When it was announced in the early 1980s that American audiences were returning to Jupiter via “2010”, the Peter Hyams sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking “2001”, Toho decided to give Japanese audiences a trip of their own, and do it before “2010”. The result was “Sayonara Jupiter” (aka “Bye-Bye Jupiter”), a big budget effort whose biggest accomplishment was to make viewers appreciate the average “2010” even more. “Jupiter” was a movie with the potential to mark the first time a Japanese film competed with a major Hollywood production on a level playing field. Instead, it was a missed opportunity, a movie that was too long and too self-indulgent for its own good.
“Sayonara Jupiter” opens on Mars, where scientists are laboring to extract water from the red planet’s polar ice caps. Instead, they uncover a mysterious symbol that appears to be a message from extraterrestrials that, apparently, have been active in the solar system for thousands of years. The discovery postpones a planned mission to Jupiter, where humans hope to harness solar power for an energy-starved Earth. Instead, a spaceship is dispatched to ensure that alien life do not currently exist on Jupiter before the planned mission is to commence. But things don’t go as planned, and a renegade hippie cult and a runaway black hole shows up to complicate matters.
The biggest and most glaring problem with “Sayonara Jupiter” is the script by Sakyo Komatsu, who is adapting from his own novel. Komatsu wrote the novel twenty years earlier, and while he was translating the novel into script form he apparently forgot to look out the window. Otherwise he would have noticed that it’s no longer the 1960’s. As a result, the flower children of the Jupiter Church and their philosophies, as portrayed in the film, are laughably out of date in the materialistic 80s. In fact, they don’t translate well even now. Truth is, it’s hard to believe that a published novelist (any published novelist, actually) could write such bland and unbelievably bad dialogue.
Another problem concerns the aliens living on Jupiter. The aliens are never really focused on to the extent that they should have been, seeing as how they are a major part of the film’s premise. Instead, they’re relegated to background players. This is a major problem, especially since aliens are what the audience usually comes to these types of movies for. Not helping matters at all are the script’s human characters, who are so thinly drawn that not a single one ever achieves the level of personality where the audience can care about them.
The only possible exception is Ron Wilson, playing the ill-fated Captain Kinn. Wilson is heads and shoulders above everyone else, but considering the cast at hand, that’s not really a feat worth bragging about. The only other bright spot is Koichi Kawakita, whose special effects work for “Sayonara Jupiter” is quite impressive, and might possibly be some of the best effects done in the 1980s. They’re so good, in fact, that they might rival anything done by a major Hollywood studio at the time. The miniature work is also impressive and intricate in design, not to mention the excellent matte paintings.
Unfortunately director Koji Hashimoto isn’t up to the task of meeting Kawakita in the inspiration department. Even though “Sayonara Jupiter” is a visually attractive film, the filmmakers spend so much time lingering on the effects shots that eventually you see more of outer space than any sane person would care to. The film itself is simply way too long; 140 minutes is a ridiculous amount of time to tell “Jupiter’s” story, and as a result the film feels bloated and padded.
Ultimately, “Sayonara Jupiter” looks less like a motion picture and more like a demo reel for Toho’s special effects department. As such, Toho’s special effects department certainly has a lot to be proud of. The rest of the film’s cast and crew, unfortunately, should hang their head in shame.
Koji Hashimoto, Sakyo Komatsu (director) / Sakyo Komatsu (screenplay)
CAST: Dangely Diane …. Maria Basehart
Akihiko Hirata …. Dr. Inoue Ryutarou
Andrew Hughes …. Senator Shadllic
Tomokazu Miura …. Dr. Eiji Honda