(4/10) Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru, released by Daiei in early 1956, is Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. Remembered for its wonky star-shaped aliens, the jumbled, illogical movie borrows from earlier sci-fi classics without managing to tie the themes together. Although beautifully filmed and decently acted, it moves along slowly and is way too talky. Occasionally brilliant, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, often numbingly stupid.
Warning from Space (1956, Japan). Directed by Koji Shima. Written by: Gentaro Nakajima, Hideo Oguni. Starring: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai, Kiyoko Hirai, Isao Yamagata. Produced by Masaichi Nagata for Daiei Studios.
IMDb rating: 4.4/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A
While still absolutely unknown in the West in the beginning of 1956, Japanese science fiction was rumbling onto scene. Movie studio Toho had released four sci-fi movies: the flawed masterpiece Gojira (1954, review), the invisible man film Tomei ningen (1954, review), Godzilla Raids Again (1955, review), and the ill-fated snowman movie Ju jin yuki otoko (1955, review), which the studio withdrew from circulation soon after its premiere. While Toho is the one of the Japanese Big Six studios that we (rightly) come to think of first when we talk about Japanese sci-fi, Daiei was not far behind. In fact, Daiei had originally beat Toho to the mark with its low-budget invisible man crime thriller Tomei ningen arawuru (1949, review). Now, however, Daiei decided to outdo Toho and make Japan’s first science fiction film in colour. And while it was probably tempting to enter the monster movie genre, the studio opted to not put all their eggs in one basket and try to beat Toho at their own game. Instead Daiei took on another challenge, and produced Japan’s first alien invasion movie – in fact this is the first Japanese movie to feature space flight, aliens UFO:s. Not content with this, they threw in a planetary collision as well, thinking they might get Japan’s first apocalypse film underway while they were at it. The result was 宇宙人東京に現わる (Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru), literally translated as Spacemen appear over Tokyo, but anglicised as Warning from Space. The film premiered on January 29, 1946, before Toho’s colour film Rodan.
Flying saucers are sighted over Tokyo, baffling professors Itsobe, Kamura and Matsuda (Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Isao Yamagata, respectively), as well as Itsobe’s son Toru, also a scientist (Keizo Kawasaki). Also baffled are Dr. Kamura’s daughter Taeko (Mieko Nagai), who isn’t a scientist because this is the fifties (she is a teacher), and Dr. Matsuda’s wife, who remains nameless, but is played by Kiyoko Hirai. And that’s about 6/7 of our main cast. We might point out that Toru and Taeko are an item, not that you’d notice much by watching the film, as Japanese sci-fi in the fifties seemed to have an aversion to romantic couples being in any way romantic. The scientists debate among themselves about what the strange flying objects in the sky are, while the media goes into a UFO craze.
Later we meet the aliens, who are shaped like star fish with one big, glowing eye in the middle in the centre of the torso, aboard their dimly lit space station, in orbit around Earth. Communicating telepathically, they outline their plan of making contact with the Japanese. The UFOs land in the bay outside Tokyo, and accompanied by strange, mechanical, cricket-like sounds, they approach unwitting members of the public, and at one time Mrs. Matsuda, only to retreat back into the waters. Regrouping to their space station, the aliens, who are, we learn, from a planet called Paira, conclude that their efforts at making contact have failed, since the humans consider them monsters. They decide that emerging out of dark waters going beep-beep-boop at fishermen, drunks and cabaret performers isn’t necessarily the best way to contact the scientists of Japan. Thus they conclude that they should instead use their shape-shifting technology to change one of their own into the likeness of a human to better blend in. This they can do, one of them was able to snatch a publicity photo of superstar singer Hikari Aozora (Toyomi Karita) while scaring the bejeezus out of her and the rest of the crew backstage at a cabaret. Said and done.
On Earth, Toru discovers the disguised alien floating at a shore, and rescues her. She claims to have lost her memory, so Toru and his family decide to take care of her. But turns out she is no better at ”infiltrating” than the rest of the Pairans, as she promptly starts exhibiting superhuman powers, as jumping ten feet straight in the air during a tennis match, and materialising through closed doors. Soon, she disrupts Dr. Matsuda while he is working on a new nuclear theory, which would be thousands of times more powerful than an atom bomb. She immediately recognises the complex equation in his notes, and promptly tears up the notebook in horror, telling Matsuda that his completion of this new terror would spell disaster for all.
