The Last War (1961)

December 28th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Shue Matsubayashi | Japan Sci-fi, 110’

Made the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis; even in the dubbed and abbreviated version I’ve just watched on YouTube (the original was half an hour longer, and has been reedited so that the story is now told in flashback) this remains a mighty powerful piece of filmmaking. With America and North Korea currently rattling sabres at each other it has still, alas, not yet lost its relevance to a 21st Century audience. An elaborate production by Toho in Eastmancolor and TohoScope with special effects by ‘Godzilla’ regular Eiji Tsuburaya, it was Toho’s second highest grossing film of its year, but never released theatrically in America.

Much of this film (whose Japanese title ‘Sekai Daisensō’ translates literally as ‘Great World War’) is taken up with domestic scenes which would not have been out of place in the contemporaneous domestic dramas of Yasujirō Ozu, from which a number of cast members like Chishū Ryū and Yumi Shirakawa would have been familiar to Japanese audiences at the time; while Nobuko Otowa – who plays the mother – had nine years earlier featured in her husband Kaneto Shindo’s anti-nuke drama ‘Children of Hiroshima’.

As these people continue to plan for the future, back at the silos we twice see catastrophe narrowly averted until eventually the Sword of Damocles falls for real and Tokyo is shown convincingly raised to the ground, followed in short order by shots of the Kremlin, New York, Tower Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe going up in smithereens which more than atone for the unconvincing model work elsewhere in the film. Almost as an aside we are at one point informed that in one of the earlier engagements one side has resorted to “a low level napalm and strafing attack”; a disturbing harbinger of the tactics used by the United States in the proxy war that actually took place in Asia during the coming years. @RichardChatten


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