Message from Space
|Message from Space|
Japanese theatrical poster
|Hepburn||Uchū kara no Messēji|
|Directed by||Kinji Fukasaku|
|Written by||Shotaro Ishimori|
|Narrated by||Takayuki Akutagawa|
|Music by||Kenichiro Morioka|
Message from Space (宇宙からのメッセージ Uchū kara no Messēji?) is a film directed by Kinji Fukasaku, one of the co-directors of Tora! Tora! Tora!. The film stars Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, and in a rare foreign film appearance, Vic Morrow. Released in 1978, the film is seen by many critics as a Japanese answer to Star Wars  The film was produced by Toei and cost $6 million, the most expensive movie made in Japan up to that date. Shotaro Ishinomori, a famous science fiction manga artist and pop culture figure, co-wrote the script and helped design the overall look of the film.
The film also spawned a 27-episode spin-off TV series titled Message from Space: Galactic Wars (宇宙からのメッセージ 銀河大戦 Uchū kara no Messēji: Ginga Taisen?), which aired on TV Asahi from July 8, 1978 to January 27, 1979.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (February 2012)|
The peaceful planet of Jillucia in the Andromeda galaxy, has been conquered by the steel-skinned warriors of the Gavanas Empire, whom have turned the planet into a military fortress. Kido, leader of the tribes of Jillucia, sends out eight Liabe Seeds (which resemble walnuts that glow orange) to find those who can liberate their planet. Kido's granddaughter, Princess Emeralida, and the warrior Urocco follow the seeds into space.
Within the Gavanas fortress, Emperor Rockseia XXII dismisses the Jillucian's efforts until warned by his mother, the Dowager Empress Dark, that the Liabe Seeds were also sent out into the cosmos. As such, the Gavanas pursue the Jillucian's space-galleon as it flees the planet.
Meanwhile, space hotrodders (called 'roughriders') Shiro and Aaron race each other through an asteroid belt. They are spotted by a young, spoiled aristocrat, Meia, who is being chauffeured in another spacecraft. Meia's chauffeurs radio the police. Patrolman Fox pursues the duo to their planet Milazeria in a game of chicken, followed by Patrolman Fox, stunt-flying through rocky canyons and tunnels. All three ships ultimately crash after colliding with the rocks around them. Examining their spacecraft, however, they both find Liabe seeds, mystified as to what the seeds are, and how they got there.
The story shifts to the Milazeria military base. General Garuda, mourning the mandatory deactivation of Beba-1, his faithful robot, has ordered a rocket to launch its remains into deep space. Garuda's commanding officer angrily censures Garuda for wasting a valuable rocket for a robot funeral, but the General is unperturbed, having already decided on retirement. With his new robot servant Beba-2, Garuda leaves the base in disillusionment.
Later, while drinking heavily inside a busy tavern on Milazeria, Garuda finds a Liabe seed in his drink.
Within the tavern, after a brush with nasty brutish gangster Big Sam, cowardly and high-strung Jack finds a leyabe seed in his tomato. Jack pressures Shiro and Aaron to repay him the money the borrowed to fix their ships - which Jack had borrowed from Big Sam. Aaron and Shiro recognize the seed as the same as their seeds, but none of them have any idea what the seeds are or how this seed got into a tomato.
Their money problems are soon resolved when Meia appears. She too is a roughrider pilot who knows Shiro and Aaron and agrees to help them with their financial problems if they take her to a quarantined section of the asteroid belt which has 'fireflies' so she can see them (earlier the fireflies were introduced as being a radioactive phenomenon). Shiro and Aaron are willing but Jack is horrified, knowing that the area is forbidden territory, and he warns Aaron and Shiro that Mayah is going to be nothing but trouble.
The four travel towards the asteroid belt looking for fireflies. Instead, they find the inert wreckage of the Jillucian space galleon with Emeralida and Urocco inside. However, the Gavanas' spacecraft-carrier arrives, driving Jillucians and humans to flee. The Gavanas destroys both the Jillucian galleon and Patrolman Fox's ship.