Naturally, given the strange girl’s supernatural powers and her understanding of Matsuda’s complex scientific equations, stir some scepticism among the four scientists, and it doesn’t take them long to work out that she is in fact an alien (or, actually, it does take them surprisingly long to figure it out). Just when they come to this conclusion, she dramatically appears out of nowhere in the observatory they are working in, and stars explaining why the Pairans have come to Earth. Paira, she explains, is a twin planet to Earth in the same solar system. We have never discovered it because it is locked in orbit exactly opposite Earth, and has thus always been hidden from us behind the sun. Her mission is to warn the scientists of an imminent collision with a rogue planet dubbed simply ”R”, which threatens to destroy Earth. Not that the Pairans really care, but if Earth breaks up, the debris will be caught in orbit, and sooner or later also destroy Paira. She further explains, that while the Pairans are far more scientifically advanced than the humans, they, as a pacifist race, do not have the means to alter the course of planet ”R”. However, if Earth would pool all its nuclear weapons, a well-aimed blast might be enough to alter the course of the planet, steering it away from Earth. This is why she is now beseeching the help of the scientists.
Convinced that what the girl, now christened ”Ginko”, is telling the truth, the Japanese scientists make a plea to the ”World Congress” who ”control all the world’s nuclear arsenals”, to do as the Pairans suggest. But their pleas fall for deaf ears. The World Congress doesn’t believe all this nonsense about a rogue planet, and denies the Japanese’ request. Dr. Kamura brings the bad news to the press, telling them that the world doesn’t trust Japan’s scientists, which is naturally a huge blow to a highly nationalist country. However, he comforts everyone, once the world explodes, the Japanese scientists will all be vindicated, and the whole world will know they were right all along. See, there’s always a silver lining to total annihilation.
Soon enough, the rogue planet does come into full view for all scientists in the world to see, and the World Congress bows to the wisdom of the Pairans and the Japanese, and fire all their nukes at ”R”, but, alas! It is not enough to alter its course. The Pairans predict that the planets will collide in 50 days, and all seems lost. That’s when Kamura brings up that super-weapon that Matsuda has been developing. ”Ginko” explains that the Pairans once also had the same equations that Matsuda has developed, but because of their pacifism, they destroyed all records of it. However, with their superior minds, they can build the technology to fire off a rocket with Matsuda’s explosive, and all they need is his equation, if he only gets in finished.
So Matsuda goes to work, but is kidnapped by a shrewd businessman who wishes to buy his formula and sell it to foreign clients. Matsuda refuses, so the businessman’s thugs ties him to a comfy chair in an abandoned apartment and leaves him to die, come the impending doom. Exactly what the businessman expects to get out of this arrangement is unclear. The rogue planet, seemingly burning and radiating immense heat, gets ever closer, causing earthquakes and flooding, cities start to fall apart and people seek out the countryside and bomb shelters. Our heroes of the film, minus Matsuda, seek out the basement of the observatory, which only so happens to have above-ground windows. This turns out to be a problem when Tokyo floods, but no more so than a nuisance. The real problem is the heat, as the three remaining scientists, their assistants, Takeo and her school children wait out the coming doom in the trashed observatory, bathed in red light from planet ”R”, pestered by the overbearing heat.
After 40 days, however, the Pairans appear in the shelter, seeking Matsuda. The Pairans have now perfected the technology for shooting a rocket containing Matsuda’s super-explosive at ”R”, and now just need his equations. As the others inform them that Matsuda has been kidnapped 40 days ago, ”Ginko” merely shrugs her shoulders, and states that this is no biggie, since Matsuda wears one of the aliens’ rings, which holds a beacon. The Pairans promptly beam over to Matsuda, who is in remarkably good health after having been left without food or water for 40 days tied to a chair in scorching heat, and is even able to stagger back through the streets, avoiding buildings as they fall in his path, as he finds his way back to the observatory. Now in possession of Matsuda’s formula, the Pairans can prepare their rocket. But will it work?
Okay, before we go any further, we have to talk about the aliens. These must be the most adorable aliens ever conceived for a film, right up there with Gizmo and E.T. It’s really difficult to accept the reactions from the people who witness these aliens, as they emerge from the waters. They go screaming in horror and panic as if the aliens looked like some monstrosity from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). But the stars are just so cuddly! Who on Earth could be afraid of them. Granted, if I was out fishing and a two metres tall starfish came walking out of the sea, I’d be a bit startled, but I’d hardly run screaming off the top of my lungs in the other direction.
