Warning from Space

Rating: 5 out of 10.

Friendly star-shaped aliens try to warn Tokyo’s inhabitants of a planetary collision. Humans flee in fear at the sight of the alien starfish, so one of them shape-shifts and infiltrates. This 1956 colour spectacle is entertaining but contrived. 5/10

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. IMDb: 4.6/10.

While still more of less unheard of in the West in the beginning of 1956, Japanese science fiction was rumbling onto scene. Toho had released four sci-fi movies: 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 studio that we associate with 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 try to beat Toho at their own game. Instead Daiei took on another challenge, and produced Japan’s first alien invasion movie. 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 kaiju movie 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), a teacher and Toru’s girlfriend, and Dr. Matsuda’s wife, who remains nameless, but is played by Kiyoko Hirai. The scientists debate among themselves about what the strange flying objects in the sky are, while the media goes into a UFO craze.

The UFO:s are the talk of the town in Tokyo.

Later we meet the aliens, who are shaped like starfish 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 UFO’s land in Tokyo bay, and emitting by strange, mechanical, cricket-like sounds, they approach unwitting members of the public 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, now in the form of Toyomi Karita, as she floats ashore, 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 theory for a nuclear bomb that 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.

Toyomi Karita as the nightclub singer/alien.

Naturally, 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 explains why the Pairans have come to Earth. Paira, she says, 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.

Doom approaching.

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, where they wait out the impending doom, and the preceding floods and scorching heat. Up to their waists in near-boiling water, they decide they’re done for. 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. But will Matsuda even be alive after 40 days without food and water in scorching heat? Or will the Earth be destroyed?

Isao Yamagata (middle) as Dr. Matsuda.

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. But whatever their background, they are ADORABLE!

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. 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.” However, 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. (By my request, IMDb now seems to have changed this faulty information.)

The Mighty Pairans.

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).

An illustration of the “UFO” from Kaguya-hime.

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, and the latter also has the aliens shape-shifting in order to pass as humans, afraid that their true form will frighten the Earth population. In the former movie Klaatu comes to Earth to lecture mankind on its warring ways. And Warning from Space also borrows its central premise from George Pal’s epic When Worlds Collide (1952, review).

A world about to collide.

Japanese SF movies in the fifties had a schizophrenic stance toward the atom bomb. Tomei ningen arawaru, Gojira and Warning from Space all present allegories of the nuclear bomb, and by extension the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII. But while the films on the one side argue that the mere existence of such a destructive force is unacceptable, they all end up vindicating its use in the end. I’m no social psychologist, but this paradox seems to me to be connected to the national trauma felt by many Japanese after WWII. In a way, these films seem to say that as terrible as the nuclear bombings were, they turned Japanese history around and secured a better future. However, unlike Gojira, Warning from Space doesn’t seem at all sure about how to handle the theme, partly because it throws so many themes at the screen, hoping some of them will stick. 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. Here, one should remember that after WWII, Japan was occupied by the US, its army scrapped and any notions of Japanese patriotism promptly censored. It is as if the film wants to portray a future where Japan is no longer a “pacifist” country, but again a leading military power. And that pacifism (or say, the lack of an army), while noble, is misguided, as the “threat” might not share one’s lofty ideals.

Warning from Space is also part of a backlash of patriotism after the US left Japan in 1954. The film makes no excuses for portraying Japan as the noblest, wisest and most mistreated country in the world. 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.

Working in the observatory.

As stated, though, the impact of the film’s ideas become muddled because the studio tries to force too many themes into the movie, often somewhat at war with each other. Plus, the lack of logic in the script seriously hurts credibility. For example, if one wishes to get a hold of all the nukes in the world, why not contact some of the countries actually in possession of nuclear bombs, rather than the one victim of them?

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 clone’s 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 did Matsuda survive 40(!) days tied up in that thing? And why the *bleepity-bleep* didn’t the Pairans help him? They had a tracker on him the whole time.

The streets of Tokyo, beautifully photographed.

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.

An alien emerging from the sea, looking for nuclear scientists.

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. 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.

Bontari Miake as Dr. Kamura.

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. 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. She only has five IMDb credits, but appeared in at least a dozen films or TV series.

I have not been able to track down any contemporary Japanese reviews, but at least it sparked no massive outpour of SF movies from Daiei in the coming decade. 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. Perhaps due to its implied anti-Americanism and criticism of the nuclear bombing of Japan, the film didn’t get a general release in the US. However, it did get a review in Variety, where the writer stated that the film was done with “candor and simplicity which makes it a good entry of its type” with “good special effects plus a fine use of color during the near approach of the flaming planet which nearly destroys the earth”. The film did eventually get a dubbed TV premiere in 1964.

Toyomi Karita as “Ginko”.