The survivors return to Shiro and Aaron's home on Milazeria. Police spacecraft, alerted to danger by the destruction of Patrolman Fox's spacecraft, fill the sky. Jack, loudly fearing the trouble that he has gotten into, blames Emeralida and Urocco. Emeralida is demure at first, but as Jack continues to harass her and Meia (who tries to defend Emeralida and Urocco), Emeralida grabs Jack's arm and throws him judo-style. A fight ensues with Jack, Shiro and Aaron against Urocco, but is abruptly ended when their three Liabe seeds fall to the floor. Emeralida sees them and immediately recognizes that Shiro, Jack and Aaron have been chosen by the Liabe seeds.
Garuda, who had been drunkenly sleeping nearby, is awakened by the fighting. Hiding at first, Garuda sees the Liabe seeds of the other three men and is reminded about his own seed. Urocco is incredulous that the ignoble trio have been selected by the Liabe seeds; nevertheless Emeralida is convinced. At that point Garuda and Beba-2 come out from the back. Garuda apologetically admits he wandered in drunk, and shows Emeralida his seed as well.
Emeralida explains how Jillucia was invaded and enslaved by the Gavanas. She points out that the Liabe have divinely selected eight to liberate their planet. The others are sympathetic but unwilling to get involved in any war. Garuda points out that Emeralida needs soldiers, and handing her his Liabe seed leaves with Beba-2. The robot, seeing the light of Beba-1's rocket, vainly tries to change Garuda's mind, reminding him that it's what Beba-1 would have wanted.
Inside, Urocco exhorts Emeralida to find the others who would have received the Liabe seeds, while Meia pushes Jack, Aaron and Shiro to help the Jilutians. Jack then tells Urocco and Emeralida that he knows where the other Liabe seed recipients are: they are 'wolf-hunters', and Jack will bring Urocco and Emeralida to them. Meia is ecstatic.
Tracking down the other seeds, Urocco, Emeralida and Jack find themselves in the home of a wizened old crone. The old woman examines the Liabe seed, and tells the others of wolf-hunters she had seen with the same seeds. Because of the old woman's warnings against going into the mountains at night, Emeralida stays indoors while the others go in search. The old woman calls out someone named Hikiroku, to guide Jack and Urocco. He is in a robe that conceals his face and hands; he does not speak but only growls. Before they leave, the old woman hands Jack and Urocco cups of milky-colored liquor which she has drugged.
Out in the mountains, the three are walking in the darkness when Urocco becomes dizzy and disoriented. Jack, who is behind Urocco, grabs a large rock and hits Urocco over the head. Urocco goes down but is still conscious; he realizes he's been betrayed and Jack readily admits it. Urocco tries to resist the drug and draws his sword. Their "guide" shoots Urrocco, sending his body tumbling down a steep gulley. With the Jillucian gone, the guide hands Jack a satchel with money, his payment. As Jack is putting it into the inside pocket of his jacket, he realizes the Liabe seed is still in his pocket. He examines it for a moment, then hurls the seed away.
The Guide soon returns, and the old woman ominously remarks that Urocco won't be coming back. She then reveals the truth: she bribed Jack to give Emeralida to her for her son, who is revealed to be the Guide. With his robe removed, he is revealed as a horrid lizard-man mutant. Emeralida is horrified and is soon disarmed by the mutant, but the mutant himself is killed when a brigade of Gavanas troops enter the crone's home and capture the princess. Urocco wakes and learns that Emeralida has been captured by the Gavanas.
Back at Shiro and Aaron's house, the two of them are having a party with Jack and Meia. Meia, still thinking they're helping the Jillucians, is ecstatic as she dances around the room. Jack is also chipper and dancing, but Aaron and Shiro are silent and glum. Urocco bursts in, sword drawn and ready for blood. He tries to attack the men, but falls down unconscious, looking badly beaten.
Jack confesses his scheme to Meia, but points out Shiro and Aaron were in on the plan. All three defend themselves, pointing out that Meia's father grew rich profiteering from war. Aaron hurls his Liabe seed through a window, ordering Shiro to do the same.
