Today I will be reviewing Atragon, a classic Toho science fiction movie from the early 1960s. This was the heyday of Japanese sci-fi and Toho was as large and dominating a film studio as you can get. Pretty much anything they put out in this era was gold, and Atragon is no exception.
Toho tapped legendary director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, and composer Akira Ifukube to make Atragon the best it could be. All in all, they did an admirable job with a somewhat tired and muddled script. Toho also called in most of the A-list actors from their Godzilla and Mothra series, giving the production some serious star weight.
Atragon is a rough retelling of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with an eccentric ultra-focused naval genius who has built a supersub in secret and who is out to impose his own brand of justice on the world. Toho Studios added to this storyline a subplot about an aggressive underwater kingdom and a giant monster god, both trademarks of the studio's sci-fi movies.
Atragon was released in Japan in late 1963 to good box office results. It was later re-edited by b-movie specialists American International and shown over here for the first time in 1965. I will be reviewing a widescreen DVD-R of the American cut version, dubbed in English, and 89 minutes long. The film quality is brilliant and the colors are vibrant and alive, truly a complaint-free presentation of this excellent movie.
And now on to our show...
To Tokyo, Japan we go. It's midnight, and out on a pier in the harbor two photographers are taking pictures of a beautiful young girl. She wears a half-bikini top that shows off a stunning set of boobies to go with a lithe slim body and great hair. The actress is named Akemi Kita, and she officially wins the award for "The Best Bikini in a Toho Movie", narrowly edging out Beverly Maeda in Son of Godzilla and Kumi Mizuno in Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. Most annoyingly, this lovely girl will disappear from our film after the first two minutes, nearly forcing me to turn off this movie and...gasp, read a book instead.
The two photographers are a Mutt and Jeff team named Yoshito Nishibe (the comic-relief funny guy) and Susumu Hatankaka (the smartyhead straight man). Yoshito is played by 32-year old Yu Fujiki. With 105 movie credits, Fujiki is one of the more experienced members of our cast, with notable appearances in 1962's 47 Ronin and 1964's Godzilla vs. Mothra I, where he was freaking annoying in a heavily comedic role. Here he plays Annoying Comic Relief to the hilt, totally driving me crazy every time he's on screen. In what era was this sort of behavior considered funny?
Susumu is played by 33-year old Tadao Takashima, who I just saw in a nice role in 1967's Son of Godzilla.
As you watch this movie you realize that this is one of those cases where they could have combined the two characters into one man and not lost any of the movie's plot or theme. As there are so many names already in this movie, and these two guys are nearly always together, I'm going to just lump them together as the "photographers", except when they do something different.
As they snap photos of the girl, a hissing sound suddenly comes from the dark and murky harbor nearby. They see a "monster" rising up out of the water, which looks kinda like a dude in a thick rubber diving suit. The girl screams bloody murder and the guys turn their cameras on the intruder. The flash bulb pops, causing the weird-ass frogman to dive back under the water.
Before they can even speculate on what just happened, a Prince Skyline taxicab with two people in it races by at breakneck speed, barely missing them. The car accelerates along the pier and plunges into the water! It lands with a big splash and sinks quickly beneath the dark waves. What the hell was that about?
From there we jump immediately to our opening credits, which are just the film's title and a few cast members. They are in Japanese script, so I can't read them.
The next morning the police raise the sunken car from the harbor, divers search the water but find no bodies. A group of people is on the docks watching the scene. Here we meet our Policeman Hero, a standard in these types of films. This is the "Inspector", and he's all business and skeptical of anything he cannot prove. He's played by Hiroshi Koizumi.
The Inspector talks to the two photographers, who stand by their story even though it sounds farcical (one says, "Cameras don't lie and we don't either!"). The Inspector is only half-convinced, even when other witnesses seem to confirm the photographers' version of the story.
Once the Inspector walks away, the two photographers spy a pretty girl in a peach and white dress walking in the vicinity. Needing a new hot model for their latest layout, they go chasing after her. The girl snubs them by getting into a car and driving off. Susumu takes some photos of her as she gets in the backseat and then snaps one of the car's license plate (72-95). Later he will have his assistant track her down from this number.
We next join the two photographers in their studio as they develop some film in their darkroom. The Inspector comes to see them then, bringing news of another kidnapping. The Inspector tells them of the similarities between the two kidnappings, and that both men were civil engineers specializing in cave-ins. Why exactly did the police feel the need to let these two photographers in on the details of the cases? How do they deserve this sort of inside information?
Suddenly, a small tremor shakes the room. Everyone jumps under tables and benches as the short earthquake rattles for about three seconds. Any greater significance to this tremor is never explained, but it's probably not uncommon in earthquake-prone Japan.
We go now to the Tokyo offices of "Kokoku Shipping Company, Ltd". We meet two people here, the head of the company and his adopted daughter. The girl is the same one that the photographers were chasing a few scenes ago, and is named Makoto Jinguji, played by 22-year old Yoko Fujiyama (though Makoto is said to be 18-years old in our film). While relatively unknown before our movie, Fujiyama would go on to have better roles in 1964's Dagora and 1965's Red Beard before leaving the industry young in 1967.
The Hot Daughter.
She's HOT by any standards, with a perky body, lithe arms and pretty face. She's not the best actress, however, but she's mostly called upon to be either moody and sullen, or scared and hysterical, and not much more. I will probably just call her the "Hot Daughter" for this review. In this scene she's wearing a pink crème dress with a knotted cord of the same color around her neck.
The Hot Daughter is the adopted daughter of the shipping magnate, a fairly famous retired Admiral from WWII named Admiral Kosumi. Kosumi is played by 54-year old Ken Uehara, known to audiences of the time for the roles of Doctor Harada in 1961's Mothra and Doctor Konno in 1962's Gorath.
The Old Admiral.
I'm just going to call him the "Old Admiral", ok? The Hot Daughter's father was Captain Jinguji, one of the Old Admiral's line officers, and he raised her as his own once that man disappeared in action during the war. The Old Admiral now runs a successful shipping company, but he harbors a deep dark secret about Captain Jinguji, a secret that will be the key to our movie.
As they chat, a journalist named Umino brusquely enters the room. Umino is played by the famous Kenji Sahara, doing one of his typical supporting roles that have made him a favorite of "Spot-Sahara" drinking games (played only by people in my dream world probably). Here he's sporting an Amish beard and always wears a long overcoat, a slouch hat and dark sunglasses. As such, I'm going to call him "Scary Amish Reporter" for the rest of the review. For some reason he's always cold, claiming to be a "little chilled" here.
Scary Amish Reporter.
