FINAL YAMATO: The Legacy Begins
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
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 6: BE FOREVER YAMATO…and the Kitchen Sink.
SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 7: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO III: The Ground Shifts
Though unexpected turbulence brought the YAMATO III TV series to a close much sooner than expected, executive producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki wasn’t ready to give up on SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO yet. He knew from hard experience there was always a way to bounce back from near-defeat, and said so loud and clear in a text roll at the end of YAMATO III’s final episode:
Although the story of YAMATO III has ended, Yamato will continue to battle for peace. From the time YAMATO was created, next year will be the tenth year. The last production will commemorate YAMATO’s story over these 10 years. Please look forward with hopeful expectation to the summer of 1982. Farewell for now.
It was April 1981, and the seeds were quickly planted for one last adventure when Nishizaki called his writers together and gave them a mission plan. Toei Pictures was willing to back a new feature film for the following summer, and it was up to them to conclude the saga in the grandest possible fashion.
Nishizaki began the process by laying out three major plot points: Captain Okita would return, Kodai and Yuki would be married, and Yamato would be destroyed. The overriding theme was that Kodai had grown as far as he could while serving on the ship. His final step into manhood was to leave the ship forever, as per the last order of his father figure, who would then fly Yamato into the afterworld. This was only fitting, since Okita would have to come back from the afterworld himself to reclaim his command.
With that as a starting point, the hard part began: devising a mission of sufficient scope and an enemy of sufficient strength to top everything that had come before. Ideas flew fast and furious throughout the summer and story drafts were continuously revised until outside forces brought the process to a halt. Toei committed itself to another high-profile SF feature for the summer of 1982, Leiji Matsumoto’s groundbreaking MY YOUTH IN ARCADIA. To produce that and FINAL YAMATO simultaneously would have stretched the studio’s resources too thin, so something had to give. In a flash, FINAL YAMATO became a spring 1983 release and the writers now had a whole year to flesh out the grand finale.
With more time to work with, Nishizaki decided to involve another party in the process: the fans to whom YAMATO owed its success. After the writers reconvened in January 1982 and the story started taking shape, he scheduled a series of official fan club meetings for the summer in which he would lay out the big picture and see what the audience thought of it.
The highlight of these meetings was a one-of-a-kind “message film” from the staff of West Cape Corporation thanking the fans for their loyal support and giving them a tantilizing glimpse of what was to come. Basically, it was exactly what we now see from filmmakers on the internet as they produce highly-anticipated projects; another example of how far ahead of his time Nishizaki truly was.
Writing and art design continued well into the fall, creeping uncomfortably close to the deadline for actual animation to begin. The tipping point was reached in October, when a staff party was held to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of YAMATO production. It had been ten years since Nishizaki and his earliest writing partners (Aritsune Toyota and Eiichi Yamamoto) sat down to talk about a battleship in outer space. As soon as this party was over, they would enter a phase of production that rivaled the seat-of-the-pants ordeal of the first TV series.
“Abundance” was probably the single best word to describe it, starting with a lengthy script derived from a scenario that was written to serve both a feature film and a TV series (though, of course, the series was never made). A complete storyboard was drawn, but when it timed out an hour longer than the film’s pre-determined running length, a huge amount of work had to be tossed overboard. Despite this, the remaining workload was still enormous by any standard since the film would clock in around 2.5 hours, and over the next few months over a thousand artists were hired to battle the calendar.
Nishizaki was a true taskmaster, determined to get everything as close to perfect as possible. Special effects techniques that had been developed for BE FOREVER were doubled and tripled. On a good day, an animator working on a complex scene could finish only two cels. No matter how impossible it became, Nishizaki’s mantra was that they would have no regrets afterward if they kept up this killer pace.
In the outside world, new books and other products began appearing in December 1982 and set a steady pace that would persist up to the film’s release in March ‘83. To keep the fans guessing, novelizations, manga, and other books were split so that “part 1” volumes were published during the run-up and “part 2” follow-ups were held back until the premiere. The various writers were working from an uncut movie script, so their work contained scenes that were destined for the cutting room floor. All Night Nippon hosted their fifth and last 4-hour radio drama on January 15, and Nishizaki delivered a press conference the next day to confirm that everything heard on the program was definitely going to happen in the movie.
Things were no less hectic on the music side, requiring composer Hiroshi Miyagawa to share his duties with partner Kentaro Haneda. This was the first time two distinctly different music styles were used on an animated movie, and they blended perfectly, neither upstaging the other. Fittingly, FINAL YAMATO generated more music than any of its predecessors with 8 LPs and 6 song singles.
Naturally, the intensity only increased as time ticked away, with an enormous amount of work concentrated in the last week. Nishizaki stubbornly held out to the last possible minute, ultimately forced to let go when prints had to be made and driven or flown to theatres on March 18th, the night before release. Some prints arrived just a few hours before they were scheduled to be shown.
Even on March 19, Nishizaki wasn’t entirely finished. The film’s epilogue was still in rough shape on midnight of March 18th when he was forced to give it up. A spot-check of the first few screenings convinced him that it still wasn’t ready to show…so in an unprecedented move he put the word out to eliminate it from all further screenings. One can only imagine the fan buzz that filtered out. Those who had scored precious tickets to the first few shows would have walked away with a unique experience.
Regardless, bigger things were still to come. Nishizaki had always nursed the desire for at least one YAMATO film to be shown in deluxe 70mm with multi-channel stereo, and when FINAL YAMATO closed on April 29 he hauled it back into the shop for a tune-up. Many scenes were revised, others were enhanced, still others were added, and the epilogue was completely overhauled. This process added 12 minutes of screen time and resulted in a film that Nishizaki could finally be happy with.
Only one print was made of the new-and-improved Final Yamato, which was screened in just two limited engagements: November 1983 in Tokyo and February 1984 in Osaka. The limitation was decided by technical concerns; at the time, these were the only cities with theatres capable of fulfilling the multi-channel stereo requirement.
The first cut of the movie (referred to as the 35mm version) was released just once on home video, but the 70mm revival became the definitive edition for every subsequent release, including the one now available on DVD from Voyager Entertainment.
It had been ten years since the debut of Yamato on television, and the climb from obscurity to immortality was now complete. Sort of.
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
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Next time: DESSLER’S WAR and More: YAMATO in the Eighties!