Warning from Space
I’ve never been sure that first impressions are as critical as ‘they’ say. To be sure, if you piss someone off the first time you meet him, the chances he’ll want to get to know you and like you better are slim. However, I can barely remember the first time I met my friends, if I can remember at all, because I didn’t really get a feel for who they were until I had spent time with them. First impressions are, in my experience, very shallow and probably not good indicators of a person’s character. Similarly, I don’t think my first impression of Japan colored my perception of it in later years. As a child, I should have been impressionable when watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters or any of the other Godzilla films I owned. However, I never thought Japan was like the Godzilla movies, which is good thing because my only understanding of Japan would be that it was filled with badly dubbed English and giant monsters hellbent on destroying Tokyo again. I’m not insulting the Godzilla series. Far from it, I love this series. Yet, Godzilla is a pretty skewed view of Japan and from what I learned about Japan in school and even in other films and anime, I’ve gotten a more realistic sense of what Japan is like. All that being said, just imagine what people must have thought in the 50s and 60s with only films like Warning from Space to stand beside Godzilla as representatives of Japanese culture? They would have thought Japan was nuts. Then again, some people still do.
Warning from Space is strange and disjointed, but that’s where it gets its charm. A race of one-eyed, starfish aliens called the Pairan visit to deliver a message to its inhabitants. Naturally, the Pairans go to Japan in their starfish forms. Because the humans are terrified of their natural forms, the aliens decide to transmute on of their own into the form of a Japanese club singer to send as an envoy to speak to the scientists, Dr. Kamura and Dr. Matsuda. She stays with Dr. Matsuda and his wife for a while, but Matsuda realizes she can’t be human because she jumps really high when playing tennis, yes that’s actually part of his reasoning, because she understands his complex nuclear formula and warns that what he’s studying will be more powerful than the H bomb, and most importantly because she dematerializes and passes through walls; he doesn’t directly witness her doing this, but she does appear and disappear from a room he’s in with a rapidity that makes him suspicious. The Pairan posing as a pop singer flies into the room where Dr. Matsuda is discussing his suspicions with the rest of the group, and she admits that she’s an alien sent to tell them that Planet R is on a collision course with earth and the humans need to nuke the planet to prevent it from destroying earth; the Pairans are a peaceful society, so they don’t have nuclear weapons to destroy Planet R. She leaves and the group makes preparations to deal with the incoming planet, which looks like a star and heats earth up as it gets closer. Tokyo is evacuated for some reason and Dr. Matsuda is kidnapped by a mafioso who was trying to force Dr. Matsuda to sell his new nuclear device on the black market. The rest of the group contact the World Congress about the incoming planet, who initially balks at accepting Japan’s plan to launch nukes on the grounds that aliens told them to do it. They eventually accept the plan, but the nukes fail to destroy Planet R. Thankfully, various geological disturbances associated with the proximity of the planet to Earth chase off the mafia and Dr. Matsuda is saved by the transmuted Pairan, who has been absent for the past twenty or thirty minutes of the movie. Dr. Matsuda gives the device to the Pairans who blow up the fiery Planet R and Earth is saved.
It should be no surprise that the most memorable thing about this film is the aliens. The starfish aliens look like the cheapest Halloween costumes imaginable, though they have the added bonus of a central eye which blinks with light as they talk. Sadly, we don’t get to see them waddling around too often, but we do get to see the one Pairan, transmuted to look like a human, using her powers. As amusing as it is that one of her powers is jumping really high, I like the fact that she uses it to slam tennis balls and beat the puny humans at their own game. The power to dematerialize is also pretty cool, even though it’s a simple fade in/fade out camera trick. I found this power even more amusing because she uses it to escape a crowd of Japanese schoolgirls who swarm her, thinking she’s the real, famous club singer. The aliens clearly have some weird priorities in this film, but not just because of how they choose to use their powers. The Pairan woman warns Dr. Matsuda that the formula he’s creating will lead to a weapon more powerful than either the A bomb or the H bomb and she also makes a point that her race destroyed that same formula because they’re peaceful and consequently had no need for it. At first it seems like she’s scolding him about the dangers of nuclear weapons, but then she tells him that the only way to blow up Planet R is using nukes, especially the more powerful ones that utilize his formula. The Pairan then decide to benevolently help the humans by disappearing for weeks in movie-time, never helping Dr. Matsuda develop the nuclear device that their technology should make easy; they actually wait until the planet is nearly upon Earth before dropping in on Matsuda and asking why he hasn’t blown Planet R up yet. Although the Pairan aren’t your typical alien invaders, they are really unhelpful when it comes to their ostensible mission to help save Earth from destruction.
Warning from Space is somewhat odd in that it kept defying my expectations. It starts with flying saucers landing and starfish people terrifying humans. Even though the Pairan say they want to get in contact with the scientists, the film looks like it’s supposed to be an alien invasion plot; they even have an alien taking the form of a human. However, we learn the aliens came to Earth with the grand plan to try and save it. I was expecting this movie to be a parable about the dangers of nuclear weapons and reckless scientific research when the female Pairan warns Dr. Matsuda’s formula will create a weapon even more dangerous than the H bomb, but then she tells Dr. Matsuda that the only way to destroy Planet R is to use nukes and later an even more dangerous device based on his formula; if anything, the moral of the story is that we should keep experimenting with nuclear technology so that we can blow up planets, a rare and strange moral from a country savaged by nuclear arms only a decade before and in a time when even Americans were making movies about how awful nuclear weapons are. However, the story switches from aliens trying to cooperate with humans a la The Day the Earth Stood Still to a disaster movie when the aliens just leave and the star, I mean Planet R, gets closer and closer, causing various natural disasters that the humans have to survive while trying to figure out how to destroy the planet. I was actually surprised to see the Pairan show up again at the end because I thought the movie had just abandoned them in favor of the humans saving themselves by themselves. As you might have guessed though, my reaction to the film’s disjointed plot and awful costuming was a kind of awful joy and that ever present question, “Who the hell decided this was a good idea for a film and why do I like it?”