11 October 2019 | jamesrupert2014
'Sekai Daisenso': a good anti-nuclear cautionary tale from Toho Studios
Tensions escalate between The Federation and The Alliance (proxies for NATO/SEATO and the Warsaw Pact respectively) as Japan pleads for peace (or at least for commitments to not use nuclear weapons). The film, which also follows the impact of the impending conflict on a small Japanese family, is a cautionary tale that addresses contemporary concerns about a nuclear conflict, both deliberate and secondary to an accidental launch. The film also portrays Japan's feeling of helplessness, 16 years after having been destroyed militarily and now flanked by two belligerent, nuclear-armed powers. The version of the film I watched on-line was 'fan-subtitled' (apparently originally in Italian) that was quite well done (assuming that it was true to the original Japanese) and differs from the American version (based on the description in Stuart Galbraith's book 'Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films' (1994)). The American film opens after the war, with sailor Takano (Akira Takarada) returning to a devastated Tokyo rather than following a linear narrative that ends with the sailor's return. Also, the children sing a traditional Japanese New Year's song and not 'It's a Small World After All', and the film closes with a plea for peace from the (fictional) Japanese Prime Minister and not J.F.K. The special effects and miniatures (supervised by Eiji Tsubaraya) are generally excellent and there are some very jarring images, such as bodies reduced to mounds of ash after a tactical nuclear strike. The scenes of panic, and later empty Tokyo streets, are also very well done. Paralleling the military-political story, the film follows Mokichi Tamura's (Frankie Sakai) family, who live in Tokyo and have to decide whether to abandon their home or hope for de-escalation. The story of the family (eldest daughter Saeko (Yuriko Hoshi) is engaged to Takano) is touching - pathos without excessive sentimentality. The script and the acting of the Japanese characters is very good (based on the subtitles) but the scenes featuring Federation and Alliance missile control officers (all of whom speak English) are clunky and phoney sounding (especially the trite moralising about war and the highly contrived false alarm scenes). Note: this film is 'Sekai Daisenso' , sometimes translated as 'The Final War' or 'The Last War' and is frequently confused with the similarly themed 'Dai-sanji sekai taisen: Yonju-ichi jikan no kyofu' ('The Last War, WWIII Breaks Out') (1960), a B/W Toai Studios Production).