Title: Oasis wo motomete (Original: オアシスを求めて)
Director: Masayuki Tomizawa
Writer: Seiken Tamukai
Music: Isao Tomita
Cast: Kiichi Nakai (Oribe Michi-on), Tanaka Misako (Kuraishi Rei), Jun Hamamura (Takashi Oribe), Go Riju (Haga)
July 20th 1969. A young boy watches the Apollo 11 moon landing on TV. Unable to sleep at night from the excitement, he looks out from his apartment towards the moon above in the night sky. Right there he knows what he will dedicate himself for the rest of his life: space.
2087: Japan builds its first space colony, a huge space station called the Islands, orbiting at a Lagrange Point designed to be the habitation for a few millions people, lucky enough to escape the dreadful conditions on Earth, which is experiencing an ecological catastrophe.
The entire environment has become polluted and cities have become huge sprawls. Melancholic skyscrapers rise toward grey clouds that constantly pour acid rains.
Old people are convinced to commit assisted suicide to give room and save resources to the younger generations, and dutifully many do, in great numbers. The hospitals are clogged with the sick.
Oribe Michi-on is a young maintenance technician who on his flight toward the space station sees a strange phenomenon out of shuttle window, a rainbow-like halo, something that could only be if sunlight is reflected through water vapor. The event is so ephemeral that nobody else aboard witnesses. At the station, he’s one of the initial crew who is tasked to prepare for the initial wave of colonists. But something just doesn’t add up between his readings and the computer predictions. Then something shocking happens: they lose contact with the equivalent American space station.
This alarms the Japanese crew, as years before the first American Island was destroyed for unknown reasons. At a maintenance survey, Michi-on discovers an undetected accumulation of ice from a water leak.
Traveling back to Earth, the shuttle’s radar detects huge metallic debris. Michi-on goes on an EVA and discovers it’s a piece of the American space station.
Down on Earth, Michi-on meets with his girlfriend, a nurse who is the great-granddaughter of Takashi Oribe, the child from the beginning of the film, now an old man.
The old man is filled with regrets of a life he felt failed to provide a better future for mankind that the dream of the conquest of space would enthrall. He lives in an overpopulated vertical block where he serves as a teacher to the local children in lieu of the decadent education system. But his teaching goes far beyond school curricula, preaching against the excesses of the past generations and to educate the new generation into the dangers of societal and economic shortsighnedess. This puts him in trouble with the authorities, where even is advanced age and status as a living legend doesn’t protect him from being considered a subversive. Michi-on will try to use his leverage to help the old man.
But Michi-on also has other pressing concerns, as the continuation of his investigation, helped by the knowledge that Oribe has about the past failures of the previous space stations, convince him that the accidents are anything but, instead deliberate acts of sabotage by parties unknown who manage to act beyond the scope of governments and contrary to the interests of mankind.
Take part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Blade Runner, and add some Soylent Green and Outland for good measure and you will end with Oasis Wo Motomete, a most obscure SF film made for television, aired in 1985. I have written about obscure movies before, but this one does one better. To the best of my knowledge, it was once aired on Japanese television in 1985 and again in the early 1992, to fall into obscurity. I watched it on television back in the late 1980s. And I think the film was never shown on American television. I can’t find an American title, even on IMDB. I know it by the Portuguese title “Santuario No Espaço”, which translates to “Sanctuary In Space”. The original title translates roughly to English as either “In Search Of The Oasis” or “Seeking The Oasis”.
If this is the title, then it has a double meaning, as one meaning concerns the protagonist attempting to know what happened to the destroyed American space station and the impending threat on the Japanese space station that he knows will follow the same fate. The other is more metaphoric, and deals with the general theme that mankind looks toward space to find a place to live outside of the depleted and poisoned Earth below.
A movie that is mostly a mix of 2001 and Blade Runner would always catch my interest; given those are two of my three favorite movies of all time (the 3rd being the non-SF Apocalypse Now). And I never forgot this movie even after all this years. Recently, I decided to do some detective work and re-discovered it, learning of its original title for the first time.
One first immediate thing about this movie is that it is an obvious very low budget movie. The second immediate thing is how ambitious it is, in story but also in scope. This is a story that is set in space, on a huge space stations, on orbital travels and on the Moon, but also on Earth in a Blade Runner-esque future overcrowded Tokyo of huge buildings. This film throws as many themes and locations.
And this also goes to the special effects as well. They were made on a very low budget, and yet the ambition to depict many space and city locations is simply to be admired. Ambition like this makes me very willing to overlook the obvious cheap special effects, in fact, it makes them endearing to me. I have always reacted very well to films that have ambition in both theme and scope even if they don’t have a big budget to pull off. I rather reserve my film love for one that is small but ambitious than to any huge blockbuster full of flashy special effects and action extravaganza scenes that can’t cough up one single idea of merit.
That this movie is such an earnest invocation of Blade Runner and 2001 sure doesn’t hurt either. I have commented before this before, haven’t I? It’s worth repeating, I say. Because, to the best of my knowledge, no other movie has done that as of yet.
It also proves that Japan in the 1980s was already ahead of the loop in their appreciation of Blade Runner compared to the more hesitant reactions found in the USA and UK. The Japanese have loved Blade Runner since day one. Rock on, Japan!
It’s interesting to see a movie which merges the humanistic thematic elements of Blade Runner (and not just that) to the space thriller element of 2001. The film attempts a realistic depiction of space, including no sound in space, bridging the time gap between the hallowed 2001 and recent films like Gravity and Interstellar. When the movie fails to make a realistic depiction, a very rare occasion, it is obvious it was not so much intention, but the limitations of its meager budget. That it achieved so much is admirable.
To say this film is forgotten is an understatement. Even in its native Japan it’s very obscure, and probably remembered by those who were old enough to watch it in its two airings. Or guys like me who was lucky enough to catch it on TV one lazy Sunday night. I never forgot it and luckily I managed to rediscover it.
This is one of those rare movies I believe it could be remade verbatim, as it could benefit from modern special effects. And it wouldn’t even need to be a high budgeted remake, given how many recent low budget SF films have managed to show off impressive visuals even on relatively meager budgets, like Europa Report, Love and Moon.
It’s possible to watch the movie online through this link: http://nicoviewer.net/sm649891
The movie is divided in various videos and can be identified by its original Japanese title オアシスを求めて .
Sadly, however, it doesn’t have subtitles. I can overcome that because I still recall from memory practically the whole plot and some of the dialogue. Still, I urge you to at least check it out just for curiosity sake. Most of the film’s story is told through images, against in the style and spirit of its two major inspirations, Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, two movies which are not exactly dialogue heavy.
This is AsimovLives, signing off. Have a better one.