The Last War (Sekai Denso) (1961)

The Last War (1961)‘The Next War Will Be the Last War.’

Japanese diplomats attempt to arbitrate as the uneasy international situation between the Alliance and the Federation moves dangerously close to all-out nuclear conflict. Meanwhile, an accident at a missile base threatens to tip the planet into World War 3.

Very sincere and earnest Japanese film about the possible outbreak of nuclear war. The main focus of the drama is on a typical ‘nuclear’ family living in Tokyo. Father is a taxi driver who plays the stock market, mother is a housewife in poor health and their pretty daughter is in love with a dashing sailor. The youngsters are planning to get married, and try their best to ignore the countdown to Armageddon. The setup is almost identical to ‘Atomic War Bride’ (1960), a Yugoslavian film of the same era, but, in all probability, that’s more a reflection of the prevailing times than anything else.

Unsurprisingly, given that this is coming out of Japan less than 20 years after the twin holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hearts are being worn boldly on sleeves here. We see nothing of the protagonists in the conflict, beyond a few soldiers and pilots, concentrating more on the interactions and everyday business of our typical Japanese family. These are inevitably simplistic, so there is little in the way of real drama or emotional impact until we reach the scene of what may be their final meal together. This is a very similar approach to that taken by Nevil Shute in his apocalyptic novel ‘On The Beach’, which was successfully filmed in 1959 with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, and this film does owe a debt to that production.

The Last War (1961)

Why did you wear yellow? They can’t see my name in the credits…

The SFX and model work on show here is rather better than those employed on the ’Kaiju’ movies of the time; perhaps because mushroom clouds and Armageddon were far more serious matters than attacks by giant intergalactic monsters with halitosis. However, audience engagement is not assisted by the musical soundtrack, which often verges on the sentimental and manipulative, an over-emphasis that perhaps resulted from the lack of telling action on screen.

A very heartfelt and laudable piece of work, which unfortunately fails to do justice to its serious subject due to the lack of human drama.

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