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Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Unusual insect-themed horror sci-fi thriller from Japan
GENOCIDE (1968) is a Japanese sci-fi movie with an apocalyptic theme and a mix of intriguing elements that culminate in a rather bleak denouement. I don't want to give away any of the twists, so suffice it to say that a series of separate experiments involving poisonous insects by a pair of disparate characters fuses with a plot about an American H-bomb that's been accidentally dropped—intact—on a remote Japanese island and is the subject of a frenetic search by American officers and shady local characters with ulterior motives of their own. What I found most significant about this film is the presence of so many non-Japanese characters, including an arrogant American Colonel (played by Ralph Jesser), a black American airman named Charly (Chico Roland), and Annabelle (Kathy Horan), a blonde from Eastern Europe with deep emotional scars from WWII. The majority of scenes feature interaction with non-Japanese characters and the tensions between the Japanese and the Americans are quite palpable, much more so than in most Japanese films I've seen set in the postwar era. In the Japanese-language/English-subtitled edition which I watched for this review (released by Criterion), all the characters speak Japanese to each other and all are post-dubbed by Japanese voice actors. Even inside the plane, the Americans speak only Japanese to each other. This is not always the case with Japanese movies featuring non-Japanese characters. For instance, I've seen Chico Roland in other movies, including Koreyoshi Kurahara's BLACK SUN (1964), and he speaks only English in that one. And in numerous kaiju (giant monster) movies, there are scenes with American crew members or scientists and they often speak English to each other (albeit sometimes dubbed by Japanese voice actors speaking heavily accented English).
The plot of GENOCIDE is rather complicated but is deftly told in a compact 84 minutes, with all the different tangents coming together for quite a suspenseful finale. The Americans are not only eager to find the missing H-bomb, but are also intent on finding out who—or what-- killed two of the American crew members. The local police on the island take custody of an insect collector named Joji (Yusuke Kawazu) who is in possession of a watch that belonged to one of the crewmen. Joji is married to a local girl, Yukari (Emi Shindo), but is having an affair with Annabelle. Joji's employer, a biologist named Dr. Nagumo (Keisuke Sonoi), comes to the island to try to aid Joji's efforts to prove his innocence and help with the case any way he can. He becomes the nominal hero of the piece. Annabelle experiments with insects and may have something to do with the strange, unpredictable behavior of insects in the area, including a cloud of them that enveloped the American bomber plane and brought it down. Things heat up with various characters in the course of the narrative and Charly, the black airman wounded in the crash of the plane carrying the bomb, becomes the cruelly-treated pawn of the various factions in conflict on the island. Eventually, we learn that the insects have an agenda of their own.
There are some special effects sequences, chiefly involving obvious miniatures representing the planes seen in the film and the insect "clouds" that attack them. There are some miniature sets of structures on the island, although most outdoors scenes were shot on location on an actual island, with indoor scenes done in studio sets. The insect action seems to be done mostly with live insects, which must have been quite a chore for the crew to handle, although the scenes are quite effective. One extremely harrowing sequence involves the young couple, Joji and Yukari, trapped in a hut under attack by the insects. There are frequent closeups of insects at work, including quite a few gruesome shots of insects biting flesh or leaving eggs inside the skin or organs of human victims. I don't know how much special effects work was involved in these shots, but they're all quite convincing. Viewers who get freaked out by these kinds of images should avoid this film.
There are distinct anti-nuclear and anti-war sentiments expressed throughout the film and a disgust with the way U.S.-Soviet confrontations impact negatively on everyone else. Memories of World War II are frequently invoked. Some of the characters seem to have been designed purely to voice certain sentiments heard in the film. The fast pace of the narrative keeps us from dwelling on that problem too much. The ending may not be a conclusive one, although I think that might have been the point. This isn't a fun film like something you'd see in the Godzilla and Gamera series of the time or, say, THE GREEN SLIME, which came out a month later and offers its own distinct pleasures, but it is compelling and much harder-edged than the average Japanese sci-fi film of the 1960s. Some may find it disturbing, but I'd definitely recommend it as a unique and unusual viewing experience for fans of Japanese genre films.
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