Galaxy Turnpike <ギャラクシー街道 Gyarakushī Kaidō>
Galaxy Turnpike a 2015 Japanese film that offers up that somewhat rare blend of genre hybridity known as the sci-fi comedy. Science fiction and romantic comedies tend to be genres of choice for me, and despite the rather mediocre reviews this received in 2015, I was quite excited when I heard it was getting a theatrical release here in Hong Kong.
The primary story follows a day in the lives of Noa (Shingo Katori) and Noe (Haruka Ayase) a husband and wife couple that run Sand Sand 33, a chain operated burger restaurant that has seen better days. Situated along space route 246666, the interstellar expressway no longer has the traffic it once had, and customers to the Sand Sand 33 are few and far between, giving cause for Noa to file for reassignment back to earth. Meanwhile his wife Noe has been secretly planning a renovation of the place to surprise her husband, but he has misread her intentions and thinks she has been heading off to have an affair. Not helping matters is the fact that the alien contractor she wants to hire has otherworldly affections for her. And to top things off Noa’s ex-girlfriend and her alien husband drop in to further complicate their relationship.
While the humor can often be hit or miss, the main thing that Galaxy Turnpike has going for it is a clear sense of the classic postmodern space-age tone in terms of the overall look and design. True to director Kōki Mitani’s form, the film at times feels more akin to a highly stylized stage play. Fans of science fiction will find much to appreciate here in the art direction. Right from the start the film opens with an animation sequence and audio cues that plays like a direct homage to The Jetsons. The characters, costumes, and color-tones evoked are almost Futurama-esque at times. Other influences such as Noe’s sporting of a Romulan-style haircut, a few of the supporting aliens, and even aspects of the uniform designs make some moments feel like the cast may have just walked off of a Star Trek set.
But while some of the humor and design is rooted in western sci-fi, many of the set pieces are more like Japanese variants of SNL skits gone a bit askew. In one case, a dentist from earth looking to get a bit of ‘extra-marital excitement’ meets with an alien pimp and to arrange a session with one of his extraterrestrial ‘ladies’. In another, a member of the galactic security force with a secret identity reveals himself to his commanding officer who, it turns out, has a secret of his own. There is also a bit about a civil-servant surveyor who’s at the restaurant drafting his recommendation for the closure of the turnpike itself, but begins seeing many of his childhood fantasies appear therein. Most of these seemingly individual skits ultimately build out to a common incident which, by the end brings everyone together to help the two protagonists realize their importance to each other.
While the funny moments do pay homage to many western sci-fi tropes, nothing is truly context specific, unlike movies such as Spaceballs (1987), Galaxy Quest (1999) or Sky High (the 2005 Disney film, not the 2003 Japanese film). Nor are the interactions within the Burger Bar as subtly snarky as one might find in the scene set at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series. But for those versed in the tropes of Anime and Japanese science fiction one will find gags that are at times more culturally rooted in the Japanese handling of science fiction (such as references to Ultraman and ideas about the sentience of ‘things’ rather than just animals.) Some moments just play out for the sake of it without any deeper explanation, such as Ms. Hana, the cook, who experiences an electrical meltdown whenever she gets overly upset.
Fry Me To The Moon
Perhaps my favorite moments of the film are when the protagonists seek solace in the form of a grandfatherly figure named Doctor Domoto (Toshiyuki Yishida made up to look almost like Chief Aramaki from Ghost in the Shell). This character appears via a holo-projector as a floating head (another relatively common sci-fi trope), in scenes that would best be described as subtly paying homage to Joseph Weizenbaum.
In truth, Galaxy Turnpike is not for everyone, even regular fans of science fiction may find the pacing too slow and stage-like. But for those who can appreciate the style over substance approach of this work, a subtle space age charm can be found within.