Nick Adams was the first American star to go to Japan to appear in Japanese films that would get significant distribution in the U.S. He made three films there and I wrote about his first, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), here on July 8, 2013. His second was GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965), as the film is widely known today, although its original U.S. title was MONSTER ZERO and its official English title, as decreed by Toho Pictures, was INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. (The original Japanese title, KAIJU DAISENSO, is translated as THE GREAT MONSTER WAR. KAIJU DAISENSO remains the best-sounding and most dramatic title.) Americans had appeared in two earlier Godzilla films, but only in scenes added to the re-edited versions shown in the U.S., most notably GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956), in which scenes of Raymond Burr, as American reporter Steve Martin, were newly written and shot for the American release version two years after its original release in Japan under the title, GOJIRA (1954). The other one was KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), in which a few scenes with American character actors were added to the U.S. release version. Adams was a co-star of MONSTER ZERO right from the start, in both its Japanese-language and English-dubbed versions. Adams’ third film in Japan, THE KILLING BOTTLE (1967), is a detective film that was never released in the U.S. although it was, according to IMDB, dubbed into English.
In GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, Adams plays an astronaut named Glenn (no other name is given) and he’s first seen, two minutes into the film, alongside Japanese astronaut Fuji (Akira Takarada, who’d co-starred in the original GOJIRA) in a two-man rocket sent by the World Space Authority (WSA) as they’re heading to a mysterious planet that has suddenly appeared behind Jupiter. When Fuji first steps onto Planet X, he carries flags from the U.S., Japan, and the United Nations, although the rocket only has the Japanese symbol of the rising sun on it.
The inhabitants of Planet X live underground to avoid attacks by “King Ghidorah,” the three-headed monster who was introduced in the previous Godzilla film, which was released in the U.S. in 1965 as GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER. The Controller of Planet X (Yoshio Tsuchiya) asks for help from Earth in the forms of Godzilla and Rodan, two of the monsters who defeated Ghidorah in the previous movie, and arrangements are made to send Glenn and Fuji back to Earth to make the case for aiding Planet X.
Back on Earth, Fuji’s sister, Haruni (Keiko Sawai), has a boyfriend, Teri (Akira Kubo), an inventor who’s been approached by a mysterious toy company with an interest in some kind of mini-alarm device which he has devised. The company’s representative is a very attractive woman named Miss Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno), who, unbeknownst to any of them, is an alien from Planet X.
When Glenn and Fuji return to Earth, Namikawa gets involved with the womanizing Glenn and they begin a rather hasty affair, all at the behest of the rulers of Planet X.
Eventually, the Planet X crewmen show up on Earth, unannounced, which raises some red flags, and retrieve Godzilla and Rodan on their own and take them, accompanied by Glenn, Fuji and Dr. Sakurai (Jun Tazaki) from the WSA, back to Planet X, where the monsters easily subdue Ghidorah, before Glenn, Fuji and Sakurai are sent back, minus Godzilla and Rodan.
Long story short: the aliens’ real plan is to get control of all three monsters and unleash them on Earth in order to make Earth a colony of Planet X so they can obtain their most needed commodity, water. It’s up to Glenn, Fuji, Teri and Dr. Sakurai to come up with a plan to release Godzilla and Rodan from the control of Planet X and turn them loose on Ghidorah and drive the invading aliens away. Namikawa has fallen in love with Glenn and seeks to offer him help, at a great sacrifice. Eventually, the astronauts learn just why the aliens wanted Teri’s device and they proceed to use it to get an advantage over them.
Although other Godzilla films featured alien intervention on Earth, this one is the first and, as far as I can tell, only Godzilla film to actually travel to another planet. And the romance between Glenn and Namikawa is not only interracial, but also interplanetary, surely a first in Japanese sci-fi. The speed with which Glenn and Namikawa get intimate is rather surprising, although we don’t actually see it, but only hear about it from Glenn in a conversation with Fuji after Glenn and Namikawa have spent the night together at a bungalow near Lake Myojin on their first date! Lake Myojin also happens to be where Godzilla can be found, resting at the bottom.
