Thursday, August 18, 2011

うちゅ せんかん ヤマト – Space Battleship Yamato Movie on DVD

Earlier last year we had announced on American Mishima news of the making of the 2010 Live Action film of the 1974 anime Space Battleship Yamato. Not to be confused with the 2005 Japanese war epic Otoko Tachi no Yamato, this $23.9 million dollar film debuted on Japanese screens to awaiting die-hard fans that helped knock out Harry Potter 4 out of its first place rankings for that week.

Now why all the fuss about a kids space movie? We’ll if you were a kid like me during the 1970’s, this was your first introduction to both Japanese anime and Sci-Fi drama. Up until that point animated films were largely harmless cartoons to entertain children. This of course was not the first anime to arrive from Japan. Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer, and G-Force had already screened to American audiences. But when Space Battleship Yamato appeared, the game changed in ways no one could have expected or anticipated.

Just prior to the first Star Wars and subsequent Battlestar Galactica films mesmerized audiences starved for Sci-Fi Action Adventure, Space Battleship Yamato appeared bringing with it a drama set in space for survival of the human race whose storyline was previously unheard of. After its initial reception it was repackaged as the anime soap-opera Star Blazers which was heavily imitated by later anime shows. Sure, there had been Star Trek on television but what Space Battleship Yamato did was to usher in the first Sci-Fi Soap Opera 35 years before Battlestar Galactica had been re-envisioned. It had a story of desperate survival. death, epic battles, and a continuous plotline previously unheard of in any science fiction drama or anime. And this was made for kids of all things!
Ok, so we have given you enough background and now let’s go back to the 2010 Live Action Space Battleship Yamato that just arrived in the USA on DVD with English Subtitles. Now taking a kids story to the big screen is a risky proposition hence I cite the horrible Wing Commander film from 1999. Then there is that old anime saying “Everytime you drag real physics into a debate about Sci-Fi anime, God Kills a Cat Girl.” Well, I am pleased to say that God didn’t kill a Cat Girl but my have spanked her once or twice in this film. Inspired by the original design of the famed Imperial Japanese Battleship Yamato, Space Battleship Yamato does a careful dance around real physics and real life history. They never explain how they came to the ship’s design unlike the anime which suggested that the original Yamato was dredged up from the sea bottom and rebuilt as a space battleship. Of course that is impossible considering that Yamato sits two miles on the ocean bottom split in two. But then again they didn’t know that back in 1974. But to tie into the original Yamato that for generations has conjured the imagination, Kodai Susumu (played by Kimura Takuya) makes a speech where he invokes; “On April 1945, The Yamato was sent on a desperate suicide mission to save Japan.” In this speech he compares their desperate mission to save the Earth from the deadly radiation that has forced Earth’s population to seek shelter underground pushing mankind to the brink of extinction at the hands of the unknown enemy the Gamilas. Their only hope for survival lies in a message from the planet Iscandr the promises to restore the Earth. But to get there, the decimated Earth Defense Force must send a skeleton crew aboard Earth’s last space battleship, Yamato.
Joined by Mori Yuki (played by Kuroki Maisa) and a crew of young volunteers and the survivors of Black Tiger Squadron, Kodai Susumu inherits the Yamato from their ailing Captain and embarks on their interstellar journey to Iscandr in the faint hopes to retrieve the device that can restore the Earth. There will be a lot of comparisons to the new Battlestar Galactica right down to the Yamato’s Hangar Deck and story for survival against incredible odds and little hope. It is possible to say the new Space Battleship Yamato may have been inspired by the new BSG or the other way around. I’ll leave that up to you. If you are a fan of the original anime classic you will love this. Sure there are the real physics errors such as sounds in space but at the same time they do show spacial decompression scenes which are never pretty no matter how big the budget. But what they do get right is the narrowness of Yamato's hull and the issue of power supply. In order to "warp" or to fire their main weapon the "wave cannon," they can only use one at a time and must recharge before using either which leaves the Yamato vulnerable in battle. Now on an engineering scale this makes for a believable scenario. The film starts off strong and at times gets typical Japanese on the human drama lines and will make you think of films like the Matrix and the new Battlestar Galactica. But if you carry the nostalgia for the original anime film you may truly enjoy this. As far as Science Fiction films go I will give Space Battleship Yamato a B+. This film is now available in the United States on DVD. Check Ebay and other Japanese sources for listings.


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