Invasion of the Neptune Men (Uchu Kaisoku-Sen)
Director – Koji Ota, Screenplay – Shin Morita, Producer – Hiroshi Okawa, Photography (b&w) – Shizuka Fuji, Music – Michiaki Watanabe. Production Company – Toei
Sonny Chiba (Space Chief), Kappei Matsumoto, Shinjiro Ebara, Mitsue Komiya, Ryuko Minakami
A group of boys watching the skies for a returning satellite see an alien rocketship land. They are surrounded by alien invaders but are saved by a caped and visored hero who flies in in a rocket vehicle and drives the aliens back to their ship. The boys name their saviour Space Chief. The boys’ fantastical story is believed when the invaders start to use Sigma Waves to cause all electrical devices across Japan to run in reverse. Scientists realize that the invaders come from Neptune and try to find a means of repelling their attack.
Invasion of the Neptune Men was one of a host of Japanese space opera/alien invasion films that came out in the late 1950s/early 1960s following the success of The Mysterians (1957). Other films followed such as Battle in Outer Space (1961), Atragon (1963), The Last War (1966), Latitude Zero (1969) and Voyage Into Space (1970). In comparison to their American counterparts, there was always something far more innocent to Japanese alien invader films – they lacked the fearful darkness of the American films of the era and frequently, as here, played the stories down to a juvenile audience.
Invasion of the Neptune Men bears a number of resemblances to Prince of Space (1959). Both have the same juvenile focus and feature a near-identical superhero who wears a visor and caped jumpsuit and turns up in a rocketship to trade fisticuffs with alien invaders. It could well be that Invasion of the Neptune Men has been intended as a sequel to Prince of Space – certainly, both films share the same screenwriter in Shin Morita. Both are equally terrible films, although Invasion of the Neptune Men has earned the far greater Bad Movie reputation, largely through screenings on shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-99).
Invasion of the Neptune Men fairly much sinks to Bad Movie territory within its opening scenes where the boys find themselves surrounded by alien invaders in ridiculous clunky bullet-shaped metal helmets with blinking lights in lieu of faces and then the appearance of Space Chief in his rocketship, which looks like a reconditioned two-person car with rocket jets and wings attached to it, who trades poorly choreographed fisticuffs with the aliens and drives them off. Beneath Space Chief’s visor is Japanese martial arts and action star Sonny Chiba in his very first film role.
To its credit, Prince of Space at least attempted a vigorous space opera along the lines of serials like Flash Gordon (1936) and Buck Rogers (1939). Invasion of the Neptune Men by comparison verges on the soporifically dull. After the first attack by the Neptune Men at the start, the film slows right down. Things become slow and extremely talky – everything seems to take place in a series of tedium-inducing cuts between the boys running about, scientists at the space centre trying to deal with the menace, press conferences and discussions around government boardroom tables. Occasionally the film remembers to get back to the alien invaders – a series of scenes where the Neptune Men cause electrical devices to start running in reverse, where they create a snowstorm in the streets and some model scenes with them attacking the electrical barrier with missiles – but these never amount to much.
Probably the best scenes are when the Neptune Men take on human form and try to invade the space centre, which include the bizarre image of soldiers wearing mascara and the nifty effect of their firing rifles that cause those they hit to become charred outlines on a wall. Eventually towards the climax, the film does offer up some reasonable (for the era) mass destruction with various model shots of buildings and refinery tanks being blown up (including the notorious shot of a building with Adolf Hitler on it).
The problem with the film is that the threat from the Neptune Men is only vague. Even the heroic Space Chief only appears at the beginning and the ending – and certainly there is no explanation ever offered as to who or what he is.
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