Blu-ray Release: October 13, 2020
Audio: Japanese and English 1.0 LPCM
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 86:40 (Japanese version)/86:02 (American version)
Director: Kôji Shima
As Japan is rocked by mysterious sightings of UFOs over Tokyo and large, one-eyed aliens attempting contact, scientists collaborate to investigate the unexpected rise in extraterrestrial activity. Unbeknownst to them, one of the aliens has already assumed human form and is about to deliver a very important message that could be humanity’s last hope for survival. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Post-WWII, the American public was wracked by the fear that the Cold War brewing between them and the Soviet Union would heat up and the consequences would be nothing short of the end of the world. The threat of nuclear annihilation gave rise to a series of escapist films that still very obviously dealt in allegories that lay beneath the fear. These films acted as a catharsis for theatrical patrons and their messages were often cloaked in innocuous Science Fiction tropes. Monsters, such as the giant ants of Gordon Douglas’ Them (1954), became stand-ins for the bomb and ruthless alien invaders became stand-ins for Communist aggressors. But neither the US nor the USSR, for that matter, had directly experienced the effects of a nuclear explosion. These movies were based on the fear of what could happen, while Japanese audiences filed into cinemas with memories of what had happened. Japan’s fears were made flesh with Ishirō Honda’s Godzilla (Japanese: Gojira, 1954), leading to the international giant monster phenomenon known as kaiju movies and essentially birthing the Japanese science fiction market.
Daiei Studios would eventually cash-in directly on Honda’s new kaiju formula with the Gamera series, which ran parallel to Toho’s Godzilla movies, but on much smaller budgets. Before kaiju was a formula, the idea was that Godzilla had proven that the world had an appetite for Japanese science fiction. Daiei first opted for the slick option when they produced Kôji Shima’s Warning from Space (Japanese: Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru; aka: Spacemen Appear in Tokyo and The Mysterious Satellite, 1956) – a full color sci-fi drama with a thoughtful message and creature designs from respected avant-garde artist Tarō Okamoto. In the nearly 70 years since its release, its reputation in North America has become clouded by new generations of viewers seeing it as yet another “so bad it’s good” ‘50s B-movie, but its genuine artistry puts it near or on the level with acknowledged genre classics, such as Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) or Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Furthermore, its deliberate pacing, nuclear phobia malaise, and studious cinematography don’t really jibe with the goofy antics of typical Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder. Gentaro Nakajima and Hideo Oguni’s (Oguni’s frequent collaborations with Akira Kurosawa seem to be the one thing that gives the movie legitimacy in critical circles) script isn’t as bleak as real-life atomic bomb dramas, like Hideo Sekigawa’s Hiroshima (1953) or Shōhei Imamura’s Black Rain (1989), but it takes its existential crises with a similar seriousness that makes it difficult to giggle at its dated special effects and costumes (their intended parallels are nuclear war, but it turns out this 66-year-old film about the surface of the earth approaching a boil also works as a disaster movie about climate change).
Like Godzilla, Warning from Space took an American movie tradition that was growing into a stale parody of itself, alien invasion movies (as opposed to the eco-horror creatures that inspired Godzilla), and infused it with Japanese sensibilities, making it both a familiar and exotic artifact. While owing plenty to the early kaiju films’ nuclear phobia, Warning from Space borrows pieces of its plot from The Day the Earth Stood Still, an anti-war parable that presents advanced alien species not as conquering monsters, but as advanced civilizations wearily warning humans against their violent impulses (obviously, the starfish aliens are inherently sillier than the entirely anthropomorphic Klaatu, but the similarities still stand). It also adopts the same dramatic disaster movie ideas that informed Warning from Space’s pure kaiju brethren, though Shima’s film owes more to the pulverized planetoids of Rudolph Maté’s When Worlds Collide (1951) than the man-eating ants of Them!. Even the inherently Japanese pop cinema imagery – Tarō Okamoto’s starfish creatures, Shigeo Mano’s Art Deco set design, and Kimio Watanabe’s dazzling cinematography – appear to be derived from non-Japanese films, such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (the alpha & omega of Expressionist and Deco science fiction), Byron Haskin’s lavishly colorful The War of the Worlds (1953), and, once again, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Being largely available in the public domain stateside, Daiei’s catalog has been the victim of cheap and fast VHS and DVD releases. The most readily available version of Warning from Space came via Alpha Video, who also released endless versions of the Gamera movies during the early days of DVD. Needless to say, Arrow’s new 1080p, 1.37:1 Blu-ray is a massive upgrade over any budget SD disc. This disc includes two slightly different versions of the film – the original Japanese release and the US edit. A high definition transfer of the Japanese cut was supplied directly to Arrow from Kadokawa Pictures, then additional clean-up was done. Arrow warns in the included booklet that “some photochemical issues remain, such as occasional density fluctuation and flicker.” The US cut was reconstructed using the HD transfer and 35mm internegative elements, mainly English language inserts/credits, while using an SD master as a guide.
The film was shot and processed using a supposed proprietary process called Daieicolor, which minimal research tells me is basically Eastman Color. It’s not as vivid as, say, a big budget, three-strip Technicolor movie, but Watanabe uses the limitations to his advantage by contrasting the naturalistic hues of locations with the vivid primary hues of fantastical forces (these are mostly illustrated by bright reds). Grain appears natural, though variations in color condition and continuity do tend to be most obvious in yellow or brown blotches within the grain. There are some rough splice changes throughout and these make up most of the density fluctuations and brightness flickers that Arrow warns of in the booklet (some of the most prevalent flicker seems to be an intended lighting effect). Black levels are strong, creating plenty of contrast without crushing details.
Depending on which version of the movie you’re watching, you’ve got either a 1.0 mono Japanese or 1.0 mono English track, each presented in uncompressed LPCM. The Japanese dub was, again, handed to Arrow from Kadokawa, while the English dub was reconstructed from the original optical tracks. Since Arrow is sort of considering the American cut an extra, I spent most of my time with the Japanese track. There are hints of fuzz and hiss, but the majority of the aural issues are typical for a movie of this age. The monaural field is a bit crowded when multiple voices and effects overlap or Seitarô Ômori’s score kicks into high gear, and there is a distinct difference between the dialogue shot on set and the ADR. The former is quieter and occasionally echoey, while the latter is cleaner, but less natural. The English dub is softer overall and sounds pretty compressed to my ears, despite also being a LPCM mix.
Selected scenes commentary with Stuart Galbraith IV – Galbraith, the author of Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo!: The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films (Feral House, 1996), discusses the making of the film, explores the cast & crew’s work histories, and offers a pretty thorough history of early, post-WWII Japanese science fiction. The track ends at 1:04:39, at which point the viewer is taken back to the main menu.
Teaser and theatrical trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be seen by clicking the images.