Monday, December 21, 2009

Pyrotechnics in Outer Space

If you visit me here, you know that I loves me some Japanese SF movies, be they serious or be they cheese. I have just about every Japanese SPFX movie ever made, and once in a while, I find it necessary to go on a video binge. Yesterday, I watched Toho's 1959 opus, Battle in Outer Space, and this evening I put on the 1977 cheese-fest, The War in Space, sometimes known as "Star Wars in Japan." Sitting down to watch this was actually kind of cool because, even after all these years, I had never made it through the entire picture before. Way back when, I'd started it a time or two, but in my impatient youth, I couldn't get through the first 15 minutes without either yawning or rolling my eyes. One of these days, I'll pick up the Discotek DVD release, but it's a bit on the pricey side. I have the movie on VHS, which I recorded back when I lived in Chicago in the 80s. It came on late at night on WFLD, Channel 32, and there were only two commercial breaks, each lasting less than two minutes each. Oh, but for those days again.

The movie is more or less a rehash of every other Toho alien invasion movie ever made, and borrows very heavily from 1963's Atragon with a dash of Toei's Space Cruiser Yamato for good measure. A few of the good ol' regular Toho cast members appear here to raise a smile, such as Ryo Ikebe (Battle in Outer Space, Gorath) as the stoic-to-the-point-of-sleepwalking captain of the spaceship Gohten; Akihiko Hirata, best known for his role as the tragic Dr. Serizawa in the original Godzilla; and Goro Mutsumi, the alien leader in both Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla and Terror of MechaGodzilla, back in this one alien leader, now dressed like a gladiator. For the appreciation of heterosexual males, we have the very hot Yuko Asano, who doesn't do a whole lot, but does appear in an appealing bondage scene that almost pushes the limits of a G-rating.

The direction by Jun Fukuda, who directed several of the later Showa-era Godzilla films, comes off as either breakneck or altogether stalled, which largely accounts for my past inability to sit through the movie. The hysterically bad English dubbing — typical of many 70s' Toho films — often has characters reiterating (at least once) the same lines that another character has just spoken. The real draw, though, the special effects — by Mr. Pyrotechnics himself, Teruyoshi Nakano — are a scream. High-tech the movie is not, certainly compared to Star Wars, which was made the same year; bobbing miniatures, stock footage, and sparse sets abound, yet Mr. Nakano does provide a true extravaganza in the area where he always excels: big old fiery explosions. There are lots of them, and they never fail to impress. There's something about watching actual miniatures blow up into blazing fragments that the most sophisticated CGI in the world simply can't rival.

Whereas all this cheese once stoked my ire — you know, being a serious SPFX movie fan — I find that, in my old age, they come together in a mix that is really quite fun. It'll probably be a while before I sit down to watch The War in Space again, but by God, I did it. I finally, really did it.

Damned Rodan, Teruyoshi "Mr. Pyrotechnics" Nakano, and Brett Homenick at G-Fest XI, 2004

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