Invasion of Astro-Monster (Japanese Import) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Feb 13, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Invasion of Astro-Monster (Japanese Import) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Ishirō Honda

Release Date(s)

1965 (November 22, 2023)

Studio(s)

Toho
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: A-

Invasion of Astro-Monster (4K UHD)

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Review

[Editor's Note: This is a Region-Free Japanese import.]

With Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Kaijū daisensō and Monster Zero), the Godzilla franchise finally made the full leap to infinity and beyond. The previous film, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster had introduced a cosmic angle into the series, with King Ghidorah arriving on earth from deep space, and his coming being foretold by a woman possessed by the consciousness of a long-dead Venusian. That was still just a taste of what director Ishirō Honda, screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, and visual effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya had up their sleeves for their next effort. The Monster Zero of the American title is none other than the same three-headed monster from space, King Ghidorah, but this time his misadventures actually take place at least partially in outer space, and he brings Godzilla, Rodan, and a few earthlings along for a genuinely wild ride.

Thanks to a co-production deal between Toho and American producer Henry G. Saperstein, that’s not all that came along for the ride. Toho had already partnered with producer John Beck on King Kong vs. Godzilla, and they would eventually work with Rankin/Bass on King Kong Escapes, but their deal with Saperstein resulted in the Japanese version of the film being openly tailored for the American market. At the behest of distributor AIP, Tsuburaya’s crew had shot miniature footage of a Frontier missile attack for the American version of Mothra vs. Godzilla, but the Japanese version remained unchanged. Yet with Saperstein’s involvement, both the Japanese and American versions of Frankenstein vs. Baragon and Invasion of Astro-Monster would prominently feature an American actor in a lead role: the tragically troubled Nick Adams. The English-speaking roles in Toho’s genre films have long been filled by unknowns who could barely read their lines, but Adams took his roles seriously, and he delivers a credible performance in Invasion of Astro-Monster.

Adams plays Glenn, an American astronaut who has partnered with the Japanese astronaut Fuji (Godzilla stalwart Akira Takarada) on an international expedition to explore the mysterious Planet X. There, they discover an alien race called the Xiliens who live underground in order to stay safe from the threat of King Ghidorah, who has ravaged the planet’s surface. The Controller of Planet X (Yoshio Tsuchiya) offers to use their advanced technology to provide a cure for cancer if the Earthlings will allow them to “borrow” Godzilla and Rodan to fight back against Ghidorah. While both Glenn and Fuji suspect that there’s more going on here than meets the eye, they return to Earth and present the Xilien offer to the world. The allure of a cure for cancer is too tempting to pass up, so the deal is made, and Earth’s monsters end up making the journey to Planet X. Meanwhile, Glenn and Fuji race to uncover the real plans of the Xiliens before it’s too late. Invasion of Astro-Monster also stars Kumi Mizuno, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Keiko Sawai, and Kenzo Tabu.

In Mothra vs. Godzilla, Japan had to ask Mothra for help against Godzilla. In Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, Mothra had to beg Godzilla and Rodan for help against King Ghidorah. Now, in Invasion of Astro-Monster, it’s an extraterrestrial group that’s asking for the assistance of mankind in dealing with the menace of Ghidorah, and they want to use Earth’s defenders to accomplish the feat. Of course, they do have a trick up their sleeves, and the fact that they wanted Earth to give up their own line of defense against Ghidorah should have raised warning flags with more than just our intrepid astronaut heroes. The Xilien plan in Invasion of Astro-Monster does beg the question of whether or not Planet X had anything to do with Ghidorah’s appearance on Earth in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and if Ghidorah’s previous failure is the real reason why the Xiliens want control of Godzilla and Rodan this time. (And does that mean the Xiliens were responsible for Ghidorah’s attack on Venus?) Of course, the reality is that Sekizawa and Shōwa era producer Tomoyuki Tanaka weren’t thinking that far ahead, and they were really just making things up as they went along. This wasn’t the equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Tanaka as its Kevin Feige crafting a fiendish master plan for a shared kaiju universe. No, the goal always nothing more than to provide transient entertainment value, changing with the times as necessary.

