Many have concluded that Japan’s giant monster movies are a response to the country’s fear of atomic energy in the wake of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the “monsters” in the 1956 film Warning from Outer Space are actually friendly and arrive on Earth to help save its inhabitants from collision with an asteroid.
Considering that this film was made a scant 11 years after the end of the Second World War, it definitely feels like the moviemakers were attempting to explore new ground. Its original Japanese title is Uchujin Tokyo ni Arawaru, but is known under a litany of English names including The Mysterious Satellite, The Cosmic Man Appears in Tokyo, Space Men Appear in Tokyo, Unknown Satellite over Tokyo and the more lyrical Warning from Space.
The friendly aliens resemble giant starfish standing on two of their five points and embedded in their chests (?) is a single, giant eye. They are probably the coolest thing about this movie, but, unfortunately, we don’t get to see too much of them because they discover that whenever they appear in front of Earthlings, the humans run away in terror. They choose instead to send an emissary who shape changes to become the doppelganger of an attractive female stage performer. The transmutation sequence with time-lapsed makeup changes is the height of the special effects in this film, but it works.
The real treat of Warning from Space is the fact that the film is in colour, which was still not that common for most science fiction movies of the era, and it also gives us a peek into Japanese life in the 1950s which is an interesting mix of traditional and modern elements. Some of my favourite scenes were the incongruous song and dance numbers that were inserted in scenes featuring the alien-cum-stage-performer in action.
The shape-changing alien arrives on Earth to contact a leading Japanese scientist in order to deliver a warning to mankind, but she’s subtle about it and doesn’t make her intentions known right away. People start to get suspicious when they see her leaping six feet into the air while playing tennis. She also has a habit of dematerializing and walking through doors when she thinks no one is looking.
Eventually, the humans put two and two together and figure out she’s not human so she reveals her intentions and explains that she is from an ancient and advanced civilization that resides on a planet that is directly opposite the Earth on the far side of the sun. However, they have been monitoring mankind for centuries via an observation post on the asteroid Hermes.
Her warning is that the only way Earth can avoid destruction is that if all nations band together and exhaust their entire stockpiles of nuclear weapons to knock the asteroid off course. And the only way to do that is to use the power of a super weapon being designed by the Japanese scientist that the aliens initially approached.
The rest of the movie is about the search for Planet R, as the approaching planetoid is known, and the race to convince the world’s politicians that they have to work together. As Planet R approaches, Earth grows unbearably hot and people hide in basements and shelters to stay cool. The drama mounts as the risk of collision grows higher. There are scenes of dogs dying, fish floating and birds falling from the sky. And of course there are earthquakes and giant waves to add to the chaos.
When the day is finally saved, we see the survivors emerge from their hiding places into a world that is nearly in ruins, but bells are ringing and there is singing and laughter because the world endures and hope remains. The parallel with post-war Japan is fairly obvious.
While I wouldn’t say that any of the acting performances was especially gripping and the writing and dialogue was fairly ordinary, Warning from Space had a certain charm that makes it stand out from the usual Japanese monster movie of its time. Check it out for yourself!