Angrily leaving, Meia flies away in her spacecraft. She hears a rattling behind the cockpit and finds a Liabe seed glowing orange.
Back at the house, Aaron, Jack and Shiro are plagued by nightmares about the Gavanas killing Emeralida and the Jillucians. After they awake, Shiro and Jack's Liabe seeds come back through the window into their hands, glowing orange, but Aaron's seed has not returned. Meia comes in showing her seed, and the three of them rejoice. Aaron is irate that his seed has not come back, and is in turmoil over his true feelings.
Back on Jillucia, Emeralida is brought into the Gavanas' base headquarters. Rockseia and Emeralida have a confrontation. Rockseia points out that he wanted Jilutia to remain fertile and rich, but brought desolation when they refused to surrender. Rockseia's men wheel in the old crone now on a gurney. Using a mind probe, Rockseia sees images of earth landscapes and wildlife. The Gavanas, enraptured by Earth, keep extracting memories of Earth until the old crone dies. Earth will now be the Gavanas' next conquest. Using huge engines built into the planet, Jilutia is propelled towards Earth.
Nearing Earth, the Gavanas demand it become a tributary planet of the Gavanas. Earth forces fight back fiercely but cannot stop the Gavanas' forces. Rockseia gives Earth but three days to accept his surrender offer. The new Chairman of Earth Council, Earnest Noguchi, seeks the drunk General Garuda in a bar. Noguchi appeals to Garuda, his old friend, to go to Rockseia as Earth's Special Envoy, hoping the retired General can buy time for a renewed defense. At first, Garuda refuses. When Garuda once again finds a Leyabe seed in his drink, this time glowing orange, he realizes his destiny is to defend the Earth, and agrees to go to Rockseia.
Back on Milazeria, Jack tells the others that Garuda - the drunken soldier they met - is now envoy to Jilutia, prompting the others to go to Jilutia as well. Aaron continues to sulk over his missing Leyabe seed.
The Gavanas space carrier appears and attacks their house. Jack is captured by the ship's tractor beam, galvanizing Aaron to fly to Jack's rescue. Aaron finally finds his returned Leyabe seed sitting on the hull of his ship.
With Urrocco, Jack, Shiro and Aaron fly to Jilutia, with Mayah's ship now modified to carry Shiro and Aaron's ships mounted on it. As they near Jilutia, Mayah's Leyabe seed explodes, causing the ship to crash on a planet in the Bernard system. On the planet's surface, they see what they first think is a Gavanas warrior, albeit one without the metallic skin of the other warriors, but more importantly one wearing a Leyabe seed around his neck. The Gavanas warrior introduces himself as Prince Hans, the rightful heir of the Gavanas' throne. He explains Rockseia killed his father the king and his mother, and took the throne for himself.
Back on Jilutia, Garuda arrives as the Earth envoy and greets the Emperor and Empress. Rockseia brings in Jack. Jack acts tough at first, but reveals his cowardice when he sees Garuda, begging Garuda to save him. To save face, Garuda picks a fight with a nearby warrior, and Rockseia agrees they may duel. The Gavanas warrior panics, firing before he has taken the required 10 steps. Garuda nevertheless continues his ten paces, and turns. The warrior quakes in fear as Garuda aims at the defenseless warrior, but Garuda declines to shoot. Instead, Rockseia kills the warrior for the disgrace he brought on the Gavanas. Garuda tries persuading Rockseia that Earth needs time to prepare its population for surrender. Rockseia dismisses Garuda's request, and he destroys Earth's moon as a warning to Earth. After Garuda leaves, the Empress notes he was a Leyabe-seed chosen one, and still fears what he might be capable of.
Garuda, Jack and Beba-2 leave Jilutia but then turn around. Nearing the planet. all three parachute to the surface.
In the meantime Prince Hans, Urrocco, Mayah, Shiro and Aaron fly towards Jilutia; with Shiro and Aaron's ships attached to Mayah's. Mayah uses the 'chicken run' approach also used earlier by Aaron and Shiro, heading directly downwards at high speed. To confuse the Gavanas, Shiro and Aaron separate their ships near the surface, and the three ships pull up before impact and continue to fly through a rocky canyon. The Gavanas, studying their radar, decide it was a meteor that hit the surface. The three ships then re-dock their spacecraft into Mayah's and land.
