Sayonara Jupiter — dvd movie review — early!
Posted on January 24, 2007 by Chris Nelson
There are really two ways to enjoy tokusatsu eiga, or a Japanese special effects film. The first, and arguably the most prevalent way, is to put on airs of superiority and laugh at the quaint special effects, overly serious dialog, and awkward performances. The second, and my preferred mode of viewing, is to try and place yourself in the role of an audience at the time the film was made, admiring the special effects as the truly innovative artistic and technological works they were, and making allowances for some of the more “silly” genre trappings. Sayonara Jupiter, being Japan’s answer to the box office hits, 2001 and Star Wars, is one of the most special effects filled and famous tokusatsu films, and provides a little something for the jeering nitpickers and admirers alike.
The time is the 21st century. The Earth’s population has reached 18 billion, and people have turned to other planets in the solar system looking for further room to grow. To aid in some of these colonization and terra-forming efforts on outer-lying planets, a committee is formed to look into converting Jupiter into a second sun, and thereby second source of energy, much to the chagrin of a nature loving, dolphin worshiping cult Earthside. Meanwhile, on Mars, a project involving the melting of the Martian ice caps reveals ancient markings telling of an alien space ship residing in the red spot of Jupiter. An expedition is launched, headed by Dr. Eiji Honda (Tomokazu Miura, Survive Style 5+, A Taste of Tea), to verify whether the story depicted holds any merit, but the advance of a massive black hole may put both the human’s first meeting with an extraterrestrial intelligence and the possible fusion-conversion of Jupiter on hold. Alien intelligence, solar catastrophes, terrorist cults, and laser toting scientists — really, what more do you need? Okay, yes, it does have an ultra arty zero-G love scene. Happy now?
Being that it was intended to be a Japanese sci-fi special effects event on par with American blockbusters, such as the aforementioned 2001 and Star Wars (and to a lesser extent, the Jane Fonda Barbarella), Sayonara Jupiter had some big shoes to fill. Keeping in line with the Star Wars techniques, the picture marks the first tokusatsu use of motion control technology (director Koji Hashimoto made a point not to use the old tried and true rocket on a string). Now, motion control at that time was impressive enough, but when combined with the top-notch Japanese miniature know-how, many of these sequences are genuinely awe inspiring even today. The Jupiter atmosphere sequences, the terrorist attacks, the simple shots of gliding spacecraft, they’re all quite convincing. Sure, if you look close enough, you’ll see the hard edges between the models and the mattes, but keep in mind the appreciation aspect. You’ve got to respect what they pulled off with the technology and funds at hand. I sincerely doubt the latest CG action fests will look as nice in twenty years (just take a look at the latest Star Wars films. They’re already starting to look like dated videogame CG cut-scenes. The old practical effects have an infinitely greater shelf life than computer effects.).
As cool as the effects are, you might be wondering about the story. Sayonara Jupiter began as a film concept but the story grew so rapidly (fueled in part by the then current NASA probing of Jupiter) writer/co-director Sakyo Komatsu turned it into a full fledged novel. In order to make the actual picture, he had to pair it back down. But even trimmed, the story is a bit long (The film clocks in at about 2 hours and 15 minutes), and doesn’t really get going until the 59 minute mark. It does have a tendency to lag in places, but you do get a good feel for the characters, and the story does tackle some interesting topics. Regardless, the effects are really the star of the show, so the slowness is a shortcoming I’m willing to overlook.
One of the really cool things about the world of Sayonara Jupiter is the interaction of the various races. It is one of the few pre-millenial cinematic sci-fi worlds outside of Star Trek populated by more than just white people. Caucasians, Asians,Latinos, and Blacks (more than two!) are all still alive, thriving, and mixing, maintaining a harmonious existence. It’s tres cool. Also, the narrative makes cool use of futuristic automatic translation technology (in the form of a nifty little lapel), with everyone speaking primarily in their native tongue. This is kind of cool, for example, when Eiji and Maria (Diane Dangely) are speaking of their relationship, he in Japanese, and she in English (though, where did they hide those lapels later on?) you still believe in their romantic connection.
Acting, I must admit, is sort of a mixed bag. Tomokazu Miura does a fine job as scientist Dr. Honda, and Miyuki Ono (Black Rain) does a good job looking evil and jealous as the cult mistress, but a lot of the non-Japanese cast members have some rather funky line delivery. This undoubtedly will provide a barrel of laughs for the jeerers, but, one must recognize that the English speakers are the foreign language speakers in this production. When an American director asks for Spanish dialog, say, unless he’s well versed and fully fluent in Spanish, all he cares is that the lines sound Spanish. Proper intonation and emoting really don’t even factor in as an issue.
Sayonara Jupiter is definitely not for everyone. But, for those with an open mind, or simply lovers of classic tokusatsu, it’s worth a look.
Discotek is definitely finding its stride. Sayonara Jupiter is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in a very respectable transfer. It’s crisp, it’s clean, it’s nice too look at. The original Japanese soundtrack has a received a very nice, very full sounding 5.1 remix (The English language stereo track is also included for those with trouble reading), which does wonders for the film’s score. Near everything has been subtitled, including all the start credits, and the lyrics to the various songs throughout the film.
The first extra on the disc is a thirty minute making of special covering the evolution of the picture, from script to storyboard to screen. If you’ve seen Japanese making of specials before, you know these are very informative, very respectful making of docs. It’s worth watching for the special effects analyses alone.
Next up is “About The Film”, a text extra covering the history of Sayonara Jupiter as well as providing bios for the films writer, directors, and stars. One odd thing about this feature is that the cursor always defaults to the “Special Features” option, rather than the “Next” button, so in order to advance to the next screen you have a bit of tabbing to do. Furthermore, there’s a lot of info to read. It would have been nice to have an index for the various articles. That said, the articles are quite interesting, and definitely worth a read.
The “Photo Gallery” extra is quite large, and broken into four sections, “Behind the Scenes”, “Miniature Works”, “’IO’ Snapshot”, and “BBJ museum”, the last two referring to the production company Sakyo Komatso founded, and miscellaneous items that didn’t fit in previous galleries, respectively. Every slide features notes regarding the picture, which is quite nice, but the menus suffer the same non-next default as the About the Film extra.
“Another Sayonara Jupiter” is an essay by Yuko Weisser regarding an underground stage play inspired by Sayonara Jupiter, titled Sayonara Jupiter: End of Miyazu. It’s interesting, but definitely not to the same degree as the previous extras.
Last up is the usual Discotek trailer gallery. Featured are trailers for Sayonara Jupiter, Mikadroid, Lupin the Third, and War in Space. Good stuff.
All in all, I believe this is Discotek’s best disc yet. An exceptionally solid disc for an extremely rare cult film. Rock the Discotek, indeed.
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