Off-Season Reviews: Warning from Space (1956)
The last entry into March’s (otherwise untitled) “Movies about Outer Space” theme is Koji Shima’s Warning from Space. Also easily the toughest to watch. In much the same way that Ishiro Honda’s Gojira took the “kaijuu/giant monster” archetype established in Eugene Lourie’s the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and expanded on it, Shima does the same thing here with “moral” sci-fi. Think the Day the Earth Stood Still with less humility (if talking about the original), or with less wanton destruction (if talking about the reboot).
Scientists can be so cruel.
If this film is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, as the aliens decide to fly to Japan because it has the smartest scientists, then upper upper academia is not so different from a sorority house. There’s a UFO sighted in upper atmosphere; occasionally shooting energy beams. One scientist, Dr. Kamura (Bontaro Miake) decides to investigate it, and is privately mocked by his peers. The same peers who congregate to gossip about the alien sightings on land, occurring at the same time!
This sense of comic duality pervades the film. The aliens’ (who look like giant, walking starfish with a single, glowing eye in the middle) first attempt to make contact with humanity fails because people are justifiably scared of giant, walking starfish creatures. So their next attempt has one of them taking human form; being “transmutated” into a J-pop starlet.
Which makes total sense. I mean, who better to pull reclusive, overworked astronomers out of their work-induced isolation than Hikari Aozora (Toyomi Karita), Japan’s Britney Spears of the moment. Naturally, the scientists don’t know/recognize Hikari; making the whole subplot D.O.A. before anything interesting could be built upon it. Then again, the scientists also aren’t frightened by her ability to leap 10 feet in the air while playing tennis; just making mental notes and then trading notes later. The scientists also don’t find it strange that every school girl in their vicinity seems to recognize their mystery guest.
Wasting no time, Hikari telekinetically opens all Dr. Kamura’s locks and helps herself to his notes. He’s developing “curium 101” an element that will make the hydrogen bomb seem like a parlor trick. A plot point that gives the film an interesting subtext. Since, at first, the aliens don’t want Japan building a bomb that could rival/surpass the US’ own. Which would make the aliens inadvertently pro-US.
This is until we learn, via our helpful alien friend who disposes of any attempt at subterfuge by levitating into a crowded observatory, that there’s a rogue planet, “R,” that’s on a collision course with Earth. The alien, naturally, advises that we use all the world’s atomic weapons to blast the planet of course. A plan that would conveniently leave us at the mercy of our own starfish neighbors.
(We also learn that they live on Pyra, a take on the infamous “Planet X” located on the other side of the Sun that all kids know about.)
Being left unarmed in the face of a vastly superior alien power is the most likely reason the “World Congress” refuses Japan’s request that we launch all our nuclear missiles into space. That, or the fact that the word of reclusive astronomers who claim to speak to aliens just isn’t worth that much anymore.
The actual “warning from space” is a bit of a red herring. The aliens warn us: a.) about the inherent dangers of the new element “curium,” and about b.) our impending collision with another planet. I’ll give you one guess about how the Earthlings will get an explosion strong enough to throw “R” off course.
The final’s finale, with our impending doom via “R” looming in the sky, is done great. The Earth starts boiling, and houses and streets start flooding; excising the oppressive atmosphere from the Day the Sky Exploded and transposing it onto Gojira’s urban wasteland.
Apparently Warning from Space was Japan’s first color sci-fi film, and, as such, is safe in the public domain. Just try to watch it next time you’re bored!