We resume our survey of the Tezuka Pro TV Specials of 1978-1989 with the star-studded Marine Express.
Kaitei Choutokkyuu Marin Ekusupuresu. (Marine Express: Undersea Super Train). August 26, 1979. 91 minutes. Directed by Satoshi Dezaki (a.k.a. Tetsuo Dezaki), from a plot outline by Osamu Tezuka. Character design by Satoshi Dezaki, based on Tezuka’s established characters. Setting designs by Nao Sakaguchi. Music by Yuji Ono, with lots of Lupin III music cues. The disco theme song, “The Marine Express”, is performed in English by Tommy Snyder with music by “You & The Explosion Band” (the “You” is Yuji Ono).
By this time, Tezuka had mostly turned the annual Tezuka Pro Specials over to his staff. However, it seems likely that he instructed them to make Marine Express the apotheosis of the Tezuka Star System. Every character except the most minor was to be an “actor” played by one of Tezuka’s manga “stars”, and the production staff was to make sure that every Tezuka manga star appeared somewhere in Marine Express. There were actually several prominent Tezuka characters who did not appear, such as Saruta (Gao from Phoenix), Koichi and Shinichi Hoshi (Randy and Kenny Carter) from The Amazing 3, and Tink (Choppy) from Princess Knight, but they had never been part of the cast of Tezuka Stars. Also, according to the Japanese publicity, Marine Express appeared during the height of Black Jack’s popularity, and Osamu Tezuka animated every drawing of him in Marine Express personally (oh, yeah?), while the animation of all other characters was left to the Tezuka Prod. staff.
Marine Express is set in 2002, which was then twenty-five years in the future. Mankind’s greatest engineering feat, the Pan-Pacific Undersea Super Train, popularly called the Marine Express, a luxury passenger train running along the Pacific sea floor in a self-repairing transparent tube from Los Angeles to Tokyo, with stops at the major South Pacific islands, has just been completed. Its test run is announced, mostly with test dummy passengers, but everyone is so sure that it will be safe that several dignitaries with their families will also be on the train.
In California, private detective Shunsaku Ban (Higeoyaji) is hired by the Chief Engineer of the Marine Express company. He claims that he has just learned that the test run will be used as a cover for criminal purposes, and he wants Ban to investigate. Ban goes to his estate on a stormy night to get further details, but is shocked to find the Chief Engineer (Frankenstein) murdered. The body disappears right in front of Ban. Suddenly a masked figure leaps out of the house and flees. Ban pursues him in a car chase and fight, and unmasks the figure to reveal the murderer (Skunk Kusai), but is knocked unconscious by an accomplice. Ban wakes up in the private hospital of Dr. Black Jack, who found him, recognized that his head injury was life-threatening, and operated to save Ban’s life. However, Black Jack’s bill is ¥5,000,000.
Just then, Black Jack’s assistant (Pinoko) sees on TV the ceremony of the Marine Express boarding for its test run. Ban recognizes Skunk sneaking on the train, and insists on chasing him immediately, accompanied by Black Jack who will not let Ban out of his sight until he gets his ¥5 million. The dignitaries boarding the Marine Express include Director Credit (Duke Red), the financier of the Marine Express project who has become a major U.S. statesman, and his young daughter Milly (Chocula); and rival industrialist Marukubi Boon with his secretary (Hamegg) and bodyguard (Kojiro Sasaki). The train’s designer/inventor, Dr. Nazenkopf (Prof. Ochanomizu), arrives by helicopter, along with his older-teen son (adopted), Rock Nazenkopf (Rock Holmes), who is the train’s engineer, and his younger son, Adam (Atom). Ban and Black Jack arrive at the last minute before the train leaves, although they enter one of the cars filled with test dummies by mistake.
Nazenkopf in German roughly means nose-head; a good description of Prof. Ochanomizu. He first appeared named Dr. Nazenkopf in Tezuka’s January 1953 manga X-Point on the South Pacific, which contains many of the concepts later used in Marine Express.
