Tagline: Where Fantasies are Real & Reality is Fantastic.
Year: 1978 Runtime: 105 min
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Writer: Kinji Fukasaku (story), Shôtarô Ishinomori (story), Masahiro Noda (story), Hirô Matsuda (writer)
Starring: Shin’ichi Chiba, Vic Morrow, Philip Casnoff
I swear I intended to steer clear of sci fi for a few reviews, but this is Japanese Star Warsploitation. I couldn’t help myself. The movie is 90% Rent-a-Center versions of Star Wars characters, vehicles and music, but that’s what makes it so ALMOST actionable on copyright infringement grounds. And totally AWE-some!
The movie opens on Jillucia (pronounced Jill-OO-see-ah), a once beautiful and verdant planet. It’s peaceful inhabitants, the Jillucians (pronounced Jill-OO-see-ahns) were slaughtered by the evil Gavanas. The battle is described by a narrator, “The Jillucians were no match for the steel-skinned Gavanas.” Which is mostly misleading. Actually, the Jillucians were no match for the Gavanas’s laser burlets. Jillucians are pretty much the Tiananmen Square tank guys of space. Except the Jillucians are Tree Huggin’ Space Hippies™. And the tanks stopped for the Unknown Protester. And we still remember and care about the Unknown Protester.
With the Jillucians almost extinct, Wise Grandmaster Grandfather the Green lets loose eight Magic Space Walnuts™. They have a special tracking power which homes in on the Eight Heroes who will save Jillucia from the evil Gavanas. Once loosed, he realizes that it would behoove them to have someone go along to explain what in the hell the Magic Space Walnuts™ mean. Wise Grandmaster Grandfather the Green chooses his granddaughter for the job. She and one brave volunteer jump in the Space Schooner and leisurely float off whichever way. They’re nowhere near fast enough to follow the Magic Space Walnuts™, so why strain, right?
Then there are some lovely scenes of the Gavanas, a race of war hungry Rent-a-Center Power Ranger Villains, being menacing. Glower. Ominous. Black. Oooooo. They’re angry because of their Emperor, Rockseia XLL (pronounced Rock-SAY-ah-X-L-L). Rockseia XLL is angry because of his confusing biology—his mom is a dude. Kind of like Eric Cartmen. Except Emperor Rockseia’s mom is a Native American Power Ranger Villain. And Liane Cartman is a crack whore. And, most importantly, we still watch and like Eric Cartmen.
Then some smashing scenes establishing the characters of the Eight Heroes. Rent-a-Center Princess Leia tapping on the window of her space ship to get the attention of passing Space Hot Shots. Space Hot Shots buzzing through an asteroid field running from the Space Police. A Space Vegas Show. Space General Garuda’s touching funeral for his personal robot, i.e. sending a junked robot into space in a Vikingesque funeral aboard an expensive rocket. Swimming through asteroid fields to catch Space Fire Flies. Et cetera.
Then there’s a bunch of moaning and groaning. The Eight Heroes don’t want to be the chosen ones. They throw/give away their Magic Space Walnuts™. Boo-hoo. Then they do want to be the chosen ones. Then some get their Magic Space Walnuts™ back. The one who doesn’t throws the Emo Pity Party™. Then a couple of them get kidnapped. It’s a hot mess. Et cetera.
At Earth Rockseia XLL destroys the moon as a warning to humanity that he means business. Wilzyx and millions of frolicking Orcas suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Powerful. Heart breaking. An inspiring scene to end all inspiring scenes.
If there’s a Rent-a-Center Death Star there has to be a Rent-a-Center trench run. Kinji Fukasaku ups the ante. Message From Space has two trench runs! The first comes when the Space Hot Shots go to Jillucia to team up with the Jillucians. The Space Hot Shots rig their ships to join, ala the God Pheonix of Battle of the Planets/G Force/Gatchaman, but much less cool. The main ship in this junkyard Voltron is a Rent-a-Center Ebon Hawk from KOTOR. When they approach Jillucia they split up, fly through a bit of the trench, then join back together before landing. What does this accomplish? Nothing. It’s not even particularly cool. So, yeah, why not?
The second Rent-a-Center trench run is the Final Boss Battle. It’s a mix of the rebel attack on the Death Star and Tron vs MCP. The Space Hot Shots fly through the exhaust port tunnel thing down to the reactor. There, they shoot the spinning thingie, stopping it, which uncovers the opening they have to target. Pew… Pew… Pew… Boom… Exploision.
Meanwhile, as the space battle is raging (i.e. before the pew… pew… pew… boom… explosion), there’s the Rent-a-Center Vader vs Obi Wan fight. But this time Vader gets a mud hole stomped in him. It’s because Vader is played by a milksop and Obi Wan is played by Sonny Chiba. The problem is, because Chiba wrecks shop, there’s no touching moment where the old guy sacrifices his life empowering the next generation to seek their glory.
Oh, wait. There is that moment. Wise Grandmaster Grandfather the Green deliberately misses the Space Schooner to Valinor. The Jillucians have one more Space Schooner in dry dock collecting Space Spider Webs. It’s so old that they have to literally crank start the reactors. While the suspense completely ruined my pedicure (I chew my nails when I’m nervous, a’ight), I’ll let you in on a little secret… They make it. Yay! You’re mani/pedi can thank me later.
Message From Space ends with is shot of the Jillucian Space Schooner flying past Earth propelled courageously by cheesy Spaghetti Western music. Toei Company, LTD really knows how to go out with a bang.
You can watch Message From Space in it’s entirety for free, here.
Watch the trailer for “Message From Space”