Monday, July 7, 2008

Review: Message From Space (1978)

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Jillucia, a world of peace-loving people, have their planet taken hostage by the evil Gavanas whose leader vaguely looks and dresses like a low rent Optimus Prime. The leader of the Jillucia sends out eight liabe seeds (the titular "messages from space") to the universe to search for the chosen ones who will save their planet, and the whole universe. These saviours end up being a few daredevils (one of which is Hiroyuki Sanada), a grumpy but sensible ex-general (veteran Vic Morrow who looks visibly aware that he's the only one turning in a decent performance) and his robot, and a deposed Gavanas prince (Sonny Chiba). And, yes, since Sonny and Hiroyuki are in the movie, Etsuko Shihomi was also along for the ride, playing the Princess Leia-like Esmeralida of the Jillucians, and looking pretty good in her white satin robe getup. And, YES, Tetsuro Tamba is along for the ride to nibble a little of the scenery as well.

Message From Space
shares other things with Star Wars than Leia-looksortofalikes: there's the requisite cantina scene, Morrow turns in a surly Han Solo-like performance, even the one lone (and extremely perky) female daredevil is named "Meia", even the soundtrack vaguely feels like something that was fished out of John Williams' garbage. Since Message was released a year after Star Wars, it's pretty obvious that Toei was trying to cash in by throwing in some bits from the Lucas epic, then-stars Chiba, Sanada, and Shihomi, and a veteran gaijin actor who needed a paycheck in Morrow. To a degree, and probably more to the credit of Fukasaku, the combination works.
Of all the Japanese films I've seen, if there was ever a film that exemplified the bloat and excess of that country's 1980's bubble era, it is the live-action version of 1988's Tokyo - The Last Megalopolis with its all star cast (Shintaro Katsu, Kyusaku Shimada, Jo Shishido, Tetsuro Tamba), going-everywhere-except-toward-a-conclusion storyline, and its single decent special effect designed by H.R. Giger, the film feels like a "because we want to and because we can" type of affair. Though Fukasaku's Message From Space pre-dated this era of great wealth and waste, it does share some of the bloat. The quality of studio sets and effects range from high school cardboard standups to subpar '70s Battlestar Galactica laser effects. Hell, even the laser guns in the movie look like exotic garden hose attachments than scientifically designed firearms capable of containing and conducting a laser to its destination. Still, though, to Fukasaku's credit, it really looks like he was trying to stretch the budget (the amount of which is unknown to me) instead of cut corners. The film is also well-paced and has enough dogfights and goofball action for every fan of good, cheap sci-fi.

The copy that I watched was the English dubbed version but here's the original Japanese trailer:

1 comment:

Adam said...

I can't believe I've never seen this. What have I been doing with my life?