Shuto shôshitsu [Tokyo Blackout] (1987)

This is one of the rarest of Toho’s Tokusatsu films.

But what the heck, I managed to see it anyway.

Mind you, while I didn’t exactly see it in the worst way possible — after all, the quality of the film itself was quite good — I came fairly close.  I couldn’t find any subtitles for the film, and my auto-translated auto-subs just weren’t up to the job and churned out a lot of nonsense.

But what the heck, I enjoyed it anyway.

Now Toho had made quite a few disaster movies by 1987, starting with 1961’s The Last War.  However, none of them were really that much like the American disaster film model, and they included such over-the-top oddities as Japan Sinks/Tidal Wave (1973), Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974), Blue Christmas (1978)Virus (1980), and even the surprisingly normal Deathquake (1980).

So I suppose it really isn’t that much of a surprise that Toho would return to the disaster film again in that lull between the revival of Godzilla in 1984 and his return in Godzilla vs. Biollante in 1989.  Nor is it much of a surprise that once again they came up with something decidedly odd.

A mysterious electromagnetic storm covers Tokyo, a storm so intense that not only does it cut off all radio, telephone and television communication, but every attempt to penetrate the barrier releases vast amounts of electrical power strong enough to destroy any vehicle.

But the worst part is that no one has any idea whether anyone is still alive inside the cloud.

Now, as far as I can make out, at least, we never get much of an explanation of what the cloud is or where it came from.  Not that I can entirely rule it out.  As it was based on a novel by the same author who wrote Japan Sinks, Sakyo Komatsu, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if there is some mostly scientific explanation behind it all.

But then again, maybe there isn’t.

Another quirky detail here is that we are never shown what is happening inside the storm, nor do we ever get a view of what it is like to be trapped there, other than a brief drone image in a surprisingly effective scene towards the end of the film.

Or consider one of the strangest effects of this storm: with the entire Japanese government trapped inside, the regional governments and any officials still outside the bubble have to find some way to govern the country — and save the city as well, if they can.  Mind you, as this is a Toho Tokusatsu film, we know that the American military may be a problem.

Or a big help.

The weirdest results of my attempts to autosub this film is that, while they didn’t do to well on the bits with the characters talking about their personal lives, they usually came through during the scenes in which they discussed the storm and their attempts to probe it or rescue those inside.

All suspiciously convenient, if you ask me.

But it does mean that I got a fairly good picture of what’s going on, helped along by the fact that large parts of it are in English.  Nor does it hurt that there are quite a few standout sequences involving their attempts to penetrate the barrier.

There’s even a variation on that old Toho classic, the hastily developed secret weapon, although this time they aren’t the usual model trucks carrying a big, oddly jointed maser we’ve seen in so many Godzilla films, but real full-sized trucks, which end up surrounded in snarls of electrical discharges (thanks to Toho’s effects department, of course)

For one reason or another, Toho never decided to release Tokyo Blackout in the U.S., and it has gained a reputation as a poor film and one of their lesser efforts.  That may be because it didn’t do well in its Japanese release, although I suspect that may have a lot to do with the fact that it hasn’t been seen much here.

As a result it came as a surprise that it wasn’t the film I’d dreaded finding.  Tokyo Blackout is not cheap or talky and the effects were up to the Heisei standards — and far better than those in their earlier disaster films.  There are several major setpieces, most of which rely on large scale practical effects and pyrotechnics — and, of course, lots of animated electricity.

I’ll admit that my opinion of this one may eventually change (particularly if I can ever get a good set of subs), but it’s definitely recommended for those of you out there who love Toho’s fantasy and science fiction films — particularly their odd collection of disaster epics — and well worth the effort it takes to hunt it down.

And for now, I have it up on Youtube as an unlisted video, so by all means take a look at it while you can…

(Former Member of Mark’s Wish List:)



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The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



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