When I was a kid, I used to drag my dad to a lot of crappy movies. He was always happy when it turned out to be something starring Caroline Munro, but most of the time he got stuck with stuff like The Incredible Melting Man or Laserblast. Message From Space holds a special place in my heart, though, not so much because of the movie but because of something that happened while me and my dad were watching it. About two-thirds of the way through the flick, a couple seated near the screen began arguing, getting louder and louder as they went on. Finally, the woman screeched “I didn’t want to see this lousy movie anyway!” The man plaintively yelped “It’s not a lousy movie,” and someone seated at the other end of the theater shouted “IT IS TOO!” My dad loved that.
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale and the cheese-cinema classic The Green Slime), Message From Space was cranked out by The Toei Company in Japan to cash in on the success of Star Wars — and while Message is certainly not what I’d call a good movie, it’s a heck of a lot of fun (unlike a lot of Star Wars ripoffs from that era).
We open on the planet Jillucia, which has been conquered by the Gavanas, “The mighty invaders from space.” Obviously this doesn’t sit too well with the peace-loving Jillucians, and their aged leader flings eight Liabe seeds out into space to find some help (“Where these eight Liabe seeds land, eight Liabe heroes will rise!”). The old dude sends his granddaughter Emeralida and the warrior Urocco to follow the seeds and guide the Liabe heroes back to Jillucia. Emeralida and Urocco set out in their space schooner, complete with sails.
In their evil lair on Jillucia, bad guy Rockseia and his withered old mom (actually a male actor in drag) get word that Jillucians have been spotted in “Area 10.” Rockseia’s mom figures this could lead to trouble and insists that Rocky bust a cap in the Jillucian space yacht. Blazing combat ensues but the space boat escapes.
Meanwhile, we find ourselves in an asteroid belt and the narrator tells us that “These were the times when Earthling adventurers roamed the planets of the galaxy.” Aboard her space cruiser, haughty young chick Meia (rhymes with…) wants to stop and collect space fireflies, but her pilot thinks it would upset Meia’s wealthy father if she were to partake of such dangerous activities. Suddenly, cocky young pilots Aaron and Shiro arrive on the scene in their space hot rods, getting Meia all worked up. An officer of the Space Patrol (wearing a goofy helmet and sporting a swell mustache) busts up the fun and is challenged to a chicken run by the hot-rodders. The cop isn’t up on the lingo and doesn’t quite get it, but Shiro says “A chicken run, banana!” and explains how it works. After they give the cop the slip, Aaron and Shiro have engine trouble and they both find Liabe seeds (basically glowing walnuts) in their engines.
On Earth (I think), we meet General Garuda (played by an even-crabbier-than-usual Vic Morrow), who is launching a rocket. It turns out it’s a space funeral for his beloved robot assistant, Beba 1. Garuda gets chewed out for going to so much trouble for a robot and he quits the military. His new robot pal, Beba 2, brings him his suave street clothes and he makes the scene at a swanky space dance club where the robot waitresses have pink robo-boobs. While getting soused, Garuda finds a Liabe seed glowing away at the bottom of his drink.
The club is owned (I think) by a wacky comedy relief guy in a silly outfit, and he apparently owes some money to a fat guy, who threatens dishwashers Aaron and Shiro. I got a little lost here but I’m pretty sure Aaron and Shiro are somehow in on the debt, because Aaron says “We had to buy some parts for our machines, we had to buy some engines and parts and stuff!” Wacky Comedy Guy finds a Liabe seed in a tomato. Meia arrives and they hit her up for 30 pieces of gold so they won’t wind up in quicksand.
Meia agrees to give them the money if they’ll help her hunt for space fireflies. They all fly off to the asteroid belt, where they park their spaceships and do a little EVA in their street clothes, wearing headphones and little breathing masks (I remember an article about this movie in Cinefantastique magazine wherein director Fukasaku said he didn’t want space to seem cold, he wanted to show it as a warm and fun place).
While capturing space fireflies, they spot the Jillucian space schooner and go aboard, finding Emeralida and Urocco unconscious. Suddenly, fighters from Rockseia’s battle cruiser attack, rousing Emeralida and Urocco. They all split back to the space dance club, where General Garuda is sleeping it off. One of the hot-rodders says “The sky’s crawlin’ with fuzz!” Emeralida tells the story of the Gavanas invasion and explains that they need help to fight the oppressive metal-skinned horde.