Adams’ character in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD also had a romance with a character played by Mizuno, but there were significant differences. They were professional colleagues and devoted to their work together on healing the illnesses and chronic conditions of victims of the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima. As I wrote in my entry of July 8, 2013:
“In FRANKENSTEIN, Adams plays Dr. James Bowen, a doctor who’d felt obligated to go to Hiroshima after the war and work with victims of the bombing while also studying the effects of radiation on cellular tissue. He has an attractive female partner at the hospital in Dr. Sueko Togami (Kumi Mizuno) and they spend lots of time together on their own. Bowen even wears a kimono when he arrives for dinner at Sueko’s apartment on what appears to be their first date.”
Adams’ Dr. Bowen clearly has a deep and abiding interest in Japan and great respect for the country and its culture. His romance with Sueko is handled with much greater propriety than Glenn’s romance with Namikawa.
Unlike Dr. Bowen, Astronaut Glenn in MONSTER ZERO is much more of a cocky, impulsive American whose actions are tempered by the calmer, more deliberative nature of his Japanese colleague, Fuji. In the most poignant moment of MONSTER ZERO, Glenn and Fuji depart from Planet X for the second time, leaving poor Godzilla and Rodan behind. Godzilla’s expression is one of sadness at being abandoned, a mood that Fuji detects and understands. When he protests leaving them behind, Glenn snarls at him, “Those two have caused enough trouble already. They’ll find their own ways.”
Later on, when Glenn is confronted with the truth of Namikawa’s alien origins and she pleads with him to marry her and go with her to Planet X, he snarls again, “In defense of Earth, we’ll fight to the last man, baby.”
Glenn reminds me more of such earlier American space adventurers as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, both played by Buster Crabbe in serials in the 1930s. Glenn and Fuji’s ease in traveling to Planet X (which should have taken at least two years in a conventional rocket) reminds me of Flash Gordon’s ease in traveling to Mars and Planet Mongo in the serials and Buck Rogers’ ease in traveling to Saturn in those tin can rockets that Universal Pictures crafted for the serials–the ones where there’s only one seat in the cockpit and everyone else has to stand for the entire trans-planetary voyage!
In terms of Nick Adams’ and Mizuno’s characters in the two films, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO may be much more of a fun film, with its giant monsters and space opera antics, but FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD is situated more firmly in the real world and offers comments on war and history and the dangers of scientific experimentation and the need to deal with the consequences of past experiments, explicitly in the case of the Axis scientists who worked on Frankenstein’s heart and implicitly in the case of the U.S. military’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. Adams’ and Mizuno’s characters in MONSTER ZERO are stock sci-fi types, played rather broadly, while in FRANKENSTEIN they are much more layered characters, deeply entrenched in their work and driven by a need to solve the problems created by others and work together, despite their countries having fought a vicious and bloody war only twenty years earlier. The plot drives the characters in MONSTER ZERO, while the characters drive the plot in FRANKENSTEIN. And, of course, Adams’ Dr. Bowen shows much greater compassion for the monster than does Astronaut Glenn in the second film.
All of Adams’ scenes in MONSTER ZERO were filmed with him speaking his lines in English and the other actors speaking their lines in Japanese. I remember noticing this when I first saw this film, English-dubbed, on TV in 1971 when Adams’ lines matched his lip movements while Takarada’s lines—in the same two-shot–didn’t.
GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO was co-produced by Henry G. Saperstein, then the head of UPA (United Productions of America), a production outfit that was primarily known for animated shorts, such as those featuring the character of Mister Magoo, and animated features, including several Magoo movies and GAY PURR-EE (1962). Saperstein had been looking for science fiction movies to distribute and had approached Toho with an idea for a co-production with his company. Toho went for it and, as a result, we got FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, all directed by Ishiro Honda and all featuring American stars. (A later Toho science fiction movie directed by Honda and featuring American stars was LATITUDE ZERO, but Saperstein was not involved with that one.)
