- Ravi Swami
The War In Space, Dir: Jun Fukuda, 1977
I'd had my sights set on Jun Fukuda's 1977 Toho Studios produced film "The War In Space" for some time but it's not available on any of the usual streaming services. An internet search yielded an upload on the Archive.org site here - not the very best quality but it is the entire film in its original Japanese form with English subtitles.
It surely has to be one of the loopiest entries of Japanese fantasy films based around high technology flying submarines, possibly inspired by the success of the American TV series "Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea" and the 1961 theatrical film of the same name that inspired it, though I wouldn't be surprised if the concept was around in various "Manga" before that.
They have formed the basis for numerous films since then, starting with "Atragon - The Flying Submarine" (1963) which featured a submarine with a boring drill on its nose, echoed in the "Gohten" in "The War In Space" - though here it is capable of space travel whereas the "Gotengo" (Trans: "Roaring Heaven") featured in "Atragon" was limited to travel in the air and under the sea.
Both craft are equipped with an arsenal of futuristic weaponry to deal with any kind of threat encountered. The trope continued into the 60's and 70's in TV series like "Mighty Jack", revolving around a similar super-submarine, before fizzling out by the 1980's.
Thematically it's a hybrid of two hugely successful films and Manga series, namely the aforementioned "Atragon", and "Space Battleship Yamato" Manga and later long-running Anime TV series and was clearly an attempt to cash in on the success of "Star Wars" (1976) though comparisons with that film stop at genre - 1978's "Message From Space" could be viewed as being more obviously lifted from "Star Wars" on many levels, by comparison.
Reading the Wikipedia entry for this film suggests that the version I watched was a cut-down of the original Japanese "Great Planet War" (Japanese : "Wakusei Daisensō") since some plot details appear to be missing - a common practice when Japanese films were being distributed overseas.
If I were to sum up this film in a single line it would go something like "Space Romans from Venus attack the Earth which is defended by the "UNSF Gohten" Flying Super-Submarine" and that's pretty much all you need to know. The practice of projecting ancient technology into the sci-fi space can be seen across many Japanese fantasy films, hence the frequent appearance of "Space Galleons" etc, and here it is a kind of cross between a modern battleship and a Roman Trireme crewed by green-skinned Venusians wearing outfits from a "Sword and Sandals" Italian historical epic...yes.
As an odd nod to "Star Wars" when the "Gohten" crew enter the alien ship they are met by a Wookie-like creature with a double-headed axe that is far from friendly, though anything resembling a robot is absent in the film.
The Gohten's crew face squadrons of flying saucer-like UFO's before despatching the Venusian / Roman ship and its' captain, a self-proclaimed ruler of the Universe, before destroying Venus with the Gohten's secret weapon, a bomb its' creator (& chief engineer of the Gohten) describes as capable of "destroying the galaxy".
The visual effects - created without the help of Toho's resident visual effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya, but all the hallmarks of his influence are there - are on a par with most of Toho's giant "Kaiju" epics and there are plenty of explosions, energy beams and a kind of amphibious flying tank to keep a younger audience transfixed and to later pester their parents for the merchandise that inevitably followed in its' wake.
To sum up, loopy premise, yes, but worth checking out as a companion piece to the equally surreal "Latitude Zero" that also featured a high tech' flying submarine.
"The War In Space", Dir: Jun Fukuda, 1977