Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movies: Sayonara Jupiter -- Japanese Sci-Fi DVD review

Sayonara Jupiter
Actor/Actress: Tomokazu Miura , Akihiko Hirata
Director: Koji Hashimoto , Sakyo Komatsu

Year: 1983 / 1984
Runtime: 129
Rating: Not Rated (but it has nudity, sex and medium violence)
Language: Original: Japanese; Dubbed: English; Subtitled: English
Color: Yes

Sayonara Jupiter is a wonderful example of the type of work that Japanese film giant TOHO Studios was attempting to do in the 1980s: Grown up, mature, and well made. At least for its time, that is. When this movie came out in the early 1980s, the first two Star Wars movies were out and they had forever raised the bar for special effects. TOHO did their darndest to meet the challenge, and by the standards of that time, they mostly succeeded.

Unfortunately, the effects and costumes do look very dated right now, and there are some long, verrrrrry slow shows of space ships docking. Things that we would speed up now, but back then looked kind of cool and had a "2001: A Space Odyssey" vibe. Nowadays we routinely see cooler stuff on TV shows like Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek, so we tend not to linger over simple scenes like docking a shuttle to a space station.

The plot is really simple, but fairly well executed:

It's the 22nd Century and we've colonized the solar system. In order to provide more solar energy to the outer systems, they're going to turn Jupiter into a small sun. However, right before they do this, a terraforming project on Mars reveals something astonishing. While melting the polar ice caps on Mars, the water washes away a lot of dirt and debris and reveals huge carvings on the Martian surface -- that look exactly like the carvings at Nazca! These carvings indicate that aliens may have left something on Jupiter.

The movie takes off from there: Earth puts the Jupiter solarization project on hold while they investigate what seems to be an alien artifact hiding in the storm-tossed clouds of our system's largest planet. Some space hippies show up to protest and cause some damage (they don't think anyone should ever leave the earth, and if I lived with them in their little island paradise playing beach blanket bimbo, I'd be happy on earth, too). And did I mention that the leader of the solarization project used to date one of the hippie terrorists? Oh, and there's something about a black hole racing toward our sun and they need to blow up Jupiter at just the right moment to deflect it...

You know, the usual plot stuff you need to put between the special effects shots and the space nookie.

That's right, there are a few things you need to know before you watch this with the kids. There is nudity and a sex scene ("Sex in spaaaaace!"). There is also violence: as people are shot by lasers, blown up by space hippies, and meanwhile, on earth, a dolphin dies in a shark attack. Most disturbing of all, though, if you do let your kids watch this, you might just have to pause the movie for hours while you try to explain why our hair looked like that back in the 1980s.

This is a good Japanese sci-fi film, and I would recommend it for fans of the genre. There are plenty of space ships, laser blasts, and fun to keep things moving, but this actually is a fairly serious film and it does give you some things to think about.

Also, I would suggest you watch this in the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles. This is not because I'm some fanatic purist who hates dubbed movies (AIP did some great work on the Godzilla movies in the 1960s and 1970s). No, my reason for preferring the original soundtrack is because the movie is only half in Japanese. Many of the characters speak English (US and UK varieties), as well as German, French, and a smattering of other languages. There are several scenes where one character is speaking Japanese and the other responds in English. In the future, it seems that everyone is multilingual and this sort of babel is common. So, unless you totally hate subtitles, give the Japanese track a fair chance.

So, it's a good movie, I recommend it to fans of TOHO Sci-Fi. And good luck getting that song, "Sayonara Jupiter" out of your head!