Scary Amish Reporter has some questions for the Old Admiral. He wants to know about Captain Jinguji and what the Old Admiral knows about his disappearance during the war. The Old Admiral has nothing much to say that's not public record, and is increasingly irritated at the reporter. For his part, the Scary Amish Reporter continues to insinuate that the Old Admiral knows more than he's letting on. He even claims that Captain Jinguji is still alive, and active! At this, the Hot Daughter's ears perk up. The Old Admiral insists that Jinguji was killed off Saipan in the last days of the war and he knows nothing more.
Scary Amish Reporter then asks about the missing supersub the I-403, and the Old Admiral's knowledge of it. The Old Admiral blows him off, but you can see that he's upset and intrigued by the reporter's questions and seemingly intimate knowledge of the facts. With nothing gained by this, the reporter is sent packing.
The SAR shows this picture to the Old Admiral.
A note, the dialogue says "A-403" for the sub. Since it's common to assign Japanese Navy fleet boats an "I" prefix, I will refer to the boat as the I-403 here. There were indeed four boats of the I-400 class built in the waning days of the war in 1945. The first three were captured by the Americans and scuttled after the war. The I-403 was still in the yards under construction and was broken up. This movie wants us to believe that the I-403 was instead operational and escaped capture.
Alone now, the Old Admiral and his Hot Daughter talk about her father. Hey, two seconds ago she was wearing a knotted pink cord around her neck, but now she's wearing a string of white pearls! Wardrobe! She's a bit out of sorts, she has always believed that her father died just as the Old Admiral told her. The Old Admiral tries to assure her that the reporter was just telling lies to get a story. You can see that she's thinking, though. They then leave and get in the back of their chauffeured car and drive off somewhere.
In a quick interlude, we see that the photographers have tracked down the girl's place of business from her license plate. So the two of them go to the shipping company offices to talk with her. They arrive just in time to see her and the Old Admiral drive off. So they decide to follow her in their own car, hoping to talk to her once they stop, I guess. I don't know, there are a lot of pretty girls in Tokyo, it seems like they're going to an awful lot of effort here.
We also see that the Scary Amish Reporter is also following them in his own car. Oddly, we note that his car is a left-driver, while all the other cars we see in this movie are right-drivers. Scary Amish Reporter is driving an imported car, obviously.
So in their car, the Hot Daughter and the Old Admiral chat a bit. She tells him about a strange elderly man that she thinks has been following her for the last few weeks. The Old Admiral tells her to go talk to the police about it.
Then they notice that they're driving somewhere other than where they intended. They ask the driver, and are shocked to see that he's not their usual guy. The new driver is none other than Agent 23! Well, I guess these two don't know who "Agent 23" is yet, they just know that they're being kidnapped. Agent 23 tells them to shut up and he drives them down to a secluded and empty section of beach somewhere.
Agent 23 is played by legendary Toho star Akihiko Hirata, who by the time of our movie had already made a career in sci-fi movies (watch him excel in 1954's Godzilla and 1957's Earth Defense Force). He plays his scenes here with gusto, really selling the role of arrogant agent of a superior civilization come to give us puny surface dwellers a smacking.
Agent 23 with his captives.
They get out and walk down to the beach. Agent 23 tells them that they're being kidnapped by the "Mu Empire", so they had better just smile and get used to it. He says a submarine will be along shortly to pick them all up.
The Old Admiral scoffs at this, claiming that the Mu Empire is a legend, a fabled island that sank 10,000 years ago. Agent 23 agrees, this is indeed what happened, but the Muans survived and have developed a highly advanced civilization beneath the sea and are now ready to re-colonize the surface.
Ok, remember that the two photographers have followed the car. The two men sneak up to where they can see Agent 23 and the two Japanese on the beach. They rush down to intervene, but are stopped when Agent 23 pulls a pistol on them. The goofy photographer tries to bonk him with a wrench, but Agent 23 grabs it with his "super strength". He then somehow "super heats" the wrench until the photographer has to let go of it. This super ability to shock, heat and toss-around is never really expanded upon after this scene, despite the assumption that the Muans are somehow more than human. Since Agent 23 wears gloves in this scene, perhaps the gloves themselves are the special power, containing some sort of technology.
Out in the surf, we see four frogmen emerge, more Muans coming to take them out to the submarine. Just as it looks like our heroes are going to be shipped off to become slave labor, the photographers launch into action, jumping Agent 23 and rolling around in the sand. Agent 23 seems to have lost his super strength here, and is actually getting it handed to him by the portly photographer. In the fight, the Old Admiral ends up with the pistol and orders every one to their feet. He says that they're all going to the police.
Standing with his hands in the air, Agent 23 just smiles and says that they might have won this round, but they will meet again. He then turns and runs into the surf, diving into the water. The Old Admiral hesitates like five whole seconds and then begins firing the gun seven times after him. He misses, of course, because he waited so long.
A few notes. What happened to the Scary Amish Reporter? Wasn't he following them also? And the goofy photographer has a camera around his neck this entire scene. Why doesn't he snap some pictures of the frogmen or the sub? Later they have a hard time trying to convince people that the Mu Empire is real, so some photos would be helpful.
So the four of them now go to the Police Inspector's office. They tell him the story and show him the pistol. We see the gun on the desk, the clip is out and lying next to it are two empty cartridges and three bullets. The Inspector then looks up and says, "So, you say you emptied this gun..." and the Old Admiral agrees. Hmm...emptied? What about those three live bullets there?
The Inspector is a still bit skeptical of their story, but as the Old Admiral is here, he's taking it more seriously. Well-respected shipping magnates and former military heroes are not prone to making up wild stories, apparently.
A few quick notes on this scene. While everyone else has the same outfits on as in the last scene, the Hot Daughter has a completely new hairstyle and a new orange coat (did they go home first so she could change?). Also, check the background, you can see a distinctive calendar and a "top ten most wanted" poster. Despite the camera angle, these two items are always in the background of each shot, meaning that they rearranged the props with each angle and hoped no one would notice. I did.
As they talk, a small package is delivered to the office, for the Old Admiral. The return address is the "Mu Empire"! So they go to open it, but worried that it might be a bomb (?), they have a police scientist guy who just came in look at it first. Everyone in the room steps back a mere three feet (!!!) as the man slowly opens the package. If it really were a bomb, they would all be dead.
But it's not a bomb, it's an 8mm film reel!
The Mu tape.
And now we have one of the most contrived, forced, lame methods of exposition you will ever see. The 8mm film is shown to a group of military leaders and concerned parties, including our photographers, the Old Admiral and the Inspector. It's essentially a documentary of the Mu Empire, made by the Muans for the Japanese to view. It tells them how glorious the Mu Empire is, how they will soon rule the surface, and most importantly for our movie, it tells the story of the I-403.
