Elements of the Live-Action Yamato
There were two questions this film had to face:
Is it good?
Is it reasonably faithful to the original franchise?
Having watched it my reply to both questions is yes. Big yes. Happy yes. I totally recommend this to everyone unless [quoting from ghostlightning’s post [here] which I also recommend] “you dislike action, space opera, and/or Japan”.
In this post I will cover and assess some elements of the film. There will be spoilers for anything and everything related to Yamato. I should say in advance that I am by no means a hardcore Yamato fan, and my standpoint is not that of the true faithful.
I. The Plot
The plot is a mixture of the original Yamato series with the movie Arrivederci Yamato. This is not a difficult feat, since both stories have the same structure: aliens threaten Earth, Earth receives communication from alien willing to assist, Yamato goes to meet alien, Yamato returns to Earth to save the day. It makes sense to combine these in one film, if anything because were they to do a sequel there’s no way they could touch the second story (because people would complain it was too similar to the first).
The way this film handles it is to use the original series for a foundation and add certain elements from Arrivederci (Saito and gang) and, most importantly, the ending. I love the Arrivederci ending, and so for me the plot of the live-action worked very, very well overall. At the same time, now I understand much better why Leiji Matsumoto berated this film so strongly. Besides being left out of the loop (due to a long and epic copyright war), Leiji is upset because he hates that ending. He’s the one who walked out on Arrivederci because he disapproved of the final apocalypse. While the live-action tones down the apocalypse somewhat, it’s still enough to reignite Leiji’s fury.
My only qualm structure-wise is I thought the beginning of the film was confusing. Kodai’s entry, the role of the Yamato, everything was glossed over. I imagine people who don’t know anything about the Yamato would have been lost here.
II. The Aliens
Well, the aliens get dehumanized and deindividualized. I get the dehumanization bit, though I still would have preferred to see evil Smurfs running around, but the Star Trek Borg business was unnecessary. Dessler is my favorite character in the franchise and I am disappointed. That said, Dessler’s voice was spot on, which was awesome!
III. The Ships
I think there were some radical changes to make the Gamilon ships look more alien. I was actually reminded of the Gunbuster aliens. Again, I understand the modifications but I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see Gamilon triple-decker aircraft carriers and the like…
The Yamato and the Cosmo Tigers were perfect in every way, though I was a bit surprised at how little we saw the wave-motion cannon being used.
IV. The Characters and their Actors
1. Kodai – I heard two stories about Takuya Kimura and this project months before the film came out. First, I listened to him in a radio interview where he went on and on about how big a fan of the series he was, and how he was so excited when he got to do the wave-motion cannon firing sequences. The second thing I heard was a news article saying Kimura had just watched Avatar and had realized how crappy the Yamato sfx were by comparison. Apparently Kimura was so upset he demanded the studio improve the sfx and suggested his pay be cut to finance the new effects.
I was very skeptical about both stories. Now I totally believe them. The man was as if possessed in this film. He worked his butt off and as ghostlightning says, he carried the film. Honestly, from now on I will vote for Kimura to be on any Leiji Matsumoto-related live-action project [see the appendix at the end for more on this]
2. Shima – Weak, very weak. The film demanded this, reducing Shima’s fieriness and rivalry with Kodai to nothing. But still, the actor here was even weaker than the film demanded.
3. Sanada – Good job by the actor. Actor Toshiro Yanagiba looks like a Vulcan and my mental association with Spock made the character come to life in a way that I had never experienced while watching the animation. I’m hiring this guy too for a Leiji project (he’s called Toshiro for crying out loud!).
4. Yuki – The character was changed from being a nurse to being an ace pilot. Good. More than good, great. The problem is that in the film Yuki starts off bad-ass and becomes progressively punier and weaker as the events unfold. As for the actress, she’s beautiful, and not a bad singer. I would have preferred an actual actress.
5. Aihara – Here is one spot where I think real Yamato fans and I will see things very differently. I get Aihara and Sanada confused. Aihara is almost a non-entity to me. The Aihara in this film does nothing, but that’s fine by me.
