Toei Doga’s 1969 “Manga Matsuri” featured one of the most cutting edge theatrical anime features to date. SORA TOBU YUREISEN (THE FLYING GHOST SHIP/THE FLYING PHANTOM SHIP) mixes elements of 1950’s sci-fi along with a little “old dark house” horror. With the success of Shotaro Ishinomori’s CYBORG 009, having been animated into two films and a television series by Toei Doga, it made sense to bring another one of his manga stories to the big screen. To make things even cooler, Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli was one of the key animators.
The film starts out with a young boy Hayato, his parents, along with his dog Jack, returning in their boat from a fishing trip. They notice a car crashing off the edge of a cliff above them. Hayato and his father investigate the crash and find they know the man and woman passengers. Hayato’s father recognizes the man as being his boss Mr. Kuroshio and his wife. Mrs. Kuroshio wakes up and says they saw a ghost in the road that startled them which caused them to crash. They decide to take the unconscious Mr. Kuroshio to a creepy old mansion out of the rain. Mr. Kuroshio wakes up just in time to witness a visit from the so called ghost. The visitor has a skull face and a captain’s uniform on and claims to be the owner of the mansion. The creepy phantom then explains that 10 years ago he and his family were poisoned and murdered at sea, but the culprit was never caught. He seeks revenge with the aid of his flying ghost ship, until the murderer is brought to justice.
A few days later Hayato and his father are driving through the city doing errands. Hayato’s father comments on how much Boa Juice (a Kuroshio product) his son is drinking of late and how it’s not healthy. Suddenly a military tank appears, running over cars to get to it’s destination. In what looks like a scene from CLOVERFIELD, you can see a cool retro giant robot in the distance behind some buildings. The robot refers to itself as Golem and says he is a messenger of the Ghost Ship. Soon the tanks and jets start attacking the Golem. Unfortunately Hayato’s parents are killed during all of the chaos. Before his father dies, Hayato is told that his parents were not really his. He was actually found washed ashore tied to a piece of driftwood and was taken in by his rescuers who become his new mother and father. Hayato is told hidden behind the clasp of his watch is a picture of his real parents.
Mr. Kuroshio and his wife, let Hayato live with them. A news cast appears on the television showing a confrontation between the Golem and the Flying Ghost Ship. The ship unleashes a barrage of rockets and death rays that destroys the metal titan. This event leads to confusion for Hayato, since he heard the Golem state he was sent by the Ghost Ship. Immediately Mr. Kuroshio leaves the room. Hayato follows to discover Kuroshio had gone into a secret underground base that is filled with military weaponry and what? A Golem? It appears, Kuroshio was behind the death of Hayato’s parents, not the Ghost Captain. Mr. Kuroshio and other business men, along with the military are all part of a huge conspiracy. Hayato escapes and goes to the police, who of course laugh and don’t believe him. Desperate, Hayato goes to the street hoping to find someone who will listen. Again he is brushed off, but he notices a man who seems to be getting sick. Suddenly the man’s body dissolves into a foamy liquid. The same happens to others. Hayato discovers they are all drinking Boa Juice and are being poisoned by Mr. Kuroshio’s company. Kuroshio’s henchmen grab Hayato and bring him to a television where Mr. Kuroshio is waiting before a live studio audience. Not knowing Hayato discovered his secret, Kuroshio expects the boy to tell the story of how he saved his life from the car accident. Instead Hayato proceeds to tell TV land who was really behind the Golem and that Boa Juice is poisoning everyone. Suddenly giant crabs attack the studio and grab Mr. Kuroshio. The crab says that Kuroshio has failed to complete the mission and destroy the Ghost Ship in the name of the Great Boa. Boa has decided Kuroshio’s existence is no longer needed and is then eaten by the huge crustacean. Hayato and Jack are about to meet the same fate, but are saved by the Ghost Ship.
The Ghost Captain explains that Boa is an advanced being on the ocean floor with superior technology and has been trying to spread warheads throughout the world, but has been reluctantly stopped by the Ghost Ship. Hayato’s Boa Juice consumption has finally caught up to him and becomes ill. After being cured from the Boa Juice poisoning Hayato meets a young girl on the ship named Tori. She explains that when he fell ill, he accidentally turned off their cloaking device and was attacked by Boa’s battle drones. Hayato quickly goes to see the Ghost Captain who was injured. Hayato sees the Captain without his skull mask and recognizes his face. It’s his real father from the picture he just got from his watch. The Ghost Captain verifies the truth after seeing the picture too. While the Captain rests, Hayato and Tori decide to go on a death run and plan to ram Boa’s fortress. They begin to descend deep into the ocean towards the base through mines, a giant octopus, and even more drones. The Ghost Ship is shot to pieces by cannons, before it finally reaches it’s destination. Hayato, Tori, and the Captain eject to safety while the ship reaches it’s destination. Then ships explosion causes a chain reaction and destroys the fortress. At that point we get a glimpse of the Great Boa, which seems to resemble a giant oyster or mussel. All is saved and everyone returns to the Captain’s mansion. Hayato, Tori, and Jack sail off into the sunset to a catchy, cool tune called “Hayato’s Theme”. The animation in this film is state of the art, with lots of attention to detail. If you dig movies like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA or basically any 60’s era kaiju film, this one is for you. Hayato was played by female actress Masako Nozawa who is also famous for the voices of “Kitaro” from GEGEGE NO KITARO, “TETSURO HOSHINO” from GALAXY EXPRESS 999, and “GOKU” from DRAGONBALL.