The War in Space (1977)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (1.5/5)
June 5th, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Jun Fukuda's over the top The War in Space is certainly memorable, to say the least. Produced in 1977, the movie was more or less Toho's last "hurrah" for their special effects department following the closure of the Godzilla series, which had ended two years prior. After this picture the company would scale down these types of productions astronomically, with only a few exceptions in the decade to come like Magnitude 7.9 (1980) and The Return of Godzilla (1984). Unfortunately, The War in Space is hardly an ideal film to mark this transition, as the movie is fairly inadequate. The chief problem, and most crippling, is simply that the story here does little to develop the plot or its characters, as it rushes to get the Goten up and running as quickly a possible; other aspects of the movie don't fare all that well either, as the acting is fairly pitiful while the special effects end up being only decent, although at least the soundtrack is something to look forward to.

In terms of plot, the movie starts out in 1988 with pilot Koji Miyoshi's return to Japan in response to electromagnetic interference that is plaguing the world following a comet scare. Miyoshi is quickly reunited with old friends and acquaintances upon his arrival, although the reunion is cut short as UFOs began to appear all across America as the UN's Space Station Terra is also destroyed in orbit. This series of events prompts Miyoshi to meet with Masato Takigawa and request that the aerial warship Goten be completed. The request falls on deaf ears until the aliens behind the recent disturbances bungle a plan to kidnap Takigawa, at which point work on the Goten commences amongst global chaos from attacking Hell Fighters. Following a fierce battle at the Goten's base, the craft is finally launched as it makes its way to Venus, the suspected location of the invaders' base of operations, to put an end to the alien threat.

The movie is a fairly straightforward alien invasion flick from Toho, which could be described as a remake of the first half of Battle in Outer Space (1959) with elements from Atragon (1963) added in. The opening act of the film is notably light, though, as the picture jumps right into the invasion with Terra being destroyed followed by global alien strikes, and all before the movie hits the 20 minute mark! The pacing in general seems to be stuck on fast forward, although I suppose it's preferable to have a movie that moves too quickly as opposed to one that moves too slowly. The feature gives little time to reflect on the proceeding events, though, as the world is being torn apart by these invasions (seen here ala stock footage) yet the movie takes no time to show how severe this devastation is. The story kind of leaps into the movie already in progress too, with comets and UFOs abound, although neither of these are shown until actual monuments begin to be obliterated causing the audience to be fairly detached from the action early on. The aerial battle sequences in general also seem to be uninteresting, particularly the Goten's fight against the Hell Fighters, which consists of it firing explosive charges for two minutes at the crafts with nothing to spice up or differentiate between each attack. The final battle between the Goten and the Daimakan on Venus fares better at least, as it does vary up the action, although it also tends to draw on way too long. Several introduced elements of the film are also used ineffectively here, with the best example being the Space Beastman whose onscreen time is extremely limited (although given the design, that might be for the best). The creature primarily just stands around holding Jun in her leather outfit, and gets a short battle with Miyoshi as he attempts to flee the Daimakan. The only thing particularly special about the creature seems to be that the large axe that he wields is immune to laser fire. Given Fukuda's previous track record, it should come as no surprise that, like the reflective eyes of King Caesar in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), characters instinctively aim for this area, making the creature seem more powerful yet at the expense of making Miyoshi look like an idiot for repeatedly aiming at the axe instead of blasting the creature away; however, a quick knife to the Beastman's gut ends his reign anyway.

One interesting thing to note about the story of the film, though, is that it's established as a sequel to Ishiro Honda's Gorath (1962). There are no direct references made to the events that transpired in that film, of course, but this movie does feature the UN's Space Station Terra from the movie while the moon, which was destroyed by the collapsed star in the 1962 film, is no where to be seen. The movie also takes place in the late 1980's, allowing for it to follow the events in Gorath (1962) that were set in 198X.