On the surface, Urrocco finds the Jilutian survivors hiding in the hull of another space galleon. When the Jilutians come out, Urrocco and the others meet Jack, Garuda and Beba-2. They realize there are now six Leyabe warriors, but wonder who the other two might be.
In a meeting with Kido, he lays a wreath formed with eight additional Leyabe seeds on a pool of water. The wreath then shows a vision, as Kido explains: the only way to destroy the Gavanas' base is via a series of underground tunnels, which lead to the reactor furnaces. If the reactor furnaces are destroyed, then the Gavanas' base will be destroyed too. Unfortunately, this will also destroy Jelutia. Although the Gavanas' tunnel is 10 metres wide, Shiro and Aaron boast that they can fly their spacecraft to the reactor core. They also doubt that the Gavanas would expect anybody would risk such an attack.
While the Jilutians are resigned to the destruction of their world, Urrocco is deeply horrified and enraged. He runs away from the meeting, in great distress.
Later, Gavanas warriors find the Jilutian camp. Though the others are willing to fight, Garuda forcefully insists the Jilutians lay down their weapons, and they are captured.
The captives are led back into the Gavanas' base where Rockseia addresses them using a giant hologram. He tells the prisoners that he knows all about their plans, because one of them is a traitor - Urrocco.
Urrocco enters and is handed a rifle to execute them. He angrily explains that their situation was hopeless from the start, that they should have subjugated themselves, and now they would go as far as destroy the very planet where they live. He lifts his rifle to fire on them, but cannot bring himself to do it. When the Leyabe seeds that the seven have begin to glow, Urrocco is moved by this, and he turns on the Gavanas. The Jilutians rise up against their captors, while Prince Hans draws his sword against the Gavanas warriors.
Urrocco is mortally wounded but lives long enough to find a glowing Leyabe seed in his wreath, learning as he dies that he is the eighth Leyabe warrior.
Prince Hans tells the Jilutians to evacuate in their ship as he fights his way deeper into the fortress. Mayah, Shiro and Aaron get back to their ships, and escape. The Gavanas also launch their fighters but the trio's stunt flying skills and sharp maneuvers enable them to survive. The Jilutians storm the space galleon which is occupied and guarded by the Gavanas, and seize it.
Meanwhile Prince Hans fights his way into the throne room, where he engages Rockseia in a fierce swordfight. Hans ultimately stabs Rockseia in the forehead; the energy from Hans' sword surges into Rockseia, throwing him through the window of his tower
Shiro and Aaron are flying their ships over Jilutia and they see the entrance to the reactor tunnel open, seemingly triggered by Rockseia's death. They enter the tunnel pursued by Gavanas fighters, but manage to outfly them with their superior skills. Reaching the reactor, the humans destroy it, and then try to reach the surface as the entire planet begins to erupt.
Garuda, Beba-2, Jack, Prince Hans, Emeralida and all the Jilutians make it aboard the last Galleon. Kido does not join them, telling her that he will die with Jilutia. The space galleon then launches and is joined in flight by Mayah, Shiro and Aaron. As they escape, they are pursued by the Gavanas' space carrier. The trio launch a suicide attack against the carrier, flying into it (they fly into the bay that launches the Gavanas' fighters and missiles). The collision causes the space carrier to explode and crash in flames. This is followed by the detonation of the entire planet.
Shiro, Aaron and Mayah awake on board the space galleon, are surprised they are still alive. Emeralida explains it is a miracle of the Leyabe seeds. Earth offers the Jilutians asylum, but the survivors graciously promise to find a world of their own.
