Sayonara, Jupiter [Sayônara, Jûpetâ] (1984)

There must be a kitchen sink in this movie somewhere.  They’ve got everything else.

When Star Wars came out, Toho Studios toyed with the idea of making their own version.  Instead, Sakyo Komatsu sold them on making their own, unique SF epic.

And epic is the right word.  Everything about this film is epic – at least in scale:  Sayonara, Jupiter offers us massive space ships and even bigger space stations, with a truly epic vision of man moving out into the solar system and planning to light Jupiter up like a humongous tiki light.

There are characters, most of whom get killed off tragically.  After all, in a epic film we expect tragedies left and right.  Not that, in a movie just a little over two hours long, there’s enough room to develop most of the characters so we care.  But who can truly say he’s unaffected when the cute dolphin dies heroically?

If the idea of turning Jupiter into a mini-sun isn’t exciting enough for you, they then discover that a runaway black hole is on a collision course with the Sun.  Our only hope is to turn Jupiter into a massive nuclear bomb and hopefully change the course of the black hole.

In the mean time, we have terrorists, hippies, topless swimmers, an epic, star-crossed romance, a zero-gravity sex scene (complete with “love gas”) that turns into a music video, a bunch of mostly sappy songs (including the song “Sayonara, Jupiter”, about the dead dolphin) and an incredible number of spacecraft, which look like what 2001‘s spaceships might have looked like after another century of development.  And, of course, a ray gun battle.

It was, without question, an epic project, one which barely fits into 140 minutes -and epic in scope as well as sheer size, as it brings in a future history of man, where millions of people now live scattered throughout the solar system, all wrapped in a lot of intriguing SF concepts.  After all, it opens with engineers setting off a massive ice quake on Mars to melt the Polar caps for the colonists, only to uncover markings resembling the Nazca lines.

Few films before it – and not many since – have offered such an epic vision of the large scale colonization of our solar system.  And for that reason, I find I have a major soft spot for this movie.  I’ll admit, it is a bit of a mess because it tries to shoehorn in far too much – some of it, like the endless beach party (and more endless songs!) of the hippie commune, really don’t seem to fit in with everything else.

But, as we expect from a Toho film, it is fun, exciting to watch (even when silly), full of action, and incredible miniatures.  They wanted to make a movie that didn’t look as toylike and unreal as their (past) monster movies, and created a new special effects unit to put this film together.  The directors also put a great deal of effort into creating thousands of small props, to flesh out their future world.  The results are quite amazing, in places marvelous.

And perhaps that’s what best sums it up:  a truly heroic effort, which dared to do something never before seen in Japanese film (or any other).  It may have failed (and in so many ways!) but for all its flaws, it deserves to be seen by a wider audience than it ever received.  Sadly, it seems doomed to remain a little-know oddity, only available on long out of print DVDs.

You do have to wonder why, when AMC got the rights to the previously unseen Heisei era Godzilla films and showed them non-stop, they didn’t buy up this and some of the other epic Toho fantasies of the era?  Even without the big Green guy, they were all wild and weird, perfect for a late night movie binge or a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Oh well.  Our loss, I guess.

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