The Pairans are easily the most memorable feature of this film, and they are often quoted among the most silly ”monster” makeups of movie history. All it is, is actors with arms and legs akimbo walking inside five-pointed stars made out of cloth, with conical headpieces and a pulsating lights attached to their bellies. The design was actually the brain-child of celebrated surrealist artist Taro Okamoto. Once you know it, it’s obvious, as Okamoto had a penchant for star-shaped depictions and large eyes. You can clearly see the same style emanating from his two mist famous works, The Tower of the Sun in Osaka, and the mural The Myth of Tomorrow at Shibuya Station in Tokyo. He even made a large sculpture of the alien, which has been displayed at museums and exhibitions.
The script for Warning from Space was written by Hideo Oguni, who wrote as many as 12 scripts for Akira Kurosawa. According to English Wikipedia, the film is based on a novel by Gentaro Nakajima, and I suppose that’s where this bit of information has spread to pages like IMDb and other movie sites. Wikipedia in turn cites Walt Lee’s monumental work Reference Guide to Fantastic Films, where the complete entry regarding this goes: ”Based on novel by Gentaro Nakajima, from Japanese folk tale Kaguyahime.”
Now, there are two interesting notions here. The first one is that despite the fact that almost every English-language entry on Warning from Space now states that the movie was based on a novel by Nakajima, it seems to be impossible to turn up a single piece of evidence of the fact that such a novel ever existed. In fact, there is no evidence that Nakajima ever published a single novel in his whole life. Japanese Wikipedia credits him as ”film producer and politician”. The only writing he seems to have done is three screenplay drafts during his time as producer at Daiei in the latter fifties. Nakajima later went on to become Minister of Culture in Japan. I have now requested a correction on IMDb so that this piece of information doesn’t further multiply (and waddayaknow, even before I was able to finish this post, IMDb has changed it! Hooray!).
While Walt Lee got the part about the novel wrong, the other part of his statement is more interesting, namely the fact that Nakajima’s script draft was inspired by the old Japanese folk tale Kaguya-hime, also known as The Bamboo Cutter’s Daughter. There are several versions of the story, but all basically follow the same plot, including a poor bamboo-cutter finding a beautiful infant in a bamboo stalk and taking her on as his own child. When the child has grown into the most beautiful woman in Japan, it is revealed that, unbeknownst to even herself, she is the daughter of the king and queen of the moon who has been transformed into a human infant, been robbed of her memories and sent to Earth. One version states that she has committed a crime and is sent to Earth to learn humility, another that she has been sent away for safe-keeping during a celestial war. Finally, the moon-host returns to take her back. Kaguya-hime, first written down in the 16th century, is the oldest extant piece of literary prose in Japan. It is also considered as an early example of proto-science fiction.
The similarities between the story and the film aren’t immediately obvious, but both do contain beautiful women found helpless in nature, both apparently having lost all memories of their previous lives, and are taken in by kind families. In both cases they are important figures sent to Earth in disguise from another celestial body. In the folk tale, the moon people leave gold to help with Kaguya-hime’s upbringing, making the poor family rich, and in the film the Pairans bring their knowledge as a gift in order to save the Earth. And in both cases the beautiful woman is taken away on a space ship. The story of Kaguya-hime has been adapted into full-length films at least twice: Kon Ichikawa’s Princess of the Moon (1987) and Studio Ghibli’s anime film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).
Another interesting aspect of the role of ”Ginko”, which I actually hadn’t thought of, until I read Lida Bach’s review at German Moviebreak, is that it mirrors that of Maria/Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang’s timeless classic Metropolis (1927, review). In that film a robot is disguised in the form of a beautiful woman, infiltrates the working masses and and with great oratory incites a people’s revolution – until she turns on them and floods the lower quarters of the great city. However, Bach notes, in Warning from Space, the clone is no false prophet.