The first part of the journey shows the wonders of the Marine Express and the undersea world outside the transparent tube. Ban finds the superscientific engine and engineer Rock just as the tube and train are menaced by a nearby undersea volcanic explosion. On the train, a steward (Acetylene Lamp) acts suspiciously, and Ban finds Hamegg apparently murdered and “disappeared” just as Frankenstein was. Adam and Milly get to talking; Adam is confused about the relation between toys, dummies, robots, and humans. There is a momentary glimpse of Skunk disguised as a steward. Adam and Milly become friends, but Dr. Nazenkopf angrily forbids Adam to play with her. Adam is revealed to the audience as a robot. Dr. Nazenkopf, who has been depressed and angry during the entire time, explains to Rock that he is a South Seas native. He was a child genius, and came to Germany to put his learning to the betterment of mankind, but was soon disillusioned by being prejudiced against because he was not White. (Did he adopt the name Nazenkopf at this time?) After the Nazis came to power, he moved to America and became an employee of Credit’s company, where Credit took the credit for all of Nazenkopf’s inventions and parlayed that into political power.
The Marine Express’ first surface stop is in Polynesia (in 1979 a French colony). While they take a break, Credit and Nazenkopf have an angry confrontation. Credit accuses Nazenkopf of being ungrateful; he pays a princely salary and has financed all of Nazenkopf’s inventions, enabling the scientist to make them a reality. Nazenkopf counteraccuses Credit of taking the credit for them, like he is doing with the Marine Express, dismissing Nazenkopf as a mere mechanic building Credit’s ideas. Furthermore, Nazenkopf has only designed the Marine Express under protest at Credit’s orders. He is opposed to the environmental damage it will create, and the destruction of the South Seas culture by being inundated by all the American and Japanese tourists who will come. He has been against this from the start, and he has finally decided to prevent the Marine Express from completing its trip. Credit calls on nearby CIA agents to arrest Nazenkopf, who flees and falls off a high native ruin, getting a grave head wound.
Rock sees a vision of a strange but beautiful girl who begs him to help them, but he is too distraught by his father’s injury to pay much attention. Nazenkopf is taken aboard the train so Black Jack can operate on him. Boon assigns Sasaki to guard them. Skunk and his accomplice, revealed as Lamp, openly strike and force Rock to start the train. Black Jack must finish the operation on the speeding train. Sasaki fights them, but Skunk and Lamp defeat him and use the mystery weapon to kill and disintegrate him. It turns out that Skunk is smuggling the new weapons in the test dummies, to be delivered to revolutionists along the Marine Express’ route. The train is unexpectedly attacked by giant sharks that try to break through the transparent tunnel. Director Credit goes to see what is wrong. Milly, left alone, asks Adam to help. Adam goes to the engine room, where Skunk disintegrates his human disguise, revealing him to all as a robot. Skunk tries again, missing and disintegrating a hole in the tunnel. The escaping pressure sucks Skunk out of the train, ending the criminal menace. But Adam says that Skunk’s vicious attack has convinced him to agree that “his father” is right that the Marine Express must be destroyed to protect the South Seas islanders. Adam enters the computer that controls the Marine Express, and merges with it to override Rock’s control of it.
Ban contacts the American authorities at Samoa, their next stop, to take control of the train again. But the computer, controlled by Adam, starts the train and leaves Samoa before the Americans can act. The next fifteen minutes are a humans-vs.-the computer battle. The humans – Rock, Ban, Credit, and Boon, with Black Jack operating on Nazenkopf and Lamp cowering in terror, fight back against the computer-controlled train. Credit, then Boon, are killed. Just when all looks lost, Milly turns out to also be a robot (she hadn’t known it!), created by Nazenkopf for Credit who had wanted a daughter. Milly, who is not affected by the anti-human devices, gets into the inner chamber to convince Adam as one computer to another to call off the attack.
