One of the most popular and enduring anime creations in Japan, if you don’t recognise the name Space Battleship Yamato (SPACE BATTLESHIP ヤマト), North American and Australians viewers may know the 1970s cartoon series by its alternative heavily-dubbed version, Star Blazers. The series has led to a number of animated films over the last three decades or so, the last of which was released in 2009. Always: Sunset on Third Street helmer Takashi Yamazaki commissioned the top special effects houses in Japan to bring the SFX up to spec for the first live action outing of the popular series.
In the last years of the 22nd century, beings known as Gamilons attack the Earth with giant meteor objects that wipe out much of the life on the planet. Five years later, the Earth is left irradiated and nothing will grow, with most of the population of the planet living underground. Former pilot Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura, Redline) discovers a communications device from the planet Iscandar which indicates that there is a device that will allow the Earth the clean up the radiation. He is soon whisked aboard the Earth’s last hope, the Space Battleship Yamato where he must bond with his crew-mates including rival/potential love interest Yuki Mori (Meisa Kuroki, Andalucia: Revenge of the Goddess) and find a mentor in captain Juzo Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Departures) in order to save his homeworld.
There’s been a string of anime/manga films adapted to the live action format over the years, and the problem with most of them is that they were trying to do things with the format that wasn’t meant to be seen with real people. Reportedly inspired by Avatar, star Kimura is said to have urged Yamazaki to improve the quality of the CGI effects, which accounts for 65 minutes of the final product. The proof is in the pudding, as the producers have managed to pull off the spectacle of the grandest of sci-fi epics on a “mere” $24 million budget, something that compares favourably with Hollywood movies that cost six times that amount. An impressive array of space battles and things exploding on a mass scale give the illusion of grandeur, and its a pretty successful ruse. This looks at least as good as a top-notch episode of Star Trek, and one of the Gamilon ships is too impressive for words. One would be forgiven for forgetting the anime origins.
The narrative itself is fairly mired in Top Gun stylings, with pretty-boy Kimura the central object of swoonage. There’s not much too it really: fallen hero must find his mojo again in order to save humanity. We may have seen it all before, but just because it’s a formula it doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to work. All plot developments, the few that there are at least, are telegraphed long before the ship even dusts off, but it is nevertheless a high-spirited action adventure with enough moment-to-moment action to keep engagement rolling through to the inevitable conclusion. Whether this is the start of a new chapter in Yamato‘s history or a one-off entry into the ongoing saga, this is a worthy addition to the (space) canon.
Space Battleship Yamato is playing at the Japanese Film Festival on 25 November (Sydney) and 3 December (Melbourne) 2011 at the 15th Japanese Film Festival in Australia.