Warning from Space was obviously inspired by other science fiction films of the age. Naturally, the movie took its cue from Gojira, to the point that it even had its ”monsters” emerging from the sea, rather than landing on dry land, as they did in most UFO films. Like Gojira, the movie also deals with the atom bomb, which was of course a theme very much on the minds of the Japanese, only 11 years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but of more on that later. It especially borrowed from American blockbusters like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review) and It Came from Outer Space (1953, review). Both contain benevolent aliens who infiltrate Earth. Warning from Space borrows heavily from the former movie, where Klaatu comes to Earth to lecture mankind on its warring ways. It Came from Outer Space is a more philosophic movie about xenophobia, McCarthyism and the fear of the Other, but it also contains aliens who come to Earth and infiltrate by cloning themselves. Invaders from Mars (1953, review) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) naturally put a much more sinister spin on the same theme. And Warning from Space also borrows its central premise from George Pal’s epic When Worlds Collide (1952, review).
Thematically the film is a bit of a mess. All of Gojira was a grim, unapologetic pamphlet against war and against the atom bomb. The movie did make concessions in the end – suggesting that sometimes a great evil must be unleashed upon the world in order to stop an even greater one. But when that film’s super-weapon was finally used, it was with a sense of sacrifice. In Warning from Space you’re never quite clear on which way the filmmakers are leaning. On the one hand the Pairans keep reminding the Earthlings about how they have evolved past the war and aggression of the barbaric humans – but on the other hand it is they who are now begging to use the nuclear arsenal. As Scott Ashlin on 1000 Misspent Hours notes: ”[The film’s] script is so inattentive to detail that it accidentally suggests an idea for a vastly better movie”. Would one have delved deeper into this idea, one could have had quite an interesting time exploring the conundrum of a pacifist planet needing the help of a warring one for survival, but the script isn’t able to wrap up this discussion in any meaningful manner. As it stands, the film seems utterly confused over this theme. At times it actually seems to take the side of the aggressor, but this may be more a retaliation against the demilitarisation and recent American occupation of Japan than an apologetic attitude towards the American bombings. This notion is further strengthened by the overbearing streak of nationalism inherit in the script (not that this streak was any less obtrusive in US films of the era). In the original Japanese version the Pairans state that they chose to land in Japan, because the Japanese alone can understand the devastation of nuclear weapons. In the US version the aliens merely state that ”the bay of Tokyo seems best suited for landing”. Much of the film then consists of painting a picture of Japan against the world, as the”World Congress” repeatedly ignores the pleas of the Japanese scientists.
And while we’re on the topic of the script, we must point out that this film lacks any sort of logic or scientific merit. Just start with the premise of the whole film: the Pairans visit Earth to get control over nuclear weapons. If the movie is supposed to be set in any sort of contemporary mooring, then there would be two obvious nations to start with; the ones we knew actually had nukes in the fifties; the US and the Soviet Union. Alternatively, they might have chosen a neutral country like Sweden for best diplomatic leverage (although considering what happened in Sweden last night, that option is probably off the table). But there were a couple of countries that really were the last places you wanted to go if you were hoping to have any say on international policy in the fifties. Number one on the list was naturally Germany. Italy wasn’t such a hot country either, but one still probably would have chosen it over Japan.
For all their mental superiority, the Pairans really seem rather daft. If their aim is to contact Japanese scientist, they have a pretty piss-poor plan of how to go about it. Smart as they are, you’d think they’d figure that going beep-beep-boop at random drunks in the middle of the night wouldn’t be the best possible idea. When they’ve gone around scaring people for a couple of days they finally figure out that humans don’t speak beep-beep-boop, and that’s when they remember that ”hey, didn’t we have that thingy stuck back in the closet which can clone us into humans so that we don’t have to scare people and give us vocal cords so that we can actually speak human-speak and perhaps get our message across?” Not that it helps much. The Pairan’s idea of ”infiltrating” is cloning Japan’s most recognisable star, which not only means that their infiltration unit will be followed around by hordes of fans (which actually happens in the film), they also don’t bother to do anything about the clones original, who at one point is rather puzzled over the fact that an exact copy of herself has turned up on a beach with memory loss. Further ”infiltration” smarts are the blatant uses of ”Ginko’s” super-powers, sometimes completely unnecessarily. And after she’s finally made it into the home of one of the scientists she has been desperately trying to reach, she for no apparent reason starts to play cat and mouse with him, instead of actually asking for help, which is the reason she is there in the first place. Not until the equally thick scientists have finally figured out that she is an alien, does she see fit to spill the beans.
