It has been said that the difference between nerds and geeks is that geeks get it done. Well, the boys and girls at JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, certainly get things done, even if it takes them twenty years to do so. 'Hayabusa' ('falcon')) is the first of three major fictionalised accounts of the Japanese sample-return mission of the same name to asteroid Itokawa (previously known by the less catchy name of 1998SF36).
The plot could be described as "Apollo 13 minus the steroids". There is less of the pompous swelling music, macho backslapping and weeping spouses here, but then again no lives were likely to be lost on the Hayabusa mission. And refreshingly, especially for a relatively traditional country like Japan, there are fair number of women on the team. Some things have changed over the past forty years. There are plenty of tense moments though, when the attempts at first touchdown fail, communication is lost and budget constraints threaten to shut down the project. The only major technical criticism of the plot line might be that it omits the only element of the mission that was a complete failure. Part of the plan was to put a roving mini-lander on the surface of the asteroid, but this ended up tumbling into space.
The folks at mission control are serious, hard-working scientists with little time for private lives. And yet it is the small glimpses of private lives that give this movie its warmth. The main character, Megumi Mizusawa (played by Yuko Takeuchi) is a research assistant struggling on her PhD thesis. She is trying to live up to the expectations of her mother and her older brother, who inspired her to gaze at the stars but died young. Encouraged by her boss, a head of public relations at JAXA, she finds a way to explain the mission in words easy enough to be understood by kids. We see short glimpses of people from all walks of life who are caught up in the drama of the mission via Megumi's weblog. And for well over two hours, so are we.
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