"Message From Space," a delirious mishmash whipped up by Japanese filmmakers determined to come out with an imitation of "Star Wars" before "Star Wars" itself arrived in Japan, may prove irresistible to connoisseurs of cockeyed exotica.Boldly mind-boggling, "Message from Space" is the sort of shameless, haphazard rip-off that seems to burst the bounds of silliness.
Although "Star Wars" is the primary source of imitation, a fact made apparent from the opening strains of the score by Ken-Ichiro Morioka, who risks perilously close paraphrases of John William themes, director Kinji Fukasaku never rests in his scavenger's quest for artistic inspiration and/or commercial advantage. "Message From Space" resembles a wholesale warehouse stocked by a frantic burglary gang.
The harebrained scenario begins on the unhappy planet of Jillucia. Kido, the elder statesman of the surviving Jillucians - who have been subjudgated by an invading, remorseless warrior race called Gavanas - assembles his flock in the papier-mache rocks for a desperate act of faith. Producing eight objects resembling walnuts but identified as magic "Leabi seeds," Kido hurls them into the cosmos, suggesting that Jillucia has no gravity or that he has a whale of a throwing arm.
According to Kido's reckoning, "Eight will find the holy seeds, and the Eight will save us." Evidently, this longed-for Magnificent Eight would be unable to find their way to Jillucia, because a Princess Esmeralida (a name invariably pronounced "Emerald Leader" by the actors who did the dubbing) and a swordsman named Urocco board a three-masted, oared schooner to sail through space and see where the nuts land.
What seems like the next several hours is spent chasing down the heroes. Kido appears to have had lousy aim. Four of the nuts end up in the possession of hysterically callow young Earthlings: Occidental Aaron and Oriental Shiro, who love nothing better than to race their space hot rods, to the consternation of the local space fuzz; their goofy buck-toothed Oriental buddy Jack, a petty criminal; and their open-mouthed, irrespressible Occidental girl friend Meia, a rich kid who's always on the go and avid for kicks.
Fukasaku and his fellow script-writers seem to have fabricated this quartet out of spare parts borrowed from the old juvenile delinquency melodramas like "Rebel Without a Cause" and the "Beach Party" series. They're a weirdly unappealing gang, a misbegotten cross of the avaricious and the innocuous.
A fifth nut selects a military man, Vic Morrow, as the stout, glum Gen. Garuda, whose Brooklyn accent clashes violently with his campy wardrobe (a Felliniesque cape with fur collar and slouch hat, an Admiral Nelson get-up for diplomatic missions, a wide-lapeled silver leisure suit topped by a burgundy beret for combat missions). Garuda's nut appears at the bottom of his highball glass while he's drowning his sorrows: His faithful robot, Beba 1, has died, and Garuda has angered superiors by sending the beloved machine into eternal orbit.
For consolation Garuda also has a new robot, Beba 2, evidently designed to suggest R2-D2 but actually a first cousin to Herve Villechaize on "Fantasy Island." Among other oddities, the filmmakers seem to lose count of their nuts. A sixth hero, Japanese kung-fu star Sonny Chiba as a solitary samurai named Hans (Hans?!), stranded on a neighboring red planet, is belatedly located, but as the climactic fight with the Gavanas finally begins, the filmmakers are still short-handed. In desperation, they sneak Leabi seeds onto the persons of Beba 2, who is overjoyed but useless in battle, and Urocco, who is mortally wounded by that time anyway.
The Gavanas, evidently masters of some phenomenal propellant, have driven Jillucia right up to Earth, which they plan to subjugate next. Trying to buy time, Garuda confers with the Gavanian leader, Rockseia, but makes such a bad impression that Rockseia destroys the Moon as a demonstration of Gavanian firepower. Although the heroes eventually prevail, that little slip with the Moon may explain why they decline to return to a supposedly grateful Earth, electing instead to find a New Destiny in the Universe.
According to Hans, Rockesia usurped his throne, so it's only fitting that they have it out. One can tell from their helmets that they must have a score to settle. Rockseia has a war bonnet with six antlers, while Hans has only two antlers, one of them broken. Indeed, headdresses are one of the production's undeniable stylistic glories, beginning with the leafy wreaths worn by the downtrodden Jillucians, whom Fukasaku seems to have costumed and posed to resemble the endangered Christian congregations in "Quo Vadis."
The costumes, makeup and decor are often dazzlingly grotesque and bewildering. Although the competition is fierce, the funniest character is probably Rockseia's wizened, sharp-nosed mama, a crone who gets around in some kind of motorized wheelchair. The only element of the production that might be considered respectable is the modeling of some of the spaceships and their subsequent demolition in battle. Everything else seems too crazed and arbitrary to serve any system of illusion except slapstick travesty.