And what about that kidnapping of Dr. Matsuda? The world is coming to an end! What the does the spy/businessman hope to gain by leaving the one man who can save the planet tied up in an armchair? And how the hell did Matsuda survive 40(!) days tied up in that thing? And why the *bleepity-bleep* didn’t the Pairans help him? The had a tracker on him the whole time. C’mon guys, this is the man you depend on for the survival of your planet – and you didn’t think to check in on him ONCE during 40 days when his home world was pestered by earthquakes and floods? Not once, even though you can beam yourselves up and down from your spaceship? And speaking of this beaming back and forth: why didn’t you just beam yourselves to the observatory in the first place, instead of waddling around on the seashores scaring people? The plot holes in this film are so huge you could fit a Godzilla through them.
The film doesn’t suffer for lack of directing skills. Actor-turned-director Koji Shima was in the prime of his career. In 1954 his Konjiki Yasha won the award for best film at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival, in 1956 his movie The Phantom Horse was entered into competition in the Cannes Film Festival, and in 1959 he managed to get Unforgettable Trail into competition in the Moscow International Film Festival. Rather, the film suffers from a talky and static script and a budget that’s too low to do anything very exciting with. But Shima wisely refrains from showing much of the devastation outside, save from a few miniature shots of crumbling buildings. At the time Daiei didn’t have the personnel, the budget or the experience to do anything close to tokusatsu master Eiji Tsuburaya’s destruction of Tokyo and Osaka in Toho’s Godzilla movies. Instead Shima focuses on the drama inside the walls of crumbling apartments and flooded shelters. The scene where water starts cascading in through the windows of the observatory basement is very dramatic – it almost makes you forget that the observatory has repeatedly been shown standing on the top of a hill. If the observatory is flooded, it must mean that the ocean level must have risen with something like fifty meters, and the entirety of Tokyo is completely submerged. But when Matsuda makes his way through the rubble after having been freed by the aliens, the ground isn’t even wet. Later we also see Taeko’s school, which resides further down the same hill, and at the end of the movie it seems to have escaped the flooding completely.
But technically the film is still quite impressive, considering the lack of special effects know-how in Japan at the time. The space station, also clearly designed by Taro Okamoto, even if he is only credited as ”colour designer”, is fascinating, but probably art director Shigeo Mano should also get some of the credit for the well-designed movie. The film has a very lived-in and organic feel to it, the homes of the characters feel real and tangible.
The special effects, like the flying saucers, the shots of ”Ginko” jumping in the air, as well as her time-lapse photographed transformation from star fish to human, and the shots of the glowing rogue planet, are all decently executed, and certainly above the quality of many low-budget efforts churned out from Hollywood. But they still can’t quite match the sophistication of, say, George Pal’s impressive visuals or the stunning imagery of Universal’s This Island Earth (1955, review). The special effects were directed by Kenmei Yuasa, and the team included people like Matoba Toru, who would later jump ship to Toho to work on the Ultraman series, and Yonesaburo Tsukiji, who helped create the effects for Daiei’s Gamera films in the sixties. The best segment of the movie is where Shima, with the guidance of Okamoto, drapes the movie in red light as planet “R” approaches, and drenches his actors in sweat. It’s like a surreal fever dream, a true end of the world scenario, a calm before the inevitable end, when the world will be torn apart in an inferno of flames. This is where Koji Shima really shows his skill as a filmmaker, silly script or not. This is also one of the few instances where we actually care about any of the characters, but more in a general way – the film simply hasn’t given us time to get to know any of the main characters well enough for us to actually care what happens with them.
This seems to be something of a curse with these early Japanese science fiction movies, regardless of whether they’re done by Toho or Daiei, regardless of scriptwriters or directors. So much emphasis is put on the ensemble that we never get close to any of the central characters. And even if we do, they tend to be so paper-thin and stereotyped that we usually don’t care much for them. The original Gojira was probably the film that handled their protagonists bests, but not even that film managed to make the relationship drama especially interesting. Warning from Space doesn’t make it any easier on itself by giving is three different old scientists, all battling for screen time, even though the plot doesn’t require more than one. They all tend to agree on everything after some discussion, none of them have ulterior motives for anything and in the end it’s really only Matsuda who’s central to the plot.
All three actors do their roles solidly, but it is Isao Yamagata as Dr. Matsuda that really shines, giving the best performance of the film. Yamagata throws himself whole-heartedly into the role, and is especially good when the going gets intense during the last segment of the movie. London-born Yamagata spent his youth touring Europe with a circus company, and later became a respected character actor in Japanese cinema, perhaps best known for his many roles in samurai movies. He had one of the main roles in Teinosuke Kinugasa’s period piece The Gate of Hell (1954), which won Oscars for best foreign film and best costume design, won the Grand Prize at Cannes and was nominated for a BAFTA for best film.
