Message From Space is a Japanese film from 1978 that has no qualms about ripping many of its ideas from 1977’s Star Wars. The film was produced by Toei and cost $6 million dollars, the most expensive movie made in Japan up to that date. Despite the high production values, most of the special effects look pretty cheesy, especially compared to Star Wars and its $11 million dollar budget. But is this movie even worth watching in the first place?
Building Up The Hype
Movie trailers sure used to be a bit different back in the day, huh? This trailer seems more like a promotional advertisement for a product than a traditional trailer by today’s standards. Most trailers today just try and give you an idea of what to expect from the movie and show some of the good stuff you can expect to see more of in the theater. This trailer has a narrator that basically just tells you how cool the movie is over and over again.
A really interesting thing about the movie though is the amount of non-Japanese actors in it. I watched the dubbed version of the movie, so everyone was speaking in English – but for the Japanese version, they must have just had subtitles for the English actors. The hype certainly focuses a lot on its international cast, but it really is interesting to see something like this coming from Japan in the 70s.
Along with Vic Morrow (famous American actor), the film also features Sonny Chiba who was one of the first actors to achieve stardom through his skills as a martial artist. However, he does not perform the insane action sequences we’ve all come to expect from him as he unfortunately injured his ankle during filming.
Another crazy thing about Message From Space is that they actually got the Japanese government to delay the release of Star Wars in Japan so that its inhabitants would be sure to see Message From Space first. Star Wars was delayed for an entire year. Pretty ridiculous if you ask me.
As for the film’s plot, IMDB describes it as such: “The peaceful planet of Jillucia has been nearly wiped out by the Gavanas, whose leader takes orders from his mother (played a comic actor in drag) rather than the Emperor. King Kaiba sends out eight Liabe holy seeds, each to be received by a chosen one to defend the Gavanas. Each recipient, ranging from hardened General Garuda to Gavana Prince Hans to young Terrans Meia, Kido, and Aaron all have different reactions to being chosen.”
The reason I had to borrow this from another site is due to how hard the plot is to follow in the movie. It moves along way too fast that eventually you just realize you’re watching and seeing people do things, but you aren’t really sure why they are where they are and what led them to that particular situation. The movie really is packed full of action, but most of the time you’ll be kind of confused as to what’s really going on.
This is another reason I think it might be best to enjoy this movie in dubbed form. The plot is hard enough to follow as it is, and there’s always action happening on screen that begs your attention – throw a bunch of reading into the mix and you’ll have no hope for following along with what’s going on. Plus, a good amount of the cast is speaking English anyway, so it’s no big deal.
Why This Movie Deserves Attention
I found this video on Cinemassacre and I think the reviewer does a really great job discussing the highlights of this movie from the perspective of people watching it more than thirty years later. He focuses mainly on its similarities to the original Star Wars, but watching the video really gives you a much better idea of what to expect from the film itself.
Today this film garners more attention due to how similar it is to Star Wars rather than its qualities as an original film. There have been many films released after Star Wars that were similar to it, but Message From Space really stands out. It doesn’t have lightsabers (unfortunately), but it does take a lot from the film and it’s really interesting to see how these ideas play out in Message From Space.
Unfortunately the ideas in this film are less inspired by Star Wars and more so stolen. The film’s plot also moves way too quickly and is hard to keep up with. Your ability to enjoy old movies and things that are similar to Star Wars but definitely not Star Wars will determine how much you enjoy Message From Space in my opinion.
The characters, the premise, and even the music borrows heavily from the original Star Wars. But the most incredibly obvious rip-off has to be how they destroy the main enemy ship at the end of the movie. Remember how they took out the Death Star by having to fly through a trench and hit a small target with space fighters? Yeah, the same exact thing happens in Message From Space. Good thing they got the real Star Wars delayed, otherwise it would’ve been way too obvious how much they ripped off Star Wars here.
That being said, the film definitely has a Japanese touch to it. The bad guys all look like alien samurai and there are even a few sword fights to be seen. The main bad guy’s mother is even made up like an old-style Japanese actor, which kind of makes sense as the mother is played by a dude in drag and pretty much all traditional Japanese performing arts had males playing all of the roles.
But Should I Watch It?
Nah. Nobody would fault you for passing this one up. I watched it at a friend’s place and we both agreed that the movie was bad, boring, and kind of hard to follow. Both of us really enjoy goofy movies and we’re both big fans of Star Wars, but this movie just didn’t cut it. Like the video before said, the best part about watching it is waiting for the next blatant Star Wars rip-off. But if you watch his video, you pretty much know what all of them are going to be.
I’d be more inclined to recommend it if the movie were shorter. However, with a run time of 105 minutes, the merriment gleaned from the blatant Star Wars rip-offs are not nearly enough to set off the movie itself being boring and entirely too long.
So, bottom line – I’d say skip on this one. Unless you are a hardcore Star Wars fan and need to see all the films it inspired, or have some deep interest in old Japanese films, it’s no big deal if you never see Message From Space. However I would definitely recommend watching the trailer and a handful of clips because they are indeed hilarious. The movie is also on Netflix, so if you ever do feel inclined to watch the film in its entirety, it’s not that hard to do.
As for Japanese movies from the 70s, you’d be much better off with something like House from 1977. You can read more about House along with a list of other must see Japanese films in my Top 10 Strange Japanese Films You Need to Watch post.
So, have any of you actually seen this movie? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments!