SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 6: BE FOREVER YAMATO…and the Kitchen Sink
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 1: The Anime Classic That Nearly Wasn’t
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 2: From Valley to Peak
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 3: ARRIVEDERCI YAMATO Goodbye Dark Ages, Hello Global Village
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 4: We’re Off to Outer Space
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 5: THE NEW VOYAGES Plural
What was the best year to be a Space Battleship Yamato fan in Japan? 1977, when the first movie proved to everyone that they were not alone in their obsession? 1978, when FAREWELL TO YAMATO showed the entire nation that anime was here to stay? Maybe. But if you were looking for non-stop Yamato action that filled an entire summer vacation from end to end, you could do no better than 1980.
That’s the year BE FOREVER YAMATO rolled out in movie theatres, and from June through August it was a non-stop Summer of Love. In the history of fantasy films, animated or otherwise, few campaigns can compare to that of BE FOREVER YAMATO. The anticipation for this film burned even hotter than it had for FAREWELL. Ever the showman, Yoshinobu Nishizaki supervised an avalanche of promotional events that built excitement to a fever pitch and set records that have yet to be broken.
Fresh off the fast track of THE NEW VOYAGE in summer 1979, Nishizaki’s Academy Studio was deluged with work on two new TV series described last time, THE BLUE BIRD and BLUE NOAH. But “YAMATO PART III” was still a top priority and his concept for it was as big as they come: Earth’s sun would be damaged in such a way that it would go supernova in the space of a year, requiring Yamato to set forth and find a new home for humankind. Leiji Matsumoto advocated instead that the movie should have a tighter focus on the characters and such a large-scale scenario could be better served in an extended TV series. Nishizaki heartily agreed, and BE FOREVER YAMATO (as we know it) got underway.
Production wise, it went about as smoothly as it could have. The script was completed in January and animation began at Toei Studio in May. A number of new techniques would be attempted, including the first high-end fusion of film and video effects using a technique called Scanimation. Another super-secret effect was kept under wraps with only the name revealed to the general public: Warp Dimension. What was it? They would have to wait until the film opened to find out.
But what truly set BE FOREVER YAMATO apart was its avalanche of promotion, which required an equal amount of time and attention from Nishizaki and the top members of his staff. It officially began on June 7 with the now-traditional late-night radio drama in which the actors and sound crew put together a complete audio version of the story with a few extra scenes that were cut from the film but would make it into the manga version later.
Something else that made 1980 great was a broad anime explosion that filled both the airwaves and the movie screens with new and exciting works, of which BE FOREVER YAMATO was only the most prominent. 19 feature films (more than any previous year) were released, including the classic SF story TOWARD THE TERRA. TV saw the conclusion of MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM and the startup of SPACE RUNAWAY IDEON, both of which heralded the coming ‘Real Robot’ trend of the new decade. Anime was bigger business than ever, and countless live shows and film festivals commemorated the fact throughout the summer. But BE FOREVER rose above even this.
The biggest event of the summer was unquestionably the “Space Battleship Yamato Voyage of Adventure Roman,” a 3-day sea cruise with the cast and crew of the film. It departed on July 20 with 500 lucky lottery winners on a luxury passenger ship redecorated to look like Yamato. There were greetings from “Captain” Nishizaki and “Chief Navigator” Leiji Matsumoto, both of whom would go on the voyage along with prominent members of the voice cast. The fan crew enjoyed a variety of events such as YAMATO film screenings, photo and autograph sessions, treasure-hunting, and fireworks.
Music was front and center throughout the summer with the first record releases in early July and the next big event on July 24, a huge concert at the famous Budokan amphitheatre. The event was both comprehensive and breathtaking. Scenes from the new film were previewed, the cast and crew appeared on stage, and maestro Hiroshi Miyagawa conducted the orchestra, which performed many new pieces. Altogether 15,000 fans attended two performances in a single day.
Just five days after that, the third biggest event got underway called “Three Days of Adventure and Exploration: Where is Secret Training Base Icarus!” It was a three-day train voyage with a YAMATO theme hosted by Leiji Matsumoto and a group of voice actors. The stated destination was Icarus, the secret asteroid training base. The real location was kept secret. The trip included a variety of events, including a quiz to guess the destination, YAMATO video screenings, mountain and lakeside hiking, athletics and cycling. The final destination was Lake Nojiri at Nagano Prefecture.
On the evening of Friday, August 1 there was a now-familiar sight: eager fans surrounded theatres all over Tokyo. At 8PM, around 500 gathered at the Toei Palace theatre in the Marunouchi Ward. At 9PM, another 500 were at the Tokyu theatre in the Ikebukuro Ward. The first person to sign the guest book had been in line for a solid week. At 9:30, an estimated 600 were at the Toei Palace theatre in Shinjuku. First in line was a group of four who had arrived two days earlier, at 7AM. By 10PM, a record 1,000 people had lined up at the Tokyu Rex theatre in Shibuya. As usual, the theaters had opened their doors for those who were waiting in the long lines to let them nap indoors, where they could get some respite from the killer heat.
The next morning doors were flung open and fans rushed in to find out what the summer had been leading up to. They weren’t disappointed. The movie kept them riveted for over two hours as they watched their heroes get scattered by a dramatic invasion of Earth. Yamato had to launch on an impromptu mission to stop the invasion at its source while an underground resistance did what they could on their own. It was a different kind of Yamato story, darker and more introspective.
It was also a triumph on a technical level. The Scanimation effects allowed for smooth optical compositing that added swirling layers of mist to hand-painted artwork. The Warp Dimension effect was finally revealed when the story arrived at a pivotal moment and the picture expanded to a full widescreen aspect ratio. At the same time, the sound went from mono to 4-channel stereo and blew every mind in the room.
The end result of the Summer of Love was boffo box office. BE FOREVER YAMATO brought in over 2.2 million viewers and earning 1.36 billion yen, which made it Japan’s 7th highest grossing film of the year.
About a month later, students were back in school and BE FOREVER’S cast and crew could finally recover from what must have been the most insane year of their lives. They had YAMATO III to contend with, of course, which hit the airwaves on October 11 and started a whole new cycle of events that would finish the year.
In the end, Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s final gift to YAMATO fans was an easy topic for the perennial back-to-school essay: “What I did on my Summer Vacation.” They would spend the fall soaking up new waves of merchandising from books and records to toys and models.
The movie made a comeback the following year, shown in a double feature with THE NEW VOYAGE in March 1981. It would take just two more years for it to debut on home video. This was unfortunately where the Warp Dimension effect became a victim of small-screen limitations and required compromises from one release to the next since it was released by no less than three separate companies before Bandai took control in 1989. They all dealt with the anomaly of a changing aspect ratio by not dealing with it at all, keeping the picture full frame and cutting off the action on either side (then squeezing for the end credit roll). Bandai put the issue to rest by shifting from full screen to letterbox at the appropriate moment, but it had the opposite effect you would have gotten in a movie theatre since the picture now took up less of your TV screen.
Regardless, BE FOREVER YAMATO was a classic from the moment projectors started rolling in 1980 all the way through to today. In a way, it represents the pinnacle of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO’S rise to anime supremacy, since (ironically) everything that came after it was going to prove far more challenging than everyone thought.
Next time: The Shifting Sands of YAMATO III
Keep watching SciFi Japan for more installments of Tim Eldred’s look back at the classic SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO!
Read much more about Yamato and find STAR BLAZERS DVDs at www.starblazers.com
STAR BLAZERS is ©Voyager Entertainment, Inc.