It would be a reductive understatement to point out that the people of Japan were emotionally & spiritually fucked up by the events of World War II—particularly the US’s deployment of the atom bomb—but that was still my foremost thought while watching the 1968 eco horror Genocide (aka War of the Insects). Nature striking back against humanity’s nuclear ills had already been a cinematic fixation dating over a decade prior to films like Godzilla & Them!, but there was something exceptionally troubled about the tones & emotions of Genocide that taps into an even deeper well of ugly post-War fallout than even those superior works. Opening with images of a mushroom cloud and mixing discussions of Hiroshima, Auschwitz, and military men’s PTSD with real-life war footage throughout, Genocide feels more like a cold-sweat nightmare about nuclear fallout than it does a proper feature film. There’s nothing unique to it in a thematic sense (as it often plays like a Mothra film with increased sex & violence), but there is a soul-deep discomfort to it psychologically that breaks through that familiarity.
A military airplane transporting an H-Bomb is downed on a Japanese island when attacked from the outside by a swarm of insects and from the inside by a solder suffering PTSD flashbacks. Western military men & Eastern Block spies race each other to recover the bomb first while two simultaneous mysteries develop around its disappearance: a murder trial involving a local man’s affair with a white tourist & the scientific explanation for the actual murderers responsible – poisonous bugs. It appears that all the insects of the world have joined forces to end humanity as retribution for inventing the atomic bomb. Their mission is accelerated by a mad-scientist Holocaust survivor who is blinded by her hatred of mankind due the torture she & her family suffered. None of these storylines cohere into a satisfactory, purposeful statement on the evils of War, but they do reflect a general psychological hurt across Japanese culture in their own jumbled, disoriented way. Genocide is a panicked nightmare of an eco horror where the killer bugs themselves are almost an afterthought in the face of humanity’s own colossal fuckups.
I don’t know that this picture is fully satisfying as a horror film. It does its best to unnerve the audience with the small-scale scares it can muster on what had to be a limited budget: model airplanes catching fire, Phase IV-style closeups of insect pincers pulling at flesh, nasty makeup work on victims’ festering wounds, a solitary psychedelic sequence of someone tripping on bug venom, etc. The real menace here is more deeply rooted in the psychological fallout of the War than the threat posed by the bugs, however. The way the insects organize, swarm, and gnaw flesh is never quite as eerie as the moment when they sing the word “genocide, genocide, genocide,” to torment their human foes. Genocide saturates the air in post-War Japan, as it’s presented here, to the point where Nature whispers it back to us in a creepy sing-song nursery rhyme. No matter where else the film may stumble in establishing a horrific mood (most notably in its limited scale and its occasionally shortsighted race & gender politics), that direct vocalization of a nation’s subliminal hurt is genuinely, impressively chilling.