Today’s selection: Warning from Space (1956, dir. Koji Shima)
Subgenre: Disaster/Space Opera
Available from: Public domain (dub-only, fansubs are available)
If The Mysterians is the Japanese answer to War of the Worlds, Warning from Space is its answer to When Worlds Collide (possibly informing other loose planet movies such as Gorath and Bye Bye Jupiter) and The Day the Earth Stood Still. If you think that those two movies are a little incompatible, you’d be right.
The movie begins with alien sightings across Japan. The starfish-shaped cyclopean beings of Paira, the planet on the perfect opposite side of the sun from Earth (Daiei would later reuse this idea as Terra in Gamera vs. Guiron), are trying to make first contact with Earthlings, but find them excessively hostile (note to starfish aliens on Earth etiquette: staring into someone’s window in the middle of the night is a lousy way to make first contact). The Pairans brainstorm (in a gibberish sequence subtitled in Japanese, unless you’re watching the English dub) that the best way to get human trust is to look human, so one of them transforms into a popular nightclub singer to meet up with our astrophysicist heroes. This leads to additional suspicion: why does this amnesiac girl look like an idol, have the ability to leap 10 feet in the air, walk through solid walls, and most astonishingly, do math?
She reveals that she’s Pairan pretty quickly, which eases the paranoia, but from there the message gets muddled. The Pairans want humanity to give up their super-weapons programs, but also warn them that the planet “R” is on a collision course with Earth. Things get dire as the planet nears, with extreme heat and tides wrecking cities, until, at the last minute, humanity is saved by the exact doomsday device that the Pairans were trying to get humans to give up on. So, the super-advanced society who’d evolved beyond violence had to rely on the violence of a primative society in order to save the day? The exact message here seems a bit garbled; I’m guessing “nukes are okay if we use them responsibly”.
Despite the muddled message and embarrassing alien costumes, the movie isn’t bad. I’m especially fond of the disaster sequences as R nears the earth, and it’s always neat to see the aboriginal Japanese science fiction movies, still aping the style of American cinema before completely forming their own genres. Plus, there are lots of public-domain versions floating around for free, though they do look worse than the Japanese release (which hasn’t aged well itself).
A side note: there’s a lot of promo art of the Pairans from the movie that’s weirdly misleading. They’re frequently shown as gigantic and bright red, in both American and Japanese posters. I have no idea where this is coming from, unless it’s to exploit the kaiju trend (which at the time was only really two movies plus some US imports) and promise viewers the novelty of color, but it must’ve led to a lot of unsatisfied customers.