The year is 1965, and in orbit around Planet Earth a space station detects unidentified objects approaching, realising there is a problem when they identify them as alien spacecraft dead set on wreaking havoc. The station does its best, firing back on the invaders with its weaponry, but it is not enough and they destroy it, announcing a war with Earth has just commenced. Down on the surface, in Tokyo, the United Nations meets to discuss our next move, but the aliens are one step ahead: as talks encourage scientists to develop a death ray to repel the attackers, they have taken over the mind of the Iranian delegate and put him to work as an enemy agent. How can we succeed against these odds?
Battle in Outer Space was the loose follow-up to the previous science fiction epic from Toho Studios in Japan, entitled The Mysterians in the West, but along the same lines of space opera enlivened with special effects and miniature model work that would go on to inspire the likes of George Lucas come the nineteen-seventies and eighties. Actually, what these most resembled was the efforts of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson in Britain, who used similar techniques for their action puppet shows like Stingray or Thunderbirds, and indeed elements of what was going on in this example would be echoed in the Andersons' Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (a coincidence in that title?) or their first fully live action endeavour UFO.
Therefore if you like the Supermarionation shows and their descendants and imitators, you will likely get a kick out of Battle in Outer Space, though there was if anything even less emphasis on the characters here, with everyone we saw beyond perfunctory as far as their personalities went. We had the pioneering hero (Ryo Ikebe) and his plucky girlfriend (Kyoko Anzai) as representatives of Earthlings in space, which in this instance did not go any further than the Moon, as venturing out into the rest of the Solar System was deemed unnecessary. There was obviously a sense of rivalry being cultivated by director Ishirô Honda and the Hollywood exponent of sci-fi George Pal, so you could see evidence of War of the Worlds and Conquest of Space in the production, though this was less accomplished as far as sticking in the collective memories.
That was down to the most widely seen prints being the American dubbed version, which was incomplete in comparison to the Japanese version, though now both are available it is possible to see the original was superior and contained a verve all its own, if remaining as basic as they could make it, all the better to cut to the chase and get those effects on the screen. Once the death ray has been invented, they are plonked on the nose cones of the spaceships and adapted into rifles and so forth, all the better to beat the villains at their own game, though all we see of them is a short scene with Anzai swamped by the diminutive, helmeted and jumpsuited aliens as they try to take her down in a Moon cave. Naturally it ends with the destruction of (parts of) Tokyo, but what was notable was the film's faith in the United Nations, and that Earth's various creeds would set aside their differences to combat an outside threat; it may be quaint, but it's a staple of optimistic sci-fi like these. Music by Akira Ikufube.
[Eureka release The H-Man and Battle in Outer Space on a Blu-ray set with these features:
Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase (First Print Run of 2000 copies ONLY) featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling
Includes both Japanese and English versions of each film, presented across two Blu-ray discs
Original mono audio presentations
English subtitles (for Japanese versions) and English SDH (for English versions)
The H-Man: Brand new audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski
The H-Man: Brand new audio commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat
Battle in Outer Space: Audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski
Battle in Outer Space: Brand new audio commentary with film historian and writer David Kalat
PLUS: A collector's booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp (Midnight Eye).]