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Warning From Space
Directed by Kôji Shima from a script by script by Hideo Oguni (who wrote quite a few Akira Kurosawa films) in 1956, Warning From Space shows us what happens when a group of aliens that don't look too dissimilar at all to starfish, albeit starfish with a singular eye smack dab in the middle of their bodies, land on the Earth, right near Tokyo, as a matter of fact. The reason for their visit is to warn humanity about the rather obvious perils of nuclear weapons and the potential for long term harm to their planet should they continue with the testing that's been going on for the last twenty-years or so.
Before we get to all that, however, we meet Dr. Kamura (Bontaro Miake), a high ranking Japanese scientist who is accosted by a reporter Hideno (Toshiyuki Obara) who wants to get to the bottom of all of these reported UFO sightings happening in the area. Elsewhere, Professors Matsuda (Isao Yamagata) and Itsobe (Keizo Kawasaki) are trying to figure out the cause of some unexpected and powerful power spikes occurring in the same area. The aliens, hoping to better communicate with the humans in order to help them, decide to turn a member of their crew into the shapely human form of Hikari (Toyomi Karita), a nightclub chanteuse, in hopes that humankind will be more likely to converse with her than with a bunch of giant cyclops starfish!
Yeah, at times this is more than a little reminiscent of The Day The Earth Stood Still, but it's still a pretty fun watch. Those expecting a Kaiju movie should temper expectations, we don't get any giant monsters trashing balsawood cities here, but the quirky starfish creatures hold their own and make a very memorable impression. The simplicity of the main plot can and does get bogged down with some subplots that bloat the film unnecessarily at times, and as such there are a couple of sluggish moments that don't do anything to help the pacing, but the film finds its footing again in the final third after a strong opening and the slower middle stretch.
The movie will definitely seem like goofy camp to a certain segment of the modern viewing audience but if you're willing to peel back the layers a bit and think about what's actually being said in the movie, there's some decent and semi-effective messaging going on about the perils of nuclear technology. It makes total sense that this could come out of Japan during this period in its history, after the event of the Second World War. The movie also has some nice style to it, good use of color and, as hokey as the starfish aliens might look to some (they're reasonably iconic in Japanese sci-fi fandom circles at this point!), they've got their old school charm and are definitely the highlights of the film any time that they appear on the screen.
Note that Arrow has included both the original Japanese version of the movie on this disc as well as the dubbed version that American International Pictures put together for the American market. This version presents some of the events in the film in a different sequence and it features an additional scene and different credits. The film plays better in its original Japanese version but it's still ideal to have both options included on the disc, particularly for those who might hold a certain nostalgia for that version.
Warning From Space arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray disc from Arrow Video with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.37.1. This won't win transfer of the year but it looks decent enough. Working off of a master supplied by Kadokawa Pictures, there's some noticeable flickering in spots and color reproduction can sometimes look a bit inconsistent for some reason. Detail is good, certainly much better than we've seen on home video in the past, but less than perfect and while the image is clean, showing very little damage, sometimes the grain gets a bit digitized in appearance. Note that the U.S. version was put together using the HD master of the Japanese version and, as such, picture quality is pretty much the same.
Audio options are offered in the original Japanese language as well as the English dubbed option in 24-bit LPCM Mono and while, overall, it sounds pretty decent there are a few moments where you'll notice some distortion in the higher end. Otherwise, both tracks are properly balanced and pretty clean, with range understandably limited by the original source material. Optional English subtitles are offered up for both versions of the movie.
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary from Stuart Galbraith IV, author of Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! that runs for the first sixty-five-minutes or so of the Japanese version of the movie. Galbraith is quite knowledgeable about the subject, offering up a wealth of information about the history of the production, the film's director as well as its cast and crew, the effects, themes that the film explores and how it compares to other sci-fi movies of the same period. It's quite interesting.
Rounding out the extras are a couple of trailers, an image gallery, menus and chapter selection. This release also comes packaged with some reversible cover sleeve art and, for the first pressing, an insert booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release as well as an essay on artist Taro Okamoto by Japanese art historian Nick West and an essay on the production of the American edit of the film by David Cairns.
Warning From Space is certainly a product of its time and can easily be dismissed, by modern standards, as camp and to be sure, that's part of the film's appeal. That said, there's some intelligence in the way that it posits specific issues within the context of its story, and that makes the picture more interesting than it would be otherwise. Arrow gives the film a decent Blu-ray release that, while less than perfect in the picture quality department, is still quite a substantial improvement over what we've seen in the past. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.