REVIEW: Cosmic Rescue: The Moonlight Generations (2003)

cosmicrescue_posterA trio of blue-collar workers operate a rescue and repair spacecraft for the interplanetary corporation Cosmic Rescue. Each joined imagining a glamorous life rescuing civilians from dangerous accidents and crises, but instead find themselves collecting debris from around the moon’s orbit. When they think they have intercepted the rescue mission of a lifetime, they instead find themselves dragged back to Moonbase, summarily fired, and at the centre of a conspiracy within the corporation itself.

Cosmic Rescue: The Moonlight Generations is a 2003 science fiction film directed by Shinsuke Sato. It is visibly produced on a low budget, bubbles with light-hearted banter, and tells a grounded but overly familiar sort of space-borne thriller. More than anything else, it feels like something the British Broadcasting Corporation might have made in the mid-1970s – only with much more accomplished model work, and a cast speaking Japanese. It is a modest film, with a lot of potential to disappoint, but if the viewer watches with modest expectations it is an enjoyable 90-minute diversion.

The film’s origins lie in the famous Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates, founded in 1962 by the agent Johnny Kitagawa. Johnny & Associates created – and, indeed, continue to create – Japanese boy bands. They audition and seek out talent, package them in groups, and on-sell them to potential adoring crowds of teenagers. Individual performers are licensed out to TV dramas and talk shows, and even motion pictures, all of it strategically arranged to maximise popularity with audiences. In 1997 the agency founded its own record label; why, after all, would you license your artists out if you can afford to make the CDs yourself?

Cosmic Rescue represents the next logical step in that direction. Why license your performers out to film and television, when you can afford to produce your own direct-to-video features specifically aimed at promoting those performers? Cosmic Rescue stars Go Morita, Ken Miyake, and Junichi Okada – otherwise known as one half of the boy band V6 – and the film is aimed directly at their young fans.

There is no attempt to hide the fact that Cosmic Rescue stars pop singers: each has his own variation of the ‘bad boy’ rebel, like the hothead and the brooder. Each is carefully manufactured to perform towards specific niche demographics. Together they resist authority in a bowdlerised and ‘safe’ fashion. They flirt with girls, but naturally remain availably single.

The real surprise is that the storyline of Cosmic Rescue is remarkably solid and grounded, with logical motivations and a relatively small human context. There are no aliens, killer robots, or unexplained phenomena. Instead there are industrial cover-ups, corporate conspiracies and straight-forward rescue and cleaning work. This more realistic take was a surprise, and by avoiding making the V6 protagonists overly heroic the entire production manages to avoid feeling too much like a pop band commercial.

The production also does well with its production design, despite its constraints, with some genuinely attractive model work and various science fiction props and costumes. The direction by Shinsuke Sato is visually a little drab, but some hand-held photography and a strong humorous pace help to lift up the film’s spirits. As mentioned earlier, it is a modest work. Based on budget and what I assume was a genuinely tight production schedule, it is a nicely distinctive and low-key feature for enquiring science fiction fans.

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