In searching for information about Saperstein’s involvement with these films, I looked up an interview with Saperstein conducted by John Rocco Roberto and published in G-Fan (Fall 1995) as “Kaiju Conversations: An Interview with Henry G. Saperstein”:
JRR: In regards to your involvement in the films and the actors chosen to star in them, is it true that David Janssen originally signed to the Nick Adams contract and then backed out of it due to his commitment to the TV show “The Fugitive”?
HGS: He never signed a contract. We had discussions. We had to get somebody who was willing to go there [Japan] and live there for a while, not just drop in for a couple of days. I can tell you, in the 1960s, that wasn’t easy. I had convinced Toho that they needed an American actor to star in their kinds of films, so I brought Nick Adams there and we did GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO.
JRR: Did you have any input into the script of GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO?
HGS: We made suggestions. For example, most of the pictures made before then always opened up with a press conference or a government conference of scientists and officials. The exposition always went on forever from there, telling the viewer all about what the story was and what was about to happen. That seemed to be a typical way of Japanese storytelling. We convinced them that we needed to get into the picture a lot quicker. The conference could take place later on, but at the beginning, the essence of the picture, the characters, the reason for the picture, what the French call the raison detre, needed to be developed.
On that last point, the film does indeed open with the two astronauts on their way to Planet X, but before they get to the planet and their initial encounter with King Ghidorah, Dr. Sakurai does indeed have a press conference five minutes into the film.
For some reason, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO was not released in the U.S. until five years after it was made and two years after Nick Adams’ death from an overdose of prescription drugs. It was released in 1970 on a double bill with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, another Japanese monster film produced by Saperstein with an American star (Russ Tamblyn) and one which had been produced in 1966. Roberto addresses this issue in the interview.
JRR: Why did it take so long for GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS to be released in this country?
HGS: Well, Toho doesn’t always put a picture into quick release internationally. They make a picture and put it into release usually in December in their own theaters. Depending on what their international division wants, they might not put it into quick release…
JRR: In other words, Toho made the decision.
HGS: When they make a picture available, that’s a contract point. There’s a lot of technical work to be done: sending in interpositives, soundtracks, effects and music tracks, and then there’s the things that we have to do with them here, there’s a lot of preparation necessary. So if they [Toho] drag their feet, for whatever their reasons are, it just impacts on how much longer down the road it gets pushed.
This doesn’t seem likely, particularly since several other Toho kaiju films got quick release in the U.S., including GODZILLA VS. THE THING and FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, both released in the U.S. the same year they were released in Japan and both distributed by AIP (American International Pictures). In Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G” (ECW Press, 1998), Steve Ryfle offers a skeptical reaction to the above Saperstein quote:
And now a dose of reality: It appears that Saperstein planned to release MONSTER ZERO to American cinemas sometime in 1966. On June 1 of that year, Variety reported that Saperstein had just wrapped up postproduction (i.e. English dubbing) of the film and that he was “currently negotiating a distribution deal” for the picture. Because Saperstein did not have a distributorship of his own, it is likely he originally envisioned releasing MONSTER ZERO through American International Pictures, as he had done with FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY? (Woody Allen’s spoof-dubbed Toho spy film, which apparently replaced the all-new detective thriller Saperstein had planned to make with Toho), and other films. It is possible that Saperstein and Samuel Z. Arkoff had some sort of falling-out around this time, for TIGER LILY, released in November 1966, was Saperstein’s last release through AIP. According to a September 1970 Variety article, MONSTER ZERO and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS “sat on the shelf at [UPA] because [distributors] figured they had no potential” until 1970, when Saperstein struck a deal with a small distributor, Maron Films. The newspaper said Maron did brisk business with the two Toho films, with a projected box-office gross of $3 million.
Nick Adams was apparently very well-liked by the Japanese cast and crew. In Roberto’s interview with Saperstein, the producer offers the following:
HGS: Nick Adams was terrific, a real professional. Very cooperative, always on time, ready with his lines, available, totally cooperative. He loved being there. He stayed on after we left. He fell in love with a Japanese actress. He was enjoying the whole Japanese experience and being with her, so he worked in pictures there (including THE KILLING BOTTLE, 1967). An actor works in pictures any place. Russ Tamblyn was a prima donna pain in the ass. Sharp contrast to Nick Adams or Kipp Hamilton [WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS]. We had to re-shoot and re-record almost everything Russ Tamblyn did. He wasn’t a Nick Adams and I don’t want to pursue that any further! There are professionals and people who think they’re professionals.
Coincidentally, THE KILLING BOTTLE (Japanese title: KOKUSAI HIMITSU KEISATSU: ZETTAI ZETSUMEI), which also co-starred Kumi Mizuno and which has never been released in the U.S., is part of the same detective film series that gave us the film that Woody Allen redubbed (for laughs) and retitled WHAT’S UP, TIGER LILY. The film that Allen used, KOKUSAI HIMITSU KEISATSU: KAGI NO KAGI, was made two years before THE KILLING BOTTLE and co-starred Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two actresses who would turn up as the Japanese “Bond girls” in the fifth James Bond film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967).
More comment about Nick Adams in Japan is found in Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo: The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films, by Stuart Galbraith IV (Feral House, 1998), which is composed almost entirely of snippets from interviews with people who appeared in or worked on Toho monster films. Here are snippets from Adams’ MONSTER ZERO co-stars, Kumi Mizuno and Yoshio Tsuchiya, as well as Saperstein:
Kumi Mizuno: Nick Adams immersed himself in Japanese culture and the Japanese film industry—he tried to understand Japan and its people. I sometimes invited him over for dinner to my house. Russ [Tamblyn] came to Japan with his wife and he didn’t seem to like Japan or Japanese culture so I couldn’t really talk to him. Nick was more popular than Russ. He was always joking around.
Henry G. Saperstein: When we all came back [to the U.S.], Nick stayed there for quite a while because he ended up having a love affair with that Japanese woman during the making of MONSTER ZERO, which resulted in his divorce in the States.
Kumi Mizuno: He would sometimes call me at night but I couldn’t understand English so I would sit there on the phone, holding a dictionary, and try to guess what he was saying, and answer him. It’s a very wonderful memory. He even proposed to me! I already had a fiancé so I had to refuse.
Yoshio Tsuchiya: Mr. Adams had a very enjoyable personality—we were always doing mischief and telling bad jokes. I played many practical jokes on him. He asked me how to say “Good Morning,” and I taught him, in Japanese, “I’m starving!”
…I used to tease him during his scenes, calling him an Actors Studio-type of Hollywood performer. He would get mad about this, and while I was playing the Controller of Planet X, he would say, in Japanese, “You’re overacting!”
I’d love to see THE KILLING BOTTLE, which, according to IMDB, was indeed dubbed into English. I don’t know what it would take to get this film released in the U.S. It’s the missing chapter from Adams’ short, but lively, career in Japan. (Interestingly, Adams plays a character named John Carter in it.) Also, I’ve never been able to find out why Adams did not star in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, which was initially designed as something of a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. No one seems to have been happy about Tamblyn’s participation, so it’s a mystery why they didn’t just re-sign Adams.
Adams went back to the U.S. and continued to work in films and television before his untimely death on Feb. 7, 1968. Another film he made in 1965 earned him a distinction that no other actor had, something I commented on in my FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD entry:
Adams made a film in 1965 called YOUNG DILLINGER which was the last film directed by Terry O. Morse, who’d directed the English-language scenes with Raymond Burr for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, which makes Nick Adams the only actor to have worked for both of the directors responsible for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (Ishiro Honda, director of GOJIRA, also directed FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO).
Finally, in the English dub, titled MONSTER ZERO, Adams is credited twice: