The Last War (1961)
The aspirations of the people of Japan are in vain, for humanity's last hour has come! (日本国民の悲願も空しく 人類最後の時は来た！)
— Japanese tagline
LEARN WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF ANOTHER GLOBAL WAR BREAKS OUT!
— International tagline
THE GREATEST SPECTACULAR MOTION PICTURE OF OUR TIME!
A MOST TERRIFYING SCIENCE FICTION DRAMA!
— American tagline
The Last War (世界大戦争 is a Sekai Daisensō, lit. "The Great World War")1961 tokusatsu science fiction drama film directed by Shue Matsubayashi and written by Toshio Yasumi and Takeshi Kimura, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. Produced by Toho, it stars Frankie Sakai, Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Nobuko Otawa, Yumi Shirakawa, Chishu Ryu, and Jerry Ito. The film was released to Japanese theaters by Toho on October 8, 1961, and premiered in the non-contiguous United States in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 3, 1962, following a sneak preview on December 29, 1961. Brenco Pictures Corporation produced an English-dubbed version for wider American audiences, which saw release in November 1968 at one Southern California drive-in before being picked up years later by Heritage Enterprises and sold to television.
Along with a by-then-customary Perspecta Stereophonic Sound-encoded mono track, The Last War was Toho's second film to be released in true 4-track magnetic stereo. The film's currently-unavailable international English dub was also the first that Toho released in true stereo.
In 1961, Tokyo is a bustling metropolis and Japan has recovered from the devastation of the Second World War. Mokichi Tamura works as a limousine driver at a press center where foreign reporters gather, and invests in the stock market to try and support his ill wife Oyoshi and three children. Mokichi's eldest daughter Saeko is in love with a young sailor named Takano, and the two plan to get married. Takano finally returns to Tokyo after his latest voyage and visits Ebara, the cook on his ship who could not serve on the most recent voyage due to a stomach ulcer. While recovering from his operation, Ebara has been helping his daughter Sanae run her daycare. Ebara explains to Takano that his time helping with the daycare and being around children has helped him learn to enjoy life, even at his old age. Takano then comes to the Tamuras' home to stay with them for the time being. In Saeko's room, the two discuss asking for Mokichi's consent to their marriage. Saeko has already told her mother and received her blessing, but she is worried about what her father will say. Mokichi comes upstairs and overhears the conversation, and Saeko and Takano decide to finally ask for his blessing. Mokichi is hesitant, but his wife comes upstairs and joins the conversation. She recounts how madly in love Mokichi was with her when they were married, embarrassing him. Mokichi finally gives his blessing for the marriage, and the two begin planning for their wedding.
Outside of the Tamuras' peaceful family life, global political tensions are rising. The major world powers have split into two rival camps: the Federation consisting of the United States and its allies, and the Alliance consisting of the Soviet Union and its allies. Both sides have built up their nuclear arsenals, and the eruption of armed conflict could easily lead to a global nuclear war. The Cold War escalates when a Federal submarine enters Alliance military exercise ground in the North Atlantic. As a member of the Federation, Japan is obligated to take part in a war should one erupt. Despite currently suffering from a serious illness, Japanese Prime Minister Masaki is dedicated to finding a peaceful resolution and preventing a nuclear armageddon. A close call occurs when a Federation base receives an accidental order to launch its nuclear arsenal. The base's commander reluctantly presses the launch button, but is informed of the error and manages to stop the countdown before the missile is launched. Watkins, an American reporter currently in Tokyo who is driven by Mokichi, visits Takano at the Tamuras' home and informs him that tensions are growing along the 38th parallel in Korea. He is worried that should armed conflict resume between the Federation-backed South Korea and Alliance-backed North Korea, it could lead to a broader global war. Watkins travels to the 38th parallel to report on the situation, shortly after which armed conflict begins as artillery on both sides exchange fire. Federation and Alliance fighters join the battle before both sides deploy ballistic nuclear missiles. While the missiles used are not particularly high yield, the use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict is an unprecedented move that raises global concerns. The Alliance responds by constructing more missile silos at its North Pole missile base. While excavating through the ice with explosives, the Alliance accidentally triggers an avalanche that damages the controls for a nuclear missile, beginning a launch countdown. The general and personnel trapped inside the silo with the missile realize that once it is launched, retaliation will be immediate before anyone can realize it was fired in error and the world will be annihilated. Taking matters into his own hands, the general climbs to the top of the missile and succeeds in removing the activator before the missile launches. Soon after, a ceasefire is declared at the 38th parallel and relations between the Federation and Alliance seem to be improving. Military personnel on both sides have begun to breathe a sigh of relief, and plan for what they will do when they return home.
