Warning from Space AKA Uchujin Tokyo ni arawaru AKA Spacemen Appear in Tokyo AKA The Mysterious Sate [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (26th December 2020).
The Film

Warning from Space (Shima Koji, 1956)

Distributed to US television (by AIP-TV, in an English-dubbed form) in the mid-60s as Warning from Space, Shima Koji’s eccentric 1956 atomic age sci-fi picture has been known by a confusing plethora of titles. The original Japanese title translates to something like ‘Aliens Appear in Tokyo’, which is quite on the nose. The film was made by Shima for Daiei, a studio that would in the mid-60s become closely allied with kaiju eiga via the Gamera pictures – and those films built on the impressive use of miniatures that can be found in Warning from Space.

As the film opens, rumours of spaceship sightings are gathering. Dr Kamura (Miake Bontaru) arrives to collaborate with another scientist, Dr Matsuda (Yamagata Isao), and on his arrival Kamura is questioned about the sightings by a journalist, Hideno (Obara Toshiyuki). They team up with Doctor Itsobe (Nanbu Shozo), the director of the observatory, and a photographer, Sankichi (Watanabe Testsuya), who is on a quest to capture the UFOs. Also tagging along are Itsobe’s son, Toru (Kawasaki Keizo), who also happens to be a scientist; and Dr Kamura’s daughter, Taeko (Nagai Mieko).

However, the aliens (Pairans, to be exact) are not malicious: comprised of a group of five entities which resemble bipedal starfish, the extraterrestrial cohort is actually trying to contact Earth in order to warn us of an impending catastrophe. Another planet, from outside the solar system, is heading towards Earth, and the two planets will collide – unless something can be done to divert the course of this stray interstellar object. Realising that appearing to Earthlings in their natural form will cause widespread panic – thus undermining the nature of their mission – the aliens decide instead to appear on Earth in human form. One of their number takes the shape of popular club singer Aozora Hikari (Karita Toyomi), and the others soon follow suit.

Making contact with the humans, the Pairans warn them of the calamity which will occur in the near future, and the scientists must scramble to come up with a method of diverting the drifting planet from its collision course with Earth.

When the aliens finally appear, they are shown to be giant starfish-like entities. Though ultimately benign, their contact with Earth intended to be the titular ‘warning from space’, these creatures can take human form. They are initially bemused by the idea that humans might find the Pairans’ real form disconcerting, leading to some dry exchanges (conducted in Pairan, with burnt-in Japanese subtitles) about how relative perceptions of beauty are. ‘As soon as they see us, they scatter in fear, as if they have seen something monstrous’, one of the Pairans observes. ‘What? Are we considered hideous? Are they more beautiful than us?’, another Pairan asks. They send one of their party, Ginko, to Earth in the form of popular nightclub singer Aozora Hikari (Karita Toyomi) (‘Is this considered a beautiful woman?’, a Pairan queries, ‘It has a very large lump in the centre of its face’); then later in the film, the rest of the spaceship’s crew follow her and make appearances in the guise of other humans. In retrospect, in terms of the film’s depiction of aliens adopting human form, there are parallels with Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), released in the US within a few weeks of the Japanese release of Warning from Space; though in the Siegel film the aliens’ adoption of human form is malicious. (Certainly, something seemed to be in the zeitgeist.)

Like a number of 1950s SF films – such as George Pal’s When Worlds Collide (1953) and Val Guest’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) – Warning from Space examines the perils of the atomic age and envisions the catastrophic destruction of the Earth. Against the potential for global destruction caused by a space event (another planet on a collision course with the Earth), Warning from Space suggests that people of all nationalities must pull together and work collectively, overcoming their differences in order to save the world. When the UFOs are first spotted, newspaper headlines speak of suggestions that they are weapons being controlled by foreign powers. Of course, the film speaks of anxieties in Japan, just ten years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In this context, one of the scientists has discovered an element, Urium, with even greater destructive potential; and the Pairans warn the scientists of the dangers of this discovery and its potential use as a weapon.

