Lensman [film]

Tagged: Film

Japanese animated film (1984; vt Lensman: Secret of the Lens). Original title SF Shinseiki Lensman. Based on E E Smith's Lensman series. Madhouse, MK Productions. Directed by Kazuyuki Hirokawa and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Written by Sōji Yoshikawa. Voice cast includes Toshio Furukawa, Seizo Katou, Mami Koyama, Nachi Nozawa, Chikao Ohtsuka and Tadashi Yokouchi. 107 minutes. Colour.

Earth and its allies formed the Galactic Patrol to combat the expansion of the evil Boskone empire (see Galactic Empires). When one of the Patrol's agents crashlands on the planet Mqueie he is found by farmer's son Kimball Kinnison (Furukawa). The agent is a Lensman, who bear a super powered Lens; he instructs Kimball to pass on information about the Devil Planet to the Galactic Patrol, transfers his Lens to him and dies. The pursuing Boskonians destroy the planet, including Kimball's father, but not before Kimball and a family friend, the Alien Peter Van Buskirk (Ohtsuka), flee in the Lensman's Spaceship. Shortly after they are joined by Patrol members nurse Clarissa MacDougall (Koyama) and alien Lensman Worsel (Nozawa).

Adventures follow, most notably on the Boskone-held planet Radelix, with an extended chase sequence (animation-wise, the highlight of the film) and a surprisingly plot-relevant disco. When Clarissa is kidnapped by Lord Helmuth (Katou), leader of the Boskonians, Kimball impetuously follows. Though Kimball is tortured, the Lens (Yokouchi) manages to guide him into using its powers to defeat Helmuth and broadcast the location of the Boskone HQ, the Devil Planet, to the Galactic Patrol armada. Helmuth escapes, but otherwise all ends happily.

There are only a few references to the larger backstory of Smith's books, involving Arisia, Eddore and the origin of the Lens; the film concentrates on the Boskone vs Galactic Patrol conflict. Though the characterization and plot are routine (owing little to the source works), and some of the computer-generated scenes dated (the film being an early user of CGI), on the whole the animation is impressive for its time – the latter half being particularly good – making this an enjoyable Anime Space Opera.

The film was clearly made with as much an awareness of the Star Wars franchise as Smith's books: Kimball becomes a teenage farmer's son; Van Buskirk, originally human, is now a bulky humanoid alien; whilst tough Clarissa, though initially competent, quickly becomes a damsel in distress (her cinnamon bun hairstyle rings a bell too). A subsequent television series, Galactic Patrol Lensman (1984-1985), has a different origin story for Kimball.

Because Japanese copyright law meant the owner of the publishing rights also held the rights to all media in country, the Japanese publisher had unilaterally authorized the making of the film and television series; meanwhile, unaware of this, the Smith Estate was discussing a movie deal with a Hollywood studio which lost interest once the anime appeared. The Estate was not pleased. Though there was a period when the film was available in the USA, including broadcasts on the Sci-Fi Channel, it is unlikely the film or series will be shown or released again until the copyright runs out in 2040. [SP]

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