Message From Space Kinji Fukasaku

Message From Space Kinji Fukasaku
3
Released in 1978, Message From Space was an obvious attempt by Japan's movie industry to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon with a homegrown space opera. Kinji Fukasaku (the workaholic director who would go on to give us Battle Royale) was hired to make what was, at the time, the most expensive movie in Japanese film history. With just over half the budget of George Lucas's pop culture behemoth, and far less than half of the geek father's technical ingenuity, Fukasaku's finished product is a uniquely Japanese piece of barely competent strangeness that more closely resembles the unintentional comedy of The Masters of the Universe than the carefully tuned broad hero archetypes of one of the most lucrative franchises in storytelling history. The lore behind Message From Space unabashedly plucks story and character types from sci-fi's bag of clichés to create a universe that really isn't any more ridiculous than one where Mark Hamill is the most powerful man in the galaxy and sentient teddy bears battle men in white plastic suits; it's just less detailed and less committed to the delusion. As is common of Japanese films, even in commercial oddities like this one, there's a great deal more subtext at play than the straightforward good versus evil of its American counterpart. Basically an environmental and colonial admonitory, space invaders conquer a dying planet — the tribal resisters don't stand a chance against their superior technology. Here's where things take a turn for the weird. The chief of the surviving indigenous people tosses some glowing nuts into space and charges his granddaughter with tracking them down, because they will lead her to the "eight brave heroes" who will save their planet. She and a volunteer guardian take off in a spacecraft that resembles a pirate ship, only to be attacked and left for dead by an antagonist who's basically a Shogun Darth Vader. A couple of American space drag racers wind up discovering the alien vessel in the asteroid belt near Mars shortly after finding a weird nut inside of a tomato. If you guessed that this is the part where all of the champions of the nut are assembled, you guessed correctly. Vic Morrow shows up as an alcoholic ex-military general who finds his nut at the bottom of a mug of beer. He has a robot companion that's kind of like amalgamation of R2D2 and C3PO — usually stoic and resourceful, but occasionally flamboyant and paranoid. The Star Wars cribbing continues: a brash, cocky young woman who's a heck of a pilot is essentially Han Solo with a vagina. It's takes a lot of time and a bunch of bizarre tangents for all of the clumsily woven threads to come to together— longer than it needs to — but the sum of all these radical, half-working parts is quite entertaining. Yes, the sets are so cheap that many scenes look like a filmed stage play, the special effects are amateurish at best and the story's interior logic is on a permanent vacation, but the ideas are so out there — at one point, a witch tries to breed the tribal princess with a lizard man from Pluto — and the politics are coherent enough (cynical youths don't feel responsible for a conflict that doesn't personally affect them) that it's hard not to appreciate the thought that went into this garish mess. Unfortunately the special features for this release are slim — nothing more than cast bios, a photo gallery and a couple of trailers — so none of the creators are on hand to comment on the gleeful "fuck the system" conclusion of this strange little piece of science fiction history. (Shout! Factory)