6. Sado – Along with Aihara, the character’s gender was changed to female. Reiko Takashima is a good actress. I used to watch her in shows a decade ago and she manages to look even younger now than back then. Wow!! Anyway, I think the doctor’s role was reduced and that makes sense in terms of time constraints. Sado/Reiko does well with what she has. Ultimately the reduction here is a pity because Takashima is a good actress and this is a bit of a waste of talent.
7. Analyzer – Perfect. First, they got the actual Analyzer voice actor (Kenichi Ogata, who’s been in everything from Gundam to Captain Harlock to Haruhi), then they changed its shape so it wouldn’t look so much like R2D2, and then they had him kick major butt. The only thing they messed up with Analyzer is not including at least one scene of him groping Yuki.
8. Okita – There was a quirkiness to Okita in this film that I loved. Kodai shared that quirkiness, and of course this played wonderfully into the notion that the two were somehow alike.
9. Tokugawa – What actor?? That was Chief Engineer Tokugawa plain and simple. Great performance from a veteran actor.
10. Rest of the Crew – Anime high school sports team, in essence. The cheering was funny and nice initially, though I think they overdid it in the end.
V. The Politics
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out <cough> Space Battleship YAMATO <cough> has some major nationalistic foundations. But maybe with this new 21st century generation the nationalism needs to be spelled out more.
Case in point: the Yamato uniforms. The arrows, as Leiji confirmed in his interview with Western fans in December, come straight off of a WWII fighter pilot unit emblem. This unit was so famous a film was produced in theaters in 1944. The original Yamato series came out in 1974 so I bet a lot of watchers could recognize these arrows. But in 2010, very few. So what does the film do?
Well, there is a speech where Kodai explicitly compares the Gamilas situation with World War Two. I don’t remember if that was in the original, if it was I bet it wasn’t that explicit. The other less obvious but even more striking element is Saito’s good luck charm. We’re told it’s a Hachiman charm. Hachiman is the god of war and a deified Japanese Emperor. The year is 2199 and Hachiman worship is still strong. That says something.
What surprised me is how some little things that the film carried over from the franchise look so cool in live-action. For example, the uniforms. Yes, Yamato uniforms are cool and everything but seeing them on live film makes me want to sign up and save the universe or something!
Another example is the Yamato salute. Totally cool!!!
APPENDIX: Takuya Kimura and Leiji Matsumoto
You might think the fact that Kimura starred in what to Matsumoto is an enemy Yamato project would put him on the animator’s blacklist. But thankfully there’s more to the relationship than this.
Back in 2002 Kimura’s group SMAP did a skit on Space Pirate Captain Harlock on their TV show. I’ve only seen a tiny clip but I can tell you Kimura played Harlock and Leiji himself played Tochiro. Kimura declared on the show that he was a big fan of Galaxy Express 999, which is being developed as a live-action film by Matsumoto today!
Fastforward to April of this year. After Japan had a successful mission with their Hayabusa space probe, SMAP (including Kimura) and TV star Tamori hosted a mega-special on Fuji TV celebrating Hayabusa along with the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight, with a Hayabusa anime specially made by Matsumoto as part of the program. This is post-live-action Yamato, so clearly Matsumoto is OK with Kimura (believe me, Leiji is very noisy about these things). Moreover, during the special Kimura was introduced as a big Matsumoto fan. The special was over 2½ hours long not counting commercials; scenes from Leiji’s anime were interspersed throughout [you can see it here]: Buzz Aldrin was on stage throughout the whole thing [Buzz is extremely dedicated to promoting space exploration, I’m always impressed with how much he works at it] and various people were interviewed, including a woman who took care Laika the dog!!
I’m not saying Kimura will show up in the live-action GE 999, but who knows? Here’s the real beauty of the thing, though: remember I said that the arrows worn by Kodai and crew were a homage to an elite pilot unit in WWII? Guess what type of planes those guys rode, a plane so famous the unit was named after it: the Nakajima Ki-42, better known as the Hayabusa. The unit were called Kato Hayabusa, Kato being the unit leader.