This peace is shattered once Federation and Alliance aircraft begin to battle over the Arctic Ocean. War is declared as forces from both sides begin entering each other's territory. The use of nuclear weapons by both sides to attack the other's major cities appears inevitable, and a panic breaks out. Takano elopes with Saeko in Yokohama before leaving for his next voyage. Hearing the news of the impending nuclear war at sea, Takano contacts Saeko via telegram and the two exchange their final goodbyes. Saeko joins her family for New Year's dinner, which will in all likelihood be their final meal. While Oyoshi and Saeko are well aware of their impending doom, Mokichi remains in denial, insisting humanity will not bring about its own destruction. Oyoshi struggles to keep her composure and play along, but Saeko breaks down and expresses the certainty that they will all be killed. Mokichi storms off to his room and watches the sunset from his balcony. He loudly declares he and his family will survive, that he will move to a summer home with his wife, that he will have a beautiful wedding for Saeko, that he will see his younger daughter Haru fulfill her dream to become a stewardess, and that he will see his son attend university, something he himself could never do. As Mokichi finally accepts the reality of the situation, he breaks down and sobs. Sanae remains at her daycare with the children whose parents could not retrieve them, and comforts them in their final moments by reading to them. The Prime Minister sits silently and dejected in a room in the National Diet Building, his efforts to preserve global peace having been in vain. At an Alliance missile base, one of the personnel agonizingly presses the button that launches a nuclear missile at Tokyo. The missile reaches and explodes over the city, the shockwave blasting apart the countless buildings like paper and causing Tokyo Bay to boil. Flame storms through the city, incinerating the ruined scraps of the metropolis. Black nuclear rain pours onto the burning city, as the ground splits open and pours forth molten lava into the streets. A terrifying mushroom cloud envelops the city and can be seen from miles away. Other major cities around the globe meet the same fate: New York, Paris, London, Moscow, and many others are wiped off the map in an instant.
Out at sea, Takano and the others on his boat witness the end of Tokyo as they see a mushroom cloud rising overhead. The captain asks the crew what they shall do next, remain at sea or return home to the remnants of Tokyo. If they return, they will contract lethal radiation sickness from the fallout, and their boat will be contaminated before they even reach the shore. Everyone remains silent, signaling a unanimous decision to return home, with which the captain agrees. Ebara comes on deck and gives everyone coffee, feigning happiness and remarking how a good cup of coffee makes him feel glad to be alive. He looks out over the sea and struggles to maintain his composure, asking why they are willingly going to their deaths if life is so good. The captain gives the order to turn back to Tokyo, where its entire crew will meet certain death. Takano and Ebara stand on deck before finally breaking down and weeping as they prepare to join their loved ones in death.
As the Diet Building sits among the scorched and molten ruins of Tokyo, the audience is reminded that this is a work of fiction that could one day become reality. Only by working together can mankind avoid this terrible fate.
- Main article: The Last War/Credits.
Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.
- Directed by Shue Matsubayashi
- Written by Toshio Yasumi, Takeshi Kimura
- Executive producers Sanezumi Fujimoto, Tomoyuki Tanaka
- Music by Ikuma Dan
- Cinematography by Rokuro Nishigaki
- Edited by Koichi Iwashita
- Production design by Takeo Kita, Teruaki Abe
- 1st assistant director Yasuyoshi Tajitsu
- Director of special effects Eiji Tsuburaya
- 1st assistant director of special effects Masakatsu Asai (uncredited)
Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.
Frontier Enterprises English dub
- Tom Korzeniowski
United States English dub
Weapons, vehicles, and organizations
- Allied Fighter Plane
- Allied Attack Submarine
For the scenes depicting the destruction of Tokyo, Paris, Moscow, New York City, and London, Eiji Tsuburaya suggested creating miniatures out of paraffin, before it was decided to use wafers. In a 1996 interview, miniature builder Yoshio Irie recalled, "Since the destruction of the world's cities was going to be such a crucial element of [The Last War], we tried to find a substance that would produce especially convincing results when blown up. We experimented with many different materials, but found that wafers worked best. Unfortunately, we also found that mice liked to eat the wafers." In order to deter the rodents, several of the miniatures were hung and filmed upside down, which had the added effect of making them appear to be blasted high into the air.
- Main article: The Last War/Gallery.
- Main article: The Last War/Soundtrack.
- World War III: Tokyo's Last Day (第三次世界大戦 東京最後の日 Daisanji Sekai Taisen: Tōkyō Saigo no Hi, early Japanese title)
- (㐧三次世界大戦 東京最後の日 Daisanji Sekai Taisen, alternate spelling)
- The Last War? (Hong Kong publicity materials)
- The Final War (La Guerra Final; Mexico)
- Last War (L'ultima guerra, Italy)
- Death-Rays from Outer Space (Todesstrahlen aus dem Weltall; West Germany)
- The Last War of the Apocalypse (La Dernière Guerre de l'Apocalypse; France)
- The Last Day of the World (O Último Dia do Mundo; Brazil)
View all posters for the film here.