Aaron and Shiro don’t want any part of it, and Garuda begs off, too. Everyone tosses away their Liabe seeds. Wacky Comedy Guy takes Emeralida and Urocco to see a creepy old lady he claims will know who has the remaining Liabe seeds. The old lady tells a very tall Jawa to help them out, then drugs Urocco’s drink. Wacky Comedy Guy, Urocco and the tall Jawa head out to find the other Liabe heroes, but it’s all a set-up and when Urocco is really flying high from his drugged juice, Wacky Comedy Guy brains him with a rock, the tall Jawa zaps him, and Urocco tumbles down a hill. Wacky Comedy Guy says “He was a tough cookie!”
It turns out the tall Jawa is the creepy old lady’s ugly lizard-man son and she wants Emeralida to marry him. Esmeralida ain’t really into it, so the tall Jawa uses a laser-whip to teach her a thing or two about behaving. Rockseia’s men burst in, breaking up the love-fest by shooting the tall Jawa and taking Emeralida and the old lady with them.
Back in what’s either the space dance club or Meia’s bedroom, Meia hangs out with Aaron, Shiro and Wacky Comedy Guy but doesn’t realize they sold out Emeralida. Urocco bursts in and passes out. Meia discovers what happened and flies off, disgusted. She finds a Liabe seed in her spaceship and is super-excited to be chosen as a Liabe hero. Meanwhile, Aaron, Shiro and Wacky Comedy Guy have goofy dreams and when they wake up, Shiro and Comedy Guy’s Liabe seeds return to them. They apologize to the seeds, but Aaron is sad that his didn’t come back.
Meanwhile, the bad guys return to Jillucia with Emeralida and take her before Rockseia. She tells the warlord “You are detested wherever you go.” When the soldiers bring the creepy old lady to Rockseia, he says “There is life in the solar system — this proves it!” They play back the old lady’s Hallmark card-esque memories and Rockseia thinks Earth looks pretty damn awesome, so he decides to conquer the planet. They fire up the massive rocket engines that are built into Jillucia and get goin’.
Rockseia calls up some folks on Earth and tells them he’s on his way and that they’d better get to surrendering. Instead, the feisty Earthlings send three “lethal space carriers,” which are wiped out in the ensuing battle. The Chairman of the Earth Federation of Nations is “shocked” and resigns. The new Chairman hunts down General Garuda and asks him to be a “special envoy” to Rockseia. Garuda isn’t interested until his Liabe seed comes back, after which he takes the envoy job.
Elsewhere, Aaron has a temper tantrum and he and Shiro duke it out. Their slappy fistfight is interrupted by Rockseia’s battle cruiser attacking, and somewhere in here, Aaron’s Liabe seed comes back. Our heroes fly off for action but the Liabe seeds go apeshit and cause them to crash the ship on a barren planet, where they find exiled Gavanas Prince Hans (Sonny Chiba), who has a Liabe seed of his own.
On the rocket-powered planet Jillucia, Rockseia gets all horn-doggy over Earth, gazing longingly at the planet and saying “Why do you excite me?” General Garuda arrives and winds up in a duel with one of Rockseia’s warriors. Rockseia wants to demonstrate his power but thinks the Earth is too lovely to destroy, and blows up the moon instead. Then he sends Garuda on his way, telling him to get busy on that whole surrender thing.
All the Liabe heroes meet up on Jillucia, where they get together with the Jillucian leader and start making plans to blow up the Death Star — er, the rocket-powered planet Jillucia. All hell breaks loose as the final battle against the Gavanas begins and you can be pretty certain that when Aaron and Shiro hop in their space hot rods and attempt to blow up the planet, it’ll be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home.
Like I say, Message From Space isn’t anything like a good movie, but it really delivers in terms of cool miniature effects and cheesy goodness. Plus Sonny Chiba has a sparky sword fight with Rockseia, and you know you don’t want to miss that. You could do a lot worse with an hour-and-a-half of your time, so don’t listen to that sourpuss woman from the movie theater — check this one out.
For more funky movie reviews, check out my book Unsafe On Any Screen:
And you might enjoy my collection of short stories, Tales of Misery and Imagination: