Monday, February 13, 2012

Sayonara Jupiter (1984) Movie Review

In a far flung space faring future (2140 AD), humanity has expanded beyond the confines of Earth, and is at a crossroads in regards to energy consumption as colonies continue to expand throughout the Sol system. A confident and able consortium spanning all known nations has been planning and ready to execute a daring and controversial plan to create a second sun out of hulking planet Jupiter. Led by chief scientist, Eiji Honda (Tomokazu Miura), the massive JS Project is about to run across a galaxy of challenges. Including intervention by anti-space radicals led by a charismatic folk singer on Earth, (among their ranks an old flame of Honda’s) a sudden appearance of a black hole preparing to consume the system, Earth included. And even there are the eerie clues to an ancient alien civilization, as well as evidence of a craft somewhere deep within the storms of the system’s largest world. And then there’s the shark…seriously. 

If at least half of this description sounds familiar, don’t be afraid. Koji Hashimoto’s sprawling space epic for the then struggling TOHO studios remains Arthur C. Clarke & George Lucas by way some serious pipe fodder, and some of Japan’s most ambitious film craftspeople . And by that measure, the film can easily be seen as an important moment in the nation’s science fiction/tokusatsu identity, if not in anything resembling halfway sane storytelling. It is on one level, a truly remarkable piece of international genre filmmaking synergy featuring some of the most diverse casting ever assembled for a Japanese film; with many actors even speaking their lines to one another in diverging languages including English, French, & German. And the effects work comprised mostly of optical and model work, are amongst the most singular in the industry’s history. The influence of western film permeates virtually every frame of it, and also carries with it the kind of high ambition it’s home culture was beginning to exhibit writ large during the early 1980s. In fact, it’s hard to imagine another film that embodies the “go-go Japan” feeling more than Sayonara Jupiter, as its lead character in Miura assuredly maintains his faith in humanity’s need to shepherd nature into a path for a better tomorrow for a more needy humanity to regardless of those resistant to any grand change at the hands of scientists.

And even after all this talk of what makes the film such a treat, historically..One must also make clear that Sayonara Jupiter also has the distinction of being often hilariously silly, and borderline frustrating. As much craft and resourcefulness is on display, it cannot override the tonal rollercoaster the film is. Likely borne out of this unerring need to compete, the story careens from one plot to the next, often with little rhyme or reason, sometimes even stopping completely for any number of absurd stops that remain just mind boggling. Examples include an early scene when Honda’s american compatriot Kinne (Irwin Ron, who looks a lot like a bearded Matthew Lillard) kills time before a mission by settling down and watching Gojira and King Ghidorah duke it out. (Hey, look! Even gaijin love Gojira!) This is only made all the more bizarre, when somewhere else on the main JS ship, anti-space protesters disguised as tourist types reveal themselves to incite a riot (which is then intercut with shots of an angry king kaiju!!?). No sooner does this strange turn in the film happen, that Honda is reunited with Maria (Diane Dangley) which almost immediately leads to a truly one of a kind zero gravity lovemaking/flight/plead & argument session. I wish I were making this up.

And without delving too much further into the film’s story; as the film is in many ways more a showcase for effects, and a hopeful future vision rather than anything else, one must also make mention of a scene where after having had to send the offending protesters off the ship, and sabotage is blamed for the death of a major crewmember, Honda decides to visit the beachside paradise home of singer, Peter (Paul Tagawa) and his followers in hopes of pleading for the end of any further violent actions upon the JS project. It perhaps might be best to know that Peter’s beliefs regarding man’s earthbound destiny is also represented in a dolphin mascot…also named, Jupiter. In a moment that practically defines to all cinema the real meaning of hamfisted, Honda is forced into making science’s point when a shark attacks Jupiter. His need to not only kill the rubbery predator, but to fail in saving the life of the sea mammal does everything to stop the film dead in its tracks, if only to make a point that much of the counterculture takes so little into account. As the earth, and several worlds are in deep peril, it is man’s ability to rise to the occasion despite the odds that defines it. The big problem comes when one remembers, we are in a SPACE MOVIE. As well-intended as this whole scene is, it truly feels copped from a completely different film. In fact, most to all of the Peter-cult material seems horrendously out of place, which threatens to hurt everything else. And yet, even then, more oddness remains in the waiting, including laser-toting terrorists, a gargantuan spacecraft that looks Zentraedi and sounds like humpback whales, and a last ditch effort complete with self-sacrifice and painfully awkward finale for measure.

Initial stories inform that the original impetus for the film was when Tomoyuki Tanaka saw the original Star Wars in 1977, and wanted his own rendition made. And through the eyes of Hashimoto, and writer , Sakyo Komatsu, we are host to a film that just wants to be virtually every space opera made over the 20 years leading to it. The visual echoes of Kubrick are solid in places, particularly in the opening moments which are filled with detailed and drawn out shots of impressive spacecraft, as well as interiors. Only in a high-ideal film such as this can we get an early shot of a young seemingly american stewardess in a kimono answering passenger questions in a transport, taking place upside down. American pilots reaching destination only to partake of McDonald’s in zero grav. There is even a pint-sized genius in boy scientist Carlos Angeles (Marc Panthona) who is Honda’s right hand in the dangerous JS Project. 

The film’s influence can also be widely felt within the worlds of Japanese anime. (Macross fans take note, much of the score is by Shintaro Haneda who was working on this film around the time of the legendary Do You Remember Love? Feature- which is why a few tracks contain similar to exact moments) And with names like Tokyo-3, as well as a large-scale evacuation of Earth due to an oncoming calamity, it’s no small thing to believe that this made an impact regardless of story. It remains a beloved film, and on a production level, it is understandable.

With an unprecedented cast of internationals (many of whom were clearly not actors by trade), and an openness to leaving some languages intact, while others are dubbed over, Sayonara Jupiter is the kind of genre film that could only have come from the early 1980s. And much like a 1970s disaster movie, it simply attempts to be too much of everything to everyone, which makes for a truly surreal viewing experience. And perhaps in this “cranked to 13” sense, the film can also be seen as something of a one-of-a-kind camp classic. And for this, it truly wins some outstanding prizes. There is a lot of noteorthy history within the world of Sayonara Jupiter, just don’t expect hard, dramatic science fiction to be among the highlights.

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