- Japan - October 8, 1961 [view poster]
- United States - December 29, 1961 (sneak preview, Honolulu) / January 3, 1962 (premiere, Honolulu) / November 13, 1968
- Hong Kong - March 15, 1962 / June 14, 1962 (4-track stereo)
- Singapore - November 17, 1962
- India - November 28, 1962
- Mexico - September 5, 1963 [view poster]
- West Germany - 1977
On October 10, 1961, just two days after its Japanese premiere, an Associated Press story on The Last War appeared in American newspapers, vividly describing the film's climax and reporting that Toho was looking to show the film in the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union. Despite this, The Last War received very little known theatrical distribution outside of East and South Asia and no wide theatrical release in the United States.
An uncut English-language international dub was commissioned by Toho and realized by William Ross's Tokyo-based Frontier Enterprises. The dub received its first known public screenings in Hong Kong starting March 15, 1962 at the Queen's, State and Royal Theatres, before being brought back that June at the Liberty Theatre with 4-track stereophonic sound, the same as the original Japanese release. In her March 16 review of the film for the South China Morning Post, Jean Gordon states that Frankie Sakai's character is a chauffeur of the "American Press Club," possibly elucidating a difference in the Frontier dub's writing. She goes on to say that "the Japanese actors employed in the principal parts handle their roles with such skill that the English-American dubbing can be accepted without too much incredulity." Frontier's dub was then shown in Singapore at the Capitol Theatre starting November 17 of the same year.
On November 28, 1962, the international English dub had its Indian premiere at the Excelsior Theatre in Bombay. A newspaper ad from that day highlighted the attendance of the city's mayor Dr. N. N. Shah and featured an enthusiastic recommendation by then-current (and first post-independence) Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The initial Bombay release was a monumental six-week run at the Excelsior followed by a two-week run at the Aurora Theatre. The Times of India boasted the Excelsior run as being "destined to break all records in Bombay" in its second week. The Last War was followed by the import of numerous other Toho films to India, with newspaper ads continuing to recall Toho as the "makers of The Last War" and the company "who gave you The Last War" years later. The last known screening of the Frontier dub occurred at the Super Cinema in Bombay on February 2, 1969.
Though the mono version of the unique trailer made for Toho's international English dub has been included on Japanese home video releases, the actual dub has yet to be released in the United States or appear on any home video format anywhere in the world in either of its mono or 4-track stereo versions.
On October 17, 1961, Toho offered The Last War's U.S. distribution rights up for bid, with Variety reporting that Toho had "dropped [the] idea of doing its own distribution." Columbia and Paramount were among the interested parties. In November of that year, Pacific Stars and Stripes reported that MGM was due to release the film sometime in March 1962, but this never materialized. The Last War's earliest showings in the United States actually occurred in international theaters in Honolulu, Hawaii, presented in Japanese with English subtitles. The Nippon Theatre first showed it in a special preview on December 29, 1961, with regular showings scheduled to begin on January 3, 1962. En route to the continental U.S., star Frankie Sakai visited Honolulu for five days and made a special appearance at a showing at the Nippon. The film also played at Honolulu's Queen Theater in May 1962.
While the film was originally released in Japan with overture music, the English-subtitled print shown in Honolulu used this music to underscore a text scroll "preface," as mentioned in a review in The Honolulu Advertiser. The text in this preface appeared earlier in a fold-out as part of an extensive multi-page trade ad taken out by Toho in the October 23, 1961 issue of Boxoffice magazine, where it was attributed to then-current Toho president Masashi Shimizu. This preface was likely carried over to the international English-dubbed version, as its text is referenced in a March 1962 column in the South China Morning Post covering recent film releases. The scroll with music is shown before the Toho logo on home video presentations of the film's international trailer.
Brenco Pictures Corporation, the foreign importing firm of producers Stanley Meyer and Edward L. Alperson, ultimately acquired The Last War for distribution in the United States. Meyer, who either rejected or was not supplied with the film's international English dub, saw a new dub recorded for Brenco similarly to the company's releases of The Human Vapor and Gorath. Reports in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety throughout 1962 illustrate a timeline in which Meyer started dubbing a Japanese film in June 1962, bought and started dubbing a second Japanese film that October, and then accompanied Alperson to meet with film executives in Tokyo in November, presumably to strike a deal for a third Japanese film. Though there is seemingly no mention of Meyer dubbing a third Japanese film in trade magazines from that year or the next, the presence of stock footage inserts and music from The Last War in Brenco's cut of Gorath demonstrates that The Last War could not have been acquired after the completion of editing on Gorath.
