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Monday, June 15, 2009

Warning From Space

Produced by Daiei Motion Picture Company in 1956, the original title was (roughly) "Spacemen Appear in Tokyo". The later english dubbed version was retitled Warning From Space (WFS). Not all Japanese sci-fi movies were kaiju. There are some aliens and some destruction of model buildings, but there is no "giant" rubber-suit monster. Instead, WFS is a medley of prior sci-fi movie themes. WFS is historically significant as the first Japanese sci-fi movie shot in color -- just months before Toho's Radon was released. Unlike Rodan, however, the english dubbed version was not a re-edit, but the original Japanese director's cut. This makes it both peculiar (or frustrating) and yet intriguing.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Scientists observe a new satellite over the earth. It spews "meteorites" which are reported all around the globe as flying saucers. Shortly afterward, people report seeing monsters. Dr. Kamura's daughter Taeko sees one starfish shaped being outside her door. The starfish beings leave radioactive traces that glow blue. The starfish men are from the planet Paira, which is in an opposite orbit with the earth -- so we've never known of Paira. They, however, have been watching us detachedly. Now they break their detachment to warn earthlings of a rouge planet on a collision course with the earth. To circumvent that running and screaming at the sight of one-eyed starfish creatures, the Pairans transmorph one of themselves (and later others) into a human form -- that of a popular nightclub dancer. The new stargirl is found "with amnesia" and taken into the scientist's home. She scolds Dr. Matsuda for his formula for "Nurium 101": an explosive substance far more powerful than mere H-bombs. Japan asks the World Congress to authorize blasting Planet R with earth's existing nukes to knock it off course, but the politicians refuse. Dr. Matsuda is kidnapped by underworld thugs to get his formula. Meanwhile, the earth is becoming scorched as Planet R nears. The politicians reconsider, but all the nukes do nothing. Earth suffers more. The Pairans rescue Dr. Matsuda and use his formula to make a super bomb. This they launch at Planet R and successfully destroy it. Earth is saved. Bunnies come out of their holes and children run squealing into the grassy hills. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It's interesting to see classic stories recast through different cultural eyes. The cycloptic star-alien costumes are unforgettable. As an original (Japanese) edit, there are apparent plot non-sequetors and odd tangents to keep you wondering.

Cold War Angle
The customary not-mature-enough-for-nukes moral is present, but seriously undermined by the rest of the story. Mankind might be aggressive and impetuous, but if confronted by a danger that regular weapons can't stop, resorting to a super-weapon is sometimes necessary. This is the Cold War Dogma in a nutshell.

Two Remakes In One -- The two most obvious sci-fi remakes in WFS are The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide. The first half of the movie is TDESS. An alien comes to earth to deliver a message that the earth is in danger and mankind not mature enough for super weapons. "The earthlings must be stopped, and terminate their blundering," says the Pairan leader. The second half remakes WWC in having a rogue planet about to crash into the earth. The two are stitched together in that the Pairans contact earth to warn Earth about our nuclear blundering. This shifts to a common danger: the coming of Planet R. Stargirl (Ginko) is surprised to see Matsuda's formula for Nurium 101. The Pairan's wanted earth to use their "blundering" but then suggest we use our nukes to divert Planet R. It is when we bungled the job (due to bureaucrats dawdling) that the Nurium super bomb becomes necessary.

Remake Medley -- Two other classics lend their flavor as well. The opening scenes are very reminiscent of Paramount's War of the Worlds with meteors falling around the globe, radio static, etc. The theme shifts after this opening to scenes reminiscent of Creature From The Black Lagoon with the star-shaped Pairan's looming up out of dark murky waters to (unintentionally) frighten people. This theme is pretty quickly dropped too in favor of the TDESS theme.

Folklore Foundation? -- It is said that WFS was based on a novel which was itself based on an old Japanese folk tale entitled "Tale of the Bamboo Cutter." The association is loose, at best. The both have an alien come to earth in the form of a beautiful young woman, her growing up with an earth family, and ultimately returning to her heavenly home. Beyond that, the two diverge. This folk tale heritage does help explain the apparent non-sequetor of Star-Hikari (Ginko) being "found" and having no identity (like a baby) and why she stays with Dr. Matsuda's family. The pattern would be more familiar to Japanese audiences than American.

Quirks Explained? -- Some "plot holes" may be more a matter of a viewer expecting blatant explanations and tidy summaries. Japanese directors seem to have liked subtlety.
1. Why would the Pairans, who profess to have been monitoring earth for thousands of years, think that looming up out of the water, or lurking outside of dark doors, was the way to make contact with humans? Perhaps they knew we were easily spooked, so thought a quiet one-on-one with common folk was the way in. "Pssst, Hey, earthling..."
2. How could Ginko be so instantly familiar with the Nurium formula, yet the Pairan's still need Matsuda in order to make some? The Pairans never finished developing it, knowing how ├╝ber-powerful it was, they stopped. Matsuda's formulae was the rest of the puzzle they avoided. Not everything was in that notebook. Much was still in Matsuda's head.
3. And, how did poor Dr. Matsuda survive being tied up in that chair for a month? Perhaps the underworld thugs have been continuing to hold him there. Feeding, bathroom breaks, etc., in hopes of getting the formula. We just don't see them doing so. They fled when the earthquakes began.

Dies Bling -- The handy communicator ring appears to be a bit of Dies Ex Machina jewelry. Planet R is fast approaching and no one knows where Matsuda is -- not even the Pairans. What to do? Home in on his honkin' huge communicator tracking ring, of course. Duh. Trouble was, no one ever mentioned this ring before. It was the classic dies ex machina device, dropped in to solve an unsolvable problem. American audiences like foreshadowing better than god-via-machine devices.

Dang Politicians -- Where the obvious heros of WFS are the scientists -- honest men, good fathers, altruists. The clear villains are the unseen world politicians. While doom approaches, they posture and dawdle. When it is too late, they decide to act. The gangsters are bad, yes, but not too bad. All they did to Matsuda was give him an extended 'time out' to make him talk.

Bottom line? WFS is entertaining on several levels. It is still B-grade sci-fi and not high art, but fun nevertheless. It is an homage to several prior 50s sci-fi classics.

1 comment:

Johnny said...

Excellent summary on this movie - I don't think I've seen one ever that showed the person had actually seen the movie and "understood" it.

I've been a fan of the movie since I first saw in on afternoon TV back in (ahem) 1966. Didn't see it again for maybe 30+ years.

The Japanese version does have some additional footage - I suspect the long dining room scene was to show of a huge (I'm guessing by Japanese standards in 1956) modern diining room. And the Pyrians don't open the movie like they do in the America version, having to explain why they chose Japan.

I love that you hit on those plot holes - those are the same three that have bugged me for a time - esp. the formula one - I suppose that your explanation could work.

I'd love to see this movie done again with a cohesive plot and modern special effects.

Enjoyed your post, thanks.