Japan Does Star Wars: Bye, Bye Jupiter (1984)

A long time ago, on a Japanese theatre screen far, far away . . .

20th Fox Studios broke Japanese box-office records with Star Wars and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.

. . . And Japan’s leading purveyor of kaiju (aka “strange beast” or monster movies), Toho, struck back with Bye, Bye Jupiter. Their second foray into the tokusatsu (aka “special filming” or sci-fi/adventure epics) genre, the film is also known as Sayonara, Jupiter in its homeland and Operation: Jupiter in other quarters. Toho’s first light saber swing was 1977’s Great Planet War (aka The War in Space; also reviewed in this week’s Star Wars feeding frenzy).

Unlike the better known Japanese-export, Message from Space (1978), this Asian box-office breaking favorite, while released in Japan and the Pacific Rim countries in March of 1984, was never released theatrically in the United States. And that’s a shame because, while . . . well, let’s face it: most quarters believe Bye, Bye Jupiter is a bad movie (but, cheesy so-bad-it’s-good bad). Granted, while it’s not exactly Star Wars as it strove to be, it’s not as technically inept as Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash, and it’s a whole lot better than Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars starring the ultra-bland Richard “John-Boy” Thomas. Bye, Bye Jupiter is, in fact, it’s just as pleasurable—even more so—as the more popular Message from Space.

Anyway, back in the days when comic book stores collided with the home video rental market, select comic book stores began carrying small rental sections stocked with grey-market VHS copies (with laser-copy covers, natch) of overseas kaiju, tokusatsu, jidaigeki (“period drama,” such as Ugetsu) and onryō (“vengeful sprit”; ghost stories such as Ju-On and Ringu). That meant that crusty, old geeks (like Sam and myself) were able enjoy this George Lucas-inspired romp (subtitled, not dubbed) in the mid-80s. Star Wars fans of the less-comic book obsessed variety came to enjoy Bye, Bye Jupiter much later, courtesy of Discotek Media’s official DVD released in 2007 (with its original Japanese and English-dubbed format on one disc; this disc is now, sadly, out of print).

Seriously, how can you not want to watch a movie where the guy who wrote and directed Godzilla films for Toho Studios, enters the Kessel Run?

Set the computers for light speed, Chewie.

Noted kaiju purveyor Koji Hashimoto revitalized Godzilla for a new generation of fans with the worldwide hits The Return of Godzilla (1984) and Godzilla 1985; but his work as a Second Unit Director on kaiju flicks dates back to 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, and 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.

As with Great Planet War—with its homage recycling of Toho’s own Asian sci-fi favorites Battle in Outer Space (1959) and Atragon (1963), and the ‘70s anime Space Battleship Yamato—Toho Studio took no chances with their second George Lucas cash-in. Keen sci-fi fans with notice the plotting somewhat resembles Peter Hyams’s (1978’s Capricorn One, 1981’s Outland) 2010: The Year We Make Contact—and that it’s filled with homages to not only Star Wars, but also Disney’s The Black Hole, Star Trek: TOS, and Dr. Who.

(As Bye, Bye Jupiter unfolds; you also come to notice similarities to China’s much-later, exquisite blockbuster, 2018’s The Wandering Earth.)

By the 22nd Century, in the year 2125, Earth’s population has grown far beyond its “carrying capacity,” and humans live throughout the solar system. However, as previously with Earth, the solar system’s 18 billion-strong population has created an energy crisis. To solve the problem: Dr Eiji Honda develops the Jupiter Solarization Project, which will transform Jupiter into a second Sun to support deeper space colonization.

By the year 2140, during a water-extracting expedition in the Martian polar ice caps, an archeological team discovers ancient carvings that describe an alien spacecraft crashed into Jupiter and there’s a “Ghost of Jupiter” city. Believing there may have been survivors—and an alien population could possibly be endangered, Honda’s project is postponed.

Other complications to initiating the project are rogue members from a radical environmentalist group, The Jupiter Church, who want to sabotage Honda’s efforts. And Honda discovers his ex-lover, Maria, is one of the terroristic space hippies under the spell of its obese, Al Gore-like troubadour leader who sings songs about how wonderful the Earth is and how incredible nature is (yes, right out of the Star Trek: TOS episode, “The Way to Eden”). The second problem comes in the form a black hole (Hi, Mickey!) that’s entered the solar system and swallowed a manned space station—and it’s on course to collide with the Sun. To save the solar system, Honda redesigns the project: now they’ll “shoot” Jupiter into and explode the planet inside the black hole, which will, theoretically, alter the black hole’s path . . . maybe.

And that problem is solved by. . . .

Alas! Dear sci-fi fans. No space opera is complete without some annoying Battlestar Galactica-inspired Boxey character getting in the way. Thus, we have a screeching 11-year-old tooling around like Davros in a hi-tech wheelchair (yes, from another one of this film’s pinches—Dr. Who). Yes, the kid—not the bevy of scientists with advanced degrees and decades of experience—saves the world. Hey! Know your Godzilla movies! Kids ALWAYS penetrate the monster’s heart and save the world. And that’s how Asian cinema, rolls.

Give me Bye, Bye Jupiter over the later, American-made Armageddon and Deep Impact any day of the week—Davros Boxey, be damned.

* * *

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is currently in theaters and was released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

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