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ATRAGON (1963)

aka Kaitei gunkan
Article 3193 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2010
Posting Date: 5-12-2010
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Tadao Takashima, Yoko Fujiyama, Yu Fujiki
Country: Japan
What it is: Invaders from an undersea kingdom, Japanese style

The underwater empire of Mu threatens to take over the world with their superior technology.  The only hope for the world is a missing Japanese captain who has designed the ultimate fighting machine, a flying submarine known as Atragon.

I think this popped up on TV when I was a kid, and I watched it expecting a monster movie; I soon switched it off in frustration, and even had I stayed with it, I would have been disappointed by Manda, who is more reminiscent of Reptilicus than any of the great Japanese monsters.  However, as an adult, I can admire it for what it really is; I consider it the best of the various Japanese invasion movies of that period, as I find it more interesting and enjoyable than either BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE or THE MYSTERIANS.  Not that I don't see some problems with the story.  The residents of Mu show real shortsightedness in their attempts to keep Atragon from being used against them, as their every action seems destined to encouraged that the machine be used, such as calling the attention of the Japanese government to its existence in the first place.  However, the scenes of destruction are colorful and well done, and I enjoy various touches.  I like the scene where the humans taken prisoner by the Mu empire are brought in during an impressively staged ritual dance, and I like the way that Kenji Sahara really underplays his role; given that the common acting mode in Japanese movies seems to be rather strident, underplaying is always a striking touch in their movies.  I originally started watching this in the English-dubbed version on my disc, but the dubbed acting was so weak I eventually switched to the Japanese version with English subtitles, which I liked a lot better.  Jun Tazaki's role of Captain Jinguji was originally to have been played by the great Toshiro Mifune, but a prior commitment kept him out of the production.  That's a real pity; I would really liked to have seen him in one of these Japanese science fiction movies.

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