Sunday, June 28, 2009

Toei Tokusatsu Hero Box - Disc 5

(I keep doing these reviews!)

Since the film MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978) was Toei's answer to STAR WARS, it is perhaps unsurprising that they used the same name for a spacefaring TV series. However, UCHU KARA NO MESSAGE : GINGA TAISEN ("Message from Space : Galactic Battle") has only superficial connections to its movie namesake. If the film is a Japanese STAR WARS, then the TV show is the Japanese BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. This disc includes a theatrical featurette of the televison version, which is sort of like when the pilot for BG found its way into cinemas. Sadly, I don't think either incarnation of MESSAGE went over even as well as the original 1970s iteration of BG.

Hiroyuki Sanada is back, but he isn't playing the same character as in the original MESSAGE. If anything, this series is flashier and has more action. The budget probably isn't as lavish, but they make due with what they have. I deeply enjoy the ape man (this show's "Wookiee" stand-in) and Tonto (the obligatory cute robot) for the low-budget charm. From what I've seen, this is a grand show, so it's a shame it went nowhere.

BATTLE FEVER J is an odd case. It is a sentai - in fact, the first to be branded as "super sentai" - and yet, it is presented in this collection. Why? Because it was omitted from the sentai movie set! I'm guessing Toei has lost the 35 mm elements for the Battle Fever J theatrical film (which was merely a cropped blow-up of the 16 mm Episode 5 of the series) and so decided to just skip it for the sentai box. Presumably, this was met with some outcry, as the "film" is included in this set.

The catch in this happy ending is that I don't think Toei miraculously unearthed a new print. It looks like they did some clever patchwork on a copy of the remastered episode's print and called it a day. Certainly, I have a lot of trouble believing that BFJ was not in widescreen in 1979, when ever other movie of this type was. It's not an outrage by any means - in some respects, it's a BETTER presentation. But it's not the "theatrical" presentation. Not exactly.

As for the movie/episode itself, it's a great one! It's the introduction of Battle Fever Robo in action, marking what would be a fundamental change in the sentai genre. Plus, we get plenty of hijinks with one of the more colorful teams of sentai heroes.

What is there to say about BATTEN ROBO MARU? It's another silly, slightly surreal cute robot show. I enjoyed this original theatrical featurette a lot - perhaps more than I did the ROBOKON ones. I especially liked the parodies of popular characters who turned up. The last thing I was expecting was a riff on real/fictional wrestler Tiger Mask!

We wrap up the disc with a double dose of SHAIDER, the third and final of the "uchu keiji" ("space sheriffs"). Well, a couple of subsequent shows were thematically similar, but SHAIDER is the last official space sheriff. It's still as technically proficient as its predecessors GAVAN and SHARIVAN, but it does feel as if the formula is wearing a little thin. It doesn't help matters that star Hiroshi Tsuburaya, while competent enough, is still a bit colorless at this stage in his career. Shaider manages the mean feat of getting upstaged by his sidekick Annie!

Ah, Naomi Morinaga. Someday, I will write more here about this incredible woman. I'll give you the short version by saying that Morinaga is both amazingly beautiful and an amazing stunt performer. She later developed into a decent actress too, but in SHAIDER, she gets by with her prodigious charisma and screen presence. If you can't tell, I'm a fan.

Both of the SHAIDER movies are acceptable entertainment for their purposes. I have a preference for the first one, which has a "mysterious cool character" named Omega. Omega is a great idea, which makes it all the more unfortunate that Toei squandered the opportunity to film flashbacks with Gavan and Sharivan for his backstory and elected instead to go with painted stills. If you want to know more, find the movie!

That's all this time, but join us for the overview of Disc 6 (whenever those particular planets align) and my discussion of what I consider the most bogus "sub-genre" of Japanese superheroes.

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