The Last War (1961)
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 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 ultimately 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, 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 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
- Produced by Sanezumi Fujimoto, Tomoyuki Tanaka
- Music by Ikuma Dan
- Cinematography by Rokuro Nishigaki
- Edited by Koichi Iwashita
- Production design by Takeo Kita, Teruaki Abe
- Assistant directing by Yasuyoshi Tajitsu
- Special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, Sadamasa Arikawa, Takao Miyuki, Yoshiyuki Tokumasa, Akira Watanabe, Kuichiro Kishida, Hiroshi Mukoyama, Kan Narita
- Recording by Fumio Yanoguchi
- Mixing by Hisashi Shimonaga
- Production Manager Boku Morimoto
Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.
Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.
Weapons, vehicles, and races
- 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 suggested 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 combat the issue of mice eating the wafers, several of the miniatures were hung and filmed upside down, which made them look like they were being blasted high into the air in the finished film .
- Main article: The Last War/Gallery.
- Main article: The Last War (Soundtrack).
- World War III: The Day of Tokyo's End (第三次世界大戦 東京最後の日 Daisanjisekaitaisen Tōkyō Saigo no Hi, early Japanese title)
- The Last War (La Guerra Final; Mexico)
- The Last War (L'ultima guerra, Italy)
- Death-Rays from Outer Space (Todesstrahlen aus dem Weltall; Germany)
- The Last War of the Apocalypse (La Dernière Guerre de l'Apocalypse; France)
The Last War was acquired for distribution in the United States in 1964 by Brenco Pictures, who was also responsible for the localizations of The Human Vapor and Gorath. Brenco dubbed the film into English and edited it down to a runtime of 79 minutes, an entire 31 minutes shorter than the Japanese version. Brenco had planned to release the film to theaters as late as 1967, even preparing trailers for it, but the company shut down before it could do so. Brenco's distribution rights and assets were later acquired by Heritage Enterprises, who entered the film into U.S. television syndication. Video Gems released Brenco's edited version of the film to VHS in 1985, which remains the only official release of the film in the United States to this day.
The film was restructured to be told in flashback by Takano, during the Kasagi Maru's doomed return voyage to Tokyo, a narrative technique also used for Brenco's version of The Human Vapor and many other previous Americanizations. A limited voice cast was used, with actor Marvin Miller providing the voice of Takano, and most, if not all of the male characters both on and off-screen. 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 appear 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 song that the children at Sanae's daycare sing, the Japanese folk song "New Year's Day," was replaced with the Sherman Brothers' "It's a Small World." An excerpt of a speech by former U.S. president John F. Kennedy was used as an analogue for the ending text in Toho's version.
Video Gems VHS (1985)
- Tapes: 1
- Audio: English
Toho VHS (1991)
- Tapes: 1
- Audio: Japanese
Toho DVD (2004/2015)
- Region: 2
- Discs: 1
- Audio: Japanese
- Subtitles: Japanese
- Special features: Audio commentary by Shue Matsubayashi, "overseas" trailer, gallery of stills and the theatrical pamphlet
- Notes: The 2015 re-release includes an 8-page booklet; it is unclear if the 2004 release does as well.
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 as The Last War's co-feature.
- Stock footage from The Last War, particularly from the film's climax, was used in many subsequent films, including Godzilla vs. Gigan, Prophecies of Nostradamus, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, and even the final episode of the show Ultraseven.
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