale with elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Not surprisingly, this formula was met with more success, perhaps given the studio's more extensive experience with horrific material in films like Kwaidan (1964) and Yotsuya Ghost Story (1959). However, they largely veered away from sci-fi and horror fare for the next two decades to focus on dramatic and action-oriented product, only returning with the occasional odd effort like Shinya Tsukamoto's Hiruko the Goblin in 1990 and the opulent 2004 comic book adaptation, Casshern. Still active today, they have certainly left behind a colorful legacy with The X from Outer Space still standing out as one of their most outrageous offerings.
Producer: Wataru Nakajima
Director: Kazui Nihonmatsu
Screenplay: Moriyoshi Ishida, Eibi Motomochi, Kazui Nihonmatsu
Cinematography: Shizuo Hirase, Chitora Okoshi
Film Editing: Yoshi Sugihara
Art Direction: Shigemori Shigeta
Music: Taku Izumi
Cast: Eiji Okada (Dr. Kato), Toshiya Wazaki (Capt. Sano), Itoko Harada (Michiko), Peggy Neal (Lisa), Franz Gruber (Dr. Berman), Mike Daneen (Dr. Stein).
by Nathaniel Thompson