Thanks to Eiji Tsuburaya’s crew, there’s plenty of entertainment value to be had in Invasion of Astro-Monster. The budgets were shrinking, but they did their best with the resources that they had. Aside from the usual monster action, the interplanetary settings gave them the opportunity to play around with more overt science fiction material like they had done with previous films such as Battle in Outer Space, and there’s quite a few memorable miniatures used for some of the establishing shots back on earth. Of course, the stock footage era was in full swing at that point, so some of the material in Invasion of Astro-Monster was actually borrowed from Rodan, The Mysterians, Mothra, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Of course, some of the new footage here would end up being recycled in later efforts like Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Megalon, so turnabout was fair play.

Perhaps most controversially, Tsuburaya’s crew and suit actor Haruo Nakajima took the anthropomorphic behavior of the monsters to the next level in Invasion of Astro-Monster, with Godzilla performing a celebratory dance inspired by the “Sheeh!” pose in Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Osomatsu-kun. It wasn’t much of a leap from there to having Godzilla use his atomic breath to fly in Godzilla vs. Hedorah or to do sliding drop kicks in Godzilla vs. Megalon. That was a bridge too far for Tsuburaya, and it may be a bridge too far for some of his fans as well, but it really shouldn’t be. Godzilla has proven remarkably resilient over the decades, ranging from serious menace to seriously silly comic foil, and all points in between. There’s a Godzilla for all seasons, and while there’s a time to weep, there’s also a time to laugh. That means there’s plenty of room in the Godzilla ecosphere for anthropomorphic excesses in pure entertainment like Invasion of Astro-Monster. Sit back, relax, and have fun.

Cinematographer Hajime Koizumi shot Invasion of Astro-Monster on 35 mm film using anamorphic Tohoscope lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. While the original nitrate negatives for Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again no longer exist, the negatives for the rest of the franchise do. The problem is that the negatives for King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Invasion of Astro-Monster were all cut to conform to the abbreviated Toho Champion Festival versions in the Seventies, and the missing material had to be sourced from master positive elements instead. Everything was scanned at 4K resolution, with all digital restoration work being performed in full 4K.

No High Dynamic Range grade has been applied to any of Toho’s 4K restorations for the Godzilla franchise, but they do take advantage of 10-bit color in the BT.2020 color space. Depending on how your display is set up and calibrated, SDR BT.2020 may require some adjustments in order to work properly. Some displays will default to BT.2020 for HDR but automatically switch to Rec.709 for SDR material, and that can cause the colors to look pale and washed out. Manually switching to BT.2020 instead should restore the colors to their intended glory. (You’ll need to remember to switch back later or else colors will distort on other discs.)

When displayed at BT.2020., the colors are nicely saturated without ever tipping over into the extremes that can happen with an exaggerated HDR grade. Flesh tones always look natural, and the contrast range is solid. As with Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, some light noise reduction has been applied to the image to help smooth out any variations between the disparate material. Between the stock footage, optical composites, and dupe elements for the missing Champion Festival material, there are a lot of shifts in quality, but they all blend together reasonably well in this version. The grain has been reduced but is still present, and textures like skin and clothing are still nicely resolved, although they can smear a bit when in motion. Still, that won’t be noticeable at normal viewing distances. There are a few faint scratches remaining, but no other actual damage of note. It’s not a perfect presentation, and the use of noise reduction is always controversial, but that doesn’t change that fact that Invasion of Astro-Monster looks generally excellent in this version, and it’s a night-and-day improvement over any and all previous home video versions.

Audio is offered in Japanese 2.0 mono LPCM and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix from 2003, with optional barrier-free Japanese subtitles (the Japanese equivalent of SDH). Invasion of Astro-Monster was originally recorded and mixed in mono (even the music), so this 5.1 track is processed mono rather than being a true remix. There’s a bit more channel separation here than in the remixes for Mothra vs. Godzilla and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, but the downside is that the dialogue ends up sounding thinner and slightly hollow. It’s better anchored and more solid in mono, so the original mix still has the edge here. Still, the choice is yours.

Toho’s Region-Free 4K Ultra HD release of Invasion of Astro-Monster comes in a black Amaray case with striking metallic silver artwork on the insert. Per standard Toho policy, neither the film nor any of the extras offer English subtitles. That’s not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle, however. Some players like the Oppo UDP-203 and UDP-205 offer the ability to load external subtitles. You’ll have to do a little Googling to see if your particular player does so as well. If it can, all that you need to do is take the English subtitle file (with an .srt extension) from disc like Criterion’s Blu-ray. Rename it “sub.srt,” create a folder on a USB drive called “sub,” and place the file in that folder. Insert the drive into the USB port on your player, then when playing the disc, use the subtitle button on your remote to select “other,” and Bob’s your uncle. You’ll have to adjust the sync to get it to line up properly. On the Oppos, that’s accessible using the Option button.