Just when all the problems are solved, the Marine Express and its passengers are transported into the past. This is 65 minutes into the feature; the final 26 minutes are a completely new plot. Different movie plot synopses give the time travel as 4,000 years, 8,000 years, 10,000 years, 30,000 years, and 80,000 years into the past. They end up at the Empire of Mu. Mu was popularized in the late 19th & early 20th centuries as a prehistoric Pacific continent that sank around 12,000 B.C., whose refugees became the ancestors of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Central Americans, Southeast Asians, etc.
In the movie, the Marine Express passengers are greeted by Dondora (Don Dracula) and a squad of ancient uniformed soldiers. Dondora takes them to his master, the evil scientist/wizard Sharaku (the Three-Eyed one). Sharaku has recently used his magic to overthrow peaceful Princess Sapphire (Princess Knight), the legitimate empress of Mu; Dondora, who was Sapphire’s prime minister, has switched loyalties. Sharaku has time-grabbed the Marine Express when it entered an area of the Pacific that had been a part of Mu; he wants to use the train’s sophisticated computer to increase his powers to ensure that he rules Mu and the future world to come forever. When the train’s passengers refuse to help him, he throws them into prison. Princess Sapphire, who has remained free with the help of her flying white lion (Leo) and is the leader of Mu’s freedom fighters, is also captured after explaining the true situation to the future people. Black Jack proposes giving the new weapons hidden on the Marine Express to the freedom fighters. Sharaku, still hoping for the cooperation of the future people, treats them as “honored guests” in a threatening manner.
The passengers discuss among themselves which side they should join, during which Black Jack carves his bill to Shunsaku Ban into a rock. Sharaku finally tires of waiting for the future people to join him, and he tries to kill them all with robots that look somewhat like the Easter Island statues; but Leo flies them to safety with the Freedom Fighters. Sapphire escapes by disguising herself as Dondora, and she rejoins the freedom fighters, now under Rock’s generalship, as the revolt breaks out. Lamp tries to betray the Freedom Fighters to Sharaku, but the latter decides that Lamp cannot be trusted and he sends Lamp back to the future – in the middle of the ocean. Adam goes to the Marine Express to use its power for the Freedom Fighters, but Sharaku forestalls him and threatens to kill Nazenkopf in his sickbed. But Adam says that both he and Nazenkopf were prepared to die to defeat evil, and Adam explodes the train, killing Sharaku, Nazenkopf, and himself.
Later, the survivors discuss whether to stay in the past or use Sharaku’s time-travel ray to return to their own age. Rock will marry Sapphire and help her rebuild the Mu Empire. Black Jack will also stay in the past; the Mu revolt gave him lots of wounded soldiers to operate on. Milly has no one in the future to return to. Shunsaku Ban alone wants to return. Sharaku’s time-travel ray can only return him to the middle of the ocean, but he will take his chances. He manages to reach land in Micronesia safely, but nobody believes his story of having gone into the past. The anonymous officials he talks to include Police Inspectors Tawashi (Inspector Gumshoe) and Nakamura (Chief McClaw) from the 1963-1966 Astro Boy TV series, and Osamu Tezuka himself is a skeptical tourist. The Marine Express is believed to have been destroyed by some unknown undersea disaster and will never be rebuilt, so the environment and the South Seas culture are saved. Ban begins to doubt his own story, until he finds the ¥5 million bill that Black Jack carved into a rock, now an ancient weathered stone.
Tezuka’s Hyotantsugi also makes a split-second appearance. Since Marine Express was made as part of Nippon Television’s “Love Saves the Earth” telethon, it emphasized the themes of Environmental Destruction, Cultural Responsibility, and Anti-Racial Prejudice. Marine Express was considered by the public as a good, family-friendly animated TV movie; nothing special.
Marine Express entire movie: