A Brief American History of The Final War 「第三次世界大戦 四十一時間の恐怖」
The above publicity still was shamelessly swiped from Greg Shoemaker, who posted it (along with a few other stills) here. While the text may suggest otherwise, the image itself is sourced from Toei’s straight sci-fi effort Invasion of the Neptune Men.
In a perfect world The Final War‘s modest spread in LIFE Magazine (one paragraph of light coverage and two production stills) might have served to elevate the production in international markets, but sadly this was not the case. The page certainly isn’t well-calculated as advertising. The story notes the film only by the incomplete title 41 Hours of Terror, and fails to mention production company Toei at all. While markedly different in both its approach and its tone, the Toei film does have something big common with its lavish Toho successor The Last War beyond the shared focus on nuclear destruction – each received a rather paltry distribution on these shores. The Last War eventually turned up on video at least, both in its domestic dub through Video Gems and in its unaltered Japanese form courtesy of Toho in Japan. The Final War, on the other hand, has never seen an official home media release anywhere.
Still, that The Final War was once in active distribution here is inarguable. While theatrical distribution, if any (I could find no evidence of it in the few archives available to me), was exceedingly limited, the film did manage a significant if short-lived run in television syndication.
The above (emphasis mine), sourced from the television listings of the Los Angeles Times circa November of 1965, is the earliest record I was able to locate of The Final War‘s domestic career. A similar listing, culled from an edition of the Chicago Tribune from September of the following year, reveals that syndication of the feature was likely quite widespread, and certainly more so than many a modern tokusatsu fan (including myself) might have suspected. It may not have been so ubiquitous as items like Prince of Space or AIP’s Japanese imports, but it was definitely out there. While the majority of the listings I was able to locate merely outlined the basic plot, the TV editor for the Chicago Tribune circa September 1972 proved significantly snippier, penning the following: “Japanese sci-fi yarn trying to show the war to end all wars. Bombs out.” The late Anna Nangle, working for the same paper, had been far kinder in her appraisal a few years earlier – in May of 1966 she wrote, “This Japanese film is about a war that actually could end all wars,” and awarded the film a rating of 7/10.
The Final War‘s last gasp on American television appears to have arrived with the middle-’70s, coinciding neatly with the cessation of new production by its distributor Sam Lake Enterprises, itself a somewhat closeted entity – the only newspaper evidence I could find of them was a leasing notice for the address listed in the still at the head of this article. Credited as “Sam Lake Associates, Inc” in the still, Sam Lake Enterprises was concerned primarily with the distribution of adults-only films and was active from the late fifties through the early ’70s. The last airing I could dig up for The Final War was a nondescript notice of a 3:00 pm showing in the Los Angeles Times, dated April 27th 1974. No synopsis is offered, and the show was given a minor two-star recommendation.
While it’s relatively easy with a bit of due diligence to roughly determine the beginning and end of The Final War‘s domestic life, finding details of just what its American version was like is another story all together. The film was obviously dubbed, and given the 90 minute slot noted in the television listings the total feature running time should be comparable to that of the Japanese version – a brisk 76 minutes.
One detail that is known, courtesy of both the accounts of those who saw The Final War during its brief run on television and the publicity still provided above, is that the cut of the film produced by Sam Lake Enterprises looks to have been spruced up a bit with additional effects sequences from Toei’s 1961 sci-fi effort The Space Greyhound (「宇宙快速船」) – more commonly known under its domestic release title Invasion of the Neptune Men. The impressive scenes of city destruction from that film were long (and erroneously) attributed to the more obscure The Final War, which is actually quite light on effects (two Tokyo landmarks and one each from San Francisco and Moscow are destroyed). The truth of the matter is rather stranger, evidencing a bizarre case of two-way cinematic cannibalism.
Invasion of the Neptune Men does cull a few fleeting shots from The Final War‘s excellent but limited effects portfolio (the destruction of Tokyo Tower, for instance), but when The Final War was picked up for American distribution it found an odd way of returning the favor. While how much is uncertain, at least some of Invasion of the Neptune Men‘s saucer-attack finale looks to have been repurposed for The Final War, and its all-too-obvious extraterrestrial trappings accounted for with a clever (or not…) dub cover-up. The saucers were no longer alien in origin, but a new Soviet super-weapon! Astute viewers might easily have outed the conspiracy – Invasion of the Neptune Men, by way of Walter Manley Enterprises, was already making rounds on television by the time the dubbed The Final War appeared on the scene in late 1965.