SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: Triumph and Tragedy
Franchise Creator Dies as New Movie Premieres
Author: Bob Johnson
Official Site: yamato-movie.net
Special Thanks to Tokyo Broadcasting System and Daisuke Ishizuka
On Saturday November 6th, the feature film SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (Uchu Senkan Yamato, 2010)— the latest incarnation of the classic YAMATO saga— had its world premiere screening for potential buyers and guests at the American Film Market (AFM) tradeshow in Santa Monica, CA. Directed by the popular Takashi Yamazaki (RETURNER, the ALWAYS- SUNSET ON THIRD STREET films), the new live action adaptation does for SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO what JJ Abrams’ update of STAR TREK did last year; launch a long-running franchise to new levels and new audiences.
The AFM screening of SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO was hosted by the film’s international sales agent, Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS). Among TBS’ invited guests were reps from multiple film studios and distributors, a reporter for Variety Japan, VIZ Pictures associate Erik Jansen, Tim Eldred of Starblazers.com, and the editors of SciFi Japan.
But, in one of life’s tragic ironies, on the day the attendees were sitting in the Criterion 2 theater marveling at the new movie, 75 year old SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO producer and co-creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki died near the Ogasawara Islands off the coast of Japan.
Please join SciFi Japan as we honor Nishizaki’s legacy and offer an early look at his latest achievement…
Review: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.
Takashi Yamazaki’s SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO begins on familiar ground for fans… a barren Earth surface with planet bombs raining down upon it. Captain Okita, played with the requisite dignity called for in the role by Tsutomu Yamazaki., is locked in a raging battle against the Gamilas that results in the death/disappearance of Mamoru Kodai (Shinichi Tsutsumi).
Five years later, the year is 2199 and Earth’s population lives underground, escaping from the radiation released by the deadly planet bombs. Mamoru Kodai’s brother Susumu (Takuya Kimura) has quit the military, leaving his career as a top notch pilot and squadron leader, and becomes a scavenger and junk collector on Earth. When he sees a mysterious capsule fall from space, it leads him on a journey back to the military and eventually the captain’s chair of the mighty Space Battleship Yamato as it leaves Earth in search of the planet Iscandar and its promise of a device that will free the Earth of its deadly radiation and turn the surface habitable again.
The main elements of the original story are all in the movie. The filmmakers were very respectful of the elements, characters and designs that made YAMATO a favorite to fans of Japanese animation worldwide. The Yamato itself has not changed a bit. The images of the huge space battleship flying through star fields, past planets and out of clouds are impressive. And when strains of the original score creep in during crucial scenes, the result is a nostalgic joyride and one that brings a tingle up the spine of any fan of the original animation.
The special effects (also directed by Yamazaki) that bring the Yamato and other elements to life are stunning and every bit as spectacular as those you would expect to see in any US blockbuster.
As with most film adaptations, some changes are made, but without detracting from the Yamato mythos. The only change that I found regretful is now the Gamilas are disembodied aliens that inhabit the bodies of fast-crawling alien creatures and also the occasional human. In communicating with the humans, Dessler explains that he controls multiple bodies. Though an interesting idea, it also eliminates one of the greatest anime villains of all time and one that would eventually become an ally, fighting side by side with Susumu Kodai in future conflicts.
But the main focus of the film is on the crew of the Yamato and many familiar faces are there, though less “animated” than before. As mentioned Captain Okita and Susumu Kodai are, of course, in the film. Daisuke Shima, Kodai’s friend and ship navigator is on hand, played by Naoto Ogata, who portrays Shima as a remarkably likable character. Toshiro Yanagiba is Shiro Sanada, Yamato’s Technical Team Leader. Toshiyuki Nishida turns in a great performance as chief engineer Hisaimon Tokugawa. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi is very outgoing and provides some great moments as Commander of the Space Cavalry, Hajime Saito.
The lovable Dr. Sado is less recognizable at first. In his original incarnation he was one of Matsumoto’s short, cartoony characters, stumbling about the ship with his cat and sake bottle in tow. Here “he” is played by Reiko Takashima and is a female doctor with compassion but still humorously interacting with the other characters and compassionately tending to the sick and wounded. But don’t think that she leaves the cat or bottle back on Earth…
The series’ robot Analyzer is now a cell-phone like device that Kodai keeps on his belt and interacts with throughout the film. But expect a couple surprises later on!
Of course a mainstay from the original Yamato and one that the story would not be complete without is Kodai’s future companion and wife, Yuki Mori. Mori is no longer the ship’s nurse, but is now a pilot and one of Kodai’s squad; a hot-shot pilot in the mold of the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Starbuck. Actress Meaisa Kuroki is stunning in the role and Yuki plays a pivotal role in the rescue of Earth.
Clocking in at nearly two-and-a- half hours, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO is a joyride, an action-packed tribute to the original animation that captures everything you would want to see in an adaptation.
Although there is no word yet regarding distribution in the United States, the film opens December 1st in Japan and is sure to be a huge hit.
Yoshinobu Nishizaki: 1934-2010
On November 7th (Japan time), SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO producer and co-creator Yoshinobu Nishizaki died of heart failure while boating off Chichijima Island, part of the Ogasawara Island chain.
Nishizaki was wearing a diving suit and prepping for a swim when he fell from his boat, a 485 ton ship he had named “Yamato”. His body was recovered by the Coast Guard after being in the water for 20 minutes. Attempts to resuscitate Nishizaki were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead two hours after the incident began.
Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s life was marked by incredible highs and lows of his own making. After graduating from the Art Department of Nihon University he went to work for the legendary managa artist and animator Osamu Tezuka, creator of such hits as ASTRO BOY (Tetsuwan Atomu, 1963) and KIMBA, THE WHITE LION (Janguru Taitei, 1965). Branching out on his own in the early 1970s, Nishizaki would partner with artist Leiji Matsumoto to create the anime series SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO. YAMATO got off to a slow start when it debuted on Yomiuri TV in 1974, but— thanks to Nishizaki’s perseverance and a strong grass roots network of fan support— blossomed into blockbuster franchise of hit films and best-selling merchandise. The series also came to America in 1979 with the English dubbed version, STAR BLAZERS.
But Nishizaki struggled to maintain YAMATO’s success in later sequel series and spin-offs. In 1997, he declared bankruptcy and closed his production company, West Cape. He had a falling out with Leiji Matsumoto, leading to a rights dispute over the series that would go on for years. Nishizaki also had his brushes with the law in the 1990s and early 2000s, having served time in prison for gun smuggling (including possession of a grenade launcher!) and drug trafficking.
In recent years Yoshinobu Nishizaki seemed to get his life back on track. His biggest triumph was always SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and in 2003 he and Leiji Matsumoto came to an agreement to share copyright on the franchise. This allowed Nishizaki to steer YAMATO into new directions, which included the computer-enhanced animated incarnation SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: RESURRECTION (Uchu Senkan Yamato: Fukkatsu Hen) and the new live action feature film.
For more information on SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- The Miyagawa Legacy
- 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
- SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 8: FINAL YAMATO: The Legacy Begins
- SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 9: Dessler’s War and More: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO IN THE 80s
- SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 10: The Rollercoaster: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO in the 90s
- SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, Part 11: The Leiji Matsumoto Renaissance, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO in the 21st Century
- YAMATO REBIRTH: An Eyewitness Account of the New Beginning
- SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: RESURRECTION