Although Toei have listed this series on their channel as simply Message from Space, it’s important to note that this isn’t the 1978 space opera film starring Vic Morrow and Sonny Chiba which at the time was the most expensive Japanese film ever made. Instead this is Message from Space: Galactic Wars (宇宙からのメッセージ·銀河大戦), it’s 1979 spin-off series which stars neither of those actors. Glad that’s all cleared up.
Message from Space is Star Wars by way of Shotaro Ishinomori, and though the original film has been often criticised for that fact, the show isn’t very subtle about it either. Though it naturally plays a lot closer to Japanese sensibilities than its Hollywood cousin, the character archetypes are very similar. Of course Star Wars didn’t have the most original premise to begin with either and was heavily inspired by Japanese cinema, so really it’s all just come full circle.
Deep in the 15th Solar System, Hayato Gen is returning home to the planet Analis to visit his family – hitching a lift with the hot shot Ryu and his cigarette-smoking co-pilot Ape Man Ballou. Unfortunately, the Gavanas Empire have decided to take over Solar System, and as part of their assault on Analis murder Hayato’s family. After some fighting both on land and in space, Hayato is visited by the mysterious Sophia and vows to fight back against the Gavanas Empire.
There’s probably some additional context to be gained from watching the original movie first, but even then Message from Space doesn’t waste any time throwing the viewer in at the deep end. Between the characters, planets and general political climate there’s a lot to take in with this first episode, and given how fast the plot moves along not a lot of time for it to digest.
There’s a strange disconnect between aesthetics here as well. Half of it is blocky and futuristic, whilst the other half leans into more classical architecture. Meanwhile, the Gavanas Empire are a mix of ornate space samurai and leather-clad stormtroopers in space-age gas masks. Finally, Hayato looks quite the supermodel in his white jacket and tight jeans. It’s all very strange but oddly charming at the same time, and not just because the best character here is a gruff man in a gorilla mask.
Where this series really seems to excel though is the miniature work. Toei have never been quite on the same level as Tsuburaya Productions in this respect but here they pull out some incredible ship designs, as well as the kind of entertaining dogfights that would make Gerry Anderson proud. Though the episode does have a little bit of fist fighting the spaceships are very much the priority when it comes to action, which is a nice change of pace from the usual background support they tend to be.
Message from Space: Galactic Wars gets off to a bit of a rough start, but definitely shows some promise and the opening credits suggest there’s still elements possibly worth continuing for. If you are interested however you’re in luck – the series has been fully subtitled and released on blu-ray in the US via Discotek. A region-free or region A player will be required though.
You can now find Message from Space: Galactic Wars, as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.