First it shows us an impressive underground city, carved out of the undersea bedrock, powered by massive generators tapping into the geothermic energy of the Earth's core. This is all supposed to impress us with the technological prowess of the Muans, and it does. They also have this whole Egyptian/Phoenician motif going, both in decorations and clothing.
We then see an ornate temple in which rests a submarine up on blocks. This is supposed to be a full-sized sub, but in this shot it's oh-so clearly a small plastic model. It seems that in the last days of WWII, the Japanese submarine I-403 was abandoned at sea by her crew. Presumably they opened the sea cocks and scuttled their boat to prevent capture by the Americans. The crew then rowed off to a secluded island, more on them later. The empty boat was recovered (when exactly is not said) by the Muans. They took it back to their underground city and investigated it.
The Muans determined that the I-403 was the pinnacle of human engineering skill. Hmm...really? Sure the I-400 series was pretty impressive, but it certainly was no more advanced than an American Gato or Balao. For that matter, between 1945 and 1963 a lot of much more sophisticated boats had been built. I sure hope the Muans aren't assuming that the surface people are still using WWII-level weapons.
The Muans are most concerned that long-lost Captain Jinguji is reportedly secretly building a super-sub, an "undersea battleship" named Atragon. They order the humans to make sure that the super-sub does not interfere. If they don't, then the Mu Empire will stomp the surface world.
Watching the Mu film.
Despite the seriousness of the message, the worthless politicians at the United Nations decry the film as a hoax and the whole idea of Mu as just plain silly. They dismiss the idea after only ten minutes of discussion on the floor. Always the case, eh? The dumbasses in the UN are always two steps out of line on everything important. Someone call Green Day!
Days later, we see a Japanese merchantman somewhere at sea. It's dark outside, and suddenly, a lookout spots something bobbing to the surface ahead. It's a sphere of some sort, spouting steam and emanating a whitish glow. Soon, several more of these spheres pop up around the ship. These are mobile mines released by a submerged Mu submarine.
They move in and suddenly the ship explodes in a gout of flame. Strangely, the actual ship itself doesn't move an inch, despite what you would expect from a mine hit, just a large rolling yellow-flamed gasoline bomb explodes on the deck of the model ship.
The world now reacts to the start of the Mu attacks with shock and anger. We only see this one attack, mind you, but we can assume by all the grave conversations that many more have occurred. As can be expected, the world's militaries mobilize to meet the threat.
We get three little stock footage scenes here to show this. The first is a flight of American F-102 Delta Dagger jet fighters taking of from an airfield. From the tail markings I can tell you these are F-102s from the 16th Fighter Interception Squadron based at Naha Airbase on Okinawa. The second clip is of a small warship at sea, stolen from 1961's Mothra. The last clip is the worst, a two-second shot of an orbiting space station from 1959's Battle in Outer Space. This last one is so totally out of place for this movie, and I'm annoyed at it to no end.
Out now to the open sea, where we do not know, but presumably in the Pacific somewhere. We see the American nuclear submarine Red Satan, the "most sophisticated submarine ever built", cruising along.
The model is impressive, and photographed well in the rolling seas. The boat is clearly a ballistic missile sub, with a long casemate aft of the conning tower with square hatches for missiles. It looks a lot like a Lafayette-class boat, which would have indeed been cutting edge in 1963. The sail has the number "715" on it, but that is the Los Angeles-class hunter killer Buffalo, which wasn't commissioned until 1982. There is no SSBN-715. The very name Red Satan seems like a terribly literal translation of the original Japanese name. I guess it might be better translated as Red Devil or Red Demon. Red Satan is just not a name the US Navy would give a boat, even in the 1960s.
The Red Satan.
The Red Satan is on the surface, and close by is a Mu Empire submarine, also on the surface. The Mu sub is a neat model, wide and swoopy with a stylized sea serpent design on the bow. Both boats dive without action when they spot each other. The Mu boat dives steadily down, deeper and deeper, and the Red Satan gives chase.
A Mu submarine.
Inside the Red Satan we see the crew, all Americans. Their dialogue is dubbed, though the actors are clearly speaking English. These are not professional actors (I hope they're not because they suck...) and were probably hired just because they looked western. Notice one sailor wearing blue jeans (!) while everyone else wears Navy dress uniforms (perhaps it's "casual Friday"?).
At about 3,600 feet, the American captain decides to give up the chase and orders the boat up. But what's this? A malfunction that causes them to lose control? The boat slides past crush depth and implodes. So much for the "best the world can field."
Back in the office of shipping company, the Old Admiral and some assorted suits and military men talk about the grievous loss of the Red Satan. They dismiss using nuclear weapons, as the Mu city is far too deep. Really? Surely they could make a container for the nuke that would withstand the pressure if they dropped it over the city. Japan is really obsessed with not using nukes, one of the suits even says that the nuclear option is "a nebulous possibility".
In the end the solution is obvious; they must have Atragon. The Old Admiral wishes he could help, but he really doesn't know where it is. He does, however, admit that he has protected Captain Jinguji's honor all these years because he knew that he was a deserter. This is really never fully explained, but I assume that the Captain abandoning his boat was considered desertion. [Editor Pam: I think so, even though we'll find out he did have a good reason to abandon it. I'm not sure if running off with the submarine in the first place would be considered desertion, since the Admiral told the Scary Amish Reporter that he ordered Jinguji to sea the night before the surrender. And I'm wondering if the Old Admiral actually had the right to do that, since there didn't seem to be any purpose except to let Jinguji and the submarine get away. If his superiors in the Japanese Navy didn't care at that point, which is possible since they must have had a lot on their minds, the Allies knew about these big submarines and wanted to study them, and after the surrender there would be questions asked about where it was and what happened to it. I assume that if the Old Admiral was questioned about the sub's whereabouts, he claimed that he ordered the I-403 to sea and it was lost with all hands, but if anybody had bothered to check, they might have wondered why the submarine left port the night before the surrender, as the Admiral said. Maybe the Admiral claimed Jinguji was thirsting to get in one last shot while he still could, and if the Allies pointed out there was no record of anybody attacking a submarine where the I-403 was supposed to have gone, he could say there must have been a malfunction and the sub sank. Or possibly the Admiral lied about when it left, but I doubt it's possible for a submarine to sneak out completely undetected, since it would have to be fueled and provisioned, which would mean a lot of people would know it was leaving. Certainly there would be a lot of people who would know it had been in port the night before and wasn't there the morning of the surrender. I guess it's not impossible the I-403 could have got away, leaving everybody to believe that it sank sometime after it left port and with only a vague idea on exactly when that was, but it must have been a matter of luck that the cover story wasn't investigated in depth and somebody didn't spill the beans. Forgive this long discourse, but the point is that it's just not possible for the I-403 to have simply sailed away with no questions being asked.]
