Ozu. Mizoguchi. Takashi Miike. Takeshi Kitano. Kurosawa. Hou Hsiao-hsien. These are some of the great names in cinema, and all of them had films distributed by the Japanese studio Shochiku. It is no surprise that Criterion released a four-film set called "When Horror Came to Shochiku." What is surprising is that Shochiku actually made four horror films. The Criterion site tells us:
In 1967 and 1968, the company created four certifiably batty, low-budget fantasies, tales haunted by watery ghosts, plagued by angry insects, and stalked by aliens—including one in the form of a giant chicken-lizard. Shochiku’s outrageous and oozy horror period shows a studio leaping into the unknown, even if only for one brief, bloody moment.
I watched Genocide from this set, "Genocide" being the title used by Criterion. That sounds like an art film. The original title translates to War of the Insects, and that sounds like a Creature Feature, which is why it ended up here. I seriously doubt that any Creature Feature show in the 60s would show a film called "Genocide", but "War of the Insects" fits right in.
I give director Kazui Nihonmatsu credit for his kitchen sink approach to his subject matter. The movie features hydrogen bombs (the kind that commonly turned up in Japanese horror of the time), Communists, American military officers presented in the worst possible light, an evil scientist who survived the Nazi concentration camps, a black American soldier who, when he goes crazy, visualizes stock footage of fighting in Vietnam, a hero who is cheating on his pregnant wife, and, of course, killer insects. Nihonmatsu stuffs all of this into 84 minutes (only 5 minutes longer than Booty Call), and "stuffs" is the right word, because there isn't time to delve into any of this in depth. There are general themes that run throughout the picture: Americans are powerful but concerned only for themselves, nuclear bombs are bad, and you probably shouldn't cheat on your wife.
The movie begins and ends with footage of a nuclear weapon exploding. At the start of the film, we are told, "The moment mankind harnessed the power of the atom, he immediately began to fear it." At the end, the Americans have set off another bomb, for the simple reason that they don't want it to fall into the wrong ("Communist") hands. Meanwhile, the evil scientist wants to wipe out humanity with her killer insects because in the camps, she saw what people could do to others.
And let's not forget the psychedelic scene where a man under the spell of the insects says they are singing to him, "The Earth doesn't belong to human beings alone. We don't care if mankind destroys itself with nuclear weapons, but we refuse to let you take us with you. Destroy the human race! Genocide! Exterminate all humans!"
All in 84 minutes.
It's a bit much. The special effects mostly suck, the plot is mostly nonsensical, yet it grabs your attention for those 84 minutes. It's the kind of movie that seems worse when you look back on it, but it was OK as I watched it. 6/10.