Release Date(s)1978 (September 27, 2016)
Studio(s)Toei Company/United Artists/MGM/20th Century Fox (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D+
Kinji Fukasaku had an interesting filmmaking career. He began with the Battles Without Honor and Humanity films, later co-directed Tora! Tora! Tora!, and finished with the masterpiece Battle Royale. In between, Fukasaku directed a vast number of Japanese films, including a few that starred American actors. One of those, coming hot on the heels of the success of Star Wars, was Message from Space. Though it cost less than $10 million dollars to produce, it was reportedly the most expensive movie produced in Japan up to that point. Regardless, the film wound up as little more than a footnote in the careers of the people who worked on it.
The movie’s plot is certainly not impenetrable, but does take a bit of deciphering. The planet of Jillucia comes under threat from the Gavanas Empire, more specifically Emperor Rockseia XXII. Fearing the worst, the tribal leader of Jillucia sends magical glowing “Liabe” seeds out into the galaxy in hopes of finding the chosen eight individuals who are destined to save the planet. Among them are a retired general (played by Vic Morrow), his robot assistant, a spoiled but plucky noblewoman, three rebellious roughriders, a wandering soldier of royal descent (Sonny Chiba), and a Jillucian warrior, all of whom are aided by a Jillucian princess in their quest.
To be perfectly honest, not a lot about Message from Space makes sense in a single viewing. The film is overburdened with information that’s hidden behind some neat set designs, costumes, and models. While these are obviously dated, a ton of work was put into them and they’re wonderful to behold. To quote its trailer, Message from Space attempts to be “a phantasmagoria of sights, sounds, and space-age technical achievements that must be seen to be believed!” Even for their time, the special effects are impressive. Unfortunately, they’re all in service of a movie that’s ultimately boring and United Artists’ English re-dubbing for the U.S. release did little to help this. But what the film lacked in story, characters, and pace, it made up for in imagination. Despite the lack of fanfare, Message from Space has still managed to garner a cult following over the years.
Shout! Factory’s limited Blu-ray release (1,000 copies only) uses an existing high definition master that looks just about as good as it can without a major restoration job. It features strong but uneven grain levels with decent detailing, especially on the costumes and models. The image is soft at times, chiefly due to the use of opticals, and there are also some film artifacts visible, including speckling and scratches. There’s nice clarity in evidence though, which means that the wires on the model ships are more obvious than ever before. Colors are fairly strong and skin tones are decent as well. Black levels are also deep, while brightness and contrast levels are merely okay. Stability issues appear from time to time, particularly during the opening titles, but there’s been no attempt to digitally enhance the material. The audio is available in a single English DTS-HD 2.0 mono track. It’s decent enough overall, with clear dialogue and strong sound effects and score. It’s a mostly centered presentation, as one might expect, with little directionality or ambience. There’s also some distortion, hiss, and crackle evident, but nothing overly intrusive. Subtitles are included in English for those who might need them.
The disc’s brief extras include the original U.S. trailer, three Japanese trailers, a photo gallery, and a Stars of Space text gallery written by August Ragone.
Message from Space has a minor legacy, but a legacy nonetheless. Still, those of you with interest in Japanese cinema, and space adventure movies from the 1970s, are likely to get more out of it than your average viewer. Fukasaku certainly attempted to make a spectacular and grand movie and that effort is definitely appreciated. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release, while hardly definitive, is a great upgrade from the previous standard definition release.
- Tim Salmons