Thursday, 21 July 2016

Message from Space (1978)

Message from Space is a decidedly odd 1978 Japanese science fiction movie from Toei Studio. As you might expect given its release date it is basically a Star Wars rip-off, but played to a large extent for comedy. Unfortunately the comedic elements are less than entirely successful.

The planet Jillucia has been invaded by the evil empire of Gavanas. The Jillucians are facing utter defeat. Only one thing can save them. Their gods have given them eight liabe seeds to cast into space. The liabe seeds will by some occult means seek out eight heroes who will save Jillucia. Princess Emeralida (Etsuko Shihomi), the granddaughter of the Jillucian leader, sets off in a spaceship to bring these heroes back. She is accompanied by a loyal warrior, Urocco (Makoto Sato).

Three of the seeds end up with three disreputable human rough riders (kind of like space  hot rodders with some juvenile delinquent tendencies). They are not very promising hero material. Meia (Peggy Lee Brennan) is a spoilt rich girl who hangs around with the rough riders and seems at first to serve no real plot purpose.

A much more promising hero prospect is maverick retired soldier General Garuda (Vic Morrow). He’s cynical but at least he’s brave and competent. Garuda quite the military after getting into trouble for staging nan expensive space funeral for an old comrade - the problem being that the old comrade was a robot.

Another hero will join them later - a renegade Gavanas prince (played by Sonny Chiba).

Initially our motley band of would-be heroes have no clear idea of how to go about fighting the mighty Gavanas Empire. Since they were chosen by a god they assume the god will let them know what they should do.

The first half hour concentrates on comedy and is heavy going. Once the action gets under way however things pick up considerably and the movie gets better and better. The action is relentless and it’s generally stylish and imaginative.

The special effects are extremely variable. Some are very good; some are very hokey (although if anything that adds to the fun of what is in truth an essentially very silly movie).

A Star Wars rip-off has to have at least one cute robot. In this case the robot is Beba 2 who seems to be the only real friend General Garuda has. As cute robots go Beba 2 is fairly amusing without being irritating.

A Star Wars rip-off also has to have a princess and Princess Emeralida fits the bill well enough.

The acting standout is definitely Vic Morrow. He plays things fairly straight and he makes a fine grizzled but determined action hero. He actually tries to do some real acting and acquits himself quite well.

More than anything else what makes this film worth seeing is the visual style. It’s bizarre but fun, and totally excessive in a very Japanese way. Princess Emeralida’s spaceship is a sailing ship with a rocket motor. The costumes, especially for the bad guys, are deliriously over-the-top.

Shout Factory’s DVD release is fairly light on extras but the anamorphic transfer is good.

Message from Space might be a Star Wars rip-off but it has lots of Japanese weirdness and it’s fast-paced fun. If you want a good Star Wars rip-off watch Starcrash. If you want an enjoyably bizarre Star Wars rip-off then Message from Space may be just what you’re after. Recommended.

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