Still, beyond this welcomed sense of continuity with an older science fiction production, the largest complaint to be had with the script is simply that the characters here are so pitifully underdeveloped that it borders on humorous on more than one occasion. The worst example of this is when crew members of the Goten die and the lack of emotion present in the other characters. This is sometimes more mundane, like the raid inside the Daimakan where they drag off their own dead and shove them to the side with the same level of care they do with the alien corpses; however, there are much more extreme examples as well, like when Jimmy is shot down yet, beyond Miyoshi crying “JIMMY!”, there is literally no reaction to his passing. The audience can see a lot of this stuff coming a mile away too, like when Muroi tells Miyoshi that if he doesn't return he wants him to take care of Jun, his fiancé, at which point I don't think anyone in the audience expected him to survive. Predictably, he does indeed meet his end during the battle on Venus, yet the response to this is a simple close-up shot of Takigawa, Miyoshi and Jun, the latter of which also does a loud gasp. After that, nothing. He is never brought up again nor does any crewmember seem very remorseful for his death. Hell, Mikasa of Space Station Terra, who died off screen, gets a more meaningful reflection from the cast then Muroi does, which is just pathetic given that he is one of the lead characters. The lack of human emotion present in response to other characters passing away is also about in line with the hollow characters present in Shuichi Nagahara and Ryuzo Nakanishi's script, as nearly nothing about cast is revealed during the course of the movie. The only exception to this is that Jun, despite being engaged to Muroi, is in love with Miyoshi. This fact is repeatedly drilled into the audiences' head, as even Muroi tells Miyoshi about it at one point, which is about as unreal as you can get as I don't think you will find anyone who will kind of nonchalantly admit that their fiancé is actually in love with their friend. However, the story never really does anything with this idea, as even after Miyoshi saves Jun, and even after Muroi's death as well, there never seems to be anything particular that develops between the two.

In regards to the acting, forget it. Not an interesting performance in the entire film. Even Roy Ikebe seems fairly uninspired as he portrays the captain of the Goten, Takigawa. To even try to mention the chemistry between Kensaku Morita and Yuko Asano would kind of be a disservice too, as the two seem fairly clammy when they are together on screen. On their own, both do fairly inadequate jobs in the film as well. Asano especially seems to need some work on her acting ability, as it's almost painful to see her during the dinner sequence and her attempts to act natural about stuttering in relation to her engagement with Muroi. Of course one can hardly mention the acting in this film without bringing up David Perin, who plays the happy-go lucky, well for the most part, American in the movie. He is established as a fairly slick character in the film, parachuting from his jet before it explodes and running away while Hell Fighters discharge their blasts behind him (of course, one has to ignore that they are creating explosions roughly 7 feet high after seeing their lasers wipe out entire cities earlier). Perin does well to play the part too and actually does a fairly good job with the acting for a English part in a Japanese production, even if dubbed over, as at least his tearful sequence in the movie is credible.

As for the special effects, they are handled primarily by Toho regular Teruyoshi Nakano, with Koichi Kawakita taking up the assistant effects director's chair. Sadly, the movie has a kind of an unfair reputation in this respect for having poor effect work. Compared to previous features by Toho, though, this is actually a fairly well done production from the special effects standpoint as Nakano continues to show his improving expertise in this area. The fact that The War in Space was produced in a timeframe of only two months is an even larger testament to the crew's dedication. Still, there are two reasons why this aspect of the production is often downplayed, with the most obvious being the rather questionable designs present in the film. This ranges from the "roman ship" style Daimakan to the yellow horned, huge lipped Space Beastman. The other reason is that this movie was created in the wake of the US premiere of George Lucas' Star Wars. Now when comparing the two pictures directly it's easy to see where this sense of inferiority stems from, but then one should consider that effects in Star Wars were revolutionary at their time of release. Of course this huge leap in special effects techniques is also responsible for the decline in these types of features in Japan, as budgets on the American SFX films started to balloon while box office receipts for Japanese movies continued to decline, leaving Japanese studios with little option but to focus on cheaper productions. Ignoring the impending climate that this movie was produced in, the crew here does a wonderful job on a number of scenes, including the descent of the Goten out of its heavily damaged base and several elaborate set designs including the Venus landscape and the interior of the Daimakan. Given that this is a Nakanko film, though, it's also not surprising to see a huge range of stock footage used, ranging from as old as Battle in Outer Space (1959) to more recent flicks like Prophecies of Nostradamus (1974).

In terms of the soundtrack, Toshiaki Tsushima does a pretty good job at crafting a distinctly 1970's score to go along with the picture, which, without much contest, is the best aspect of the movie. A lot of themes here work very well, enough so that they are enjoyable as a stand-alone experience even. Some of the more exemplary pieces in the score include the theme that plays for the “Goten vs. Daimakan” battle along with the cue that is heard during the alien invasion of the Goten's base. The fact that the invaders have their own short music riff, which plays during numerous sequences like the revelation of Schmidt's true identity or the Hell Commander's confrontation with Miyoshi, is a little cheesy, but it's damn hard not to smile from ear to ear when it's used so repeatedly in the feature.

In closing, The War in Space is nearly littered with faults at all levels, with the most fatal aspects being an uninteresting story and hollow, emotionless, characters. Still there is some kind of cheesy allure to the whole thing, helped along by its rapid pacing and the nice score done by Toshiaki Tsushima. However, it would be unfit to call this anything other than a fairly bad movie nonetheless, although at least it's more enjoyable than some of the directors other work such as Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).