Message From Space (Japan 1978)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/10/04
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Cast: Vic Morrow, Sonny Chiba, Hiroyuki Sanada, Philip Casnoff, Peggy Lee Brennan, Etsuko Shiomi (Sue Shiomi)

I'll never look at walnuts the same again... Master director Kinji Fukasaku ("Battle Royale" (2000), "Green Slime" (1968) ) delivers a splendidly silly and delightfully tacky big budget sci-fi extravaganza that liberally borrows from "Star Wars" (1977) and Akira Kurusawa's "The Seven Samurai" (only this time, there are eight). An evil empire of silver faced aliens is subjugating a peaceful planet of tree loving people, and they send their magical walnuts into space in order to call for assistance. The walnuts end up in the hands of two hot-shot pilots from Earth (Philip Casnoff and Hiroyuki Sanada in tight white pants), their idiot friend that they work with at a night club, a spitfire female pilot and mutual friend named Mei (Peggy Lee Brennan), a Martian samurai warrior named Hans (Sonny Chiba), General Galdas from the Earth Space Force (a drunk Vic Morrow), and his annoying as hell personal assistance robot, Beba. The final walnut ends up with Princess Esmerelda's (Etsuko Shiomi) bodyguard for unexplained reasons. When the evil empire starts to eye Earth as its next conquest, our heroes band together to stop their common foe, in a spectacle of aerial dogfights and fiery explosions.

I really wanted to enjoy this movie more, but it's just too tacky and melodramatic to take seriously. While pushing the limits of flying miniature models on wires, the effects don't do a good job of standing on their own. In its unsubtitled and redubbed form, the story is also completely incomprehensible. The acting is fair, although overdone, with Sonny Chiba shining above the rest. The lovely Etsuko Shiomi ("Sister Street Fighter" (1976) ) is uncharacteristically frail and feminine in this outing, and spends most of her time looking meek and scared. The American cast is adequate, but seems sorely out of place, like most Japanese/American cross ventures. The robot element is completely absurd, and is even referred to as Vic Morrow's Sancho Panzo (I hope I got that right...). Not quite what I was expecting, but marginally entertaining for fans of the anime/kaigu genre.