We see now that a man thought to be a Mu agent has been captured by the police and put into a jail cell. Everyone goes to see him, and the Hot Daughter identifies him as the elderly man who has been following her for the last two weeks.
After some banter and bluster, the man admits that he's associated with Captain Jinguji, being one of the original crewmen of I-403. He will prove to be Radio Assistant Tome Amanoshone, played by 45-year old Yoshifumi Tajima. Tajima might be best remembered as the reporter Izeki in 1956's Rodan and as the slimy businessman Kumayama in 1964's Godzilla vs. Mothra I, perhaps his defining career role. Here he's just a portly old man with a squat face. I will call him the "Old Sailor" from here out.
The Old Sailor is adamant about not disclosing the location of his Captain or any information about the Atragon. He does, however, admit that the man is indeed alive. At this admission, the Hot Daughter nearly faints. Everyone pressures him, but he won't budge, his devotion to his captain is steadfast. In this conversation we learn that his serial number is 85618, and also see that on two occasions when he answers "Hai!" to badgering questions, the dubbers fail to dub the word as "Yes!".
Suddenly, the intercom speaker sparks to life. The voice of Mu Agent 23 comes over! He tells them that they're all going to be ground under the jack boot of the Mu Empire, resistance is futile, yada yada yada. The Inspector and the rest of them rush to the room in the police station where the intercom switchboard is. They find a policeman on the floor knocked out, and a large reel-to-reel tape recorder sitting on the desk by the microphone. Clearly, Agent 23 snuck in here and bonked the policeman over the head and left the recorded message. How lame is this? Did the Agent do it just to show them that he can get into anywhere, even inside a police station?
High tech recording/play back device.
So the recorded message convinces the Old Sailor that the threat from Mu is real and present. He agrees very reluctantly to lead them to his Captain. He won't tell them specifically, but will lead them there. The Scary Amish Reporter arrives now, and overhears the above conversation. This Scary Amish Reporter dude is really creeping me out.
So, why was the Old Sailor assigned to spy on the Captain's daughter again? I thought that she believed that her father was long dead, what possible reason would they have for putting a tail on her? Did they fear that the Mu Empire would attempt to kidnap her to force the Captain to show himself? If so, and I guess that makes sense, why only one man? If the Captain was really that worried about his daughter, he should have brought her to him, or at least made better security arrangements. And how did the Captain even know about his daughter? Surely he must have had some contact with Japan since he disappeared, enough to learn where his daughter was. Seems pretty damn cruel of him not to even tell his own daughter that he was still alive.
So we now go aboard a Pan American Airlines Boeing 707 airliner over the Pacific somewhere. This quick two-second shot is of a obvious plastic model of the jet. Why they went to all the effort to shoot this model for such a brief insert is beyond me, wouldn't it have been easier to just find a stock footage clip?
Aboard are the Old Seaman, who's leading our cast to the Secret Island Base where Captain Jinguji now resides. With him are our two photographers (why them?), the Inspector, the Admiral and his Hot Daughter, and the Scary Amish Dude (why?). When asked why the reporters were along, the Inspector says that they had to take them along so they wouldn't spread the story and blow the secret. Hmm...wouldn't it be easier just to lock them up "for their own safety" for a few days while they went off to find Captain Jinguji? I can see nothing good from bringing along all these extra people. And why were they even allowed to sit in on the questioning in the first place?
On a separate note, the Hot Daughter looks smashing here. For the next few scenes she's wearing a pair of tight white pants and a red flowered blouse. She is, however, forced to wear one of those head scarves that fashionistas forty years ago actually thought made women look hot. Silly 1960s people...
Back now deep underwater, where we see a Mu submarine entering a passage into the hidden Mu city. We go into the bowels of the underground Mu city to follow Agent 23 as he makes a report to the "High Priest of Mu". The agent is now dressed in this lameass native islander knock-off costume, which shows way too much chest hair for my tastes. A sharp editing cut here tells me that something was edited out of the American version, I wonder what it is?
The High Priest of Mu is played by 37-year old Eisei Amamoto, a career bit part actor who shined as the charismatic Doctor Who in 1967's King Kong Escapes and the creepy toymaker in 1969's Godzilla's Revenge. He's an exceptionally tall for a Japanese, with a gangly walk and a distinctive face. Here he's fitted out like a typical mad soothsayer, with long white hair and buggly eyes.
The High Priest of Mu.
The High Priest listens to Agent 23's report about the people going off with the Old Sailor. He tells Agent 23 to keep up the good work and keep tailing them, since they will lead them right to Atragon. At the mention of that sub, the High Priest has a flunky pull out a set of crinkled, dog-eared blueprints of Atragon. We will learn later that they got these from the captured I-403.
Blueprints of Atragon.
Suddenly, there's a rumbling and a bumbling! An earth tremor starts the camera jiggling and the cast swerving about, while foam rocks and buckets of dust are tossed down from over the set. A cave-in is reported in Power Block 57, where "the prisoners were working". The High Priest orders them taken back to their cell immediately. Ah, I see now. The Muans were kidnapping civil engineers to have them assist with shoring up the shaky underground city. Hmm...why do they need to do this? Don't they have people of their own who know this stuff? You'd think that a technologically advanced society that has been living in caves for 10,000 years would have a strong heritage of civil engineering.
And what about these tremors? Are we to believe that they're a recent phenomena? Did they do something wrong? Dig too deep, cross a fault line, a ley line? No explanation is ever given and we have to guess way too much for me to be happy about it.
They all then have an elaborate prayer session for their god Manda, who's a sea monster/snakey sort of thing, more on him later. Whether or not this session was already scheduled, or an impromptu reaction to the earthquake, is unknown. If they have this mass prayer session every time the earth shakes and shimmies, and it keeps shaking and shimmying, then eventually folks are going to figure out that praying to Manda does squat for them. Then you have chaos, and social disorder, and rap music, and reruns of Full House, and other bad stuff.
Back to our heroes. Their plane lands somewhere (no guess as to where) and the men charter a small motorboat to take them far out to sea. They sail for "four days" they say, which must have been brutal in such a small boat on the open sea. Finally they reach the Secret Island Base, the location of which is totally unknown except for the general feeling that it's in the South Pacific somewhere.
As the scene closes, we see Scary Amish Reporter as he tosses a small white object the size of a golf ball overboard. We watch the ball as it sinks down, down through the water. A Mu Empire submarine glides into frame! The sub seems to gather up the ball. Hmm...perhaps a homing beacon of some sort? Is the Scary Amish Reporter an agent of the Mu Empire? Scoundrel!
So clearly the Muans are following our heroes, as they rightly should. You'd think that our cast would make more of an effort to avoid detection from the Muans. They have to know that they are being watched, from the first shot of the movie to this point the Muans have been able to infiltrate any group of people that chose to. Dumb humans.
