Like last week’s film, this one is available via the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus. The X From Outer Space is an oddball Japanese film from 1967, produced by Japanese studio Shochiku. Shochiku is a very old studio that actually got its start in the 19th century as a kabuki production company. Here in the States, it’s not as well known as Toho, or Toei, or even Daiei.
Like The Blob, The X From Outer Space opens with a peppy song over the opening credits. It then moves on to set up the basic situation: Earth is preparing a manned mission to Mars. To that end, they have constructed a super new atomic-powered spaceship, the AAB Gamma, also known as the Astro-Boat (I’m guessing AAB stands for something like Atomic Astro-Boat). We meet the four-person crew in the opening scenes.
They’re a pretty standard collection of types. There’s stalwart lady-magnet Captain Sano, studious Doctor Shioda (who also does double duty as the crazy one, later), comedy relief Signal Officer Miyamoto, and hot blonde space biologist Lisa (who has a crush on the captain). Peggy Neal, who played Lisa, had a brief career in Japan during the mid-1960’s playing exotic blondes. She has no credits outside of Japan.
The crew is warned that every expedition that has been sent to Mars so far has been stopped by mysterious UFO’s. Their mission seems to be not so much to get to Mars as to figure out the nature of the UFO’s when they hit the inevitable resistance.
Countdown and liftoff. The space scenes are pretty typical of Japanese films of the 60’s, lots of shots of miniatures being lofted on wires through space backdrops. The colors in this one are really rich, though. In the early scenes, especially, the space travel looks pretty cool.
Trouble arises before they have even reached the moon, though (which in movie-space seems to be equidistant between Earth and Mars). First, they encounter a glowing blob-shaped UFO, and then Doctor Shioda loses control, prompting the AAB Gamma to make an emergency stop on the moon.
While there, they spend some time frolicking in low gravity, taking baths, and having a cocktail party before they depart with a new ship’s doctor, Dr. Stein. They also meet Michiko, who also has a huge crush on the captain. Her jealousy is tempered, though, by the fact that she and Lisa seem to be best friends. Besides, the captain exhibits no romantic interest in either one of them.
Before long, they’re back in space, on their way to Mars, when they suddenly encounter the UFO again, which passes close by their ship. Not long after, their atomic reactor begins losing power. Lisa notices some odd glowing nodules attached the engine housings. She and Captain Sano go EVA to clean them off, and she collects one for further study. The mission to Mars is scrapped, and the crew must wait for Michiko to bring them more nuclear rocket fuel before they can limp back home to Earth.
They place the nodule in a special sealed chamber for study, and everyone goes out to get drunk and celebrate their safe return. But the party is interrupted by word that the strange nodule has disappeared. A hole has been broken in the containment vessel, leaving nothing but a few scraps of the nodule’s outer coating, and there’s a big footprint in the metal floor that looks like the claw of a giant chicken.
And soon, that’s exactly what they’re dealing with: a giant space chicken, which they name Guilala.
Seriously, a giant space chicken, with all the powers of Godzilla. Suddenly, the UFO’s, the mission to Mars, and the mysterious connection between the two are forgotten. The movie becomes a fairly standard kaiju story, with the scientists analyzing the scraps of the shell to create an energy-absorbing foam that reduces Guilala back to an egg again. It becomes pretty obvious that the UFO’s are adult versions of Guilala, although it’s never stated outright, and we never do learn where they come from or why they keep harassing Earth ships.
Also mostly forgotten is the romantic triangle between Michiko, Lisa and Captain Sano, at least until the final scene, where Sano finally goes crazy and takes Michiko’s hand. The last thing we see is the rocket bearing Guilala’s egg back into space as we hear a song about how small two people are compared to the universe.
It’s a weirdly disjointed movie, which on the one hand has a slick look and some gorgeous colors, but on the other has a story which goes in too many directions, shifts gears abruptly in the middle, and never really answers the central mystery it set up in the beginning.