On Bateito island in the Pacific, visiting scientist Dr. Yamadano (voiced by Junpei Takiguchi) discovers nuclear bomb tests have spawned a new race of psychic super-beings called Fumoon. Back in Japan, ace detective Shunsaku Ban (Kosei Tomita) and his nephew Kenichi (Hiroshi Suzuki) marvel at a captive specimen: the flower fairy-like Rococo (Mari Okamoto). But in a spectacular display of psychic pyrotechnics, the creature escapes aboard a UFO with the startled Ban in tow. Aided by his cute kid sister Peach (Minori Matsushima), Kenichi investigates the mysterious disappearance of animals from the local zoo which he believes is somehow connected with his uncle’s abduction.
The trail leads to a United Nations conference where they befriend gutsy journalist Rock (Kaneto Shiozawa) and his girlfriend Cocoa (Kumiko Takizawa) whose father (Ichiro Nagai), the hot-tempered ambassador of a global superpower called Star, is far too busy waging a cold war feud against Lednof (Chikao Otsuka), premier of rival nation the Union, to probe the mystery. Scheming industrialist Gamata (Kenji Utsumi) takes an interest however and trails our heroes to Bateito where they uncover the vast underground lair of the Fumoon. Here, Rococo informs the captive humans that a giant cloud of poison gas is approaching from outer space and will wipe out all life on Earth. Having gathered animals aboard an armada of space arks, Rococo and her Fumoon sisters intend to begin life anew on some distant planet. Er, but what of the human race? Well, given mankind seems hell-bent on global destruction, the Fumoon figure they might as well leave them to it. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Kenichi and company.
There is a long tradition in science fiction of benign but slightly smug aliens lecturing mankind about how their foolish ways have wrecked the planet. Although technically closer to advanced superhumans akin to the X-Men rather than alien beings, Osamu Tezuka’s elfin creations fall firmly in the tradition established by the likes of the saintly Klaatu from landmark science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) or the benevolent starfish-shaped space visitors in the underrated Japanese live action gem Warning from Space (1956). Adapting his 1951 manga “The Next World”, which he wrote in reaction to the Korean War and nuclear testing in the Pacific, Tezuka updated his themes in the wake of then newly-escalated Cold War. Hence the story’s emphasis on the apocalypse-courting antics of Star and the Union, thinly veiled stand-ins for the USA and then Soviet Russia. Fumoon brings together Tezuka’s fondness for mystery thrillers, high concept science fiction and classic adventure yarns adding an intriguing political element. His light touch prevents the film coming across as overly preachy though it is pretty blunt in laying the blame on belligerent politicians and self-serving corporate entities for having brought the world to the edge of ruin.
Luckily the inherent decency of Kenichi, Ban, Peach and the rest proves enough to sway Rococo’s mind towards concocting a desperate plan to evade the gas cloud. It builds to a third act that conveys a potent sense of apocalyptic doom recalling vintage George Pal as global super-powers continue waging a pointless war even as the world is about to end with innocents caught in the crossfire before rioters stupidly destroy their last chance for salvation. As usual Tezuka crams everything he can into ninety minutes going all out in a bid to entertain as much as enlighten: cool Ken Adam-style sets and gadgetry, knockabout slapstick, awe-inspiring super-science, Buddhist philosophy, big action set-pieces and moral debates. It results in an uneven yet endearingly idiosyncratic mix far more ambitious than your average bland contemporary Dreamworks effort.