Attack from Space (1964) **
Runtime: 1h 16m
Somehow, in the past year, Nazis have become controversial villains. Probably the first time this has been the case in American pop culture since The Great Dictator (1940). On the one hand, I can understand the apprehensions of the right-leaning types to the new Wolfenstein game’s “Punch a Nazi” marketing. After all, they’ve been told time and again that they are Nazis (usually, though crucially not always, untrue) and have every reason to see this as a threat of violence against them. On the other hand, I cannot help but think this mentality is playing into the hands of their political opponents who can now point out that they are willingly identifying as German National Socialists. It’s a rather tiresome aspect of Trump-era politics, that leaves me longing for the good old days, when casting Nazis as your villains was a sign of creative bankruptcy rather than political maneuvering. Fortunately, I came across today’s film in the run-up to reviewing its sequel, Evil Brain From Outer Space (1965), where not only are the villains done up in Nazi regalia, they are all played by Japanese actors and are suppose to be alien conquerors. If that isn’t completely divorced from contemporary politics, then I have no idea what is.
The abovementioned Nazis are a race of alien conquerors from the Sapphire galaxy, called Sapphireans, and they have set their sights on earth. Fortunately, we Terrans are not totally at the mercy of the alien invaders, as the benevolent aliens of the Emerald planet have sent us a protector: Starman. Using the powers of a goofy looking watch, Starman can fly through space, pummel evil aliens, and generally keep earth safe from the evil Sapphireans. Starman is a singularly unimpressive figure, being a rather chubby man in a cheap looking leotard with a skin-tight cap, making him look rather like a condom. Starman also seems to be somewhat insecure about his manhood, as he sports a great deal of padding in his drawers (incidentally, this padding is why Ken Utsui, the actor playing Starman, was always embarrassed to talk about the role). Personally, I would much rather the Emerald planet send one of the goofy looking robots or weird aliens or the starfish-people that serve as their governing council. Having a humanoid alien be the focus of this kid of film always smells like a cop-out to me, as if the costume department cannot develop a sturdy enough alien suit to withstand the challenges of stunt work. Though I suppose the nature of the job necessitates that their chosen protector blend in with earthlings Clark Kent style.
Humanity isn’t interested in just sitting around while Starman fights our battles for us though. A secret conclave of scientists, headed by Dr. Yamanaka, is hard at work building a space ship that will take humanity to the stars and let them take the fight to the alien bastards. The project is so secret that the scientists working on it are not permitted to leave. When a machine breaks down, Yamanaka has to send his kids to get the replacement part. So we’re barely fifteen minutes into the movie and we have our first WTF moment. Why are an elementary school-aged boy and a high school-aged girl the only ones allowed to leave the secret laboratory? Why are they even privileged to the nature of Yamanaka’s project in the first place? I can think of nobody less likely to help with the work and more likely to blab about it. Obviously, the real reason for their presence is because the pair are suppose to be the characters the kids watching in the theater can project themselves onto. While American movies of the 1950s and 1960s mostly avoided this tendency of child heroes in films marketed toward children, the Japanese saw it as almost a requirement. Just be relieved that these two aren’t as obnoxious as the kids in Gamera (1965) or Prince of Space (1959).
The kids can’t even manage their modest errand though, as the store has just sold the entire shipment of the scientific widget to a mysterious buyer. What’s really odd is that the two kids seem to be buying the thing from their local hardware store; I didn’t figure that True Value would carry rocket ship parts. The kids, demonstrating precisely why industrial supply is a job best left to the post-pubescent, decide to tail the guy who bought out the shop’s supply. He leads them to a graveyard, where he enters a secret code into a tombstone and opens up a passage to an underground bunker. The kids are about to run back and tell their grandfather, when a bunch of goons ambush them and drag them into the underground lair. Despite the relatively small entranceway, the place is crawling with hundreds of Space Nazis. Personally, I find it refreshing that a former Axis power with fresh memories of WWII was just as capable of using the German National Socialist party as cartoonish villains as the nations that actually fought against them.
The Space Nazis didn’t seem to have had any previous plans to capture Yamanaka’s kids, but the Space Nazis capitalize on the situation nicely. Dr. Yamanaka quickly caves to their demands and surrenders himself to the Space Nazis. The Space Nazis then use some kid of brain washing on the captured Yamanaka family and put them to work constructing a space ship. Why the Astral Socialist Party needs them to build a space-ship is beyond me, not only have they traveled here from another galaxy, they have several spaceships in orbit around earth already. Indeed, it’s at this point that I lose track of just what assets the aliens have at their command. On the way to earth, Star Man destroys one of their spaceships (which looks like a florescent light bulb). They have a secret base under the cemetery, a new ship that Yamanaka and the kids are making for them, and then some kind of mother ship in orbit. Starman also destroys another florescent light bulb ship a bit later, so I guess they have that as well. Amazingly, the narrator, who is constantly trying to explain what is going on, does not help to make this any clearer.
Fortunately, the Space Nazis brainwashing is as shoddy as the real Nazis grasp of biology, and Yamanaka and his family promptly come un-brainwashed after about half an hour. The Nazis are not really away of how shoddy their brainwashing is either, as the family is left mostly unguarded. In short order, they have escaped and snatched a couple of uniforms. From there, they sabotage the space Nazi’s ability to attack earth, just as their leader is about to demand the surrender of the planet lest they feel the wrath of his atomic missiles. Though, why he waited so long to demand the earthlings surrender is beyond me, surely this is the kind of thing he could have done before establishing a hidden base on earth and charming a coterie of human quisling agents. Anyway, the temporary drop in the Space Nazis weapon systems buys Starman just enough time to slip through the alien defenses and proceed to smack around the space Nazis with his singularly unconvincing form of martial arts.
Let’s be perfectly honest, this movie is a mess. Most of Attack from Space’s failings can be attributed to the fact that it is a couple of episodes of a Japanese short film series that were purchased years later for syndication on American TV. The dub job is probably guesswork, and the edits are occasionally random, going so far as to repeat itself in one instance. It also seems that in the original Japanese films, the enemies are just regular people, rather than cosmic invaders. This would explain why they look exactly like people, while the other aliens we see, aside from Starman, are a hodge-podge of monsters. Though some problems are not the fault of importers alone. The fight scenes must have been just as dreadfully boring in the original release as they are here. There is some entertainment to extract from Attack From Space. The Starman costume is incredibly ridiculous, and the color DVD box shows that it is bright yellow. Unfortunately, you won’t get the impression that the earth is being saved by a giant banana, as the film is shot entirely in black and white. Still, there is some entertainment value to be had from Attack From Space, just not the sort that I think the filmmakers intended.