Future War

1982 | Toei | 125 mins
To celebrate one year since the unholy birth of the Anime Bargain Bin we bring you the first annual mega-feature!
The subject of the very first is a legendary and mysterious curiosity from Reagan's Cold War era, Future War 198X.

The Cold War years were an era of extreme international tension, a time when the outbreak of nuclear war was a very real possibility and peace balanced on a knife edge. The end could have come at any moment. Many believed that an all out missile launch was not a case of 'if' but 'when'. It's easy now to say "Yeah, but it never happened" but this was never a foregone conclusion. Over the 44 year period mankind came to the brink multiple times and quite often it wasn't diplomacy that saved the day but chance, fortune and even shear luck.

The exact catalyst of the Cold War is still debated by historians and researchers to this day but distrust grew from a clash of ideals between two former allies in the aftermath of World War II. The USSR believed in Communism while America was strongly opposed. This rivalry grew and grew, and eventually, spilled over into an all out arms race, each side unwilling to back down, to show weakness, no matter the financial cost. Within years both Superpowers had amassed a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the other many hundreds of times over. Each passing week brought new innovations in missile technology and more displays of military superiority intended to intimidate the other side.

on the beach
The earliest movie depiction of life after a nuclear war
On The Beach (1959)
Sekai Daisenso (The Last War)
Japan's first attempt at a WW3 drama 1961's
Sekai Daisenso seen in the West as "The Last War"
With the terrifying reality of armageddon hanging over everyone every moment of the day it is unsurprising that the subject of nuclear war would find its way into the popular media. The earliest movie to explore these events was the American film On the Beach released in 1959 adapted from a novel written two years earlier by Nevil Shute. The story is set after an atomic exchange has devastated the northern hemisphere leaving the last survivors living in southern Australia awaiting the inevitable arrival of the deadly fallout. Over the coming years the number of films dealing with this depressing and all too likely subject grew but a period of calm in the arms race during the 1970's, known as Détente, had peaked the growth. But with the arrival of Ronald Reagan's White House, which refused to adhere to the anti proliferation agreements that had kept tensions low throughout the previous decade the 1980's saw an even greater likelihood of World War III. As global relations sunk to an all time low many feared that nuclear detonation was only a matter of time.
This bleak period prompted the production of numerous features once more exploring this grave subject but now with even greater realism and chilling detail. The way was lead by, the now famous, U.S. TV movie The Day After which aired on ABC on November 20th 1983 based on Government projections of the environmental effects of a Nuclear exchange. While still distressingly real, the reality of life after the attack was intentionally toned down so as not to create more alarm than it already would. It was followed a few weeks later by the theatrical movie Testament. The two features dealt with the subject from similar angles but in different ways. The Day After concentrated on a larger scale with the lives of the inhabitants of a Kansas town days before and after the beginning of war whereas Testament brings the focus much closer showing the effects of a sudden attack through the eyes of a lone mother watching as the families of her San Francisco suburb desperately struggle for survival isolated from what may be left of the outside world.

The following year saw the release of Threads, from the BBC in the UK. Unlike The Day After this was an unflinching, documentary-style account of an attack in the town of Sheffield, the location of a Nato base and a projected likely target in the event of a nuclear exchange. These films gained notoriety quickly, and stand out as some of the most disturbing and depressing movies ever made, there would be many more following in their ranks but few to match their chilling imagery and desperately bleak tone.

Threads (BBC, 1984)
The Day After (ABC, 1983)
Threads BBC drama
the day after abc
However few realise that a little known 80's Japanese movie actually pre-dated these western efforts...

Released in Japanese cinemas on 30th November 1982 from Toei Animation Future War 198X was inspired in part by The Third World War: August 1985 a novel by General John Hackett, an account of the possible world events leading to a fictional nuclear confrontation. It wasn't the first time Japan had tackled the subject of mankind's extermination by Nuclear War. Sekai Daisenso (The Great World War) saw release twenty one years earlier in 1961 showcasing the skills of Toho's miniature Special Effects mastermind Eiji Tsuburaya. Sekai Daisenso, seen in an edited form in the West during the 70's as The Last War, was intentionally vague as to the events that cause the climatic attacks - even to the point of fictionalising the names of the superpowers involved with "The Federation" and "The Alliance" standing in for what is clearly intended to be the U.S./Nato and USSR/Warsaw Pact and their allies.

This wasn't the case with Toei's animated feature. The escalation of tensions is shown in detail, as tense political debates spill over into military action. This caused concern amongst the people of Japan who protested at the making of the film, understandably uneasy about the way the movie would portray global Superpowers.

