Directed By: Ishirô Honda
Starring: Tadao Takashima, Yôko Fujiyama, Yû Fujiki
Tag line: "Ride the JUGGERNAUT of destruction from the depths of the Seven Seas to the Outer Limits of Space!"
Trivia: This movie was the Japanese entry at the 1964 Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival
From director Ishirô Honda, the man who convinced the world that giant creatures like Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra roamed the earth, comes the 1963 adventure / sci-fi movie Atragon. And when this one’s over, you’ll believe submarines can fly.
The Mu Empire, which has thrived for 12,000 years at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, is planning to take over the world. Under the leadership of their Empress (Atsuko Kobayahshi), soldiers from the underwater kingdom make their way to the surface, causing a global panic. Realizing their technology isn’t nearly as advanced as the Mu’s, the U.N. turns to the enigmatic Captain Jinguchi (Jun Tazaki) for help. Since the end of World War II, Capt. Jinguchi and his troops have been working on a secret weapon, a flying submarine known as the Atragon, which they’ve constructed on a remote island. With the world in dire need of his assistance, Jinguchi’s former commanding officer, retired Admiral Kusumi (Ken Uehara), pays him a visit accompanied by Jinguchi’s only daughter, Makoto (Yôko Fujiyama), who Kusumi has been raising since she was 3 years old (until recently, Makoto believed her father was killed during the war when his submarine was destroyed. In reality, the sub was captured by the Mu Empire, though the crew managed to escape). At first, Jinguchi refuses to help, insisting that the Atragon was built to restore the glory of Japan, and not to assist its former enemies. But when Makoto and her new boyfriend Susuma (Tadao Takashima) are kidnapped by Mu Agents, who also attempt to destroy the Atragon with explosives, Capt. Jinguchi realizes the error of his ways, and decides to give the Mu a fight they won’t soon forget.
Like many of Ishirô Honda’s best films, Atragon has some cool special effects, utilizing miniatures to bring the Atragon submarine, as well as the Mu Empire’s home world, convincingly to life (while the effects are somewhat obvious now, they still work as intended). In addition, there’s a giant dragon-like creature, which the Mu call “Manda”, that protects the Empire from its enemies (in a key scene, Manda destroys a sizable portion of the Japanese fleet in a matter of minutes), and a sequence in which sections of Tokyo are decimated by the Mu, who are trying to show the world their awesome power, packs a mighty punch.
Much like Honda’s Godzilla, though, the effects are there to serve the film’s various storylines, which, in the case of Atragon, range from a global threat to an estranged father and daughter trying to reconnect with one another. And while Godzilla and Rodan had something to say about nuclear testing, Atragon takes aim at the blinding effects of patriotism, which manifests itself in both Capt. Jinguchi’s refusal to assist a world in trouble, and the Mu’s assertion that they alone should rule the earth. Produced only a decade and a half after the terrible tragedies brought on by World War II, Atragon stands as a reminder of what might happen if love of country is put above all else, and by the time the end credits roll, this message has been delivered loud and clear.
The fact that Atragon is also a whole mess of fun is a nice little bonus.