The island is huge, certainly large enough to have been charted and settled by someone over the centuries, so to try and make us believe that it's totally unknown is a stretch. It's got tall mountains ranges and lush tropical jungles and has been populated by a society of natives for at least since the war.
They offload from the boat and take a big canoe down (or up) a slow river. This must be a stage set, as the canoe really seems to be running on a track. Even when a man jumps out and pulls it ashore, the hull never moves an inch. They get out of the canoe at some point and wander through the thick jungle for a bit before encountering a squad of sentries. They all get into a jeep and head off.
Next we see them driving across a wide-open plain. It looks like a volcanic area, the sandy soil is awful black. This island must be freaking huge, and climatically diverse. First they were in a tropical jungle, and now they are in a volcanic plain.
For some reason the jeep slips off the road and gets stuck in the soft sand. Everyone gets out and they push the jeep out of the ditch. Watching this scene, you can plainly see that they did indeed have the actors push the jeep out of the ditch. No stunt doubles, no trick angles, just our main cast grunting and shoving a vehicle out of the sand. Nice.
The one person who didn't help was the Scary Amish Reporter, who wanders off a bit to check out the land. When queried, he points to the distant ridgeline, where a series of exposed strata can be seen. He points out iron ore, bauxite and manganese, showing an amazing geologist's eye. All this is made to show us that this island has the natural resources to make the Atragon. Right.
The jeep finally arrives at the camp headquarters, which is a large house built in a matte painting jungle area near the shore. So the HQ is near the ocean? Then why did they have to take the canoe up the river and the jeep across the plain to get here? Why didn't they just sail the boat up to the shore near the HQ? Maybe the Old Sailor was trying to keep the charter boat crew in the dark? [Editor Pam: It seems pointless to keep the crew from knowing exactly where the HQ is, since they already have to know that these people are here for some reason and something must be going on. Possibly the Captain is afraid of air attacks, so he doesn't want anybody to know exactly where his HQ is located, but if the charter boat crew starts gossiping, the wrong people could start wondering just what's going on here and start looking into it. Once they do, air reconnaissance should show that all is not what it seems in the jungle, even if the main installations are concealed. It seems to me the crew would be asking themselves just why these people want to go to an uncharted island, anyway. Was the crew told these people are anthropologists, perhaps? Or geologists? Was the crew bribed to keep quiet, or do they know what the Captain's doing and are in sympathy with him? And didn't the crew who picked up the Old Sailor in the first place wonder what he was doing there? The charter boat crew is definitely a weak point in security.]
Here they meet the junior officers, all very efficient and dedicated men, intensely loyal to their captain and his cause. They are, however, mere cardboard cut-outs as characters, lending virtually nothing to the movie other than as background extras.
Now we get to meet the fabled Captain Hachiro Jinguji, played by 53-year old Jun Tazaki. Tazaki had a nice long career in movies over some 35 years, mostly in Toho productions. For my tastes, his best turns might be as Doctor Sakurai in 1965's Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and a comeback performance as Ayabe in 1985's Ran. The captain is a generously fat man with a severe look on his face most times. Returning to my Verne analogy, I will call him "Captain Nemo" for the balance of this review.
We see that there are maybe a hundred men in uniform on the island. They're all dressed in throwback WWII Japanese Navy uniforms and carry vintage weapons. Since there are many men here much too young to be original sailors, we're told that many of them are local islanders who Captain Nemo has enlisted to help him. They have helped him and his crew create their masterpiece, the supersub Atragon.
The men folk talk about Atragon, about how neat-o keen she is and how nothing can stand against her. And now they slide into one of those loud, expressive, dramatic movie arguments over Nemo being unwilling to help out the world. Nemo is insistent on his point of view, that Atragon should only be used for "restoring Japan's glory and honor", regardless of the Mu invasion. The Old Admiral yells back that the entire planet is under threat, Japan included. They go back and forth for some time, everyone else staying diplomatically out of the way. Nemo really comes across as deranged and mad here, Ahab chasing his whale mad, Quixote charging his windmills mad, Jennifer Lopez not getting enough ice in her trailer mad. His overzealous drive to see Japan's former enemies crushed is indeed disturbing.
Unable to take the shouting and the yelling, the Hot Daughter breaks down in tears and runs out of the room. Susumu (one of the photographers) follows her out to comfort her. With this, we get our first indications of young love with Susumu and the Hot Daughter, a not-altogether unexpected development.
The next day we join our cast to watch the first operational test of Atragon. How convenient them arriving just in time! They go down into the underground drydock, a massive facility with state-of-the-art construction and manufacturing machines. The sets for the drydock and the control room which our casts observes it from were later reused in 1977's The War in Space.
Viewing the drydock.
Numerous questions need to be answered. How the hell did they build the massive underground drydock for the sub? It must have taken thousands of tons of TNT to blast out a cavern that big. How the hell did they construct all the machinery, foundries and related refinery capability to manufacture a huge submarine? They must have imported all the needed tools and dies and virtually every other raw and finished material to construct it. From where? No way they could have kept that all secret. Oh, screw it.
Basically, what the movie wants us to believe is that Captain Nemo, with perhaps 140 sailors, washed up on this island after abandoning their boat at sea. Once there, with nothing more than their wits and the limited resources of the native islanders, they managed to build the most sophisticated submarine the world has ever seen. All in less than 20 years. And keep it a total secret from the rest of the world. Right. [Editor Pam: The only explanation that seems possible is that the base was built by the Japanese late in the war when it became clear they were going to lose, and the Captain was ordered to go there to build his new supersub and lie in wait. After the war, the Japanese government discreetly supplied the Captain with the materials and skilled labor he needed to build the Atragon, because I doubt that a bunch of sailors knew how to manufacture foundries and the machinery necessary to make the basic materials, even if they knew how to build a submarine. This would account for the elaborate drydock, but I can see why the writers didn't want to go there. Otherwise there's no way to explain it. It certainly is a cool-looking setup, though.]
Anyway, we get a good look at Atragon here. She's shaped more like a spaceship than a submarine, with little apparent attention paid to streamlining for less drag. The conning tower is large and retractable (!), as are the gun turrets fore and aft of the tower. The nose is a drill (!) and the tail lacks propellers, meaning that Atragon is powered by jet engines (!). All in all, a pretty slick design, but clearly beyond the capabilities of these men to build. Suspend your reality for the next 60 minutes.
In a fairly interesting series of shots, the drydock is gradually flooded with seawater, covering up the sub completely. The outer doors are then slid open and a channel to the ocean is exposed. The dock flooded, Atragon cruises out to sea. We don't see much of the actual test run, but we assume that everything goes swimmingly well.
