LATITUDE ZERO, directed by Ishiro Honda, is an unusual film in Toho Pictures’ filmography of sci-fi monster films. It features four Hollywood stars among the main cast members and one American newcomer in a significant role. It has a Jules Verne-style science fiction setting located underwater far from Japan. There is no central monster to be fought, just a series of smaller, lesser monsters, all rather unformidable and all in the employ of a mad scientist who can’t quite make the best use of them. Production-wise, the film’s most unique feature is the decision to shoot the entire film in English with synchronized sound, which meant all the Japanese actors with speaking parts had to be competent enough in English to make themselves understood. There may have been some post-dubbing to correct a rough patch here and there, but what you’re hearing on the English soundtrack are the actors’ actual voices, mostly recorded live on the set.
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.
Today, July 8, is the 160th anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival in Japan to begin the process of “opening up” the island nation to trade with the West, thus beginning a process that eventually, after some serious tears in the relationship, gave us giant monster movies, anime, and J-pop, among other things. On the occasion of this anniversary, I’ve decided to focus on a landmark film which marked the first significant cinematic collaboration between the U.S. and Japan, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965). While it wasn’t the first co-production between the two countries (I believe that would be TOKYO FILE 212, from 1951), nor is it the first Japanese movie to import an American star (more on that below), it was the first such film to make a real dent on the international market.
I remember seeing the trailers for THE GREEN SLIME back in 1969 and being put off somewhat by the cheesy-looking design of the title monsters, so I didn’t make the effort to see it back then. I was a high school sophmore at the time and more interested in “serious” sci-fi, such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, PLANET OF THE APES and…BARBARELLA! I eventually saw it on TV and kicked myself for not seeing it in a theater when I had the chance. It’s a film that’s historically important for several reasons. It was the first U.S.-Japan co-production shot in Japan with an entirely Caucasian cast and the first with more than one name actor from the west. It was the first science fiction film directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who would make two other significant entries in the genre, MESSAGE FROM SPACE and VIRUS, both also featuring American stars. (He’s been more famous in the past decade for his final film, BATTLE ROYALE, 2000.)
I have a still from the film, scanned here, as well as screen grabs from the Warner Archive DVD, which I watched for this review.