Message from Space
(Uchu kara no messeji) (1978)
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku

Artistic Value: * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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After the Gavanas, led by the evil Rockseia (Mikio Narita), conquer Jillucia, the peaceful denizens of that world send out eight liabe seeds in the hope that these will magically deliver themselves to the persons who will come to free their senders. The Jillucian princess, Esmeralida (Etsuko Shihomi), and her champion, Hans (Sonny Chiba), then set out to find these future heroes. The seeds come into the possession of several earthlings, including Aaron (Philip Casnoff), a brash pilot, Meia (Peggy Lee Brennan), a young, wealthy woman, and the drunken General Garuda (Vic Morrow). Although these individuals are, at first, resistent to helping the people of a distant world, when Rockseia takes his entire planet into Earth's solar system in order to conquer mankind's home world, they agree and set out to defeat the evil tyrant.

There are movies so well realized that they cannot fail to move the sensitive viewer. There are also those so dreadful that it is hard to imagine how anyone with an ability to appreciate ineptitude would not find them entertaining. Kinji Fukasaku's Message from Space is, without a doubt, one of the latter. The movie is a hoot from beginning to end.


While the story, which is heavily indebted to Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, does proceed at such a breakneck pace that it can often seem rushed, such a rapid fire approach, nonetheless, ensures that the movie is never dull. The viewer barely has the time to catch his breath between depictions of the heroes fleeing in their spaceships from a police cruiser (and playing chicken with the officer), of a giant spaceship sucking Esmeralida out of an isolated cottage (where she was being threatened with sexual assault by an ugly monster), of another spaceship, this one shaped like a clipper ship (complete with sails, but also equipped with rockets), gliding in front of planets or fields of stars, and of more outlandish or thrilling sequences or images besides these.

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As the reader might have guessed from the details given above, Message from Space is often, frankly, weird. The liabe seeds that fall into the hands of the protagonists are clearly walnuts, although they do sometimes glow. There is a duel between General Garuda and one of Rockseia's underlings. At one point, the heroes visit a club where they are entertained by a troupe of scantily but elaborately clad dancers and are served by a robot with red plastic breasts. At other times, they are confronted by a giant hologram of Rockseia, harvest space fireflies for Meia, or just get drunk.

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Such oddities are not the only elements in the movie that show off its makers' creativity. Many of the costumes, for example, really are nicely done. The villains, with their horned helmets and silver painted faces, look like actors in some kabuki play, while Rockseia's mother, thanks to her long white tresses, her enormous, hooked, prosthetic nose, and her ornate wheelchair, is something like a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and a cross-dressing kabuki performer (she is, after all, played by a man, Eisei Amamoto).

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On top of everything else, the film is frequently pretty exciting. The various battles feature sword fights, duels with ray guns, and spaceships hurtling between asteroids or over complex fortifications adorned with spherical gun turrets.

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Regrettably, although there is quite a bit to admire in the movie, it is, on the whole, pretty dreadful. I cannot even begin to explain how awful the screenplay is. The characters are, almost without exception, complete non-entities. Attempts to reveal their romantic feelings and personal struggles are painfully ham-handed. There is so much cutesiness, especially when one nauseatingly adorable robot is on screen, that the film can often be grating. Events often seem to follow one another randomly. The special effects, while demonstrative of real inventiveness, are tacky, though, admittedly, in an appealingly campy sort of way.

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As bad as Message from Space is, it is, without a doubt, entertaining. In fact, it is wonderfully fun.

Review by Keith Allen

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