Now, a super sub cruising through the seas is cool, and a smidgen plausible. But what's not at all plausible is a super sub cruising through the seas that can also FUCKING FLY!!!!!! What the hell. Not just fly, but hover and hold station without any visible means of vertical propulsion. Having watched this movie four times now, it would have not affected the plot of the movie in the least to just have Atragon be a normal submarine. The flying effect is cool, but far much more than was needed. [Editor Pam: Once we've accepted that a submarine can fly, it's probably being nit-picky to point out that it's unlikely if not impossible that something so radically new in design flies perfectly the first time it's taken out. I also wonder how the Captain got fuel to fly his submarine. At this point I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he's invented a new fuel, too, but unless the submarine burns wood, there can't be any of it on the island. At least, we haven't seen any signs of an underground oil refinery or coal mine or stockpile of old Sears catalogues or whatever. I won't even consider that Atragon could be nuclear-powered, unless the Captain had some major outside help.]
There's a formal party that night for the crew and officers after the first test run. They're all dressed in their Class A uniforms and raise a toast to the awesome machine that is Atragon.
Captain Nemo speaks of the Atragon's "Zero Cannon", a super weapon that freezes anything it hits down to -273 degrees, which is a bad thing. In light of the crazy-ass physics of a flying submarine, I won't try and knock down the idea of the Zero Cannon. Let's just agree that the whole idea is silly.
Captain Nemo then explains how the Muans know of Atragon. He tells how he must have left the sketch blueprints in the I-403 when they scuttled it. Nice deduction, as that's indeed what happened. All this talk of Atragon's invincibility gets the Old Admiral's goat again. Another argument boils over as the Old Admiral again pushes Captain Nemo to use his sub against the Muans. This argument gets nowhere, and all parties leave raging.
A neat bit, in the background of this scene is a large round clock. At the beginning of the argument, you can see it read 7:10, but after just 48 seconds of screen time, the next view of the clock reads 7:20! No wonder Nemo could build this sub so quick, he can control time!
Later, Captain Nemo and his Hot Daughter have a personal moment together. They talk down by the beach alone, he in his Navy whites, she in a lovely orange sleeveless dress. Hey, she's wearing high heel pumps! Is that really the proper footwear for a jungle island? He genuinely seems like he wants to tell her that he loves her, that he's glad she's here, but something holds him back. It's not that he's emotionally stunted, it's just that he can't get a grasp on his feelings. His Hot Daughter seems to miss this inner conflict with her dad, instead still raging about his decision to not use Atragon to fight the Muans.
This conversation degenerates into yet another argument and she runs off again. Always with the running off... Just then Susumu approaches Nemo. The Captain asks Susumu if he thinks he's a traitor. Susumu answers yes, he's disgusted and dismayed at Nemo's stubbornness.
Captain Nemo then sighs heavily and reaches into his coat and pulls out a photo of him and his little girl. The photo was taken before he disappeared, and they both look happy. He says he has kept this photo all these years. Nemo then hands the photo to Susumu and walks off, symbolically handing his little girl off to the photographer. Wow, perhaps Nemo realizes that too much time has passed, that he has missed his chance to be a part of his daughter's life, and now she's better off with Susumu and without him. This is a strong character scene for Nemo, though it ends too quickly.
The photo Nemo gives to Susumu.
Upset still, the Hot Daughter runs into the Scary Amish Reporter as she heads back to her room. He grabs her arm and tells her that he's taking her to the Mu Empire! I knew it!! He's a Mu agent! He has those electric shocking gloves on and he zaps her unconscious. He then puts her in the back seat of a nearby jeep (this is the same jeep we've seen all movie, maybe they only have one?).
Susumu walks up just then and looks in the jeep, seeing the unconscious form of the Hot Daughter in the back seat. He confronts the Scary Amish Reporter and the two of them get into a quick fistfight. The Scary Amish Reporter zaps Susumu silly, too, and tosses him in the back seat as well.
As he drives off, we hear a massive BOOM! A bomb in the drydock (set by the Scary Amish Reporter) wrecks much of the gantry work around the Atragon. We will see that, while much debris and collapsed ironwork falls on the sub, very little actual damage is suffered by the vessel. I guess the Scary Amish Reporter couldn't get up close to the sub, so he placed his bomb in the construction equipment nearby.
Back in the Mu city we watch a huge dance number, a Toho Studios trademark. This is another ceremony for Manda, very elaborate and choreographed. It also lasts 3:30 of screen time, which is like 4% of our entire movie. There are also some weird lightning flashes and booms. I thought they were deep underwater?
We get our first look here at the "Empress of Mu", a young girl, played by 22-year old Tetsuko Kobayashi. We see that in her group of royal consorts are several Caucasian women, which is a change. Some of the consorts are also rather ugly, looking more like drag queens than harem girls. Woof.
The Empress of Mu.
Susumu and the Hot Daughter are now brought before the Empress for judgment. She sneers and proclaims that "Manda will have them!". [Editor Pam: It appears that the Empress didn't know what to say until she was prompted by a particularly ugly lady-in-waiting. This suggests that either the Empress is incompetent, or she has little or no authority of her own. It's an interesting glimpse of the Mu government.] The crowd cheers and the prisoners are led off. The Scary Amish Reporter is here now, dressed down in the native garb, showing off a surprisingly buff set of pecs.
They're taken to a prison cell and tossed in with two other captives. These are the two civil engineers that were kidnapped early in the movie. We see that one of them is a Westerner who looks just like Eric Banya from Seinfeld. "That's gold, Jerry, gold!"
Their guards taunt them with their fate, telling them to open the window to see what will eat them. So, they open the shutters and beyond the glass wall they see a terrifying monster! This will prove to be the sea serpent god Manda, a rather weak monster in my opinion. Our heroes gasp and groan accordingly as the scene fades out.
Back in the drydock, we hear that the Atragon is not damaged, but a lot of heavy debris is fouling the decks. They work to clear it off, aware that things are turning ugly in Japan. Note that the Old Admiral has now taken to wearing an old style Navy cap, though still in his civilian suit coat and tie.
Word comes now of the first Mu attack on Japan now begins. Well, I assume it's Japan, we never get any dialogue or a map reference to show us. We get some overhead shots of a small coastal village, the people all rushing in a group down to the docks where a medium-sized freighter waits to take them aboard. We then see a number of these flying thingies (Mu UAVs?) over the ship. Suddenly, she explodes in a rolling gas-fueled burst of flame. Oy, got to be some serious loss of life there.
Back in the prison cell now, we see that Susumu has been taken away to be "tortured". He's brought back in the cell, looking a bit frazzled and rumpled, but not too much the worse for wear. The Hot Daughter is upset and tries to comfort him, clearly having fallen in love with him at some point off-screen (!). Hmm...this whole scene reminds me of The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo is being tortured for no good reason by the Imperial troops in the Cloud City and is then brought back into the cell with Princess Leia and Chewie. I know George Lucas had a thing for Japanese sci-fi movies, maybe he got some inspiration from this scene?
Susumu then casually reaches into his shirt and pulls out these little metal cigar-shaped tubes. He says he "picked them up" but doesn't know what they are. Eric Banya explains excitedly that they're "nitro sticks", demolition explosives that the Muans use to excavate more cave space. What the hell. So, on the way to being tortured, his guards let him poke around somewhere and pick up some explosives? These Muans are dumb-asses.
Susumu and his nitro sticks.
The Muans make a general radio announcement to world now, full of threats of devastation and impending nastiness. They give the world a midnight ultimatum, turn over Atragon or New York City and Tokyo go up in flames.
We now get some quick shots of the Japanese military gearing up. We see a few F-86D Dog Saber jet fighters, some trucks hauling 75mm howitzers and some prime movers hauling big 155mm howitzers. About half these shots are stock footage lifted from 1957's Earth Defense Force.
Back in the drydock, they have finally cleared all the obstructing debris from the Atragon's hull. They pry open the main hatch, which when really looked at is clearly a prop (the outside looks cool, but when you see inside the hatch there are no rubber seals or locking mechanisms at all). The crew and all our cast enter the sub and quickly get it ready for action. Probably due to the bomb, the drydock doors are damaged, and the Atragon must drill its way out. Thankfully they have that retractable conning tower, eh?
The crew enter the sub.
Now, quite suddenly, Nemo has a change of heart. Most likely it was because his daughter is now in danger (though, how did he know this at this point?), but Nemo has decided to fight the Muans. He and the Old Admiral exchange some manly banter, showing us that both actors have really bad teeth. Accompanied by a stirring marching tune, Atragon flies off for Tokyo.
As the deadline nears, there's chaos in the streets as Tokyo is evacuated. The military is now alone in the empty city (sure) and they wait nervously as the clock clicks towards midnight. We assume that a similar scene is being played out in New York City, though we never see it. I wonder if the NYC line was inserted into the American version only?
During the evacuation montage we see another Toho trademark, the red firetruck. I love the red firetruck! We also see on three separate occasions a big Toshiba sign in center frame, showing us a bit of advertising for a financial backer perhaps.
Suddenly the ground beneath the soldiers begins to shake, rattle and roll! Then an entire section of ground beneath the city collapses (!!!) and several city blocks tumble down like a Florida trailer park being sucked into a sinkhole. These Muans have some incredible powers, indeed.
Out in Tokyo Bay, we see a Mu submarine surfacing. On the bow of the boat is a Manda-shaped weapon (neat touch) that fires a beam of immense power. The harbor is thick with shipping, and the Muans have no problem finding targets. Some of this footage is re-run, and the same thing is filmed from several different angles, but if you count what we see on screen then the Mu submarine explodes 10 merchantmen in the harbor.
The Mu sub ravages the shipping in the bay.
Hey, where's the Japanese military? We saw all those nifty stock shots of tanks and planes before, where are they now? Might want to get on the ball, guys.
Just as it looks like Tokyo is going to be well and truly leveled, Atragon arrives! Flying in low over the harbor, the Mu submarine is forced to break off the attack and submerge. [Editor Pam: Sometime before leaving the island and arriving at Tokyo Bay, everybody we see on Atragon changed their uniforms. They started out wearing olive drab and ended up in white.]
Diving back into the water, Atragon gives chase to the Mu sub, which is clearly fleeing back to their underground base. Surely they must know that they're leading Atragon back to their city, right? This seems to defy logic, especially as they're so afraid of Atragon.
Atragon chases the Mu sub down to base. The enemy sub enters the city and the Atragon pulls up outside, unwilling to go in right now. Absolutely horrible tactical mistake there on the part of the Muans. Leading the Atragon right to their hidden city seems to make zero sense, until you remember that the High Priest was aboard. I guess he decided that the risk to his pasty hide was greater than the danger to his city.
Back in the prison, Susumu is fomenting rebellion. Armed with his good looks and a fistful of stolen nitro sticks, he plans on kidnapping an important hostage to bargain for their freedom. The Empress provides him with this opportunity when she comes to take them to become Manda food and gets too close to him.
They take the Empress hostage, holding back the guards with threats of blowing them all up with the nitro sticks. The guards back off, and even relinquish their weapons and outfits to the former captives. Wow, that was easy. I guess they don't have a lot of experience with internal revolt down here, eh?
They then head off through the city, headed for....? I assume Susumu has a plan. He's in trouble though, I'd think, because the guards he disarmed were left alive to raise the alarm. Luckily for him the screenwriters didn't think of this. Eventually, they find an airlock and bluff their way inside.
Entering the airlock, they find a rack of silvery pressure suits. These are the frogman suits that we have seen several times before. Susumu hatches a plan to use the suits to swim to the surface and escape. Hmm...he does know how far down he is, right? But later we see that these frogman suits are pressure-resistant down to several thousand feet (unheard of technology) so his plan might just work.
The Empress is at first adamant about not going with them, but changes her mind when Susumu starts flooding the airlock with her in it. She sighs in annoyed resignation, reaches up and unclasps her top and lets it fall off her shoulders (!!!). The scene is cropped so we can't see anything, but the idea is given that this hot Empress chick just stripped nekkid in front of these men without a second thought. Hmm...
Nekkid bitchy hot girl...I'm in love.
So they open the outer airlock door and make final preparations. Suddenly, who should appear nearby? Manda, looking boss in all her reptilian slinky glory.
So, Manda's appearance prevents our heroes from leaving the confines of the airlock. Nearby, Atragon is hovering in the water, and sees both the monster and the open airlock door. The Atragon's crew correctly guesses the problem and they lower a ramp on the hull to allow the swimmers in. Hmmm...what the hell? How did Captain Nemo know that those frogmen (who can't communicate with him) were good guys and not bad guys looking to swim over and put limpet mines on his hull? Nemo just totally made a guess on very little information and a lot of faith. Dumb screenwriters.
The Atragon fires six small torpedoes at Manda. The blasts seem to have no ill effect on the creature, but do pull his attention away from the swimmers. So with Manda temporarily distracted (or maybe stunned or blinded by the debris in the water?), the people start swimming over to the Atragon. The effect is dicey, certainly just the actors on wire harnesses being pulled slowly across the sound stage, filmed through a murky "underwater" lens cover.
Everyone makes it inside the sub safely and the Atragon surfaces. Why they surfaced again is not explained, considering they will dive right back down there in a few minutes. Maybe they had something else in mind?