There are other sources for .srt files, but you’ll have to discover those on your own. There’s a more drastic (and permanent) way of adding subtitles to a film that doesn’t offer them, but that’s also something that you’ll have to find out for yourself. Google will be your friend here.

The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary with Yoshio Tsuchiya
  • Trailers:
    • Theatrical Trailer (4K – 2:24)
    • Textless Theatrical Trailer (4K – 2:24)
    • Overseas Trailer (4K – 2:24)
    • Toho Champion Festival Great Monster War: King Ghidorah vs. Godzilla Trailer (4K – :51)
    • Great Monster War: King Ghidorah vs. Godzilla Trailer (4K – 2:24)
  • Toho Champion Festival Version of Invasion of Astro-Monster (HD – 74:05)
  • Unused Special Effects Footage (Upscaled SD – 16:46)
  • Restored! A Cycle Ray Car (HD – 40:51)
  • Newspapers (HD – 2:49)
  • Monster Exhibition Event (HD – 3:10)
  • Godzilla Goes to Space 8 mm Digest (HD – 4:44)
  • Godzilla Goes to Space Picture Book (HD – 2.33)
  • Still Galleries:
    • Cast (4K, 59 in all)
    • Special Effects (4K, 55 in all)
    • Promotional Materials (4K, 49 in all)
    • Press Books (4K, 59 in all)

Since many of these extras are in Japanese with no way to add subtitles, they’re of limited utility to anyone who doesn’t speak the language. All’s not lost, however. Google Lens with Google Translate can also be your friend in deciphering some of the text, and a few of the extras are English-friendly. The shortened Toho Champion Festival version of Invasion of Astro-Monster appears to have been sourced from the same scans as the full-length version of the film, but without all of the rest of the work that was done to that. There’s a bit more damage visible, and none of the noise reduction. The Unused Special Effects Footage offers a montage of footage that includes more of the spaceships, military vehicles, and scenes of destruction. Of particular note here are some outtakes of the oversized foot prop that was used with larger scale miniatures. Speaking of miniatures, Restored! A Cycle Ray Car is a conversation between effects artists Tomoo Haraguchi and Yoshikazu Ishii. Haraguchi asks Ishii about his effects background, and then the two examine the restoration work that Ishii is doing on a vintage Cycle Ray car prop. It was actually a modified version of a Maser cannon from another film, and Ishii demonstrates how he’s been restoring it. He also shows off a few other vintage Godzilla props.

The Newspapers offer a detailed examination of the newspaper pages that are seen briefly in Invasion of Astro-Monster. Each part of the page is shown in closeup, so if you’re patient with Google Lens, you can actually translate everything. Monster Exhibition Event is a selection of photos from an exhibition with some of the suits and miniatures from Invasion of Astro-Monster. These were offered at department stores and amusement parks in order to promote the film. Godzilla Goes to Space is a single-reel 8 mm reduction of Invasion of Astro-Monster, cramming as much as it can into less than five minutes. The Godzilla Goes to Space picture book follows the events of the film more closely than some of the other Godzilla picture books do, but it still offers a few pure flights of fancy from artist Takeaki Tsukuda. Finally, the various Still Galleries offer plenty of material that’s valuable with or without subtitles. The Cast section offers a variety of actors from the film doing their own rendition of the “Sheeh!” pose, and it also has Adams looking like he was happy to be working on the film—something that stands in stark contrast to the open contempt that Russ Tamblyn showed toward War of the Gargantuas.

Will there eventually be a domestic release of this 4K restoration of Invasion of Astro-Monster? Maybe, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Toho has a long history of only offering substandard masters for overseas distribution—witness the poor-quality masters that they provided to Criterion for the Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954–1975 Blu-ray set. Time will tell, but for the time being, this disc is the best possible option. Exchange rates are currently favorable, too. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be cheap, because physical media in Japan has always been expensive relative to North America. Whether or not it’s worth the cost is up to you. Invasion of Astro-Monster isn’t for all tastes—those who are raving about the seriousness of Godzilla Minus One may want to give this one a wide berth—but for anyone who can still display childlike delight at Godzilla dancing a jig, this disc is worth every penny.

- Stephen Bjork

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