Bontari Miake, playing Dr. Kamura, had a small appearance in the Oscar-winning international production Tora! Tora! Tora! (1972) and appeared in over 150 Japanese movies, including The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly (1957) and War of the Monsters/Gamera vs. Barugon (1966). Shozo Nanbu, playing Dr. Itsobe Sr., also appeared in The Gate of Hell, and was a favourite of director Kenji Mizoguchi’s. He appeared in Mizoguchi’s Oscar-nominated and Silver Lion-winning Ugetsu (1953), as well as the Silver Lion-winning Sansho the Bailiff (1954), as well as Kon Ichikawa’s Golden Globe winner Odd Obsession (1959). He also had small roles in Japan’s first sci-fi film Tomei ningen arawaru and The Invisible Man vs. The Human Fly.
Keizo Kawasaki is billed as the star of the film, being the young, handsome scientist, but his role is actually completely redundant. When it all boils down to it, he doesn’t do anything of importance in the movie. However, the role is decently played by Kawasaki who was a popular leading man at Daiei, playing leads in such films as River of the Night (1956), Kon Ichikawa’s Punishment Room (1956), the Palm d’Or-nominated Shirasagi (1958) and the crime drama Afraid to Die (1960).
The most memorable character of the film is the night club singer Hikari Oazora, or actually her clone Ginko, played by someone who IMDb calls Toyomi Karita. This is her only IMDb credit, which is a bit surprising, as she isn’t at all bad in her role. Of course, I couldn’t let this mystery stand, so I started researching. Now, I don’t read Japanese, but there are a lot languages I don’t read, and usually I am able to dig up quite a lot of information thanks to linked multi-lingual Wikipedia pages, Google and Google Translate. This works beautifully with most languages written with Arabic letters, and Google’s even pretty sufficient at translating the Cyrillic alphabet. But when it comes to languages with writing systems that differ widely from Indo-European languages, things get a little tricky, especially when the person you’re trying to research is fairly unknown, and therefore doesn’t have any real online biographies or Wikipedia pages even in the foreign language you’re trying to decipher. In the case of Toyomi Karita, it seems that her name in Japanese writing seems to Google-translate differently depending on which site you land on – for some reason that I can’t fathom. Sometimes the name translated as Toyomi Kanda, sometimes as Tomomi Kanda, and sometimes as Tomomi Karita. But at least I was able to find out that this was not her only movie – in fact she seems to have acted in around a dozen films or TV productions, although often in minor parts. But that’s really all I was able to suss out. If you know anything more about her, please let me know in the comments below.
The same thing really applies to Mieko Nagai, playing Taeko. Kiyoki Hirai, playing Mrs. Matsuda, seems to have acted in over 50 movies, mostly B films, and she did have a few leading roles or large supporting parts in some of Kenji Mizogichi’s and Koji Shima’s lesser known films.
Today this film is often forgotten when speaking about early Japanese science fiction movies. Apparently the film didn’t receive stellar reviews upon its release, since Daiei only produced a very small number of science fiction movies or even tokusatsu (special effects) films for the next ten years. However, Warning from Space was noted for its impressive special effects and its – at the time – stunning visuals. It picked up three prizes at the Asia-Pacific Film Awards, for best special effects, best sound and Kimio Watanabe’s beautiful colour photography.
Toho would still have almost total domination over the Japanese science fiction movie market until the beginning of the sixties. However, in the late fifties Toei started producing their first sci-fi anime series, starting with Moonlight Mask in 1958 and Planet Prince in 1959. The studio Shintoho created Japan’s first celluloid superhero in 1957 with the film serial Super Giant, and Toei made its first sci-fi movie Invasion of the Neptune Men in 1961. It was Daiei, however, that was the first seriously challenge Toho in their own game, when the studio rolled out its own kaiju, Gamera, in 1966, and turned it into a hugely successful franchise.