Inspired by the real-world development of the American SDI missile defence system, Future War 198X opens with the successful maiden test of DARPA's Space Ranger system. Key to the weapons success are its inventor Burt Gains and the key members of the research team, his sister Laura and his assistant and close friend, Japanese national Wataru Mikumo. This monumental occasion doesn't go unnoticed by the USSR and their response puts into motion a chain of events that will change the face of the world forever.

Toei knew that with such a serious subject they needed to use a different approach than many of their previous animated features. To direct they chose two directors who had helmed their most recent theatrical hits. Their somber space epic Space Battleship Yamato had been released not long ago to great acclaim so the decision was made to use the director Toshio Masuda. The second was a fellow Yamato contemporary who had worked as director on the Captain Harlock movie Arcadia of my Youth Tomoharu Katsumata. Masuda also had experience with live-action war movies having directed the Japanese sections of WW2 drama Tora! Tora! Tora!

For the movie's advertising illustrator Noriyoshi Ohrai was drafted in for his experience in the live action war genre as well as that of his Science Fiction work. He is most well known in the West for the movie posters for all of the Godzilla movies and the Japanese advertising for the original Star Wars trilogy.

Behind the scenes, character designer of Hokuto No Ken and Jean ValJean Monogatari Masami Suda created the look while Seiji Yokoyama (who also worked on the ridiculous Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned) took the role of music director, the film's epic score being recorded by the New Japanese Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. Producer Saburou Yokoi sited the U.S. vietnam picture Apocalypse Now as a source of inspiration for the tone of Future War.

Despite the subject matter Future War 198X was not entirely immune to the tie-in merchandise usually associated with theatrical features. The most prominent item is Filcom's 1983 computer game for the obscure Japanese Fujitsu FM-7 PC. It's not too surprisingly it was a turn based war strategy simulator with otherwise little in common with its big screen inspiration. Other spin-offs included a book "Mechanic Special" which contained all the mechanical designs for the movie's real-world war machines, a 7" single featuring the title track and one additional, both sung by Kazuko Kawashima. This was followed by a 12 track soundtrack LP with exclusive sleeve artwork by Noriyoshi Ohrai and a 1982 calendar featuring yet more Ohrai illustrations. The LaserDisc and video release came 1983 from Toei Video.

Future War 198x Nen
One of Noriyoshi Ohrai's striking posters for the movie's release.
An 'artists impression' of the extremely rare Australian Wizard Video release.
Wizard Video Future War
  Das Ende Alles Tage
West Germany's Null Zeit...
..and the East German
"The End of All Days"

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Future War's English language version. Wizard Video, a label well known for their large catalog of international horror movies, released the movie under the shorter title Future War at some point in the early-mid eighties. The video was, however, only available in Australia.

Rather than the full length dub that you might expect, Wizard took the unusual step of marketing it with only an occasional descriptive narration track, supposedly by lead character Wataru (his Japanese origins completely hidden behind his new identity of Robert Manning). To cover the silence left by this substitution there is a constant musical accompaniment of the original score mixed with new elements by Tangerine Dream and for the later climactic scenes tracks from the rock bands Rush and Asia.

This new voice-over paid little attention to the dialog of the original, completely altering the content of many conversions as well as changing the relationship of the main characters, making Laura Burt's girlfriend not sister to provide an added conflict to Robert's feelings for her.

The use of narration led to nearly all of the scenes being edited down, since it takes less time to paraphrase the onscreen action than it does to watch it in real time. This curtailing, plus removal of all sections concerning Japan's involvement as well as some of the bloodier scenes, brought the running time down from 125 mins to 90 mins.

Just who Wizard were aiming this video release at is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. With the narration only audio and adult themes it seems unlikely to have been the childrens market. The pop music score increases its appeal with teenagers but they are less likely to want to rent a cartoon, even if it is about war and armageddon. It seems the only likely crowd to show any interest in Future War, a narrated foreign cartoon about WW3 are the intellectual art-house crowd, not the largest video renting demographic!

No effort has been made to remove any of the on-screen Japanese captions or to hide the original language closing credits which still run their full course, to the strains of Only Time Will Tell by Asia. There are no credits for the Western production staff, no mention of the actor lending his voice to Robert Manning, nor even a credit for the various artists whose music appears.

All of this added up to make Future War one of the least marketable video rentals of its time and helped make it the curious obscurity it is today.

Elsewhere in the world Future War received video releases in Germany, which was still divided by the Berlin Wall. To the East it was known as Das Ende Alles Tage (The End of all Days) from Dynamic Film and Video and Western VCR owners rented it under Vegas Video's title of Null Zeit (Zero Hour). It also gained distribution in Italy. All of these version were the same edit as the Australian Wizard video but with narration in the relevant language and the pop music score replaced by classical music.

Got all that?
Good, now it's time for the feature itself... click on!    THE REVIEW >>>