Ginko advises the scientists, ‘Humans are already threatened by the atomic bomb; and now you’re developing something even more devastating’. The Pairan civilisation, it seems, discovered Urium centuries ago, and abandoned research into the element when they realised how destructive it is. Their original intention was to harness its potential to produce energy, but they decided to find cleaner, more safe ways of producing energy instead. The connections between Urium and the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima are made explicit in the film’s dialogue: at one point, Ginko reminds the scientists, ‘The misuse of nuclear weapons now threatens the very safety of Earth [….] Only one country has experienced the devastative effects of nuclear weapons, and that country is Japan’. However, as the stray planet, named ‘Planet R’, heads towards Earth with increasing velocity, some scientists claim that the only solution is fire nuclear warheads into space in the hopes of obliterating or deflecting it. Eventually, the decision is taken to use a warhead loaded with Urium to achieve this. Thus the film engages in a dialogue with the ethics and responsibilities of science and scientists, in a manner immediately relevant to the atomic age.




Video

The film is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec, in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Photographed on colour 35mm stock, Warning from Space was the first Japanese SF film to be shot in colour.

The main presentation is of the original domestic version of the film, prepared for release to Japanese cinemas. This cut of the film runs for 86:40 mins and fills approximately 22.5Gb of space on the dual-layered Blu-ray disc. Though the source for the presentation isn’t stated in Arrow’s promotional materials, the presentation is for the most part excellent, and very film-like. An excellent level of detail is evident throughout. There is some chromatic aberration here and there which is most likely a product either of the film stock used or the age of the materials. For the majority of the film, the contrast levels are pleasing, with a subtle drop into the toe and even highlights.

The film materials demonstrate intermittent damage. There are scratches and blemishes, and density fluctuations in the emulsions. Some discolouration is evident here and there, with some blacks appearing subtly blue; and during a couple of reels, skin tones shift towards orange/red. (There is, of course, a handful of sequences in the film in which the use of red gels and a red filter is a deliberate aesthetic choice; but there is a slight red shift besides, in some sequences before this.)

The encode to disc presents no issues, with the presentation retaining a film-like structure throughout its running time.

The aforementioned AIP-TV-distributed English-dubbed version (the dubbing was by Titra Sound Studio), titled Warning from Space, was slightly re-edited. That version of the film is also included on this Blu-ray release, with a running time of 88:02 mins, and filling 20Gb of space on the disc.



NB. Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.

Audio

The main presentation (the Japanese version of the film) is presented with a LPCM 1.0 track. Most of the dialogue is in Japanese with optional English subtitles. (These are easy to read and free from errors.) However, there is a small spattering of English language dialogue in this version. In the presentation of the original Japanese version, when the Pairans speak, their strange sounds are accompanied by burnt-in Japanese subtitles.

The US version is presented in English, also via a LPCM 1.0 track, which is accompanied by optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing.

Extras

The disc contains:
- Original Japanese Version (86:40)

- ‘Warning from Space’, the US TV Version (88:02)

- Selected Scene Commentary by Stuart Galbraith IV. Galbraith provides a commentary for the first 65 minutes of the film. He talks about the film’s distribution history outside Japan. He reflects on the film’s status as an ‘oddity’, and discusses some of the events in Japanese society during the year in which Warning from Space was made – including attitudes and beliefs towards UFOs. Galbraith situates the film within the history of Japanese science fiction films, and considers the unique ‘flavour of these’. It’s a detailed and well-research commentary track, which for fans of Japanese genre cinema is well worth listening to.

- Trailers: Teaser (2:28); Trailer (3:05)

- Gallery (8:00)

Overall

Tapping into a zeitgeist of shapeshifting aliens (specifically, aliens who are able to clone/imitate humans), Warning from Space has some parallels with Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Robert A Heinlein’s novel The Puppet Masters (1951) – not to mention Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass 2. However, in Shima’s picture the aliens are benevolent – here ‘to serve mankind’ (to mangle a reference to a famous episode of 1950s series The Twilight Zone).

The films’ protagonists are devoutly rational in their investigations into the UFO sightings. When he is ambushed by Hideno in a café soon after his arrival by train, Dr Kamura tells the journalist, ‘You can know ninety per cent of something but if you ignore the other ten per cent, you don’t know anything’. Nevertheless, there are perhaps too many protagonists, given the picture’s relatively brief running time – and the script would feel more focused if it honed in on a smaller handful of central characters; in particular, the number of scientists could easily be reduced without necessarily damaging the dramatic structure.

Certainly, with this film one can see the emergence of Japanese SF – and particularly the development of the kaiju eiga with which Daiei would become so closely associated during the 1960s. Ultimately, Warning from Space is an interesting film, and undoubtedly one with a positive message, but not a great picture. Arrow’s Blu-ray release, containing both the Japanese and US cuts of the film and some excellent contextual material, is very pleasing indeed.


Full-sized screengrabs. Please click to enlarge.
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