We resume our survey of the Tezuka Pro TV Specials of 1978-1989 with the one based on Tezuka’s Prime Rose manga series.
Time Slip Ichimannen Prime Rose. Primrose: A Time Slip of 10,000 Years. August 21, 1983. 90 minutes. Directed by Osamu Dezaki & Satoshi Dezaki. Screenplay by Keisuke Fujikawa, based on Osamu Tezuka’s original manga. Music by Yuji Ono.
Nippon Television’s 1983 “Love Will Save the Earth” telethon went back to Tezuka Productions. It was an adaptation of Tezuka’s Primerose serial that had just concluded in the boys’ manga magazine Weekly Shonen Champion; July 9, 1982 to June 3, 1983. This TV movie was planned before the manga was started, and Tezuka took the liberty of making the plot slightly more complex in his manga version.
Tezuka used the old Elizabethan spelling and pronunciation of “Prime Rose” in both versions. This starts out as a science fiction drama and turns into a sword & sorcery farce.
The story begins in 1983, when the “Death Mask” military satellite suffers a mysterious accident in orbit and falls to Earth, splitting in two and obliterating the cities of Dallas, Texas and Kujū, Japan. However, as the Time Patrol knows, the two cities are not destroyed but sent 10,000 years into the future. Gai Tanbara is assigned by a Time Patrol officer (who looks incredibly like Mr. Spock) to travel into the future in one of the agency’s time machines and find out what has happened to the residents of those cities. Gai’s bratty kid brother, Bunretsu, stows away in the machine. (This was obviously never a seriously dramatic s-f movie.) They go too far, and emerge in a desolate world filled with dangerous mutant monsters. Gai and Bunretsu decide to separate and explore, apparently having never heard of the horror-movie law: Don’t Go Off Alone! Bunretsu is menaced by monsters in the jungle (jungle?), and is rescued by a mysterious old man. Gai finds a beautiful girl being threatened by a hulking legionaryesque-dressed thug in the desert. Gai captures the thug, whom the girl identifies as a guard from the slave mines where she had gone to see her enslaved fiancée, Taro. Gai marches the guard at electric-knife point back into(!) the slave pit, where he is captured by the other guards.
It turns out that Dallas and Kujū have evolved into the separate, rival countries of Guroman and Kukurit. Warlike Guroman (Dallas; are you surprised?) has conquered peaceful Kukurit (Kujū), and enslaved many of the Kukuritians to build statues of demons by order of their demon-god Bazusu. As a sign that Guroman wants a “friendly” peace, Guroman is patronizingly benevolent to Kukurit’s collaborating nobility, one of whom is Jacques, the rich merchant. His daughter Emiya sympathizes with the Kukuritian commoners, and she falls in love with Taro, who protests the cruel enslavement of the Kukuritians by Guroman’s haughty Prince Pirar, who is the governor of Kukurit. Pirar has had Taro enslaved with the other Kukuritians.
Prince Pirar orders Taro executed for his stubborn refusal to accept Guroman’s rule; and Emiya is thrown out of the slave pit to return home to the effete nobility. Gai is enslaved with the other statue-builders and partially blinded. Emiya is wooed by Pirar, who plans to wed her with Jacques’ enthusiastic approval; but she swears to defeat him for murdering Taro. But she is only a weak girl. Jinba, the mysterious old man who rescued Bunretsu, turns out to be a wise sensei living in a cave in the desert with Bunretsu as his acolyte. He trains her to become a Red Sonja-like barely-dressed master swordswoman. At the end of her training, she fights a dragon whose fiery breath turns people to stone (er, what?). Jinba is mortally wounded, and dying, he reveals that he is really the exiled king of Kukurit, and Emiya is really his daughter, Princess Prime Rose. She was entrusted in infancy to Jacques. Meanwhile, Gai leads a slave revolt, and the Great Devil (Bazusu in the manga) appears to boast that it caused all the troubles starting with the fall of the Death Mask satellite and the time-slip of the two cities into the future. It became the evil master of Guroman, and it ordered Guroman to conquer Kukurit just to enjoy watching the warfare.
At this point, Emiya/Prime Rose takes the lead as a skimpily-clad female swordsmistress. She and Bunretsu (who turns out to be a juvenile lech) fly on giant butterflies to Pirar’s palace, and she challenges him to personal sword combat. Pirar and Kiriko (the only Tezuka Star who has an appreciable role), his second-in-command, want to hold the duel in public in the stadium. (At this point, the Tezuka Star system flickers briefly. Among the stadium background characters are Black Jack, Boon, and Higeoyaji.) Pirar tries to cheat; Primrose wins with a superpower that she never revealed before; Pirar cheats harder and captures Primrose and Bunretsu. The revolting slaves, led by Gai, arrive. The Guroman soldiers pull out swords, which are immediately eaten by giant stinky cockroaches. (Tezuka has a silly deus ex machina for everything.) When Pirar finally surrenders completely and signs a peace treaty, the Great Devil reappears, annoyed that the warfare has stopped. It orders the Guroman soldiers to break the treaty and start fighting the Kukuritans again immediately. Pirar is tired of fighting. Kiriko kills him and takes over command of the Guroman soldiers.
Gai know that the Great Devil is really Sigma-99, the supercomputer part of the Devil Mask satellite. He has to destroy it to make sure of destroying its control of the humans. Gai, Bunretsu, and Primrose go alone to destroy Sigma-99. The computer seems invulnerable to them, but Primrose attacks it with her superpower. She appears to win at the cost of her own life, but Gai swears to wait until she returns to life, no matter how long it takes.
Primrose has problems, aside from the fact that Tezuka makes it clear through his slapstick deus ex machinae that it is not meant to be taken seriously. Is the Time Patrol supposed to be in 1983 or decades or centuries later? When Gai and Bunretsu explore the ruin of Kujū, and Bunretsu holds up a pachinko machine (a noisy, semi-legal gambling device still very popular in Japan, as far as I know; we had one in my UCLA college fraternity in the late ‘50s) and says, “I’ve never seen such thing.”, is it just a funny gag or is it supposed to imply that society has finally gotten rid of them by the Time Patrol’s time? Gai travels into the future in a snazzy Time Machine, has an “electric knife”, and pulls out a camera with old-fashioned film rolls to take pictures. All the animals have evolved tremendously, but the 1983 Japanese/English language is still the same. Bunretsu is constantly being menaced and cowering in terror, pleading for help, then immediately brattily running back alone into danger as soon as he is rescued. Or peeping at Primrose bathing naked in a forest spring, which the viewer also gets a good closeup of. Said viewer shouldn’t help noticing that the mannish-looking swordsmistress suddenly becomes quite busty in the naked bathing scene. Dramatic scenes have languid lounge-mood music. The Tezuka Star System is so underused that what little of it appears is only an annoying distraction. The ending is the only part that could be said to symbolize “Love Will Save the Earth”.
Ho-hum? It’s difficult to consider Primrose a failure when it is so obvious that it never pretended to be any more than an amusing Tezuka Trifle.
BELOW: Primrose complete movie