- Vic Morrow as General Garuda
- Sonny Chiba as Prince Hans
- Philip Casnoff as Aaron Solar
- Peggy Lee Brennan as Meia Long
- Hiroyuki Sanada as Shiro Hongo
- Masazumi Okabe as Jack
- Isamu Shimizu as Beba-2, the robot
- Etsuko Shihomi as Emeralida
- Mikio Narita as Emperor Rockseia XII
- Hideyo Amamoto (in drag) as Dark, the Empress Dowager
- Makoto Satô as Urrocco
- Junkichi Orimoto as Kido, Chieftain of the Jilutians
- Tetsuro Tamba as President Ernest Noguchi, Earth Federation
- Noboru Mitani (in drag) as Kamesasa
- Masataka Naruse as Hikiroku
- Nenji Kobayashi as Patrol Officer Fox
- Thunder Sugiyama as Big Sam
- Harumi Sone as Lazarl
- Jerry Ito as Commander of the Earth Federation Forces
- Hirohisa Nakata as Adjunct, Earth Federation Forces
- Shotaro Hayashi as Captain, Earth Federation Space Battleship
- Minken Karasawa as Engineer
- Seizo Fukumoto as Guerilla Fighter
- Charles Scawthorn as 1st Guard, Earth Federation Rocket Base
- Chris Isaak as Bar Patron (uncredited)
- Takayuki Akutagawa as Narrator, Japanese Version
- Norman Rose as Narrator, US Version (uncredited)
- Genzo Wakayama as Voice of General Garuda, Japanese Version
- Mari Okamoto as Voice of Mayah Long, Japanese Version
- Machiko Soga as Voice of Beba, Japanese Version
- Shōzō Iizuka as Voice of Big Sam, Japanese Version
United Artists acquired Message from Space for U.S. distribution, at a US$1 million cost; according to company personnel, "[it] can't keep 'em from lining up at the box office. It's a Jap Star Wars! It'll clean up." In the words of studio executive Steven Bach, "The only thing it cleaned up was the red inkwell."
Message From Space does not enjoy mainstream critical acclaim in North America. For instance Janet Maslin, in a November 17, 1978 New York Times review wrote, "Nothing looks right in Message From Space", and went on to disparage the plot, dialogue, characters, and special effects. Message From Space also made the category of "Dog of the Week" on the Sneak Previews TV movie review program, hosted by Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. Although the film did score high marks in the pages of both Variety and Hollywood Reporter.
Nevertheless the movie enjoys acclaim from fans of cult movies and science fiction. The eclectic movie site movierapture.com wrote, "As bad as Message from Space is, it is, without a doubt, entertaining. In fact, it is wonderfully fun."  Cult movie website The Spinning Image stated, "Special effects are your typical Japanese model spaceships, optical laser fire and cel animation sequences rather than the groundbreaking work achieved by I.L.M.. However, only a curmudgeonly Asian cinema-phobe would deny they are often beautiful to behold and achieve a certain grandeur on the big screen or watched on DVD. "  The 1970s science fiction fansite space1970.blogspot.com wrote, "Fast-paced, absurd and fun, Message From Space is a giddily insane interstellar samurai fantasy, loaded with space dogfights, laser battles, swordplay and explosions. The miniature effects are extraordinarily well-crafted, and the production design is lavish."  The website AllRovi (formerly allmovie.com) writes that the film is "Unfairly slagged as a cheap rip-off of Star Wars", and adds "this science fiction/adventure film from Japan's Toei Studios makes up for its shortcomings with a devil-may-care energy reminiscent of '40s-era serials."
- The Midnight Eye; Truth, Hope and Violence - Kinji Fukasaku, by Tom Mes, March 10, 2001
- Den of Geek, 11 Films and TV Shows that Tried to be Star Wars
- The Spinning Image; review of Message from Space
- Bach, Steven (1987) . "Style". Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven's Gate. Onyx (New American Library). p. 68. ISBN 0-451-40036-4.
- New York Times review of 'Message from Space' by Janet Maslin, November 17, 1978
- Avmaniacs.com forum, thread on movies that made Siskel & Ebert's "Dog of the Week" list
- Movierapture.com; Message From Space review
- Space1970.blogspot.com; Message From Space DVD Review
- AllRovi.com; Message From Space review
- Message from Space at the Internet Movie Database
- Patrick Macias' blog with artwork and photos, and movie discussion
- Review on IO9