Warning from Space was first dubbed in the UK in 1957, but it took until 1963 before it was released in the US, perhaps contributing to its relative obscurity. Much has now been made about the fact that the film was slightly re-edited and the dialogue somewhat changed with the US dub. But these are minor changes, compared to the way in which some movies were cut up and stuffed with new material. Very little has been lost in translation, as far as I can see, and because of the re-use of some shots, the US version is actually longer that the Japanese version, rather than the other way around. The one major edit is the fact that the American version puts the scene where the Pairans discuss making contact with the scientists right up front, thus eliminating some of the mystery surrounding the aliens in the original. Another edit is that the American version has the Pairans speaking to each other with voices, in English, whereas in the Japanese version their conversation is wordless, and subtitled in Japanese lettering. This either suggests some kind of telepathic communication or perhaps that mechanical chirping sound they make is their language. This also adds to the notion of the Pairans as sexless beings. An audience in the fifties would automatically assume that their scientists were male, which makes for some interesting notions when one of them clones into a beautiful female. This is eliminated in the US version, as the Pairan who gets cloned is voiced by a female actress. The US edit also tacks on the transformation scene as a last scene in the film, in reverse, so we get to see ”Ginko” turn into a Pairan once more. It’s perhaps an unnecessary addition, but doesn’t hurt the movie. The US dub is generally good. It has also been released under the titles The Mysterious Satellite and Mysterious Satellite over Tokyo.
So, what to make of it all? Warning from Space certainly isn’t up to the same technical and visual standards as the best Hollywood had to offer in terms of science fiction in the fifties, and also falls short of Godzilla’s grand apocalyptic vision. However, for a first serious effort at a science fiction epic from a studio, the movie is still technically impressive. The film surely had the guys at Toho looking worriedly over their shoulders. Some of the effects are quite dated. The transformation scene is a rather poor example of the sort of lap dissolve that Fritz Lang perfected for Maria/Maschinenmench almost exactly 30 years earlier. However, the film has a coherent and well-designed visual palette. I really like the urban scenes, which have a very lived-in, bustling and real feel to them, and gives the movie a firm mooring in reality. It’s hard to say much of the colour of the film, since it is rather faded by age, but I can imagine it was quite impressive at the time.
While the film is quite beautifully filmed, and the starfish aliens are wonderfully hilarious, the film is done in by its script. There are those who praise the ”duality” of the moral, balancing an anti-nuclear message with a pro-nuclear message, like Lida Bach at Moviebreak, who feels that the movie tackles ”the fatal consequences of blindness” and argues that the film’s theme is really one of inclusiveness and the embrace of the Other. Salvador Murguia writes in The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films that it is the ”thematic peculiarities and contradictions that invest the film with a deeper interest than it may appear, on the surface, to possess. Personally I think that both Murguia and Bach give the film too much credit. I think that the screenwriters simply borrowed the ending from Gojira and didn’t really think the whole thing through. There are some nice touches to the script, like Lyz Kingsley points out at the always wonderful And You Call Yourself a Scientist, that we actually get to see some of the domestic life of the scientists: ”This makes for a pleasant change from most Western science fiction, which likes to imply – if not say outright – that scientists aren’t capable of normal relationships and home-lives.” But on the whole, the script is so full of contradictions, plot holes, impossibilities, bad science and bad logic, that i tend to agree with Tim Brayton at Alternate Ending when he writes that ”even worse than being boring, the film is **stupid**”.
Furthermore, the pacing is completely off. For long stretches of time, all we get is people talking pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo or giving speeches to the camera. The movie spends way too much time with the scientists trying to catch up with what viewers already know, which is almost always a movie-killer, unless it is done very well and with a clear purpose. In, for example, The Day the Earth Stood Still, there was a clear point to Klaatu not wanting to reveal himself to the world, whereas there is no point whatsoever in Warning from Space for ”Ginko” not revealing herself to the scientists. There are too many characters involved in the contrived and messy plot, and as reviewer schnuff points out at die-besten-horrorfilme.de, ”the film is only for lovers of old, unknown science fiction films.”
Warning from Space (1956, Japan). Directed by Koji Shima. Written by: Gentaro Nakajima, Hideo Oguni. Starring: Keizo Kawasaki, Toyomi Karita, Bin Yagisawa, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miake, Mieko Nagai, Kiyoko Hirai, Isao Yamagata, Sachiko Megura. Music: Seitaro Omori. Cinematography: Kimio Watanabe. Editing: Toyo Suzuki. Art direction: Shigeo Mano. Sound: Kenichi Nishii. Special effects director: Kenmei Yuasa. Creature and colour design: Taro Okamoto. Produced by Masaichi Nagata for Daiei Studios.