Bye Bye Jupiter
January 13, 2000
SAYONARA JUPITER is a film that excels in its visuals -- so completely so that main director, writer, and executive producer Sakyo Komatsu (Japan's leading SF author) self-indulgently didn't know where to say "cut." The film goes on too long from scene to scene and shot to shot, trying to let the audience drink in every beautifully crafted detail of the lavish sets.
This is certainly the best looking Japanese SF film in years, beating out numerous similar American productions, including 2010. Designed by Heio Takanaka and shot by Kazutami Hara, the film also boasts excellent special effects that truly rival those of George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic for sheer consistency and quality.
The film (in development for five years, pre-production for two, and with almost 6 months in shooting) was an expensive and massive undertaking for Toho, Komatsu, and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, and they want you to see where every damn yen of the extravagant budget went. What this film needs is a little editing down, and the removal of some of Komatsu¹s extraneous scenes involving a "cosmic" lovemaking jaunt, and most sequences on the Jupiter Church's commune -- in short, to quicken the pace of a drama which can go on for pages before there is a scene change.Based on Komatsu's novel of the same name, written back in the late 1960s, there are elements here strangely similar to Clarke's later novel, "2010: Odyssey Two" -- in particular the overpopulation of the Earth, and the solarization of the planet Jupiter. Komatsu insisted that he oversee the entire project; this was allowed without argument, due to the author's previous track record with Toho's filmic adaptation of his book, The Submersion of Japan . Komatsu even overrode co-director Koji Hashimoto, so one can safely say who is probably to blame for the picture's excesses. The film's running time of 140 minutes (2 hrs. 20 mins.) is not the problem -- what is done in that time is all that matters. Too much of the picture is boredom against exciting vistas. A 1985 television showing of SAYONARA JUPITER in Japan, which was cut by 20 or so minutes (in all the right places), proved to be the turning point for opponents of the film. The television version was edited into an exciting piece of work. With trimming the film achieves its goal: to entertain.The score by Kentaro Haneda (CRUSHER JOE), shines and is very fitting for this lavish SFer, rivaling the best the West has to offer (yes, even old Johnny Williams), but still retaining a definite Japanese flavor -- subtle yet strong. On the other hand, the film's songs, by Yumi Matsutoya and Jiro Sugiya, "Voyager" and "Sayonara Jupiter," could be easily ditched. The performers and players are diverse. The right casting was done in relation to the Japanese, but for the most part, barring the leads, the non-Japanese actors are amateurish to say the least. Shooting the film in several languages, however, does help lend an extra feeling of realism.Toho's primary stroke of genius this time out was to select the greatest living special effects director in Japan, Koichi Kawakita. Their second was the acquisition and employment of some of the most advanced "motion control" equipment and optical printers available in the world. And allowing Kawakita ample time to plan and produce the massive special visuals required for the film.From the vast array of miniatures and their operation, to the most intensely beautiful matte paintings ever done by Toho and the flawless blue screen processing -- the sheer amount of visuals is astounding, surpassing even the most current work ILM has to offer, and being more consistent in the calibre of quality in each effects shot. Eiji Tsuburaya would be proud. Toho is once again in the competition as world leaders in the special visual effects industry. Too bad audiences internationally will not be the judge of that, as the film has seen no distribution outside of Japan, as of this writing. Just witnessing the incredible prologue and excellent opening credits sequence (a tribute to the Pan-Am/space station scene in 2001), would open the eyes of even the most hardened anti-Japanese fantasy film critic.But special effects shouldn't make a film -- special effects are not what makes a film, they are an element, an enhancement to take the audience into a non-existent world. SAYONARA JUPITER's special effects are an aspect of relating the story, and are damned excellent to boot. The technical aspects should not come under fire in dissection of the film -- the flow, direction, and editing should, as they are the motion picture's only real weak points. The film is an excellent "work print" from which a masterful production can be culled. If only one current Japanese SF film were to be imported for theatrical screening in the United States, SAYONARA JUPITER, grand in scale, ambitious in execution, should be the one. ?