There’s a lot to examine when it comes to understanding how Japanese cinema has influenced the Star Wars films. From the overall concept of the Jedi to direct homages to the works of Akira Kurosawa and Toho Studios, George Lucas and his team have made their appreciation of Japanese films very open. Toei’s 1978 space opera Message from Space (Uchū kara no Messēji) is an obvious cash-in on the Star Wars craze that takes a cue from Lucas’s creation by drawing inspiration from an acclaimed Kurosawa film.
Compared to the more subtle allusions to 1958’s The Hidden Fortress in Star Wars, Message from Space, directed by the innovative Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora), is a space-age retelling of the 1958 classic Seven Samurai, in which a band of misfits are chosen by fate to defend the denizens of an oppressed planet from deadly invaders. The performances range from overly energetic, like the Jerry Lewis-esque schemer Jack (Masazumi Okabe), to the surprisingly grounded. Vic Morrow (Combat!) and Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter) easily carry the movie with their understated depictions of warriors seeking to regain their personal honor by protecting the captive planet. In the same vein, the film’s art design is fittingly erratic, combining the standard “used future” look with the more whimsical fairy-tale imagery.
In its best moments, Message from Space matches the expeditious storytelling and bizarre spirit of the sci-fi serials that motivated Star Wars. It may not be as timeless but it’s certainly one of the most earnest films released in the wake of Lucas’s groundbreaking production.