Aboard the Atragon, the Empress is interrogated. She's a feisty little bitch, that's for sure, all arrogant and difficult. Her bitchiness only makes her hotter, I say. She even sits defiantly in the Captain's chair and tosses insults and threats (and she lets them know just what Mu's vulnerable spot is, while she's at it). Hmmm...and she's wearing the same outfit again, maybe she rolled it up and tucked it in the suit?
The Mu Empress raging against the machine.
Ignoring her, Eric Banya (the freed civil engineer) tells them that the city's power is generated by a geothermal tap, located in the deepest recesses of the complex. The power room is "ten leagues beneath their temple". Blow that up, and boom! goes Mu. Their path is now chosen, they must bust deep into the Mu city and destroy the power generator. Only total destruction will stop this enemy.
So Atragon dives and returns to the vicinity of the Mu city now. Coming out to do battle again is Manda. Ah, you saw this coming when you first heard of Manda, right? Though the inclusion of the monster in this movie seems a bit tacked-on, like they felt they needed a monster because all other Toho movies had one. The movie could have been just as good without it, I'd say.
The actual battle itself is extremely lame. It lasts all of 1:29 of screen time, and only a third of that is worthwhile monster fightin'. Manda's only weapons or powers seem to be wrapping her long body around things and squeezing them like a boa constrictor. She tries this trick on Atragon, but they route some electrical power to the boat's hull and zap the monster off.
The Atragon then powers up her Zero Cannon and shoots an ultra-freezing spray at Manda. Powerless to resist the weapon, Manda quickly ices over and is out of the fight. She looks like she perishes here, but Manda returns in 1968's Destroy all Monsters!, so we know she survived.
At no point in this movie do the surface people say anything about Manda being a monster. It's as if they just take it in stride, "Oh, hey, look, a big sea monster. Cool, let's kill it." Does this lack of amazement tell us that other monsters are in this timeline?
The nicely detailed control room of the Atragon.
With Manda out of the way, and apparently no other active or passive defenses protecting the Mu city, Atragon is free to start her attack. Atragon turns on her nose-drill and starts burrowing into the ocean bedrock. Hmm...what about the thick layer of sludge and mud at the bottom of the sea? It looks like it's just bare rock down here. I guess they didn't know that much about the deep sea floor in 1962.
The drill penetrates the city interior, driving deep into the structure. Not as much water (none) as you might expect follows in through the hole. You'd think that far down, with all that extreme pressure, the city would be flooded rapidly once the initial hole was made. What do I know?
Inside the boat, a commando team is organized, comprising ten men dressed in silver suits with satchel charges and handheld versions of the Zero Cannon. Included in this team are Eric Banya (why, maybe because he's a civil engineer?), the Old Sailor (fat old man?), and the Inspector (fine, he really hasn't had anything to do since about the 12-minute mark of our movie). [Editor Pam: Why did the Captain take all these people along in the first place? The Admiral I can understand, and since the Inspector is on the team, maybe he's had commando training and the Captain figured he'd be useful, but why take the photographers on a military mission? If he brought them so they could report on what's going on, why are they allowed on the bridge during combat? And what's his daughter doing there? We can see how cramped the bridge is, so it seems like a good idea to allow only the necessary people on it. And why in the world is the Empress allowed on the bridge instead of being locked up someplace secure? How does the Captain know she isn't planning to grab him and break his neck, or damage the submarine?]
From the boat emerges the commando team, guns blazing from minute one. In one of the best composite matte shots in the entire movie, we see the teams running down a set of stairs in the foreground, with a matte painting of the Atragon's drill nose sticking out of the wall behind them. However, in one of the tackiest, lamest special effects of the century, when the freezing rays hit the running Mu guards, their freezing is shown by cartoon line drawings! Very cheesy!
In a series of running fights, the commandoes kill off at least nine Mu guards, all carrying spears only (which seems odd as we know the Muans have laser technology). The sappers then place their demolition charges at various places around the power room and the team retreats back to the sub.
Atragon then uses her Zero Cannon to freeze a transformer or something, icing it solid and stopping some sort of flywheel power thingie, I guess. Atragon then backs out of the hole (how?) and surfaces.
Our cast goes out onto the flying bridge of the sub and watches out to sea. In short order we hear a colossal Boom! A ton of dirty, brown water bursts up, evidence of a truly massive series of explosions that signal the end of the Mu city. Wow, that's a lot of booms and bursting water, giving the impression that the Mu city is like ten feet under the surface and not several thousand feet. Oh, well, it certainly looks cool.
End of Mu.
What's this? From out of the frothing water emerge three Mu submarines! Where were these guys when Atragon was attacking their city? Don't get your hopes up, this battle is short and one-sided. Atragon hoses the surfaced subs with her Zero Cannon, freezing them into inert icebergs. They're soon engulfed in the still-exploding water and are presumably destroyed.
The Empress struggles free and runs down the foredeck of the sub towards the dying city. The crew lets her go on Nemo's orders, the Empress is going to join her people in their final moments of death, to "share her nation's fate". The girl leaps into the water and begins swimming towards her demise, regaining honor by sacrificing herself.
The Empress runs to her death (note the teakwood decks, very WWII Japanese cruiser-like).
The movie ends as we watch the final death throes of the Mu Empire, as somber flute music soars. [Editor Pam: I wonder what happened to the Captain and the Old Admiral when they got back to Japan? Were their actions at the end of the war considered an admirable bit of defiance toward the victors that ended up being good for the entire world, or were they in serious trouble for conspiring to avoid surrendering the submarine? I don't think that in August 1945 the Allies would have shrugged and laughed it off if they'd had reason to believe that a large armed Japanese submarine was still prowling the seas after Japan had supposedly surrendered. They would have wondered what else the Japanese were hiding, too, which might have made them refuse to accept their surrender, and that could only have hurt Japan more. Even after 18 years, it's possible this would still be a consideration.]
You know, not a bad movie, all in all. I recommend it. [Editor Pam: Yes, it really is a pretty good movie, even with the impossible science. I wish there had been an explanation about why the Muans suddenly decided to attack the surface, and why they had such advanced technology but seemed so stupid. Some sort of internal problem that led the government to attack the surface to distract the citizens' attention, but it had been so long since they had fought any sort of war that nobody really knew how to use their weapons effectively? Their underground caverns were collapsing, and they needed to move to the surface in a hurry? Much to speculate upon... By the way, for anybody who's interested, there's a lot of information on the I-400 submarines on the Internet. One site, www.pacerfarm.org, has a discussion written by a former American Navy officer who was aboard the I-400 when it was sailed to Pearl Harbor after the war. He called the sub an overspecialized undersea dinosaur, so I gather he wasn't much impressed by it!]
Two great views of Atragon.
Written in August 2005 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.
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