Although a sample newspaper article in Brenco's pressbook for The Human Vapor states that "audiences will be able to see more of Mr. Tsuburaya's work in the forthcoming ASTRONAUT 1980 and THE LAST WAR," the latter film was evidently delayed, possibly due to the underwhelming box office performance of Gorath as part of a package with The Human Vapor starting in May 1964. By late November 1964, Meyer had signed prolific voice actor Marvin Miller on to the project, originally to dub two leads. Meyer then challenged Miller to dub all 51 male speaking roles (a record at the time). Like Meyer's English dubs of The Human Vapor and Gorath, future music editor and composer Kenneth Wannberg was hired to edit the film. Thirty-one minutes were removed in total (29 minutes not counting the overture/preface).
Brenco's cut restructured the film to be told in flashback by Takano during the Kasagi Maru's doomed return voyage to Tokyo, a narrative technique also employed in Meyer and Wannberg's edit of The Human Vapor and many other previous Americanizations of Toho films. Several subplots were removed, namely the entire character of Watkins and his interactions with the Tamura family, Mokichi at his job at the press center and his investments in the stock market, Prime Minister Masaki's poor health condition, and casual discussion between the staff at the Federal Army Missile Base. Japanese customs that would seem unfamiliar to U.S. audiences, such as Children's Day, were given mild exposition in the narration by Takano. Many scenes that were left silent in Toho's version were scored with repeats of other cues from the soundtrack, most often the main title cue. The Japanese folk song "New Year's Day," sung by the children at Sanae's daycare, was replaced with the Sherman Brothers' song "It's a Small World." An excerpt of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy's September 25, 1961 address to the United Nations General Assembly was used as an analogue for the ending text in Toho's version.
Despite Brenco's preparations taking place years earlier, its version of The Last War is not known to have been seen until November 1968, when it was shown at the Edison Drive-In theater in Bakersfield, California. It headlined a triple feature with The Violent Ones (1967) and Blood Beast from Outer Space (1965), which was shown from November 13-19. No other theatrical screenings have yet been identified. Brenco's distribution rights for The Last War had been transferred to Heritage Enterprises by 1972, when the two companies filed a joint copyright on it and multiple other Brenco releases. Heritage cropped the film to 4:3 and entered it into U.S. television syndication as part of their "Eerie Series" package, with the earliest known TV listings appearing in 1975. Brenco's 60-second TV spot was reused, and their longer theatrical trailer was cropped to 4:3 and repurposed as a TV trailer. Video Gems released Brenco's edited version of the film to VHS and Betamax in 1985, which remain the only official home video releases of the film in the United States to this day. The film elements, along with streaming and home video rights, currently rest with MGM through the Brenco films' inclusion in the Samuel Goldwyn film library.
The Last War earned ¥284.99 million in distributor rentals during its 1961 theatrical run, making it Toho's third-highest-earning film of the year and the tenth-highest-earning Japanese film of the year.
Video Gems VHS/Betamax (1985)
- Region: NTSC
- Tapes: 1
- Audio: English (Mono)
Toho LaserDisc (September 21, 1987)
- Region: NTSC
- Discs: 1 (CLV, 2 sides)
- Audio: Japanese (Mono)
- Special features: black and white insert
Toho VHS (1991)
- Region: NTSC
- Tapes: 1
- Audio: Japanese (Mono)
Toho LaserDisc (1996)
- Region: NTSC
- Discs: 1 (CLV, 2 sides)
- Audio: Japanese (Stereo)
- Special features: Export trailer, 4-page color insert, 2-page color insert
Toho DVD (December 23, 2004)
- Region: 2
- Discs: 1
- Audio: Japanese (Mono, 4.0 Surround)
- Subtitles: Japanese
- Special features: Audio commentary by Shue Matsubayashi, export trailer, gallery of stills and the theatrical pamphlet, 8-page booklet
- Notes: Re-released on July 15, 2015 as part of the Toho DVD Masterpiece Selection.
DeAgostini Japan DVD (April 26, 2011)
- Region: 2
- Discs: 1
- Audio: Japanese
- Subtitles: None
- Special features: Booklet
Though The Last War is not available on Blu-ray, an HD version of the film can be rented or purchased on the Japanese version of Prime Video.
- A portion of a scene involving the Tamura family in the process of being filmed was featured in Cheers, Mr. Awamori!, which was released simultaneously with The Last War as a double feature in Japan.
- Stock footage from The Last War, particularly from the film's climax, was used in many subsequent Toho films, including Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974), The War in Space (1977), The Return of Godzilla (1984), and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), as well as the final episode of the Tsuburaya Productions series Ultraseven in 1968.
This is a list of references for The Last War. These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: 
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