Warning from Space holds a 4.6/10 audience rating on IMDb. AllMovie gives it 1.5/5 stars, and lacks an actual review. TV Guide concludes on a more positive note, calling it “A well-scripted illustration of how atomic weapons can be used to save lives rather than obliterating them”. In the On: Yorkshire Magazine, Sarah Morgan gives the 2020 Blu-ray re-release 6/10 stars, writing: “Sometimes less is more, but not in the world of Japanese director Kôji Shima and writer Hideo Oguni – rather than keeping their 1956 collaboration simple, they threw the kitchen sink at it. […] but there’s still much to admire here. The acting is uniformly impressive and the plot surprisingly gripping, particularly during the scenes in which the Earth heats up to unbearable temperatures as the rogue planet draws nearer”. Rouven Linnarz at Asian Movie Pulse writes: “In the end, Warning from Space ends up being an interesting addition to the genre, especially for its rather positive message. Although some of its aspects have not aged that well, some of the scenes, especially those depicting the scientist characters still maintain a certain charm and appeal.” And at Trailers from Hell, Glenn Erickson is almost giddy: “Despite some glaring plot contrivances, fans seeking sobriety in their vintage Sci-fi fantasies will immediately see Warning from Space’s superior qualities. To me it solves the problems that make other Astral Collision movies seem insubstantial — only Gorath occasionally involves us in its human drama. Daiei’s lavish production is equal to the task, with many large studio sets and much location work (with lots of extras).”

Charles P. Mitchell in A Guide to Apocalyptic Cinema gives Warning from Space 2/4 stars, calling it “bizarre”, while the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies (Hardy, et.al) notes that the weird aliens “jar among the surrounding futurism”.  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.” Many online critics are positive as well. Mark Cole at Rivets on the Poster writes: “It’s a bit talky and slow in places, there are a few scenes (like a group of teens calling out to the aliens near a lake) which go nowhere, and the script is far from consistent. However, there‘s a striking transformation scene, a nicely designed alien space station and some interesting effects. The aliens themselves are very cool, even though they are also quite silly (Okamoto loved them enough that he had a giant statue of one of the creatures made up and displayed it at a lot of his exhibitions). So we’re talking a fun little film which provides a little over an hour and a half of entertainment. It may not be brilliant, but it does offer a few thrills and chills. It would be hard to find too many midnight movies as good as this one. No matter how silly those aliens with the one big glowing eye might be.” Jessica Amanda Salmonson at Weird Wild Realms thinks it is “a remarkable film when compared to standard schlock sci-fi from the USA in the same year”. But not all are convinced. Richard Scheib at Moria gives the movie 1/5 stars: “Alas, Warning from Space is terminally dull. A few UFOs appears but nothing happens for long stretches of time. These scenes are taken up by dully directed scenes of various people talking about what is going on, even going fishing. The films seems to set out to be an alien invasion film but this is reversed in mid-film and we learn that the aliens are benevolent and have merely come to deliver the titular ‘warning from space’. The alien visitors and warning plot is then placed on a backburner and the film essentially becomes a disaster movie.”

A Pairan aboard the space ship.

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. 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.

Unfortunately the script doesn’t hold up. There is a clear attempt at showing the event of aliens landing in Japan from the point of view of the ordinary citizen. In the beginning of the film we meet people in tea houses, on the street, on the beach, talking about the event, even witnessing the aliens. This would have been an interesting angle, and would have opened up for a number of poignant themes (like, for example, in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977). However, this approach is rather quickly abandoned in favour of a more traditional science fiction plot, where we once again follow a scientist, his daughter and her suitor, trying to work out the solution to a world-challenging problem. Now, in films like this, plot holes and illogicalities are bound to abound. But in Warning from Space, the script just keeps adding one contrived plot twist to the next, to the point that the film needs to bend over backwards to reach the desired conclusion. For example, there’s no reason for “Ginko” not to reveal herself to the Earth scientists when she arrives. The whole point of her shape-shifting was to be able to approach humans without scaring them. The whole charade is inserted just so that the film can have an “aliens among us” plotline à la Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still. As stated before, the twist where the scientist is left to die by a crime lord makes no sense from any perspective, other than to create tension before the climax of the movie. I can think of a dozen better ways of trapping the scientist so he can’t get to his lab in time — during a natural disaster. That the Pairans conveniently have a tracker on him is another lazy plot solution, and again one that eats at the film’s credibility. He is literally the only man who can save not one, but two planets. You had a tracker on him, and somehow missed that he was immobilised in a basement for 40 days? And so on. The movie is definitely worth watching, as the visuals are occasionally stunning, the bonkers plot quite fun, and the aliens … just see it for the aliens.

The movie initially shows us the alien invasion from the point of view of ordinary people.

Warning from Space was first dubbed in the UK in 1957, but it took until 1964 before it was released for TV in the US. The new dub was slightly re-edited and the dialogue somewhat changed with the US. 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. The Japanese version got a beautiful Blu-ray restoration in 2020 and can no be seen in its original splendour.

London-born Isao 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.

Mieko Nagai.

Bontaro 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.

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.

Janne Wass

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.

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