ESPY/Esupai (1974)

ESPY (1974)‘The Prime Minister should be safe, unless an enormous amount of energy is directed at him.’

A race driver with latent psychokinetic abilities is recruited by a secret organisation of special agents with extra-sensory abilities. Their main mission is to combat a rogue group of similarly talented individuals who are trying to wipe out mankind by starting World War lll.

Fast moving Japanese spy thriller that comes with a heavy dose of science fiction and a very serious approach to its material. There are no gadgets or gimmicks here; just a conflict between two sets of super-humans who fight with conventional guns and weaponry as well as their own mental powers. The only nod toward humour comes with chief bad guy Yûzô Kayama, who is a typically caricatured Bond villain, although this is probably emphasised more than intended by the maniacal laughter on the English dub track. Surprisingly, he is given some motivation for his actions, which is quite refreshing.

The film opens with a near fatal accident on the race track for Masao Kusakari, who saves himself with a sudden, and unexpected, use of his telekinetic abilities. This draws the attention of the two star operatives of ESPY, Hiroshi Fujioka and pretty Kaoru Yumi. At the same time the ‘Counter-ESPY’ organisation (not a very original name) are busy assassinating NATO diplomats on their way to a peace conference. Their aim is to destabilise the political landscape and plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust which will wipe out normal people and leave them masters of the planet. It’s a somewhat flawed scheme in my opinion, given what little would remain after such a conflict and their own dubious survival, but they are super-humans so they’ve probably got something worked out.

ESPY (1974)

Isn’t anyone going to help me up?

The story never really develops beyond a series of action set-pieces, but at least they keep coming and, for the most part, are efficiently realised. The SFX are very much of their time, but they are some pleasingly practical stunts and explosions.

There’s also a surprising emphasis on the psychological cost of being an agent, with Kuskari seriously conflicted after he has killed an opponent, and Yumi struggling to come to terms with performing a nude striptease under hypnosis on the stage of a seedy nightclub.

The film’s main problem comes with its’ lack of definition of the protagonist’s abilities. They can see through walls, practice telepathy, move heavy objects, and even teleport in moments of great stress, but seem unable to interfere with the actions of others in any way, instead being forced into lots of gun battles and fisticuffs. There are no exploding body parts here, such as appeared in films that cover similar ground, like ‘The Power’ (1967) or David Cronenberg’s ‘Scanners’ (1981). One of the Counter-ESPY agents uses her dangly earrings to hypnotise subjects, instead of any mental abilities, and later on when Kusakari is at the mercy of the criminal gang in an abandoned warehouse, all they try is running him down with mechanical diggers and then shooting him (which they probably should have done in the first place if you think about it). But nothing more.

Director Jun Fukuda is mainly remembered for his association with the Godzilla films of the late 1960s and early 1970s; including romps such as ‘Son of Godzilla’ (1967), and the seriously funny ‘Godzilla Vs. Megalon’ (1973). Leading actors Kusakari and Fujioka are still active in the Japanese film industry as of 2016. Sequels to this film may have been intended but never appeared.

At times this plays a little like a U.S. TV pilot of the 1970s, but it’s a fairly entertaining way to spend 90 minutes if you approach it in the right spirit.

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